Can you believe another year has come and gone? And you know what that means – it’s time for the obligatory (but admittedly fun) end of the year Top 10 list. 2019 was a peculiar year at the movies. It started slow but really picked up steam before ending with a bang. From a handful of blockbusters to several strong indies, 2019 offered quite the variety of memorable movies. So let’s get going.
As always I’ll begin by showing love to the fine movies that just missed my top 10. Here are my #11 – 20 picks:
- #20 – “Avengers: Endgame”
- #19 – “Clemency”
- #18 – “Knives Out”
- #17 – “Arctic”
- #16 – “Us”
- #15 – “Doctor Sleep”
- #14 – “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
- #13 – “The Farewell”
- #12 – “Transit”
- #11 – “The Irishman”
And here are my Top 10 films of 2019:
#10 – One of the most criminally overlooked movies to come out in 2019 was Julia Hart’s “Fast Color”. It’s part dystopian science-fiction and part superhero origin story. But at its core it’s a touching family drama about three generations of women, the conflicts that tore them apart, and the bonds that bring them back together. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is terrific, once again showing she’s an actress deserving of more attention. The same could be said for the film itself, a victim of a botched distribution but one that should be seen.
#9 – This may be the the most authentic portrayal of divorce and it’s many devastating complexities ever put on screen. “Marriage Story” is driven by Noah Baumbach’s dense and emotionally detailed script along with two powerhouse performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They give us characters we genuinely care about which makes watching their relationship disintegrate a heart-wrenching experience. It’s Baumbach’s best movie to date and one that packs a real wallop.
#8 – One of the biggest treats I discovered out of awards season was this brilliant sci-fi debut from Andrew Patterson. Plucked right out of 1950’s small-town Americana, the movie embraces its influences (“The Twilight Zone”, The X-Files”, etc.). But the film audacious visual approach reveals its own distinct identity. Armed with dense, rapid-fire dialogue from the writing duo of James Montague and Craig W. Sanger and a central friendship brought to life through two fabulous performances from Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz). Don’t let this small gem slip by.
#7 – I have to admit, I loved the look of “Jojo Rabbit” going into it, but I never expected to be so affected by Taika Waititi’s wacky yet intensely moving “anti-hate satire“. The film walks the tightrope of taste while being both hilarious and heartbreaking, joyous and appalling. And it’s filled with such rich performances from a totally game cast. Youngster Roman Griffin Davis is a revelation while Thomasin McKenzie earns every ounce of empathy. And Waititi bounds it all together with a beautiful and timely message of hope.
#6 – I dare anyone to try and put Bong Joon Ho’s latest movie in a box or make it fit neatly into any one genre. “Parasite” is filled with delicious black comedy, scathing social commentary, some surprising jolts of heartfelt emotion, and a violent throat punch when you’re least expecting it. The story moves at such an intoxicating pace and just when you think you know where it’s going Bong pulls the rug right out from under you. It’s one heck of a ride and it’s a movie unlike anything else I saw in 2019.
#5 – Who knew we needed another adaption of “Little Women”? Greta Gerwig convincingly makes the case with her fresh and utterly enchanting version of Louisa May Alcott’s perennial classic novel. This is only Gerwig’s second film behind the camera but you would never know it. She captures every ounce of energy, personality, and period appeal while putting her own impressive stamp onto the story. The film also features one of the best ensemble casts of the year led by Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, and Chris Cooper among others.
#4 – Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who makes movies I almost always find myself wrestling with. But with “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” I was hooked from the very start. In many ways this is Tarantino’s most mature film to date. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t given those wild flourishes of style and that sharp sense of humor he’s known for. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are outstanding and Margot Robbie’s vision of Sharon Tate provides a ray of light Tarantino’s movies often lack. This is the filmmaker at his very best.
#3 – The year of Brad Pitt reached its apex with his stellar lead performance in James Gray’s cerebral space adventure “Ad Astra”. This fresh and thoughtful slice of science-fiction is uniquely its own thing and doesn’t pander to any particular genre norm. Better yet it’s a technical marvel rich with evocative imagery and with potent themes of introspection, forgiveness, and individuality. “Ad Astra” may not be for everyone, but I love it for its meditative pacing, stunning visuals, and terrific lead work from Pitt.
#2 – I never dreamed that a Todd Phillips movie based on the most recognizable villain in DC comics history would come close to my Top 10 list. Yet here we are with “Joker”, not only one of the biggest surprises of the year but for me one of the best films of 2019. Driven by an incredible lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker” is a movie that demands more than a simple surface reading. It is perpetually bleak and our interpretations of it say as much about us as it does Arthur Fleck. A menacing score and gritty visuals are just icing on the cake.
#1 – Terrence Malick set a high bar for himself with 2011’s “The Tree of Life”. He hasn’t been able to hit that mark since, at least not until now. “A Hidden Life” is a remarkable accomplishment. It takes the very best things from the two sides of Malick’s filmography (the early narrative-driven stories and his later evocative visual meditations) and melds them together in one beautiful and inspirational experience. He tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who refused to fight for Hitler. Even more, it’s a soulful exploration of faith in the face of unspeakable evil. This is Malick at his very best and it’s the most captivating movie I saw in 2019.