Top 10: Film Fest 919 Titles

Film Fest 919: The book is now closed on the second annual Film Fest 919. The North Carolina based festival (specifically in Chapel Hill) was home to over three dozen movies, showcasing a wide range of cinema. Getting to be down there was truly an experience, as not only where the films high quality, but seeing them among a whole different group of people, with discussions often afterward, only increases the allure. Today, to celebrate the end of the festival, which announced last week that “Parasite” had won their Audience Award, we’re going to be looking at the best movies they had to offer.

Below you’ll see the ten best titles to play at Film Fest 919 this year (and be sure to click on each title for our reviews of said movies). With such a packed slate, narrowing it down was tough. As such, hearty Honorable Mention notices go to “Bacurau” and “The Kill Team,” both of which just barely missed cracking the list. However, they were both cited on previous lists, for NYFF and Tribeca, respectively, so they’re not fully snubbed. All told, it was an embarrassment of riches down in Chapel Hill, to be sure.

10Dolemite Is My Name” (2019)
dir: Craig Brewer

The Rudy Ray Moore story deserved to have been told before 2019. Still, it’s a good thing that we got it at all, celebrating the cult classic that “Dolemite” would become. Scribes Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski are the poet laureates of unlikely biopic subjects, making Moore’s quixotic journey towards being a movie story funny and touching in equal measure. Plus, we have Eddie Murphy back on the big screen! Director Craig Brewer and Murphy take the character on the page and make him one of the year’s most memorable.

9Just Mercy” (2019)
dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

Hollywood loves a true-life legal drama. “Just Mercy” follows the blueprint of any number of similar real stories, but the acting here, along with filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton‘s sure hand, helps make this a cut above. In particular, Michael B. Jordan, Rob Morgan, and Tim Blake Nelson stand out from the pack, though Jamie Foxx hasn’t been this good in some time. You may have seen this kind of film numerous times before, but Cretton and company execute it in a profoundly effective manner. A runner up for the Film Fest 919 Audience Award, there’s more here than meets the eye.

8Ford v Ferrari” (2019)
dir: James Mangold

Racing movies often have a hard time during awards season. However, most aren’t as good as “Ford v Ferrari.” Featuring some of 2019’s best technical work, especially in terms of sound, this sports biopic of sorts is a definite crowd-pleaser. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are a likable pair, while director James Mangold finds the beauty buried in greasy automobiles racing in circles. If this is popcorn cinema, it’s about as well made as it can get.

7The Report” (2019)
dir: Scott Z. Burns

A granular look into the United States Senate’s investigation into torture, “The Report” references the notorious torture report. Adam Driver grounds an enraged yet occasionally dry story from filmmaker Scott Z. Burns with a righteous anger audience can invest themselves in. Looking back on the sins of our government’s recent past, the film impeccably implores America not to repeat these mistakes. Here’s hoping the lesson is taken to heart.

6Honey Boy” (2019)
dir: Alma Har’el

Shia LaBeouf has issues. He’d freely admit this. “Honey Boy” represents a captivating attempt to work through them in cinematic form. Penning the screenplay and taking a supporting role as his own father (where he delivers some of his finest acting to date), he also gives baity roles as his younger self to Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges. Jupe, in particular, shines, while director Alma Har’el finds a poetic language to LaBeouf’s tragic messiness. You may never look at him the same way again.

5The Two Popes” (2019)
dir: Fernando Meirelles

On paper, this two-hander should be an absolute bore. A current pope and a future one discussing life and theology? However, Anthony McCarten is deeply invested in the humanity of the pair, especially when it comes to Jonathan Pryce‘s Jorge Bergoglio, who would go on to become Pope Francis. Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are a dynamite pair, making “The Two Popes” not just a smart dissection of faith, but also uproariously funny at times too. This was an unexpected pleasure at Film Fest 919 and one of the two runners up for the Audience Award.

4Jojo Rabbit” (2019)
dir: Taika Waititi

A satire that really commits to its satirical premise, “Jojo Rabbit” stands out from the pack. Taika Waititi‘s anti-hate missive may leave some with blank expressions, but they just don’t understand what he’s going for here. The film is very much in the vein of Mel Brooks, especially in regard to Hitler and the Nazis. Cutting him/them down to size for comedic purposes is not just a storytelling choice, it’s a form of catharsis. Waititi nails it.

3Waves” (2019)
dir: Trey Edward Shults

An unexpectedly brilliant new effort from Trey Edward Shults, “Waves” has layer upon layer within it. Three fantastic performances, from Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Taylor Russell, execute Shults’ singular vision. Factor in the editing, the sound design, as well as the score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, all of which are phenomenal, and this is one of the most stylistically compelling works of 2019. The less you know going in, the better, as its surprises wash over you in a really emotional manner. Whatever you think this is, it turns out to be something different.

2Marriage Story” (2019)
dir: Noah Baumbach

Just like at other festivals, Film Fest 919 saw heavy raves for “Marriage Story,” and in particular the performances. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are the heart and soul of the movie, while Alan Alda and Laura Dern deliver two of the best supporting turns of the year. Watching this heartbreaking tale from Noah Baumbach, putting forth his best work to date, can be a visceral experience. It’s also an absolutely essential one.

1Parasite” (2019)
dir: Bong Joon Ho

The best movie at Film Fest 919 was also the best of the New York Film Festival, but that comes along with the territory of being one of 2019’s absolute best. It won the Audience Award down in Chapel Hill for a reason, after all. If it seems like we keep raving about this one, it’s just because Bong Joon Ho has crafted such a gem. Full of shocking moments, it’s the fullest cinematic meal in some time. Stop reading about it and go see it, since it’s in theaters now. Nothing else out there even remotely compares to “Parasite.”

Which Film Fest 919 titles were your favorites this year? Comment below and share!