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The Oscars may already feel like a distant memory, while the critics have moved on to more pressing matters (working through the complexities of the new Sonic the Hedgehog film), but here at Double Exposure, we’re finally ready to present our favorite movies of 2019! In addition to contributing ballots to our aggregated top 10, a few members of our editorial board wrote about some films that meant something to them, whether or not they made our final list.

  1. Parasite
  2. Portrait of a Lady On Fire
  3. The Irishman
  4. Pain & Glory
  5. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
  6. The Lighthouse
  7. The Farewell/Booksmart/Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood/An Elephant Sitting Still (tie)
  8. Little Women
  9. Her Smell
  10. Us/Asako I & II (tie)

 

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At face value, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a film about a man named Ephraim Winslow who sets out to work at a lighthouse off the coast of New England in the late 19th century under the supervision of Thomas Wake, an irritable old lighthouse keeper. Winslow is given more and more difficult and bizarre tasks, and the solitude and the difficulties of his job slowly begin to erode his sanity. His experience of time stretches and contracts. Eggers plays it coy, leaving us uncertain whether we are seeing things through Winslow’s mind or as they “actually are.” We teeter between the uncertain subjectivities of the characters and the island itself until the film’s madness-fueled bloodbath of a conclusion. This is The Lighthouse at its most surface level. If one digs a little deeper one sees that it’s actually about a struggle to gain the platonic and/or sexual love of the father, who is also the capitalist overload; it’s about the blinding of Oedipus, and the death of the father; it’s about the struggle between the ego and the id; it’s about disobedience, Prometheus, and stealing fire from the Gods. It’s also about none of these things, and so many other things that are impossible to name or schematize. In truth, The Lighthouse has to be experienced before any description of it can begin to make sense. – Milan Loewer

 

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Centered on Luo Hongwu, a listless man returning to his home city of Kaili for the first time in years, Bi Gan’s sophomore feature Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a mesmerizing exploration of the way we construct narratives out of fickle memories. Much of the film is shot in deceptively prolonged tracking shots, injecting a surreality to Luo’s experience of Kaili as he perpetually wanders in search of a former lover who he hopes will sate whatever melancholy hangs over him. Yet, this goal seems almost incidental to Bi, as he focuses the fractured narrative instead on Luo’s mind as reflected by the people and lives he passes through in the film. In the film’s stunning second half, an hour-long single take, Luo moves through his own subconscious as he attempts to construct for himself a more meaningful reality than the one he inhabits. Meditative and measured, Bi’s film settles viewers into the lush rains and neon colors of a dormant Kaili as we get to experience the poetry that Luo extracts from his world. – Mohar Kalra

 

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Portrait of a Lady on Fire is hypnotizing, as an art film should be. Smoldering with passion, as a romance should feel. Lines of dialogue quipped smoothly and laced with meaning, as an intellectual film should have. This is a film forever lodged in my memory, whose final shot leaves me breathless at just the thought of it. Céline Sciamma made the poet’s choice. – Alan Wu

 

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Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body may have lost the Oscar, but it is, in fact, the most moving and creative animated movie in 2019. Starting with a severed hand’s adventure to return to its original body, that narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the hand’s previous owner, Naoufel, a Moroccan boy who moves to Paris after his parents are killed in a car accident. The former storyline is characterized by a fast tempo and close-ups of the hand in the bustle of the metropolis, while the latter features steady long shots and poetic, sketch-like drawings of Paris buildings in the background. Clapin’s non-linear storytelling method not only shows the infinite possibilities of constructing credible and relatable fantasies in animation, but also invites us to think about the ways we perceive and interact with the world. In a city like Paris, immigrants like Naoufel, similar to the hand in the movie, appear to be more alien and powerless than ever. At the end of the day, I Lost My Body is about separation, about both the hand and its owner trying to return some place but not knowing where to go from there. Fortunately, Clapin offers us a comforting, existentialist conclusion through Naoufel’s leap of faith in the final scene: to act is to change the world. – Audrey Zhang

 

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It may not have been the best film I saw in 2019, but no cinematic experience I had last year matched seeing Gemini Man projected at 120 fps in 3D. Contrary to claims about the supposed immersive quality of the format, the strength of the higher frame rate is its utter strangeness. Everything seems to move too precisely, too perfectly, so that we become aware of the image in a way more in line with installation art or a late-period Godard than with anything else you might see in a multiplex today. It’s only one of many distancing effects at play in Gemini Man—there’s also the unrefined de-aging technology used to turn Will Smith into a younger clone of himself, as well its outdated screenplay, which was written over 20 years ago and makes the film feel like a digital-age simulacrum of a ’90s Jerry Bruckheimer-style blockbuster. For a film about the uncanny experience of coming face-to-face with another you, these resonances do more than just undermine the unquestioning manner in which audiences are generally meant to consume Hollywood entertainment—they also strengthen the peculiar emotions brought forth by the narrative. – Etan Weisfogel