2019 has been an amazing year for movies. From huge blockbusters (Avengers: Endgame, The Lion King, Joker, etc.) to indie darlings (Knives Out, Peanut Butter Falcon, Midommsar, etc.), this year has had a mélange of movies, catering to a wide audience.
Note – I haven’t seen Oscar-buzzed films like Uncut Gems, 1917, The Farewell, and The Irishman yet, but I definitely plan on watching them before the Oscars!
Honorable mentions (in no particular order)- Richard Jewell, Peanut Butter Falcon, The Art of Self-Defense, US, Shazam, Spider-Man: Far From Home, It: Chapter Two, The Lighthouse, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum.
10. Booksmart – In recent years, we’ve had a sleuth of great coming-of-age films like Lady Bird, The Edge of Seventeen, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, etc. Directed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is about a pair of young, ‘book smart’ girls, who’ve worked their a**es off to get into the prestigious colleges, but unlike their friends who engaged in various extra-curricular activities (sex, parties, romance) and still got into the same prestigious schools, Amy and Molly were too busy studying. A night before graduation, however, the two are determined (one more than the other) to “experience” high-school one last time. Both Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) and Beanie Feldstein (Molly) have great chemistry and deliver strong performances. Even though this film pretty much follows the template set by other films in the genre, Wilde’s direction and the focus on her exuberant leads makes for a compelling teen-drama. Booksmart has heart, comedy, strong and supportive female leads and is easily a must-watch for film lovers!
Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures, Gloria Sanchez Productions, ShadowMachine, and United Artists Releasing
9. Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood – My initial reaction was definitely positive, but I was also a little frustrated at the story, or the lack thereof. However, the more I re-watch Tarantino’s ninth film or even think about it, the more I’m impressed. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have excellent chemistry and frankly, I was having a great time when the two were just talking to each other or simply watching TV. Who would’ve thought that watching people watch TV could be entertaining?! The entire (star-studded) cast is terrific and throughout the film, it was abundantly clear just how much Tarantino longs for the 1960’s Hollywood. Once again, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and the cinematography and set-pieces really make you feel as if you’re living in that era. Yes, Sharon Tate’s addition was extremely unnecessary and simply exists to lengthen the run-time, but I can definitely be more forgiving when the end product is such a delight! The balls-to-the-wall final 30 minutes are macabre yet wildly entertaining and by the time the movie ends, I was grinning from ear to ear!
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing, Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, and Visiona Romantica
8. Parasite – In terms of directing, Parasite is easily the best-directed film of the year. This South Korean film explores the growing income inequality between the rich and the poor, which is a common theme in Bong Joon-Ho’s films, especially Snowpiercer. The cast, cinematography, shot-selection, score are all great, but it’s Bong Joon’s Ho painful attention to detail that truly elevates this film from others. Despite the inordinate amount of similarities between the opulent Parks’ and the poor Kims’ families, it is abundantly clear that the two residences live in ‘separate’ worlds. In one instance, the rain and excess flood prove to merely be a minor inconvenience to the vacation plans for the Parks’, while that same force of nature destroys the Kims’ (underground) residence. All that aside, my biggest problem was with the out-of-nowhere explosive finale, which I did find a little rushed. That being said, I’m clearly in the minority as the vast majority of the folks didn’t find that problem, so make of that what you will. Regardless, Parasite is an excellent satirical movie that’s worthy of all the accolades it’ll inexorably receive.
Courtesy of CJ Entertainment and Barunson E&A
7. Ford v Ferrari – After just having directed (the utterly fantastic) Logan, James Mangold returned to the director’s chair with a film about Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles and their (in)famous Le Mans 1966 race. After a string of recent failures against Ferrari in the 24-hour Le Mans race, the Ford leadership is particularly anxious but tenacious to hire the best talent to finally achieve victory over its rivals by competing and winning the grueling Le Mans race. Just like DiCaprio and Pitt’s Hollywood film, Ford v Ferrari works the best when it’s 2 leads are interacting with each other. Matt Damon (Shelby) and Christian Bale (Miles) are terrific and have great chemistry together (a common theme in my Top 10 list). The actual race, itself, is wonderfully directed, with Mangold really putting us, the viewers, in the passenger seat with the driver. At the end of the film, however, I couldn’t help but feel bad for both Shelby and Miles, who literally poured their hearts and soul to ‘win’ the iconic race but were hampered by the corporate, clearly-no-artist Ford bureaucracy.
PS – if you wish to learn more about the 1966 Le Mans race, check out this 30-minute documentary!
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox, TSG Entertainment, Turnpike Films, and Chernin
6. A Marriage Story – A Marriage Story is a deeply personal film for Noah Baumbach (the director) who went through a similar divorce with his wife in 2013. In this film, Charlie and Nicole are both clearly unhappy in their marriage and wish to separate. However, we’re told that the couple discussed not dragging any lawyers to their inevitable divorce but upon Nicole’s decision to hire one anyways, new wounds are opened that leave an indelible mark on their relationship. Rather than primarily focusing on the impact on the children, family &friends (although it is there), the filmmakers are primarily concerned with exploring the couple themselves and their efforts to have an amicable divorce, for the sake of their child. What elevates this already-great film is the genuine, earnest performances from Adam Driver (Charlie) and Scarlett Johansson (Nicole). Both deliver their best performances to-date and will surely get Oscar nominations. Deservedly so! Albeit a little too theatrical at times, their arguments (especially the third-act one) feel so authentic, with both trying to momentarily ‘hurt’ one another despite a love for the other. It’s painfully relatable. A Marriage Story portrays both Charlie and Nicole as flawed yet sympathetic individuals, without necessarily taking sides. Despite both trying to minimize the amount of pain caused to the other, their lack of know-how of the legal system paired with the shrewd lawyers who are out to win the case at all cost proves to be a big contentious point among the two. After all, both lawyers are focused on presenting the other side as ‘villainous’ and more ‘flawed’ and don’t hesitate to twist the words to help their clients. But don’t fret, A Marriage Story isn’t all tears and pain, as Baumbach peppers a good amount of humor throughout the film, to make for a beautiful-yet-entertaining package.
Courtesy of Netflix and Heyday Films
5. Knives Out – Knives Out is easily one of the most entertaining films of 2019! Rian Johnson’s all-star cast is such a great whodunnit murder-mystery, mixed with a ton of situational comedy! After Harlan Thrombey, the house patriarch mysteriously dies, Detective Blanc (played wonderfully by Daniel Craig) is hired to solve the case. Like some other films on the list and this year as a whole, the theme of income inequality is ever-present. However, Johnson is especially concerned and critical of a particular segment of the rich, who feel entitled to their family wealth and make themselves to be self-made Americans, rather than charting their own path. Yes, there are scenes where the liberal and conservative family members clash over Trump’s immigration policies but fear not, this movie neither strays far left nor right politically. Instead, it’s a big ‘F*ck you’ to these entitled, pretentious rich people. Speaking more about the film, the entire cast clearly has a blast, with Daniel Craig chewing every scene he’s in! Craig’s eccentric Benoit Blanc, has entertaining back-and-forth with the entire cast, specifically with Ana De Armas’ Marta. On a side-note, the two will be seen together in the next James Bond film – No Time To Die. Overall, Knives Out is one delightful of a film! Bring on more Benoit Blanc films!
Courtesy of Lionsgate, T-Street, and MRC
4. Joker – As I explain in my review, the Joker left me utterly speechless! From Joaquin Phoenix’s performance-of-a-lifetime to the technical aspects (cinematography, editing, coloring especially), this film is a deep character study about a mentally unstable Arthur Fleck, who’s so utterly broken down by society (lackluster health care, income inequality) that he eventually becomes the iconic DC supervillain. Phoenix’s unsettling yet riveting performance is still my favorite performance this year and I still contend he’s the frontrunner for ‘Best Actor’ at the Academy Awards. Without making this article any longer than it needs to be, just put on a happy face and watch this masterpiece!
Courtesy of Warner Bros and DC Films
3. Avengers: Endgame – In terms of the best, the most communal moviegoing experience of the year, nothing compares to the experience I had with Endgame. The excitement was palpable! Somehow juggling 100’s of characters, yet maintaining the majority of the focus on the OG Avengers, is a task that should have been impossible, but the Russos and Marvel somehow accomplished the impossible! Despite having a ton of fan-service moments in the third act (like Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker), it never felt unearned as the filmmakers deliberately chose to spend almost 2 hours on fleshing out these fan-favorite characters. As a result, the emotional connection with these characters made the action feel like there were stakes and anyone could bite the dust (no pun intended). I can talk about Endgame all day but to save time for all parties involved, I highly suggest checking out my detailed review! This is easily one of my favorite films of the decade and an absolute cinematic achievement!
Courtesy of Walt Disney and Marvel Studios
2. Jojo Rabbit – Imagine pitching this idea to a studio – a young boy named Jojo, growing up in Nazi Germany, yearns to fight for the Fatherland. Sounds fairly– reasonable, right? Going one step further, he has an imaginary friend, none other than Adolf Hitler himself, AND this movie is meant to be an anti-hate satire. Man, that must have been a bizarre pitch meeting but one I wish I was present in! Regardless, Taika Waititi freaking nails it and delivers a feel-good movie with a simple message “Love over hate!” Yes, it is a simplistic message but in a world where racism, misogyny, xenophobia are all on the rise, thanks to our President and his actions, the film’s message is especially hard-hitting and resonant. The entire cast is absolutely phenomenal, with Scarlett Johansson a shoo-in for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ nomination at the Oscars. What a terrific 2019 for Scar Jo! This movie has a lot of dark, horrific moments but Taika deftly adds levity to deliver a comedic, yet emotionally-powerful film. Jo Jo Rabbit is not only one of the funniest films of 2019, but it is also one of the best of the year, period.
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures, TSG Entertainment, Piki Films, and Defender Films
1. Doctor Sleep – Before making a sequel to The Shining, Mike Flanagan directed a plethora of other terrific drama/horror films like Oculus, Gerald’s Game, Hush, and was the producer behind the stellar ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ show for Netflix. So naturally, him helming the sequel to my favorite horror film of all time had me very intrigued. On top of that, I’m a massive fan of both Stephen King’s novels! As is common knowledge, however, Stephen King absolutely loathes Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ for making Jack Torrance (played by Jack Nicholson) the villain, as opposed to the Overlook Hotel itself. Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, however, is a perfect marriage between Kubrick and King’s vision for this world. Ewan McGregor is phenomenal and gives a very subtle, nuanced performance, which might also be the reason for the Academy not nominating him for ‘Best Actor.’ The film explores Danny battling his (metaphorical and literal) demons. Initially, he drowns himself in booze, drugs, and also steals money off of a dead (one-night stand) woman’s body in one instance. However, he eventually learns to accept his powers as a gift and become better by actually using his ‘Shining’ abilities to do good. The rest of the cast, especially Kyleigh Curran who plays a precocious Abra, is great! In addition, the score really adds to the constant feeling of unease and peril throughout the film, especially when (the specific scene) Flanagan chooses to play the iconic ‘The Shining’ theme. Goosebumps!! Speaking of its predecessor, some have complained that the third-act relies too heavily on nostalgia and the Overlook Hotel itself. However, I argue that the trip to the Hotel was a natural progression for the characters and the story and especially essential in Danny truly confronting the ghosts of his tumultuous past. Overall, Doctor Sleep is a superb follow-up to the flawless ‘The Shining’ and should not be overlooked at the Academy Awards!
Courtesy of Warner Bros, Vertigo Entertainment, and Intrepid Pictures