There were a lot of good movies this year so we have to break it down by category. Let’s start big, this year on the blockbuster front, we were most impressed by movies like John Wick Parabellum. Pushing its set pieces to their most bombastically heightened conclusions.
In Ford versus Ferrari, it would have been just a better-than-average biopic if it weren’t for the rip-roaring driving scenes. And don’t tell anyone we said this, but we actually loved Alita: Battle Angel. And we’re sorry it bombed so bad we likely won’t get to see another one.
However, there’s nothing quite so climactic as finishing off a decade with the capstone to the most expensive story ever told. These are The Best Movies Of 2019.
Parasite is truly unlike any movie we have ever seen before or since. Part comedy, part thriller, part social drama, mixing and transitioning between its tones effortlessly and often.
Bong Joon-ho is in full control of his craft and soaring, and then there’s the story. An hour in you’re trying to guess where the hell this could possibly be going, but you can’t, it’s impossible.
It always seems like there’s 100 different, satisfying ways he could take it at every turn. But he always seems to pick none of the above and do something even more interesting than you could have imagined.
In a world where people say silly things like there’s really on seven stories. And experienced viewers pride themselves on the savvy to see every twist and turn coming miles in advance. Parasite manages to make us feel like kids at the movie theater again. Truly in awe and wonder at what the silver screen has in store.
There is something to be said for the importance of sticking a landing. And in the superhero comic book world, where cheating death is no big deal, Endgame stands out by making death and finality matter.
There is a serious amount of runtime real estate dedicated to the breath of our hero’s experiences with grief. And the confrontation for what feels like the very first time of their own limits.
As the film follows their attempts to bring back half an entire universe snapped away, they create a sense of scale. National mourning, and cost that elevates End Game beyond all the previous Marvel offerings.
If you grew up in the Marvel era, Endgame asked you to stay goodbye to characters you’ve know since you were a kid. And no matter how you feel about comic book movies and whether they are or are not capital C cinema, that matters.
Basically a female Superbad complete with Nick McLovin esque psychic actually, kind of a couple. Two girls that played it safe in high school learn that as they were busy studying.
Their classmates were partying and still managed to get into the Ivy’s alongside them. So they set out to get themselves into some good old-fashioned trouble before graduation.
The Script is hysterical, and the two previously unknown leads make the dialog crackle. Teen romance is handled with far more complexity than your usual sex comedy without ever sacrificing humor for its honesty. It gets the emotions right and it is the hardest we laugh all year.
Farewell is a home-cooked meal with grandma in cinematic form. Heartfelt, hilarious, based on an absolutely bonkers the premise that also just so happens to be actually real. The love is palpable everywhere in Lulu Wang’s breakout picture, the story follows Awkwafina as Billie.
As she and her family head to China for a wedding, it is really just a cover to see the family matriarch once more. After she is diagnosed with cancer that the family has decided not to tell her about it.
A lesser story with a shoehorned in a generic romantic side plot and a lot more will they, won’t they spill the beans. But the farewell knows exactly where its heart is. Somewhere amidst the marvelous chemistry between its hero and her delightful grandmother, Nai Nai.
6I Lost My Body
A boy loses his had in I Lost My Body is the story of how he puts himself back together. Except, instead of following the boy he follows his hand crawling its way back to him like a five-legged flesh crab, well sometimes.
Other times it looks like a tiny little person. And somehow you end up feeling for the strange little bugger, him and his owner both, and for a surprising amount. Most films in one way or another engage with our experience of sight.
Quite a few engage equally with our experience of sound. But it’s a rare film that renders a sense of touch quite so cinematically as done here. Evoking sense memory so powerfully specific that you can almost them as you watch.
It’s a point of view from which we’ve never seen a story before, and it’s completely impactful in the telling.
5Pain and Glory
In Pain and Glory, we see Almodovar reach for new personal and autobiographical heights. While his life-long collaborator, Antonio Banderas, delivers a performance subtle and honest so far beyond what we had previously thought incapable.
It is the story of an aging director in Madrid struggling with health and art turning to heroin in his 50s. Mending fences and then breaking them again and remembering his past.
The film is at its best when Benderas shares the screen with his aging mother or with his former lover. And although neither episodes are very long, that’s sort of seems like the point, you love them so much and really wish they wouldn’t go.
And then there’s the final shot, it’s neither tragic, heroic, melodramatic, nor flashy, but there’s a power in its simplicity. It just broke us into tears.
Apollo 11 mines an enormous wealth of archival sources. Including some magnificent and previously undiscovered 7 mm footage to retell the story of the moon landing as if you were there.
It uses no narration, no interviews, and no recreation. Even the synthesizers used in the fantastically tense score were period accurate.
The story is told almost completely with recorded conversations between the astronauts and their mission controllers. With plenty of screen time set aside to just marvel at the colossal scale of it all. And in a year of visually impressive space movies, that weren’t quite our speed, some with truly massive CGI budgets.
They still don’t come near to feeling as awesome and monumental as what it was actually like when we put a man on the moon.
Marriage Story sees Baumbach channeling Bergman and his own marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Into a personal, sometimes funny, often devastating portrait of the parade of 1000 little heartbreaks that come with divorce.
The acting is just as good as everyone singing its praises says it is and the empathy for all involved is practically endless. The whole thing is so clearly somebody’s fault but nobody really seems to deserve the blame.
They’re all doing their best and they hurt each other deeply in the process. But beneath all this pain and the resentment it turns in to over and over, Baumbach finds irrepressible compassion in his characters. Because of his hope, that it may well be there in us as well.
2Portrait of a lady on fire
There’s less mystery surrounding the tears that flooded the theater after Lady on Fire’s ending, but they felt very much the same. Shama’s quiet, gentle masterpiece follows three women alone in an estate on an isolated island over the course of a week.
Heloise is to wed against her wishes, Mary Ann is to paint her portrait also against Heloise’s wishes. And Sophie, the maid, falls pregnant but doesn’t want it. The rest is simple, they pass the time, paint a portrait, fall in love, slowly and then very fast.
Much of the movie is filled with silent looking, regarding, observing, painting. But God, this drama fills each look and brush stroke with such meaning. You never miss the dialogue because each quiet moment is so very full. And by the end, the only thing you miss is exactly what you are supposed to.
The Irishman may not be a movie for everyone, but my god was it the movie for us. We came in expecting another Goodfellas, another Casino, another gangster story with rapid-fire montage. And a bunch of Rolling Stones cues and every talented Italian American actor there ever was.
And you get that for a little while until you look down and realize it’s become something else entirely right beneath your feet. Because it’s been 30 minutes since the last music cue, and suddenly you just feel so hollow and sad, as if the best parts of your life are behind you.
But you still have so far to go and no way to turn back time and undo your mistakes no matter how hard you try. It brings together the two most prominent trends of Scorsese’s career, the criminal epic, and the religious contemplation.
And seams them together in beautiful alchemy that feels like his entire filmography has been building towards this very moment. It’s Marty in conversation with himself, re-evaluating all the fun he had with his loveable scoundrels.
Shouldering the full weight of the remorse a life of crime really begets. It aches with the heaviness of existence which is why it’s one of our absolute favorites of the year.