With the return of movie theatres – or at least new movies for those theatres to show – pushed further and further into the future, there is no better time than to catch up on the best movies you likely missed from 2019, a year that, in retrospect, seems blessedly divine.
Ad Astra, Crave James Gray’s Ad Astra opens on one of the planet’s cooler customers: astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt). The well-respected scientist spends his days working for the militarized force known as SpaceCom and is renowned for his unflinching nature. Even when he’s falling from the top of a satellite to the Earth below, as he does in the film’s first few minutes, Roy’s heart rate never rises above 80 beats a minute. This calm presence does not extend to his personal life, though, as Gray inserts quick flashes of a marriage gone awry and Pitt’s voiceover frequently betrays his many self-doubts and frustrations.
At nearly every moment, Ad Astra completely takes over your senses, overwhelming in only the way the most focused of filmmakers can. For large stretches of the film, Pitt’s hero is completely alone, but Gray doesn’t isolate his audience or treat the inherent torture of long-haul distance as a sadistic pleasure. His journey to the stars is one meant to be taken collectively by an audience, each viewer bringing their own baggage for one very heavy and distant voyage.
Dolemite Is My Name, Netflix Director Craig Brewer clearly realizes what a gift Eddie Murphy is to his latest film, a biopic of comedian and filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. The uproarious Murphy injects so much charm and verve into the performance it’s as if the actor’s career depends on it – which it sort of does. Murphy hadn’t made a film in three years (2016′s Mr. Church), he hadn’t made a good film in almost 15, (2006′s Dreamgirls), and let’s not even try to figure out when the actor last made a good comedy.
Playing Moore, who helped define the blaxploitation genre and has been called the “godfather of rap” because of his highly stylized stand-up delivery, is not only a perfect fit for Murphy, it’s also his last best shot at a career comeback. And Murphy nails it. Shame that most awards bodies last year decided to completely miss it. Don’t make the same mistake now.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Amazon Prime Video If you were coming to Marielle Heller’s film expecting a dramatized version of 2018′s documentary success story Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, you are going to be very sad. But you might become even more weepy, in a good way, with what A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood actually delivers, which is an admirably quiet, challenging and sporadically strange meditation on fathers, sons and the poison that is suppressing your feelings.
The story, adapted from Tom Junod’s article for Esquire magazine, focuses not on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) but the depressed magazine writer (Matthew Rhys) assigned to profile him. What follows is a back and forth between the two men that reveals less about Rogers and more about the people the television host tried to help. Hanks is, not surprisingly, excellently cast, but it’s Heller’s direction and inventive aesthetic instinct – everything is washed-out browns, with the exception of a moving blue-lit finale – that sell the work so well.
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