/Film's Top 15 Movies of 2019
Over the past week, we have published individual Top 10 Movies of 2019 lists for each member of the /Film staff. And behind the scenes, we’ve been crunching the numbers to determine a list that represents the site as whole, with all of our most treasured films from the past year featured.
And while not every beloved film made our final Top 15 of 2019 list (The Lighthouse missed it by this much!), we feel that the movies below not only represent the site’s overall tastes, but also what a tremendous year for cinema 2019 really was.
15. Pain and Glory
Hoai-Tran Bui: Subtlety is not the medium in which Pedro Almodovar operates. Every Almodovar movie is a glorious shout to the world — a cry of elation, frustration, desperation, or regret. Pain and Glory, Almodovar’s semi-autobiographical masterwork, that cry starts out softly at first, barely heard amid the Spanish auteur’s contemplative interrogation of memory and creation. But that cry grows until it fills the frame with emotion, threatening to overflow. Antonio Banderas gives a tour-de-force performance as aging film director Salvador Mallo, whose regrets and mistakes are literally written all over his body — in surgical scars, in the pain in his joints, in his constant migraines. Restless to get back to work and resentful of the body that has betrayed him, Salvador finds himself returning to the sunny days of his childhood, when the summers smelled of piss and cinema was a grand escape for him. Pain and Glory is a circular film about the indelible moments in life that spark creativity, and vice versa.
14. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Peter Sciretta: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an emotionally exhausting, but immensely satisfying conclusion to not only the Star Wars sequel trilogy, but the entire Skywalker saga. Director JJ Abrams had an audacious task and nailed it despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles by changing the rules of the game in a way that would make James T. Kirk proud (yes, we’re mixing our sci-fi franchises here). Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver provide gripping performances that perfectly tie together the film’s themes and provide that beautiful emotional core. The magical interactions between the film’s core trio is a delight and I’m sad this saga has come to an end…even though Rey’s journey has only just begun.
13. Jojo Rabbit
Ethan Anderton: It’s a shame that we have to remind people how shitty Nazis were and how bad it is that they have a newfound confidence in today’s circus of a political climate. But Taika Waititi deals with this burden as only he can with Jojo Rabbit. The movie follows a young boy (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) who has been brought up to be a Nazi, hoping to become a man at a boys camp where they learn all the best ways to be cruel, hateful, and honor the Führer. But it should come as no surprise that all the Nazis in this movie are bumbling buffoons (Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilsonhilariously among them), and our main character has a lot of lessons to (un)learn from them when he discovers a teenage Jewish girl being hidden in his attic by his mother. Whipping back and forth between gutbusting comedy and heartbreaking drama, this is a story of acceptance and natural love in the face of indoctrinated hate. And it has Taika Waititi also making an absolute mockery of Hitler, so what else can you ask for?
12. The Report
Ethan Anderton: Despite seeing this movie at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival nearly an entire year ago, somehow this movie packs even more of a significant punch in the face of another pointless, senseless and unnecessary war on the horizon. The Reportlooks back at the morally reprehensible interrogation tactics utilized by the United States government in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The torture on display is infuriating enough, but it’s the inaction by our government to rectify the situation and admit their wrongdoings, mistakes made on both sides of the aisle by Republican and Democratic presidents, that is truly horrifying and upsetting. This movie is dense and rich with exposition that director and writer Scott Z. Burns makes sizzle in conversations between Adam Driver as Senate staffer Daniel Jones and and Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein, and for anyone who is unable to bring themselves to read the 500-page summary of the torture report, this movie acts as riveting and maddening Cliff’s Notes for blood stains on our flag.
Chris Evangelista: The Report is tragically even more relevant now than it was when it opened a few months ago. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it, and sure enough, as America gears up to enter yet another endless, ill-thought-out war, The Report reminds us we’ve been here before and we’re too damn stupid to learn anything. Of all the great Adam Driver performances of 2019, The Report is the best, requiring the actor to rattle off page after page of information and somehow make it all incredibly exciting and cinematic. Driver plays Senate staffer Daniel Jones who is tasked with looking into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” following 9/11. What Jones quickly discovers is that the CIA was flat-out torturing suspects, and gaining useless intel in the process. The CIA knew pretty quickly that what they were doing wasn’t really working, and yet they kept on doing it anyway. The Report doesn’t let anyone off the hook. While the enhanced techniques were instituted under George W. Bush, Jones sees first-hand that the Obama administration isn’t exactly rushing to set things right. Writer-director Scott Z. Burns channels great political thrillers like All the President’s Men to create a shocking, disturbingly timely story that deserves much more attention than it received.
11. Marriage Story
Jacob Hall: Noah Baumbach’s surprisingly hopeful, wryly funny, and emotionally devastating dissection of a relationship in its final stages is one of the most human films of 2019. Rather than reduce one half of this failed marriage to a villain, Baumbach forces us to accept the harsher truth – these two people loved each other, still know each other better than anyone else on the planet, and both of them deserve our empathy as they endure the shittiest moment of their lives. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give the best performances of their careers, culminating in an argument that cuts deeper than most horror movies. No one knows how to wound you quite like the person who loved you.
10. The Farewell
Jacob Hall: Lulu Wang’s autobiographical drama is a low-key miracle, a tale of a culture clash that has equal respect and love for both sides while being unafraid to be brutally honest about each of them. What sounds depressing on paper – a grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and her Chinese family decides to keep the truth from her while her American granddaughter struggles to say goodbye without saying goodbye – is surprisingly joyous and funny in execution, with Awkwafina turning in a career-redefining performance. This is a movie about little moments, the tiny interactions with the people we love that linger long after the chaos of major events has settled. Wang is patient enough with these moments to make them feel like her own. And our own.
Ethan Anderton: It’s easy for movies that play the Sundance Film Festival to be impressive. The buzz in the mountains is heightened by the elevation and the excitement of seeing these movies for the very first time with a crowd of movie lovers. But every now and then, one of those movies has the legs to go the distance all the way to the Oscars the following year, and The Farewell is one of them. Written and directed by Lulu Wang, the film tells the story of a Chinese family trying to keep a terminal cancer diagnosis from their grandmother. They all use the guise of a cousin’s wedding as an opportunity to say their goodbyes, and the result is a funny, touching, story that is representative of an under-served culture on the big screen, and one that is very personal to Lulu Wang. But the movie also resonates universally in its approach to family love, memories, identity and success, largely thanks to a breakthrough, award-worthy performance from Awkwafina.
Hoai-Tran Bui: I know a lot of people were dissatisfied with Crazy Rich Asians, which was touted as the watershed movie for Asian-American representation in Hollywood, because of its overly broad appeal. But where Crazy Rich Asians goes as broad and as big as possible, The Farewell goes specific and small. And in achieving that perfect note of cultural specificity, it manages to be both incredibly intimate and universal. Based on the true story of director Lulu Wang, The Farewell is a story of cultural and generational clash through the perspective of Billi (Awkwafina in her dramatic breakout role), a Chinese-American woman who learns that her grandmother Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is dying. Shocked to learn that, in keeping with Chinese custom, her family is keeping the truth of the illness from Nai Nai, Billi joins them in China under the pretense of attending a wedding so that they can spend one last time with Nai Nai. Quietly devastating and devastatingly funny, The Farewell is a candid and complicated portrayal of grief and the difference between how the east and west process that grief. The Farewell doesn’t ask you to understand the choices by its characters. But it does allow you to live with them as they live with those choices, and feel every flicker of turmoil and sorrow.
Chris Evangelista: I’ll admit to being a bit indifferent to the talents of Awkwafina before I saw The Farewell. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the comedian/rapper/actress, it was just that I had yet to figure out what all the hubbub was about. That all changed when I caught Lulu Wang‘s marvelous film at Sundance. Here, Awkwafina showed an amazing range that I’m not sure many people suspected she possessed, turning in a deeply human performance that had its touches of comedy but was mostly dramatic. Based on a true story, The Farewell has Awkwafina playing Billi, a Chinese-American woman who learns that her beloved Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) is dying. But, in keeping with Chinese custom, the extended family has decided to keep Nai Nai’s illness a secret from the elderly woman. Instead, they plan to gather together for the purposes of a wedding while also using the occasion to spend one final time with Nai Nai. None of this sits very well with Billi, who thinks her dying grandmother should be made aware of what’s going on. This is Awkwafina’s show, but Wang also takes time to give the rest of Billi’s family ample time, creating a complicated but loving portrait of the clashing of both generations and cultures.
Jacob Hall: Get Out suggested that Jordan Peele was one of the most exciting filmmakers of the 21st century. Us proves it. This high-concept horror film showcases the power of genre filmmaking at its finest – outrageous and terrifying and impossible concepts that cannot exist in a traditional story are allowed to run wild here, illuminating harsh truths and asking big questions that could not fit within a traditional narrative. Us manages to have to have its cake and eat it too, delivering a visceral, crowd-pleasing horror movie while also offering a buffet of biting social commentary that inspires conversation and debate for weeks after the credits roll. And if the Oscars actually mattered, Lupita Nyong’o would be in consideration for her astonishing work here, playing two roles that could not be more different (including the movie villain of 2019).
Ethan Anderton: Jordan Peele exploded onto the big screen as a filmmaker with Get Out. But rather than get comfortable with his sophomore effort, Peele gets more ambitious, creating a movie that is riddled with ambiguous metaphors, full of multiple hidden meanings. Is it about a culture losing its identity as it assimilates into a society in order to find acceptance? Is it about empty promises to a race of people that still left behind? Is is about the duality of mankind and the good and evil inside all of us? What if it’s about all of that and more? Furthermore, the film also features some of the most haunting performances of the year, especially from Lupita Nyong’o, whose croaky voice and chilling gaze never fail to create tension. This is horror at its absolute finest.
Chris Evangelista: Jordan Peele’s Get Out follow-up is weirder, denser, and more labyrinthine. Like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, nearly every frame of Us feels as if it’s loaded with clues, and secrets, and omens. You don’t watch this movie, you absorb it. Lupita Nyong’o gives not one but two phenomenal performances here, playing a young mother haunted by her own doppelganger. Peele eventually provides a vague explanation for the doppelgangers that populate the film, but it’s not needed. Why try to explain the unexplainable? At times, Us runs the risk of buckling under its own themes of class warfare, but Peele always manages to keep the narrative steady, working wonders to conjure up something wholly unique and entirely unforgettable.
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