2019 was a terrific year for movies, one of the best of the past decade. This past year, we saw enchanting remakes, Hollywood epics from legendary filmmakers, blockbuster knockouts, disturbing looks at society, technical masterpieces and movies that simply don’t get made anymore. 2019 was a year that made us appreciate the art of cinema for what it can do and see the world in different ways. Below are 2019’s 10 best films in order.
Honorable Mentions: Some films that stood out in 2019 that came close to making the list were Jordan Peele’s creative and wildly entertaining thriller “Us,” Robert Eggers stylish black-and-white arthouse film “The Lighthouse” and Rian Johnson’s clever whodunnit “Knives Out.” Despite their greatness, they didn’t quite make the Top 10.
10. Avengers: Endgame
The blockbuster event of the year that ended up becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” is a cinematic force. While I am by no means a Marvel fan and find most of their films to be redundant, “Endgame” manages to be not just a superhero blockbuster, but an epic adventure that delivers pitch-perfect fan service and concludes a series of films with a staggering following in the absolute best way possible. In a year where huge sagas such as “Game of Thrones” and “Star Wars” disappointed millions of fans tremendously, “Endgame” pleased virtually everyone and became an epic spectacle. The ending battle or “Portals” scene alone is enough to make it a hit.
9. Uncut Gems
An Adam Sandler movie that’s not just good but on a Top 10 list? Absolutely. Sandler delivers an electric performance as a New York City jewel dealer who over the course of a few days manages to get himself deeper and deeper into a black hole of scheming and gambling that makes us want to enter the screen and smack him across the face to get himself out of his self-destruction. Writers and Directors Josh and Benny Safdie infuse robust energy and fast-paced style that makes “Uncut Gems” impossible to turn away from and one of the most entertaining and heart-racing films in recent memory.
The best war film since “Saving Private Ryan,” few films were as visually impressive or put a knot in my stomach as much due to tension as “1917.” Sam Mendes’ mesmerizing WWI visual gem of a movie may not be the most captivating narrative of the year but it is without question one of the most gripping technical achievements of 2019. Mendes’ intimate depiction of war through the journey of two British soldiers who have to deliver a message to call off an attack in order to prevent the deaths of 1600 soldiers is extraordinary in its spectacular one-shot cinematography from Roger Deakins, having the audience consistently engaged in its extraordinary vision and intensity.
7. Little Women
No film in 2019 made me feel happier than Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” one of the best film adaptations in recent memory. Based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, Gerwig somehow manages to make the eighth screen adaptation a fresh, heartwarming tale of personal growth and family. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as Jo March, a young woman in Massachusetts living with her three sisters during the Civil War who struggles to make her voice heard as a novelist and find her way in a society she feels trapped in. Rising star Florence Pugh is hilarious and endearing as the formally hated Amy, a character we grow to empathize with due to Pugh’s layered portrayal, and the supporting cast including Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep and Timothée Chalamet are all spot on. Greta Gerwig does an impeccable job of bringing this tale back to the screen and casts a charming spell on the audience, making this film an absolute triumph.
6. The Irishman
Scorsese’s view on Marvel films may be off-putting to many but there’s no denying that his gangster epic “The Irishman” is a work of mastery. Scorsese’s crime chronicle of mafia hitman Frank Sheeran and his involvement with Jimmy Hoffa and the Bufalino crime family is a tale of regret, betrayal, and friendship, one of Scorsese’s most thoughtful and insightful films. The master filmmaker instills his wisdom and experience in making a film that shines off the screen and explores the nature of aging and the people we lose due to our decisions. Robert De Niro gives his best performance since “Goodfellas” as Sheeran, Al Pacino is in classic form as Hoffa, but it’s Joe Pesci as Russel Bufalino who steals the show in his first film role in years, managing to illuminate the screen in all of his scenes. Many felt “The Irishman” was boring and too long, and the de-aging process on some of the actors may have been miscalculated, but those who appreciate profound crime dramas will adore every minute Scorsese gives us.
As in 2018 with “Hereditary” (my personal favorite horror film of all time), no film got more of a reaction out of me in 2019 than Ari Aster’s disturbing, wicked, and flat-out insane “Midsommar.” In a film that is the polar opposite of “Little Women,” Florence Pugh is a force of nature in her sensational performance as a young woman who, after suffering a traumatic loss, visits a remote Swedish commune with her distant boyfriend and his anthropology student friends, their seemingly fun and educational trip turning into a vicious nightmare. Aster once again manages to disturb us in the most profound ways imaginable, his horror focusing more on concepts related to loss and isolation than actual terror. That said, no scene in a movie has ever haunted me more than the scarring “Attestupa” cliff jump, in which two commune members throw themselves off a cliff with scarring results. Pugh’s remarkable performance captures more emotions than imaginable and Aster’s examination of human connection and the need to belong ends in a jaw-dropping sequence that yet again manages to blend horror with surreal beauty. “Midsommar” may be an atrociously disturbing and twisted tale that many people loath, yet for a select few like myself, it didn’t (and still hasn't) escaped my mind.
If there’s one film from 2019 that made people fall in love with movies again and experience the wonders of what movies can do it’s “Parasite.” South Korean writer/director Bong-joon ho proves he is one of the world’s very finest filmmakers with his extraordinary vision that artfully explores the nature between the rich and poor and class warfare, crafting a picture that is able to be so many things at once. Few films are able to handle taking on so many styles, being both a satirical dark comedy and gripping drama that absolutely blew me away. Not only is this a brilliant story that examines how we as people interact with each other and what we’re willing to do to get what we want, but it’s one of sheer vision, a film whose art bleeds off the screen. “Parasite” is a complete package of a film and one that simply cannot be missed.
3. Once Upon a Time... In Hollywood
An instant classic, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” follows Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a fading western TV actor, and his loyal stuntman Cliff Booth during a few days in Los Angeles during 1969, Dalton trying to remain relevant in an ever-changing Hollywood he no longer recognizes, Booth just trying to get by. DiCaprio and Pitt are hands down one of the best cinematic duos of all time. Having two Hollywood kings who are two of the biggest movie stars in history portray buddies struggling to make it in the entertainment industry serves as a delightful irony, the two serious actors reducing themselves to good ole boys. DiCaprio is hilarious as Rick Dalton, capturing the essence of being an outsider in a competitive world and shining in his scenes where he unleashes his anger. Pitt has never had a better role, Cliff Booth being the closest thing to a 1960s Los Angeles cowboy and the epitome of cool. Margot Robbie also shines as the infectiously kind Sharron Tate, capturing the essence of the late actress’s warm spirit. Tarantino’s tribute to movies and the Hollywood he grew up with is a pure vision built on passion, his take on what was and what should have been a work of glory. Having one of the best endings in years, the confrontation with the would-be Manson Murderers is cartoonishly-violent glory, a dream-like capture of how history should have been written and a testament to Tarantino's daring, bold filmmaking.
2. JoJo Rabbit
How can a movie in which a child Nazi soldier who has Hitler as his imaginary friend be a hilarious and heartfelt masterpiece? Leave it to Taika Waititi to present us with a blazingly original film filled with humanity and heart that follows a lost young man and his journey from Nazi empathzioer to humansit. Tagged as “an anti-hate satire,” JoJo Rabbit is satirical brilliance, having us laugh out loud one moment and immediately dragging us into a deep emotional state. Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis is a revelation as JoJo, his performance wildly impressive for a first-time child actor. Scarlett Johansson brings an endearing love and charm as JoJo’s mother, who hides a jewish girl in her walls that JoJo encounters and changes him forever, and Waititi himself is hilarious as the imaginary Hitler that a child would imagine. Beautifully made and masterfully written, “JoJo Rabbit” is 2019’s most creative film and a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience.
In a year filled with extraordinary films, “Joker” is 2019’s best and most memorable masterpiece. Writer/Director Todd Phillips excels in exploring the nature of mental illness and social isolation and what makes a mentally ill person fall down a path of violence. Joaquin Phoenix gives the best performance of the year as Arthur Fleck, a lonely clown-for-hire who becomes frustrated by how the world disregards him, sending him down a path of brutal vengeance on those who have wronged him and inciting a social movement in which he finally feels noticed. The most controversial film of 2019 and the highest grossing R-rated film of all time, “Joker” doesn’t celebrate violence as many critics claim, but rather warns us about how seemingly harmless individuals turn into murderers. In a society plagued with gun violence and mass killings, films like “Joker” are more helpful than harmful, warning us about how the way society treats mentally ill people involuntarily leads to carnage. Phoenix is astonishing as Fleck, taking a well-known comic-book villain and giving him a unique and unworldly spin. His behavior alone, in which he acts like a 10-year-old boy, is enough to trouble us, yet the extreme isolation this character experiences and how it alters his behavior is deeply distressing. Phillips generates a work of art filled with a rich noir style that mirrors the work of filmmakers from Scorsese to Chaplin, his social commentary subtle and nuanced, his visual texture concrete and gorgeous. “Joker” is a film of holistic strength, having a profound story with a purpose, a performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and a style that bursts in beauty. “Joker” is a film we will look at years later and still marvel at, a comic-book movie like no other and an exuberant piece of contemporary cinema.
Dominic LeRose is a writer for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.