Top 10 Films of 2019

TOP102019

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:

TopCOLOR

#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.

TopMARRIAGE

#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.

VAST

#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.

TOPjojo

#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.

TopPARASITE

#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.

TOPlittle

#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.

TOPonce

#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.

TOPASTRA

#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.

TOPjoker

#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.

TOPhidden

#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.

79 thoughts on “Top 10 Films of 2019

  1. What a fantastic list! I love the thoughtful and insightful analysis. I’m not a big fan of Malick, but you’ve convinced me to give this a shot. Really great and expansive list with a mix of different genres. There are definitely some very unique and interesting choices here and a few that missed my radar. I think we share 3 in our top 10 right now, but I have a few more films to catch up on before I do my final list!

    • Thank you. It was tougher than I expected this year. Had several I hated to leave out. Malick is definitely a unique taste. Did you ever see “The Tree of Life”?

      • Nope I have not. But I really should. I saw Knight of cups and Song to Song though and didn’t like them. Time to give Terence Malick another shot 😂👌. But from the sound of it, I think I might connect with the more emotional aspects so Tree of Life and A Hidden Life. I’m also very intrigued by Fast Colour and Transit which I have not heard about much before.

      • Tree of Life is very meditative which I loved. A Hidden Life has more of a narrative yet is still meditative. It’s a perfect mix in my opinion. Had you heard of Fast Color before? It fell between the cracks when its distributors went under. It’s such a shame because I would love to see it get a bigger audience.

      • Cool, I will definitely check out Tree of life and A hidden life then. My gripe with Malick is his over-indulgence in rather lofty but inaccesible ideas and characters but perhaps the more grounded plot in these two films will help to connect better. I’ve heard of Fast Colour only once but had no idea what the film was about; I’m not even sure it screened where I was at. But it should be streamable now so I’ll give it a watch! 🙂

      • I accidentally stumbled across Fast Color. Never screened here. Never heard anything about it. But I was looking through movies on Vudu and by sheer chance I clicked it and watched the trailer. Decided to give it a shot and I’ve seen it three times now.

        Oh, and I have a review coming for “The Vast of Night”. I really wanted to squeeze it in my Top 10. I’ll be championing it hard over the next week or so.

      • Ohh haha I see. We’re in the same boat then. Sad that the production company got botched, it could have had a wider reception. Three times!!! Well you certainly are marketing this film well 🤣🤣! But seriously, I’ll give it a watch and let you know what I think!

        Can’t wait to read it, I was really intrigued by the trailer and hope to see it soon too. I really like indie and offbeat sci-fi’s that aren’t really about sci-fi if that even is a genre 😀

  2. Good list. I would place Endgame higher and my list would include Toy Story 4 ( loved it and perhaps it’s for sentimental reasons) but im afraid both the Irishman nor the Joker would come near my top movies but that is my preference. It wouldn’t be fun if we all loved or agreed on every point. Where would the discussions be and that is the fun. Looking forward to 2020. Looks like a decent year and sure there will be some surprises. Keep up the excellent work and have a happy new year .

    • Thanks so much and you’re right. 2020 looks pretty decent for movie. I remember you nor being a fan of either Joker or The Irishman. You didn’t care for Once Upon a Time either, right? I can understand why those three wouldn’t be for everyone.

      Believe it or not I haven’t seen Toy Story 4. It’s a case of simply knowing it’s not up my alley so I’m not sure if my opinion on it would be worth much. Sounds like the series has left its mark on you though which is really cool.

      • Once Upon a Time after another viewing has grown on me, not sure it would be in my top 10 but good movie. Im so looking forward to A Hidden Life, not playing in my area yet. Plus I’m also waiting on 1917, which looks amazing. Glad to see Ad Astra so high. It was so good and better on another viewing. Just rewatched Jojo Rabbit as well. Great movie. Thanks again for so many thoughtful reviews .

      • I’ve whined about it everywhere, but “1917” is one of the biggest frustrations for me. It looks incredible and right up my alley. But no showings in my state, no screeners, NOTHING. I may be wrong but I can see it being in my Top 10 if it delivers like I expect it to. But alas, it’s technically a 2020 movie here and that really makes me grumpy.

  3. Here is my list at the moment as I just came back from seeing Little Women more than an hour ago while I also watched Marriage Story last night. In terms of films, it’s been a damn good year though I wish I could’ve watched more but so little time.

  4. Dude, props for getting this list out before the new year! I’m fumbling mine’s as we speak lol. Nice to see Ad Astra among the crop, esp after it being dubbed overrated in some circles. I myself am lukewarm on the film, but I’d be lying if I said I forgot about it entirely. Pitt is tremendously understated in it, all in all a fascinating progression in his oeuvre. I have yet to see Parasite (I know, I know) and am furiously counting the days until the bluray release.

    But I am titillated by your top pick. The last Malick film I saw was To the Wonder and kind of lost interest in his later career stuff. Nevertheless, I’ve heard nothing but good things about A Hidden Life. Sounds like he’s not in his way as a storyteller with this one, so I’m definitely curious to check it out for myself. Outstanding list!

    • Thanks so much. I ended up only missing out on one I really want to see (1917). I’ve been toying around with positions and such for several days but have finally decided to just go with this rank.

      I hope you can see A Hidden Life soon. I haven’t been a fan of his last two films but this will go down as one of my favorite Malick picture. Once you get into its rhythm it sweeps you away.

      What about Joker? It is probably my biggest surprise of year. I know it’s a divisive movie but I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

      • Ah, same. 1917 isn’t playing in my area for some inexplicable reason so sadly it’s one that will be left out of contention.

        I respect seeing Joker on year-end lists. I didn’t love Joker, but I feel like the film will do (and has done) just fine without me as a supporter. I don’t think it’s as controversial as others have made it out to be, nor do I think it’s capable of inspiring bad behavior no more than a movie like, say, Seth Macfarlane’s Ted.

        I was VERY surprised that it was directed by Todd Phillips; it’s an exciting evolution for him as a filmmaker– not to mention the film also being gorgeously shot and scored. But to me it simplified the Joker in a way that felt easy. It might be inappropriate to compare, but Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here was the better story of how trauma shapes, complicates, and inevitably dooms a person. As an acting vehicle, Joker is paramount and Joaquin Phoenix DELIVERS. But script-wise, I’ve got a bone to pick.

      • I see what you’re getting at. I think a certain interpretation of the movie does indeed simplify Joker. But what I loved so much is how it offers itself up to several equally fascinating readings, some of which have more layers than I expected. It certainly is a movie that gives you plenty to talk about.

  5. I can’t believe you have this finished already! I have a few films left to see like Little Women, Clemency and 1917.

    I knew you’d have Fast Color here and I’m glad to see that one get some love. We have a few matches on my list that’s currently in progress. I don’t think I can do that Malick movie though lol. I’m still traumatized from Tree of Life.

    • I did a lot of cramming (too much probably). But I got everything in except 1917. I REALLY wanted to see it but I’m so frustrated with the release schedule. No opportunity for me to see it until January 10th. Grrrr….

      I do love Fast Color and I actually hate that it’s only at #10. As for A Hidden Life, I really hope you’ll give it a go. While you’ll notice some visual similarities to The Tree of Life, this feels different in several ways. I just love it.

  6. It’s great to see more love for Ad Astra! Some fantastic recommendations here too. I missed Fast Colour and The Vast of Night, which look right up my alley.

    Sadly, Little Women, Jojo Rabbit, and a Hidden Life are set for 2020 releases here. I’ll definitely have to seek them out! 🙂

    • Ugghhhh…oh how release schedules frustrate me! I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on all three of those.

      I’m curious, had you heard of either Fast Color or The Vast of Night before? The story behind Fast Color’s marketing really stinks and Vast was added at the last second. Can’t get that movie out of my mind!

      • I haven’t, unfortunately. I live in Singapore and the releases here are mostly limited to mainstream successes. But Netflix and Amazon Prime are saviours, as are the smaller theatres that bring in gems like these!

      • Oh that makes sense. And that’s one reason streaming options are growing more and more valuable. It’s a much needed avenue to get movies out to viewers.

    • Thanks Cindy. I really do hope you’ll get to see A Hidden Life. I would love to read your thoughts on it. And have you heard of The Vast of Night? It was a last second adjustment to my list.

  7. Great post and list, Keith. I was honestly quite blindsided by your number one. I had placed my bets on Ad Astra. I’ve mostly liked Malick’s work this decade. I was particularly moved and enthralled by Knights Of Cups, which felt like Malick was saying genuine things about the loss of self and relationship breakdown. Song to Song is his only misstep in my eyes.

    I’m so glad that his new film worked for you. You’ve convinced me to go back to his more narrative-driven films before “Hidden Life” hits the UK in mid-January.

    Here’s a link to my top ten, if you’re curious.

    https://sgsonfilm.net/2019/12/30/my-top-ten-films-of-2019/

    • Thanks! A Hidden Life is the best of both Malick’s and I can’t wait for more people to be able to see it. It’s finally opening in more theaters here and I’ve been waiting to see it on the big screen.

      “Ad Astra” is soooo good. I watched it for a third time recently and it still hit me the same way. And keep an eye out for The Vast of Night. Not sure if you’ve heard of it but it really deserves a bigger audience.

      So, are there any on the list that you genuinely dislike?

  8. Thanks for the recommendation! There’s nothing on the list that I genuinely dislike, either because it’s still not come out in the UK or I don’t have any strong feelings on, one way or another. I’m really curious to see Parasite. I just wrote about Snowpiercer for an upcoming post and am glad Bong Joon Ho got some recognition at Cannes earlier this year.

  9. -STAR WARS EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER – 5/10
    -THE IRISHMAN – 6/10
    -AD ASTRA; MARRIAGE STORY – 7/10
    -AVENGERS PART 4: ENDGAME; DR. SLEEP; THE FAREWELL; KNIVES OUT; ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD; US – 8/10
    -JOKER; PARASITE – 9/10

    Before reading this, I already was interested in CLEMENCY*. FAST COLOR*, A HIDDEN LIFE**, JOJO RABBIT** and LITTLE WOMEN**.

    *As far as I know, they don’t even have a planned release date here.
    **They haven’t come out here yet (an issue you of all people can understand).

    • It sounds like we share a lot of the same enthusiasm for several movies. Great to see. As for release schedules, I 100% feel for you. Nothing is more frustrating for a movie fan!

  10. I enjoyed your list. We don’t overlap too much although if we include the entire Top 20 then we have 7 titles in common which is pretty good.

    Song to Song kind of destroyed my desire to ever watch another Terrence Malick film again but I may give A HIdden LIfe a chance since it’s your #1.

    • Oh I was no fan of Song to Song either. Total misfire in my opinion. But man, A Hidden Life really left it’s mark on me. Just exquisite filmmaking and leaps above Song to Song.

      • Honestly, the later half of this year, really made this year surge! From September to December, many defining films made an impact this year.

      • 100%. So many really good films in the last few months. And I hadn’t done this before, but looking over my list, the vast majority are movies from the last few months of the year.

  11. Great list. I liked Clemency but was tired when I saw it (last film of TIFF) so I need to revisit it with fresh eyes. I also loved Transit (it was on my best of list last year as I got to see it early), so I am happy to see it on this list. I still need to catch up with Ad Astra, The Vast of Night, Fast Color, Artic and Doctor Sleep.

  12. Great post. Have only seen Ad Astra, Once Upon a Time.., and the Avengers Endgame from the movies on your top twenty. but am still very interested in most of the rest. Ad Astra was a great experience at the theater. Terrific visuals and a good enough narrative. But i have yet to see the greatness in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I enjoyed some of its parts but as a whole, it really didn’t come together and was too long i thought. Nevertheless a very fun list to read.

    • Thank you! Turned out to be a tougher list to narrow down than I expected. “Once Upon a Time” really surprised me. I’m not generally a QT fan but this one had me from the start. It’s certainly stuffed to the gills.

      So you haven’t seen “Joker” or “Rise of Skywalker”?

      • I haven’t seen those two yet. I know the public enthusiasm for Joker is quite high. will probably see it next week on pay per view out of curiosity.
        In saying that, ill just admit that I was discouraged from it because it seems more like a performance movie borrowing the broad strokes of Taxi Driver. And am not sure if you would agree, but the more i think of Taxi Driver, the more controversial it seems. an urban loner who gets back at society doesn’t sound like a good movie. but i do get that De Niro carried it and Scorcese crafted it to a near perfection. nevertheless, the Joker is well made based on your enthusiasm and will check it out next week.

      • You can tell Joker was influenced by Taxi Driver but it’s definitely not a carbon copy knockoff. It’s very much its own thing. I will say it’s a very dark and grim movie. It’s hard to find even a ray of light in it. I know that has made some people push back on it.

  13. There are so many on your list I haven’t been able to see at all, that Vast in the Night looks awesome, same with A Hidden Life. Dunno when I’ll be able to watch that one. Nice to see a Knives Out shout out.

    I have found that for the list I’m making, there is far more foreign stuff than English language stuff for me. Have you seen Monos mate? It is a must see, freaking insane, with a score by Mica Levi (Under the Skin). That one and the Lighthouse are at the top for me 😀

    • I’ve heard of Monos but haven’t seen it. Sounds like a must-watch, right? As for The Lighthouse, I really wish I had went for it like so many others have. I love the aesthetic and the performances are intensely committed.

      So I love asking this, are there any movies on my list this year that you genuinely dislike?

      • Hehe. Avengers. That’s it. I thought that Avengers movie was the worst one yet, but I’ve been against those sorta movies from the beginning. Another reason why Joker was so refreshing.

        The rest I liked mate. I’m about to post mine if you are interested. As i said, a lot of foreign stuff (not unlike yours really)

        And yeah, Monos = must watch. And Mica Levi doing the score?!? It slowly descends into this warped, near-surreal cross between Lord of the Flies (cos they are child soldiers) and Apocalypse Now. Its unforgettable in every way, I’ve already seen it three times so you knowe it’lll be near the top 😛

        Ours are gonna differ quite a bit I reckon. Lets see when I post mine hehe. Btw did you get to read my last part of the Joker things, where I actually went into details of my bizarre but still possible idea for how it ended (which as I mentioned piggybacked off your initial idea which I’d pondered but never thought about properly until I saw your post

        AWESOME to see Arctic there as a shout out too. Hell yeah brother!

        Anywaaays, rant over! Peace 🙂

      • I look forward to seeing your list and hopefully discovering a few new movies to check out. I do seem to remember you not being an Endgame fan.

        I did read your Joker post. Oh, and I watched it for a fourth time last night. Picked up the 4K Blu-ray. To no surprise it still packs a punch and the filmmaking is just extraordinary.

      • oooo the 4K is out, I must grabby grabby!

        Did you think what I wrote in that Joker post was a bit nonsensical? I dunno I’m kinda starting to feel as if I just went for as strange as possible!

    • Oh that’s great to hear. I would love to see it on the big screen. I was fortunate to see it on a screener and was really impressed. But I haven’t found anywhere to point people who want to watch it.

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