Back to the Future Part II” (1989) is a master class in plotting, as Bob Gale tells the latest adventure of time-traveler Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) within the nooks and crannies of his first 1955 journey in “Back to the Future” (1985). Meanwhile, director Robert Zemeckis and his team masterfully intersperse new footage with familiar shots from the first film; this must’ve been tons of fun for moviegoers at the time, and honestly, it still is.
Back to the Future” (1985) is one of the all-time great films, utterly fun and free-wheeling, yet it rewards film nerds’ deeper explorations with its flawless storytelling structure and genre balance. It’s adorable despite being about a teenage girl crushing on her future son, it’s smart despite being about something that’s impossible, and it accurately captures two out of three eras. Its 1955 and 1985 are pitch-perfect; the flying-cars version of 2015 not so much. But it does promise more time-hopping fun, teasing the possibilities of further adventures with that classic ending where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) views his own actions from earlier in the film.
The job of lighthouse keeper, from the long-ago days when the lights needed to be manned, has a pure and simple grandeur. The keeper had his list of daily duties — mundane, monotonous and lonely, yet essential for the survival of ships at sea. “The Lighthouse” (2019) – now on Amazon Prime — taps into some of the job’s reality, but it’s mostly a grim mood piece chronicling Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim being driven crazy by Willem Dafoe’s farting Thomas in the 1890s at an offshore New England lighthouse.
Has anyone had a better three films in one year than Jim Carrey’s 1994? He broke into the mainstream with “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and later delivered my favorite comedy of all time, “Dumb and Dumber.” In between came “The Mask,” which is his best superhero performance/movie (sorry “Batman Forever” and “Kick-Ass 2”), even though it comes up in conversation less than other roles from his vintage period.
Who would’ve thought one of the most sneaky-cool films of 2019 would also be one you can recommend to your parents? Writer-director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” re-invigorates the mystery genre, and while its unusual smattering of comedy is a big talking point, this ain’t exactly “Clue.” It’s ultimately a masterfully plotted, thoroughly gripping story that reveals new pieces of information right up until the old-fashioned “here’s what happened” finale. It sprinkles comedy and social commentary as spices.
The two most remarkable things about “Jojo Rabbit” (2019) are 1, that it’s a mainstream comedy about a kid who loves Hitler, and 2, that there’s nothing odd about this premise once you get into the flow of the movie. Writer, director and Hitler actor Taika Waititi locks into the unusual yet correct tone for this story of a Hitler Youth, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), who looks to his imaginary friend the Fuhrer for guidance and falls in love with a Jewish girl hiding in his walls.
Aside from its wonderful locations and car designs that capture the 1960s, director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) is a sober re-creation of a niche slice of history. He trusts that 24-hour racing at Le Mans and Daytona will be exciting enough to capture and hold the layperson’s attention. He pushes it with the 2-hour, 32-minute run time, but ultimately he’s right. While non-racing-fan moviegoers aren’t likely to tune in to TV coverage of the next 24-race, this sport plays tremendously well in movie form.
Foreign filmmakers, particularly in Asia, have been making long, engrossing, surprising statements about human issues of the day for a long time, and “Parasite” (2019) may not be the elite example of the form, but it’s a worthy Best Picture winner. If this first-ever foreign film to win Best Picture gets people to check out more subtitled gems, it’s worth it. Director/co-writer Bong Joon Ho, along with co-writer Jin Won Han, crafts a darkly funny commentary about South Korean class relations that the American film “Us” wishes it could’ve approached.
Marriage Story” (2019, Netflix) is both a stark portrayal of why people should never get married (it costs way too much to get divorced) and a surprisingly good love story considering that we meet these people amid their divorce proceedings. In stage play-like fashion, writer-director Noah Baumbach portrays the daily lives of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). While there is one extreme shouting match, the couple is mostly calm and mature; it’s actually the legal process of divorce that gets a viewer’s blood boiling.
The Irishman” (2019, Netflix) pairs nicely as the back half of a double feature with 1992’s “Hoffa.” That film, which was likewise Oscar-nominated, focuses on Jimmy Hoffa’s creation and popularization of a workers’ union, whereas director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” digs into the darker corners of the mobsters who circled around Hoffa. Both films are from the point of view of one of Hoffa’s trusted seconds: Danny DeVito’s Bobby Ciaro in “Hoffa” and Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran, the titular Irishman.