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Every FILM FEST 919 movie I watched, ranked

In October 2019, I attended my first ever film festival in entirety. I spent four days, from a Wednesday evening until a Sunday evening, living and breathing film appreciation. Although I did take breaks to sleep and eat, it was a very intensive sprint of watching as many movies as possible, without going insane. Although I hope to write individual reviews of each film, at the very least I wanted to look at all the movies in comparison to one another. Below, find my rankings of all the films I watched. To create this ranking, I looked at three aspects.

Enjoyment: Did I enjoy watching the film on a visceral level
Technical merit: Things like good acting, pretty to look at, screenplay, art of story, sound editing
Importance: How unique and important is that this story be told.

I then had to do some shifting to ease my conscience. But, just a disclaimer: I didn't any movies that were "bad" or "not worth seeing." The festival curators did an excellent job choosing films that were worth talking about. When movies are as good as these, it is very hard to rank them, but something has to shift to the bottom.

#15 Ira Sachs' Frankie

In this bittersweet and poignant 24-hour story, Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) gathers the members of her "chosen family" for what may be her last time to see all of them together. With a large ensemble cast, Frankie realistically examines the issue of mortality and how families deal with terminal illness. The performances were great, and the evocative setting in Sinta, Portugal is sigh-worthy. I didn't feel the story was that unique, however. There is nothing wrong with this movie, but it didn't necessarily tread new ground.

#14 Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory

Almodovar's biopic moves breezily through his life story to cover his relationship with mother, first realization that he is attracted to men, his writer's block, his physical maladies, and relationships with lovers and friends. His memories of the past interwine with present-day events, and we see how one informs the other. With much of the apartment and decor consigned form Almodovar's actual household, viewers will enjoy the "look" of this movie, especially the modernist Milan decor and furnishings.

#13 Kleber Filho and Juliano Dornelles' Bacurau

Definitely one of the more unique entries in the film festival, Bacurau is a weird western set in a futuristic matriarchal Brazil. With nods to John Carpenter, the residents of Bacurau gather to mourn the loss of one of its prominent women. Teresa comes home to mourn her grandmother and discovers that a local gang of white (American?) thugs have decided to play a game that involves killing as many residents of Bacurau as possible for kicks. It turns out the residents of Bacurau are not into being part of the game and are able to fight back against the invaders, using their combined strength as a community. I personally loved this film and enjoy how it tackled colonialism from a horror movie lens. It also provided much-needed representation from South American cinema. At times, it was hard to understand the motivations of the individual villagers, but in the end they all work together. Interesting take on punishment, as well, as different villains are killed in different ways, showing how the villagers feel about each one.

#12, Kantemir Balagov's Beanpole

With some of the most bleak images viewers may ever see, Beanpole takes place in Leningrad, 1945. Although World War II has ended, the people are still recuperating from the losses they endured. Ilya works in a hospital, where she's a well-liked and respected nurse. Her height earns her the name Beanpole. But when Masha comes to visit, we learn more secrets about Ilya. War is cruel, but what happens when people have no food, and get no relief from their pain? They hurt one another. Beanpole is a visual experience, but not a pleasant one. You will learn something about suffering, though, and the realistic depictions of PTSD will provoke empathy. The clothing in this film, is to die for, as well, and the striking images of the girls in their jewel-toned clothing clash with the blead wintry surroundings.

#11 Peter Strickland's In Fabric 

In the only horror film shown at this festival, lonely divorcee Sheila is ready for a change in her life. She wants romance and connection. To give her confidence on dates, she purchases an artery-red gown that is cursed. Anyone who comes into contact with it shares a similar fate. With jabs at fashion, online dating, and culture, In Fabric is a fun watch. Nothing too new here, but beautiful imagery.

#10 Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit

Jojo, an over-imaginative young boy growing up in the time of Nazi Germany imagines he regularly converses with Adolf Hitler. When he discovers his mother has been hidden a teenage Jewish girl, he is forced to rethink his beliefs about everyone he admires. With great performances, lots of laugh-out-loud humor, and a fun soundtrack, Jojo is a crowd-pleaser films. But I did wonder why we needed a humorous film set in Nazi Germany.

#9 Celine Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Many festival goers cited this as their favorite movie. This well-crafted suspenseful love story covers a range of issues from art, the creator of art vs. the subject of art, female agency, and the difference between love and ownership. Marianne has been hired to paint a portrait of Heloise. But Heloise doesn't want to be painted. So Marianne must paint her in secret. After a failed attempt to pain the portrait, Marianne and Heloise begin to form a deeper relationships than either expected. This story re-envisions the idea of the muse and offers a compelling portrait of women who find their own way of having freedom inside a male-dominated society. I loved the few musical interludes and thoughts about art. Many cite how well this film pairs with Call Me By Your Name. And indeed, each films ends with a character thinking tormented thoughts to the background of passionate music. The framing of this film is outstanding, with well-thought out shots that show the lead characters' growing relationship and their epic love. Look for nods to Hitchcock's Rebecca and Vertigo.

#8 James Mangold's Ford v Ferrari 

I went into Ford v Ferrari expecting a fun action movie about racing. Indeed it was, but it was exceptionally well-made film about racing and the efforts of Ford Motor Company to produce a racecar that could compete with Ferrari at France's 24-hour race, Le Mans. Sometimes when you are watching a bunch of "important" films, you need a blockbuster. With big stars like Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal, this certainly fit the bill. But the story is also told with technical mastery, including great sound editing and wonderful shots of the driving course. I don't know how accurate the events are depicted in the film, but it was certainly a fun ride, and that's all I wanted out of this movie.

#7 Edward Norton's Motherless Brooklyn

Although this noir mystery thriller had few surprises, it had a well-chosen ensemble cast and a sassy jazz soundtrack. Lionel Essrog is a detective with Tourette's syndrome, meaning he speaks with verbal tics and often barks out inappropriate comments. After his boss gets killed on a mission, Lionel begins to investigate some things on his own, hoping he can make sense of Frank's death. He uncovers a web of government corruption and racial discrimination. It was a beautifully told, not-so-unique story.

#6 Fernando Meirelles' The Two Popes

In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI elected pope by his fellow clergy. In 2013, he resigned and Pope Francis took his place. This film depicts the events from Benedict's election to his resignation and the election of Pope Francis. While it may not sound exciting, this film does a great job introducing these two characters, establishing a "rivalry," and then convincingly show how and why Francis would go from snubbing Benedict, to seeing how the Church truly needed reform and this new leader. The two men's friendship is delineated with respect for both people. It was a truly informative story.

#5 Gilles Lellouche's Sink or Swim,
In this contemporary feel-good comedy, a group of French men decide to go all out and compete in a synchronized swimming contest. What can I say about this movie? I just smiled throughout. It's a comedy with heart. I love seeing a movie about men who end up finding their purpose. And it was super sweet that they had a tough-as-nails coach in a wheelchair. The world needs more stories like this that leave a good taste in the mouth. Everything doesn't need to be dire to be worthy.

#4 Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story

Marriage Story shows how ugly divorce can be and still manages to end on a hopeful and tender note. Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are getting a divorce. Although they begin wanting to keep things civil, in the end, the proceedings get divisive as each tries to fight for their son and the life they want independent of one another. Charlie runs a theater company in New York, while Nicole feel free to enjoy the west coast life that Charlie never allowed her to have. Although this film overall is great, the performances are what drive this film, and Adam Driver acts his little butt off in this film. He gave a very nuanced performance. Laura Dern as a divorce lawyer is also very effective. In the end, the film leaves viewers with hope that there is life after divorce.

#3 Trey Shults' Waves
Waves is a Shakespearean tragedy centered on one family. Tyler has it all: a wrestling career, a girlfriend, and a supportive family, but when his luck begins to change the cracks begin to show in his perfect life. As Tyler's story spirals out of control, Emily, his sister, takes over as the lead protagonist and shows how the family is recovering after Tyler's devastation. With top-of-the-line performances, a compelling storyline, and gorgeous coloration, Waves is one of the best film of the year.

#2 Alan Har'el's Honey Boy
In this gut-wrenching memoir, a male actor (Lucas Hedges) named Otis begins intensive therapy about the way he was raised by an emotionally abusive but possibly well-intentioned father. We see numerous flashback of young Otis (Noah Jupe) and his interactions with is father (Shia LaBeouf). The screenplay was written by LeBeouf and based on his own life. Stories of childhood trauma are in my wheelhouse, and I was very impressed with this film. It created an interesting mix of empathy towards all of its characters, including the neglectful father. To me, it inspires me to be more compassionate towards people who act out in outrageous ways. You never know what someone has been through. And a well-positioned word of compassion may do wonders.

#1 Bong Joon-ho's Parasite
In this genre-blending film, the Kim family live in the Korean slums in a basement-level apartment. Their apartment is marked by the ultimate symbol of poverty, a toilet sits up high like an important family object, to keep the plumbing at optimum gravity working order. The family is intelligent and resourceful, outwitting others to keep their money supply constant. Their luck begins to change when the elder son Ki-woo is asked by a wealthy friend to take over as tutor for Da-hye, the daughter of the Park family. Ki-woo quickly makes himself indispensable to the daughter and family, and through ingenuity, is able to get the rest of his family hired as an art tutor, chauffeur, and housemaid. During a family camping trip, while the Parks are away, the Kim's learn they are not the only ones who have found a honeypot to suck on, and the movie takes a dark turn. Parasite was the festival overall favorite, and for good reason. With outrageous performances, surprising plot twists, and compelling social themes, Parasite is a film that will keep audiences talking.

And there you have it, my personal Film Fest 919 ranking. What did you pick as the top film?

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