The 10 Best Films of 2019 (Plus a Few More)
2019 was a wonderful year for film, a decade of great cinema going out on a high note. I had planned to merely publish a Top 10, but as I began reflecting on the past year I found myself agonizing over the works that would go without mention — that may sound silly, but I have to imagine I am not alone in developing an emotional connection to the movies that made me laugh, made me cry, and made me thankful for the medium. To that end, I include here a series of lists that allow me to spread the wealth around and recognize as many of the films that left their mark on me as possible. If you’re reading this, I’m sure your lists are different from mine — perhaps radically so — but I truly hope that you got as much joy out of this year at the movies as I did. Note that every section other than the Top 10 (at the end) is in alphabetical order. Minor spoilers may exist in the descriptions for the Top 10.
The List of Shame Every year there are more movies released than I could possibly see, and while I do my best to have a well-rounded cinematic experience, there are inevitably films I miss that I know deep down I should have tried to make more of an effort to catch. In an overwhelming robust year, here are my biggest regrets: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Invisible Life Les Misérables Peterloo Synonyms The Best Actors of 2019 I found it nearly impossible to narrow this down past about 30 names, so there’s a twist — these are my ten favorite performances from films that do not end up with a mention later in this piece. All ten actors are mesmerizing when they are on the screen and elevate their respective movies through their craft, empathy, and sheer charisma: Al Pacino, The Irishman Alessandro Nivola, The Art of Self-Defense Awkwafina, The Farewell Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell Rhianne Barreto, Share Shia LaBoeuf, Honey Boy Taylor Russell, Waves Zhao Tao, Ash is Purest White Honorable Mentions These are not 17-22 on my list — rather, these are the movies that at the end of year seem to have been forgotten for one reason or another. As you can see, they won’t make my ultimate list either; in fact, most were never really in contention. But being in contention and being in the conversation are two separate things, and it’s worth acknowledging that these films had a real presence in my 2019 movie-going experience and should at least be talked about: Alita: Battle Angel Aniara Ready or Not Triple Frontier Under the Silver Lake Just Missed the Cut I strongly considered extending my Top 10 to a Top 16 so that I didn’t have to leave any of my absolute favorites out of the main event, but in the end decided that part of the fun of the whole process is making the hard choices and drawing the line somewhere. Of course, by listing them here I get to have my cake and eat it too, so maybe I’m just a coward and a cheat after all: Bad Education Dark Waters Her Smell Midsommar Pain and Glory Uncut Gems The Top 10 Films of 2019 Today, barely a few weeks into the new decade, these are the works from the past year that I feel most connected to. They’re the films that most resonated with me and had the most staying power, and they’re the films that both taught me the most and also best reminded me of why I love cinema. Each one is nearly the perfect package, made with component pieces that work together to transcend their individual strengths and weaknesses. Listing every person that made these movies great would essentially just be plagiarizing IMDb — so instead, for each entry, I want to highlight a moment that solidified that film’s place in my personal 2019 pantheon. Down the road the details of my viewings may fade, but I expect that these sounds and images — and the feelings they evoke — will remain: 10. The Chambermaid A hotel worker taking a moment to remind herself of the world outside. 9. I Lost My Body An apartment intercom allowing for a moment of much-needed human connection. 8. The Nightingale A young woman realizing that the catharsis of vengeance — while deserved and perhaps necessary — is ultimately hollow. 7. 1917 A soldier risking his life by sprinting across the battlefield because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. 6. Little Women A shot and its twin, the two leading to heartbreakingly different places despite their similarities. 5. Us A hall of mirrors from which a young girl may never truly escape. 4. Marriage Story A father, choking back tears, sharing with his son why he loves the boy’s mother, and understanding that he has to let her go. 3. Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood An actor, fading into irrelevance, finding uncomfortable truths in an old paperback western. 2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire A woman at the symphony, choosing to live — like Orpheus — with just her memories to sustain her. 1. Parasite A ghost emerging to remind us that every underdog story comes at a cost.