Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” plays like a throw-it-at-the-wall experiment, but an earnest one. This eighth DC Extended Universe movie is certainly the least stiff — a free-flowing, time-jumping crime-and-evasion tale from the perspective of flighty narrator Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who we met in “Suicide Squad.” It’s not as good as it should be, but it’s not as bad as it could have been.
The “Conjuring” series is unusual among horror franchises in that its core stories come from true events – in this case from the lives of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). Adding outside intrigue is the fact that many people doubt the validity of the supernatural, on which the Warrens made their living. “Annabelle Comes Home” (2019), now on HBO, acknowledges this issue, as the Warrens are the subject of a “Heroes or Hoax?” newspaper report in the wake of the events of “The Conjuring” (2013).
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.
All the Bright Places” (February, Netflix) walks a fine line. For some young viewers, it’ll be the best movie they’ve ever seen; for cynical older viewers, it’ll be a cliché-ridden bore fest. For me, it’s pretty much the best Gen-Z teen romance I’ve seen (Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are late-era millennials, but they play younger than their ages). There’s always the fear that modern teens will be off-puttingly self-centered and all-knowing, but I liked Fanning’s Violet and Smith’s Finch, and they are quite cute when going through the cliches.
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.
The “Terminator” franchise isn’t owned by Disney (yet), but “Terminator: Dark Fate” (2019) – if you take away Sarah Connor’s potty mouth — is what a Disney “Terminator” would be like. The filmmaking is slick and the action is impressive, and we get callbacks to the classic installments (notably Linda Hamilton returning for the first time since 1991’s “T2”). But the story/screenplay by six writers offers nothing new.
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.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching “Ad Astra” (2019). Director James Gray’s film blends a solar system travelogue with the family drama of Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride hoping to connect with his estranged father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones). Clifford is on a spaceship orbiting Neptune as Roy starts off from Earth. “Ad Astra” is one big metaphor about a gulf in a relationship, but its space-porn visuals and the delicate, somber music from Max Richter made it irresistible for me. (Other viewers will find it too slow; this is a matter of taste.)