The 2010s was a superb decade for film, and it concluded with the best year yet for both casual cinemagoers and hardcore movie nerds (like me). That’s because there was a strong crossover between award-worthy films and box office toppers, even if the industry made less money at theaters this year than usual (blame Marvel and Star Wars burnout for that). The nine best picture nominees all somehow landed in my top 18 films of the year, including seven in my top 10. A24 wasn’t a part of that, but the studio was at its most dominant again. Plus, out-of-their-comfort-zone works by Rian Johnson and Sam Mendes competed strongly with Scorsese and Tarantino’s class-of-their-own dominance.
I could keep going on about how impeccable and transformative 2019 was for the film medium, but I’ll let you see for yourself. Here are my 30 favorite films of the year.
30. The Two Popes
29. Spider-Man: Far from Home
28. Dark Waters
27. Richard Jewell
26. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
25. Blinded by the Light
24. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
22. The Art of Self-Defense
20. Ad Astra
19. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
18. Jojo Rabbit
17. Toy Story 4
16. A Hidden Life
12. The Farewell
11. The Lighthouse
10. Ford v. Ferrari
9. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
8. Knives Out
7. Little Women
6. The Irishman
5. Marriage Story
I wasn’t a fan of Noah Baumbach before Marriage Story, finding films like The Squid & The Whale and Frances Ha to be dull, depressing, and downright uninteresting. But I had high hopes for Marriage Story, and it undoubtedly delivered. What makes the film so powerful is its lead performances, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johnansson providing poignant emotional honesty as a couple struggling with the reality of divorce. Every scene resonates because every scene feels so real — at times hitting you like a punch to the gut. But at the same time, Baumbach makes sure to treat conversations with care and make you empathize with both characters’ perspectives.
4. Avengers: Endgame
Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe practically created so much burnout I need a 10-year break, it capped off this series of films with an epic finale that could legitimately leave me satisfied for another decade (if it wasn’t for the fact that more movies are coming soon). While the time travel element is a bit of a gimmick to overcome the cliffhanger of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s easy to overlook because every superhero gives their most passionate effort and earns their individual screentime. Plus, you get a satisfying end to several of the heroes’ tales — so momentous and drawn-out you’d think you were watching the last Lord of the Rings film. The Russos somehow managed to outdo themselves again with Endgame.
How someone could walk into a theater and find 1917 to be boring is beyond me. You’re planted right on the frontlines of World War I, with Roger Deakins’ brilliant cinematography bringing you directly in line with the characters, who are journeying across French countryside to help halt a sure-to-be-deadly battle. Unlike Birdman, which featured the same one-shot camera style, the approach here feels less gimmicky and more thoughtful. It’s as if you needed to see what the two main characters went through firsthand to truly feel their pain. It helps that the backdrop is incredibly detailed — from a village lit up with fire to enemy bunkers dirty and rat-infested. 1917 is one of the most impressive war movies ever made.
2. Uncut Gems
I was anticipating the Safdie brothers’ follow-up to Good Time all year long, and somehow, the duo was able to manage my expectations. Most of the hype came from Adam Sandler’s expectedly outstanding performance as Long Island gem salesman Howard Ratner. I knew he had it in him from his spectacular work in Punch-Drunk Love, but it’s always exciting to see an actor do something this bold and edgy (let’s not forget about Kevin Garnett’s believable acting debut, too). Even beyond Sandler’s performance, Uncut Gems was a straight-up exhilaration to watch. From the pulsating electronic soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never to the electrifying script to the relentless pacing, Uncut Gems is the Safdies’ passion-project-turned-masterpiece.
What is there left to say about Bong Joon-Ho’s newest film rather than what’s already been said? I’ll start by stating the obvious: It’s as perfect a cinematic product as I’ve seen in a long time, and it was an absolute joy to watch in the theater. Parasite transcends language and cultural barriers, even adding a bit of social commentary about South Korea’s class warfare in the process. Any film that can seamlessly mesh as many genres as Parasite does deserves all of the merit it can gets, and how Joon-Ho plays around with family drama, irony-laden comedy, decrepit horror, and sweat-inducing suspense is beyond me. Once you get sucked into this masterwork of tightly constructed characters and crafty exposition, the “one-inch-tall” subtitles, as the director refers to them, quickly fade into nothing.