It wasn’t until I started this write-up that it really dawned on me what a great year in film 2019 was. I saw over 100 movies this year – not as many as I saw in 2018, but I have a few good reasons why – and almost every time I walked away feeling somewhere between satisfied to positively jubilated, which made it fairly challenging to narrow down my top ten of the year. There were a whole lot of close calls, with some movies just barely missing the cut, but after much inner deliberation I finally ended up with a list I’m confident with. And here they are: my favorite films of 2019!
Honorable Mention: Terminator: Dark Fate
I enjoyed the Hell out of Dark Fate, and I’m so bummed that it ended up flopping instead of breathing new life into the Terminator continuity. It’s a gloriously thrilling action adventure that removes the undesirable entries in the series from its continuity (although I enjoyed Terminator: Salvation) while taking the series’ narrative in a new, exciting direction. Tim Miller’s three-boot features strong characters, witty one-liners, insane action set-pieces, and most importantly, the humanity and soul that’s been missing since Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Linda Hamilton returns to the role of Sarah Connor and she’s as fantastic as ever, Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers one of the best performances of his career, and Terminator newbies Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna are equally memorable as well. Miller’s direction isn’t as awe-inspiring as James Cameron’s, but the former still delivers a worthy follow-up to the latter’s Terminator films. Maybe I’m just a Terminator apologist, but I found it hard to harp on Dark Fate’s flaws because I think it gets so much more right.
You can listen to our Terminator: Dark Fate episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
Number 10: Ready or Not
Once the games begin – and they begin quickly – Ready or Not never lets up. Each encounter between protagonist Grace and her newly acquired, superstitious and desperate to kill her in-laws packs equal amounts of humor and tension, and it all builds to an explosive finale that is easily one of my favorite scenes in any film this year. The mansion setting isn’t anything unique within the genre, but the wide variety of rooms and secrets they hold keep the film interesting, along with the dynamic between the hilariously dysfunctional family and Grace’s evolution throughout the evening. Even though I saw a couple of Ready or Not’s surprises coming from quite far ahead, and there was one character arc that felt pretty rushed, I didn’t mind in the slightest because I was having so much fun. Seriously, it’s a total blast.
Number 9: Uncut Gems
The best way I can describe the Safdie brothers’ crime-thriller, Uncut Gems, is as “an extraordinary exercise in anxiety and unease.” There were times I could literally feel my heart pounding and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up throughout this movie, wondering if or how Adam Sandler’s Howard Ratner was going to keep one step ahead of his losses long enough to win big. Sandler crushes it as he gives it his all here, and made me want to root for the sleazy jeweler even though I knew that I shouldn’t. When Uncut Gems is firing on all cylinders (and it often is) it’s a nerve wracking watch that keeps your eyes glued to the screen and your bottom so far on the edge of your seat that you’re liable to fall out of it.
Number 8: Midsommar
Midsommar may not be a straight-up horror film for some people, but it’s a completely unnerving watch that stayed with me weeks after I left the theater. And the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I like it. The movie spends most of its duration in a bright, cheerful, sometimes even whimsical festival, but that only makes the mind-bending horrors that Florence Pugh’s Dani, her boyfriend, and his friends are eventually subjected to even more harrowing. The cinematography and costume design do the same as the setting, and slowly pull you into the daytime nightmare that writer and director Ari Aster has created. With Midsommar, Aster proves he’s a visionary, and one of the most gifted filmmakers working in the horror genre today, giving his fans an excellent companion piece for his feature directorial debut, Hereditary, another film that gets better and better the more you go back to it.
You can listen to our Midsommar episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
Number 7: Tigers Are Not Afraid
Note: Tigers Are Not Afraid had a 2017 premiere at Fantastic Fest, but it didn’t receive a limited or wide release until 2019, so I’m including it here.
Tigers Are Not Afraid seamlessly blends real world horrors with gothic fantasy in a way that I can only describe as “Sicario meets Pan’s Labyrinth.” Issa López’ script and direction give the talented child actors a lot to work with, both in making their characters lovable and exploring the world they struggle in daily just to survive. The highs brought a smile to my face, and the lowest of the lows brought me to tears. Tigers Are Not Afraid didn’t just freak me out with its supernatural trappings, but it impacted me on a deeper level than most horror films by tapping into the genuine humanity of its protagonists and the awfulness of the people and all-too-real environment they inhabit, while delivering just a sliver of hope too.
Number 6: Booksmart
Booksmart doesn’t revolutionize the raunchy buddy comedy, but it’s witty writing, masterful direction – Olivia Wilde knocks it out of the park on her first go – and the undeniable chemistry between all the members of the movie’s incredibly talented cast make it one of the best in the sub-genre. It’s equally hilarious and heartfelt, matching each over the top gag or snarky quip with moments of palpable emotion and tenderness, often all at once, between its pitch perfect leads and the well-rounded supporting players. It’d be quite the challenge to find a funnier pair of young actors than Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, or a more endearing comedy released in 2019 than Booksmart.
You can read my full review of Booksmart here.
Number 5: Parasite
Bong Joon-ho’s latest film is one that’s difficult to completely define – which I’d say is a good thing because it’s best experienced going in with as little knowledge about it as possible – because of how effortlessly and how often it dramatically shifts its tone throughout its runtime. Just as impressive, those huge heel turns never feel off or out of place. I attribute that to the film’s strong direction, darkly humorous – and sometimes just plain dark – writing, and a terrific cast of extremely talented actors, particularly the trio of Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, and Song Kang-ho. With all said and done, Parasite is one of the most unique and unpredictable films I’ve seen in years. It may not be for the faint of heart, but there’s no denying the high quality of filmmaking in Parasite at virtually every level.
Number 4: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino is one of the greatest filmmakers working today, maybe/probably ever, and his supposedly penultimate film is a fantastic ride anchored by two insanely talented co-stars – Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt – who keep stealing the show back and forth from each other every few minutes. Every scene and character in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood’s 140-minute run is important or entertaining enough to justify the movie’s length (even the one that fails to do Bruce Lee any justice), and I’m notoriously picky when it comes to long runtimes. Then there’s the way that Once Upon a Time doesn’t feel like just a film, but also a love letter from Tarantino to both a beloved age of cinema and to an actress who was taken from the world far too soon. And as expected of a film from the man who gave us the likes of Reservoir Dogs, the Kill Bills, and Django Unchained, it’s got razor sharp dialogue, impeccable camera work, and style for days.
Number 3: Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi’s Nazi-filled dramedy, Jojo Rabbit is one of 2019’s most bizarre films, and easily my favorite of the director’s works that I’ve seen. It’s stacked with strong performances across the board (from A-listers like Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell, to newcomers like Roman Griffin Davis, a genuine star in the making), packed with some surprisingly powerful imagery, has tons of laughs and charm that never get in the way of its emotional moments, and brilliantly conveys the absolute pointlessness – and sometimes even the outright silliness – of hate to its audience. This is a film that has understandably divided critics and audiences alike with its subject matter, but I highly recommend giving Jojo Rabbit a watch if you’re even the slightest bit curious about it. I waited almost a month after it hit theaters to see it, and oh boy that was a mistake.
Number 2: Us
My expectations for Us (Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his critical and commercial darling and directorial debut, Get Out) were unfairly high, but Peele’s second effort still managed to surpass his first by some degree. The pivot from the psychological thriller tone of Get Out to one more akin to a straightforward horror film – albeit one with the ambience of an episode of The Twilight Zone – makes Us feel drastically different; but both films use their terror to send a message about the real world to their audience. And the latter is almost as funny as it is scary. The cast, lead by Lupita Nyong’o – who delivers two of my favorite performances of the year here – has pitch perfect timing, the script is fantastic, the soundtrack is stellar, and Peele’s direction is superb, all of which allow Us to deliver huge laughs in between its many genuinely horrifying moments.
Number 1: Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame is a highlight reel of what makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe such a successful, compelling film series, as well as an action-packed, crowd-pleasing and moving ending to its eleven year long Infinity Saga that bids a bittersweet farewell to some of its most beloved characters. After seeing it on the opening night I was all but certain that Endgame was going to end up being the best movie of 2019. Last year I said that Avengers: Infinity War was one of the best superhero movies ever made, but Endgame is THE best, full stop. Not only that, but it’s already claimed a spot for itself among my favorite films of all time, let alone 2019. I’ve probably enjoyed the MCU more than any other film franchise I’ve seen, and though I’m unbelievably excited about some of the upcoming films and shows that Disney and Marvel have announced, I’m not sure that anything in its future will ever match the scale or emotional impact of Avengers: Endgame. I love this movie 3000.
If you liked what you read here, then follow me on Twitter and Letterboxd – where I have a ranked list of every movie I saw in 2019 – and bookmark my author page. Until next time, remember: the best seats are in the Middle of the Row!