Oscar Watch: 5 of Our Favorite Films of 2019
It’s the most wonderful time of the year: the preamble before Awards Season. As the first snowflakes fall, the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman, descends on expectant theaters (and Netflix). Meanwhile, Google Play is asking you to cough up $19.99 for a repeat viewing of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Sure, these heavy-hitters are bound to get some Academy Award buzz, but they aren’t the only winners out there this winter. This year, ditch the typical Oscar bait and enjoy these foreign, indie and lesser-known cinematic gems that are on track to nab some golden statuettes.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco | Directed by Joe Talbot (A24)
Joe Talbot’s feature directorial debut is based on a story developed in part by Jimmie Fails, who also plays the titular role. The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a semi-autobiographical account of Fails’ struggle to reclaim his childhood home, a Victorian located in the city’s Fillmore District, as his city undergoes gentrification. After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, the film won an award for Best Directing as well as a Special Jury Prize for Creative Collaboration.
The Farewell | Directed by Lulu Wang (A24)
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a comedy-drama based on Wang’s life experiences, which she first unveiled to the public in the form of a radio story called What You Don’t Know on NPR’s This American Life program. Starring Awkwafina as Billi, an aspiring Chinese American writer living in New York, and acting legend Zhao Shuzhen as Billi’s Nai Nai (paternal grandmother) who lives in Changchun, China, The Farewell centers on the relationship between a granddaughter and grandmother.
Parasite | Directed by Bong Joon-ho (Neon)
The universally acclaimed Parasite isn’t director Bong Joon-ho’s first celebrated outing. His sophomore film Memories of Murder (2003) brought him international success, and two of his other hits, The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013), are two of the highest-grossing films of all time in South Korea. However, Parasite won the coveted Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, making Bong the first Korean director to nab the award.
Uncut Gems | Directed by Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie (A24)
Unless you’ve been on the festival circuit, you probably know as much as we do: Adam Sandler’s character, Howard Ratner, is a jewelry store owner — and compulsive gambler. Surprise, surprise: Ratner needs to pay off his debts before it’s too late. Another certainty: Every few years, Sandler will cast aside his Saturday Night Live/Happy Gilmore schtick and cobble together an Oscar-worthy, dramatic performance, as evidenced by Punch-Drunk Love (2002) and as attempted in Reign Over Me (2007).
Waves | Directed by Trey Edward Shults (A24)
Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is set in South Florida and stars his It Comes at Night (2017) star Kelvin Harrison Jr. Co-starring heavy hitters like Renée Elise Goldsberry, Lucas Hedges and Sterling K. Brown, it traces a family’s journey as they navigate love and forgiveness in the wake of a jarring loss. This patient family drama — set to a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score — was praised by the Los Angeles Times for being "deeply rooted in its characters’ consciousness."
Honorable Mention: Booksmart | Directed by Olivia Wilde (Annapurna)
Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut is a heartfelt — yet raunchy — coming-of-age comedy that centers on the friendship between two young women (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who set out to break some rules and have some wild fun the night before graduation. One of those women even gets a queer romance storyline, which is refreshing. In fact, this whole film is a refreshing take on a well-worn genre.