Swampflix’s Top 10 Films of 2019

1. Midsommar A cathartic breakup drama disguised as a gruesome daytime horror. This traumatic nightmare-comedy about a toxic romance that’s far outstayed its welcome is distinguished by its morbid sense of humor, its detailed costume & production design, its preference for atmospheric dread over traditional jump scares, and its continuation of occultist, Wicker Man-style folk horror into a new generation of genre nerdom.

2. Parasite Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is a twisty, crowd-pleasing thriller about class resentment, with a particular focus on how Capitalism forces its lowliest casualties to fight over the crumbs that fall from on high. It’s a genuine phenomenon that such a savage commentary on class politics has become so universally popular, earning sold-out screenings & ecstatic critical praise for months on end as its distribution exponentially spreads. When was the last time such a wide audience embraced a movie that features *gasp* subtitles, much less such a tonally explosive expression of economic anger?

3. Knife+Heart This is fantastic smut, especially if you happen to enjoy classic slashers & gialli. Picture Dario Argento’s Cruising. Set against a gay porno shoot in 1970s Paris, it really turns the usual male gaze & female victim empathy of those genres on their head in a fascinating way. And it only improves on repeat viewings as its psychedelic flashback imagery and its Goblin-inspired synth soundtrack from M83 sink further into your subconscious.

4. In Fabric A tongue-in-cheek anthology horror about a sentient killer dress. Fully indulging in the Theatre of the Absurd, it’s a fun watch, but it also makes fashion photography, corporate employment, and romantic loneliness legitimately menacing. Especially recommended for anyone who’d be enticed by an arthouse remake of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, as it could easily be read as both over-the-top camp and a deadly serious creep-out.

5. Knives Out A modernized Agatha Christie-style whodunnit comedy in the mold of Clue that manages to deliver both a sophisticated, winding plot and pointed class politics. Like Get Out before it, it mocks a specifically Left version of political ignorance vis-à-vis latent and uninspected racism among the privileged class. Stumbling upon something this fun and this fiercely political feels like finding a rare gem in the cinematic wilderness.

6. The Lighthouse Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson costar as a lighthouse-keeper odd couple who gradually grow insane with hate & lust for each other. A black & white period drama crammed into a squared-off aspect ratio, this functions as an unholy, horned-up mashup of Guy Maddin & HP Lovecraft as well as a seafaring, swashbuckling mutation of Persona. It pushes the basic tenets of traditional masculinity and macho bonding rituals into the realm of a hallucinatory fever dream.

7. Us A surreal reimagining of C.H.U.D. that reflects & refracts ugly, discomforting truths about modern American class divides – mostly in the way that escaping the darkness of poverty is often impossible, and that those who manage to somehow embody the mythological idea of social mobility must do so at the expense of others. It also commands a nightmare-logic looseness throughout that was only hinted at in Peele’s debut, leaning heavily into the horror of The Uncanny. It’s like getting an extra hour to poke around in The Sunken Place.

8. The Beach Bum An abrasive stoner-bummer in which Matthew McConaughey plays a Florida-famous poet named Moondog. Harmony Korine always works best when he reins his indulgences in with a little guiding structure, and this one does so by riffing on 90s Major Studio Comedy tropes to hideous success. It’s basically Korine staging Billy Madison on the lower decks of a Jimmy Buffett pleasure cruise, a perfect continuation of the Floridian hellscape he previously sketched out in Spring Breakers.

9. Uncut Gems Another Good Time-style panic attack from the Safdie Brothers, in which New York City is just as loud, chaotic, and crowded as it feels irl. Adam Sandler’s manic performance of gambling addiction & familial regret toys with audiences’ empathy, and its larger story of international jewelry trade emphasizes upsetting truths about the exploitation & suffering that’s behind all the world’s beautiful stones.

10. The Irishman A late-career mafia epic from Martin Scorsese, the undisputed master of that genre. It’s a beautiful yet tragic story about obsoletion and the emptiness of a life spent mired in sensationalist violence, one with a metatextual significance in the life of its aging, self-reflective filmmaker.

Read Boomer’s picks here.
Read Brandon’s picks here.
Read Britnee’s picks here.
Read CC’s picks here.
See Hanna’s picks here.
Hear James’s picks here.

-The Swampflix Crew

The Irishman (2019)

Despite it earning an ecstatic reception that wasn’t afforded to similar late-career, swing-for-the-fences experiments like Silence or Hugo, I struggled to get excited for Martin Scorsese’s latest picture. Somewhere between the film’s 3.5-hour runtime and my disappointment in seeing my ancient Unkie Marty fall back on his tried & true Gangster Epic template, I couldn’t help but meet the prospect of watching The Irishman with an exhausted shrug. I doubt I ever would have caught up with the film at all if it weren’t for its prominence in the current Oscars Discourse, as I’ve been outright bored by Scorsese’s most recent mobster-violence retreads The Departed & The Wolf of Wall Street in the past. Even as someone who’d count GoodFellas among his favorite films of all time, I struggle to see the need to return to this thematic territory yet again, especially from a filmmaker who has so many other kinds of stories to tell (and, sadly, so little time left to tell them). It turns out that I was both a little right and a little wrong in my skepticism. The Irishman finds plenty more to say about the corruption & violence of organized crime that Scorsese has not addressed in previous efforts. Unfortunately, it allows that new material to be drowned out by an overwhelming flood of the same-old-same-old.

Scorsese mascot Robert De Niro stars as a low-level mafia hitman who becomes the unlikely, trusted bodyguard of infamous union organizer Jimmy Hoffa – played by the explosively charismatic Al Pacino. Pacino remains a hoot throughout the picture, which almost forgives the endless hours that monotonously detail the behind-the-scenes corruption & violence on the union-mafia border. Classic Scorsese collaborators like Joe Pesci & Harvey Keitel are flanked by giddy-to-be-there “youngsters” like Ray Romano & Bobby Cannavale in a GooderFellers redux that serves mostly as a history lesson to a new generation about why Hoffa was important in his time and how his flagrant corruption forever altered public opinion on labor unions in America. Each cast member holds their own in this decades-spanning epic, despite a distracting, much-written-about “de-aging” effect that lands the film near the realm of the “theme park” superhero movies Scorsese has been having fun flippantly dismissing in the press. It’s just that they’re instructed to joylessly go through the motions of reliving Marty’s past Mean Streets/GoodFellas/Casino triumphs, deliberately stripping the onscreen power & violence of any potential misinterpreted cool. No matter how many times Scorsese’s past pictures have been willfully misinterpreted as dorm-poster posturing for Badass Antiheroes, they’ve always had that same grim, hyper-critical eye for this realm of hyperviolent bullies. Those movies were just never this dull or exhausting. Scorsese is essentially repenting here for the sin of being entertaining.

In theory, I appreciate the idea of Scorsese self-examining what a life spent submerged in all this violence is meant to accomplish. In its best moments, The Irishman is exactly that – featuring an ancient De Niro, retired from his Murderer for Hire days, unable to find meaning in the remaining scraps of his life. He self-justifies his “youthful” crimes as a soldier who was just following orders, one with a duty to “protect” his family by remaining well-employed. After three grueling hours of matter-of-fact violence & corruption, the movie finally finds him discovering just how empty all that dutiful brutality truly was. Faced with the idleness of obsoletion & an inability to mend familial bonds that were never really there to begin with (especially with a silently disgusted adult daughter played by an expertly icy Anna Paquin), he actually considers what he’s done with his life for the first time, and is haunted by what he finds. That’s the core of the movie! That’s new, fresh territory worth dwelling on & exploring at length in miserable sequences of domestic drama. Unfortunately, these scenes that get at what the movie is About are only a small blip in a grander picture, a flood of familiar faces & imagery from Scorsese’s past work. I could have fallen in love with The Irishman if it started with that final half-hour and really dug into the themes that distinguish it as a unique work in Scorsese’s catalog. As is, they’re treated more as dashes of seasoning rather than a proper meal.

Ultimately, The Irishman is Fine. It’s also easy to complain about and not entirely worth the effort, so in that sense I suppose it’s a perfect Oscar Movie. Part of me wishes that Scorsese had gotten all these accolades for something more demanding & daring like Silence instead, but I can’t begrudge one of our greatest living cinephiles getting recognized for his contributions to the artform – no matter the context. The only real hurdle here for most audiences is going to be its massive runtime, as everything else goes down relatively smooth (including the confounding “de-aging” tech, thanks to the growing ubiquity of CGI fuckery on the big screen). I’ve got my own personal reservations about the choice in subject matter & thematic emphasis, but no real fervor for shouting them at what appears to be an otherwise appreciative crowd.

-Brandon Ledet