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Like if Jenny Holzer wrote film reviews. The Parallax Review is a website dedicated to dissecting movies in terms of cultural context, ideology, aesthetics, and more. From Stalker to Hackers and beyond! Run by your girl, @okaythanksmaria

Film Viewing Experiences of 2019, Ranked



I find it an exhausting task to try to rank my favorite 2019 film releases, to be honest. Really, of the limited number of new releases I saw this year, I only have about 3 or 4 favorites. Everything else was fine, or pretty good, or bad, or that Tyra Banks clip where she tells that model she done fucked up, cos we were all rooting for her, you know?

My top three, hands down: Parasite, The Lighthouse, and Uncut Gems. Though I have yet to see a handful of films that are probably pretty good. I'm an unabashed Greta Gerwig fan, but I really don't know how I will respond to a movie full of oppressed white women in poofy dresses tryna win Elio's heart or whatever. I never read that book and have not watched any of the many film adaptations, so I have zero attachment.

I always wonder what it is about watching movies in a theater setting that I find so thrilling. Is it the popcorn? Yes. Is it the large screen and Dolby sound? Sure, yeah. Is it the palpable energy of the audience's anticipation of collectively escaping into a totally different world for 1.75 hours? Ideally! It is all of those things, and a lot more. It's one thing to watch Blue Velvet alone in your house on a laptop or your smart TV, etc. It is another thing entirely to watch Dennis Hopper suck nitrous oxide from a mask while calling Isabella Rossellini "mommy," surrounded by hundreds of other intoxicated Lynch fans in a one hundred year old theater. You don't really get that energy any other way, except at a movie theater. And every theater and experience is unique. It's the magic of the movies, baby!!!!



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So here is a very chill list of my top ten movie-going experiences from 2019. It is not ranked by how much I enjoyed a movie, nor is every film a new release. If I saw it in theaters in 2019, new or old, and I had a good/interesting time, it qualifies for ranking.

10. Society (1989)


Chicago's Musicbox Theater screened Society late in summer, perhaps for it's 30th anniversary, and I jumped at the chance to see it for the first time in theaters. I'm all about obscure 80s horror and thriller vibes, and the director, Brian Yuzna, was there for a Q&A afterward. There's something about watching a low budget movie with a group of people that makes any jarring cuts, awkwardly delivered dialogue, or wild set pieces (all of which Society has in spades) acceptable, and perhaps even desirable. There is an absolutely unforgettable final sequence featuring some of the most elaborate practical effect body horror I've ever seen. It's a strange, messy film making a broad, but still-relevant treatise against Reagan-era rich fucks. Would recommend.

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9. Suspiria (1977)


Saw this for the second time on Halloween, at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. I'm just going to state that I personally think this is one of Argento's worst films, in that it is simply the weakest example of what makes giallo movies so special. They're not really meant to have completely coherent plot lines, sure, but the original Suspiria's plot is so non-existent and nonsensical it renders the film's only other strengths (the visuals and soundtrack) practically impotent. Visually it's gorgeous, but in service of what? It's a slog to get through, even coming off the energy of a pre-show drag performance and colorful, drunken commentary from my fellow audience members. Still, I'd rather see it on Halloween while sipping a themed drink, surrounded by rowdy millennials in costume. Would recommend watching Inferno (1980) instead.


8. The Farewell (2019)


Wow, this movie was a perfect array of emotions. Especially for the specific headspace I was in the night Charles and I saw it. I had just come from a teary therapy session, and was dealing with a small but potent cocktail of Important Life Things that had my mind foggy and my tear ducts ready to gush at any given moment. The Farewell is such an incredibly open movie, full of feeling and genuine humanity. I remember listening to the This American Life episode featuring Lulu Wang's story and being so excited it would be made into a film. I was sort of gut-punched by the range of feelings I had during it. I laughed out loud a lot, teared up throughout, and found myself questioning connections (or lack thereof) in my own life, plus pondering the strange presence of Death hovering over all of our lives. It was a lot, and I think I need a re-watch soon; I'm curious what things it will touch in me on second watch. Would recommend calling your grandmother, stat.

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7. Midsommar (2019)


Midsommar! It feels like it needs an exclamation point, a la Aronofsky's Mother! Unfortunately, this was the second of two highly anticipated sophomore features this year to let me down. (The first, Us, was so bad I wish I could erase my memory of watching it, tbh.) Despite that, the in-theater Midsommar experience was a trip, puns intended. I'm sure the audience, like me, was expecting some horror/gore/intensity, but I doubt anyone was imagining the strange, brutal series of deaths with which Aster thought to bless us for two-plus hours. At one point I began laughing out loud because what was happening on screen was so horrifying, and so absurd I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. That ended up being the high point for me, though, as the movie slowly dips into something a bit more methodical and predictable after that: a misanthropic journey through one of the worst break-ups of all time. Would recommend watching Possession (1981) immediately after this.


6. The Lighthouse (2019)


I knew I was getting on a ride called The Lighthouse, but I had no idea I was gonna be covered in piss, cum, and shit by the time I got off. This movie is messy. You're initially lulled into a state of high-mindedness by the art-house pretenses: a muddy black and white palette framed in an intimate square format, showcasing stunning natural landscapes. As soon as Willem DaFoe farts, however, you realize that maybe this ride is actually going to take you somewhere you weren't expecting. With my husband to my left and two co-worker friends to my right, I let Robert Eggers thoroughly convince me his was the only sophomore effort I needed to watch this year. Of the many films released in 2019 exploring masculinity and aging (Honeyboy, OUaT...iH, Pain & Glory, The Beach Bum) The Lighthouse's particularly aromatic and visceral approach was my favorite. I wrote more about this here. Would recommend taking a shower.

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5. Climax (2019)


Part of the reason I hungrily devour movies old & new is so I can be a part of the conversation. The conversation that happens when a director directly references a scene (or scenes) from another film (or films) in her own film. Certain movies made in 2019 made a point of literally showing you their "inspiration receipts", if you will, within the movie itself. One is Us, which, and I cannot make this any clearer, was a terrible movie that suffered immensely from relying too heavily upon Jordan Peele's reverence to horror movies that came before. Climax, however, has a nearly identical "inspiration receipts" scene at it's start, yet totally avoids (mostly) the pitfalls of reverence that Us fell prey to. I'm a huge house music fan, and while I've never been in a dance troupe, and I've never actually taken LSD, I found myself falling completely under the spell of the movie's pretenses. It felt hugely experiential, like you also had maybe taken a sip of some spiked punch, and are sporting an edgy leotard while doing the splits in the center of a writhing mass of attractively sweaty, gyrating bodies. I really loved Climax; it was my first Gaspar Noe film, and even though he absolutely borrows an iconic visual from the aforementioned 1980 film Possession, it totally works. I wanted to drink the punch! Well...okay no, I didn't. But like, you get it. I was really into this movie. Would recommend listening to Giorgio Moroder and Thomas Bangalter.



4. Vivre Sa Vie (1962)


Huge shout out to holiday fatigue for this one. Needing a moment to ourselves amidst frequent family gatherings, heavy meals, and rousing gameplay, Charles and I settled into the couch in his parent's basement to watch our first Jean-Luc Godard feature. Vivre Sa Vie is truly magnificent. Quiet and mundane; loud and incredibly significant. Anna Karina's performance struck a chord so deep within me, I literally attended an intention-setting ceremony 3 days later where, when prompted to write down things I wanted to invite in my life in 2020, I wrote: "Anna Karina energy." It's true: Godard makes you feel free to say Fuck You, World, and then make a film about it. I have never in my entire life felt so personally invoked to make a film...and feel that I actually could do it. I think I've avoided Godard until so recently because I was afraid of being disappointed. But to be honest, everything I have watched from him thus far has felt like a catalyst, or a sign of things to come. Wow, this review feels more prophetic and spiritual than I anticipated. Vivra sa vie, indeed. Would recommend signing up for the Criterion Channel.

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3. The Irishman (2019)


I didn't like The Irishman very much, for personal reasons, and that's fine. I had a lot of fun at my screening, regardless. I want to specify that I did see this in a theater, and that I believe that is the best possible way to view this film. There was a giant line to get into the theater beforehand; the room was packed and the whole ordeal felt like An Event, which is honestly my favorite type of theater viewing experience. I was alone, which meant that even though I arrived ten minutes before it started, it was easy for me to find a single seat in a prime location in the sold out theater. Unfortunately, I didn't choose my seat wisely enough. I wouldn't call him mentally unstable, but the squat, older man loudly stuffing popcorn into his mouth next to me had an extremely unorthodox understanding of theater etiquette. About an hour into the film, it became clear that my viewing buddy couldn't be arsed to keep his thoughts and questions about what was happening on screen to himself, and felt the need to exclaim things like "Is that his daughter?" and "Oh! I think I know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa!" and "What did he say?" in a decidedly not quiet voice every ten or so minutes. I'd like to remind you, in case you forgot or somehow didn't hear, that The Irishman is 3 hours long. Which means this happened often, my friend. Thankfully, the entire section in which Al Pacino appears on screen, I was very happy, partially because Pacino-as-Hoffa did so much yelling it really drowned out my neighbor's inquiries and occasional grunts. Thank god. Would recommend being nice even if the person next to you is really annoying.


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2. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood (2019)


Another movie-going experience that felt like an event! I'm not necessarily a Tarantino fan, but I appreciate his appreciation of film, and acknowledge that he at least makes things I want to watch, even if I don't end up loving them and don't usually end up watching them ever again. I saw this at the Musicbox Theater in Chicago and they showed it on 70mm: it was beautiful! It felt really special, and I was super into it, mostly, but for the saggy middle bit where I thought Tarantino was taking too much time being uber-nostalgic (boring). Regardless, OUaT...iH was a premiere I had been looking forward to for months, and even though I didn't love the film, I couldn't deny that needling feeling in my stomach when I thought about how rare it was that new movies feel as important as this one. And I mean, truly important. That seems to happen less and less often now. At least in a theater. That is why, even though this film, and the previous one on this list would not even make my top ten of 2019, they are near the top of my experiences list. They felt significant and were highly anticipated and attended premieres. Would recommend reading Chaos by Tom O'Neill.

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1. Uncut Gems (2019)


This is how everyone wins. The fucking Safdie Brothers, man! They are among a small but growing(?) crop of directors that make me really excited about the present and future of film in a world of zero-stakes hero journeys and endless streaming. I'm cheating with this one, because my initial viewing of Gems was pretty uneventful: my theater had a small, scattered audience, and I attended alone on Christmas Eve. This was not an ideal theater experience for what I anticipated would be my favorite movie of the year (it is). However, it doesn't fucking matter, because I talked to the screen, sat forward in my seat, held my hands over my open mouth in shock, and laughed uncomfortably anyway! I loved this film as much as I desperately wanted to love it, in a year filled with new releases I thought were mostly just fine. That matters. It matters because I care about seeing things that make me feel something, that make me think about the way we live, that are also entertaining. Would recommend going to see Uncut Gems, but placing intricate parlay bets about how many people are in the theater with you, if any of them get up to use the bathroom, and how quickly they leave after the screening is over.

 

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