Our Critic Has Spoken
Who says Hollywood is a boy’s club? That cliché is officially dead and buried. Women directors were everywhere in 2019, making billion-dollar grossers (Captain Marvel, Frozen II), popcorn pictures (Hustlers, Charlie’s Angels), Oscar bait (Little Women, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), race-based dramas (The Farewell, Queen & Slim), acclaimed documentaries (American Factory, The Great Hack), broad comedies (Booksmart, Late Night), foreign-language films (Atlantics, Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and indie gold (The Souvenir, Honey Boy).
As the film industry enters a new decade, gender parity is an ever more attainable goal. The Sundance Film Festival has already announced that, for the first time, its 2020 lineup is within a few percentage points of equal representation. And four of the most anticipated superhero movies in 2020, both from DC (Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey) and from Marvel (Black Widow, The Eternals), are directed by women. Sure, the lines between multiplex-theater cinema and home-entertainment content are blurring ever more rapidly, with Disney+ muscling into the streaming wars and Netflix dominating the Oscar season. But one thing is definitely clear: women will be just as likely as men to control the narrative.
Here are my Ten Best Films of 2019, presented in alphabetical order. Feel free to re-organize based on female representation.
3 Faces. Jafar Panahi explores the past, present, and future of feminine identity against a barren landscape of villages in thrall to withered foreskins and bull semen. A story of patriarchal oppression, astonishingly told.
Carmine Street Guitars. Ron Mann’s gentle documentary about a nondescript Greenwich Village music shop both celebrates and eulogizes out-of-time artisanal excellence. The lost art of craftsmanship, rightly revered.
The Irishman. The epic tale of a mid-level mafioso projects a crumbling romanticism that leaves only spiritual agony. Martin Scorsese delivers his definitive gangster opus: a summary statement about the male ego in crisis.
Marriage Story. A blindingly honest procedural about divorce that conjures deep wells of empathy for all involved. Noah Baumbach’s marital tragedy exposes raw nerves leavened with tender grace.
Midsommar. A clingy college girlfriend desperate for love enters a tribal netherworld thirsty for ritual. Ari Aster invents a wildly new genre: the Hieronymus Bosch breakup movie.
The Nightingale. How Does Jennifer Kent follow up a terror like The Babadook? With 19th century colonial rapists and the woman who confronts them, in this brilliantly bleak historical corrective.
Parasite. The extremes of society’s wealth-gap bloodsuckers feed on each other, in Bong Joon-ho’s of-the-moment upstairs/downstairs excoriation. Subversive stereotypes abound in a film with no heroes or villains. Satire? You be the judge.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The combustible passion between a furtive artist and her betrothed subject fuels Céline Sciamma’s intoxicating tale of forbidden love, a sumptuous Sapphic reverie that invokes Ovid while expanding the modern boundaries of historical romance.
The Souvenir. Joanna Hogg turns her own early heartache into revelatory autofiction, an ’80s-set chronicle illustrating how a bad relationship can be an unshakably formative rite of passage.
Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler plays a Diamond-District shmendrik addicted to gambling and self-destruction in Josh and Benny Safdie’s sweaty-palmed mystical masterpiece.
You want Ten More Best Films of 2019? Here they are. Also alphabetical, because numbers lie.