Best movies of 2019 a compelling mix of old, new – The Columbian

Just when you think that Hollywood has become incapable of making anything but tired retreads and money-grabbing sequels, you look back on the year and think: Huh. So they can still surprise us after all.

This was the year when “Avengers: Endgame” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” demonstrated that, Martin Scorsese notwithstanding, the difference between a theme-park ride and a movie is all in the execution, while “Toy Story 4” proved that sequels can be just as bracing as their first antecedent. While Netflix doubled down on the grown-up market with Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” and the raucous Eddie Murphy comeback “Dolemite Is My Name,” traditional studios were in the game as well, backing big, ambitious, original movies like Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” James Gray’s meditative sci-fi epic, “Ad Astra,” and James Mangold’s fabulous “Ford v Ferrari.” Meanwhile, reliable indie bastions like Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics gave us such wonderful movies as “Jojo Rabbit,” “All Is True” and Pedro Almodovar’s achingly gorgeous “Pain and Glory.” Throw good-time flicks like “Hustlers” and “Knives Out” into the mix, and you round out a list of films that easily could have made any Top 10. But here are the personal favorites that made mine.

1. “American Factory”

Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert’s documentary about a former GM truck factory that becomes a Chinese-owned automotive glass manufacturer could not be more of the moment. It summarizes issues of deindustrialization, wealth inequality, immigration and cultural assimilation in a way that is compassionate, observant and emotionally resonant. Pristine in its production values, unfailingly empathic in its approach, populated by unforgettable characters, “American Factory” might be categorized under “nonfiction,” but no film this year was more dramatically compelling.

2. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

How do you make a biopic about Mister Rogers that isn’t sticky sweet or sanctimoniously maudlin? Let Marielle Heller — working from a smart script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster — show you. Tom Hanks brings quiet authority to his role as an American icon who isn’t portrayed as a monument, but as a man whose deep faith and a gift for ministry change the life of a cynical journalist (Matthew Rhys). Elevated by well-judged performances, clever structure and an ingenious production design, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” sticks the landing with grace worthy of its gifted protagonist.

3. “The Farewell”

Awkwafina proved her big-screen comic bona fides last year in the caper flick “Oceans 8,” but in this seriocomic drama, she exposes subtler layers. Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical portrait of family ties, dislocation, loss and the tricky ethical dynamics of deception isn’t just touching and entertaining; it takes viewers to another world — Changchun, a sprawling industrial city in China whose generic architecture and smoggy atmospherics are characters just as vivid as their human counterparts.

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