Top 5 movies of Summer 2019

HUNTER FRIESEN, Film Critic

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As the outdoor and political climate reached sweltering conditions during the never-ending summer, the movie theatres offered a cool and comfortable place to escape from reality. And while escapism is great just by itself, it’s also great if the movie that you had come to see turned out to be worthwhile of your time and money. But, we all know that isn’t always the case as some films fly way above expectations while some crash and burn, never to be thought of again. 

So in an effort to highlight and give credit to a few high-quality summer films, here is a list of the top five best movies released between May 01 and August 31 (sorry, “Avengers: Endgame” doesn’t qualify). 

5) “John Wick: Chapter 3  – Parabellum”

Now with three entries in the series (and an upcoming  fourth installment green-lit), the “John Wick” films have joined the conversation with the likes of “Mission: Impossible” and “Jason Bourne” for being one of the best modern action franchises. 

“Parabellum” improves upon the second chapter and takes the top spot in the series when it comes to delivering what the fans want: seeing Keanu Reeves kicking the crap out of every bad guy in the most brutal and satisfying way possible. 

Sporting stunning moments such as a brawl set inside the New York Public Library, a motorcycle chase sword fight and a house of mirrors showdown, “Parabellum” was easily the most exhilarating movie of the summer and set an even higher bar for action films. 

4) “Midsommar”

Only a year after his breakout hit in “Hereditary,” writer/director Ari Aster returned to the screen with a more challenging and grand horror experience. 

Set in a remote Swedish village celebrating their Midsommar festival, the story follows Dani (a brilliant Florence Pugh) as she struggles with a recent family tragedy and with the fact that her long-term relationship with her boyfriend is messily falling apart right in front of her. 

The horror elements of the film are in fewer quantities and may be harder to grasp when compared to Aster’s previous film, but the emotional narrative that unfolds over the 150-minute runtime is more compelling and able to cover up the lack of scares. 

And when you combine the enthralling story with some exquisite cinematography that makes fantastic use of the perpetually brightly lit setting, the overall end product turns out to be a fascinating original film that defies genre rules while also calling back to the classics that inspired it. 

3) “The Farewell”

Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” was met with just as much high praise when it was released in the middle of summer as it did when it premiered back in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

The story follows a Chinese family as they learn that their elderly matriarch unknowingly has cancer. Instead of revealing the bad news, the family decides to keep her in the dark to spare her from the grief. 

Awkwafina stars as Billi who, along with her father and mother, moved away from the family to the United States when she was very young. Now in her mid-20s, Billi returns to China and must deal with the impending death of her grandmother and the divide between her and the family members that she was forced to leave so many years ago. 

Heartfelt and packed with great performances from its all-Asian cast, “The Farewell” has brilliant moments of levity in between it’s more sincere moments of tear-inducing drama. And in addition to the story, the film also proves to be a great illustrator of the differences in familial culture between the East and West. 

2) “Toy Story 4”

The announcement of “Toy Story 4” way back in 2014 was met with justifiable skepticism considering the seemingly perfect ending of “Toy Story 3,” which capped off arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time. 

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned since their debut back in 1995, it’s that you should always count on Pixar to deliver an emotional story for all walks of life. So when I went to see “Toy Story 4” and the opening tune of “You’ve got a friend in me” started playing, all my doubts were turned off and the waterworks in my eyes were turned on. 

The “Toy Story” franchise has always spoken best to its core audience that has grown up side by side with the films. The fourth entry in the series naturally tells the story about the complex issues of finding one’s purpose in life and having to deal with moving on, two issues that every young adult faces in this day and age. Both of these topics are addressed with masterful care and comedic wit that will have you switching between crying and laughing within the span of a few scenes. 

It also helps that the new voice additions of Tony Hale as Forky and Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby pair excellently with the legendary voices within the original gang. 

1) “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Perfectly led by an all-star cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, the ninth feature film from Quentin Tarantino turned out to be the most comedic and mature work he’s ever done. The esteemed writer/director’s tale of a fictional TV cowboy in the waning days of Hollywood’s golden age and his run-in with real-life actress Sharon Tate acts as both a time capsule for a bygone era and as an allegory for the state of filmmaking in modern times. 

And despite being the king of controversy for the better part of a quarter-century, Tarantino’s climactic finale here may be the most challenging and squirm-inducing scene he’s done. It’ll definitely stir up a conversation where both sides are justified in their opinion, which may be the reason it’s the best scene Tarantino’s ever done. Because in an era of overly safe and formulaic product films, it’s unbelievably refreshing to see a filmmaker openly dare their audience to think about what they just saw and judge it for themselves. 

At nearly three hours long, the best movie of the summer, and currently of the year, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” demands to be seen and most definitely reseen in order to soak in all of the fine details that it has to offer. 

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