As we reach the end of another year, and even another decade as well, it is time as always to look back at what this year of cinema had to offer. From “Glass” to “Little Women,” from “Midsommar” to “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” and from “Avengers: Endgame” to “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” 2019 gave us many memorable films for one reason or another. So much so that it does feel fitting to do a top ten of all the best films.
The question I always like to ask at the end of every year is whether it was a good year for cinema or not. And with how many outstanding films that were released this last year, how can you not say it was a great year? While there are always going to be bad films every year, and believe me 2019 had some real stinkers (especially in the live-action Disney department), the standout films in 2019 will be remembered for decades to come. This is the year where Netflix told some of the most complex and genuine stories of the year, while foreign cinema was just as powerful as Hollywood, who also started taking more chances with their big blockbusters with films like “Spider-Man: Far from Home” and “Shazam!” to give new stories a bigger, bolder light than we ever expected. This was one of the more outstanding years of cinema and these are just some of the best films to celebrate 2019.
Number Ten: “The Farewell”
Touching, heartfelt, and one of the most honest movies of the year, “The Farewell” is so effective because of the silent wars it wages. The war between the generations, the war between cultures, and the war between happiness and reality. All of them are brilliantly captured in the quiet turmoil of Awkwafina’s performance as she grapples with telling her grandmother that she’s dying despite the rest of her family wanting to keep it a secret from her so that she’ll be happy for the rest of her limited days. Nothing is overt or cliche and it ends with an emotional gut punch that puts a totally different spin on a wonderful sentiment.
Number Nine: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
This is Tarantino at his most reserved and most reflective of his favorite fairy tale – Hollywood. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has some of the best production design of the year, perfectly capturing the feeling of 1960s Los Angeles down to the radio DJs between songs, while sucking us into the personal anguish and regrets of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, though that is certainly helped thanks both of them turning in wonderful performances with even better chemistry.
Number Eight: “The Irishman”
“The Irishman” is the capstone to Scorsese’s grand epic look at the lifestyle of gangsters, and it hits harder than any of his other movies. What starts out like all of Scorsese’s gangster films, complete with rapid-fire montages of violence and great musical cues, eventually turns into a reflective look at what a life of crime leads to and Scorsese sitting down with himself to ask whether all of that fun was really worth it or not. It honestly does feel like Scorsese’s entire career has been leading up to this one movie, and boy does he stick the landing.
Number Seven: “1917”
Certainly the most technologically impressive film of the year, “1917” is the most immersive and gripping cinematic experience of 2019. Filming everything like it’s one long take and from the perspective of two soldiers trying to prevent a massacre breathes new life into this small but thrilling piece, making every little moment feel as tense as the last, while also bringing a kind but honest humanity to its characters as we see the war through their eyes. The camera makes the audience often feel like they’re an angel watching over these two men it makes for the best cinematography of the year.
Number Six: “Marriage Story”
“Marriage Story” is the most honest film of the year- personal, funny, but very devastating in its portrayal of all the heartache that comes with divorce. The acting is the main reason this film works as well as it does, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both turning in career defining performances. The bottomless empathy for everyone involved makes this so heartbreaking when you realize this is all someone’s fault but neither is deserving of the blame, while also creating so much compassion for these characters that it makes the film so rewarding.
Number Five: “The Lighthouse”
Much like “1917,” the cinematography in “The Lighthouse” tells such a visually-rich story that is impossible to ignore. But one thing “The Lighthouse” has over “1917” is two of the greatest performances of the year with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe and their descents into madness. Robert Eggers creates a claustrophobic, other-worldly mood that dominates the film like a black aura, while Pattinson and Dafoe work beautifully off each other to make the most visually striking thriller of the year.
Number Four: “Uncut Gems”
I’m still in shock that “Uncut Gems” was as intense as it was and that Adam Sandler was capable of delivering one of the best performances of the year. The whole movie has this strange magical spell – it takes what should be awful, some of the worst people you can possibly imagine, and makes it impossible to look away from their lives spiraling out of control. It is mesmerizing as it is disgusting. This year was filled with unforgettable cinematic experiences, and this look into a despicable man trying to make it big in the world like it’s all some game to him is one of the better ones.
Number Three: “Rocketman”
This was certainly the biggest surprise of the year for me. I went in expecting another “Bohemian Rhapsody” and got a “La La Land” style fantasy musical with the greatest performance of the year from Taron Egerton as Elton John. “Rocketman” uses all of Elton’s music to wonderful effect, not only serving as a best-of soundtrack but using the music to tell the story of his life, especially the joy, confusion and turmoil that comes with fame and the loneliness of stardom, made even more devastating through Egerton’s masterful performance. The whole thing feels like a grand musical from the golden age of Hollywood, made even more personal because it is Egerton belting out every song.
Number Two: “Parasite”
No movie this year had me more hooked than “Parasite.” It is the most unpredictable movie I’ve seen in a long time, defying genre conventions and telling the most unique story of the year. It is part-comedy, part-thriller, part-social commentary while twisting between all of these tones so effortlessly and often to present a story I never would have guessed. “Parasite” makes me feel like a kid again, watching a movie for the first time and have absolutely no clue where its going, masterfully crafting its story to so unpredictable that nobody but Bong Joon-ho could figure out what’ll happen next.
Number One: “Dolemite Is My Name”
I could say a million reasons why “Dolemite Is My Name” is the best film of the year – it’s a love letter to Blaxploitation movies, one of the better depictions of the hardships of filmmaking especially for a crew with no money or experience, Eddie Murphy puts everything out there and gives the most charismatic performance of the year, and it is the funniest damn experience I’ve had in awhile, fully engrossed in its own ridiculousness. But there’s one main reason why “Dolemite Is My Name” is here above films like “Parasite” and “The Irishman” – its bliss in the search for happiness. Eddie Murphy is so convinced that he has something special that he knows this has to be shared with the rest of the world, and that joy for life is so infectious that it goes beyond the other characters and to the audience. There’s so much love in this movie – a love for cinema, a love for comedy, but most importantly a love for yourself. Despite all of the hardships and challenges, that never stops Eddie Murphy from wanting to shine as brightly as he does on the movie screen. It is the most uplifting and joyful movie of the year, which is why it’s my pick for the best film of 2019.
”Spider-Man: Far From Home”