So, it’s that time of the year where film buffs post their favourite films of the year in order to look really smart and hip! My time to shine.
2019 was a *phenomenal* year for films; I don’t know if it’s because this is the year where I really went out of my comfort zone with what I chose to watch, or because I saw the most new movies in one year that I have ever seen (50 at the time of writing this!!), or a combination of multiple factors, but my point is that this was a great year.
This year was so great, in fact, that even doing just a top ten favourites felt too limiting. I’m already cutting out so many great movies that to not expand it even slightly would be wrong. So, here we go: my favourite films of 2019!
(Please Note: I am basing my list on the North American release dates for the films included)
US (Dir. Jordan Peele)
CATS (Dir. Tom Hooper)
ROCKETMAN (Dir. Dexter Fletcher)
BETTER DAYS (Dir. Derek Tsang)
SHADOW (Dir. Zhang Yimou)
15. BOOKSMART (Dir. Olivia Wilde)
“We are not one-dimensional. We are smart and fun!”
What an absolute delight Booksmart is! Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of teen comedies, but Olivia Wilde brings a fresh eye to the genre with fantastic performances from Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. Their chemistry carries the film through what could be a typical comedy approach, but Wilde makes sure to fill the film with supporting roles that make every scene a laugh-out-loud riot. Billie Lourd steals every scene she is in, and the film features one of my favourite needle drops of the year, in the form of Slip Away by Perfume Genius. Just a wonderful comedy I can’t wait to check out again.
14. THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE (Dir. Riley Stearns)
“I wanna be what intimidates me.”
A darkly-comedic and horrifying film, The Art of Self-Defense features Jesse Eisenberg’s best performance in his entire career, carrying the film and tone on his shoulders with a confidence I haven’t seen from him since The Social Network. I don’t want to give anything away about the story and where the film goes, I just want to recommend everyone give it a shot! From laughing out loud one moment to recoiling in horror the next, The Art of Self-Defense is an under-appreciated gem from 2019 that more people should see.
13. PAIN AND GLORY (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
“Love is not enough to save the person you love.”
A quiet, self-reflective meditation on legacy, childhood, lost loves, and the ways we fall into self-destruction, Pain and Glory features Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance. Banderas plays a fictionalized version of director Pedro Almódovar, reflecting on his career and the fractured relationship held with Banderas himself.
Pain and Glory is a wonderful character study that brings you into the life of the director, and creates a storied character that deserves to be seen and appreciated.
12. HUSTLERS (Dir. Lorena Scafaria)
“This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance.”
Hustlers is a wonderful crime film that toes the line of bringing the audience along with the protagonists, while also showing the impact of their actions. While Jennifer Lopez is the one to breakout and be poised to garner accolades in the coming awards season, my standout performance comes from Constance Wu. As Destiny, Wu brings a vulnerability to the role that invites the viewer into the world of the film. It’s a film that has grown on me since I first saw it, and I cannot wait to see it again.
11. KNIVES OUT (Dir. Rian Johnson)
“I suspect foul play.”
What a tight, confident screenplay with such stellar performances from the entire cast. I loved the experience of trying to solve the crime with the characters, and then being ahead of the characters, and then having the rug pulled out from beneath. Johnson continues his streak of subversive approaches to genre filmmaking, with the film featuring standout performances from Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, and Michael Shannon.
If you haven’t seen this yet, please check it out. I loved this film, and I’m absolutely going to see it again!
10. RIVER’S EDGE (Dir. Isao Yukisada)
“Recently, there was a day that a lot of stuff happened.”
For half of the year, this was my favourite film I had seen. River’s Edge stuck with me in a way very few films do, and I think it’s for the honest and, admittedly dark approach Yukisada takes to depicting adolescence. The world of River’s Edge is almost utterly devoid of adults of consequence, and so the teenagers are left to their own devices. We follow the daily lives and internal struggles of each character, and as we are drawn into their lives we watch their self-destruction and struggles to make meaning of their lives. It’s on Netflix, watch it if you can handle it.
9. THE BEACH BUM (Dir. Harmony Korine)
“One day I will swallow up the world, and when I do, I hope you all perish violently.”
This film came out of nowhere for me. I’ve never liked a single film of Korine’s, and I didn’t even watch it when it was in theatres. I watched it on a whim, and was shocked at how funny and endearing it actually was.
McConaughey turns in a career-best performance as Moondog, anchored by a stellar supporting cast who are all committing to the absurdity of the film they are in. This is a film celebrating happiness, and freedom, and the ridiculousness of the human spirit.
8. APOLLO 11 (Dir. Todd Douglas Miller)
“I promise to let you know if I stop breathing.”
I have always loved space films, and I have always loved the history behind space exploration. Apollo 11 is the documentary companion piece to First Man that we all deserve.
Seeing real-life footage on an IMAX screen in a packed audience is one of my favourite movie-going experiences of the year. Watching as engineers repair a pressure valve mere minutes before launch had more tension than most films I saw this year. Miller’s editing creates a story that celebrates more than just the astronauts, but the people behind the scenes who collaborated to make it possible for man to walk on the moon.
7. THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (Dir. Joe Talbot)
“You don’t get to hate it unless you love it.”
This is a perfect film, perfectly directed and acted and shot and scored. There’s almost nothing I can say to express how deeply I adored watching this film in a theatre. The fact that Jonathan Majors is not even in the conversation for awards contention is ludicrous; as the year ends, I remember the performance he gives in the climax of the film. You owe it to yourself to see The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
6. THE LIGHTHOUSE (Dir. Robert Eggers)
“Why’d you spill your beans?”
A film that feels as if you’re going insane with the characters, The Lighthouse excels at creating a claustrophobic through its phenomenally stark black-and-white cinematography, down to the 4:3 aspect ratio.
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe put in career-best performances, teetering the line of dark comedy, surreal horror, and slapstick absurdity. Eggers directs with the skill of a master, and with only two films to his name, I will continue to watch his career blossom.
5. LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Dir. Bi Gan)
“The difference between film and memory is film is always false.”
Bi Gan’s second film, Long Day’s Journey Into Night is perhaps the most mesmerizing technical achievement of the year. A dream-like noir that leaves you stranded with the protagonist as you move through fragments of memories in search of lost love.
The final hour of this film, being a single take that moves through somber set pieces, builds and shifts in ways that I couldn’t believe. The entire time I watched it, I thought to myself “How did they do this?”. See this movie.
4. MIDSOMMAR (Dir. Ari Aster)
“Dani, do you feel held by him? Does he feel like home to you?”
If Hereditary was an exploration of mental illness and the way family creates trauma, then Midsommar is a cathartic release and acceptance of trauma, and the ways in which we seek community to carry the weight of our pain.
Florence Pugh is a revelation in this film, and quickly cemented herself as an actress whom I will follow to the ends of the earth.
To me, Midsommar is a companion piece to Hereditary that ultimately seeks to provide closure to the demons within us, and within our relationships. At times a dark comedy, others surreal passive horror, Midsommar, particularly the director’s cut, is a film I will revisit many times in the near future.
3. THE FAREWELL (Dir. Lulu Wang)
“Your Nai Nai is dying.”
A quiet, meditative depiction of grief and the secrets we keep to protect our loved ones, The Farewell is a film anchored by incredible performances from an ensemble that coalesces into a genuine family.
The Farewell challenges the ideas of responsibility and need for truth in families, and highlights an important cultural divide among those in the family who remained in China, and those who moved to America. The film balances all of these aspects with such grace and confidence, and it’s all thanks to Lulu Wang.
Lulu Wang’s direction and screenplay are pitch-perfect, and if we could give awards for films that made me sob the most, The Farewell would take the top prize. I loved this film.
2. HONEY BOY (Dir. Alma Ha’rel)
“The only thing my father gave me that was worth anything was pain, and you’re trying to take it away from me.”
I realized halfway through Honey Boy, with tears streaming down my face and quiet sobbing so as to not disturb the rest of the audience, just how rarely we see depictions of abuse by parents put to screen in such an honest and raw way.
Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, and Shia Labeouf embody the ways in which we internalize our demons and trauma and manifest them in our actions; Labeouf, in particular, gives the standout performance by an actor this entire year. Anchoring everything is a stripped-down, confident direction by Alma Har’el, a quiet powerhouse of a director. See this movie.
1. PARASITE (Dir. Bong Joon-Ho)
“All you’ll need to do is walk up the stairs”
I think to go on anymore about this film would be to beat a dead horse; everyone knows how much I love this film…but humour me for a moment.
I’ve seen Parasite three times, and every time I watch it I’m lost in the film. I lose myself in the characters, and the world that’s created. It is perfect; not a frame is wasted, not a line of dialogue out of place, not a single movement by the actors incorrect. The film effortlessly shifts through genres, building a sense of tension and dark humour, as only a film by a master director like Bong Joon-Ho is able. This is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Parasite is a masterpiece.