As we’ve begun not only a brand new year, but a brand new decade (more on that in a minute), it’s time to take a look in the rear view mirror. This is my 11th year doing one of these Top 10 lists, and as usual, it was a joy to write about some of the best, and my favorite films of 2019. This is a really interesting year in that I think there were far fewer Great movies in 2019 than there have been in prior years. I gauge that by how easy/difficult it was for me to put together this list, and to be honest, it really wasn’t a huge challenge for me this year. Until basically December, there were movies that I no-doubt loved, but were surprised they showed up at the end of the year. Nonetheless, I’m happy they did, as these 10 picks are all movies I loved for one reason or another. Also wanted to mention I wasn’t able to see Little Women, 1917, Honey Boy, A Hidden Life, or of course, Cats before making this list. This year, THESE ARE IN NO SPECIFIC ORDER
I also wanted to use this opportunity to shamelessly plug my podcast DIRECTOR SHOWDOWN. We recently did a ‘Decade in Review’ retrospective where Adam and I talked our Top 10 movies of the 2010’s, as well as some favorite directors. I’d recommend it if you enjoy reading these lists or others, as I think it’s a pretty fun conversation on the last decade in movies check it out on the site, or wherever you get podcasts. Alright, here are my 10 favorite movies of 2019:
Scorsese is probably my favorite living filmmaker, but I’ll be honest, when I heard that Scorsese was making this movie, and *how* he was making it (heavily digital de-aged actors) I was a bit skeptical. De Niro and Pacino haven’t been turning in interesting performances in quite awhile, and Pesci came out of a decades-long retirement for the movie as well. On top of that, the first trailer released did little for me. All that to say I was an idiot to doubt the master.
Scorsese returns to the crime genre that he re-invented many times over the years, this time with the eyes of a man in his 70’s, looking back on his life and career. The movie is very long, but in my opinion, it needs the length. The viewer needs to *feel* the totality of a life, and as is his intent with The Irishman, the *consequences* of this specific life. The final hour or so of this movie feels like a culmination of Scorsese’s career in many ways. The energy and entertainment of a crime/mob epic, with the fatalism and philosophical leanings of a movie like ‘Silence’. It’s a 3.5 hour movie that I’ve already rewatched, and actively want to again, so that alone ought to speak volumes.
Let the record show, I’ve been a huge fan of Bong Joon-ho since I first saw his monster movie/family drama ‘The Host’. Some time later, he went on to make ‘Snowpiercer’, one of my favorite movies of the last decade. All that to say, I think Parasite is probably his best movie, and a true masterwork of thriller direction. It also has his usual brand of social commentary and a script filled with darkness and humor, following a South Korean tendency to juggle multiple tones throughout, sometimes all in one moment or scene.
Parasite also follows a big 2019 trend of commenting on class and social dynamics between the rich and the poor. I think that’s part of why it’s done incredibly well at the box office (especially for a Korean language film), the fact that people can relate in a huge way, regardless of which country your from. Parasite is one of the most entertaining movie viewing experiences I’ve had this year and I’d recommend everyone check it out.
If you were to ask me what the funnest movie-going experience I had in 2019 was, I’d have to pick Rian Johnson’s ‘Knives Out’. Hot off making one of the best Star Wars movies ever made (don’t @ me) Johnson decided to make a passion project in the vein of classic Agatha Christie style murder mysteries, and the results are a total blast. Filled with clever twists and turns, weaponizing the structure of murder-mysteries against the audiences expectations, it stays one step ahead of you the entire time.
Aside from the clever mystery of it all, it’s the actors performances and chemistry that really sell this thing. Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette are expectedly great per usual, and Daniel Craig is having the time of his life as Mississippi private-eye Benoit Blanc, but the heart of the movie is relative newcomer Ana de Armas. She brings an emotional weight and anchor to the movie that always keeps you emotionally invested amidst the terrible, money hungry backstabbing by the other heightened characters. I hope everyone sees this movie and Johnson is able to give us another Benoit Blanc adventure somewhere down the line, I’ll be there opening day.
Nobody makes an upbeat, feel-good movie like Ari Aster does! After last years light and breezy ‘Hereditary’ (which I liked a lot but didn’t totally love) he’s back with a completely riveting and emotionally draining (not to mention horrific) masterpiece. What I connected to most in Midsommar is the journey of Dani, played incredibly by Florence Pugh. The way the film portrays the relationship between her and her dog shit boyfriend played by the (usually) charming Jack Reynor keeps you invested in every twist, perfectly paced out over the movies admittedly long runtime.
I won’t get into spoiler territory, but where this movie goes in the end is what makes this a fully 5-star movie for me. After putting you through hell, like Aster loves to do with bells on, Midsommar ends in a euphoric, psychedelic orgy of music and violence that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Midsommar rules so hard and I can’t wait for whatever twisted thing Aster cooks up next.
Uncut Gems probably tripled my blood pressure by the time the credits rolled. A slice-of-life story about a gambler/dealer in New York’s diamond district, the movie follows Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler in easily the best performance of his career. Ratner is basically addicted to living at the edge of a cliff, being chased by violent debt collectors, juggling a home life and a relationship with an employee, and fully relying on risky sports bets to stay afloat. It makes for a consistently tense and unique viewing experience, expertly directed by the Safdie brothers.
Something that might not work for everyone but that I personally loved, is the chaotic way in which the movie is shot. What feels like loosely directed scenes, with characters talking over each other and multiple conversations happening at once, adds an authenticity and reality lacking from most other movies. It’s more adjacent to Linklater (thanks to Adam for the comparison) or Scorsese’s earlier films (also fitting, that he’s a producer on this). Following Howard Ratner as his life descends into chaotic hell was one of the best times I’ve had watching a movie this year.
THE BEACH BUM
Harmony Korine made one of my favorite movies of the 2010’s, the neon-soaked and often misunderstood ‘Spring Breakers’, so I was already in the bag for whatever he did next. When I heard it was a freewheeling stoner comedy where Matthew Mcconaughey plays a guy named ‘Moondog’ costarring Snoop Dogg, I reserved its location on my top 10 list.
This movie doesn’t have the empty heart at its core that defines Spring Breakers, opting instead for a character study about a ‘Florida man’ poet after his life pretty much falls apart. It’s basically plotless, stumbling from one insane, borderline hallucinatory sequence to the next, but I just loved living in the world of this movie. Beach Bum almost feels like a deliriously fun VR simulation of hanging out with Matt McConaughey and his weirdo friends down in the Florida keys. This is one that probably won’t pop up on many top 10 lists but I really adore, and will surely rewatch it a dozen times in the years to come.
I won’t go on too much about this one, since I already wrote a pretty extensive review for the site earlier this year (check that out here- http://stickerfridge.com/avengers-endgame-review/) but in a year with many different series finales (Game of Thrones, Star Wars, etc.) Marvel was probably the only one to totally stick the landing. With a finale that gave great characters beats for most of it’s dozens of characters, and actual closure, it becomes more and more impressive in retrospect just how well Marvel closed things out on this era. Not many of these Marvel movies had ended up making my Top 10’s although I like most of them a lot, but this one was pretty undeniable. It’s the end of a 10-year stretch of something never before done in Hollywood, and something that began while I was still in High School. I still remember seeing Iron Man 1 in theaters, and even while being sick as hell in the theater, I still had a great time and freaked out at the ‘Avengers Initiative’ post credits sequence. Anyway, I really loved this movie and can’t wait to show my son all these MCU movies knowing that they nailed the ending this well.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
If you saw my list last year, then it must appear like I’m some diehard Mr. Rogers fan. I don’t really have many memories watching his show as a child, but what the documentary ‘Won’t You be my Neighbor’ and this film by Marielle Heller have in common is a shared fascination of his immense empathy and character. It’s only right that America’s dad Tom Hanks should play him, and I was surprised at the end that I was able to get over his stardom and accept him as Rogers. He’s not doing a direct impersonation, and I think it’s all the better for it, instead opting for matching his soft tone and laid back movements.
On a pure emotional level, this movie was a freight train. It didn’t help that the movie covers a lot of father stuff, from losing your own to becoming one yourself (2 big boxes on the Brent bingo card). Heller’s direction is clever in its weaponizing of meta/post-modern techniques, such as one incredible fourth wall break in a diner scene. It literally breaks down the barrier between Mr. Rogers, we the audience, and the films intent to make us feel something.
I cry a lot at movies, that much is well known, but it’s rare that a movie makes me weep, and this one did. Even thinking about scenes right now, days later, my eyes are welling up with tears thinking about the messages of the movie. Mr. Rogers and his lessons of empathy and emotional understanding have rarely been as vital and important as they are right now in our world.
Robert Eggers first film ‘The Witch’ from 2015 is one of my favorite movies of this decade, possibly of all time, so my hype for his black and white, period piece two-hander ‘The Lighthouse’ was through the roof. Even with sky-high expectations, it still blew me away. With dialogue reminiscent of The Witch in its specific authenticity to its era, to the two lead actors giving all-time great performances, It was one of the most entertaining film viewing experiences I had this year.
There’s something about both of Egger’s movies that I really keyed into watching this one: his fascination with shame and the liberation from it. Where Witch was from the female perspective, Lighthouse literally has two farting, drunk men in a giant phallic symbol fighting for dominance. It’s less a horror film than his first, but still utterly engrossing, demented and specific to his singular vision. I can’t wait to see 20 more movies from this guy.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
This is another big movie of 2019, like The Irishman, where you can see the director looking inward, at what his films mean and represent. It initially caught me so off guard that I really didn’t know how to feel about it, but after seeing it again, it’s one of my favorites of the year, and probably Tarantino’s filmography overall. More akin to something like Boogie Nights or Dazed and Confused, letting us live with and follow a small group of characters, it mostly doesn’t feel like a Tarantino movie (until the inevitable and shocking explosion of violence in the third act, of course).
‘Hollywood’ is the most sincere and loving movie Tarantino has made, interested in giving us a send off to an era of Hollywood and artists that have been lost or forgotten (Some more tragically than others). In the end, the movie functions similarly to ‘Inglorious Basterds’ in it’s rewriting of history to give us catharsis. “If only things could have worked out this way.” Luckily in movies, removed from the restrictions of reality, they can. And once upon a time in Hollywood, they did.
FORD V FERRARI
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3