Guest Columnist Maciej Kasperowicz: “Movies are Mostly Good” – the Story of 2019 Cinema

| February 6th, 2020

Maciej Kasperowicz is one of the Josie Woods/Chicago Bears east pole crew and while we often do not agree on particular movies (which, like, who cares), his opinions are often inspired. (He’s the only person I can text about Macedonian documentaries.) He sees EVERYTHING and I’m thrilled to share his look at the films of 2019 here today.

Movies are mostly good, okay?

Or I should say that if you’re not forced to watch movies for work (or a crippling desire to have opinions on the Oscars) and do some modicum of research before going the theater or pressing play, the large majority of movies you see will probably be enjoyable. So I was thrilled when my friend Jeff asked me write a few hundred words here about the movies of 2019, many of which I loved and am excited to share with you.

Before we get to that, however, I do believe Jeff would like me to talk a bit about JoJo Rabbit, a movie I don’t like. There exists a world in which I went into JoJo Rabbit before hearing it described (by its own advertising) as an “anti-hate satire,” mildly excited to see a Taika Waititi movie. Afterwards, I might have just thought the humor didn’t work for me (hell, the guy next to me in the theater thought it was hilarious). But “an anti-hate satire?” I hate it. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the worst stereotypes of Hollywood: self-congratulatory, ineffectual, meaningless. It’s a rejection of any political reality for the safest stance you could possibly take. Who wouldn’t be anti-hate? Even Joker, which in many ways I dislike even more, has the guts to be anti-austerity.  

I think Jeff might want me to talk about Richard Jewell too but, man. For a movie about the press dragging someone’s name through the dirt to drag a dead journalist’s name through the dirt, that’s some shit, huh? (It’s also, aside from Sam Rockwell’s normcore conspiracy cargo shorts and I guess the big Kathy Bates speech, an extremely boring movie).

Anyways, most movies are good, and two especially good ones this year were Mati Diop’s Atlantics and Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire. I mention them together because they were somehow shot by the same cinematographer, Claire Mathon, in what surely has to be one of my favorite one-two same-year punches for a cinematographer in movie history. It’s especially impressive considering how different the movies look from each other. Atlantics leaves you with ghostly visions of laser-filled beach-side bars in Senegal, while Portrait is full of  painterly French landscapes. They’re both set against the backgrounds of remote oppression (patriarchy in the case of Portrait; global capitalism, and, yes, also patriarchy, in the case of Atlantics) and they’re both beautifully haunted love stories. Atlantics is on Netflix, and Portrait comes back to theaters this month after a brief qualifying run in December. They’re both extremely worth your time.

Also near the top of my list were two French films that I love deeply but don’t know that I can in good conscience recommend to everyone: Climax and Knife + Heart.

To be more specific, I can recommend the first half hour or so of Climax to absolutely everyone, as that half hour has a few perfectly filmed dance sequences, and if you don’t enjoy watching wildly talented people dance then, well I can’t really sympathize. I can definitely sympathize if the rest of the movie’s acid freakout horror isn’t up your alley, though I think it really works as a grotesque comedown from the adrenaline of the first half hour. I’ve never liked a movie by Gaspar Noé before, but I’ve now watched this one 3 times (and the dance sequences by themselves like 5 times on top of that).

Knife + Heart is also a sort of psychedelic horror, this one a slasher which stars Vanessa Paradis as a 70s gay porn auteur. Pretty early on a stiletto blade comes out of a dildo, and I figure a lot of y’all can get figure out from that bit whether that’s a movie that appeals to you or not. It’s one of my favorite movies about filmmaking in a while.

I generally don’t care about spoilers in movies, but two of my faves this year are movies that you should really try to go into unspoiled. If you pay any amount of attention to movies that’s a thing you’ve already heard about Parasite, but it really is wildly impressive how its twist isn’t just effective the way a thriller twist is usually effective, but also completely reorients and enriches the themes of the movie with a punch to the gut. What a goddamn masterpiece. One Cut of the Dead (which is available on Shudder) is less concerned with economic and social realities, but the way that zombie movie reveals and re-reveals what it really is leads to some of the most joyous filmmaking you’ll see anywhere.

Speaking of joyous filmmaking, goddamn Hustlers! It’s a great movie about friendship, a great movie about the financial collapse (up on the podium with Margin Call and The Queen of Versailles), a great romp, a great Scorsese rip (and I mean rip in the most loving way possible), and a great vehicle for J-Lo, whose performance as far as I can tell doesn’t appeal only to old idiots and folks who think acting is done with one’s face and no other part of one’s body. There’s not, to be honest, a great reason to pair Hustlers with In Fabric, but that seems to be what I’m doing for my top ten now, and I guess they are both about consumer capitalism and killer outfits. In Fabric is literally about a killer red dress. It poisons someone at one point, the dress, it’s a real asshole. There’s also a sales associate whose every line sounds like the most baroque of Moira Rose’s turns of phrase, and a pair torturously friendly middle management types who are in their own way just as horrific as the gruesome murders committed by the main character (a dress). That In Fabric also features more gorgeous, warm colors than any other movie this year is a testament to Peter Strickland’s out of control talent.

My final pair starts with Little Women, which is as pointed an adaptation of a classic novel as I’ve seen. There are actually things I don’t want to spoil for you about an adaptation of Little Women? Absurd. Greta Gerwig, through words taken straight from not only the novel but many of Louisa May Alcott’s other writings, chops up Little Women and doesn’t retell it, but rather tells us about it (using some of the best actors in the world, Altman-level intricacy in how the dialogue is spoken and overlaid, and a killer score). Lulu Wang’s adaptation of her own story, The Farewell, isn’t quite as intricately timelined or metatextual, but it’s a hell of an achievement in itself. I expected the bittersweet comedy and tears; I didn’t expect how perfect and distinctive it would look (especially once it gets to China) or how much I would love all of the performances. Writing down a personal story is one thing. Communicating that story so well through an ensemble cast and a specific aesthetic is another.

And now, all the 2019 releases I’ve seen ranked within tiers identified by some specific 21st century Chicago Bears plays I happen to remember.

Brian Urlacher just rips the ball the FUCK away from Edgerrin James and Peanut returns it for a TD during the Bears wild 2006 comeback against the Cards (gun to head my favorite football play of all time):

  • Parasite
  • Climax
  • Atlantics
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Devin Hester in the Super Bowl:

  • Little Women
  • The Farewell
  • Knife + Heart
  • In Fabric
  • Hustlers

Mike Brown for the second week in a row:

  • One Cut of the Dead
  • Us
  • Ash is Purest White
  • Homecoming
  • Peterloo
  • For Sama
  • Her Smell
  • Diane

The Keith Traylor interception return:

  • Fast Color
  • The Souvenir
  • The Irishman
  • The Changeover
  • Knives Out
  • Booksmart
  • Transit
  • Honeyland
  • Woman at War
  • Pain and Glory
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Uncut Gems
  • Birds of Passage
  • Varda by Agnes
  • Apollo 11
  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • Sweetheart
  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco
  • Midsommar
  • American Factory
  • Gloria Bell

That one Marty Booker catch against the Lions from 2008:

  • Highlife
  • The Burial of Kojo
  • The Lighthouse
  • Shadow
  • Ad Astra
  • Black Christmas
  • 1917
  • Ready or Not
  • Missing Link
  • Synonyms

Eddie Goldman safety as the 2018 Bears beat the Rams:

  • Burning Cane
  • The Hole in the Ground
  • Marriage Story
  • The Image Book
  • Terrified
  • Toy Story 4
  • The Perfection
  • Bliss
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Midnight Kiss

Jay hits Devin Aromashadu in OT to beat the Vikings in a meaningless (for us) week 16 game in 2009:

  • Crawl
  • Harriet
  • The Nightingale
  • Belzebuth
  • Shazam
  • Dolemite is My Name
  • Captain Marvel
  • Dark Waters
  • Tigers are Not Afraid
  • Happy Death Day 2 U 

The 2002 Bears (playing in Champaign) beat the Lions in OT on an Edinger FG after the Lions win the toss and choose the wind instead of the ball (I was at this game, that field goal did look like it hit a wall before just making it over):

  • The Two Popes
  • I Lost My Body
  • Judy
  • Klaus
  • Someone Great
  • Daughter of Mine
  • Escape Room
  • Always Be My Maybe

A random nine yard Mitch completion from 2019:

  • Serenity
  • Ford vs. Ferrari
  • Diego Maradona
  • Late Night
  • Plus One
  • The King

Johnny Knox trick play punt return TD called back on a phantom hold in 2011:

  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Hagazussa
  • JoJo Rabbit
  • Triple Frontier

Wide open Randall Cobb downfield in Week 17 of 2015 to lose the division:

  • Cats
  • The Laundromat
  • Richard Jewell
  • Joker
  • Under the Silver Lake
  • The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Cody Parkey

  • Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker
  • I’m Just Fucking With You
  • Bombshell

Tomorrow: The official DBB top ten films of 2019.

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