We've counted down our favorite albums and TV shows of the year, so it's time to complete the trilogy with the best movies of 2019 (according to me). Before we get into it, watch an incredible supercut of films released this year compiled by critic David Ehrlich below.
Blind Spots: Although I tried to watch as many films as I could this year, there were a bunch of great-reviewed movies I didn't get to see in time for this, many of which were smaller arts films that I just couldn't catch in theaters before they disappeared. The major ones I'm still planning to catch up on in the new year: Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale, her followup to The Babadook; Pedro Almodóvar's gentle semi-autobiographical Pain & Glory; Alejandro Landes' survivalist saga Monos; Céline Sciamma's romantic historical drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Melina Matsoukas' Queen & Slim; and Terrence Malick's WWII pacifist drama A Hidden Life. I also haven't seen Cats yet, and I'm starting to think I may be making a huge mistake not seeing it in theaters.
Dishonorable Mentions: It Chapter Two was by far the worst film I saw this year, and even Bill Hader couldn't save this disjointed, ugly, overly long slog; Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was the most confusing, disappointing film of the year; Bombshell was the most blatantly cynical (but watchable) film; Joaquin Phoenix was fantastic and balletic, but Joker was truly a bummer of a film; Lucy In The Sky gets the award for fastest film to go from must-see to must-avoid; and despite a strong performance from Elisabeth Moss, Her Smell was absolutely Not For Me.
Honorable Mentions: Jennifer Lopez was outstanding in Hustlers, which is destined to become a Christmas classic. Blinded By The Light was an incredibly sweet and sincere movie (perhaps TOO much so at times) about how loving The Boss can save your life and help you connect with your family. Steven Soderbergh shot High Flying Bird on an iPhone for Netflix, and it was one of his best films since he came out of "retirement." Brad Pitt battled space pirates, zombie monkeys, and daddy issues in the gorgeous but slow Ad Astra. Olivia Wilde's Booksmart was as good as any teen movie of the last decade (and would make a great double billing with Blockers). John Wick 3 got deeper into its mythology and world-building, but nothing could top its first extended fight scene. Eddie Murphy was fantastic in Dolemite Is My Name. The Last Black Man In San Francisco was an elegiac look at the reverberations of gentrification. Say what you will about the the ubiquity of Marvel and Disney, but Avengers: Endgame was more satisfying that I ever could have imagined it would be. And Jordan Peele's Us has grown on me exponentially with every viewing.
And now, 11 favorites:
11. The Souvenir
Written and directed by Joanna Hogg, The Souvenir is a fascinating semi-fictionalized depiction of Hogg's time at film school in Sunderland in the early 1980s, and her toxic love affair with a secretive older man. It's a mysterious, intimate film that moves in the jagged rhythms of memory, where plot takes a backseat to evocative moments, and certain details are omitted until they can't be avoided anymore. Honor Swinton Byrne, starring opposite her mother Tilda Swinton, is the perfect avatar for Hogg's vision of an artist-in-the-making: vulnerable, romantic, and grasping toward ideas. If you've never heard of Hogg before, I strongly recommend reading this New Yorker profile of her from earlier this year.
10. The Farewell
After it became an unforgettable This American Life segment, Chinese-American director Lulu Wang adapted her own story into this superbly warm and empathetic film. It's an autobiographical tale about how her grandmother was given a terminal diagnosis and her family decided not to tell her about it, gathering together for a fake wedding banquet as a means to say goodbye to her. It's a melancholic but comedic film that deftly engages with the complications of the immigrant experience. Awkwafina gives her best performance ever as someone who can't hide her emotions, the one family member who really doesn't want to go along with the ruse. And for anyone who had a close relationship with their grandmother, you'll fall in love with Nai Nai as played by Zhao Shuzhen, one of the breakout roles of the year.
Director Ari Aster's second feature after the horror breakout Hereditary last year turned out to be the best breakup movie of the year. After the death of her family, Florence Pugh's character Dani Ardor travels to Sweden with her lousy boyfriend and his arrogant buddies, and ends up enmeshed with a psychedelic commune who are really into flowers and sex rituals. The film (thankfully) wasn't filled with as many jump scares as Hereditary, but instead mined emotional horror in the form of Dani's disintegrating relationship with her infuriating boyfriend. For anyone who has ever been neglected in a relationship by a selfish partner, this film's climax and final shots were the most satisfying of 2019.
8. The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse, a black-and-white psychological horror movie about New England lighthouse keepers in the late 19th century, was the strangest movie experience of the year for me. I felt uneasy as I watched it in the theater, but have found myself returning to images and lines from the film in the months since. The period-perfect details and moody aspect ratio utilized by meticulous director Robert Eggers gave the film a dream-like feel, but for me, the film works best as an absolutely hilarious cautionary tale about the perils of having a roommate. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give incredible performances as they fight, dance, and fart their way toward madness, highlighted by the scene in which Pattison insults Dafoe's cooking, which sends him into an apoplectic, curse-filled rage.
7. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach's best film since Frances Ha is a grounded, agonizing, and occasionally hilarious look at divorce 2019 style, and it carries a powerful message: New York natives should never marry L.A. natives. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both give some of their best performances yet in an extremely even-handed look at the devastation wrought when people who like each other run into irreconcilable differences. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda give unforgettable performances as a trio of divorce attorneys who will convince you that nothing is worse than being a divorce attorney. Ultimately, it's a movie that is a lot more generous and hopeful about relationships than not. If you are single or newly-married, this film may give you nightmares, but if you have been married or in a long-term relationship for awhile, it may make actually give you some comfort.
6. Knives Out
After killing it with The Last Jedi (which is an even better film in light of The Rise Of Skywalker), director Rian Johnson made the right decision pivoting away from franchise films to create a whodunnit in the style of Agatha Christie. Knives Out is zippy and relentlessly entertaining, and has a murderers' row of great supporting actors, including Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Lakeith Stanfield. Ana de Armas grounds the film as the unexpected protagonist, Chris Evans churns out his smarmiest performance ever, and Daniel Craig chews every scene he's in as a New Yorker-approved private detective with a lovably weird Foghorn Leghorn-style accent. The film has all the most fun trappings of the genre, including the requisite big reveal scene, but it's also a sneaky class warfare film that updates the manor house murder mystery with a set of characters that are a direct reflection of the worst of America in 2019.
5. Little Women
The 1994 adaptation of Little Women—starring Winona Ryder—is pretty perfect (no one ugly cries like Claire Danes!), but Greta Gerwig's imaginative, bracing take on Louisa May Alcott's beloved novel immediately deserves a place in the from-page-to-screen canon, with a brilliant performance by Saoirse Ronan as a vibrant, stubborn Jo March. Instead of proceeding with the chronological order of the book, the movie flashes back from Jo's days in New York, as a teacher and aspiring writer, to her time with her sisters Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen)—and, of course, Marmee (Laura Dern) and the boy-next-door, Laurie (Timothee Chalamet)—in Concord, Massachusetts. There are other welcome departures from the book and other adaptations, including the elevation, or rather the reassessment, of Amy, the spoiled baby sister. Gerwig and Pugh infuse Amy with an intelligence and strength, which climaxes with a speech about women's economic prospects. The final part of the movie also offers an exhilarating affirmation of Jo's—and Alcott's—desires. (Jen Chung)
4. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese's melancholic mob masterpiece about moral decay is remarkable, earning its long runtime. It's partially a mix of Scorsese greatest hits, and partially a meditation on the corrosive nature of living life as a criminal, featuring three all-time great performances from Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and especially Joe Pesci. But the thing that is resonating most with me months after seeing it is the unspoken, overwhelming sense of regret that hovers over everything. There are few vicarious thrills compared with the likes of Goodfellas and The Wolf Of Wall Street. This is a movie about old men reckoning with their own destructive decisions.
Bong Joon Ho's riveting and twisted film follows a poor South Korean family who quickly hatch a cunning scheme to insert themselves into the household of a rich family...and then things get really strange (the less you know ahead of time, the better). Besides being one of the most unexpectedly thrilling movies of the year, Parasite asks the audience to question their own sympathies—who really is the parasite in these relationships?—right up until the very poignant ending, which adds an even deeper emotional level to the proceedings. It's also the best constructed film of the year, where every plot twist is foreshadowed or reflected in the camerawork and shot selection, peaking with a sewage rupture that is practically biblical.
2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino famously said he plans on retiring after making ten films; whether or not he follows through on that, he has lessened the pressure on himself for his final film because he already achieved something incredible with his penultimate film. It's one of his masterpieces, a final statement on his relationship with Hollywood and film lore that is fun and deeply wistful. Set over two days in 1969, this is the ultimate hangout film from a director whose best work (like Jackie Brown) leans into that style and rewards multiple viewings. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as a fading movie star and his stunt double who have to grapple with their own irrelevancy amidst the backdrop of 1960s Hollywood. Both men are brilliant, especially DiCaprio who is both hilarious and suffused with affection, but the key to the film is Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate, whose standout scene going to the movies alone is Tarantino's ultimate statement on the delight of cinema.
1. Uncut Gems
My favorite movie of the year, and one of my favorite movies of the entire decade, was Uncut Gems, the frenetic new film from the electrifying Safdie Brothers (Good Times, Heaven Can Wait). It's absolutely edge-of-your-seat thrilling ride (literally so), like freebasing horseradish at seder—it's also the best Passover movie since The Ten Commandments. It is set mostly in the Diamond District and is filled with tons of real NYC characters (including the Sports Pope), and has incredible, perhaps unstoppable Big Midtown Energy. It bridges the worlds of sports (Kevin Garnett...never doubt him) and Judaism like no film I've ever seen, and may be the ultimate degenerate gambler film. It is filled with unforgettable images and lines, and yet the most devastating might be, "I heard you resurfaced your fucking swimming pool." Julia Fox, who has never acted before, steals every scene she's in. Idina Menzel's line reading of "Your face—it’s so stupid" while in a prom dress is one of the funniest line readings in movie history. Most of all, this is Adam Sandler's greatest role ever, a charming and repulsive performance of a hustler who thrives on the chaos of his life. With Sandler's other great performances (Punch Drunk Love, The Meyerowitz Stories), he was always playing a variation of the classic Adam Sandler persona from his comedies, but not so here—this is a completely idiosyncratic character study. Give him the Oscar for best acting. Give him a bridge loan. All New Yorkers should be legally required to watch this movie in theaters multiple times.