Can I be frank with you fellas for a second? 2019 has been a GOLD MINE year for cinema. It’s as if the movie gods themselves had wanted to drop every consecutive masterpiece during this very special time in 21st-century history. So, with that in mind, this list was extraordinarily hard to make; it hurt putting this one together. I wish most of the movies on this list could get the #1 spot, but this was a damn well competitive year, so I’ll be a fair gentleman and rank them accordingly. Once again, I have done separate reviews for all of these films so the links for them will be highlighted over the titles of each film. First off, though…
My Honorable Mentions: Knives Out, Ad Astra, Beach Bum, 1917, Joker, Shazam!, The Farewell, Us, Her Smell, Rocketman, Birds of Passage, They Shall Not Grow Old, The Souvenir, and Pain and Glory
Now, onto the list!
15. Greener Grass
I feel as if I would be doing the world a disfavor by not having Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebee’s severely overlooked Greener Grass on this list. This movie is just straight-up freakin’ weird. It’s a motion picture that doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s quirky and absolutely absurd, but rather, fully embraces its uncanny material. Nevertheless, what truly makes Greener Grass a triumph is how it evokes laughs out of its audience. The comedy here is not only holy original but the eccentricness of the movie’s comical material is utilized for a much more consequential meaning. Through one of the most joyful parts of human existence (laughter) DeBoer and Luebee sinisterly strive to make gloomy meanings out of situational comedy.
14. Cold War
This foreign gem by acclaimed director Paweł Pawlikowski didn’t get a US release until February 2019, so it’s on my list—which I’m not complaining about, FYI. Cold War isn’t necessarily a movie I’d deem super innovative, it’s simply just an exceptionally well-written and well-acted love story that successfully encapsulates its time period. Some of the best, most provocative dialogue of the entire year lies within this film. Cold War is a lovely film to look at, an extremely pleasant movie to listen to—thanks to its spectacular original soundtrack—and a fairly insightful study on intimacy.
13. The Irishman
In many ways, Martin Scorsese’s return to mafia motion pictures does seem like a retread of familiar grounds, but at the core of the film, the themes of the motion picture feel entirely different from anything the legendary director has touched on. The Irishman is a three-hour documentation on a husband/father who starts to incrementally get caught up in his work and caught up in some of his new colleagues who have almost become like “family” to him. The most daunting part about this state of affairs is that working in such a dangerous field inevitably forces you to make some tough calls that could majorly affect your real family or your best friends. It’s essentially a more psychological modernization of Goodfellas.
12. Midsommar (The Director’s Cut)
The first time I saw Midsommar, I thought it was just “fine.” I had no dire inclination to watch the movie again in theaters. That is until I read some articles that director Ari Aster was pretty much propelled to cut down the movie by studios. A couple months later, A24 decides to limitedly release a 3-hour director’s cut of Midsommar in theaters. Due to these circumstances, I decided to watch this extended version of the polarizing horror/drama feature-length and I ended up pretty much loving it. It’s amazing realizing just how much less than half an hour of footage can improve a film. This superior version of Midsommar to me is a fantastic example of how uncomfortable situations that at first, may appear quite taboo and funny, can really get under your skin when you begin to witness how it affects others. A terrifying break-up movie, indeed!
11. A Hidden Life
It seems that we’re on a roll with these 3-hour-long movies, huh? Terrence Malick’s newest feature-length A Hidden Life was a beautifully depressing experience, to say the least. Of course, the movie is shot and directed to a god-like level that only Malick can accomplish. But, I also really appreciated what Malick had to say in this story. This is an admirable exploration on how belief is such a chief principle in causing us to make decisions that don’t necessarily seem logical. It’s a very upsetting look into an Austrian farmer during World War II who simply gives up all his lawful rights just so that he can keep his firm beliefs. It’s inspiring yet emotionally draining to witness, and the unforgettable experience that Malick took me on has simply not been able to scram out of my head.
10. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a great argumentative piece of evidence to show people that marriage and divorce aren’t as cookie-cutter as they appear to be. While this movie did piss me off a lot because you essentially witness just how corrupt the divorce system is, it was also a very moving experience for me and I’m sure a great chunk of people who saw the film. Not only do Adam Driver and the spectacular Scarlett Johansson deliver some of the best performances of this entire year, but they also share together one of the most important stories of the entire year. This is a must-watch for couples who want some forewarning and single folks who want to feel victorious.
9. Uncut Gems
As a gigantic Good Time fan, it can be plainly expected that I had high hopes for the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems. Luckily, my expectations were reached. This is, of course, an exceedingly anxiety-driven thriller like Good Time, but is one that seems to want to focus more on its main character than the rough sensations you get from the situation at hand. This is a marvelous motion picture that constructively exemplifies the cliché father who is too caught up in his work and money than in his actual family. Plus, there’s some crazy filmmaking stuff in it that cinephiles like myself will eat up graciously.
Can we please make an exclusive Academy Award for Trey Edward Schultz that rewards people who know how to direct and move a camera seamlessly? That’d be so cool. Anyhow, Waves was a hard film to watch and I can completely understand anyone who found the movie to be repulsing. To me though, I found Waves to be endlessly insightful on modern-day adolescence/young adulthood. It showcases some very graphic scenarios and builds off of them productively. It has resolutions that are immorally disgraceful and resolutions that are morally positive and it successfully balances them as a singular, consecutive piece. It’s a momentous movie that I think everybody high-school-age and up should check out. I truly believe that it’s an experience that we all need to understand and recognize for the benefit of ourselves.
I can’t tell you how much I hated the first hour of this movie when I initially saw it. But, I hate to compare a movie to Citizen Kane, but this movie is similar to Citizen Kane in the sense that it’s so adventurously taboo to the filmmaking art that it makes sense why so many people, critics and audiences alike, would initially hate the experience of the movie. By the end of it, I was won over despite almost despising the confusion I gained during the opening act of the movie. Under the Silver Lake is one of those films where you don’t entirely understand what the story presented at hand is, but you do know entirely what it’s trying to say thematically. The whole movie is this unbelievably ridiculous abstraction that’s meant to intel us on the cancerous culture of the entertainment industry. You feel it throughout the movie, and while it hurts to not understand every intricate plot point that is occurring at hand, you feel satisfied in the otherworldly journey of emotions and memories of Hollywood that David Robert Mitchell’s newest film takes you on. Also, it has my favorite scene of the entire year in it. Do yourselves a favor and Google, “the Elite Scheme scene.”
6. High Life
I never could have imagined that one day I would need a horny science-fiction movie to complete my life. High Life, you’ve disturbingly changed my taste in movies. Legendary director Claire Denis’s newest feature-length is not only one of the best looking space movies I’ve ever laid eyes on, but it’s also one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen in my entire life. The execution of this film is super unorthodox and the resolutions of this movie are also extremely unorthodox. This whole movie is one humongous “F-U” to the conventions of typical storytelling. But, there’s clearly a purpose to all the madness, and I ended up getting so much out of High Life especially as I thought more and more about it. In my mind, this movie is going to age superbly and I can only hope that it becomes a cult classic in the near future; it deserves it.
Gaspar Noé you sick son of a bitch, stop stressing me the hell out! Climax was one and a half hours of just pure horror. I hated it. But that’s why this movie is so incredibly mind-blowing and why Noé continues to be one of my favorite directors working today. Sure, the movie is arguably short on story, but obviously, that’s not what the movie is all about. This is a stressful visual performance that allows its victims (the viewers) to witness a posse of dancers struggle to survive on LSD. From the flawless camera direction to the gut-wrenching performances from all the actresses and actors, Climax is undoubtedly a monumental accomplishment for the thriller genre. Watch it with the whole family!
I was one of the few—thanks to not seeing the trailer beforehand—people who went into Portrait of a Lady on Fire without knowing that it was a love story. In hindsight, because I watched this movie slowly blossom into a beautifully orchestrated romance with no knowledge of the film at all, it can evidently be said that my experience was unfairly enhanced. However, I don’t care, I still think this movie is absolutely brilliant either way. Imagine if Ingmar Bergman wrote Call Me By Your Name; that’s essentially what Portrait of a Lady on Fire feels like. Who could turn down such a prodigy of combination? Céline Sciamma is certainly going places and I’m dying to see what she does next.
3. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
Tarantino’s ninth feature film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is the type of unadulterated “fun” Hollywood should ironically be striving for. It’s a lightweight movie made exclusively from the ambitions of a filmmaking genius who wanted to play around a little with his devoted audience. It’s the kind of light-hearted, laid-back motion picture that takes you on multiple different journeys through the preexisting times of the Hollywood Renaissance. It’s another Tarantino soon-to-be-classic, indeed.
Parasite is genuinely one of the most carefully crafted films ever made. A virtually flawless affair in directing, writing, acting, cinematography, comedy, twists, drama, structure, characters, and themes, this is arguably a 2019 knockout that’s up there with some of the greatest movies of all-time. It’s exciting, it’s traumatizing, it’s shocking, and it’s a movie that nobody on this entire planet is going to forget once they’ve seen it. I can’t imagine a living soul out there that wouldn’t be enthralled from start to finish by Bong Joon-ho’s finest contribution to Korean filmmaking yet.
While Parasite may be the cinematic technical achievement of the year, when it comes down to it, Robert Egger’s The Lighthouse is this year’s feature-length that I personally bonded with the most. The aesthetically old-fashioned yet utterly original film lends itself to classic horror premises like The Shining where we observe an individual or a couple people slowly drift away from sanity. However, The Lighthouse doesn’t present itself like any of those vintage psychological terror flicks. Despite its obvious influences, this is a dark comedy at its core. The satire blended with the old-folk language makes for an absurdly hilarious adventure of drinking, farting, and violence. You wouldn’t believe the lines that come out of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s characters until you hear them. You couldn’t come up with the type of character actions that Eggers’ pulls out of his odd little complex until you’ve seen them for yourself. This is an endlessly rewatchable genre-blender with some of the best acting, dialogue, and sequences ever put to arthouse film. High-brow creativity never seemed to cease in The Lighthouse.
So, those are my top 15 movies of 2019. Damn, this year was killer. I don’t know what else to say. If you haven’t already, check out some of the movies on this list. Support these talented filmmakers. This year deserves one big round of applause.