It’s that time of the year again. It’s the time where we wrap up by talking about our favorite movies to hit theaters and streaming platforms for the first time this year. This was really a fantastic year for movies. I think that when we look back on 2019 in a decade or more, we could be looking at one of the best years for movies of this decade, maybe even this century. This was also a necessary year in film. I think movie fans were satisfied whether we’re talking about independent projects, tentpole movies from big studios like Disney or Christmastime Oscar hopefuls, 2019 has satisfied us on all fronts.
I do have to make a couple of disclaimers for this list. First of all, your list is probably going to look different than mine, and that’s great! One of the best things about movies is that 100 different people can watch the same movie in the same theater sitting together and sharing the same experience yet have 100 different takeaways. I love that movies can mean different things to different people, and I hope that you’ll share your list of the best movies of 2019 down in the comment section! Second, I haven’t seen every single movie I’d like to include on this list. It happens every single year, and sometimes there are simply zero good ways to see some of these movies. Maybe I missed the screening, or maybe it wasn’t playing in my area. Maybe I just couldn’t quite find the time to get to the movie theater. Some movies I’m extremely excited to see when I eventually get the chance include 1917, Honey Boy, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Judy, Pain and Glory and more. Without further ado, let’s get going!
19. Doctor Sleep
Mike Flanagan is getting to be one of my favorite directors these days. One of the biggest complaints I saw about this movie was that it’s not as good as The Shining. To those people I say, well, duh. It was never going to be nearly as good as The Shining. It was never going to be more of the same, either. I think this movie did a great job paying homage to The Shining and touching on all of that nostalgia while adding to the mythology of this world. It even had a genuinely compelling villain, played extremely well by Rebecca Ferguson. Ewan McGregor was also great, and I loved what has become of Danny Torrance. It has the same type of scares that seep into your mind the way The Shining did, and though it’s not as good as its predecessor, it’s as worthy a follow up as we could have hoped for.
18. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
I think this movie is going to be much higher up on a lot of lists. I liked it, but I do think it falls into the lower half of Tarantino’s filmography. That said, if you ask me about it again in 20 years, I think it’s possible for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood to age the same way Pulp Fiction has. I’m not saying it’s as good as Pulp Fiction, but I think it will age similarly. The performances are amazing, and I loved living in Tarantino’s world. The production design is fantastic, and Tarantino’s commitment to his story and his setting made this such a fun movie to watch. It has all of Tarantino’s style and dialogue, and I loved seeing him partnered with Brad Pitt, who I thought stole the show. DiCaprio is also fantastic, and the chemistry between the two is legendary. I’d love to see them together again, even if Tarantino isn’t in the director’s chair.
DC has finally started to turn the corner I hoped they would with their solo movies. I’d still love to see it with Batman and Superman, and I’m excited to see if they can keep Wonder Woman’s momentum going next year, but Shazam! gave me everything I love about comic book movies from a character I didn’t know much about. The performances are fantastic, and Zachary Levi was an excellent choice to play the main character. It also gave me the sense of wonder I wanted out of this movie. It was nice to escape the world of dark comic book movies and see one set in a world that showcases how kids see superheroes. Shazam! is one of the most fun comic book movies we’ve seen recently, and I can’t wait to see where this character goes.
16. The Peanut Butter Falcon
I didn’t see this movie until after its Blu-ray release. Turns out, it’s a spectacular movie. I couldn’t believe the performances from Shia LaBeouf, Zack Gottsagen and Dakota Johnson. I’ve seen LaBeouf and Johnson in impressive roles before, but this could be the best from both of them. I was also blown away by Zack Gottsagen. This is one of the sweetest movies of the year, and the bond between the characters who push each other to their respective limits made me love this movie.
I was a fan of Elton John going into this movie, and I was so happy that it lived up to what I hoped it would be. My first thought walking out of the theater after Rocketman was that it was exactly how Elton John would have wanted his story to be told. He wasn’t always the best person, but it’s so easy to see why he has become who he has become. I love the way the relationships develop in this movie because they have to begin from nothing. He never had or saw a healthy relationship, and that causes a lot of his flaws when it comes to dealing with people. The music is also great, and Taron Egerton gives a performance worthy of award nominations. I’ve enjoyed these musical biopics we’ve been getting lately, and Rocketman is one of the best in the bunch.
This one received some mixed reactions. It won audience prizes at film festivals and set box office records, but those who disliked the movie weren’t exactly quiet about how they felt. Personally, I think the movie was very clear about what it was trying to say while also showing us why the main character sees himself as the good guy. By the end of this movie, I understood Arthur. I disliked his actions and disagree with his motivations, but given how well this movie explains him and his constant decision to make the most radical, evil choice after every event, I understand his character arc. It’s also all made possible because of Joaquin Phoenix in what I might argue is the best performance of 2019. This movie hinges on his ability to sell us on this character, and the way he brought Arthur to his lowest point is incredible. He’s vulnerable in his physical appearance, his mental state and his world view, but he’s also terrifyingly unpredictable and full of dangerous potential. Now all we have to do is make sure that Todd Phillips stops adding details after the movie’s release, and this movie could be on its way to becoming a masterpiece of its genre.
13. Uncut Gems
To be completely transparent, I’m the only person I know who wasn’t a fan of Good Time, the previous film by the Safdie brothers. It’s well-directed, frantic, mentally draining and has excellent performances, but I didn’t find anything morally redeemable about it. I don’t need to like characters, but I want to understand them and possibly even sympathize with them. It seemed as though Robert Pattinson’s character always made the most morally reprehensible choice, and I never wanted to invest myself in him, so I didn’t care for the movie. Uncut Gems finely toes that line, but bringing Adam Sandler in as the lead fixed that issue for me. Uncut Gems was on the edge of being morally reprehensible, but Adam Sandler made Howard Ratner sympathetic. I wanted to cheer for Sandler because of the sort of underdog charm he brought to this role, and once I was invested, I was hooked. This movie is a well-oiled machine that produces anxiety, and watching Howard plunge himself deeper and deeper into trouble without being able to help himself was fascinating. The Safdie brothers do an excellent job of capturing the chaos of Howard’s situation and of New York as its setting, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.
I’m a sucker for high school movies and shows. Sometimes I struggle with the more melodramatic high school stuff, but this year we got Sex Education, Euphoria and Booksmart, and I couldn’t be happier with how these all turned out. Booksmart is the directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, and I’m really impressed. I remember listening to Denzel Washington discuss directing Fences. He was talking about advice he received regarding directing, saying he was told to “put the camera in front.” Olivia Wilde does so much more. She has a distinct style and a distinct voice. That isn’t a slight toward Denzel, but rather a testament to how impressive a first-time director Olivia Wilde is. The two leads, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, have incredible chemistry and give great performances. I loved their characters, and Booksmart is, well, smart on top of being hilarious and quotable.
11. The Lighthouse
This is one of the weirder movies of the year. From the director of The Witch came a black and white movie with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio about two lighthouse keepers in the 1800s. They’re all alone next to the water, and I adored watching these two men descend into madness. The performances are fantastic, and the writing added to the insanity of Pattinson and Dafoe. I loved the dialogue between the characters, and trying to decide how the events of this film actually played out was one of the most interesting movie experiences of the year for me. I also think it has a lot to say about our tendency to torture ourselves into craziness for our misdoings. At least, that’s what this movie means for me. The more we learn about these characters, the more that seems to become the biggest theme of the film in my opinion. I’ve only seen The Lighthouse once, but it’s a movie I want to go back and analyze a few more times.
10. Marriage Story
Marriage Story is everything I hoped it would be. It might be the most raw look at a typical modern familial situation. It’s really the story of the end of a marriage, and the performances make this movie everything it can be. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson were both nominated for Oscars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if either one of them went home with the statue in-hand. I love that this story is able to tackle the ugliness of the legal battle in a divorce, and some of my favorite moments are the lawyers battling in the court room while the camera focuses on Driver and Johansson. We see their reactions to everything they’ve told their lawyers in some sort of confidence, and it’s really heart-breaking. That said, I think the movie does a great job of showing that it’s very possible for a family to survive a divorce. Director Noah Baumbach writes spectacular dialogue and shows humanity in its rawest form, and Marriage Story is a special movie.
9. Ford v. Ferrari
I’m not sure what I expected from this movie exactly, but it shouldn’t be called Ford v. Ferrari. It should be called Shelby and Miles v. Ford with Ferrari as a Measuring Stick. That’s not quite as catchy, but this movie isn’t about Ford going to war with Ferrari. This movie is about two guys going to war with everyone who tells them they can’t live their dream. They’re battling with people who have the power to take their primary love away from them, and Ford v. Ferrari is about friendship, brotherhood and passion. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are both fantastic, and their relationship is the real driving force of this movie, no pun intended. Mangold does a great job of bringing them to life and showing that the black and white stuff isn’t what matters. These men just wanted to compete against themselves to be the best they could be, and I loved every second of it. I’m also not a car guy or a racing guy, but this movie probably had the best racing sequences I’ve seen since Ron Howard’s Rush. It’s so clear, and it looks like these cars are actually going over 200 miles per hour. The cinematography, editing and sound design are all stunning. One of my favorite things about this movie is that Bale’s love for racing never tears his marriage apart. His wife realizes how important it is to him, and it never falls back on that relationship as a source of conflict. Mangold has done it again.
8. The Farewell
Unfortunately I didn’t get to see this one in theaters, but I made a point of seeing it before the end of the year. The Farewell is one of the most heart-felt movies of the year. First and foremost, I found it endlessly fascinating to learn about the tradition that is carried out in this movie from a cultural perspective. It’s something I didn’t know about or even ever considered, but it’s such a great premise for a film and is able to deliver both comedy and drama. Awkwafina is also phenomenal in the movie. I’ve never disliked Awkwafina, but I’ve always thought she gives the same performance over and over again. It usually works for the types of movies she’s in, like Crazy Rich Asians, but I never imagined her opening up on an emotional level the way she does in The Farewell. I was also unfamiliar with Lulu Wang before seeing The Farewell, but she’s sure on my radar now, and her movie is one of the most captivating ones I’ve seen all year.
7. Little Women
Greta Gerwig is back after bursting onto the directing scene with Lady Bird, and she and Saoirse Ronan are quickly becoming the next power duo.The last time I remember a director-actor duo hitting this hard in the director’s first two movies was Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, which I think is the highest praise I could give. Little Women isn’t something I have a strong emotional attachment to or something I’ve grown up reading, but this movie had a serious emotional impact on me. These are some of the best realized characters of the entire year. None of them are filling a role. They’re all serving a very explicit purpose in the story, and they have depth and flaws. They have desires, and they express those desires the way humans truly do. For a movie set in the 1800s, this is also an incredibly modern movie. It’s not just the dialogue and the characters. It’s the themes that are still prevalent centuries later. The cast is great, and Greta Gerwig did an unbelievable job reinventing this story and making it feel fresh and necessary.
6. Knives Out
Rian Johnson is the real deal. It’s been so long since we’ve seen an awesome whodunit, and somehow Knives Out seems to make up for all of the misses we’ve had along the way. With amazing characters, performances and dialogue, this is one of the most entertaining movies of the year. Johnson really knows how to build characters and write snappy dialogue with actual bite. All of these characters had an edge that set them apart from characters inside and outside this movie. As is to be expected at this point, Johnson tells the story and reveals information in such an unconventional way while still being able to milk all of the thrills and comedy he needed to out of this story. Throw in the messages of this film and you have one of the best of the year.
5. Avengers: Endgame
I’m so happy the Russo brothers were able to give us the ending this franchise deserved. I know Spider-Man: Far From Home is technically the last movie of this set of MCU films, but this feels like the ending we’ve been waiting for, and it delivers in spades. For a three hour movie, it never drags. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and its third act is one of the best acts and hours of film I’ve seen in my entire life. I love all of the send-offs of every single character both emotionally and narratively. They all make sense, and they all get the respect they deserve after burying themselves in our hearts over the past 11 years. It deserves the success it found at the box office, and it satisfied me to the point where I’m no longer worried about anything the MCU does going forward. If we get more great movies, that’s just icing on the cake, but we’ll always have this saga and its near-perfect ending to scratch that itch and bring our heroes to life.
4. Ad Adstra
I walked into this movie expecting a movie about space exploration, and yes, I got that, but I also got a movie about fathers and sons, meeting your heroes and a character who finds it more difficult to face past relationships than situations that threaten his life. Brad Pitt gives one the best performances of his career, if not his best, and Ad Astra is unbelievably beautiful. James Gray did an excellent job with everything from a technical perspective, but I also love what he did from a storytelling perspective. Even action sequences that don’t quite fit the tone of the movie worked for me because Gray gave me a reason to care while pumping in true thrills created by spectacular visual effects. I can see a lot of people finding Ad Astra boring because of its pacing, but I loved everything it had to say about its character and relationships between humans.
3. Jojo Rabbit
We’ve now reached the part of this countdown where these next three movies are in a completely different category for me. I adored JoJo Rabbit, and there are years that might have seen it in the top spot. For me, this movie cemented Taika Waititi as one of the best working writers and directors today. I always listen when people explain their issues with a certain movie, and they’re completely entitled to have problems. That said, I don’t understand the argument that this movie isn’t sensitive enough to the issues it’s covering because it is so overwhelmingly clear what this movie is trying to say about hatred. On top of its pertinent social message, it’s also a fantastic coming of age film about a boy who has never been exposed to ideas outside his own in a meaningful way. The performances are also spectacular with Roman Griffin Davis giving one of the best of the entire year. Jojo Rabbit is ridiculously funny, emotionally compelling and endlessly quotable, and the ending worked perfectly for me. Jojo Rabbit might be the best of the year at combining biting wit and humor, crowd-pleasing moments and deep emotional beats.
2. The Irishman
The Irishman is Scorsese’s new masterpiece. I definitely think it’s his best since The Departed, and it might even top The Departed for me. This feels like such a personal movie for Scorsese in that it encompasses so many of his past themes while introducing new ones about aging, relationships and legacy. The entire cast is fantastic, and I couldn’t believe how much life and energy Scorsese directed this movie with. It’s far less flashy than his other films, but it maintains a lot of his stylistic touches. The length might be an issue for some people, but I loved it. I loved that the movie was able to span an entire life, and I love how it reflects its main character. All of the deaths are so cold, and we see them the same way DeNiro’s character sees them, and The Irishman’s commentary on the consequences of our actions broke my heart. I also like the way it directly confronts a lot of criticisms of Scorsese’s movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas that say Scorsese glorifies those lifestyles. The Irishman doesn’t glorify this lifestyle in any way. The characters see the repercussions of their actions, but it’s emotionally impactful because of our attachment to them. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if we look at this movie the way we look at Goodfellas in 30 years.
After seeing The Irishman, I didn’t see a movie topping it for my favorite of the year. I didn’t even catch the screening for this one, so I saw it a bit later than most. It was tough to go into this movie without expectations because everyone was calling it a masterpiece, and sure enough, they were right. Parasite is a masterpiece and one of the best movies of this century. I can’t find a single thing I didn’t like about it or would change about it from a subjective or an objective point of view. Bong Joon-ho is a genius, and the way he tells this story is fantastic. You have the very obvious commentary on class, but the technical aspects and the story are perfect, too. Everything makes sense despite being unexpected. Each beat has a cause and effect, and they all make sense in this story world despite surprising me. The characters are also brilliant. Though the movie calls out issues we see in our lives, none of the characters are villains. I liked them all, and they’re all beautifully fleshed out for audiences to understand them and connect with them. Bong also meshes every single genre so well. There’s drama, horror, suspense, comedy, action and just about everything you can possibly hope for. I was standing on my seat in the movie theater with my heart beating out of my chest, and I couldn’t speak when the movie was over. I don’t see it cleaning up at the Oscars the way I’d like it to, but in my opinion, it’s undoubtedly the best movie of the year.
It was a great year in movies, so what were your favorites? Let me know down in the comment section! As always, thank you, and I look forward to this year as we see if it can match up with 2019!