2019 Top 10: How Movies Helped Me Connect
It’s difficult to write broadly about movies without falling into a platitude-soaked trap of clichés. In fact, I’m learning that it’s nearly impossible to write about movies at all without regurgitating the words and phrases that better thinkers have already perfected. I suppose this is a problem confronting all writers, though: the conundrum of the critic is not unique.
Movies are, indeed, magical. They possess the power to transform lives – both the individual and the collective. They teach us about ourselves and others, and give us the means to escape from life or embrace it with renewed vigor. These are all clichés, mostly because they are all true. Just like the best movie quotes become commonplace because of the power with which they reflect our realities. Searching for a unique angle, then, is a fruitless endeavor. If that fresh approach – that hot take, one might say – isn’t grounded in truth, then it’s a clever ploy and nothing more. All I can do is be true to myself. True to what I saw at the movies this year, and true to what I learned from them. In that case, I suppose there are only two things I’d like to share about my year at the movies. I promise, I’ll share my top 10 movies eventually. In 2019, movies reminded me of the power of we. I tend toward solitude. Especially as a writer, my dreams are full of cozy cabins, a glass of gin, a warm fire…and silence. As Virginia Woolf put it in a series of talks and eventual essay, I crave “A Room of One’s Own.” But as Greta Gerwig has so importantly pointed out repeatedly on her press tour for Little Women, Woolf’s thesis went further: to write, a woman must have a room of her own, and money. Or, in my case, and experiences. Pain and love and grief. Elation. Surprise and disappointment. Dread. Writing is just another medium to inadequately convey our feelings, and we cannot feel without others. Without loving others, without missing others, without hating others. Film is the same. Each creator brings a lifetime of collaboration to their project. And in film, the we is even more important. In film, one cannot create without others. Parasite is not Parasite without Lee Ha-Jun’s ingenious production design – without those two houses. Marriage Story doesn’t make me ache without Randy Newman’s score. Us doesn’t keep me up at night without Kym Barrett’s precisely planned red costumes. Film critic Andrew Sarris may have posited that the best directors impose their personalities on their films, but even he would admit that without the rest of us, Hitchcock and Welles and Ford would be destitute, artless wannabes with a strong point of view. Or, I guess, they’d be writers. So that’s one thing. The other is much simpler: movies last year reminded me that art is how we connect. I’ll never forget seeing Little Women with my family two days after Christmas, all of us gathering later that night to share what it meant to us. And not just taking turns in a circle, waiting for others to finish – really listening, learning about each other. Hearing about the experiences of these people I’ve known my entire life. Only a film could do that. Or seeing Marriage Story with my wife, Sara. Reaching over and holding hands as Charlie reads Nicole’s letter, thinking about our own ups and downs. We talked about the film for hours on our overnight drive back from Toronto (we missed our flight). We work hard to communicate, but Marriage Story opened up an avenue we may never have discovered otherwise. And 2019 was the year I finally revealed to work colleagues just how much I love movies. Rather than creating a wall or exposing me to alienation as I’d irrationally feared, it built bridges. Colleagues – friends, I should say – started coming to me when they saw something that angered or excited them. I argued over the brilliant Uncut Gems and the disappointing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I breathlessly recounted Rian Johnson’s genius before, during, and after meetings. These are connections I won’t soon forget. 2019 had its ups and downs – all years do, for all people. I won’t bore you with mine. But thank goodness I had the movies. Because I guess that’s my truest cliché: movies make the good times better and the bad times bearable. Here were my top 10 (plus a few extras), for whatever it’s worth. They’re the ones that made me feel, made me connect, and made me appreciate the world – and the people – around me. Next 10: Us, Atlantics, Her Smell, One Cut of the Dead, Ad Astra, Uncut Gems, Honey Boy, The Lighthouse, The Irishman, Bad Education Top 10 10. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Wild Rose (tie) 9. Marriage Story 8. The Farewell 7. Waves 6. A Hidden Life 5. Knives Out 4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire 3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 2. Parasite 1. Little Women