The year is coming to a close, and it's been one heck of a year for film. Read on for my list of the Best Movies of 2019!
Streaming was the main topic of the year in the movie industry, as Netflix finally reached "legitimacy" as a film studio. While the domestic box office was down from 2018 - and was the lowest since 2014 - movies still brought in over 10 billion dollars, with "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" still looking to skew those numbers upwards in the weaning days of 2019.
But even though the numbers are trending downwards, this was overall a year full of very memorable movies, and even a few great ones. Having seen nearly 200 films in 2019, 30 of them received a grade of an "A-" or better...which is about 10 more than usual.
I've whittled them all down to present to you my personal Top 20 Movies of the year. So let's get to it...here we go!
(Also don't miss my TOP FILMS OF THE DECADE List...coming soon, and will update with a link once live!)
#20. See You Yesterday/Triple Frontier/In the Shadow of the Moon/The Dirt (NETFLIX)
OK so I cheated a bit and stuck several movies in the #20 spot...but the reason is that all of these films have one important thing in common: They all were released and are available on Netflix. Of course, Netflix had a legendary year, with major award contenders in "Marriage Story," "The Irishman," "Dolemite Is My Name" and "The Two Popes" being pushed heavily for consideration. But there were a slew of films that flew under the radar on Netflix that are worthy of your attention.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that one of the best action movies ("Triple Frontier"), best musical biopics ("The Dirt"), best adult sci-fi ("In the Shadow of the Moon") and best teenage sci-fi ("See You Yesterday") were never shown in theaters this year, but only appeared on Netflix. Throw in the Keanu Reeves cameo from "Always Be My Maybe" and you could also say that Netflix had the funniest scene of 2019 as well.
Read Full Review of "See You Yesterday."
Read Full Review of "Triple Frontier."
Read Full Review of "In the Shadow of the Moon."
Read Full Review of "The Dirt."
#19. Clemency (NEON)
"Clemency" starring Alfre Woodard does not technically hit theaters until January 2020, but it was released on the festival circuits this Fall in order to have it be eligible for awards consideration as a 2019 film.
Check back for my full review of this film.
#18. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Sony Pictures)
In a year (and decade) where superheroes dominated every aspect of the industry, director Jon Watts ("Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Cop Car") delivered what was simply the best and smartest super-hero movie maybe ever.
From my original review: I never thought that a Spider-Man movie could match the excitement of Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 2," but "Far From Home" is really the perfect Spider-Man film...Spider-Man may be far away from NYC in this adventure, but never has his story hit closer to home. Read the full review.
#17. Hustlers (STXFilms)
One of the biggest surprises of the year, "Hustlers" was more nuanced and layered than one would ever expect upon first glance. Jennifer Lopez gives a career-defining performance, and Constance Wu cements herself as a leading lady in this layered, hot-and-confident female tour de force.
From my original review: "Hustlers" is ...a breath-of-fresh-air. It's dragged down a bit from a narrative perspective in how the film is framed, with a reporter (Julia Stiles) questioning Destiny (Jennifer Lopez) about her past...it's a trope that feels a bit musty in a film that is anything but stale. Read the full review.
#16. The Art of Self-Defense (Bleecker Street)
Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as a victim who desperately wants to flip-the-script, in this cleverly-penned examination of toxic masculinity. It's biting and funny, in a dark sort of way, and features one of the more interesting supporting performances of the year with Alessandro Nivola's as an eccentric karate instructor.
From my original review: It subverts your expectations at every turn, and does a great job of developing its characters without having other characters explain everyone else's intent. Riley Stearns shows that he has a few tricks up his sleeve, and that he's not afraid to pull any punches. Read the full review.
#15. Joker (Warner Bros. Pictures)
It was my longest review of the year - I had lots to say about it - and "Joker" was also the most polarizing movie of 2019. Joaquin Phoenix's performance was universally praised (me included) but I found there was also a lot going on under the hood of the movie itself. R-rated comic book movies are my jam ("Logan" was my favorite film of 2017) and this one had my mind spinning in ways few other movies this year did.
From my original review: "Joker" is striking a nerve not because of how implausible it is, but because of how close to home it hits. There is an Arthur Fleck in all of us. And that thought may just be subconsciously more than many movie-goers can bear. Read the full review.
#14. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony Pictures)
There has been a Fred Rogers renaissance in recent years, with the 2018 documentary, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and then this film, which is sure to land Tom Hanks a Supporting Actor Oscar. Director Marielle Heller does a phenomenal job of not only honoring Mister Rogers with a film that captures his spirit and essence, but she involves the audience in ways that are altogether moving...in many of the same ways that Fred's show did to us when we were kids.
From my original review: What a gift he was, and how proud he would be to know that this movie exists in this world. Read the full review.
#13. Dolemite Is My Name (Netflix)
It was the year of Netflix (did I mention that yet?) and undoubtedly the funniest comedy of the year was "Dolemite Is My Name." What came as a shock was how good of a movie it was too. Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes were outstanding, as was Da'Vine Joy Randolph as the emotional center of the film.
From my original review: Eddie Murphy is back...but the truth is he's never left. With his performance as Rudy Ray Moore, the real-life hustler and star of the 1970s blaxploitation classic, "Dolemite," he gives an electric and award-worthy performance, and shows everyone that he is still a superstar...in case there was any doubt.
Read the full review.
#12. Midsommar (A24)
Just holy wow. Ari Aster established himself as a horror film auteur-in-the-making with 2018's "Hereditary," and he all but cements himself as a new King within the genre as he brings us the haunting, shock-fest that is "Midsommar." Of all the films on this list, here's one I'm not sure I'd want to see again...and I mean that as the highest compliment.
From my original review: Aster goes full-tilt, bat-shit crazy in his newest film, a mesmerizing, uncomfortable and dare I say "brilliant" story about a group of friends that attend a mid-summer festival in Sweden. To say things don't go in the directions you think they might is the under-statement of the century. Read the full review.
#11. The Mustang (Focus Features)
This little-seen gem of a film features a stellar lead performance by Matthias Schoenaerts, as a convicted criminal who gets involved training wild horses as part of a unique rehabilitation program in Nevada. First-time writer/director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre is a revelation.
From my original review: Visually, this movie is breath-taking in a way that is anything but flashy, and the emotion and turmoil shown in every close-up on Schoenaerts' face makes this film brazenly powerful. Read the full review.
#10. The Irishman (Netflix)
What a legendary union of talent. Scorsese. Pacino. De Niro. Pesci. All giving their best effort in several decades, and culminating in one of the most talked-about movies of the year. Yes it's long, and yes Scorsese gets a bit distracted at times, but it is never dull.
From my original review: But whether on the big-screen (preferable), your home theater or (gasp!) on your phone, just make sure you see this movie when and wherever you can...the size of the screen cannot possibly restrain the massive contribution to cinema that Scorsese's "The Irishman" makes. Read the full review.
#9. Waves (A24)
What a year for Sterling K. Brown, but it's the young actors that steal the show in "Waves." Both Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell are destined to be A-list stars, and their performances make the impact of "Waves" all the more powerful. The movie tells the story of a family, nearly cleaved in half, just as the film is split into two distinct parts. Let "Waves" wash over you.
From my original review: "Waves" will sneak up on you, and will knock you over. It's one of the year's best films, and should turn the tide of awards season. Read the full review.
#8. Marriage Story (Netflix)
There's no question that I haven't seen two better performances this year than Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in "Marriage Story." Noah Baumbach's script - and Randy Newman's score - may be the best I've witnessed as well. But for how powerful this movie was, it fell just short of greatness for me with how it seemed to tidy things up just a bit too cleanly at the end...this is one Hollywood ending that didn't match the realism of what came before it.
From my original review: It's required viewing to fill out your Oscar Ballot this year, as it is simply one of the very best of 2019...even with that too-tidy ending. Read the full review.
#7. Little Women (Sony Pictures)
Greta Gerwig, the glorious actor who has now crossed-over into the realm of great director, brings a story to the big-screen that we've seen several times...yet no other version of "Little Women" even comes close to the impact of this one. Break-out star of 2019 Florence Pugh, along with Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet breathe new life into these classic characters, and Gerwig spins the familiar with a confidence that invigorates this beloved novel.
From my original review: The magic that Gerwig is able to breathe into "Little Women" is a tremendous achievement. It is simultaneously a faithful adaptation of the beloved novel, the story and its characters, yet the movie is framed in a new and exciting way that makes it feel a bit lighter and more accessible to modern audiences. Gerwig is gifted in comedy as well as drama, and she's able to find a bit more humor in some of the situations than this story has been able to muster in previous versions. Read the full review.
("Little Women" is in theaters on Christmas Day, 2019).
#6. Uncut Gems (A24)
You know the world has gone completely topsy-turvy when Adam Sandler is popping up on "Best Performances of the Year" lists. But he deserves every bit of praise that he's getting for "Uncut Gems," a role that he absolutely owns and that is perfectly suited for him. But his performance is just one facet of this...gem...as the Safdie Brothers give us one of the most effective mood pieces of the year. It's thrilling, uncomfortable and you won't be able to take your eyes off of it...it's also a high-wire act of tension and thrills that somehow sustains itself for the duration of the film. A real achievement.
From my original review: This is a mad scramble of emotion, and a brutally raw film that just never takes its foot off the gas...there's no denying that "Uncut Gems" is an absolute diamond in the rough...a whirlwind that blows past your eyes and leaves you wondering what you just saw. Read the full review.
("Uncut Gems" is in theaters on Christmas Day, 2019).
#5. Giant Little Ones (Vertical Entertainment)
It is the best movie you never saw (or even heard of) in 2019, and that's a real shame...apparently Vertical Entertainment isn't the PR powerhouse that Netflix, Sony or Warner Bros. is. "Giant Little Ones" puts a new spin on the "coming out" story, but this is one that exists entirely in grey area. It stars unknown actors for the most part, with Josh Wiggins in the lead, but wow, if critics had only seen Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan's supporting role in this film...he'd have been a shoe-in for award consideration.
Being a film critic is never more rewarding then when we can champion a small film, with hopes that it garners more attention and hopefully more people will see it. For me, I stand tall and proud with my love of "Giant Little Ones" and hope you seek it out...it is available currently on a few different streaming platforms and is worthy of your time.
From my original review: Everyone in "Giant Little Ones" is finding themselves, and there is an innocence and authenticity to every beat. Maria Bello - the always great and often under-appreciated Maria Bello, who also produced this film - is pitch-perfect, but Kyle MacLachlan is award-worthy. Both of their roles are vital to the story, and they act as anchors to an otherwise unpolished ensemble...but unpolished in this sense is the highest form of praise. Read the full review.
#4. Alita: Battle Angel (20th Century Fox)
Every year, there are a handful of films that I seem to enjoy WAY more than the rest of my movie critic peers...but hey, I'm still just a kid at heart who loves loves loves his movies. My list would not have been complete had I not included "Alita: Battle Angel," a movie that absolutely knocked my socks off and was by far the most fun I had at the movies in quite a long time.
Having come out early in the year, when I was going through all the movies I had seen this year in making this list, I was afraid that I had perhaps been too excited for "Alita: Battle Angel." Perhaps I was remembering it too fondly. Well upon re-watching it recently, I still think it's one of the best movies of the year, and I'll never understand why it wasn't a major, major box office success. And while critics on Rotten Tomatoes only barely rate this as a "fresh" movie with a score of 61%, general movie-going audiences seemed to love it...it's audience score stands at 93%. Maybe that's why there is currently an online petition from fans to try to get a sequel made...I for one, thought "Alita: Battle Angel" might have been the closest thing this generation has to Star Wars, and I'd love to fall into this world all over again.
From my original review: There are stellar action sequences, time spent on character development, twists...A few characters are less interesting than others, but all is forgiven. "Alita: Battle Angel" is one of the best films of 2019. Let's just hope it finds an audience, because this is what going to the movies is all about.
Read the full review.
#3. The Farewell (A24)
Lulu Wang's "The Farewell" is a flawless film. It's funny and smart, and led by Awkwafina, Tzi Ma and Zhao Shuzhen, it's the year's best overall ensemble cast. I also love how it subtly educates the viewer along the way, where you start off believing one thing but slowly have your eyes opened to new angles of looking at life...that's not an easy thing for any film to achieve, and this sort of open-mindedness is sorely needed in today's world.
From my original review: What follows is a very interesting examination on the very nature of family, telling the truth and saying good-bye. The movie smartly makes no determinations, and allows important questions to wash over its characters, and its audience members, as they are left to ponder their own beliefs. Read the full review.
#2. The Nightingale (IFC Films)
One of the biggest travesties of the 2019 award season is how "The Nightingale" is being left out of the conversation. In some ways, it's no surprise: The brutal, nearly unbearable first half-hour is so intense, that the movie studio told film critics ahead of time that they were not to discuss any of the first 30 minutes in any sort of detail...they were afraid if they did so, that nobody would come to see the movie.
But "The Nightingale" isn't out for shock-value or to egregiously exploit. It is a revenge movie about a woman standing up for herself and her family, written and directed by one of the most proficient new talents in Hollywood, Jennifer Kent ("The Babadook"). Aisling Franciosi is simply outstanding, and gives the best female performance of the year by anyone not named Scarlett Johansson. It also features great supporting performances by Sam Claflin and Baykali Ganambarr.
It's like nothing else you'll see this year, or any year, and it is absolutely haunting.
From my original review: Yes, there are horrors in "The Nightingale," but no monsters or other super-natural creatures need apply. Instead it features the scariest beast of them all: Human beings. Doing things that only humans could possibly fathom, achieving evils that no demon could have ever imagined. We are capable of some pretty sick stuff, and "The Nightingale" has lots to say on the subject of what it inherently means to be human. Read the full review.
#1. Parasite (NEON)
If you've been paying attention at all to the year-end award season, you've undoubtedly heard of Bong Joon-ho's "Parasite" by now. Well let me just pile on. The most impressive thing about "Parasite" is the ease in which Joon-ho transitions the film from screwball comedy to drama to thriller to something more. Others have said it and I'll echo the sentiment: "Parasite" is best seen going in not knowing much about it.
So with that, just know that it's the best film of 2019.
From my original review: "Parasite" has a lot to say, and is packaged in such a way where, like its title, it finds a way to latch on and then burrows deep down inside your very soul. Read the full review.
Follow the author, Tom Santilli on Twitter: @tomsantilli, and leave your comments below.
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