Top 10 Films of 2019 + Honorable Mentions

HAPPY NEW YEAR … and welcome to a new decade!

(I think you can still say that until end of Jan right? 😀 )

Well, it’s time for the obligatory Top 10 Best list. I usually post mine a bit later in January, but this year, time ran away with me as next week is already February! But hey, I think it’s still fine to post one’s top 10 list before the Oscars anyway.

Since there are still plenty of 2019 movies I have not seen yet, I should preface this post with the fact that I haven’t seen The Lighthouse, The Two Popes, Dolemite Is My Name, Uncut Gems, Honey Boy, The Irishman, etc. which might alter my current Top 10.

It goes without saying of course, that it’s my list… my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list.

Well without further ado, here we go… 

Top 10 Films of 2019

(In alphabetical order)

1. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

I just remembered that the Mr. Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was on my Top 10 of 2018. I didn’t even grow up watching his show, but I do know of his legendary kindness and iconic red cardigan. I love that Marielle Heller’s heart-rending film isn’t really about Fred Rogers himself, but more about his friendship between him and journalist Lloyd Vogel. Tom Hanks is an obvious choice to play Mr. Rogers given his also legendary ‘nice guy’ reputation, but Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper are also exceptional in portraying a combative relationship between father and son. The film definitely captures the essence of Mr. Rogers and how kindness is always on trend.

2. A Hidden Life

I have to say that Terrence Malick is a hit and miss filmmaker for me, but I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector who refuses to fight for the Nazis in WWII. It’s an undeniable s-l-o-w film but it doesn’t feel tedious or boring to me as the reflective style is absorbing, boasted by the performances of August Diehl as Franz and Valerie Pachner as his wife Fani. You truly feel for them as they struggle to stand by their Christian principles to oppose the Nazis, despite being clearly hated by the community and seen as traitors of sort. The stunning visuals are to be expected in a Malick’s film, but it never overshadows the narrative. Definitely an emotional experience and an inspiring one about what it means to courageously stand firm in one’s faith.

3. The Farewell (my review)

If you’ve read my review from last Spring, you’d already know how much I adore this film. I’m dismayed that the Oscars completely snubbed the film, director Lulu Wang and Awkwafina‘s performance, but hey it’s definitely NOT the end of the road for everyone involved. It’s such a compelling, specific-yet-universal story told in a brilliant way, funny and heartbreaking. As an SE-Asian woman living in the US, the story struck a chord with me and it made me think of my own family and the cultural clashes I sometimes face as an immigrant. The Farewell has a deceptively simple premise but one that packs a wallop, I sure hope Wang will continue to make films in the future!

4. Fighting With My Family

What a year for Florence Pugh! I didn’t even know who she was a year ago and this year she’s got not one but TWO films on my Top 10 list! I remember hearing from someone that this is a good movie, and despite not being a fan of wrestling at all, I decided to rent it. I’m SO glad I did. Pugh is absolutely mesmerizing as a small-town UK girl who dreamed of being a WWE superstar. But the supporting cast is wonderful as well, including Jack Lowden, Lena Heady and Nick Frost who made up her family. Thanks to a fantastic script and direction by the multi-talented Stephen Merchant, this is such a hidden gem that should’ve gotten more love. It also boast one of the most memorable performances from Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson playing himself!

5. Jojo Rabbit (my review)

This is one of the three movies I saw at Twin Cities Film Fest that ended up in my Top 10 (the other two are Marriage Story and A Hidden Life). I had been a fan of Taika Waititi, as he’s got such a gift of mixing humor and pathos. He’s done it again this time with this rather controversial film, with the filmmaker portraying Adolf Hitler, no less! It’s always tricky to make a satire, especially involving the Holocaust. But Jojo Rabbit is a deceptively flippant film as it tackles a deeply emotional story and there’s SO much more than meets the eye. Taika’s gift in casting child actors makes brilliant use of Roman Griffin Davis as the lead, and Archie Yates as his hilarious BFF Yorki. I doubt it’ll win Best Picture, but it sure deserves its nomination.

6. Knives Out (my review)

I’m SO glad I got to see this before the end of the year in the theater! As it turns out, this film’s got legs as it’s still playing in some cinemas, more than two months after it’s released around Thanksgiving! Perhaps some people went to see it multiple times, and it’s easy to see why. Rian Johnson‘s delightful whodunnit has a brilliant script and a fun ensemble cast who seem to have a blast in their roles. Apparently Daniel Craig loved playing detective Benoit Blanc so much there’s rumor of a sequel with him reprising the character. It’s definitely a breakout role for Ana de Armas who proves that she’s quite a versatile performer.

7. Little Women (my review)

I have to admit that when everyone was swooning over Ladybird, I was a bit skeptical. When I finally got around to it, I wasn’t really wowed by Greta Gerwig‘s writing nor direction. But her sophomore effort won me over, and her Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominations are well deserved. Once again starring Saoirse Ronan in the lead role, Gerwig did a beautiful job adapting Louisa May Alcott‘s classic novel. The non-linear narrative is a bold directing choice but somehow the film flows nicely and has an immersive quality. I love how each character has a proper arc with its own ups and downs. It’s an inspiring story for the ages and it’s infused with wonderfully memorable scenes that I know I’ll enjoy again and again.

8. Marriage Story

I’m doing this list in alphabetical order, so it’s interesting that the next film on the list is written/directed by Gerwig’s life partner, Noah Baumbach. I’ve actually only seen one film he’s directed, While We’re Young, which I like but not love. But I can say with confidence that I LOVE Marriage Story. If someone were to ask me which 2019 movie that made the most impression on me, I’d say it’s this one. I tip my hat off to Baumbach for creating such a marvelous script that feels so natural and incredibly immersive. The story about the dissolution of a marriage is nothing new, but the genius is in the execution and the way the story is told. I felt like I was watching the characters Charlie and Nicole on screen instead of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, which are a testament to their acting prowess. I sometimes think using letters to convey an emotion can be such cliché, but not only did Baumbach make it work beautifully, the scenes are pivotal to the story. Needless to say, I am rooting for this one to win Best Original Screenplay (I certainly hope it would NOT go to Tarantino!!)

9. Parasite

Parasite made Oscar history with six nominations, the first Korean feature to compete at the Academy Awards! I think many fans of Korean cinema know the power of Korean films, and Bong  Joon  Ho is definitely one of its best filmmakers. The story about a destitute clan injecting themselves into a wealthy family is a shrewd blend of black comedy, social satire, and Hitchcockian thriller. It’s definitely one of the most indelible films I’ve seen in a while, not just last year. Greed, class system, and familial loyalty are all universal themes even when it’s told in a specific culture and time. The film is full of surprises and some even made me gasp out loud, I know some scenes would be tough to forget. Now, it’d be a total surprise to me if Parasite would go on to win the coveted Best Picture, but this masterful piece of cinema certainly deserves a place amongst the nominees.

10. Toy Story 4

I never thought I’d include this movie on this list as honestly, I thought Toy Story 3 was a perfect ending to a fantastic trilogy. I almost didn’t even want to see it, but I’m glad I decided to give it a go. Well, leave it to director Josh Cooley and the Pixar team to craft yet another heartwarming tale of adventure that’s not just a soulless cash grab. Woody, Buzz and the ‘ol toy gang are back together again… who doesn’t love a good reunion story? But they run into new toys such as Forky and Duke Caboom who enliven their adventure and prove to us once again that this is truly the best animated franchise ever. For a movie about toys, Toy Story 4 (and its predecessors) carries such an emotional poignancy and deep humanity for anyone of all ages.


20 Honorable Mentions

(in random order)

Some of the movies here I like very, very much and I have actually enjoyed more than the ones on my main top 10. Some I appreciate but I don’t really feel like watching it again.

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  1. Aladdin 
  2. Always Be My Maybe
  3. Avengers: Endgame
  4. Blinded By The Light
  5. Captain Marvel
  6. Ford Vs. Ferrari
  7. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World 
  8. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
  9. John Wick 3: Parabellum
  10. Joker
  11. Late Night
  12. Motherless Brooklyn
  13. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
  14. Peanut Butter Falcon
  15. Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct
  16. Spiderman: Far From Home
  17. The Report
  18. Triple Frontier
  19. Wedding Guest
  20. Yesterday

Best Series I saw in 2019:

  • Killing Eve – season 1
  • The Crown – season 3
  • The Man In The High Castle

Well, what do you think of my Top 10 list? Any of your favorites on the list?

Guest Postcasting on St Paul Filmcast – Fave movies we saw in 2019 so far + Female 007 news

Hello everyone!

I thought as we start the new week, I’m doing something different. Yesterday I was guest podcasting at St Paul Filmcast, an awesome & prolific Twin Cities-based entertainment podcast that talks about movies and interviews various filmmakers. I’m privileged that podcaster/graphic novelist Nick Palodichuk invited me to talk about some of my favorite movies we saw in 2019.

Take a listen by clicking the logo below:

At the beginning of each episode, there’s a spot for dedication… I’m dedicating this podcast episode to all my wonderful BLOG CONTRIBUTORS: Laura S., Holly P., Ted S., Vitali G., Vince C. and most recently Andy S. Thank you guys!!

Here’s a sampling of some of the films I talked about in the episode…

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I’ll be seeing Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD on Wednesday, so look for my review by this weekend!


Before the episode ended I also got to talk about the recent exciting news that BOND 25 will be introducing a female 007!

I had already talked about some of the things revealed in Bond 25 reveal last April where they introduced Lashana Lynch as one of the new cast members, along with Ana de Armas and Rami Malek. Well, now we know just who she’ll be playing!

In case you haven’t heard, per Esquire UK

“The 25th film opens with Bond (Daniel Craig), retired in Jamaica, being called back to action to fight a new villain. There is a pivotal scene at the start of the film where M says, ‘Come in 007,’ and in walks Lashana who is black, beautiful and a woman. It’s a popcorn-dropping moment. Bond is still Bond but he’s been replaced as 007.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the fact that Phoebe Waller-Bridge is one of the Bond 25 screenwriters has something to do with this. After all, she is the creator of the hit series Killing Eve where Sandra Oh who’s a woman of Korean descent plays an MI5 agent. Now, to those who are up in arms over this [puh-leeze], 007 is just a spy code name. Yes, there is only going to be one James Bond (and will likely always be portrayed by a white male), but anyone could be assigned to be a 007. I really think this is a step in the right direction for the 57-year-old franchise, while still maintaining status quo.

Now, as for the casting of Lashana Lynch, I’m glad they went with a British-Jamaican actress, as is Naomie Harris who plays Moneypenny. It totally make sense the fact that some parts of the film takes place in Jamaica, a key location for the Bond franchise as the place the franchise was created by Ian Fleming. So they’re going back to their roots, so to speak. Despite all the behind-the-scenes and on-set dramas surround this movie, I’m now even more excited to see what director Cary Joji Fukunaga would do with Bond 25!


So tell me what’s your favorite movie(s) you’ve seen so far? And what do YOU think of the female 007 news?

FlixChatter Review: THE FAREWELL (2019)

I knew about this film when it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year. Yet for whatever reason, it sort of fell off my radar until A24 started promoting it vehemently for its theatrical release. I’m so glad they did and this film deserved ALL their backing. It simply deserves to be seen.

The Farewell is writer/director Lulu Wang‘s sophomore directorial work, and it’s one I can readily describe as masterful. The tagline says ‘Based on an actual lie’ which is provocative yet accurate given that it’s Wang’s own personal story. The film opens with a young woman, Billi (Awkwafina) on the streets of NYC chatting on her mobile with her grandma whom se calls Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao) in China. The film is mostly in Chinese, though occasionally the characters would be speaking in English as Billi’s family has immigrated to the US. Soon we find out that Nai Nai is dying from lung cancer, but her family decides to hide the grim prognosis from her and plan a fake wedding instead so everyone could gather before she dies.

It’s a deceptively simple premise but one that packs a wallop. It’s a deep, emotional, culturally-resonant film that’s also filled with humor and whimsy. I’m always in awe of filmmakers who can mix pathos, comedy and emotional drama seamlessly and Wang certainly achieved that here. The Farewell feels like an authentic experience of a Chinese family, as well as those of Chinese Americans, especially the second/third generation individuals who have to straddle the two worlds. As someone who wasn’t born in the US but have lived here more than half my life, I totally get the ‘I don’t belong anywhere’ feeling, of being torn by the two cultures.

The film focuses on Billi who has trouble concealing her grief. She’s particularly close to Nai Nai, so despite her parents’ protest, she went ahead and attend the ‘wedding’ in China. I love how the film highlights the family dynamics and how much of the conversations take place in the dining table. My mouth watered seeing all those yummy food on the dining table. It’s so integral in Chinese culture as love and affection is often expressed through food. In this story, ‘the lie’ becomes the one thing that unites the family as they all have to bond together to keep the secret hidden from Nai Nai. There’s several poignant discussion between Billi, her dad and uncle about how it’s practically illegal to do such things in the US. Yet in China, and perhaps another culture, this is not only customary but also a courtesy… ‘a person doesn’t just belong to one self, but to his/her family’ as her uncle points out. It’s the family’s ‘duty’ to carry the burden for the sick one… which is quite a foreign sentiment in the West, but that is the point. This East-West discussion has been done before in other films but it doesn’t feel clichéd nor recycled here.

Apparently this is the first ever PG-rated film out of A24 film, and I can definitely say it’s a film you can bring your whole family to see. I think it’s an accessible film for American audiences, even those who aren’t usually into films with subtitles. The script is punchy, lively and even poetic at times, but remains authentic to the journey/experience of the characters. Though my own grandma is very different from Nai Nai depicted here, I could definitely relate to her relationship with Billi and some of their conversations are downright nostalgic.

I have to devote an entire paragraph just for Awkwafina who’s absolutely perfect here in her first starring role. The first time I saw her was in Crazy Rich Asians in which she was the scene stealer as a gregarious, colorful, sociable BFF. Her performance couldn’t be more different here as Billi is more a recluse who barely smiles and wears practically the same gray/black outfit everyday. She’s truly the heart and soul of the movie as the film is framed from her perspective. It truly displays her range as an actor and I sure hope she continues to gain more leading roles in the future.

The supporting cast are an excellent mix of veteran character actors and newbies. Tzi Ma has been in a plethora of TV and films (I definitely remember him in Arrival and you’ve likely just seen him in the new Mulan trailer). He and Diana Lin are excellent as Billi’s parents, Lin portrays the quintessential strong, no-nonsense Chinese matriarch who actually reminds me of my own grandma. The mother/daughter relationship is one of the major highlights here as well, where things aren’t always rosy but in the end they understand each other. I’m curious about the casting process to find Nai Nai. Shuzhen Zhao‘s quite good in her first ever acting role and she has a believable rapport with Awkwafina which is so key to the story.

I really love Wang’s direction here and I’d even argue she should get nominations as Best Director come award season. Now I’m really curious to check out her directorial debut Posthumous (starring Brit Marling and Jack Huston) that’s available on Amazon Prime. The pacing of this movie is just right, and at 1 hour 38 minutes there’s barely any wasted minute. Her directing style shows some flairs but not overly over-the-top. I like the slo-mo of the family walking towards the camera following a pivotal scene, and the long shots of the umbrella-clad family scurrying in the rain. Kudos to Spanish DP Anna Franquesa Solano for her brilliant cinematography and composer Alex Weston for the absolutely gorgeous music that adds so much to the mood. The music is a perfect mix of heartbreak and that feeling of ‘dissonant’ that also has a vibrant, lively vibe.

I’m thrilled that in the past couple of years there are more and more films that tell the Asian-American story… Crazy Rich Asians might’ve opened a door for such storytelling, and since then I’ve seen Go Back To China, Always Be My Maybe, that are all highly-recommended. Hopefully we see even more diverse voices in cinema as there are SO many tales worth telling from parts of the world that don’t get explored often in Hollywood.

I sure hope the Academy won’t overlook this next year, especially for Wang and Awkwafina. Lastly, I want to implore you to see this film in the cinema. Trust me, all the hype is justified and it still holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 107 reviews. Be sure to pack tissues when you go see it, it’ll make you laugh and cry in equal measure in this joyful, poignant celebration of family.


Have you seen The Farewell? I’d love to hear what you think!

Advanced Screening Giveaway to Lulu Wang’s THE FAREWELL

One of my most anticipated movies this Summer isn’t a blockbuster, but it’s this indie drama from writer/director Lulu Wang that was a major hit at Sundance. I was tearing up already just watching the trailer, I know I’ll pack tissues when I go to the screening. The film features Awkwafina in her first leading role. Apparently it’s based on Wang’s own poignant story about a family that, upon finding out their beloved matriarch is dying of cancer, gathers for a ‘wedding’ in China so they could all spend time with her before she dies.

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing, you’re invited to see THE FAREWELL early before it opens in Minneapolis next weekend.

The Farewell ADVANCED SCREENING

Monday, July 15 at 7:30pm at
Alamo Drafthouse Woodbury (@alamotwincities)

RSVP using the link below for your chance to attend with a guest.
RSVPs will be granted on a first come, first serve basis.

rsvp here

THE FAREWELL hits select Minneapolis theaters on Friday, July 19.
It’s rated PG.

With THE FAREWELL, writer/director Lulu Wang has created a heartfelt celebration of both the way we perform family and the way we live it, masterfully interweaving a  gently humorous depiction of the good lie in action with a richly moving story of how family can unite and strengthen us, often in spite of ourselves.

Check out the trailer if you haven’t already:


Are you excited to see The Farewell? If you have seen it, what did you think?