Top 10 Movies of 2019

2019 is over, and you know what that means- it’s time to reflect on the best movies released this past year.  Everybody under the sun may be making their “best of 2019” lists right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to miss out.  You can check out my picks for what I believe to be the ten best movies of 2019 below, listed in no particular order.  Click the links to read my full review of each film.

PARASITE

Writer and director Bong Joon-ho’s commentary on class is a masterwork.  Thrilling, funny, original, and constantly surprising, “Parasite” is buoyed by gorgeous cinematography and stellar performances from its entire cast.  It’s a film that demands the audience to think deeper, as well as one that will benefit from rewatching.

MARRIAGE STORY

From writer and director Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story” is equally funny and heart-breaking as it examines the deterioration of a marriage.  Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is a successful New York City theater director, while his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is an actress who sets her sights on Los Angeles.  Their young son is caught in the middle, and what begins as an amicable breakup gets nasty as they fight for custody, but Baumbach delicately balances both sides of the story.  Driver and Johansson give two of the best performances of the year.

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

This little indie film written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz is one of the most delightful movies of the year.  It’s the funny and heart-warming story of a Twain-esque road trip South, taken by fisherman/thief Tyler (Shia LaBeouf, in one of his most winning performances), Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome who escapes from the retirement home he lives in, and Eleanor, an employee of the home who is trying to track Zak down.  The leads have wonderful chemistry, and the film moves at a brisk but entertaining pace that will leave you wanting more.

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

Eddie Murphy’s first film in three years is one of his best.  Directed by Craig Brewer, this film is based on the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, who made a name for himself as a standup comedian in the 1970s using a persona he called Dolemite, before transitioning to feature films.  Murphy perfectly embodies Moore’s can-do attitude; the film really hits its stride when it depicts the making of his first movie, “Dolemite,” a beautiful disaster that wonderfully conveys the love and joy of filmmaking. 

JOJO RABBIT

Taika Waititi directs, writes, and co-stars in this comedy/drama based on the book “Caging Skies.”  It’s the story of Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis in a stunning film debut), a young boy and Nazi zealot who joins the Hitler Youth scouts during World War II.  But his perspective starts to change when he discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Elsa, played by Thomasin McKenzie) in their home.  Waititi plays a version of Hitler that is Jojo’s imaginary friend/conscience.  “Jojo Rabbit” isn’t without its flaws, but it’s a surprisingly sweet depiction of a horrible event, and contains what may be my favorite shot of any film from 2019.

THE FAREWELL

Written and directed by Lulu Wang, “The Farewell” is a drama about a Chinese family who finds out that their matriarch (Nai Nai, played by Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal cancer and only a few months left to live.  But much to the astonishment of Nai Nai’s American-raised granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina, the family chooses tradition and decides to keep the diagnosis from Nai Nai.  “The Farewell” is a sweet and moving depiction of family and the differences between Eastern and Western culture, anchored by a staggering dramatic performance from Awkwafina and marvelously told by Wang.

KNIVES OUT

I didn’t really know what exactly what to think about writer and director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” when I first watched it—but maybe that’s because I went into it with preconceived notions of what a whodunit should be.  Johnson’s film celebrates those aspects while also tearing them down, wrapping them up in a timely message about immigration.  It’s also hilarious, thanks to his sharp script and hugely talented ensemble cast, which is led by Ana de Armas but also includes Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, and, of course, Daniel Craig as the thickly-accented detective Benoit Blanc.

Lena Dunham, Margaret Qualley and Brad Pitt star in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

The ninth film from writer and director Quentin Tarantino is also one of his best.  Set in 1969 Hollywood—a time when the culture and the industry was changing—the film depicts the fictional characters of has-been Western actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) alongside real-life characters such as actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).  The story inevitably races toward the infamous Manson murders, but nothing is what you’d expect.  Tarantino imbues this film with a lot of layers, leaving a lot of choices up for the audience’s interpretation.  The cast is superb, with DiCaprio giving the performance he should have won his Oscar for.

LITTLE WOMEN (2019)

Writer and director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the beloved Louisa May Alcott novel makes a story set in the 1860s feel contemporary.  Each member of the cast contributes something amazing to their character, particular the four March sisters, played by Saoirse Ronan (Jo), Emma Watson (Meg), Florence Pugh (Amy), and Eliza Scanlan (Beth).  Timothée Chalamet is a spectacular Laurie; both he and Pugh bring new dimensions to their characters, while Gerwig restructures the story in a way that packs even more of an emotional punch.

HUSTLERS

Based on a true story, “Hustlers,” which is directed by Lorene Scafaria, is an empowering film about a group of New York City strippers who, in the wake of the 2009 recession, decide to use their skills to profit from the greedy Wall Street men whose follies resulted in economic fallout for the less fortunate.  There are no significant male characters in this movie, which treats them as objects while it explores female love and friendship in depth.  Constance Wu delivers a solid performance as the lead, but Jennifer Lopez steals the show as the matriarch of the group, giving the best performance of her career.

Taron Egerton as singer/songwriter Elton John in “Rocketman”

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Rocketman,” “Booksmart,” “The Irishman,” “Apollo 11”

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