Skip to content

The Best Movies of 2019

January 3, 2020

By John Corrado

With 2019 officially in the rearview mirror, and 2020 already a few days in, it’s time for my countdown of the best movies of last year. It was a year that saw the release of some great movies, and also closed out a decade of moviegoing that saw the release of some all-time favourites for me such as Inside Out, Moonlight, Silver Linings Playbook, The Tree of Life, Mad Max: Fury Road, Paddington 2, The Florida Project, Toy Story 3, Boyhood and Gravity, which would roughly round out my top ten of the 2010s.

For my 2019 top ten list, I’m happy with the amount of diversity on it. Four of these films were directed by women. Three of them are foreign films. Two of them are Netflix movies. And one is animated. This is not even mentioning the incredible range of over twenty films that I have also included as honourable mentions. As always, deciding on the final order took some time, and there were a couple of titles that I would have liked to have found spots for on my actual list. But alas, ten has always been a pretty fixed number, and I don’t want to break with tradition.

#10: Little Women

Greta Gerwig follows up her beloved 2017 film Lady Bird with her take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel Little Women, and the result is a non-linear adaptation that has enough of a modern edge to make it feel fresh, while also remaining completely true to its time. The film is carried by another excellent performance from Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, one of the four sisters who dominate the story, and she is supported by an excellent ensemble that also includes standout work by Florence Pugh as Amy. This is an entertaining, often delightful, and emotionally resonant take on a book that has already been adapted for the screen multiple times, with Gerwig finding new ways to make it her own.

#9: The Farewell

Awkwafina stole the show with her supporting role in Crazy Rich Asians, cementing herself as a comedic firebrand. While that was in many ways her breakout role, her revelatory performance in The Farewell provides a different kind of breakout for the actress, proving that she is equally adept at drama. She delivers a moving, naturalistic performance in the film as a young woman who returns home to China to say good bye to her Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou) who is dying of cancer, with the twist being that her family has given her explicit instructions not to tell her she is dying. Beautifully written and directed by Lulu Wang, who based the story on events in her own life, The Farewell is a moving dramedy that is built around the fascinating and challenging moral dilemma of whether or not you should tell someone that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

#8: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The latest from French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunningly gorgeous period piece that captures the burgeoning romance between two women; Marianne (Noémie Merlant), an 18th century artist, and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a reclusive young woman whom she is commissioned to paint a portrait of prior to her arranged marriage. Rich with longing glances and simmering romantic tension, every frame of this film is like a painting, with Claire Mathon’s immaculate cinematography easily ranking among the best of last year. Merlant and Haenel are both excellent, and their palpable chemistry ignites the screen, as Sciamma builds towards a breathtaking final scene.

#7: Blinded by the Light

I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan, so that’s probably why this film about a British-Pakistani teenager named Javed (Viveik Kalra) who has his life changed by the music of The Boss, resonated with me so much. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, working in a similar key to her 2002 breakout film Bend It Like Beckham, and set in the late 1980s, Blinded by the Light is a major feel good film that also touches on serious issues about racism and identity, all set to an incredible soundtrack of Springsteen songs that take on deeper meaning with how they are used within the film. The lyrics flash across the screen at key moments, a creative touch that works surprisingly well, and the film ultimately serves as a moving tribute to his music.

#6: Pain and Glory

Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory tells the story of a fading filmmaker named Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) living with chronic pain, who is searching for his comeback while sorting through memories and figures from his past. Built around a career-defining performance by Banderas, and vibrantly shot by cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, this is a richly rewarding film that also reveals itself to be a powerful story about repression, and how the things that we bury deep inside of us eventually burst forward through our art. It’s a moving film that, in a long career of celebrated work, ranks as one of Almodovar’s best and most personal movies.

#5: The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s much anticipated return to the gangster genre, The Irishman in many ways feels like a late-career callback to his seminal classic Goodfellas from almost thirty years ago. Yes, this epic drama which was released in theatres and on Netflix is three and a half hours long, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. But the film uses this running time to explore the passage of time in a really resonant way, showing how the pursuit of power at all costs ultimately leads to loneliness and isolation in the end.

Based on a true story, The Irishman is a surprisingly moving, character-focused mob movie about how the choices we make have a cumulative effect on our lives. The film features excellent performances from its large ensemble cast, which brings together acting legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci for the three central roles of Philadelphia truck driver Frank Sheeran, union leader Jimmy Hoffa and mob boss Russell Buffalino, respectively. It astounds on a technical level, from the production design and surprisingly seamless de-aging effects used on the actors to Thelma Schoonmaker’s masterful editing, proving that Scorsese is still one of the best filmmakers we have.

 #4: Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s latest and arguably greatest film, Marriage Story, offers a searing portrait of a relationship falling apart that is remarkably balanced in its approach. While audience members will inevitably react differently in terms of which side they relate to more, neither Charlie (Adam Driver) or Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), the couple at the centre of the story whose marriage is crumbling, are bad people. Actually quite the contrary. They are both thoroughly decent humans, who are just no longer right for each other, and Baumbach’s ability to portray this is one of the most impactful things about Marriage Story. It’s carried by Baumbach’s brilliant script, and features a career-best performance from Driver, who is matched beat-for-beat by a top-notch Johansson. The film reaches its crescendo with a stunningly performed shouting match between the two.

#3: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the filmmaker’s brilliantly written and performed tribute to the year 1969 fifty years after the fact, is a film that ingeniously melds fact, fiction and memory together in its storytelling. The nearly three hour movie follows a fading Western movie star named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), and young up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whom we all know was murdered by the Manson Family in real life.

While the film often works as a wildly entertaining ’60s hangout movie, that builds towards a much talked about sequence of insane violence, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also Tarantino’s most melancholy and moving film, seeped in a nostalgic light that I found both intoxicating and deeply poignant. Tarantino has crafted a bittersweet “what if?” fairy tale that becomes about reclaiming the mythos of 1969, imagining a world where the events of one fateful night ended with a glimpse of light instead of darkness, powerfully reminding us how different things might have been if only the movies were real life.

#2: Toy Story 4

Sequels are hard to pull off. Threequels are even harder, and fourth instalments are harder, still. This is what makes Pixar’s consistent defying of expectations with their Toy Story series so impressive. This decade began with the release of Toy Story 3 in 2010, a film that exceeded all possible expectations to offer a heartbreaking conclusion to the series that began in 1995, and has popped up on several “best of the decade” lists. So it’s only fitting that the decade has ended with the release of Toy Story 4, a follow up that few initially thought was needed but turned out to be essential in its own right. It’s not only my favourite animated movie of 2019, but one of the best movies, period.

This film centres around Woody (Tom Hanks), and offers a mature and moving continuation of his journey that explores deep themes about what to do when your purpose in life, which for a toy means to look after a child and make sure they are happy, has been fulfilled. At what point do you prioritize your own happiness? The wonderful new addition to the cast is Forky (Tony Hale), a craft project turned sentient play thing who considers himself trash. Yes, Toy Story 4 is a film that asks existential questions through the story of a personified spork sprung to life who doesn’t want to be alive, but the geniuses at Pixar have pulled it off brilliantly in this entertaining and moving film.

#1: Parasite

The moment that I keep coming back to in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, the South Korean filmmaker’s brilliant, genre-defying social satire that takes us on a wild ride by continuously going in unexpected directions, is when Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), the father of a grifter family, is told that poor people have a certain “smell” that differentiates them from the more privileged. It’s a small but crucial moment in this searing look at how those at the top look down upon those at the bottom, reminding him – and us – that there will always be invisible things that separate you from the upper classes, and eventually you reach a point when you just can’t take it anymore.

I kept telling people to watch Parasite knowing as little about the story as possible, and this is still the best way to experience the film. Bong Joon-ho has delivered a gloriously unpredictable film that is rich with simmering social commentary, and explodes with unexpected twists and turns, managing to be at once darkly funny, terrifying and moving. The film boasts incredible production design and brilliantly staged set-pieces, as well as excellent performances, all adding up to one of the most perfectly crafted films of 2019 which, for my money, was the best movie of the year.

Honourable Mentions:

1917

Ad Astra

Avengers: Endgame

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Frozen II

A Hidden Life

Honey Boy

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

I Lost My Body

Joker

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Lighthouse

Midsommar

Missing Link

Motherless Brooklyn

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Rocketman

Uncut Gems

Under the Silver Lake

Us

Waves

Yesterday

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: