The 15 Best Movies of 2019: K. Austin Collins’s List – Vanity Fair

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6. Atlantics

Mati Diop’s mysterious debut feature is a lot of things at once: a ghost story, a love story, a close look at the changes portended in Dakar, where the film is set, by the rise of a gleaming new tower, a memorial to the bodies of migrants at the bottom of the sea. Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) isn’t prepared to fall in love with Soulemain—and she’s even less prepared for when, after he dies, his spirit comes back to haunt her (and others). Diop has woven rich social critique into the loose and spectral limbs of this story. But the surpassing mysteries of love are its primary subject. And Diop dramatizes them beautifully.

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5. Uncut Gems

A rare, wild ride, Joshua and Benny Safdie’s best movie to date stars Adam Sandler as a man who makes one (or two, or ten) too many gambles on his own life, in a classic New York story that pulls LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian and many others into its murky, anxious depths. This is the kind of movie that makes you yell at the screen: predicated on bad choices and a rash, uncomfortable filmmaking style (to say nothing of the acting), Uncut Gems does what the Safdies’ previous work has excelled at, only even better. It dredges up rough and angry questions about, among other things, race, while also making the heart race with frustration at its wily narrative turns, while also making New York City feel like a mad scientist’s unlicensed laboratory of faulty, dangerous personalities. A punishing thrill ride.

4. An Elephant Sitting Still

Chinese author and filmmaker Hu Bo was 29 when he wrote, directed, and edited his first and last feature; he died of suicide shortly after finishing the film. It’s a despair that certainly resonates within the film itself, which studies a handful of people—young and old—trying to survive everyday reality in the northern Chinese city of Manzhouli. Hu’s filmmaking is virtuosic and eye-opening, full of long, shadowy takes that thrillingly navigate the rough terrains of the movie’s physical and emotional violence. At nearly 4 hours, it is a resolutely tough sit. But for its despair, the movie fills me with a tear-choked but unmistakable sense of possibility.

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3. The Souvenir

Joanna Hogg’s essential film is the kind of love story you wouldn’t want to live. This muted, scattered, semi-fictionalized account of Hogg’s own youth is set in Sunderland, England in the 1970s and stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, a promising, rich young filmmaker tangled in a torturous romance with a heroin addict (played by Tom Burke). Hogg organizes the film into a series of disruptive, seemingly random scenes–memories of this fated love, and of that period of Julie’s life more broadly, which the film rifles through like they’re pictures in a book. What stands out about Hogg’s work isn’t only the sensitivity of this conceit or the incredible questions it raises about how we construct an idea of ourselves through memory. It’s the form and function of those memories: the fact that, in the end, the portrait proves to be as loving as it is ambivalent. Few films move me this much.

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1. (tie) Ash Is Purest White and The Irishman

Two unusual gangster epics, each a soul-burdened testament to love, betrayal, and historical change.

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