7. Little Women
Greta Gerwig takes a classic tale and brings a fresh new style to it with parallel editing between the story’s two timelines. She uses dominant blue and yellow lighting as contrasting visual markers to distinguish between the time periods, and uses the disorder to reinforce thematic elements of the story. Gerwig’s wide lenses, framing and modern production design add unique visual flair to her interpretation (especially the well-fitting costumes that appropriately appeal to a 21st century viewer’s sense of style). The film is, at its core, about art and what it is for each of the sisters. They have conversations about their thoughts on what it means, their struggles with feeling adequate as artists, and exude pure joy when creating. While Saoirse Ronan steals the show, each actress is perfect for their role. This is the boldest version of Little Women, making it my absolute favorite.
6. Marriage Story
Scarlett Johannson and Adam Driver, two of the biggest names in Hollywood, are a real couple in this raw, realist look at divorce. I could watch them sit on couches and talk about their hopes and dreams for hours. The film shows each side giving their views, but we watch in frustration as they fail to communicate anything to each other. There’s simplicity to the cinematography that captures the feelings of characters relative to different shots in the sequence while allowing freedom for the characters to behave like real people in real space. I’m particularly fond of Baumbach’s long takes that show characters wandering into the bathroom as much as I do during conversations. It’s cool to see Netflix make such a good film available to so many that may not have heard about it otherwise.
5. Knives Out
Recommended for you: Knives Out (2019) Review
A classic “whodunnit” sort of story made for modern tastes and expectations, Knives Out’s best quality is its unique, brash design. The art piece of knives formed in a circle is meticulously framed throughout the film, and the sets are drastically different to make sure areas are easily identifiable from one another. The editing moves seamlessly between time in space, giving obvious signals to audiences that it’s the night of the murder versus the present. The script is tight, incorporating moments that seem like fleeting character building into the narrative. Rian Johnson knows how to make likable and interesting movies that fit into the mainstream, and Knives Out is his best work so far.
4. Uncut Gems
Recommended for you: Uncut Gems (2019) Review
There’s a scene in Uncut Gems where Kevin Garnett, playing a fictionalized version of himself, asks Sandler’s Howard Ratner how much he paid for the black opal Garnett wants to purchase. Howie goes on to appeal to KG’s competitive side, comparing his jewel hustling to the basketball player’s pursuit of an NBA Championship. “This is me. This is how I win,” Howie tells him. This moment shows the value in a wholly unethical, degenerate gambler. I instantly fell in love with the film because I grew up as a Jewish NBA fan with a propensity for sports betting, but Uncut Gems’ real greatness is in its portrayal of the human condition. The strength of humanity to persist and struggle towards a lofty goal is incredible to behold, and the character study of Howard Ratner is as tense as any thriller ever made.