2019 was a year full of culminations, delightful surprises and shocking disappointments. While the biggest projects involved franchises ending (Marvel and Star Wars), the most exciting movies of the year ended up being original projects. The year’s box office was down from last years, but there were plenty of successful indie stories. While the movie theater box office landscape for the next decade isn’t quite promising, it is satisfying to see that indie and original films are still resonating with the audiences. Parasite, Us, Little Women, Knives Out, Hustlers and Uncut Gems are exemplary of original films that surpassed expectations at the box office.
From big expansive projects like The Irishman to the small intimate story of Pain and Glory, 2019 year gave us indie gems and exciting block-busters alike. Interestingly, it is a year when classic Hollywood movies like Ford v Ferrari felt fresh, and Disney live-action remakes felt uninspiring. The best movies of the year, managed to stay away from cookie-cutter formulas, and broke genre conventions.
Watched: 127 films
Honorable Mentions: Ford v Ferrari, Luce, Apollo 11
Couldn’t Get To: High Life, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, 1917, Transit, Waves, Atlantics, Her Smell, Honeyland
Biggest Disappointment: Cats
The top 20
18. Dolemite Is My Name
17. Knives Out
16. In Fabric
15. The Art of Self-Defense
14. Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
13. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
11. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
The top 10
10. Uncut Gems
The superbly made second entrance of the Safdie brothers is an adrenaline-infused nonstop thrill ride. Featuring Adam Sandler in what is his best role since Punch-Drunk Love (and an Oscar-deserving one), the movie presents the life of a gambling addict 5th Avenue jeweler. The casting is great with a cast that features Idina Menzel, The Weeknd, Lakeith Stanfield and the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, but it’s Julia Fox who is the supporting MVP. I wish it was a bit quieter and less stressful but those are my only quibbles with it.
9. The Farewell
With The Farewell, Lulu Wang created a special film for first-generation immigrants, particularly Asian-Americans. The film tells a sad but true story that reflects on the Chinese and American value systems by asking us to contemplate how different cultures process grief and anxiety in different ways. With most of the movie recorded in China, the film invites us to live and experience their culture from the perspective of those closest to it. Awkwafina and Shuzhen Zhao deliver incredible performances that deserve the praise they are getting.
The fact that the film is able to balance comedy and horror while juggling so many moral, biblical and existentialist themes is a testament to Jordan Peele’s great abilities. Boasting great performances and dazzling visuals, Us might not be as tidy or cohesive as its predecessor, but it is surely as culturally relevant (if not more). Read our full review.
7. The Lighthouse
Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson as lighthouse keepers trapped on an island while they weather a storm sounds like an oddly specific premise. The black-and-white movie, filmed in an academy ratio, feels like the kind of art house movie that might turn off many audience viewers. But, the second film from The VVitch’s director Robert Eggers, is an outstanding piece that reflects many of our hidden fears and desires. The film works purely on a horror level but also offers a sensibility for those seeking more to interpret. Easter eggs and hidden tokens might give your head a lot to analyze, but the experience is worth it.
6. Marriage Story
Regardless of how familiar you are with divorce, Marriage Story is poised to change your perspective on it. The children often feel powerless and the parents feel trapped because no matter how amicable they want it to be, the system works against them. It’s a film that takes the many conventions of divorce and deconstructs them. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both terrific and the supporting roles of Laura Dern and Alan Alda are fantastic. Filled with joyful moments and some very sad ones, it is an emotional movie based on Noah Baumbach’s own experiences.
Monos is a movie about Guerilla trainees living deep in the Amazon jungle, and features a superb score by “Under The Skin” composer Micah Levi. Tense from start to finish, it’s one of the most suspenseful movies of the year. Featuring gorgeous cinematography and an assured direction by one of the most promising Latin American up-and-coming directors, Alejandro Landes, it is an immersive experience that is worth your time.
4. Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood
Tarantino’s latest is one of my favorites of his. The way he captured that LA feel of the late 60s and those beautiful montages of Hollywood stole my heart. The cast is fantastic and outside of the Oscar favorites: Di Caprio, Pitt and Robbie, we also get a great turn by newcomer Julia Butters. The way Tarantino chooses to present the day-to-day life of these famous people and the way he created characters based on many facets of real people deserves a lot of praise. And that final act on its own is a masterclass of filmmaking.
3. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel might be one out of many, but Gerwig’s clever use of multiple timelines and great casting sets this adaptation apart. It features one of the best casts of the year filled with the usual favorites (Dern and Streep) and some of the most exciting young actors working today (Ronan, Pugh, Scanlen and Chalamet). Every frame features gorgeous costumes and beautiful Massachusetts foliage in what is one of the best looking films of the decade. It’s one of the rare warm movies that will steal your heart.
2. The Irishman
According to Martin Scorsese this could be his last film, and as such it represents the culmination of his career. While many fans expected it to be a Goodfellas remake, The Irishman is very different from its predecessor. The film concerns itself with the passage of time, and the legacy that men leave behind as they grow old. With one of the best ensembles ever casted, a pitch perfect editing and a earned lengthy runtime, the film is an instant classic. While Goodfellas might be preferred by the masses, I found The Irishman more thought provoking and interesting. While the aging effects aren’t perfect, they are fundamental to the story telling and they become less noticeable as time passes. The big shout-out is to Pesci who gives a performance for the decades in what might be his last movie ever
1. Parasite (tie)
Bong Joon-Ho crafted one of the best films of the decade by using his usual genre blending approach – insisting that it is the story that should dictate the genre of a film. Parasite is so special because it takes a conventional family story and it infuses it with thriller elements in the least conventional ways. The fantastic cast sells this family story, and the chemistry between the actors elevates it to be great. Only a veteran director could present a movie about class and economic disparity in such a riveting fashion.
1. Pain and Glory (tie)
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest entry is a sublime autobiographical character study. It follows a man across the many stages of his life. As an adult, he grapples with addiction and depression often reminiscing of his times as a younger kid in a small Spanish village. Almodóvar’s ability to blend comedy and drama while he opens up about his most personal and vulnerable moments resulted in a meditative work of art. Pain and Glory is emotionally gripping from beginning to end and features one of the best closing shots of film history.