Top 10 Films of 2019
Another year, another slew of great movies gracing our theatre (and computer/television) screens.
I want to preface this list by saying that I did not get around to seeing every single thing. I could not find time to see The Irishman (because it’s three and a half god damn hours long), nor could I get to the theatre to see Adam Sandler’s tour-de-force performance in Uncut Gems before the year was out. The same is said for Little Women.
I totally, 100% acknowledge that these films are worth watching.
It’s just that sometimes, life gets in the way. That, and I didn’t purchase my AMC A-List membership until very late in the game.
Still, what I did see this year were some great movies: Netflix came back from its disappointment at the Oscars with three films (again, two of which I saw in 2019)- The Irishman (which, for those of you who skip the intro, for the THIRD TIME, I did not get a chance to see), Marriage Story, and The Two Popes.
There were triumphs by directors this year. There were franchise sequels. We saw the culminations of both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises.
From the proceedings of the Golden Globes, it appears we might be in for another shocking Oscar season.
So, let’s recap the year that was in film. Here are my selections for the best films (I saw) in 2019.
I will give Frozen II this: the music is more mature than the original. I didn’t say better- I said more mature- “Let It Go” is iconic (although I guarantee you only hardcore fans know all the words to it) and can never be replaced. I will also say that the film is beautiful. The animation is absolutely stunning, and it’s like you can feel every single emotion that Elsa and Anna are feeling as they discover more secrets about Arundell. And while nothing can stand up to the original Frozen, the filmmakers know that- and they lean into it on just about everything, from an Olaf that boasts a more ironic disposition, to all the callbacks to the first film (like the running gag that Hans sucks), to straying away from a more musical-theatre vibe by giving Kristoff a legendary 80s ballad, Frozen II journeys into the unknown and brings back a lot of heart.
Ford v. Ferrari
Guys who love cars are equivalents of girls who love horses. I know. But man, does Ford v. Ferrari do some really cool things with its cinematography and sound editing. It’s like you’re actually in (or in some cases, on the side of) the cars, and you can feel the roars of the engines pulling your heart out of your chest. There are also some really great performances and moments in this movie from Matt Damon and Christian Bale: from the scene where Damon’s Carroll Shelley takes Tracy Letts’ Henry Ford II out in the test car, to the entire Le Mans racing sequence, it’s all great. Despite the bittersweet ending, Ford v Ferrari is all about that good down-home American willpower that you love to see in a quasi-sports film.
A bleak, bleak, bleak look at corporate negligence for the sake of profit, Dark Waters examines Robert Bilott’s duel with DuPont, as the story breaks that the chemical company was poisoning residents of a West Virginia town (as well as the entire world) for decades. We’re all gonna die, by the way. Dark Waters is a lot like Mark Ruffalo’s last investigative reporting film, Spotlight, just a lot bleaker… like a “there’s no hope for any of us” kind of bleak.
The Top 10:
It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make a satire about Hitler Youths. Taika appears to have no ordinary balls, considering he a) made this film and b) cast himself as main character Jojo Betzler’s (Roman Griffin Davis) imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. But still, Jojo Rabbit has more heart than most comedies that came out this year. Every character in this movie is built carefully and with so much love, from Sam Rockwell, the director of the Youth training camp, who learns to see Jojo’s kind heart through his more jingoistic view on life, to Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays Elsa, a stowed young Jewish girl harbored within the walls of the Betzler home, whose fearless dance with both Jojo and the outside world’s view of her people constantly makes us root for her, to Scarlett Johansson, playing Jojo’s mother, who steadily (but not heavy-handedly) helps her son grow up as the war nears its end. The friendship between Jojo and Yorki (Archie Yates) is also goals: even though their city is being blown to bits by war, we find there is still time for a hug and for blowing up a storefront with a rocket launcher. Also, if you didn’t expect to cry, watch out for this one.
9. Toy Story 4
I thought Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the Toy Story franchise, with Andy moving on from his toys at the end of the film. However, I realize that was a satisfying end to the Andy arc; it is the human growing up and parting with his toys. What did not occur to me (until I saw Toy Story 4) was that this film ties up the storyline involving the world’s best friendship among inanimate objects: Woody and Buzz. Bringing back old characters like Bo Peep felt like the correct move, and introducing new ones like Forky (bless Tony Hale for voicing him) and a sympathetic villain, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) provide some new and interesting ways for toys to find their identities, either emerging out of something ugly, or through a desire to be their old, golden age selfs again. And just when you think that Toy Story 4 doesn’t pack the emotional punch that its predecessor did, we get to the final scene, where Woody and Buzz take center stage. I refuse to spoil the ending to something that provided joy to my childhood. But can you handle the feels? “Yes you Canada!”
8. Marriage Story
One of the films in the Netflix trifecta, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story finds two former spouses, Charlie and Nicole (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, respectively) attempting to navigate the murky waters of divorce in the most lightly-tread way possible. You can gather from my quick synopsis that, as is the case in most lawyerless divorces, hilarity ensues. But really, in the most charming way it can, the comedy/drama attempts to bring to light just how complex and nasty divorce can be. We see a cavalcade of lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta) mudsling, pull, and connive their respective clients into wanting all the things their separation traditionally demands- most notably, the custody of the pair’s 8-year old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson)- only to see the two former partners struggle to convey the appearance of an amiable divorce while playing the part of one happy family unit. The big fight scene at the end (thought mocked by every drama student ever) is justified in context, and Adam Driver’s slightly out of tune rendition of “Being Alive” is incredibly moving.
I expected this movie to be a harrowing, sad look at mental illness, but never did I expect Joker to be as cutting and haunting as it was. A brilliant Joaquin Phoenix makes his turn as Arthur Fleck, who slowly transforms into the Joker in a bold twist for a super villain backstory: A failed comedian slowly descends into insanity and nihilism, which eventually sparks a revolution in Gotham City against the elite. Apart from Phoenix’s acting, which is always a marvel (puns), the way the film is designed is beautiful. With many grungy scenes exploring Gotham appear to be set up in the late 70s and early 80s reminiscent of crime-ridden New York City, the scenes featuring the upper class (particularly of that involving Murray Franklin, a talk show host played by Robert De Niro) appear to harken to the technicolor days of the 1950s and 60s. From the opening line right on down to Joker leaving Arkham hospital, this movie is just one big constant chill down the spine.
6. The Two Popes
The Two Popes is absolutely delightful and I will stand by that it is the best film Netflix put out this year (until I carve out enough hours to see The Irishman). A close look at the transition from Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) to Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce), Anthony McCarten’s script is fantastically well-written, as the two struggle with each other’s differing beliefs for the direction of the Catholic Church, and attempt to find a common ground as one pope leaves and another enters. Something I knew: Pope Francis is a stand up guy and is one of the best popes we’ve ever seen. Something I didn’t know: Francis’ backstory is as intriguing as it is moving, as we get to know the man who sits on St. Peter’s Throne in the Vatican. As the two men moves closer towards friendship, we get to know the two religious leaders on a more personal level, as an intimate scene regarding a confession and some pizza is one of the high points of the film. If you’re like me, you’ll finish the movie with a big goofy smile on your face.
5. Knives Out
You may remember Rian Johnson from his work on a little indie film called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. His modern take on the whodunit is on full display with Knives Out, featuring an ensemble cast of (mostly) despicable human beings, including Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, and Toni Collette (the outlying good folks being Ana de Almas, Christopher Plummer, and a silver-tonged, southern-accented, donut-hole-pondering Daniel Craig). When the mysterious death of a family patriarch sends a rich Massachusetts family into a frenzy, the subsequent police investigation leads to more questions than answers. The plot building is immaculate, with each character’s interpretation of the even piling on more and more layers until a picture is formed. As the story begins to center on the patriarch’s caretaker (de Almas), the family’s motives begin to become more and more desperate to preserve what they believe is their inherited right. My one critique is the car chase scene about three quarters of the way through the movie- being from Massachusetts, none of the places that are in those follow shots are next to each other. Other than that, this mystery film will twist you in ways you did not expect, building toward a dramatic climax that will leave you spinning in a circle more perfect than a donut hole.
God bless Olivia Wilde for this one. A pair of high school seniors discover that you can, in fact, get into a good college AND be a partier. And so, on their last night before graduation, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) break the rules and experiment trouble before they’re deemed as the “nerds who never did anything in high school.” Booksmart is like a bender you wish would just keep going, as the two stumble onto a boat party, hallucinate on strawberries and imagine themselves as plastic fashion dolls. It’s also extremely poignant, as Amy confronts her sexuality and Molly deals with her best friend potentially taking a gap year in Botswana. With some of the best writing you’ll find this year, this hysterical yet emotionally gripping comedy is one of the most touching films you’ll find this year. Also, there is no situation in which “Nobody Speak” by Run the Jewels can be misused; Booksmart is a prime example.
They did this whole movie in one shot. In one. Shot. Eat your heart out, Birdman. Sam Mendes’ WW1 epic follows two soldiers dispatched with delivering an urgent message calling off an attack scheduled to take place literal hours from when the movie begins. Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) trek across miles of destruction, mud, and enemy territory in this absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking. Much like theatre (where Mendes made his name), the film is constantly in motion, very much a living, breathing thing. From the constant camera work (brilliantly done by Roger Deakins, who deserves an Oscar for his effort), to the score (thank you, Thomas Newman) to just about every little easter egg thrown into this film by Mendes- from the jump scares with the rats to the dead dogs on the side of the shot to the legendary plane crash scene to the 45 seconds of playing with shadows, 1917 is a true tour de force in every sense of the word. This late entry into the Oscar race is one for the ages. This one was heralded as “the best war film since Saving Private Ryan.” Coming from someone who heralds that Spielberg great as his favorite movie, I’d say that particular case for 1917 is pretty strong.
A South Korean dark comedy/thriller would not have been on my film radar to start the year. But man, am I now ever grateful for the genius that is Bong Joon-ho (I need to see Snowpiercer still). Parasite begins with the story of Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), and his family, struggling to make ends meet, successfully posing as skilled houseworkers for a wealthier family, stealthily removing the family’s old employees one at a time, and integrating themselves into the wealthy family’s lives. But just when you think that the family is out of the woods, the film takes one of the hardest left turns I personally have ever been a part of. From there Parasite takes on a whole new light. A brilliant performance by Lee Jung-eun will leave you breathless. I really don’t even know how to explain this one any further, because everyone needs to go out and experience this one. Parasite kept me on the edge of my seat at every single moment, and it has taken a long, long time for a film to do that to me. It is twisted, dark, beautiful, and shocking, all at the same time. Do it. Parasite deserves your respect.
1. Avengers: Endgame
Every so often, there comes around a theatrical experience that you will never forget. Where were you when you saw Star Wars for the first time? Or how did you feel when you saw Lord of the Rings for the first time? Endgame was that for me. I will never forget seeing Avengers: Endgame for the first time. People applauding. People standing up and cheering. People crying. I wanted to live in that world for so long after the movie was over, I had Alan Silvestri’s epic soundtrack on loop for weeks. Endgame is the payoff of 11 years of incredibly hard work done by the folks at Marvel, all wrapped up into one three hour movie. Truthfully, it could have been eight (I would not have been upset) and it would still be the best movie I saw this year. How do I even give some kind of artistic critique on Endgame? It might not have the gut punch that Infinity War does, nor does it have the five-part tragedy that Civil War does, nor is it as critically lauded as Black Panther was. And sure, even the plot is just a little bit convoluted. But god damn, if this movie doesn’t slap you in the face with catharsis then you straight up don’t have a heart. Every single emotional moment in that story is earned- from the scene (where Natasha sacrifices herself), to the portals scene, to the tearjerking epilogue. Even the homage the film pays to its actors at the end of the film during the credits gets the tears flowing. The Marvel Cinematic Universe all leads up to Endgame. And boy, does that film deliver on everything it promised you. You feel every single shred of blood, sweat, and tears that went into making these movies, and Endgame is the perfect finale. They’re the heroes we don’t deserve.
Films I missed in 2019 (but hope to see in 2020):
- The Irishman
- Little Women
- Uncut Gems
- The Farwell
Agree with my list? Which films did I leave out? Leave a comment down below.