So, to go away from my traditional movie reviews for a bit, I wanted to talk about what I thought were the 10 best films of the year 2019. 2019 has so many great films to offer us that not all of them could make this list, so before I start, I want to give a few honorable mentions.
– Uncut Gems
– Jojo Rabbit
– How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
– Ad Astra
These were all excellent films that deserve to be on this list, but just couldn’t quite make the cut. Now for the list, starting with #10.
#10: The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ second feature, The Lighthouse, is a deeply unsettling yet darkly comedic depiction of repression, led by two Oscar-worthy performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The film focuses on two lighthouse keepers stuck on an isolated island together, and things take a sinister turn as the titular building seems to be a source of temptation for the two leads. With its jaw-droppingly gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and a lingering sense of tension between its leads, the film offers an unforgettable and insane descent into madness, and one I highly recommend checking out.
1917 is a war film unlike any other. The film is fairly simple on the surface; it’s about two young British soldiers in the height of the first World War who are given orders to cross enemy territory to deliver a message which will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers who don’t know they are walking into a trap set by the Germans. The film is an intense and visceral race against time but one with a nice catch. The film is shot to look like one (but technically two) continuous shots. This creates for a very realistic and grounded journey that takes you through the trenches of WWI with these two soldiers and the camera never leaves them. Danger is around any corner and you really feel the intensity of this perilous journey our two main characters are on. It’s probably the greatest technical achievement of 2019, but it’s also a very personal and deep story about brotherhood and perseverance that I won’t forget any time soon. This is an exceptional piece of filmmaking and is amongst the best war films there are.
#8: Ford v Ferrari
Sports films are generally not my cup of tea, but in the case of Ford v Ferrari, this is one of the finest sports films I’ve probably ever seen. The true story of two men, American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and British driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale) attempting to design a car under the Ford name that will win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France is one that will entertain the biggest scrooge there is. It’s a simple story about two men trying to realize their dream and stand up against the corporation is a very personal and inspiring one, and the two leads have fantastic chemistry. The race sequences are edited to perfection, and the characters are incredibly likeable and you are rooting for them every step of the way. It’s an exciting, fun, and inspirational film that I could recommend to pretty much anyone and be confident they’ll enjoy it. This is a special one.
The little foreign film that could, Parasite is a film that has garnered universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike, and for a very good reason. This is one of the most original, unpredictable, and surprising films to come out in the 2010’s decade, and one that puts Korean director, Bong Joon-ho, along with his spectacular cast, on the list of talents to look out for. This is a film that’s best to go into blind, so I won’t say anything about the plot specifically, but what I will say is that the film starts out as a sort of satirical comedy and evolves into something very intense, to say the very least. The film’s commentary on the 99% versus the 1% is clever and very subtle, and the film never beats it over your head. It’s a clever, beautifully-shot, and superbly-acted film that is deserving of all the praise it is getting.
#6: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Perhaps the most obscure film on my list, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful, sensual romance that completely flew under the radar, but is one of the finest pieces of filmmaking to come out of the year 2019. This is a French film about a painter who journeys to the isolated island of Brittany to paint a wedding portrait for a young woman. The catch is that the young woman must not know that she is there to paint her portrait, as she is objective towards her arranged marriage. But after getting to know each other over this period of time, the two women become really close friends… and eventually even more than that. The film is a beautiful depiction of first love and regret, and the two lead actresses work wonders together. The film’s cinematography is gorgeous (the film was shot with 8K cameras to bring out all the color, which makes each shot look like a painting all in itself) and the story is very personal and thoughtful. There are scenes in the film where there will be no dialogue at all but you completely understand everything the characters are feeling and are going through, and that’s what makes this film so special. The film also has a whopper of an ending that left me speechless and in tears. The best romance film to come out of 2019, and possibly even one of the best to come out of the 2010’s decade. This is absolutely one to experience.
#5: The Irishman
Director Martin Scorsese’s 3.5-hour epic, The Irishman, is one of the great cinematic achievements of the year. With his cast of legendary actors (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, etc.), Scorsese tells the story of real-life gangster Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) and his possible involvement with the disappearance of political figure, Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). As you can probably tell by the massive 209-minute runtime, the film is way deeper than the general synopsis I have provided, as it tackles themes of brotherhood, betrayal, regret, and death in very profound and subtle ways. The film is a lot quieter than a typical Scorsese gangster flick, and it feels much more personal as it focuses on one man’s life and career and how he comes to later regret some of the things he has (and hasn’t) done in his life as he nears his end. It’s a thematically-rich epic that completely warrants the gargantuan runtime and uses never wastes a second of it. The performances are spectacular as you would expect, with Robert De Niro and especially Al Pacino delivering their best work in decades. Joe Pesci came out of retirement for this film and it’s like he has never left. He still has that presence about him to this day and delivers a menacing performance as mobster Russell Bufalino. The Irishman is one of Scorsese’s finest achievements of his career and is absolutely one of the best films of 2019.
#4: Avengers: Endgame
While perhaps not as artistically inclined as some of the films on this list, Avengers: Endgame has a very special place in my heart and is a cinematic achievement unlike no other. With this film, the Russo Brothers wrap up an epic saga of 22 films in a remarkably poignant and beautiful way, the likes of which have never been done before in film. I remember being a 6-year-old sitting in the theater watching the first Iron Man film and being in awe at it. 11 years later, Kevin Feige has crafted a whole universe of wonderful films with characters that we have grown with and have come to love, and they are all treated with respect in their conclusions here. I cannot possibly think of a better way these characters’ stories could have ended, particularly those of Steve Rogers and especially Tony Stark, the latter being one of my favorite characters in film of all time. This is an epic finale to one of my favorite film series and is quite possibly the best one in said series, delivering the emotional payoff that these characters and this story deserved, and that is why it deserves a place amongst the best films of 2019 and the best films of the 2010’s decade.
#3: Marriage Story
With Marriage Story, writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a brutally honest, realistic, and heartbreaking portrayal of a divorce and the pain that can be caused from the process. With what is possibly the finest screenplay of the year and what are two of the best performances of the year from Scarlett Johansson and especially Adam Driver, these characters come to life in such a way that I never saw actors. I saw these characters and I felt for them in a way I haven’t felt for any other characters in a film this year. The film doesn’t shy away from the nastier parts of divorce, particularly in the legal aspects of the process, and it all builds to one of the best scenes of the year, that being an argument scene between the two leads, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking and effective. The film has such an authenticity to it that I could completely see someone not enjoying it purely due to how uncomfortably real and honest it is. It’s by far the most emotionally-charged film of the year, and is absolutely one of the very best.
Joker is quite possibly the best comic book film ever made. It’s a deeply disturbing look at mental illness led by the best performance of the year by Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a mentally-ill man living in Gotham City who slowly begins to lose what little grip he has on reality after the city cuts funding to the mental health programs that had been helping Arthur live in everyday society. This of course leads to Arthur becoming arguably the most famous comic book villain of all time, The Joker. What is so great about Joker, however, is it never really feels like a comic book movie. It’s a beautifully disturbing character study with a complex lead character whom you want to feel sympathy for but know he’s not exactly a good person, especially by the film’s intense third act that leads to one of the best endings of the year. The hauntingly beautiful score is by far the best score of the year, with themes that are still seared into my memory to this day. The score and cinematography create a chilling atmosphere and keep you on edge throughout the film’s entire runtime. There’s not a dull moment in this film, as it always stays on Arthur and his descent into madness, and it’s all so compelling. Joker is a thematically-rich and thought-provoking film that we have never seen the likes of in the comic book movie genre, and that’s why it deserves to be as high as it is on my list.
#1: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
And now to talk about my absolute favorite film of 2019. Legendary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino delivers what is his most personal and entertaining film to date with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film is a wonderful time capsule of late 1960’s Hollywood and gives us some of the most memorable and likeable characters to come out of a film in decades, namely the characters of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who make the finest duo in a film since Woody and Buzz in Toy Story. With this film, Tarantino asks the simple question of “Where did all the fun go?” when it comes to Hollywood. He makes a sort of fantastical recreation of 1960’s Hollywood that feels so alive and fun, and I loved every second I spent in Tarantino’s Hollywood. The way he plays with history, particularly surrounding the death of Sharon Tate, is both very fun yet very respectful towards those involved, and it’s one of the things that just makes this such a special film. The film is hilarious and incredibly witty but is also very mature, with the character of Rick Dalton coming to grips with the end of his stardom. Sharon Tate is a fascinating compliment to Rick Dalton, as while Dalton is towards the end of his time as a star, Sharon is just at the beginning of hers, and it makes for an overall compelling narrative that is deeper than it may seem on the surface. That is why I consider Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to be the finest film of 2019, and one of the best of Tarantino’s iconic filmography.