Belinda Garcia’s Top Six Movies of 2019
Well, hi there!
My name’s Belinda. You may know me from Kinda Funny Games, or Popagenda games, or now Ubisoft games, so you may assume I’m doing a top ten games of the year list like everyone else. Sorry to disappoint, I am not. To be totally honest, I probably barely finished ten games this year. (I’ve been busy, give me a break!)
But, OK Beast was kind enough to still reach out to me for my opinion… on movies.
Being a screenwriter, writing for film sites, and being a guest on In Review and Screencast this year, I guess they thought I’d have somewhat interesting opinions on my favorite movies from the year. And of course, I agreed.
As I was drafting my top ten list, I realized something. This was a fucking great year of film for females. It really was. The range of female filmmaking this year was astounding, each one a treasure of humility, care, humor, and unapologetic femininity. So, isn’t it funny that certain awards shows just… didn’t nominate a single female director? Not one? I think it’s absolutely. fucking. humorous.
So, though there are films by men this year that I worship and praise, I will be giving you just my top six movies of the year… that just so happen to all be directed by fierce, passionate, talented women.
Without further ado, here they are:
6. Someone Great
You start a romantic comedy with a montage of a love story playing to Lorde’s ‘Supercut’ and I am sold. Someone Great is, in my humble opinion, one of the best romantic comedies ever made. It is the love story after the love story. One where the protagonist cherishes in loving herself, her career, and her best friends. There is no malice, there is no underlying terrible truth to uncover. It is the exploration of the end of a relationship, and our girl weaving through the different ways to heal. That’s what makes it so unique and beautiful.
The humor is boisterous and unapologetic, the soundtrack even more so. This film is an anthem of what it’s like to fall in love now. To fall in love and live through a fully fledged relationship in our digital age and what it means to just… grow apart. It’s terrifying and heart-breaking… but it’s real.
My favorite stories are about love. Not just relationships and romance — love. Losing it. Gaining it. Falling in and out of it. Being afraid of it. Chasing it. Running away from it. Holding it for a second. Holding it forever. Rejecting it. Accepting it. Someone Great is a page out of director Jenn Kaytin Robinson’s life and is genuine in every genre it touches. The romance is genuine, the comedy is genuine, the drama is genuine. Not a single moment felt fabricated or caricatured. If you’re looking for a movie to break your heart and heal it all at once, cuddle up and throw Someone Great on Netflix. You won’t regret it.
5. Frozen 2
November of 2013, I was mesmerized by Frozen. You knew it was something special, something life changing the moment you’re immersed. It felt like a film originally meant for Disney’s Golden Age, tuned and tweaked for the growing girls of today. Music was peak Disney, the characters were rich and emotional. The girls were brave, the men charming, the talking snowman deliriously funny.
When the sequel was announced, I was afraid of the very thought of it. Frozen created such a fantastic whirlwind, forced into instantaneous everlasting legendary status, to the point where even I was tired of seeing and hearing it. Could they really do that… again? And more importantly, did we want it to?
As the days lead up to Frozen’s 2 premiere, I allowed myself to be excited about Frozen again. Dammit, it IS a masterpiece. I was tired of suppressing its brilliance internally to myself, and to everyone else. When that first teaser trailer dropped… any annoyance or shame I ever felt for the original washed away with Elsa’s dark waters. I didn’t give a fuck what anyone said, I loved Frozen and I was damn excited for its successor.
But again, I didn’t know what I wanted from Frozen 2. Did I want it to be the same? Did I want it to be different? Did I want more Anna? Did I want more Elsa? Did I want less Olaf? Did I want more of the Broadway show, less of the animated shorts? Or maybe the other way around?
Any expectations I had subconsciously compiled in my mind were all thrown out the window as I allowed Jennifer Lee to trust in the story she created, a thrill ride unlike any previous princess films. A ride that gave me the Disney/Lord of the Rings magical quest adventure I craved. Both of my girls finding their inner confidence, Kristoff’s solidified faith in his committed relationship, Olaf’s naivete in maturity. All arcs bobbing and weaving through a gorgeously, GORGEOUSLY crafted world delivering the hero’s journey I was glad I said yes to.
Elsa’s line “I am found” in ‘Show Yourself’ encompasses everything I wanted to feel in this sequel. We’ve seen Elsa feel afraid of her own self, shutting herself out as she’s convinced she’s a danger to those around her; then accepting her powers can be good, to now understanding that she is as important as her heart insists. Her life has always had a deeper meaning, she was always meant to be great. In this film, she gets the answers she’s always wanted… that she is all she’s ever needed to be.
Anna is anything but the “powerless” sister in this movie. She fights for everything she believes in, even if what she’s known her whole life has been a lie. She fights for the right thing, the just thing. She believes in the ones she loves wholeheartedly, she just needed to learn to believe in herself in the same way. “The Next Right Thing” is the epitome of a Broadway all-is-lost ballad and I couldn’t believe how devastating it was to see our heroine fight to believe in herself as she selflessly does for others. She was never weak, never less, and her powers are the will and strength she has always had within her.
There are constant comparisons to the first, as there would be, and this movie wouldn’t exist if not for the air-tightness of its originator. But for those who loved the first, and even those who maybe didn’t click with the first, I urge you to give this adventure a try.
4. The Farewell
The last time I went back to the Philippines was January of 2018. That was the first time I had been back as an adult, the last being 2008 while I was still in high school. As a teenager in a third world country, you take the culture around you for granted. I just wanted to be on MySpace and text my boyfriend.
On my most recent trip, I felt something change in me. It was eye opening. I felt everything, I learned so much, I went above and beyond to understand and love my family like never before. That trip was also the last time I saw my Lolo, who passed away just a month later. When he passed, I desperately wanted to return, but between school and work and the shackles of everyday life, it wasn’t practical. That crippling distance, the notion that no, you cannot see your family for a day, was deafening. I hated it but there was nothing I could do about it.
Then came The Farewell.
The Farewell was a movie that shouted everything I was ashamed of forgetting, growing up an Asian American who never got the chance to live where my parents did. It disarms you with the way it guilts you for forgetting your roots, who you are. The simplest of premises, the film focuses on the interpersonal relationships between every individual in the family. Highlighting the importance of the roles they play, both the ones they want to and the ones they’re forced into.
Though I am Filipino and our culture differs from Chinese in many ways, there are a lot of similarities that my own experiences felt realized and understood. I saw my family, my experiences on screen in a way I never have before. Lulu Wang carefully made a film filled to the brim with humor and heartache, guilt of living in America when the majority of your family is so far away and the way the world shapes you depending on where you are.
It is a tough film to get through, especially as an Asian American — or any immigrant, really. But it is important to watch other stories unfold under the same circumstances as our own. We are not alone and our struggles are not isolating. It’s important for films like this to surface, reminding us that as we share even our most personal stories, they always find a way to bring us together.
3. Steven Universe: The Movie
Steven Universe: The Movie may not have had a theatrical release, but it doesn’t disqualify it from being one of the greatest artistic feats of this entire year. As a major fan of the show, of course I was in anticipation of the film and full faith that it would be absolutely perfect. And it was.
Steven Universe, as a whole, embodies a lot of messages and morals I personally believe in and prioritize in my life. In the film, it took everything each character learned and enhanced all of it. It solidified them into a cohesive narrative that stands on its own, just as it was a reward to all the dedicated fans.
In a way, the feature film allowed us to re-experience the lengthy, robust character arcs we had been attached to for five seasons all over again in a masterfully-crafted, digestible feature. How they accomplished this? I have no idea.
The geniusness and passion of Rebecca Sugar and her crew ooze through the screen as they succeeded in delivering the largest, most ambitious Steven Universe story to exist. From 11 minute episodes to a full hour and a half feature, while keeping the spirit and celebration of acceptance, change, love, healing… I still can’t believe it’s real.
For those of you wanting to jump into Steven Universe the series but are unsure if the subject matter calls to you, I think you are safe to watch the film and see how you feel before making the plunge. Steven Universe is my favorite show for a reason, and I hope that all of you give either the series or the film a fair shot. I promise you, it will change your life.
Five minutes into my first time watching Booksmart, I knew it was my movie of the year.
I had been anxiously awaiting Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, but I severely underestimated how much Booksmart would affect me. I grew up adoring films like Superbad and American Pie, but of course… with those films came subpar representations of teen girls. But something about the ridiculousness, the gritty truths about teenagers, the high school stakes were exciting and have always been my guilty pleasures. Even if the ultimate goal was to just… sleep with girls.
Booksmart takes everything I loved about those boy-ish, grotesque, vulgar teen movies and combined it with female protagonists that take the genre and make it their own. This movie is so unbearably hilarious, witty, genuine, touching, and a whole fuck ton of FUN. Booksmart is everything I didn’t know I wanted in a teen film, and now the bar has been set.
Films like Edge of Seventeen and Lady Bird are my northern stars, each film building off the last in a path towards teenage girl greatness. Think about how far “teen girl” movies have come. Look at Clueless, Heathers, Mean Girls, etc. Though I have so much love and appreciation for those films, since those are films that made me, there is an excruciating amount of high beauty standards, body shaming, hypersexuality… the list goes on. To know that a film like this is now a pillar in that genre warms my heart. I cannot wait for the films to emerge that were inspired by Booksmart.
I don’t care who you are, what you do, how you think… go watch Booksmart. Now.
1. Little Women
It is known that I love Greta Gerwig. Therefore, going into Little Women… part of me knew I would love it blindly, no matter what. And when we love things blindly, we wish so badly to be able to criticize it. We seek faults because there is absolutely no way a love that pure for a work of art could exist.
I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Little Women early and I don’t know if this article will be out before Christmas Day… so I will keep it brutally spoiler free. but this film was… phenomenal. My heart is soaring and tears are collecting in my eyes as I’m recollecting the movie while writing this.
The tale of Little Women was one I sought as a young girl who loved literature. I rejoiced in the Alcotts, the Austens, the Brontes. The fairy tales, the love, the Mr Darcys and Lauries, seeking them in prepubescent teenage boys, constantly being disappointed when they didn’t mirror my grandiose expectations. Though Little Women was not my absolute favorite, at the time it was all I had.
Greta preached how much she wholeheartedly loved this story and god damn, it showed. She graced it her wit and knack for refined relationships, molded into a tale that still holds a filthy reflection to society around us. I’m also not one for period pieces and have to be convinced exactly 7 times to see one before I budge (Go see ‘The Favourite’ it is BRILLIANT), and all I want now is to relive the feast for the eyes this film was. Oh god, and the score. I wish I could draw a bath with the warm sounds running and lay in it for the rest of the night.
I don’t have to tell you how excruciatingly, overwhelmingly perfect the performances were. I really don’t. There is no better explanation than for you to experience it yourselves. I am paralyzed by the power, craft, and emotion every single one cast members put into their roles. I don’t might heightening your expectations on this front, because it will pay off a thousand times over, even if the film does not.
This film returned me to the whimsical feeling I had as a girl reading old, romantic literature, without the teenage disappointment, and there are very few things these days that could incite that kind of feeling again. What makes Little Women my number one, is the way I couldn’t stop thinking or smiling after leaving the theater. How I immediately had to get my thoughts down while listening to Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful, score. A film that accomplishes that… well, it deserves to be my film of the year.
I feel so lucky to have lived through 2019, coming out the other side with a top six list of entire female directors, chock full of female protagonists to match. Each of them igniting a part of my dormant feminist spirit. These are films I came out of the theater absolutely flying, my mind in another dimension where I relive the art I experienced forever. Where inspiration never runs dry, when music drowns your ears, where the hunger and passion to create stories of your own flourish in the magical silence after a film finishes before your body is forced back into reality, forcing your thoughts into a backseat to responsibility. I thank each and every one of these films for giving these to me in hopes that one day I can reciprocate them back for more young women in the future.