2019 was a heck of a good year for movies. I gave out a lot of three-and-a-half and four star ratings. That being said, choosing the ten best films was relatively easy. Originality was what I prized most over the past twelve months. Pictures that showed me something different – or something familiar in a brand new way – are the ones that had the most impact. This list reflects that. There were plenty of great works from which to pick, but I mostly went with those that were unique.
Here are my choices for the Ten Best Films of 2019:
10. Late Night - On one level, this is a great comedy about a late night talk show host (played by the marvelous Emma Thompson) trying to hold on to her show. On another, it's a shrewd commentary on the benefits of diversity hiring in the workplace. Co-star Mindy Kaling based the script on some of her own experiences as a writer and diversity hire on The Office, so the movie is as insightful as it is hilarious.
9. The Lighthouse - I'm not entirely sure what this film is, I just know that I couldn't take my eyes off it. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play lighthouse keepers in a black-and-white period piece that contains moments of dark humor, glimpses of horror, stylized dialogue, and one wicked seagull, among other things. Director Robert Eggers goes out on a limb, to hypnotic effect.
8. Bombshell - What could have been a cheap (if much-deserved) shot at Fox News is instead a compelling bipartisan depiction of the sexual harassment scandal that rocked the network. Charlize Theron is sublime as Megyn Kelly, and Margot Robbie breaks your heart as the latest victim of slimeball-in-chief Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). That the film manages to be funny amid the serious subject matter just makes it even more compelling.
7. Queen & Slim - The year's most tender love story also offers some valuable social commentary. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding as a new couple on the run after killing a racist cop in self-defense. This striking debut from director Melina Matsoukas mixes sweetness and poignance in just the right way, leading to a powerful film that speaks volumes about racial injustice in the United States.
6. Waves - It's a crime more people haven't heard of this film. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults crafted an observant, heartfelt look at how a family shatters and then tries to put itself back together again following a freak tragedy. Star Kelvin Harrison, Jr. gives the best performance of the year by anyone. Far from being depressing, Waves is ultimately a hopeful, uplifting experience.
5. Parasite - Bong Joon Ho has made plenty of good movies, including Snowpiercer and Okja, but this one just might be his masterpiece. It's a satire about an impoverished family whose members all con their way into working for a wealthy clan. Part of the fun comes from the outrageous surprises the plot springs on us as the situation goes catastrophically wrong, and another part comes from how astute Parasite is about the obliviousness of the rich to the daily struggles of the poor.
4. Uncut Gems - Adam Sandler gives a game-changing performance in this drama that's like having a 135-minute anxiety attack. He plays a jeweler trying to retrieve a valuable black opal that he's loaned to NBA star Kevin Garnett. Of course, it's about so much more under the surface, specifically how a guy whose whole life has been a series of bad choices is forced to face the repercussions of those choices.
3. Marriage Story - Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are perfection as a couple in the midst of a divorce who find themselves ill-equipped to deal with the fallout. Laura Dern and Alan Alda are equally amazing as their lawyers. Writer/director Noah Baumbach's film is filled with perceptive little details about how divorces play out and how the people we love most in life have the greatest capacity to hurt us.
2. 1917 - Sam Mendes' WWI drama isn't just a movie, it's a full-fledged experience that leaves you exhausted in the best possible way. Unfolding in real time and made to look as though accomplished in a single, unbroken shot, 1917 gives audiences the sensation of going on a perilous mission with two soldiers. They go through enemy lines to deliver a message, facing a series of life-threatening episodes along the way. Aside from being artistically awe-inspiring, the film's technique conveys the danger-around-every-corner nature of war.
And my choice for the Best Film of 2019 is:
1. Midsommar - I saw Hereditary director Ari Aster's second feature in early July and have thought about it literally every single day since. A young couple (played by Jack Reynor and the sublime Florence Pugh) find their already-tenuous relationship put to the test when they travel to Sweden to witness a pagan community's annual spring festival. As a horror flick, Midsommar gets under your skin with the increasingly creepy goings-on. The film works just as well as a relationship drama. The story is a metaphor for bad relationships and how people sometimes stay in them, even when all the evidence says they should get out ASAP. Inventive production design that makes the pagan rituals feel authentic adds immeasurably on both counts. This is the 2019 film that most rocked my world.