Top Ten Movies of 2019 — Number One

last black man title card

The stories we tell ourselves shape our sense of history, and our sense of history shapes the stories we tell ourselves. Legacy is built from both what actually happened and what we wish had happened, what we convince ourselves is true. Even when we might know better, when the barrage of disappointments and betrayals that rain down upon a person have built up rueful inner wisdom, there is still a temptation — maybe even a sort of salvation — in committing to the tall tales that provide a happier, prouder perception of life. Sometimes the only tenet to cling to is the one that assert that maybe, just maybe, wishing makes it so.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is about a city and a house and a friendship. Jimmie (Jimmie Falls) scuffles through an existence in San Francisco, scraping together his meager resources to caretake a large Victorian House in the city’s Fillmore District. Jimmie doesn’t own it, and the current owners and occupants don’t particularly appreciate his efforts to spruce up the exterior paint or tend to the garden when they’re off at work. But Jimmie talks of how his grandfather built the house with his own two hands. There is still a sense of personal ownership and belonging, even though Jimmie’s family lost the house years ago. When the house is again vacant, due to an estate squabble, Jimmie surreptitiously moves in, bringing along his one good friend, Mont (Jonathan Majors, truly exceptional in the role).

Although Jimmie and Mont find solace in the house, the complicated city roils around them, street preachers, corner toughs, and jaded young residents casting out their respective auras of quiet, interpolating influence. Mont, a kind and odd fellow with an artist’s soul, captures all the contradictions before him, in drawings, in writing, and eventually in performance, unlocking inner, deeper truths through interpretation more than introspection. Art, Mont reminds us, can crack open the world.

That hypothesis is also confirmed by The Last Man in San Francisco. Drawn from Falls’s own experiences, the film was further shaped by Joe Talbot, who co-wrote the screenplay and directs with an aching visual elegance enhanced beautifully by Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography. Talbot makes the film about feeling rather than incident, delving deeply into the characters and their interactions with each other and their surroundings. It is a movie that feels lived, honestly and poignantly. Its story resonates.

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