“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script, and the script.” — Alfred Hichcock.
As stated by many masters of cinema, the script is one of the most important aspects of a film – perhaps the most important aspect. Some may claim that images, experimentation, and atmosphere are superior, and while those contribute a lot, it’s the script that creates characters that remain in your memory and change with the audience; it’s the script that grants themes for the audience to question; it’s the script that ultimately calls the audience to action, for better or worse. After all, look at the numerous crimes and dreams inspired by movies. Words are equally as important as celluloid. Words are what bring celluloid into existence.
Without further adieu, these are the best written movies of 2019, in no particular order. The themes, ideas, and characters in these movies will remain within you, inspiring you, challenging you, all the while making you laugh and cry.
10. I Lost My Body
In a world where animation isn’t considered by most to be a legitimate, serious art form, it’s an enormous gulp of fresh air when an animated movie surfaces that isn’t a mindless cash grab from some big studio, and Jeremy Clapin’s “I Lost My Body” does not disappoint. Based on the book “Happy Hand” by Guillaume Laurent, it’s the story of a disembodied hand that breaks free from a Parisian lab, embarking on a quest to find its body. As the hand journeys, it receives flashbacks to its life with a body. This hand is revealed to belong to Naoufuel, a young pizza delivery boy living a tragic and emotionally numb life, until he falls in love with the mysterious Gabrielle, a late night pizza client with whom Naofuel converses.
This film could have taken a more conventional approach with a teen love story, but the surrealist aspect it dons creates a more daring, emotionally raw experience for the viewer, unafraid to roam into disgusting territories. One can appreciate the surface level creativity that the juicy, visually driven surrealism has to offer, but if one decides to delve deeper, they will be rewarded with themes of loss, love, growth and life. “I Lost My Body” is a perfect anthem to the broken-hearted and sever-handed. Perhaps one must lose the body in order to discover the mind.
9. The Irishman
It’s a shame that so many wished for “The Irishman” to be a miniseries, because it’s best watched in one sitting.
“The Irishman” encompasses the life of Frank “the Irishman” Sheeran as he reminisces the defining moments in his life – the good, the bad, the big, the small, and the downright ugly. He’s been a veteran, a gangster, a leader, a father and a friend. And although from the outside it may have seemed that he lived life to its fullest, he suddenly finds himself an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone. He accomplished much, but failed to focus on life’s most important thing: family. Friendship is one thing, and the interactions between characters Sheeran and his mob friends Hoffa and Bufalino are expertly written – a little slice of heaven incarnated onto the silver screen – but friends don’t stay young forever. When you put love into a family, you’ll experience a love everlasting.
“The Irishman” is screenwriter Steven Zaillian’s finest work alongside “Schindler’s List,” serving as a call to action, telling this world not to be obsessed with the gangster life, and instead to pour that ambition into the dad life. The themes of life and age’s consequences are bound to wrench tears out of its audience. It’s Martin Scorcese’s thematic companion to “Goodfellas,” but as a tragedy.
8. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a historical revisionist Hollywood fairytale that follows actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double/best friend/personal assistant Cliff Booth, and their strange cruise through a Hollywood that’s passing them by, with the Manson murders and the career of Sharon Tate serving as the story’s backdrop.
The film doesn’t have much of a “plot” to speak of, so Dalton and Booth’s relationship is the glue that enhances its ambling tone. When the two are introduced, Dalton is a tad bit unlikable due to his unfiltered narcissistic tendencies, and we’re unsure of what to feel for Booth because of his shady wife-killing past. But their interactions with themselves and others grow on you until you’re completely in love with them. We realize Dalton’s flaws and Booth’s dedication are what makes them grounded and relatable.
It seems that ever since 2011’s “Django Unchained,” several internet critics have complained to have a “Tarantino fatigue,” dismissing him as derivative, edgy, and controversial just for the sake of sparking controversy. His latest entry disproves those claims. Wholesome and vulgar, over the top and grounded, violent, but also oddly… heartwarming? These may be a few words to describe this movie. What could’ve been another homage to exploitation is instead a meditation of a Hollywood that could have been. What if Hollywood was still a place of unashamed genre pieces and auteur-driven works? What if all its great tragedies were non-existent, unable able to define Hollywood into what it’s become today? By the end, you’ll yearn to return to the Hollywood of Tarantino’s childhood, too.
7. Doctor Sleep
In a year flooded with Stephen King content, “Doctor Sleep” stands superior to the peanut gallery. Mike Flannagan perfectly meshes Stephen King’s “The Shining” with Stanley Kubrick’s, and this makes for a very entertaining watch. It leaves behind the atmospheric horror of the 1980s classic and instead is a pretty accurate dark fantasy adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “Doctor Sleep.” Picking off years after the traumatic events of the Overlook, Danny Torrance and his mother are living in Florida, and Danny is struggling to outgrow the cycle of alcoholism that he inherited from his father. His encounter with another teen who has the “Shining” (telepathic powers) lead him on a journey to defeat Rose the Hat and True Knot, a vampyric cult that feeds off innocent Shiners.
“Doctor Sleep” isn’t superior to its predecessor, but the screenplay presents a scenario with themes of fathers and their sons that are far more character-driven and relatable to the average audience.
6. Ad Astra
“Ad Astra” is this year’s daunting, transcendental space epic. A brilliant fusion of nuanced writing and filmmaking from director/screenwriter James Gray and screenwriter Ethan Gross comes a story about Roy McBride, who receives news that his father (lost from a deep space mission 30 years before) may still be alive. McBride, a person as emotionally distant as space itself, must travel to Neptune to solve the mystery of his father as well as the ominous power surges threatening the safety of the solar system.
Through the realistic depictions of space travel, Gray is able to show us the emotions of McBride, which are restrained yet visceral. Marrying the meditation of Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” with the suspenseful intensity of Nolan’s “Interstellar,” “Ad Astra” is able to explore themes about the weaknesses of humanity, fathers, and their son’s silent image of God.