I never would have imagined that I’d be living in a Paul Verhoeven movie. Two whole decades into the 21st century and things are murderously insane. I can’t hide the fact that it feels pointless to make an end of the year movie list in the wake of all we endure. But nah, I ain’t going out like that. In fact, I’m just getting started. As long as there are movies that need championing, as long as there are some great cinematic experiences out there that people simply don’t know about, and as long as there is an opportunity to talk some shit, The National Board With A Nail In It shall live on. The only way out is through, so lets all get through this together. Might as well have some fun in the process. Let’s get it.
Best Movie About a Brown GuyObsessed with White People Music
Blinded by the Light is a heartfelt story about being torn between two cultures and using artistic inspiration to find your own voice. On the other end we have Yesterday, a flight of fancy about a struggling singer-songwriter who magically receives a chance to present brilliant music as his own, a twist on finding a balance between commercial success and artistic integrity. Cynical viewers might say that Blinded by the Light is on that same brown guy biopic, self-hating, white woman fetishism tip that The Big Sick was on. People also might scoff at the schmaltzy Yesterday as fluff that panders to baby boomers and music snobs with its colorblind exaltation of white music that itself shamelessly ripped off Black musicians’ innovation. There might be kernels of truth in those brutal criticisms, but the two movies are not without merit. I’ve been vaguely familiar with Bruce Springsteen for a long time, but it was only last year in my Faith and Social Justice class where I learned about his song “The Rising” and its meaning as a tribute to the firefighters and first responders of 9/11. Two years prior, he wrote and performed the song “American Skin (41 Shots)” inspired by the murder of Amadou Diallo at the hands of the NYPD. If there’s any artist worth embracing — who has sincerely advocated for our shared humanity in these troubled times — it’s The Boss. The Beatles have an unquestioned impact upon and legacy within the music industry, and it’s worth noting the band themselves never shied away from promoting the African-American influences in their early music. Whether those Black artists were fairly compensated is a discussion worth having, though one that Yesterday is not equipped to have, and that’s ok. There is a more generalized ethical quandary at play that comes down to “be true to your heart” which is a simple enough conceit to get on board with. If nothing else, I’ll give Yesterday points for using the same plot from Hot Tub Time Machine 2 to make a decidedly better movie.
Best Movie About a Brown Guy Obsessed with Black People Music
I had a great time with Gully Boy, a drama about a young man from the slums of Mumbai who hopes to break out of poverty through rap music. While parallels to the musical 8 Mile starring Eminem come to mind, there are many details within this rags-to-riches tale that allow the film to stand on its own. Gully Boy isn’t afraid to address heavy social issues head on, as the lead character Ahmed faces strife in a broken home, dismissal from artists and his peers, classism because of his dire straits, and racism because he (and most of the main characters in the movie) are Muslim. Indian star Ranveer Singh is sort of hilariously too old to be playing a young scrappy kid from the streets, but he gives his all in every dramatic scene and absolutely kills it on the mic in the explosive rap battles. Interestingly, the film is also loosely based on the rise of real life Mumbai emcees Naezy and DIVINE. Their breakout hit music single/video “Mere Gully Mein” made in 2015….
…was remade into a scene for Gully Boy where Singh re-recorded and performed Naezy’s verse for the film:
Gully Boy is a perfect example of taking a familiar concept and imbuing it with exciting new elements, a real crowd-pleaser that you should not miss.
Best Movie About Deceiving an Ailing Asian Mother in the Name of Duty & Mercy
The Farewell is one of my favorites of the year. The premise about keeping a matriarch’s cancer diagnosis secret is simple on paper, but what unfolds is a bittersweet family story told with absolute beauty and mastery. The particulars of the cultural signifiers here — everything from the food to the phrases to the locations to the psychology at play — has cut deep for many viewers; I ain’t seen this many people cry in the theater since Lion with Dev Patel. I and many others have criticized Awkwafina’s Black Voice in the past, but her performance in The Farewell adds a new angle to it as a woman struggling with cultural identity. You can consider this in reappraisal of her work, or as another woeful reminder of the frustration and heartache involved with the lack of representation in Hollywood; the choice is yours.
While you ruminate on that, you can also try and seek out the absolutely terrific Japanese family drama Lying to Mom, another of my favorites of 2019. The film opens with death of a young man and the mother bearing witness to the event. The ordeal leaves the mother stricken with shock-induced amnesia, so the family tries to protect her in a growing web of lies. The bigger the lies get, the harder they become to keep, but the hardest thing of all is grieving in denial. Lying to Mom perfectly balances beats of black comedy with powerful dramatic moments, a treatise on both grieving and survivors guilt that isn’t afraid to reckon with the absurdity of our all too human reactions to loss.
Both of these films are absolute treasures and proof that great cinema is still alive and well, we are lucky to have them in this or any year.
Best Killin’ Crocodilian Movie
You don’t necessarily have to be a serious drama in order to deal with the gravity of the human condition. There’s more than one way to skin a gator (don’t hold me to that terrible turn of phrase), and these two films are fun examples of this. Crawl is an exemplary piece of 21st century B-movie pulp. Lesser hands would have made this film a “Gatorricane,” a riff on those dull, fake-irony Sharknado movies. Instead, Crawl is a hardcore thriller wrapped around a somber family drama where the actors play it straight and have their characters become overwhelmed by the insanity of the perilous set up as opposed to brushing things off with sarcasm. In particular, the people of Caucasia should be utterly ashamed of themselves for not giving Kayla Scodelario the Dramatic Action-Adventure White Girl props she deserves. Instead they enthralled by that big head Florence girl but that’s okay. real recognize real. Also big shouts to Barry Pepper for his stalwart performance as a father in the grips of crippling depression; in a just universe he would be one of Hollywood’s most appreciated leading men.
On the other side of the world, there is the fascinating thriller The Pool. After an innocuous commercial shoot, a young couple gets trapped at the bottom of an old Olympic swimming pool that is 6 meters deep, beyond the reach of escape. Just when things couldn’t get worse, a crocodile emerges from the sewer, kicking the fight for survival into high gear. The Pool is as brutal as it is preposterous, and there’s some pretty crazy shit goin’ on here.
I still don’t know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile, but I do know that the movie genre of big ass reptiles chompin’ the shit outta people is alive and well. Dinosaurs still rule the earth!1
Most Crazy Ass Psychological Thriller Lighthouse Movie
Is it a manifestation of the ancient tale of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods for the sake of man’s enlightenment? Is it a testament to human ingenuity, standing boldly against the uncaring and unforgiving torrent of the natural world in all of it’s awesome power? Is it symbolic of a really big dick? Lighthouses are among mankind’s great technological wonders, piercing light into the cloudy mysteries of our world, while holding secrets of its own close to its edifice. Surprisingly, The Lighthouse is one of my favorites of the year. While I recognized many themes & references, I couldn’t actually tell you what the movie is “about”; it’s an emotional roller coaster nonetheless. There’s nothing quite like a raw, uncut barrel full of Ye Olde White Man Crazy. Similarly, I was a big fan of The Vanishing starring Gerard Butler. This film is based on the real world mystery of three lighthouse keepers who disappeared from the The Flannan Isles of Scotland in December of 1900. The Vanishing unravels the circumstances of the event to weave them into a conjectural drama, extrapolating in grisly detail what might have become of those doomed souls. Sadly relegated to the early January cinematic graveyard, The Vanishing is full of ominous mood and tension, an old school thriller with a great cast. Audiences bemoan the lack of small/mid budget films for adults, but still never show up when solid entries like this await them.
Don’t miss out on either of these, small scale movies full of mystery, misery and death that pack an intense punch, perfect for those cold winter nights.
Space Balls to the Wall
Space is some scary shit. Can’t breathe. No heat. Daddy issues. Sexual trauma. Jupiter being a big ol jerk. It’s always something. This year’s offerings of adventures into the vast unknown covers a pretty wide breadth of issues, as the emptiness of space provides a fertile canvas for all manner of metaphor about the human condition. Oddly, Ad Astra has some of the strongest sci-fi world building in recent memory, yet it seems to constantly pull away from all the fascinating ethical/philosophical/socio-political narrative points in order to drag us onward to the substantially less compelling hero’s journey. Despite my qualms, Ad Astra is still as handsome and pensive as its leading man, a fine film indeed. Towards the darker end of the spectrum is High Life, a poetic dirge of guilt and trauma centered on a derelict crew of convicts subjected to strange scientific experiments. While these and most of the big name/prestige pictures of the past few years dealing with space travel have been introspective pieces tinged with melancholy, we haven’t had a good ol rollicking astronaut adventure that hasn’t been part of a famous science fiction franchise in some time. Thankfully, The Wandering Earth is here to scratch that itch. Based on the novella by award winning author Liu Cixin, this Chinese blockbuster leans heavily into the fiction part of Sci-Fi as the planet Earth itself is transformed into an intergalactic spaceship on a mission to find a new solar system. If you took parts of the mind of Interstellar, the heart of The Martian, the muscle of Armageddon, and a pinch of insanity from The Core, you’d get something pretty close to the Chinese space epic The Wandering Earth.
No matter what kinda movie you’re in the mood for, space is always the place! Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons, cuz that’s what movies are all about.
Black to the Future
I regret sleeping on Don’t Let Go during its theatrical release, as this one really fell in line with my love of boilerplate crime dramas. It received mostly terrible reviews and I recognize most of the criticisms, especially in regards to its “colorblind” race casting which has the effect of making the movie bland at best and flat out offensive when considering the full weight and history of police brutality against African Americans in Los Angeles. Despite these substantial misgivings, I still found elements of the film very endearing. With its time paradox premise, Don’t Let Go sits in a weird nexus between a hardcore modern detective noir and YA fantasy. While it doesn’t always cohere, I appreciate the experiment.
Where Don’t Let Go falters, the impressive See You Yesterday shines. It is a story about a pair of genius high school students who successfully employ a time travel device, only to be trapped in a high stakes race against fate. This film is custom made for/by black nerds who dig time travel stories like Back to the Future and Primer, but also for those who watched Ghost Writer on PBS in the early 90s. The Ghost Writer link is important because See You Yesterday has that cheesy vibe, but also an indefinite ending shrouded in tragedy. To wit, we learn later in the show that the titular magical being in Ghost Writer is in fact the ghost of a slave murdered for teaching other slaves how to read.
When you talk about seeing your own image & stories on screen, See You Yesterday hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s New York as fuck; these nerdy kids were me many years ago trying to finding a balance between being “gifted” and being “hard” enough to navigate the streets. In this case that navigation is literal; the main characters go to my old high school, Bronx Science. I’ve walked that overpass to the Bedford Park Blvd 4 train station onto my hour & a half commute home countless times. None of that fake “Midtown School of Science”, this movie on some real shit. And also, See You Yesterday is Black & Caribbean as Fuck, capturing the essence of multi generational ethnic identity. As a Black Guyanese BxScience nerd, seeing the heroes’ lab proudly adorned with the Guyanese flag as they march into battle…my God, what an incredible feeling. Even the most mundane cultural signifiers in See You Yesterday feel like revelations. When CJ sucks her teeth at her brother, her mom/friend mistake it as towards them & stare daggers at her. Been there! Meanwhile, most white people don’t even know what “sucking your teeth” means.
Don’t Let Go and See You Yesterday are entry into the growing pantheon of Urban SciFi/Fantasy big and small, Including everything from Blade and Attack the Block to recent films like Sleight, Kin, and Good Manners. It’s especially significant that the films overtly emphasize how much of our future hinges on Black Women. It is important to expand how we see ourselves, and I look forward to further experiments in film that help expand those horizons.
Ghosts of the Diaspora
How many lives have suffered and perished in order for me to be alive, right here, right now? When I ponder the weight of history upon my ancestors, I also remember that even in the face of all they have suffered, they survived and became a a continuous chain of life that I am now a part of. How magnificent it is to realize that we are living physical proof that love can prevail over all? All this came to bear during my time with these two stories. The French-Senagalese film Atlantics is a haunting tale of love and vengeance. Atlantics is a modern Gothic romance down to its core, a classic story of star-crossed lovers underneath the towering spires of modern industry. It speaks to the ongoing labor exploitation of black people, the confinement of women in patriarchal societies, and the power of love that allows us to carry on.
Moko Jumbie is a film from Trinidad & Tobago that also intertwines an exploration of our past with a Gothic romance, where a young woman named Asha is drawn to Roger, the boy next door. Their taboo attraction grows despite family disapproval, political turmoil, a clash between Indians and Africans, and mysterious hauntings by unnaturally tall ancestral spirits. A Moko Jumbie is a stilts walker or dancer seen in festivals and celebrations throughout the Caribbean, thought to originate from West African tradition. The Moko Jumbie wards off evil spirits, but it has deeper meaning as a bridge between the new world and our African homelands. What stood out to me most about the film is its combination of abstract imagery and tangible details. Guyanese and Trinis share similar customs and culture, while still having our own distinct identities. I loved how things like the pointer broom (built from the leaf stems of coconut trees) or the fried bakes (a fried dough staple of Trinidad cuisine) evoked a rush of nostalgia, as it does for the main character visiting her childhood home. At the same time, we get bits of information about the shared history between West Indian people and Caribbeans descended from enslaved Africans. I was enraptured by the beauty of the lead actress Vanna Girod as Asha and moved to laughter and tears by her uncle played by Dinesh Maharaj.
Cinema is a window to other parts of the world and other parts of our soul, a way to talk about our unique circumstances, celebrate our individual identities, and share in our common bonds. Movies like these exemplify the power and spirit of this medium.
Best Cinematic Ass Whooping
Time for the heavy hitters, cinema in its purest form and function. As always, be mindful that an Ass Whooping is not necessarily the same thing as “best fight”. While some of these entries feature fantastic fight choreography, I’m mainly concerned with the power and impact that a passionate ass whooping has on the characters and the story
Based on a Japanese Manga/Anime, Alita: Battle Angel was maligned as a derivative flop, but it gained a devoted following nonetheless. Robert Roriguez can be criticized for a lot, but he also puts Latin representation front and center, and the tale of a young warrior finding her place in a new land has the same underlying cultural fervor with explosive genre films like the Machete series. In addition, whether intentional or not, many people resonated with the powerful transgender metaphor of a hero establishing and being proud of her chosen identity, inside and out. That it all pivots on several incredibly violent moments of
Kung Fu Panzer Kunst fury makes it all the sweeter. Continuing with the female empowerment theme is the Vietnamese action thriller Furie staring Veronica Ngo. Furie adheres to a familiar story template, but it works within that frame very well with plenty of bone crunching mayhem that really kicks into gear in the latter half of the movie. Just as Ong Bak highlighted Muay Thai and The Raid showcased Indonesian Silat, Furie is an awesome introduction to the Vietnamese martial art system known as Vovinam, which incorporates a wide range of strikes, grappling techniques, and weapons proficiency. Veronica Ngo is a gem, possessing legitimate dramatic chops as well as a background in cinematic fisticuffs. We haven’t had anyone come close to the graceful brutality of Michelle Yeoh in a long time, so I look forward to much more from Ngo in the future.
Speaking of Michelle Yeoh, the Madame of Mayhem joins a stacked cast of martial arts players in Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy, a spin-off of the famous biopic action series. Martial arts star Max Zhang reprises his role as Ip Man’s former rival Cheung Tin Chi, now living quietly in Hong Kong. His peace doesn’t last long, however, as he soon crosses paths with a dangerous cartel. All in all, a great addition to the franchise with plenty of quality asswhooping, including a standout beat down from Dave Bautista. Not to be outdone, Donnie Yen returns to the role of Ip Man one last time in his latest feature. What if all those Serious Historical Dramas starring Chadwick Boseman all ended with him using his Black Panther martial arts skills to beat the shit out of racial prejudice? That’s Ip Man 4: The Finale. Taking place in 1960’s, Ip Man searches for a way to bring his son to America for school, but he faces resistance by the local Grand Master who dislikes his unorthodox methods, as well as danger from a ruthless Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant who seeks to establish his (white) supremacy by crushing practitioners of Chinese Kung Fu. Though at first that might sound out of place, the truth is that beyond the impressive fight sequences, the heart of the series has always been about the ongoing struggle against oppression. Genuinely moving moments with some world class ass whooping, Ip Man 4 is a worthy end of a wonderful saga.
Jumping further back in time, we have the Tamil language epic Sye Raa Narahima Reddy, a mythological odyssey based on the titular real life historical figure who became an icon of Indian resistance against British Colonial rule. Like many bombastic Indian films, Reddy’s exploits are painted as superhuman feats of strength and bravery more akin to Hercules of Greek legend than any mere mortal of recorded history. Though heavy on melodrama, the action sequences have an incredibly crisp flow and weight that punctuate the carnage of each battle that sets it apart from typical Bollywood set pieces full of stylish posing. Seeing the British get their asses whooped by mighty Indian heroes is great on its own, but there’s also plenty of room to see rough and tumble Englishmen beat the shit out of each other. Enter Avengement, the latest collaboration between Director Jesse V Johnson and the martial arts phenom Scott Adkins. Avengement is a hardcore gangland tale about a Mob enforcer who escapes prison to extract revenge upon the criminals who set him up. Avengement is a boiler plate beat-em-up with a slight narrative spin, constructed as part prison fight movie, part chamber play, with heavy focus on interpersonal drama to coincide with the beatdowns. Adkins is renowned for his incredible physical feats, but I don’t think he gets enough credit for his presence and acting chops. He plays against type here as an unhinged goon driven by murderous rage but underlined with a heartbreaking vulnerability. If you’ve lamented artless action in big name blockbusters, Avengement is here for you, eager to take the hits.
If you haven’t heard of some the entries thus far, your likely very familiar with John Wick 3, as Keanu Reeves returns to continue the saga of his titular tortured assassin. Though I found the film overstuffed, I loved the addition of living legend Mark Dacascos as John’s/Keaunu’s deranged tethered (Dacascos should have been as big a star as Reeves, no question) as well as the dynamic duo of Indonesian stars Cecep Arif Rahman & Yayan Ruhian, famously from The Raid series. Special mention also goes to Halle Berry for infusing the series with some legit badass weirdo energy and being the centerpiece of a showstopping action sequence. These many flights of fisticuff fancy are all well and good, but perhaps the most surprising best ass whooping I’ve seen this year came not from an action movie, but a pitch black comedy. The Art Of Self Defense starring Jesse Eisenberg is one of my favorite films of the year that I feel has gone terribly overlooked. A screed on heavy issues such as toxic masculinity, sexism, cult mentality, and even gun control, The Art of Self Defense is an unusual experience that feels like if the Coen Bros. directed Napoleon Dynamite. I was as impressed with its unflinching moments of brutal violence as I was with how it handles varying levels of forthright, corrupt, & ambiguous morality at play. No simple soapbox nor child’s play, this is one for the ages.
Bonus: Best Animated Ass Whooping
Another pleasant surprise this year was discovering that quite a few of this years best ass whoopings came in the form of animated features. The biggest of all was the latest full length feature from the legendary Dragon Ball anime series. Based within the most recent television season iteration, we have Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which brings an old OVA fan favorite into the official canonical timeline. Broly is full of incredible super powered martial arts action, but it isn’t afraid to also take its time with the story and characters that fans have grown to love; fitting for a film where people punch each other so hard they tear a whole in the space/time continuum yet still learn respect each other in the end. Additionally, we have the latest entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe. Reign of The Supermen follows directly after 2018’s the Death of Superman, both of which are animated adaptations of the (in)famous comic book crossover event in the mid ’90s where Superman died and came back to life. The movie works well enough as an abridged and slightly modified retelling, but there are plenty of great battles to enjoy even if the story isn’t your thing. In a further spin on DC comic animated crossovers, we have a movie that practically no one asked for which ends up being one of the most purely fun and entertaining movies DC has made in years, animated or otherwise: Batman Vs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Eschewing any complicated universe building, BVTMNT is an old school whimsical romp that has a surprising amount of Easter eggs and references to the entire lore of both properties, an indicator of the care and love the creators had for each (they even have Bats in his Blue & Grey outfit!). Holding together the wackiness of it all are some very impressive highly technical fight sequences, to include brutal face-offs between Batman and The Shredder. All comic book movies should be this enjoyable!
Most Gangster Ass Movie of the Year
Dear reader, I will always have your back when it comes to putting you on to that real gangster shit, doing what all these other film critics is scared to do.This year boasts an impressive collection of Gangster Ass Movies from all around the world. I’ll start off with a surprise hit that absolutely knocked my socks off, Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez. I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen going in, but let there be no confusion, this is a fine piece of American Cinema, as real as Fincher’s Facebook movie, as sincere as Soderbergh’s Hillbilly Heist movie. The story echoes the rise and fall of criminal masterminds like in so many other gangster movies, but shown through a lens of sisterhood in ways we almost never see on screen. As hard hitting as any tales of gang land violence or criminal exploitation which have been part of our cinematic landscape for decades. Also, Titties.
Hustlers isn’t the only film that happens to feature some furious ass shaking which is integral to its gangster ass story. Heading down to South America, one of my favorites of the year is the explosive We Are The Heat from Colombia. My review from last year has the full rundown, but just know that this is Hood movie/Dance film hybrid is an explosive new addition to the pantheon of black-lead gangster movies, the evolution of dancing on film, and a badge of honor for the Afro-Latin people of Colombia; highly recommended! Also coming out of Colombia is Birds of Passage, a dramatization of the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade. A sprawling epic of a crime drama that maintains a sense of mystical intimacy, Birds of Passage is another of the year’s very best films. The indigenous Wayuu language and spirituality sets it apart from typical stories about the rise & fall of criminal empires.
Heading across the ocean back to the motherland, I present the awesome South African feature Sew The Winter To My Skin. Loosely based on the exploits of the real life South African folk hero John Kepe, this captivating Western uses the barest most minimal dialogue possible to tell a fascinating story of perspective. If you are a fan of the 2017 South African slow burn that was Five Fingers for Marseilles, you will absolutely love this stylish western. Continuing the theme of Non-American Westerns, the Indian film Sonchiriya is a down and dirty affair. 1975, The Chambal valley. A gang of rebel bandits engage in a heist that goes sideways, half captured or killed, the other half on the run. A chance encounter with a fierce woman protecting a young girl in desperate need of help leads them all further down a path of bloodshed in the dust. Any fan of Westerns, Gangster Ass Movies, or plin old classic violent drama should have Sonchiriya on their radar.
From Iran, we have the fantastic Sheeple, the story of a gang of drug dealers in the south of Tehran who take in orphans to do their biding. Two brothers are in the business of crystal meth, but things begin to fall apart when the supposed “honor” of their sister is compromised, leading to a downward spiral of ignorant bloodshed. What at first seems like a simple gangland tale ends up becoming a powerful commentary on Iranian culture. Further east into Japan, we have the stunning First Love, a rush of pure adrenaline full of hot lead, cold steel, and all heart. A young boxer meets a girl in trouble with a local drug dealer, and their encounter ignites a wild chase of desperate violence and bad blood. On paper, these stock tropes of Japanese Yakuza film would be rote, but in the hands of the cinematic Grand Master that is Takashi Miike, they become poetry.
Circling back stateside, we have the latest work form another Grand Master of film, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Based on the memoirs of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, The Irishman feels at times like a eulogy on a mis-remembered America as well as a swan song to the directors own oeuvre, full of melancholy and lament punctuated by moments of shocking violence and outstanding performances. There are no indications that Scorsese is near the end of his career, but if The Irishman happened to be his final film, it would serve as a fantastic punctuation mark on an immortal legacy. Knowing that, I also find comfort in the fact that there are other filmmakers across the globe who are adding to the great pantheon of Gangster Ass Movies for years to come.
Best Movies of the Year
In conjunction with my Veteran’s Day retrospective and the movies you’ve seen so far on this list, I’ve covered a lot of what I felt have been this years cinematic standouts, but there are still a few left that are worthy of the highest admiration. The trick here is to avoid films that have been covered to death by other writers and publications. Rather than blow more smoke up Once Upon A Time in Hollywood‘s ass or fawn over critical darlings movies like Uncut Gems (both of which are films I thoroughly enjoyed), I will highlight some works that I believe can stand on equal footing with those mainstream selections and in some cases best them in quality.
Starting in no particular order, I want to give praise to the grand martial arts opera Shadow. This glorious return to form by renowned director Zhang Yimou uses a striking charcoal color palate to reinforce a gritty tale of grey morality that’s equal parts political thriller and martial arts extravaganza. The line between chivalrous heroes and double crossing bastards is never black and white. From India, I fell in love with the spell binding Aamis. I experienced a fantastic cinematic revelation watching this, the kind of thing you love truly love movies for. Aamis is an incredible love story that softly, subtly, gently nudges you into exploring a shocking taboo. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
From Japan, Samurai Marathon is terrific film full of political intrigue, visceral swordplay, and memorable characters. Inspired by the events of a real foot race in 1855 that is still celebrated today, Samurai Marathon revolves around several samurai, government officials, and citizens competing for a feudal lord’s prize, as a deadly conspiracy unbeknownst to them slowly reveals itself. Samurai Marathon is a fine modern addition to the vaunted legacy of famous Japanese Jidaigeki/period dramas worthy of your time. You’ve no doubt already heard about Parasite, the extraordinary film from Bong Joon-Ho that seems to defy all standard labeling conventions, but I would also like to show some love to another wonderful film Korean film that I think you will greatly enjoy. Extreme Job is flat out one of the best police action/comedy movies I’ve seen in years; A squad of bumbling detectives go undercover at a fried chicken joint to gain intel on a nearby drug smuggling ring, but hilarity ensues as they end up becoming better restaurateurs than police! A cast of seasoned actors dive head first into foolishness and the results are an infectiously good time, a hilarious farce that also leaves some room for sly and incisive social commentary. When you finally see this, don’t do it on an empty stomach; this movie will give you a hard core craving for Korean fried chicken, so prepare yourself.
I absolutely adore Dolemite is My Name. It made me feel like I could conquer white supremacy in a single punch. This movie is like a powerful amalgamation of Once Upon A Time in Hollywood‘ + One Cut of the Dead x The Blackest Shit You Ever Seen. Dolemite is My Name is also the first time in a long time where I genuinely felt like I missed an actor and was happy to see them again; Eddie Murphy’s return to form is fantastic. The ensemble cast is great, but y’all better recognize that Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a genuine superstar who deserves to be in so many more films. Pushing the Black Power of cinema further beyond its threshold, Beyoncé’s Homecoming is a Best Motion Picture contender in any format in any year, and not seeing it on the lists of major publications/film critics is unsurprising, but no less disappointing. Anything you could ever hope to ask for from this other years films (ruminations on grief, sexuality, technical marvel, unabashed spectacle) are all found in abundance here. And what an eye for cinema she has, on top of her many other talents. You all really need to accept the fact that she is just that damn good; I was never a fan of her art before this film, but now I am a true believer.
In a way, selecting a single best feature of the year goes against the spirit of this list. However, I found myself profoundly moved in ways I seldom have in my life by this final selection. A feat of passion, a test of endurance, a cry for help, a masterpiece of cinema: An Elephant Sitting Still slowly drowns us in the waking misery of the downtrodden and cast aside of contemporary Chinese society. Four lives intertwine, suffering the abuses of a broken city where the corroding infrastructure reflects the decay of morality and human decency — it’s not surprising that it’s the work of a man who would sadly end up taking his own life. However, in all the sorrow and misanthropy, there is a glimmer of hope and appeal to perseverance. Our worst enemy and our best chance of survival is each other. We’re in this together, for better and for worse.
And so it is, The National Board With A Nail In It concludes. Thank you all very much for all your support throughout the past few years and for taking time out of your schedules to read my work. Speaking of schedules, you might be wondering why in the fuck would anyone make a best of the year list for 2019 in February of 2020. Well as they say, life comes at you fast and I’ve been trying to balance completing a bachelors and masters degree simultaneously while also preparing for my reintegration into the workforce. Moreover, I actually found it helpful to take the time to assess these pieces of art well after the usual end of the year time crunch. And yeah, I’m also a lazy bum. If we survive long enough, maybe next year’s list will come sooner. In any event, thank you once again and by all means, feel free to share your favorites of the year in the comments. Remember, when asking which are the best films of the year, there’s no wrong answer. Every film, no matter how big or small, intelligent or idiotic, has something that can an enrich us…
Except for Loqueesha. Fuck That Movie.