If you know me in person, you know that my life revolves around film, it’s my biggest passion in life. This year, I watched over 200 films, about 130 of those were released in 2019… that’s… a lot. 2019 is one of, if not the best, year for film releases this decade. There are a lot of movies I wish could’ve made this list but 25 is just such a nice number. I’ve luckily been able to see 95% of the movies I’ve wanted to before the year was up and am the most confident in my list than I ever have been. If your favorite film isn’t on this list… it’s probably cause it’s bad, kidding, but maybe.
Yeah, I still wanna shout out a whole ten films that were close and are still worth watching that didn’t make the cut.
The Art of Self-Defense
The Beach Bum
Birds of Passage
Blinded by the Light
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
The wild thing about 2019 is that those ten movies alone would make a decent top 10 on their own so the very fact that there’s 25 other films better than those is… beautiful.
25. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Marielle Heller directed the hell out of this, and the fact that she is being shut out of the race for Best Director is a hate crime. Tom Hanks shines as Mr. Rogers, a shoe-in for a best supporting actor nomination; and this film feels like a warm hug from a father, step-father, father-figure whatever your situation is. A feel-good film all around.
24. Toy Story 4
Toy Story 3 seemed like a perfect ending for the franchise so, at first glance, Toy Story 4 seemed more like a cash-grab than a necessity. And whether or not that was the intention behind it, Toy Story 4 is actually a strong enough entry to stand toe-to-toe with any of the earlier movies in the series. You can read my in-depth review here.
23. Knock Down the House
When it comes to crying during movies, the furthest I can go (not by choice, I’m practically begging for a movie to break me down) is have my eyes well-up and feel my throat close up during an emotional climax. The last few minutes of Knock Down the House were the closest I’ve been to shedding an actual tear during any film in 2019, if that’s not deserving of a spot on this list, I don’t know what is.
Available now on Netflix!
Waves feels like it was made for me; a coming-of-age drama set in South Florida to the sounds of Frank Ocean and Kanye. It also stars my wife Alexa Demie, my husband Lucas Hedges and my Hamilton auntie Renee Elise-Goldsberry. Waves is an emotional rollercoaster with an unpredictable turn of events that sends a family spiraling. It’s the most A24 film ever produced by A24.
21. Ad Astra
2019 was a year full of daddy issues on film. Ad Astra finds Brad Pitt flying through the cosmos, fending off space pirates and other space things in search of his presumably deceased father. Featuring one of my favorite sequences of the year, Ad Astra is Gravity meets Interstellar but two-times the existential dread and depression.
20. Greener Grass
I really wish this film was easier to find because it’s something everyone has to experience at least once. Greener Grass is an SNL sketch on acid. It’s a suburban soccer-mom satire that I can’t wait to watch 400 more times. It’s a work of genius, one of the most original comedies I’ve ever seen and one of the wildest rides on a golf cart you’ll ever take.
19. Avengers: Endgame
While I agree with certain aspects of Martin Scorsese’s critique of Marvel movies, I also can’t help but love the journey they’ve taken me on. Avengers: Endgame is the end of an era that, for me, started in middle school. Whether or not the films are some incredibly deep works of art is irrelevant so long as they bring me the joy and mind-numbing moments that I come to expect from them. Avengers: Endgame is exactly that, it’s a spectacle that, in my opinion, excellently lines up the next ten years of films while neatly wrapping up storylines I’ve grown up watching.
18. The Irishman
I will neither confirm, nor deny the notion that I placed this next to Marvel Studio’s magnum opus on purpose.
The Irishman is a greatest hits compilation album. You got one of the most revered directors of American cinema working on a mafia epic with some of the most celebrated actors of all-time. Though it’s a bit of a chore to get through it’s three-and-a-half hour runtime, The Irishman feels as high-profile as its billing is. It’s the kind of film you expect from a director and cast that has been kicking ass for decades. If the Academy were to award a Netflix original film a Best Picture win, I’d put money on this being the one.
Available on Netflix now; breaks may be encouraged.
17. The Farewell
The sweetest little film to come out of this year’s Sundance competition. Awkwafina delivers an incredible performance as a heartbroken granddaughter forced to hide her grandma’s illness from her, per her family’s decision. The Farewell is full of heart, humor, love and positivity. Love your family and cherish them always.
16. The Nightingale
I still don’t think I’ll ever forget that a guy had a literal seizure during our screening of this. The Nightingale is not an easy watch by any means, and its portrayals of violence towards women may seem excessive but do not be confused, it’s meant to make you uncomfortable. This is not a “fun night at the movies” type of movie, it’s heavy, dark and relentless. The year’s most disturbingly real movie that shoves truths in your face and forces you to bear them.
Olivia Wilde’s debut was some of the most fun I’ve had in theaters this year. A coming-of-age story of two best friends just trying to take things less seriously than they should, Booksmart is the female Superbad for the 2010s generation. It’s tons of heart, laughter, and emotions all-around, and one of the must-see comedies this year, don’t let any haters tell you otherwise.
14. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
A work of art, a love-letter to San Francisco, one of the most beautifully shot films this year. I originally described The Last Black Man In San Francisco as a play brought to the silver screen. A film that’s absolutely poetic and gorgeous all-throughout with a powerful statement on poverty, legacy and gentrification. This is one of the most essential films of the year and guess what? It’s available on Prime video right now!
Anyone that knows me in real life can attest to the passion I have for this movie right here. Hustlers is the biggest surprise of the year for me; not only is it a hilarious “heist” film, it also doubles as one hell of a drama with really well-written complex characters and knockout performances from nearly everyone involved, think The Big Short mixed with Wolf of Wall Street but in a two-piece and covered in glitter. Hustlers is a gorgeous crowd-pleaser with a surprising amount of depth and an amazing soundtrack to boot.
Lord of the Flies set above the clouds in the mountains, and down below in the harsh jungles of Colombia; Monos is a masterpiece about friendship, loyalty, survival and betrayal. One of my favorite films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and one of the most beautiful films of the year, Monos is a nonstop thrill ride that has remained near the top of my list since I first saw it in January.
A swedish, shroom-induced nightmare about a failed relationship. Midsommar is one of the defining films this year and one of the most unique horror films I’ve ever seen. Florence Pugh crushes it as the lead Dani and Ari Aster proves to be one of the most inventive and unique voices in horror today. An instant cult classic and a film that will be remembered for years to come.
1917 isn’t just a thrilling film, it’s a masterfully-crafted one as well. Shot almost entirely in one-take, it’s a marvel of moviemaking magic that I can’t wait to watch again. An intense war thriller set during World War I that will have you at the edge of your seat. I still don’t understand how they were able to pull everything in this film off, but they did, and it is glorious.
9. Honey Boy
My favorite film from this year’s Sundance. Honey Boy is a sigh of relief for Shia Labeouf who wrote and stars as a version of his father in this tale of a young man dealing with alcoholism, and how his life as a child actor with an abusive father led him to a life filled with public scandal and down a path of rehabilitation. I’m a sucker for autobiographical films and to see the care with which this story was directed and told by director Alma Ha’rel and Shia nearly brought me to tears. You can just feel the sentiment, pain and love within this story and Shia Labeouf is deserving of any award recognition he gets for this.
8. Knives Out
Knives Out is one of the most stylish, star-studded and enjoyable movies of the year. Rian Johnson, in an attempt to clear his name and prove to bitter Star Wars fans that he is a force to be reckoned with, follows up The Last Jedi with this hilarious Whodunnit that is also surprisingly political. There is not a dull moment, nor a dull character to be seen, everything here is tightly wound around the central mystery and delivers one of the best twists of the year.
7. The Lighthouse
If I were to ever describe a film as “unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” it’s this. A dark, artful, brooding and mystical tale of madness and liquor; The Lighthouse is a hypnotic descent into insanity as two lighthouse keepers find themselves stranded after a storm hits the tiny island at which they’re posted. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe deliver career-defining performances in this bleak and nauseating tragedy. If you could smell a film, this one would reek of rum, urine, sea water and sweat. Insanity.
6. Pain & Glory
Again, I’m a huge sucker for autobiographical films.
In Pain & Glory, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar rekindles old flames, relives his past and faces his demons. A story of love, sexuality, identity and legacy as you face the later years of life. Pain & Glory sees Antonio Banderas in one of his best performances to date and one of the most intimate and personal films of the year. Filled with color, written beautifully and executed perfectly, it’s one of the year’s best and my new personal favorite film of Almodovar’s.
5. Marriage Story
Memes and baseless criticisms aside, Marriage Story features one of my favorite ensemble casts of the year. It’s also, in my opinion, Noah Baumbach’s best written and best directed film to date. Scarlett, also disregarding controversy, delivers her best performance to date and Adam Driver turned me from a skeptic of his into a massive fan. Marriage Story shines in its subtlety, its silent and intimate moments. Anyone who bases their thoughts on this film and the performances in it on a two-minute clip seen out of context don’t have a say in whether this film is great or not. Go see it for yourself on Netflix.
4. Uncut Gems
If you ever wanna know what a panic attack on screen looks like, Uncut Gems is the film for you. If you ever wanna see Adam Sandler absolutely destroy a role in the best way possible, Uncut Gems is the film for you. If you ever wanna see a movie that shows how frustratingly destructive addiction can be… you guessed it, this is the film for you. I’ve thought about this movie every single day since I saw it and I cannot wait to watch it again. It’s dizzying and electrifying, a sledgehammer to the face of anxiety and frustration set to a synth-heavy score that is easily the best of the year.
3. Little Women
At first, Little Women seems to take a few minutes to find its footing, but once it does, it’s an absolute banger.
Little Women is a warm hug from a mother, sister, aunt, or close friend. It’s magical. Greta Gerwig resurrects the timeless story and infuses it with her personality, still keeping the heart of the story in tact. There is so so so so much to love about this film; the performances, the cinematography, the many little moments that just stick with you long after it’s done. It’s an instant classic, I smile every time I think about it. It’s the most positive, feel-good film of the year that just radiates joy and warmth. I cannot praise this enough.
2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Poetry. That’s what this is. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is one of two perfect films released in 2019. This movie is art, period. The performances are brilliant, so much is said and expressed through movement, through gestures, through glances. Everything has a purpose, everything has a meaning. The cinematography is the best of the year. Everything has a purpose, everything is framed with meaning. It’s such a simple and small-scale film but it’s so massive below the surface. Hang this up in a museum, frame-by-frame. It’s so artful and yet so not pretentious. It’s a film made with care and vision; one of the most universally-acclaimed films of the decade and one of the most gut-wrenching experiences I’ve ever had watching a movie.
Parasite is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I wrote a whole article about how brilliant it is and those feelings still stand. If, for some reason, you still haven’t seen this film, you are massively missing out.
It’s such an experience to behold. Go in blind, don’t watch trailers or read reviews if you somehow still don’t know anything about it. See it two, maybe three times because there is so much to dissect and decipher. I’m obsessed, have been obsessed, will remain obsessed until every person I know has seen it and has acknowledged its genius.
It’s the defining film of the year and easily one of the best films so far this century. A masterpiece, plain and simple, do yourself a favor.
If you made it this far, thank you. I hope this list has helped ease your decision of what to watch next with a date or with friends. 2019 was an incredible year in film, perhaps the best of the decade. Support these original ideas and I hope you can come to love these stories and experiences as much as I do. I have my full Top 40 list here.
Can’t wait to see what this next year has to offer. See you on the next one!