Looking back on the films of 2019, individual moments stood out the most. The heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe returning in the end of Avengers: Endgame. The heartbreaking fight between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story. Matt Damon taking Tracy Letts’ Henry Ford for a test drive in Ford v. Ferrari. Joaquin Phoenix dancing at the top of the stairs inJoker. The audience singing “Over The Rainbow” at the end of Judy. The revisionist finale ofOnce Upon A Time In Hollywood. And more – so much more.
We were moved by the endings of The Peanut Butter Falcon and The Farewell. We were wowed by the filmmaking prowess of The Irishman and 1917. We laughed at Jojo Rabbit, Dolemite Is My Name and the funniest movie of the year, Long Shot. We certainly did not laugh at Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, but wow was he terrific, and the movie got us thinking. To that end, so did Usand Parasite.
Some performances surprised us – we never knew Jennifer Lopez could do what she did inHustlers, or that Adam Sandler could excel in a dramatic role in Uncut Gems. What’s more, let’s hope Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Brad Pitt (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood) and Eddie Murphy (Dolemite Is My Name) get the recognition they’ve earned for their terrific work this year.
Whether you saw a 2019 film on a large or small screen, odds are there was plenty that moved you, made you laugh and inspired you. Many films were set in a different time period, yet felt modern. Such is the state of the film industry, forever in flux and evolving, yet always reflecting our current world.
I felt lucky to call myself a film critic in 2019. Here are my 10 best films of the year.
10. Avengers: Endgame
Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War may have been a better movie on its own, but Endgame served as the perfect culmination of the 22 movies that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No matter how you look at it, that’s a substantial, and impactful, accomplishment.
9. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
This is Director Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to an era of cinematic opportunity (the 1960s) in Hollywood – and a thoughtful elegy to what could have been for then-rising star Sharon Tate. It’s three hours, but deserves the epic run time.
This study of an affluent African-American family goes from a troubling exposé of social pressures to an emotional tome of grief and loss. It’s a riveting cinematic experience, and a movie you will not soon forget.
7. Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler has succeeded in drama before (Reign Over Me), but his turn here as a gambling-addicted jeweler is a revelation. The movie, directed by the Safdie brothers (Good Time), is darn good as a whole as well, with sharp writing and strong performances across the board.
Certainly the most technically impressive film of the year, it follows two soldiers on a long journey in what looks like one long take for nearly two hours. The fact that it has heart too makes it a must-see, and a likely Oscar contender.
5. Ford v Ferrari
Two stubborn gearheads played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale overcame the competition (and their bosses) in this superbly acted and told drama. Damon has been consistently solid for years, Bale steals the show as a loose-cannon racecar driver, and together their chemistry is impeccable.
4. The Farewell
A movie with melancholy and sweetness to spare, writer/director Lulu Wang based the events of the film on her own Chinese family, and deftly articulated Eastern vs. Western sensibilities in the process. Awkwafina, Tzi Ma and Shuzhen Zhao gave the performances you’ll remember, but more than anything you’ll remember how good the movie made you feel.
3. The Irishman
Director Martin Scorsese’s epic is excellent in every way a movie can be excellent, highlighted by terrific performances and masterful storytelling. It may be long at 209 minutes, but it is worth every second.
This brilliant exploration of social class inequality in Korea has emerged as the best foreign language film of the year. Director Bong Joon Ho’s film is more than social commentary, though. It also bends genres, keeps you guessing, and is clearly the work of a man at the top of his craft.
1. Marriage Story
This movie (still in theaters, and streaming on Netflix) moves and touches viewers like no other in 2019. Terrific acting often trumps all, and this film features the three best performances of the year in their respective categories. If there’s any justice, Adam Driver (Actor), Scarlett Johansson (Actress) and Laura Dern (Supporting Actress) will be Oscar winners, and there will be no shortage of accolades for writer/director Noah Baumbach’s heartbreaking film that treats love and heartbreak seriously.