Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2019, By Patrick McDonald

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CHICAGO – An entire decade is biting the dust in the switch from 2019 to 2020, with an America that can experience the anarchy of our current times reflected in the movies. What better time to unleash the 10 BEST FILMS of 2019, as selected by Über Critic Patrick McDonald of

I begin (switching now to first person), by ranking the 25th best film through the 11th, with the option to click on the highlighted titles for reviews or associated interviews… 25th - MIDWAY (A WW2 film that was inside the cockpit), 24th - TOY STORY 4 (a daring, risky and funny story), 23rd - THE KINGMAKER (a cautionary tale of power), 22nd - THE CURRENT WAR (great performances, a tour de force), 21st - WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (a misunderstood tale of lost genius), 20th - DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (a hilarious and heart filled comeback for Eddie Murphy), 19th - WILD ROSE (three chords and the truth), 18th - CLEMENCY (multi-layered death row polemic), 17th - HONEY BOY (helluva way to get through rehab), 16th - MARRIAGE STORY (divorce, American style), 15th - GLORIA BELL (Julianne Moore is a national treasure), 14th - PAIN AND GLORY (a movie in a movie in an addict), 13th - THE NIGHTINGALE (Aisling Franciosi makes her mark), 12th - THE BEACH BUM (all right, all right, all right), and 11th - THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (a tone poem to the city by the bay, sold to the highest bidder).

The 2019 Best for genre films … Animated is TOY STORY 4, for Documentary it’s THE KINGMAKER, for Best Foreign Language Film it’s gotta be PAIN AND GLORY and for Superhero it’s the ardent CAPTAIN MARVEL. For a film that played festivals in 2018, but released in 2019, a shout out to DIANE (a life-defining film). Below each film description in the 10 BEST will be a link to full reviews and/or interviews, when applicable. And away we go…


Rendezvous in Chicago
Photo credit: Cow Lamp Films

As a film observer in Chicago, I’d been searching for the one unicorn that was missing from set-in-the city filmmaking … the romantic comedy that uses my kind of town as a character the way that Woody Allen films use New York City. Writer/director Michael Glover Smith delivered that elusive animal in RENDEZVOUS, using authentic situations and interactions in an anthology of beautifully rendered romance stories in the Windy City. The usual pick-up (short film one), the you’re-the-one happiness (two) and the break-up (three) all get a unique twist through the filter of Smith, and he progresses the circumstances with a sure eye for the urban neighborhood and emotional detail. This is the romance-in-Chicago movie the world has been waiting for. Available thru digital.

HIGHLIGHT: The performance of former local actor Clare Cooney (short film one), who understands a character outwardly and within, creating an evolved persona. Watch out, Los Angeles.

Click here for the full review of RENDEZVOUS IN CHICAGO.
Click here for audio interactions during a Q&A with writer/director Michael Glover Smith, and his cast and crew.


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

It’s always special to witness a refreshing comeback for a virtuous American director, and good old Quentin Tarantino brings home the goods in this cinematic poem, which uses tone and mood over/above the story to create atmosphere … and its very effective and affecting. The setting is 1969, the summer of Charles Manson and the Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) murders in Los Angeles, and QT sets it all up through the viewpoint of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt, stellar). Each scene is weighted through 1960s California dreaming in its twilight, and QT is manufacturing fantasy over it. I found the ending questionable on first viewing, until a friend pointed out the damned title … ONCE UPON A TIME. Available thru digital/DVD.

HIGHLIGHT: Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate watching herself at the movies in 1968’s THE WRECKING CREW.

Click here for the full review of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD.


Photo credit: Universal Pictures

When a good old fashioned war movie evolves to an exemplary anti-war statement, then an extraordinary cinema experience has been achieved. 1917 is one of those creations, centered around Two World War One British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who have the impossible mission of delivering a message to the front lines to call off an attack, when it is found out that the Germans have laid a trap for 1600 Brit soldiers. Filled with the frustration, utter waste and the tragedy of war, it never blinks nor makes apologies … even at its most romantic. Co-writer/director Sam Mendes (AMERICAN BEAUTY) dedicated this one to his grandfather, who told him the stories. Magnificent, and brought to light by now-legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins. In theaters now, available thru digital/DVD in March 2020 (estimated).

HIGHLIGHT: A cameo by the great Benedict Cumberbatch, who finds new meaning for the word “f**k.”


Photo credit: Oscilloscope

Has there ever been a mature and reflective film which treats an abortion as the background to redemption? SAINT FRANCES is that miracle of a film, and the second local production to make this list, which pleased me to no end. Writer Kelly O’Sullivan and director Alex Thompson deliver a certain-period-of-life drama that duly expresses the issues that it comments upon. The characters are all fully drawn, including a sensational turn by child actor Ramona Edith-Williams, playing off the O’Sullivan’s protagonist (the writer is also a featured actor) as if they’re a post modern Abbott and Costello. Director Alex Thompson’s eye for fluidity in storytelling is a major asset in this glorious modern tale, a humanist take on the karma of our life choices. A blessing. After a theatrical run in February 2020, available thru digital.

HIGHLIGHT: O’Sullivan’s character nonchalantly (and fascinatingly) presents an unexpected display of organic matter.

Click here for a Podtalk with writer/actor Kelly O’Sullivan and director Alex Thompson.


Photo credit: Neon

There have been many films that make statements about racial tensions in America, but LUCE takes it to a whole new level. The title character, portrayed by rising star Kelvin Harrison Jr. (who also was remarkable in WAVES, see below) is a black immigrant from a war-torn country who was adopted as a child by white American parents, and has become an Obama-like high school prodigy/leader whose intelligence may also be his undoing, in perspective. Octavia Spencer portrays Luce’s history/civics teacher, who suspects something about him, while wrestling with issues of her own. There is not a more powerful statement on America’s state of racial consciousness, told through a morality play written by J.C. Lee and directed by Julius Ohan, and it is a must-see for transitioning into 2020. Available thru digital/DVD.

HIGHLIGHT: Spencer’s lucid rant about being black in America, fueled by frustration, family history and bourbon.

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