Monday, December 30, 2019

The best of English Speaking movies seen in 2019

Retirement has me probably watching too many movies and wanting to share.  That makes for too much to read at one sitting.  You will find movies I enjoyed on two blogs (one for English speaking and the other for subtitled).  The ones I found outstanding  (10 each) are in either blog, so for my recommendations you need to consider both.  Everybody is unique so you might have to dig a bit to find something you would like.

Watching movies is not real life, but is a mirror to much of life.  What draws me in is the story with character development.  Everything else in window dressing, sometimes an enjoyable art by itself, but mainly an enhancement of the story.

The larger photos are  spread over the two blogs and were found to be the most outstanding.  Smaller photos were noteworthy.  The other write-ups are well worth considering.  To be honest there were others that you might enjoy, but too much is too much.


**"The Best of Enemies" (2019) was a lesson in mediation which for me made it superior to "The Green Book."  Altogether I saw six black themed movies that were all noteworthy

This was my favorite English speaking movie and enjoyed the special feature with the actual historical figures who are still friends.  Directed and written by Robin Bissell.  The lead was Taraj P. Henson who for a strong contrast also released in 2019 as lead for "What Men Want."  Sam Rockwell and Babou Ceesay were also excellent.

In addition to "The Green Book" I also saw "The Hate U Give," "The BlacKkKlansman" "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "Mudbound."  All of them presented hatred towards blacks and a fight back.  See below for a bit more.

*"Green Book" (2018) won 3 Oscars as best movie, best supporting actor for Maharshala Ali, and best original script shared by director Peter Farrelly and NickVallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie.  I picked up on the Italian family life handled by Vigo Mortensen.which rang true as well.  A classical/jazz pianist decides to perform in the Deep South where his music is appreciated more than he is.  A crude bouncer who is a bit prejudiced is lured by the money and gradually warms up and they bond.  Some enjoyable genre crossing music.  Until I saw "The Best of Enemies" this was my choice for best English speaking movie. and is still one of the best overall. 

"BlackkKlansman" (2018) was about historical events, but many names appear in current news including Donald Trump.  We all love to see people fooled and this is about as unbelievable as one gets.

"The Hate u Give" (2018) based on a true story where a young high school student witnesses a murder involving a police officer. The star, Amanda Stenberg was exceptional.

"Mudbound" (2017) was set in a southern rural area after the war.  Fighting in Europe one black resident enjoyed a measure of equality and one white resident came to respect them.  Back home the rest of their neighbors were just as bigoted as before.  The black man stood up for his rights and was pushed back.  He left a lover back in Europe and learned he was a father. 

In January saw "Searching"(2018)  It was unique.  First it was totally filmed as social media, even when you saw live action it was supposedly videos shown on a computer screen. It went through the process of how one would search for a missing person.  Second at about the same time as "Crazy Rich Asians" was attracting attention with an all Asian cast this film went one step further.  Asian actors were used not because the script called for Asians, but only as substitutes for the usual cast.  Told an interesting story.  Special features well worth viewing, especially for computer geeks.

"The Carer" (2015) was a very pleasant movie.  most enjoyable.  I think the main reason is for the young Hungarian woman who played the lead.  She was delightful.  The other lead played by Brian Cox was eloquent in an old codger sort of way with Parkinson's.  A pleasant background score.  Earlier I had blogged about Hungarian cinema before which I was unconscious of their contribution to world film, but this film illustrates their role.  In addition to the lead, much of the supporting crew was Hungarian

"A Star is Born" (2018) was heavily promoted.  I loved the music.  This is perhaps the third remake.  Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  The emotions are there.  A star on the way is revived after discovering a new talent.  She in turn becomes a big star making him feel a has been and she feeling guilty. 

"Bohemian Rhapsody" (2018)provides a history of Freddie Mercury, an immigrant with Indian parents who rose to rock fame in Britain.  He led a wild life, but sang some top hits including the title.

"Chappaquiddick" (2017) while not a documentary laid out facts that I wasn't conscious of.  It changes my vision of the Kennedy family.  I knew the father had done a lot of unethical things to attain the fortune, but except for infidelity I admired John and Robert Kennedy.  Ted Kennedy has been a great liberal spokesman, but his fidelity and honesty are also maligned.  Dramatic license perhaps tilts the impact, but they do seem consistent with the known facts.  Well presented

*"The Journey" (2016) an imagined conversation between Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein leader, Martin McGuinness.  They had a history of hating each other in the viiolent conflict of northern Ireland.  The two actors (Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney) are very good.  Toby Stephens played Tony Blair and had been a major supporting actor for Bollywood film : "Mangal Pandey"  Ireland has had a troubled history, but these two men swallowed their difference setting the path for a peace agreement. Directed by Nick Hamm and written by Colin Batemen

"Hotel Mumbai" (2018)brought home the notion that other countries have suffered from terrorism.  In this case we learn about fanaticism that allows for casually killing the "enemy."  As you watched the staff and guests move around you felt they could be discovered any second.  Dev Patel and Anupam Kher played Indian roles with Armie Hammer played an American tourist. 

Despite reading some criticisms that I  agreed with felt "The Public" (2018) was credible.  Emilio Estevez wrote, directed and was the lead actor.    It forces you to think about homelessness, mental illness.  Librairies are used for relief from extreme heat and cold.  Also with  a reference to how reading changing one man's life pointed out the importance of the free flow of information.

*"Five Feet Apart" (2019) gave me a better understanding of Cystic Fibrosis.  One of the key factors is that those who have Cystic Fibosis can worsen it in other people who already have it.  In fact they are to keep six feet away.  The "five feet" in the title is like a declaration of freedom, only there is always serious restrictions between patients, even though they have something in common and can empathize with the dilemma.  Haley Lu Richardson is very impressive.Directed by Justin Baldoni.

*"The Irishman" (2019)covered a hit man over the years.  What I found most fascinating was the connections between the Mafia and politics, especially the Kennedy family.  Also the Mafia connection to Cuba. Also pointed out that what hardened the hit man played by the ever excellent Robert DiNiro was his experiences in WW II.  Directed by Martin Scorcese.

"On The Basis of Sex" (2018) was sort of a followup to the documentary seen last year, "RBG".   In some ways it was more dramatic and made Ginsberg more human.  The documentary captured more of her life.  She is one of the most key people in America today as her health could tip the scales disastrously.

"Laundromat" (2019) was very confusing, but pulled together towards the end.  A very direct statement at the end pointed out that the government we voted for (specifically American represented the very rich who developed fraudulent opportunities for unscrupulous people to take advantages of honest people.  Actual names were used hitting home.  My concern is that  the little skits were not tied together as well as they might have been, but applaud the effort.

Older Movies

To appreciate modern movies it is good to watch older movies.  Not just to see the beginnings of modern technology, but to understand the importance of a story.

"Runaway Jury" (2003) had lots of twists.  It seemed a little extreme about jury tampering but in fact there have been many jury tampering efforts as a key offshoot of jury consulting.  Having not read the book I learned that there were differences as John Grisham used the tobacco industry as an emotional case instead of the gun lobby used in the movie.  They just wanted to have a divisive issue to illustrate corruption in the system.   The special features brought that actors have contratct that allow them to work on other films/prijects meaning there are time constraints on the director.  John Cusack at his best, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman and Rachel Weisz were all excellent.   Very similar in key ways with "Miss Sloane"

"Trouble in Paradise' (1932)  was a masterpiece of its time and is still enjoyable today.  The director  Ernest Lubitsch was on the edge of bending censor.  The actors were all very smooth, especially Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis.   Brought over from Germany.   The writer Samson Raphaelson wrote the play that was used for the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer.."  the two teamed on a number of critically acclaimed films"Heaven can Wait" and "The Shop Around the Corner."  Read more:

"How Green was My Valley" (1941) was one of many John Ford directed movies seen.  This one of the more popular ones that was released despite concern over union content  Others included "The Quiet Man" (1952)  "Stage Coach" (1939) "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940).  You can read more at:

Steve McQueen with "Papillon," (1973) " Cincinnati Kid," (1965) and "The Getaway" (1972). He defined "cool" more than anyone in Hollywood.  Surprised to learn he wanted to get away from action movies so he could be noted as a real actor.   "Soldier in the Rain" (1963)and "Love with The Proper Stranger" (1963) demonstrated that he was a very versatile actor, not always playing "cool."

"Dinner at Eight" (1933) was the only Marie Dressler movie I could find in either of my two librairies.  I had only read about her and what I saw didn't fit the profile of big movie star.   Born in Cobourg Ontario where apparently there is a museum dedicated to her.  She had been a star in silent films, but lost her top rank.  After talkies appeared and despite her age and weight she became a major star.  Jean Harlow and she shared a memorable dialogue.

"The Hurricane" (1999) was a movie I had refused to see when it came out as I had been led to believe it was inaccurate.  In another blog I remembered my refusal and imagined that I had been wrong.  Well I think I was wrong.  the movie was very believable and years later I am aware that there are lots of injustices.  Denzil Washington was outstanding.

"A Patch of Blue" (1965) with Sidney Poitier in a racially tinged drama.  A young uneducated and somewhat abused blind girl develops a relationship with a black man, not realizing it would lead to problems with prejudiced mother.

"A Christmas Carol" (1951) is my favorite version of this classic.  Originally its title was "Scrooge"   The main attraction for me is Alastair Sim, but I have to add the parts that are supposed to be scary really are scary.  I love Scrooge's laugh at the end.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)I didn't appreciate how great it was until watching the special features.  It follows one character from the Boer War, World War I and obviously part of World War II.

"The Whales of August" (1986) has a noteworthy cast with Bette Davis and silent star Lillian Gish.  They and Vincent Price and Ann Sothern portray the narrowing choices of age.

"I know my first name is Steven" (1989) relates a parental nightmare based on a real events. It is a very disturbing realistic tv mini series.

*"Touch of Evil" (1958) with Orson Welles, (who also directed and wrote the screenplay) Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh was about corruption.  Bit parts for Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Russell Metty was the cinematographer and in this film the introduction is regarded as a classic shot using cranes.  Walter Murch was involved in the 1998 re-edit.  Walter had been featured in a book on editing written my Michael Ondaatje who wrote "The English Patient and admired Murch for helping to keep the film faithful to the book.  Henry Mancini wrote the music inserting a jazzy feel to it.

Frankenstein (1931 )special features gave credit to Boris Karloff for changes

William Powell in the Thin Man series is something that escaped me until this year.   and My Man Godfrey

"Annie Hall" (1977)  written, directed by and starring Woody Allen.  Diane Keaton.

"Coming Home" (1978) was all about returning soldiers from Vietnam.  Jon Voight, Jane Fonda and Bruce Dern were excellent.

"The Petrified Forest" (1936) with Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.

"Evita" (1996) had low ratings, partly I think because not a traditional musical and thought to be fanciful history (mostly accurate).  it is a breakthrough in realism with great music.  Madonna, Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas.

"Destry Rides Again"  (1939) with James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.

"Gentleman's Agreement"(1947)  explored anti Semitism including among those not thought to be prejudiced.   Gregory Peck played the level headed person remembered from "To Kill A Mockingbird" (1962).

*"Swing Time," black and white from 1936 was touted as the best of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and it is impressive for dance routines.  Glad to have seen the special features.  The music was memorable and it was pointed out that lyricist Dorothy Fields was very unique--"A fine Romance" is a very delicate mix of emotions, but also wrote a favorite  "The Way you Look Tonight ' Jerome Kern wrote the tunes with some help from R Russell Bennett (who jazzed up one tune to please Astaire)  Still another son, "Pick Yourself Up" was adapted for a Barrack Obama speech.  Bojangles in blackface apparently common  Bojangles, very talented helped develop breakthroughs--he refused to put on black face (blacks were expected to exaggerate their features) and appeared with Shirley Temple and on one occasion touched her. Although dated this is one of my favorites of the year.  Directed by George Stevens.

"Quills,"  (2000) had got my attention with a brief quip while channel hopping many years ago has finally been seen in full.  Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet are brilliant.  It recounts a time when the Marquis de Sade was in prison and somehow managed to write pornography that beat the censors.

"A Day at the Races (1937) featured the Marx Brothers and they certainly produce mayhem.  Groucho is considered one of the best with sarcastic quips.  "A night at the Opera,"

"Flame in the Streets" (1961) was a British take on racial relations and coming from the early 60's it was rawer in some ways.  John Mills plays a union man who fights to gain a promotion for a Jamaican and then learns his only daughter is thinking of marring a Jamaican.  His wife is very upset and he is concerned for the hardships he expects his daughter would encounter.  The movie ends with a violent racial clash and the parents not happy about the reality, but struggling to accept.

Science Fiction

*"The Day the World Stood still" (1951)  The cover makes it seem cheap, but being over 65 years it is quite thought provoking.  Released as nuclear tensions were gearing up.  As others have said it takes an outside force to make enemies talk to one another.  In the end it doesn't seem resolved, but meant to make the viewers think.  During the commentary with the director it was pointed out for him rehearsals were a luxury, because as soon as an actor was on the set they had to be paid even if the shooting didn't start for several weeks.  Billy Gray from Father Knows Best. a show I watched with my family for several years. Patricia Neal was an actress I have seldom seen, but associate her with having a stroke and being abandoned by beloved (?) children's author Roald Dahl.   Michael Rennie was brought in as a new face who played the space alien pretty much as a regular human.   Sam Jaffe had a supporting role and soon after was black listed. The science fiction employed a few special effects, but nothing like is normal today.  The point as good science fiction is to take an extreme story to make a stronger human point and in this case well done.  Directed by Robert Wise


Inter-title really refers to silent films and actually includes foreign films, but they all have English titles.

"The Hoodlum" (1919) with America's sweetheart, Mary Pickford  racist is some dialogue

"Master of the House" (1925) by Danish director/writer  Carl Theodor Dreyer who was considered one of the finest Danish directors.  the special features pointed out that he was one of the best for concern over details and I see he also was editor, art director and set designer.  A typical comedic story of a arrogant husband who has his comeuppance.

"The Freshman" (1925) glasses--stunts   Harold Lloyd  photo for this or Zorro

"The Mark of Zorro" (1920).  Had to see the swashbuckler who was one of the founders of United Artists.  Orson WElles did an intro and commented on the fallacy that silent stars couldn't do talkies using the example of Francis X Bushman who Welles hired for some of his radio programs after movie career ended.


"The Little Prince" (2015)used both CGI animated and stop motion techniques.  A story that I have been aware of, but never actually read in English (I did in French at one time for school and just translating is what I mostly got out of it).  Done as a story within a story giving extra meeting.

"Princess Mononoke"  (1997)is listed as Japanese, but as an animated film is easily dubbed by Americans.  Japanese writer/director and Joe Hisiashi music

*"Moana"(2016) aimed at children is delightful with infectious music.  Directed by Ron Clements who also co-wrote.


*"This Changes Everything" (2015) was based on, but updated from a book bought a few years ago by Naomi Klein.   book updated--Danny Glover exec producer The book was excellent and the movie made the ideas more accessible..

"Won't you be my neighbor?" (2018) very mild mannered, but involved with social issues--we all develop our habits and outlook as very young children--dealt with racism, autism, assassination trauma, death divorce bullying.   Not yet seen the Tom Hanks drama

"Rumble.  The Indians who Rocked the World"  (2017) Most of us grew up thinking that blacks brought us rock n roll, but overlooked was the influence of indigenous musicians.  It was pointed out that most of the Africans brought over as slaves were men.   Even as slaves they mixed with aboriginals, and as runaways they mixed with Indian tribes.  There were a number of surprising Indian descendants such as Jimmy Hendrix.  The Band was driven by Mohawk Indian Robbie Robertson.  Influences extended to performers like Tony Bennett.

"Eating Animals" (2017) was a mind bender.   Focused on factory farms that are gaining legal protection.  They cause serious health and environmental problems.   A problem not discussed what will done to the animals after we all convert to veganism:

"The High Cost of Cheap Gas" (2015) tells of the problems of fracking (earthquakes, poisoning).

"The Burden of Dreams" (1982)  recounts the many ordeals and determination to film "Fitzcarraldo." a movie set in a remote part of South America.  More details of this movie and of Werner Herzog can be read at:

"The Uncondemned"  (2015) told the story of the effort to charge rape as war crime in Rwanda.

"Letter from Masanjia" (2018) documents cruelty in China.  The Falun Gong seen as challenge to communist government.  A victim was tortured and his wife fearing for her life divorced, later wanted to remarry, but more difficulties.  

"The Russian Five" (2018) chronicles five Russian hockey players who helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup.  Had lost interest in hockey years ago, but loved watching their international style of play with a greater emphasis on passing.  Also  for many it was a surprise that they were human.  A lot of politics to free them up.  Check out

Check out the subtitled post  It may seem strange, but I actually found more outstanding movies, including my 2 favorite overall in the subtitled category and hope you will check them out.  Part of the reason is there are more movies to choose from. 

To check on my enjoyable movies seen in 2018:

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