I’ve caught myself saying this every year for the past few years, but this year really felt like a special one for film. Don’t get me wrong, it had its fair share of trash (I’m looking at you, Rambo: Last Blood), but the movies that connected with me this year truly connected. Each film on this list impacted me in a profound way, and here’s hoping 2020 can match this savage pace.
After whittling away on a list, these are my ten favorite films of the year, and my favorite scene from each of them.
And be warned-spoils ahead. You’ve been given your one and only warning.
10. The Beach Bum
Favorite scene: Captain Wack’s dolphin tour.
Let’s start this list off with something fun! Martin Lawrence plays Captain Wack, an old friend of Moondog (a career-best work from Matthew McConaughey) who now runs a low-rent dolphin watch down in the Florida panhandle. The two friends, alongside the whitest family in the history of American cinema, take off to see if they can find some dolphins.
As expected, things don’t go quite as expected for our lovable dufuses. Captain Wack mistakes a handful of sharks for dolphins, takes a swim with them, and proceeds to have his foot bitten off by one of them. It is some pitch-perfect comedy, accented by the young daughter of the family who seems totally oblivious to Wack’s suffering (“When was the last time he clipped his toe nails? Seriously, that’s gnarly, man.”).
9. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Favorite scene: Mourning Kofi.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is the most beautiful film of the year, but it is also one of the most heartbreaking. Our lead, Jimmie Fails, has a complicated relationship with Kofi and his friends; enemies in some scenes, seemingly close friends in another. But after Kofi is killed, emotions start to spill, and tensions begin to mount between Jimmie and one of Kofi’s closest friends, Jordan.
But right when you think Jordan’s going to explode in fury, he does the opposite: he breaks down, sobbing into Jimmie. It is such a tender scene, as Jordan’s pain feels so raw, so painful. It’s highlighted by Jordan’s friends in the background, who force themselves to look away in attempt to hold back their own tears. It’s a brutal bout of grief, as well as another example of the film’s willingness to challenge masculinity and the confines that it creates.
8. The Farewell
Favorite scene: Billi’s goodbye.
I lost my grandmother at a young age. My grandfather then remarried, but his wife died soon after their marriage. He remarried yet again, but this time, he passed away first, with his third wife dying soon after. Although I wasn’t the closest with my grandparents, I’ve certainly experienced my share of grief from them. Almost too much, in fact, that the pain eventually became numb.
Yet the finale to The Farewell brought me back to the moment when I found out that my grandmother was passing, or when I was told my grandfather had a few days left to live. That pain, that anger, that anxiety. And while The Farewell does ultimately have a happy ending, the look that Billi (Awkwafina) and Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) share was oh so familiar. Thank you, Lulu Wang, for making such a beautiful film, and damn you for making these memories come back.
7. Ad Astra
Favorite scene: Roy’s call to his father.
Daddy Issues in Space wasn’t anything close to what I expected from it, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed. For a film so purposefully cold, Ad Astra was one of my most emotional moviegoing experiences of the year. And no scene better exemplifies the film’s emotional power than when Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) sends out a last ditch call to his father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones).
In what is the year’s most underrated performance, Pitt reads a letter calling for a response from his father, who alongside his crew members went missing during a space exhibition. The camera is tight on Pitt’s face, his eyes watery but refusing to let a tear drop fall. It’s a painful plea, one that Pitt masterfully performs, and it sets the foundation for the film’s later emotional payoffs.
6. Marriage Story
Favorite scene: Charlie & Henry read a letter.
Is it cheesy? A bit. Is it obvious? Maybe. But did this scene make me well up with tears? Most certainly!
Marriage Story wraps up its melancholy tale of lost love and divorce with its most tender of scenes. Charlie (Adam Driver) walks in on his son reading a letter from Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), Charlie’s now ex-wife. After watching his young son struggle to read through the letter, Charlie reads the letter aloud, in which Nicole described all of the things that she loved about Charlie. It is beautifully written & yet another showcase for Driver’s immense talent, and it serves as a painful reminder that even love doesn’t always work itself out.
Favorite scene: Geun-sae’s revenge.
Parasite has a hell of a lot of influences; it bounces from comedy to drama to even some horror, all while maintaining its allegory of class conflict. No one scene better exemplifies these influences than the Park’s birthday party. This is a scene that so heavily relies on previous context that it would be a waste to spoil it here, so just know that Bong Joon-ho sure knows how to stick a landing. And that shot of Geun-sae coming up the basement stairs? Shivers, man. Shivers.
4. Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood
Favorite scene: The home invasion.
Coming into Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, I was worried how they’d handle the, you know, whole Manson murder thing. Luckily, we don’t have to sit through the dramatization of the murder of Sharron Tate. Instead, we get to see the two coolest motherfuckers of the year brutally kill three members of the Manson family. I mean, c’mon, what more do you need?
Also, the reveal that Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) was holding onto his flamethrower from The 14 Fists of McCluskey in his pool shed may be the funniest gag of the entire year.
3. The Lighthouse
Favorite scene: Any scene involving alcohol & screaming.
The Lighthouse is without a doubt the least conventionally scripted film on this list. A majority of scenes consist of unintelligible screaming and arguing, especially once our good ole sea captain Thomas (Willem Dafoe) has gotten some booze into him. The last act of The Lighthouse almost entirely consists of scenes such as this, and Dafoe and Patterson give powerhouse performances, weaving between humor and tragedy so fluidly. It’s a damn shame neither of them will be recognized come the Academy Awards.
2. The Irishman
Favorite scene: Frank’s call to Jo.
Scorsese’s The Irishman is full of contenders vying for the film’s top scene. But one scene has stuck out each time I’ve watched the film, realizing the horror of what preceded it: when Frank (Robert De Niro) has to call Jo to comfort her, despite being the murderer of her husband, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Robert De Niro is, hands down, my favorite actor of all time. But throughout his countless roles, many of which are some of the most acclaimed performances of all time, no one scene of De Niro’s has impressed and moved me as much as this. De Niro stumbles through his words, obviously distraught at having lost his best friend, but also ashamed at having to face the repercussions of his acting. It is a remarkable bit of acting, a reminder that De Niro still has plenty left in the tank.
1. Uncut Gems
Favorite scene: The last 20 minutes.
I know that I gave spoiler warnings, but I don’t think I can in good conscience write about the final 20 minutes of Uncut Gems. If I was to spoil the ending for even just one person, I would be robbing them of one of the greatest cinematic experiences that I’ve ever experienced.
Please, everyone, go see this film. I’m going to try to avoid too much hyperbole (for now), but there has not been a film I’ve enjoyed more than this in years.
Adam Sandler for life.