Sunday, January 12, 2020

Top 10 Films of 2019

For the past few years, it has been hard for me to come up with a handful of films worth listing as the year’s best. But that certainly wasn’t the case for 2019. Truly, in any other year, any of the top six movies ranked below could be hailed as my favorite of the year. I thought 2019 was a fantastic year for film, and of the 141 new theatrical releases I saw this year, here were a few of my favorites.

10. Midsommar
Directed by Ari Aster
Ari Aster’s new nightmare of a film didn’t didn’t fully click for me on first viewing. Too long, too slow, a bit too up its own ass. But upon rewatching it last week, I was stunned how much it resonated with me. All of my earlier annoyances had turned into genuine appreciation. I saw the craft of Bergman and Kubrick, let alone a perfect performance by Florence Hugh. Midsommar was definitely my biggest about-face film of the year. (Also, anyone else wish Aster would expand the first 11 minutes of this movie into a feature film? There’s a terrifying domestic drama in there.)

9. Uncut Gems
Directed by the Safdie Brothers
Uncut Gems is a great mix of polished filmmaking and gorilla-style energy. The Safdie Brothers know how to immerse their audience in an urban nightmare and never let us up for air. Their casting choices (many of their performers are non-professional actors), fluid camera work, pulsating score, and distinct editing helped make Uncut Gems one of the most manic movies of the year. Where’s Adam Sandler’s Oscar nomination?

8. 1917
Directed by Sam Mendes
One of the great journey films of recent years. Emotionally gut-wrenching, visually stunning, pure spectacle. There are passages of 1917 (particularly the nighttime Écoust-Saint-Mein sequence) that will be remembered as some of the finest work Mendes and legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, ever captured on film. I won’t be surprised if this wins the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars this year. (Side note: Why is this movie being marketed as a one-take film? It clearly cuts to black halfway through the movie. I mean, it… cuts.)

7. Ford v Ferrari
Directed by James Mangold
Ford v Ferrari fucks. It’s a classically structured, endlessly entertaining buddy movie that doesn’t asked much of its audience, and ends up working in every way. Christian Bale’s charisma is everlasting, and Matt Damon’s tearful admission at the film’s end is some of his finest work yet. Oh, and is there anything Tracey Letts can’t do?

6. Parasite
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Was there a film from 2019 with a more unique tone than Parasite? Fun, brutal, and completely of its own, Parasite is Bong Joon-ho’s distinct masterpiece. It’s also one of the best films I’ve ever seen that details the differences in class structure. For people who don’t take in a lot of foreign films, just remember Bong Joon-ho’s remarks during his recent Golden Globe speech, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.” That’s damn right.

5. The Irishman
Directed by Martin Scorsese
I loved it. I loved all of it. The performances, the relaxed pacing, the visual effects – none of it bothered me, all of it excited me. What an odd thing it was to watch all of these former tough-guy actors play characters who are left with nothing. What’s the saying, that the longer a story goes, the closer it is to ending in tragedy? The Irishman posits a notion that Scorsese’s other gangster movies haven’t, which is: What was the point of it all? I’ll be very interested to see how The Irishman stacks up in Scorsese’s filmography 20 years from now.

4. Climax
Directed by Gaspar Noé
Abandon all faith, ye who enter here. Gaspar Noé’s new mind fuck made for one of the most visceral movie-going experiences of the decade. I’m a steadfast admirer of Gaspar Noé’s unique brand of terror, and with Climax, Noé immersed us in a drug-fueled fever dream that was sensory overload in the best, most hyperbolic way. Also, the dance sequence near the beginning of this film was my single favorite movie scene of the year.

3. Ad Astra
Directed by James Gray
I don’t expect anyone to like Ad Astra as much as I did, and here’s why. I honestly cannot recall the last time I identified with a film character’s emotional journey as profoundly as I did with Brad Pitt’s in this film. I saw so much of myself in Pitt’s Roy McBride, that it was genuinely uncomfortable to watch. McBride’s transformation from a numb, hollow shell of a man to a person of unique empathy is something I truly identified with. I mean shit, in my own, much smaller way, the film I released this year was an attempt to highlight a similar emotional journey. Ad Astra is a deeply reflective work that I won’t soon forget. 

2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
(First off, I cannot believe I’m ranking this movie second, but more on that in a bit.) I absolutely, feverishly, wholeheartedly loved everything about Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It’s Tarantino’s ultimate hang movie, where complex sequences of great peril (like the Spahn Ranch scene) are equally as compelling as Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth cruising home on Hollywood Boulevard. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood establishes a world I felt the need to revisit five fucking times in the theater. This is one of the best pop culture auteur films I’ve ever seen; I envision myself rewatching it annually, just to delight in its world.

1. Waves
Directed by Trey Edward Shults
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was my movie of the year. It just was. I loved Tarantino’s film, and I knew nothing would beat it. So imagine my complete and utter dumbfounded shock as I sat in an 11:15 a.m. Saturday showing of Waves in November, and had my heart completely fucking ripped out. It’s impossible for me to talk about Waves without overstating its impact, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully explain what this movie did to me. It tapped into my heart and made me… better. It made me view aspects of my life differently, and it certainly makes me look at my filmmaking style with a whole new lens

There are two factors to Waves that help make it one of my favorite films of all time (yeah, no bullshit.) Emotionally, I understood, identified with, and accepted the choices every character made in this movie. They weren’t all choices I agreed with, but I believed everything these characters stood for, which caused me to break down and sob no less than four times while I watched the film. Creatively, the raw energy of the film (captured by cinematography, editing, music, performance, and more) is unmatched in recent cinema, and something I have been dying to make myself.

The very act of watching Waves has made me a fuller person, and a more adventurous filmmaker. Not since Steve McQueen’s Shame, a film of enormous importance to me, have I loved a film so intensely so quickly. I will never forget Waves, for Waves, to me, is life.


  1. You talking about Waves brought me back to that first post about Shame straight away. Always so amazing to see someone so completely fall for a movie. Will see it as soon as I can.

    Really looking forward to Monos, 1917, Ford v Ferrari and A Hidden Life too. Wish you'd done just one little line about your honorable mentions like you used to.

    Oh and one last thing. That write-up for Midsommar could have just stopped at "too up its own ass" ;)

    1. I'm really excited for you to see Waves. This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement, but I'm hard pressed to think anyone loving that film as much as I did. That thing struck my soul in a way I never expected.

      And I knew you'd like that Midsommar line!

  2. I have 2 films in your top 10 in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Ad Astra and 3 more from your 20. Nice list. I hope to catch up on all of the films I missed. It was a tough year for me personally as I hope to get back on track.

    1. Really sorry to hear you had a tough year. I understand and appreciate that life can kick the shit of us sometimes, and I hope you're on your way to feeling better.

      I'm so happy you liked Ad Astra that much. That one really got me.

  3. I wish I could say I've seen more of the picks on this list, but I'm still planning to watch Midsommar, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, 1917, and let's just say a few others. It's truly a shame to not be hearing more about Waves, especially in the critics/award circuit.

    1. I hope you like those movies! And Waves... ain't that the truth. It's a very unconventional movie, so I can understand why A24 didn't push its release harder. But wow, did I love that damn thing.

  4. Hi! Long time reader here!

    Have you seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire and/or Pain and Glory? Both phenomenal and beautiful films. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is, in my opinion, a straight up masterpiece.

    1. Hi there, thanks so much for your comment! Loved Pain and Glory and it was very close to making this list (such a great year!). Thrilled that Antonio Banderas got his first Oscar nom for it. Now that I'm thinking about it, I bet I'll like that film even more as I get older. Almost all of Almodóvar's films work like that for me.

      Portrait of a Lady on Fire is what I call the "black hole" movie of the year. Movies that premiere at a huge festival, bounce around foreign territories, and then get released in the US later the following year. So while I'm bummed that I couldn't see it in 2019 (it isn't even being released here until Feb. 14, 2020), I will definitely see it right away!

  5. I definitely have so many movies I still need to watch. I've seen quite a few good ones and I'm proud I watched Parasite because me and non-English movies haven't always seen eye to eye. I can't seem to sit down and watch The Irishman though.. and I disliked Once Upon a time in Hollywood and I hated Beachbum.. and was bored by Ad Astra. The rest, I either haven't seen or agree with.

    1. Well I'm glad we agree on a few haha! I really enjoyed Parasite. I think my sole viewing of it barely scratched the surface though. I'm excited to dig into that one again.

    2. It definitely has a rewatch quality to it.. it seems so... I can't describe it.. but the movie feels like it's "painted" from one scene to another. Like it just looks so good. And well the plot really surprised me. I went in blind and it was a great decision.

    3. I went in blind too and loved it. How many times have you seen it?

    4. Just once atm. I have so many 2019 movies I need to see (and I'm stuck on tv shows this week :D) so it's going to be a while before I see it again.

  6. 2019 was a fantastic year for movies indeed! There are still a few of your picks that I need to see but Waves is going straight to the top of that list. It's out this weekend in the UK but I doubt my local deems it mainstream enough to show it so I'll have to wait for the DVD!

    1. Ughhh why couldn't Waves get a bigger release!? I really wish it was coming to a local theater near you, because that thing is best experienced on the big screen. But I do hope you get to see it soon by any means!

  7. Great list. I still need to check out 1917, Climax and Waves, but i loved all the other ones on your list. a lot of them made my top 10 as well.

    10. Jojo Rabitt
    9. The Peanut Butter Falcon
    8. Dolemite is my Name
    7. The Lighthouse
    6. Booksmart
    5. The Irishman
    4. The Farewell
    3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    2. Uncut Gems
    1. Parasite

    Honorable mentions: Under the Silver Lake, Ad Astra, Knives Out, Midsommar and Ford v Ferrari.

    1. Great stuff. Parasite is going to live on very well. I think people will be talking about that one for years. Love that Hollywood is ranked so high. And man, how great was Dolemite is My Name? Have you seen the original film? It's a total hoot.

    2. I didn't know anything about Parasite before watching it and i was completely blown away. What an experience. I can't remember the last time a movie surprised me so well so many times without the twists feeling cheap or forced. I haven't stopped thinking about it since i first saw it and i can't wait for the blu-ray to be released here so i can watch it again.

      I haven't seen any of Rudy Ray Moore's movies yet, but i am definitely going to track them down now. They look hilarious. Dolemite especially. I also just love movies about making movies. Especially about making low budget movies so Dolemite is My Name was right up my alley even if i hadn't watch the movies it was about yet. It's a damn shame Eddie Murphy didn't get an Oscar nomination for his performance. It's probably the first time he has really tried since Dreamgirls. I hope we get to see more good movies from him again after this.

    3. I love movies about the making of movies too. Some of my favorite Dolemite Is My Name scenes are the ones where they're recreating those Dolemite scenes. And I love earnest Eddie Murphy! I hope he stays on this track too. He was so damn good in the film.

  8. Some nice picks here, Alex! Especially love your write-ups for Ad Astra and Waves. Always love hearing about when someone has such a strong reaction to a movie like that. Those are the best. :)

    Also really enjoyed OUATIH. You totally nail it with just how much of a chill out movie that was. I could seriously just watch Brad Pitt driving around the city for hours and never grow tired of it.

    1. Hey Chris thanks for the comment! I really dig your site and will be back often. Thanks for your kind words about my Ad Astra and Waves write-ups. I never expected to have two such strong emotional film connections in one year.

      And weren't those the best scenes in Hollywood? Pitt driving fast, changing gears, super chill. I loved it.

  9. Thank you so much for not having Joker on your list lol Uncut Gems is so brilliant. I am appalled for them that they got so little love in awards season. I really need to see Good Time but I doubt it can top that one, everyone talks how stressful it is but I cannot wait to rewatch it when it lands on Netflix

    1. Ohhh Good Time is a fucking RIDE. That thing is bonkers and I love it. It never lets up, and Pattinson is perfect in it. I'm so glad you liked Uncut Gems! I thought that thing had such unique energy. It definitely should not have been completely ignored by the Academy.

  10. I’m surprised by how many of your favorites ended up being BP nominees! Would you say this is one of the most stacked Oscars in years?

    1. Hey Dan! For my personal tastes, this is genuinely one of the best Oscars of the last few decades. I thought there were a lot of great movies made in 2019, and the Oscars seem to recognize many of them (but, of course, not all).

      And the really crazy thing is that, I think a lot of the nominees that I want to win actually will. Dern, Pitt, and Zellweger would get my vote, and I think they'll all win. Not sure if I'd vote for Leo or Joaquin, but I won't be mad at Joaquin winning. 1917 wouldn't get my vote for Picture or Director, but I certainly won't be mad if it wins both (which I think it may, at this point).

  11. MY TOP 10

    01) - Parasite
    02) - Joker
    03) - The Irishman
    04) - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    05) - Toy Story 4
    06) - Knives Out
    07) - Pain and Glory
    08) - Portrait of a Lady on Fire
    09) - Marriage Story
    10) - The Farewell

    1. Great list! Damn, I really need to see Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

  12. My Top 10 Films of 2019:

    1.) Apollo 11
    2.) Little Women
    3.) Once Upon a Hollywood
    4.) Parasite
    5.) Uncut Gems
    6.) Toy Story 4
    7.) The Art of Self-Defense
    8.) Shadow
    9.) Joker
    10.) 1917

    1. Great picks! It's still baffling that Apollo 11 didn't get a nomination for the best doc Oscar. I mean shit, it should have won!

  13. Alex, the world needs to know your 11 and 12 picks past number 10!

    1. Love these comments! I hadn’t seen Portrait of a Lady on Fire before writing this, and that definitely makes the cut now. Real quick for fun:
      20. Monos
      19. In Fabric
      18. Transit
      17. Richard Jewell
      16. Marriage Story
      15. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
      14. The Lighthouse
      13. High Flying Bird
      12. The Beach Bum
      11. A Hidden Life

    2. Awesome! Gotta get on some of these, have still been catching up with the last of 2018 left in my watchlist. Really dug Marriage Story and Lighthouse!

      A movie currently at the tailend of my developing 2019 list is The Last Black Man in San Fransisco, gained in power with time :)

    3. That one crept up on me a bit as well. Very unique vision.