What a year for movies. Though it may not have seemed like it prior to the onslaught of fall releases, 2019 was easily one of my favorite movie years from recent memory, hence my delay for this article in an attempt to catch up on as much as possible. As with my decade list, these aren’t necessarily the ‘best’ movies of the year, but instead the ones that impacted me the most; here is hoping they can impact you too.
10. Doctor Sleep
A proper sequel to a movie as engraved in the horror lexicon as The Shining might seem impossible, yet Doctor Sleep succeeds in flying colors under the clear assurance of director Mike Flanagan. Flanagan carefully navigates between paying homage to The Shining and Kubrick while also bringing a voice that is entirely his own, and the end result is a sequel that feels entirely unexpected, yet satisfying and cathartic in a really special way.
No movie this year felt quite like the emotional rollercoaster that is Waves. I feel like the more I say, the more I run risk of ruining the major structural choices the movie makes, so I’ll keep it brief and say that this entire movie is a gamble that paid off big-time for me. Go in prepared to be flipped inside-out.
I laughed harder at The Art of Self-Defense than any movie all year, yet the charm of it lies in the fact that somebody else could watch it and feel absolutely repulsed. This black comedy did wonders for me, in no short part due to terrific performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Alessandro Nivola, as well as some of the smartest writing of the year.
7. Jojo Rabbit
If you think you’ve seen all a Holocaust movie can be, you probably haven’t seen one where a young Nazi boy is best friends with an imaginary version of Hitler. However, Jojo Rabbit doesn’t succeed just by virtue of being different; it succeeds by using its unique premise for both intense comedic and dramatic effect, all told with tender care from Taika Waititi and anchored by terrific child performances.
6. Knives Out
Knives Out is the result of an endlessly talented group of people assembling to create something that’s just a boatload of fun. Rian Johnson’s script is — forgive the pun — one of the sharpest you’ll find, redefining the structure of the whodunit and keeping the audience on their toes all while introducing a set of memorable characters and telling a satisfying story up to its terrific final shot.
5. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tarantino’s homage to a bygone era of Hollywood is everything you would want, yet nothing you would expect. Underneath the dizzying recreation of 60’s Hollywood is a heartwarming and hilarious story about friendship and grappling with waning relevance in a changing world, and it all feels like a movie that Tarantino couldn’t have made until this point in his career.
In a year where we all argued whether Marvel movies are cinema, Avengers: Endgame raises the more important question: does it even matter when they’re this good? The power of the MCU has always relied on the overarching story it has told over time, and this epic finale is a jaw-dropping curtain call for the characters we have grown to love as it masterfully jumps from emotional moments to some of the most satisfying fan-service you’ll ever see. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a movie in my life than watching the final battle sequence on opening night.
It would have been easy for Jordan Peele to make another horror film about race hot off the heels of Get Out, but Us shows the mark of an ambitious director who doesn’t intend on repeating himself anytime soon. Peele continues to prove himself as one of the most interesting visual storytellers working today, this time creating iconography that forces us to examine class in America and the hostile ways in which we view one another, all while he still delivers a crowdpleaser blend of horror and comedy.
2. Marriage Story
I was late to the Marriage Story party, but…wow. This easily could have been some overdramatic and miserable compilation of people crying, but instead it’s a genuine love story full of heart and humor about a couple that — despite how much they hate the fact — recognizes they can’t be together anymore. The beating heart(s) of this movie truly are Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson, who give performances so nuanced and realistic that at times you feel like you’re not even watching a movie at all, a feat which is bolstered by Noah Baumbach’s signature dialogue. What a tremendous accomplishment this movie is.
I’ve talked ad nauseam about Parasite ever since I staggered out of the theater, and after five total viewings I’ve never been more confident that this is nothing short of a genuine masterpiece. There is no other movie-going experience that can compare to the sheer range of emotions you experience as Bong Joon-ho expertly commands tonal shifts, plot twists, and thrilling setpieces in a constant attempt to pull the rug out from you and open your eyes to the heartbreaking reality about the relationship between rich and poor. The true magic lies in the ease in which Bong reveals his hand to the audience, as by the time the credits roll, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that the movie you finished is the same movie you started.
There are movies with brains, there are movies with thrills, and then there are movies like Parasite, which effortlessly combine the two so effectively that nearly every other movie is forced to bow down in awe. Nothing else could be my movie of the year.
Honorable Mentions: The Farewell, The Lighthouse, 1917, Long Shot, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Midsommar, Ford v Ferrari, Booksmart, Uncut Gems
Acclaimed Movies I Haven’t Seen: A Hidden Life, Honey Boy, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Hustlers, Under the Silver Lake, Monos, The Two Popes, Pain and Glory, Queen & Slim, Just Mercy, Fighting With My Family, Her Smell, The Souvenir, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Report