Having seen 63 2019 releases, I can safely say that The Last Black Man In San Francisco is my favorite film of the year. Which, if you look at my experience with it on paper, should not be something that happened. I saw The Last Black on a whim. School had just gotten out for the summer and I wanted to see something. The Farewell and Midsommar weren’t out but an even more indie A24 film was out. And being obsessed with A24’s films, I felt obligated to see this. I watched the trailer once, and it impressed me, but I wasn’t totally sure how I was going to like the film. But, I took a risk and my 15 year old self bought a ticket for this rated R film. Miraculously, the theater attendee let me in, and there I was. The youngest and whitest person in the whole audience. But that’s not to say the audience was big. I was the youngest and whitest audience member of maybe 8 or 9 people. But there I sat, right in the middle of the theater. Ready to sit for two hours and spend $13 on something I knew almost nothing about. Then the film started.
Right off the bat I was in love. Emile Mosseri’s score playing over the sombre, slow moving opening credits as it builds up to the title reveal. Sitting there, on a black screen, in white text. “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” I smiled. There’s a feeling, that I only feel sometimes, I only get this feeling when I’m watching something truly special. And this, checked that box. The opening shot explodes onto the screen. I am truly in awe. To this day, the opening scene of this film makes me smile. I’ve watched the opening 10 minutes of this film maybe 8 times, because it makes me feel calm, it makes me feel loved. Not to quote Midsommar, but it feels like home to me. I truly do think about that scene often. I feel like I should have the Preacher’s speech memorized at this point. But to be specific about what I love about this scene, let me point to the first shot of Mont and Jimmie. There they sit, at the bus stop, listening to the Preacher. Right off the bat, with both Jimmie’s and Mont’s opening lines, you can understand who they are. Not only is that the highest compliment I can give to the writing, but also a feat of Jimmie Fails’ and Jonathan Majors’ acting ability. And not to draw out what I love about just one shot, but simply the shot of Mont sitting on the rock while Jimmie sits near the ground shows so much about the characters. On the grassy background, Jimmie’s bright red button-up pops off the screen, while Mont’s tweed jacket is noticeable, but doesn’t grab your attention. When Emile Mosseri’s score kicks in for the skating sequence, I think that’s when I fell in love. And each time I rewatch that cut, I fall in love once again.
Past the opening 10 minutes, it only gets better for me. But let me hit on some of the things I love the most because going everything great about the film would be pages and pages of me just gushing about this. First of all, the dialogue is incredible. Talbot and Reichert crafted these characters in such a familiar way, that I don’t feel as if all the backstory is even necessary. Hearing the lines “Hey isn’t that the car you and your dad used to live in” followed by a loud and proud “Jimmie!” from Mike Epps’ character is enough for me. I want to hit on both of these again because they’re just that great. Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography and Emile Mosseri’s score. I keep coming back to this film because of how beautiful of an atmosphere Mosseri and Newport-Berra created for it. Jonathan Majors’ performance is probably one of my favorites of the whole year. His range during the play scene, stands out, but my favorite parts are probably the quieter moments. Such as the Rock Fight scene, simply sitting on the boat, or just the lines “I think it’s a bit more… impromptu.” and “I don’t think that’s true.” elevate him beyond just a side character or just Jimmie’s friend and make him one of my favorite characters of the year, if not the decade, if not ever. But all of my love for this film aside, and going back to what I said earlier, on paper I am not meant to love this film. I am a well-off white kid from the East Coast who has never, ever had to face the real world consequences of gentrification or what it’s like to lose your home. Or lose a close friend like Kofi. And I think that it’s important to mention that I get to view this film without being able to fully understand the impacts of the themes and problems the characters face. I have that privilege. But the fact that Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails and everyone involved were able to not only get me to care, but to feel connected to this film, means they’ve made something truly special.