Top 10 Films of 2019 – by Daniel Rester
The year 2019 was a great year for films, being far better than 2018 and finishing off the decade strongly. It was a year where the MCU ended its “Infinity Saga,” the Academy Awards named a non-English film as Best Picture for the first time in history, Eddie Murphy made a comeback, and Florence Pugh became a rising star. And those are just some of the many highlights surrounding the movies of 2019.
I will be listing off my ten picks for the best movies of 2019. This was an especially hard list to boil down, more so than most years. This list is, of course, subjective, but I do encourage people to weigh in on their favorite films of 2019 in the comments section. My list goes by official United States release dates; this means the films had to have had a limited or wide release in the U.S. in the year 2019 to qualify.
Honorable Mentions (A-Z): Avengers: Endgame, Doctor Sleep, Dolemite is My Name, The Farewell, I Lost My Body, Joker, John Wick: Chapter 3, Judy, Just Mercy, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Pain and Glory, Queen & Slim, The Report, Richard Jewell, Rocketman, Toy Story 4, Us, Waves
10. Ad Astra
James Gray’s quietly powerful space drama Ad Astra is a feast for the eyes. It features Brad Pitt as an astronaut on a mission to find out what happened to his father during a doomed expedition years before. Where Pitt is muscly and funny in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work in that film), he is just as good in Ad Astra in a totally different kind of role. Here he is understated and soulful. The two varied performances in the same year show Pitt’s strength as an actor. He tunes into Gray’s tone and moods well in Ad Astra as Gray crafts a beautiful story that feels part 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), part Apocalypse Now (1979).
9. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse is a psychological horror drama that is certainly not for all tastes. Its attention to detail, however, is undeniable. Robert Eggers’ 1890s-set tale follows two lighthouse keepers as they lose their sanity on a New England island. Those men are brilliantly played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who give wild performances while delivering flavorful dialogue. Jarin Blaschke’s boxed-in, black-and-white cinematography is incredible; he and the rest of the crew have helped Eggers to execute a vision that alternates between being nightmarish, hilarious, and odd. The Lighthouse is destined to become a cult classic.
8. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach has delivered his best film yet with Marriage Story. It manages a tricky balance of warm and harrowing scenes as it details a crumbling marriage as the wife and husband try to do what’s best for their son. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are excellent in the lead roles, while Laura Dern steals scenes as a lawyer; she deservedly won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Baumbach’s writing is rich and realistic here, feeling like Woody Allen scenes when he was in his prime. One particular argument scene in an apartment is one for the ages and should be studied by actors and screenwriters alike.
7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an intelligent, sensual drama with a gorgeous look and feel. Taking place in the 1700s, it follows the relationship of a painter and a soon-to-be-married woman as the painter must craft a portrait of the woman in secret. The chemistry between lead actresses Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel is palpable as the story plays out, while Sciamma patiently builds toward a poignant finale with an unforgettable final shot. This a great female-centered romance with plenty of thought-provoking moments.
6. JoJo Rabbit
Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit is a joyous, one-of-a-kind WWII comedy-drama film. Waititi explores a young boy’s life growing up in Nazi Germany, employing sharp comedy and tender drama along the way. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis is a real find, while Thomasin McKenzie and Scarlett Johansson bring plenty of heart in supporting roles. Waititi himself is hilarious – and eventually terrifying – as an imaginary friend version of Hitler. This is the gifted Waititi’s finest work yet as a writer-director and he deservedly won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.
5. Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women has been adapted for the screen many times before, but writer-director Greta Gerwig has brought us arguably the finest film version yet. She manages to make the March story feel fresh again, with some welcome new touches, while her cast couldn’t be more wonderful. Saoirse Ronan is breathtaking as Jo and shows once again why she is the best actress of her generation. Florence Pugh stands out too as Amy, giving a star-is-born performance; the actress seemingly came out of nowhere and gave multiple standout performances in 2019. The production design and costume design (the latter won an Oscar) are also immaculate in this delightful and emotional adaptation that will even have the manliest of men trying not to shed tears.
4. Ford v Ferrari
Ford v Ferrari makes a strong case for being the best car racing movie ever made, meticulously crafted and crowd-pleasing as it tells the story of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Matt Damon (as Carroll Shelby) and Christian Bale (as Ken Miles) are terrific together as men trying to help Ford take down Ferrari at the competition. James Mangold directs the film like a wizard, with him and his technical team bringing the races alive with extreme skill; the film deservedly won Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Editing. The movie tells a fascinating story that even non-car lovers can highly enjoy.
Sam Mendes’ best film since his masterpiece American Beauty (1999), 1917 is a gripping WWI action-drama film partially based on stories Mendes’ grandfather told him. Made to look like it is unfolding in real time as one shot, 1917 follows two British soldiers on a mission to deliver a message calling off an attack. The attention to detail here is unbelievable from top to bottom, with the war scenarios frighteningly realistic. The real-time effect makes it so we sit with scenes longer, making every plot point traceable and memorable. 1917 deservedly took home Oscars for Cinematography, Visual Effects, and Sound Mixing. The horrors of war perhaps haven’t been this well realized since Saving Private Ryan (1998).
South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s barrier-shattering Parasite, being the first film not in the English language to win the Best Picture Oscar, is a brilliant and timely dark comedy that has a lot to say about the differences in social classes. It unfolds with surprise after surprise as it follows a poor family using lies to become employees for a rich family; the rain scene is especially masterful in a plot full of unique scenes. The whole cast is excellent, with Song Kang-ho especially spellbinding as the father of the poverty-stricken Kim family. The picture also took home Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Parasite has become a landmark film — and deservedly so.
1. The Irishman
At age 77, Martin Scorsese is still the most exciting directorial voice in American cinema. He’s proven that once again with The Irishman, a return to the gangster drama genre for both himself and many of the cast members. But this is a different type of gangster film than Scorsese has made before, telling the story of Frank Sheeran and Jimmy Hoffa. It’s brilliant on a technical level (the de-aging effects aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty impressive) but also deep thematically, delivering unexpected poignancy in its second half as it focuses on aging and regret. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, and more are all excellent, with no false notes in the casting. It would be easy to take Scorsese for granted at this point in his career, but we shouldn’t. The Irishman is another classic in his filmography.