Photo courtesy of Flickering Myth
Story by Brandon Black/Lifestyles Editor
Here it is. The fans have been clamoring for it, so I figured the time had come to get it out there and let everyone know what films were, in my opinion, the best of the best in 2019. The thing is, I considered doing a best of the decade list but the ones that came out this last year were so goshdarned good that they require every ounce of respect that can be mustered.
Disclaimer: There are numerous reportedly very good movies I did not see this year. I am in no way qualified to make a definitive top 10 list, but I do love movies and saw 52 of the ones that came out in 2019. Those 52 movies did not include “The Lighthouse,” ‘The Nightingale,” “Ford v. Ferrari,” “Pain and Glory” or “The Souvenir.”
In addition, there were many terrific cinematic experiences I had that didn’t quite make the illustrious top 10, but are very deserving of some sort of recognition. Some would call them honorable mentions, so I will therefore mention them honorably. And yes, they do appear in their ranked order, from 20 to 11. “Crawl” and “Ready or Not” delivered two of the year’s most purely fun claustrophobic films, one in the form of a delightful creature feature and the other a dark and gory comedic thriller. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is the only 2019 movie in which every shot was so beautiful I couldn’t look away (with an ending that came SO CLOSE to working for me). “Shazam!” was a thousand times more enjoyable than I imagined and provided a glimpse of hope for DC’s future in the movie world, while “Avengers: Endgame” provided some very fine closure to a superhero series I’ve loved since I was eight. “John Wick Chapter 3” furthered the mythology and brutality of the most consistent American action saga in all the right ways. “Us” proved to the film world that Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was indeed not a fluke and he is a genius whose movies demand a second viewing. “Uncut Gems” delivered the ultimate exercise in expansive tension, with performances from Adam Sandler and Kevin Garnett that were both, like, genuinely good. For better and for worse, you will know what it’s like to watch a basketball game alongside a passionate Adam Sandler. And finally, “The Farewell” is the most honorable mention, not only because of Awkwafina’s quintessentially human performance, but due to its purposeful unwillingness to give any answers to its gigantic questions, all while managing to make me fall head over heels in love with Nai Nai.
Without further ado, here are my 10 favorite movies of the year. I’ve labeled each movie according to how much I cried because why not?
10. Midsommar (No crying, too uncomfortable)
The only movie that has accomplished the genuine level of squeamishness “Midsommar” made me feel was “Hereditary” the year before. But apart from that one feeling and each containing a legendary central performance, the two couldn’t be more different. While “Hereditary” is straight up terrifying, utilizing shadows and empty corners to turn the most beautiful house ever into a living nightmare, “Midsommar” has a different goal in mind, but it’s fulfilled just as effectively. Taking the story almost entirely into broad daylight, director Ari Aster knows he can’t rely on what so many horror movies do to achieve maximum fear factor. So he forces his audience to watch each shockingly brutal moment through to the end, leaving us desperate for some semblance of the darkness that used to be so frightening. It’s quite the feat. And Florence Pugh is utterly astounding.
9. Marriage Story (Cried a little)
Here we have a movie that does not work if its two central performances fall flat. Luckily for us, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are more than capable of carrying this moving, apparently very true-to-life portrayal of a mother and father going through a divorce. It’s also possible that I enjoyed it so much because it made me feel like I was watching “Toy Story 4,” which was confusing. Then I saw that Randy Newman scored it and went, “Ah, that makes sense.” What starts out as a cordial separation, or at least as cordial as one can be (the characters clearly respect and love each other the entire time regardless of their situation), quickly becomes accusatory and sometimes downright cruel once it makes its way to the courtroom. And holy cow, Azhy Robertson is phenomenal as their son and doesn’t seem like he’s acting at all. People on Twitter went crazy taking sides as to who was right or wrong, but “Marriage Story” isn’t that simple. They’re both right and they’re both wrong, and relationships are hard. The “Being Alive” scene was just so good.
8. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (Did not cry)
I wish I had a better explanation for this movie being my eighth favorite movie of the year, but the thing is, I don’t. It was the best event movie of 2019, a year that included “Avengers: Endgame” (which was pretty cool) and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (which was less cool), and the second best hangout movie. I could just watch Cliff Booth and Rick Dalton all day and not get bored in the slightest. I mean, the movie is just three hours of watching legitimate movie stars doing what they do best onscreen and having an absolute blast while doing it. I understand why Brad Pitt is such a big deal now! Margot Robbie was delightful! And the movie used flamethrowers in wonderfully effective manner! There were some very dirty feet in this movie too and that was uncomfy, but everything else was just plain fun.
7. Jojo Rabbit (I cried)
This one’s weird. There are many aspects of “Jojo Rabbit” that are confusing, or in some cases, total whiffs. Being a comedy about a child who wants to be Hitler in WW2 Germany, it obviously runs the risk of making Nazis not seem dangerous at all and losing its stakes, or having Nazis seem sympathetic. Scenes that do build tension find themselves in a strange limbo where the music and everything surrounding our characters implies tragedy, but the characters themselves seem like they’re in a different world and continue to crack (undeniably funny) jokes. It’s freakin weird. Then again, maybe that’s part of the point considering so much of the story hinges on Jojo’s conflicted child’s eye perspective. What makes “Jojo Rabbit” ultimately come together though, outside of being stupid hilarious, is that it nails both its ending and its most important emotional through-line. Jojo’s relationship with his mom in the absence of this father is a heartbreaking joy to watch, Taika Waititi’s sense of humor is near-identical to my own and its story about Hitler being dumb, empathy being a pretty jazzy thing and the realization that hey, you might be very, very wrong and can learn and grow from that place hit me hard. I don’t know what to tell you. It got me good.
6. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (I wept)
A lot of movies made me cry this year, but at only one was I crying to a point where I made that weird inhaling noise people do when they cry and then leaving the theater with a desire to be a better person. Director Marielle Heller has now directed her second biopic in two years that didn’t get any real awards recognition because she doesn’t adhere to the biopic formula and I’ve made peace with that, that’s ok. But her genius here is that she didn’t make a movie about the life of Fred Rogers, she made a movie about the impact of Fred Rogers, and it’s all the better for it. Tom Hanks doesn’t try to impersonate Mr. Rogers apart from a few basic things, instead choosing to go Heller’s route and play to the mark Fred left behind. This Mr. Rogers isn’t an infallible saint. He’s stressed, he’s sad and he’s trying his best. He’s just more intentional than most of us about dealing with those things. This movie is here to remind you that you are loved, my dudes, and contains the most necessary scene in a movie this year. If you don’t like the idea of being loved, then I guess pass on this one, but like… that’s a bad reason.
5. Little Women (I cried)
If not for a later entry on this list, I would argue that Greta Gerwig should be the only person to ever make coming of age films, and she should do one for each generation in between “Little Women” and “Lady Bird.” The energy and vibrancy she imbues the small world of the Civil War era-March family with is palpable. The characters are so deeply drawn and so alive and sincere and hilarious and perfect that they can’t help but come together to create the best hangout movie of 2019. And, as seen above, I really like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood!” But I could watch the day-to-day interactions between Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg for probably the rest of my life. Hang on, their mom is Laura Dern being the literal best mom of all time? And their aunt is Meryl Streep milking every line she has to dry wit perfection? Bob Odenkirk is just going to show up and round out the fam in a funky soldier uniform? Oh yeah, and Florence Pugh is still amazing in case anyone forgot.
4. Knives Out (Actually, I almost cried, I think mostly just cause of how good it is)
What really struck me about my trips to the theater this year was how many of my favorite movies are about finding empathy, for others and ourselves. In fact, if this year is any indication, empathy is on the rise in the world of movies considering we got what ultimately amounts to the “Paddington” of murder mysteries in “Knives Out.” Like, that sentence doesn’t even make sense, but it’s 100 percent true. The movie that had the biggest cast, the sharpest dialogue, the cleverest twists and the coziest sweaters also managed to say something genuinely relevant and incorporate today’s politics directly into the story without making you want to die because of how undeniable it is. I watched it a second time and loved it even more, and can’t think of the last time a movie this complicated had every setup and payoff accounted for. It’s as tight as a story can be, and every single massive star commits so fully it hurts. There are at least four different mysteries in this mystery movie, and the answer to each is entirely satisfying. Its heart operates at the same high level as its wit, claiming goodness as a legitimate superpower without coming off as trite. We already knew as much, but director Rian Johnson is a treasure of a man.
3. Toy Story 4 (Definitely cried)
For those of you who don’t know, “Toy Story 2” is my favorite movie of all time. My mom recorded the audio of the entire movie on a cassette tape, and she’d put her Walkman with that tape in my stroller. With headphones placed on my tiny ears, I listened to it everywhere we went because I could barely even use my arms so I kind of had no choice, but that movie is imprinted in my brain. As I got older, I was so pleased to find that all the “Toy Story” movies were still operating on another level of amazing, utilizing character agency in a unique way (Seriously, nearly everything is character and not plot driven, but because the characters are toys and are in many ways at the mercy of the world around them, “plot” moments are never forced and always necessary to further the theme of growing up and losing control. The characters want to make their own decisions but sometimes can’t.), but “Toy Story 2” remained the best. “Toy Story 4” is not better than that first sequel, but it’s still real, real good and better than the other two, while easily being the most laugh out loud funny. The movie asks remarkably deep questions about the nature of being alive and what it means to be loved when you don’t want it or give more than you get. It asks what we’re supposed to do once we’ve fulfilled what we see as our purpose in life. And most importantly, are we trash? Between Forky, Duke Kaboom, Gabby Gabby, Ducky, Bunny, Giggles McDimple, Mr. Pricklepants, Trixie the Triceratops, Barbie and Ken, Stinky Pete, Bullseye, the army men, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky, Hamm, Rex, Jessie, Lotso, Bo Peep, RC, the aliens, Buzz and Woody, it also makes a distinct argument for the best ensemble cast of characters in a series. I’m inclined to agree. Woody and Buzz are still two of my best buds, and that ending packed a wallop. What a delight it was to see my favorite franchise on the big screen one more time.
2. Booksmart (Yep, I cried)
So. Around the “Little Women” section of this list, I mentioned my desire for Greta Gerwig to make all the coming of age films if not for one exception. This is that exception. “Booksmart” gives gen-z their defining coming-of-age movie with a cast almost entirely of unknowns, a first time director in Olivia Wilde and a comedic sensibility tailored directly to the meme generation. Woody and Buzz are for sure my closest childhood friends, but I want to be best friends with “Booksmart’s” Molly and Amy right now. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are a comedy force to be reckoned with, bouncing a consistently gut-busting series of barbs and compliments (mostly compliments) off of each other for the entirety of the movie. So many comedies either get bogged down in plot or forget an effective emotional arc entirely during their final act, but “Booksmart” threads the needle by remaining persistently hilarious all the way up until it breaks our hearts. Then it kills you with even more of the best jokes of 2019. It also gives genuine insight into the minds of the current group of kids in high school and college right now. All of us are just kind of figuring this out as we go, and most of us just want everyone else to figure themselves out and be ok too. We’re definitely making mistakes, but we’re learning and we’re learning fast, and we have each other’s backs. Thanks, Molly and Amy and the entire Crockett High School class of 2019. That was cool of you.
1. Parasite (No crying, too busy gasping)
I lied about “Cats” in the headline. Sorry. When I left my viewing of “Parasite,” I sat down in my car and said out loud, “I think I just saw the best movie of the year.” So many movies are great because of their imperfections, but this one is somehow great because it might be perfect. Seriously, I can’t think of anything it gets wrong. Not only does this thing move after introducing you to its core characters, it establishes what it’s got on its mind early on and never lets go, with every single character choice, line and twist working to further emphasize its point while remaining utterly enthralling. Yeah, that’s gotta be the best word for it. Enthralling. It’s undeniable. I mean the movie literally becomes two other entirely different movies during the course of this one movie and feels cohesive and urgent anyway. When I rank movies for a list like this, my number one choice is generally the movie that made me feel or laugh the most, but this one left me speechless to a point where all I could do was observe Bong Joon-Ho’s brilliance from my chair with my mouth wide open. Every single piece just works. It’s not the funniest, nor is it the most poignant movie of the year, but it is both funny and poignant. It’s very rare that the best movie of the year actually wins best picture at the Oscars, but whatever it is that “Parasite” is, it’s the best movie of the year. Now go, go watch it somewhere. (I promise I wrote most of this before the Oscars.)
To contact Lifestyles Editor Brandon Black, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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