2019 has been a fantastic year for film, whether it be from legendary and acclaimed filmmakers or very promising up and comers, there have been a lot of great movies and I’m now here to acknowledge my 30 favourites of last year.
Now to preface this list, I haven’t gotten around to watching every film single movie from 2019, however I think I watched the movies that would likely end up in my top 30 favourites of the year. As of right now, I’ve seen 94 movies from 2019, and I’m satisfied with the movies that I chose to watch.
Also, if I have made a very positive review of a particular movie from 2019 and it’s not here, it didn’t make the cut, whether it was never in that position to begin with or if my opinion on it significantly dropped between then and now.
While I’m not going to go into too much depth with them, there are some movies that missed out on being in the top 30 which I think deserve being mentioned at least.
- Dolemite is My Name
- The Farewell
- Jojo Rabbit
- Light of My Life
- Official Secrets
- The Souvenir
Without further ado, here’s my full list.
30. Pain and Glory
Pain and Glory is an emotional, and intimate movie that has been growing on me the more I’ve thought about it, and I actually want to watch it again sometime in the future. The first half was decent, with the first act in particular being a little too slow for my liking, and I didn’t really know what the movie was really moving towards. However by the time it gets to the second half, it really picked up and comes together, becoming something great. The story is very self reflective and melancholic, it felt really personal and special. The cast are all good but it’s of course Antonio Banderas who shines the most, a truly emotional performance, played absolutely perfectly. Pedro Almodovar also directed this really well, and he’s definitely a filmmaker whose other work I definitely want to check out now. Pain and Glory is well worth seeing if you haven’t watched it already.
29. Avengers Endgame
Avengers: Endgame is one of only two comic book movies which will be making an appearance on this list. Even though I was absolutely loving it when I first saw it, it’s pretty clear now that a lot of my hype played a huge part in my enjoyment. No it’s not a 10/10, no I’m not quite sure I’d still go so far as to say it’s one of the best comic book movies of all time, and yes there’s a bunch of issues that I could list. But even after re-watching it, it’s still quite impressive how well they ended this 11 year-long movie arc, I think they mostly pulled it off. Giving this movie a 3 hour long runtime really helped it quite a lot, particularly for the main characters, and it really does feel like an epic conclusion to this storyline. It does get very fan servicey, but with this essentially being a giant conclusion, it’s expected, so that didn’t bother me too much. Endgame is entertaining, and most of the handling of the characters was good. There are some issues I had with the story for sure, from some plot decisions I wasn’t quite a fan of, and moments that could’ve been handled better. However I just can’t deny that I still think this movie is quite good, flaws and all.
28. High Life
High Life is… a very weird movie, it’s still strange even just thinking back on it, and that makes it a very hard movie to recommend. However it does so many things that I just admire, that I can’t help but put it on this list. There’re so many weird and interesting ideas that this movie has, I didn’t fully grasp a lot of what the movie was trying to say, but I was more than willing to be on this bizarre ride. You really felt the runtime with the slow burn pacing throughout, but didn’t take away from my immersion of the movie too much. Claire Denis’s direction is amazing, it’s such a stunning movie, and effectively eerie and full of dread throughout. The cast also all perform well, with Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and more. While I’m not confident that I can say that I loved High Life, there’s a lot of great things in there, and it made me curious to see Denis’s other movies.
27. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As this is a Best Films of the year list, I’ll get this out of the way quickly: yes my love for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood have decreased immensely, and to get an idea of how much, it went from my third favourite to my second least favourite film of Quentin Tarantino. Even though I didn’t feel the magic that I experienced when I first saw it though, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot here that isn’t still great. Tarantino’s love for cinema is on display from to start to finish, and he really put everything together well. His direction is excellent, bringing late 60s Hollywood bacl onto the big screen. His writing is strong, the characters memorable, and the dialogue great as usual. The tribute to Sharon Tate was beautiful, and gave her the happy ending in the movies that she sadly didn’t get in real life. Topping that off is a stellar cast, led by two great leads in Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. Even though I couldn’t really get into the movie on the second viewing, there’s at least a lot in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that I really admire and worth praising.
26. The Art of Self-Defense
One of the most surprising movies to come from 2019, darkly hilarious, disturbing, and entertaining all at once. The satire and commentary on the likes of toxic and hyper masculinity is for sure ham fisted and over the top, but it works for its intentionally ridiculous style and story. Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots are great in their roles, but it’s Alessandro Nivola who steals the whole movie in one of the best supporting performances of the year. Not many people have seen The Art of Self-Defense yet, so definitely get around to it, particularly if you’re a fan of dark comedy.
After Bohemian Rhapsody, one could be excused for not expecting much from Rocketman as far as music biopics go, but it actually turned out to be the anthesis of the former. It was basically as perfect as an Elton John biopic as you could possibly get. Sidestepping the typical biopic tropes, it’s unconventional, uncensored and unsensitized, and it really was a fantastical musical, with Elton’s music used excellently throughout the film. At the centre of it all is Taron Egerton, who completely embodies Elton John, not just with the singing and performing, but also with the spirit and character of the music icon. Rocketman was visually stunning and entertaining throughout, one of the stand out cinematic experiences I had from the past year.
24. Motherless Brooklyn
Before watching Motherless Brooklyn, I wasn’t expecting to like it so much despite the talent involved (mostly due to the initial reactions), but I was actually surprised by it. The script may be a bit bloated and messy in parts, and it could get a little side-tracked at points, but on the whole, I was really into this movie. It’s a very solid neo-noir, with an intriguing central mystery that I was invested in throughout. Edward Norton’s direction embraced all the noire elements, and while for some that might be a little overbearing and trying way too hard, it personally got me more into the atmosphere and the overall story. Making the movie even better was the great cast with the likes of Norton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe and more, all performing excellently in their roles. I’d say that Motherless Brooklyn it’s worth giving a watch whenever you get the chance to see it.
23. Dragged Across Concrete
One of the more controversial movies on this list, S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete is a dark and gritty crime drama that I rather admired. The script creates an effectively unpleasant and bleak world, with deliberately flawed and unlikable characters, and while that will turn plenty of people off, I still liked it for that. It was such a well-crafted and put together movie, with a very effective final act to cap it all off. It’s directed excellently, and the lead performers in Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn play their roles very well. Dragged Across Concrete does have its issues, it is a little too long, and while I think most of the slow burn works for this film, the pacing at certain points is a little too slow for its own good. It’s not for everyone, but I think it’s really good.
22. A Hidden Life
Terrence Malick’s latest film is amongst his best work in his filmography. Although like with many of his other movies, it felt drawn out at points and indeed it’s a very long film, it didn’t take away too much from how incredibly well made it is. It’s an incredibly breathtaking and stunning film, so amazing to watch. However it’s not just great because Malick directed the movie well, that’s to be expected, the story itself was also good. The more straightforward narrative worked, with an emotional backbone that I don’t even remember seeing in Malick’s other movies, not for a while at least. Add on top of that two very great performances in August Diehl and Valerie Pachner, and you have an all around incredible film.
21. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
What could’ve been just a standard Fred Rogers biopic turned out to be a genuinely heartfelt and touching movie. A story about love and forgiveness that deals with its topics with maturity (much like a Mr Rogers episode), it’s actually quite compelling and can speak to everyone, whether or not you’re familiar with Rogers. Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys deliver on some great performances, with Hanks completely embodying the character and spirit of Fred Rogers and Rhys also giving a believable and emotional lead performance. Marielle Heller also directs it quite well, with some particular creative choices that help this movie stand out as being more than just a run of the mill biopic. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a lot more than it initially appears to be, definitely a movie that everyone should see.
20. Ford v Ferrari
It’s a real credit to James Mangold that he managed to make a movie about racing to be entertaining and endearing to all, even those who weren’t interested in the subject matter. It may at first seem like a conventional sporting biopic, but it managed to have you engaged in the story and characters, and isn’t only just built on the racing scenes, even though those are great too. The cast all work together, with Christian Bale giving particularly fantastic performance. It’s directed by Mangold immensely well, with the racing scenes being particularly tense, gripping and really well filmed. If you haven’t seen Ford v Ferrari because you don’t think you’d be into it, don’t let that stop you from checking it out, give it a chance.
19. John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum
John Wick Chapter 3 is at least on the level of its predecessor, a fast paced action flick that’s entertaining from start to finish. The world and lore of the John Wick series is expanded further, and there’s a sense of urgency throughout as Wick is constantly on the run, not giving him or the audience too much time to breathe. The action is as usual filmed fantastically, with multiple exciting and entertaining setups and scenarios. Keanu Reeves as usual shines in the best role of his career, great on an action level as well as a performance level. As far as criticisms go, I guess at times the action can get overwhelming and borderline tiresome at points, however I see that not becoming too much of a problem on repeat viewings. I can’t wait to see the John Wick series progress even further, these three movies are already one of the best action trilogies of all time.
Much has already been said about Sam Mendes’s war movie, and I’d say that it generally deserves a lot of its wide praise. On a technical level it is masterful, the method of shooting the movie to look like it was filmed in one shot paid off and wasn’t used as just a gimmick, it immerses you and puts you through the horrors of war that its main characters are experiencing too. Even though its lacking on a story and characterisation front, George MacKay’s lead performance manages to make up for a lot of that, and the payoff at the end is genuinely fantastic. While time will tell whether the movie will hold up past this year, it’s still a technical achievement on a massive level.
17. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco unfortunately didn’t get quite the amount of attention that it deserved. It’s a personal, affecting and melancholic story, that’s greatly written and felt very real. While its plot wasn’t driven by anything and it meanders a little, I was invested throughout it’s runtime. The two main performances from Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors were great, some of the most believable on screen friend chemistry I’ve seen in a while in a movie. On top of all that it was directed incredibly (in an amazing debut from Joe Talbot), particularly featuring some of the best cinematography and music in a 2019 film. Definitely watch this whenever you get the chance to, it needs a lot more love and attention.
Joker has caused quite the stir upon its release, not only from people believing that it would spark real life violence (it really just made some people dress up as clowns and dance down some stairs), but also from people who really hated on the movie itself. While I don’t love it as much as when I first saw it in cinemas, I still think it’s great. Joker is very different for a comic book movie, a dark and grounded character study that’s reminiscent of movies from the 80s from the likes of filmmakers such as Martin Scorsese. It seems like this movie was a bit of an experiment to try something new within this genre, and it seemed to have paid off quite well. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of movies that handle its topics and themes in more depth, however for a comic book movie to go there and actually try to say something, that’s still a step forward for the genre. Writer and director Todd Phillips has done a lot better with this than I thought he would, not that I disliked the couple of movies I’ve seen from him already, but he really impressed here with his work on Joker. It completely sets you in this dark and grimy version of 80s Gotham City, with stunning cinematography and an eerie and excellent score throughout. However at the centre of it all is Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker, who’s excellent, thankfully so since this movie relies on him so much. Phoenix really show’s Arthur’s descent into becoming the Joker, and it’s really a performance like you haven’t seen him give before. While I’m not quite sure I’d say that it’s his best performance, at the very least it’s one of his best. One could say that this movie could’ve done without being associated with a comic book character such as Joker, and that’s true, I still like what they did here. While the similarities between this movie and classics like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy don’t bother me too much, it would’ve been better if it was able to be a little more different. On the whole though, I still think that Joker is a very solid movie.
15. Dark Waters
Dark Waters wasn’t a movie I was expecting much from, but it actually turned out to be pretty great. While it is a pretty familiar and conventional legal drama, it’s nonetheless very good for what it is. Once the lead character is engaged with the lawsuit at the centre of the movie, you’re locked in too, all the way through to the end. This story and topic are very important and relevant, making it worth seeing, but it’s also handled very well as a movie in itself. The acting was also great, with Mark Ruffalo being particularly strong in the lead role. Engaging, important, and well made all round, Dark Waters is definitely worth your time.
Despite Unbreakable’s now cult following and Split’s generally positive reception, people seem a little divided about Glass. I was one of the few people who loved the movie from when I first saw it, and I still really like it today. Sure it has its typical M. Night Shyamalan-isms, mainly with the writing and especially some of the dialogue where it just feels very unnatural. However, I thought the movie was handled well on the whole, and I was generally fine with the direction it went in with the story. Some people were expecting a much larger scale movie with a big conclusion to this story, but I loved that Shyamalan still kept it as a smaller movie at its core. The performances are all great, from Bruce Willis, Samuel. Jackson, Sarah Paulson, to Anya Taylor-Joy and more. However it is James McAvoy who shined the most, managing to top his performance in Split, he’s truly spectacular. Glass ranks among M. Night Shyamalan’s best films.
13. Uncut Gems
The Safdie Brothers have created another effective thriller with Uncut Gems. It’s full of energy from start to finish, and the tension escalates further as the lead character Howard Ratner just keeps making bad decisions, landing him into more threatening situations. On a technical level it’s also great, with the Safdies managing to top their work on Good Time on a directing level. The acting from everyone is really good but it’s of course Adam Sandler who really stands out in a career best performance, as a character that only an actor like him would be able to make him bearable and somewhat likable. I think I’ll have to watch this movie again, and it has a second act that slows its pace down a little too much, but on the whole Uncut Gems is great.
12. Honey Boy
Honey Boy is an incredibly raw and personal film, and really a standout from 2019. Shia LaBeouf’s very vulnerable and therapeutic script just worked perfectly, and it’s an intimate and affecting story. Alma Har’el’s debut immediately shows her as a director to pay attention to, beautifully dreamlike, even in contrast with many of the harrowing scenes. It also features 3 excellent performances in Noah Jupe, Lucas Hedges, and Shia LaBeouf, with Jupe and LaBeouf’s particularly delivering some of the most emotionally performed scenes from 2019. I do think that it really needed to be a little longer to flesh out certain aspects, especially for the present day storyline, that’s the only thing that I really had a problem with. Outside of that, Honey Boy is fantastically made, heartfelt, and emotional and by the end, cathartic.
11. Doctor Sleep
A movie based off the sequel to Stephen King’s The Shining doesn’t sound all that great, in fact it sounds like it could be a disaster. But Mike Flanagan and co. have managed to handle this movie significantly well, way better than I thought they would. The recently released 3 hour long director’s cut is even a little better than the theatrical, with some additional scenes fleshing out the movie just a little more. The cast are great, from Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance, to Kyleigh Curran who holds her own as Abra Stone. But it’s of course Rebecca Ferguson who steals the movie as Rose the Hat, who’ll no doubt go down as one of the most iconic horror movie villains. While Doctor Sleep is a follow up to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and indeed references it many times (mostly in the last act), it manages to stand on its own. Flanagan adds his own unique voice and style to the story, and has delivered on something truly great. It’s captivating, character driven, and really works at bridging the gap between the book and the movie. I think in some years it’ll be regarded as one of the best movies based on Stephen King’s books.
Waves turned out to be quite the polarising movie amongst audiences. The two part structure (one part chaotic and intense, and the other much more calm and slower), and aspects of the direction which could be sensory overload at times, were things that you either loved or hated, thankfully I gravitated more to the former. It’s an incredibly emotionally powerful movie, featuring some of the most affecting scenes of the year. The performances were excellent too, with the likes of Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown and more delivering on some incredibly acting. Trey Edward Shults’s writing and directing didn’t work for everyone, but I thought that he crafted an impactful, gorgeous and ultimately great film with Waves, and I’m glad to count myself as one of the people who loved it.
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
I wasn’t sure what to expect Portrait of a Lady on Fire to be, and it was a beautiful and intimate film so excellently put together. The acting from the two leads Noemie Merlant and Adele Haenel were great, their interactions drive the movie and their chemistry was completely believable. Portrait is also one of the best directed movies of 2019, it’s a gorgeous looking movie and handled with such care, perfect on a technical level. It’s a movie I definitely want to revisit in the future, I get the feeling that I haven’t had quite the full experience with that some others had. However, I can tell that it was something really special.
8. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s empathetic movie about divorce has cemented itself firmly as the best movie about the topic. So much of the film’s success is due to its writing, which was fantastic. While the movie at first looks like another typical movie about divorce, there’s some real honesty behind it all. It’s not just an emotional slog and just people arguing for 2 hours and 15 minutes. Instead we are following the main characters as they go through this process of divorce, filled with light hearted moments, sad moments, painful conflict, and a satisfying yet bittersweet conclusion at the end of it all. There are some parts that aren’t so perfect, it very strongly feels like Charlie’s (Adam Driver) film a lot more than Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson), and I wasn’t emotionally invested in these story and characters as much as I thought I would be, even though I was engaged with what was going on, but even then the complaints aren’t so huge. The cast are all around great but of course the highlights were Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who give incredibly performances. They felt so believable and natural, some of the best performances of the year for sure. Definitely check out Marriage Story when you can, it is well worth your attention.
7. Knives Out
Knives Out proved to be one of the most entertaining and surprising movies of the year. Rian Johnson’s shown once again that he’s one of the most exciting talents working today. While his direction is superb, it’s his script that particularly shines, smart, subversive, hilarious, and with many twists and turns that keep you entertained throughout. There’s also an ensemble all star cast who perform their roles excellently, with Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, and Chris Evans really excelling in particular. This is an original whodunit that we don’t get nowadays (at least not one that’s not based on source material), and I hope we get a resurgence of these types of movies. I’m glad to be hearing that there’s plans for sequels following Craig’s Benoit Blanc, because I’m looking forward to seeing what Johnson does next with this genre.
6. Little Women
I really wasn’t expecting much from Little Women, but I ended up really loving it. A heartfelt and genuine movie about growing up, Greta Gerwig has crafted a modern version of the classic story for today’s audiences to love. What could’ve just been a stale and by the numbers movie, she gave so much heart, personality, life and energy that makes it delightful to watch from start to finish. While I’m aware that some people are mixed on this aspect, I loved the use of the non-linear structure with two different storylines, and the way it cut between the two was fantastic. The ensemble cast were all great as their characters, with Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh particularly standing out. Many people have already started calling this a future classic, and I don’t really disagree with that. I can honestly see myself revisiting this multiple times in the future. The more I think about it, the more I love it.
5. Ad Astra
While this movie isn’t really for everyone, certainly a lot slower than most people were expecting, I really loved Ad Astra. Despite being on a such a large scale, it feels incredibly intimate, absolutely a character driven movie throughout. It is indeed a slow movie, but I found myself incredibly wrapped up with the plot over the 2 hour runtime. With themes about masculinity, fathers and sons, and moving on, the story is written and told beautifully by James Gray. His direction is outstanding and presents an immensely stunning and immersive movie, with sequences ranging from absolute beauty and wonder to tense fear and horror. Outside of the direction, this movie is really Brad Pitt’s show, giving one of the best performances of his career, subtle yet beyond emotional and powerful. Haunting and very personal, Ad Astra was truly transcendent, and one of the highlight cinema experiences I’ve had this past year.
4. The Nightingale
One of the most controversial and divisive movies of the year is also one of my favourites. Jennifer Kent had already impressed me with The Babadook, which I consider one of the best horror movies in recent years, but she is somehow on a whole other level with The Nightingale. Brutal, harrowing, and uncompromising, it is so well put together. Its widely criticised on screen acts of violence are painful to watch, but necessary. Starting off seemingly as a rape revenge movie, this film could’ve easily fallen over to being exploitive or a revenge fantasy. But Kent keeps the focus steady, never glorifying any action taken, while adding the right level of depth and empathy to the story and characters. The acting was fantastic too, with Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganabarr, and Sam Claflin giving some of the best performances of the year. Franciosi is particularly outstanding, and if this movie had any awards attention, she would be deservedly one of the frontrunners for Best Actress (she’s my personal pick for that category anyways). The Nightingale isn’t for everyone, and I can’t blame you if you can’t sit through it, it’s personally not one that I’d watch again. However, I can’t deny how much of a powerful impact it had on me, and has still stuck with me ever since I saw it.
3. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’s sophomore film is just as fantastic as his debut film The Witch. With a dark atmosphere throughout, it starts off relatively tame, and slowly becomes more unhinged over time, culminating in a effectively unforgettable third act. It’s hard to pin down this movie to being a single genre, it’s original, bizarre, creepy, funny, horrifying, and one of the most memorable movies of the year. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe gives some of the best performances of their careers (career best in Pattinson’s case), both as two people slowly growing insane together. There’s also glimpses of some interesting depth to this movie, that I’m looking forward to exploring upon some rewatches. With his two movies, Eggers has made himself known as one of the most unique and exciting up and coming filmmakers to really pay attention to, and he’s easily becoming one of my favourites.
Bong Joon-ho’s latest has been receiving acclaim from audiences everywhere and for very good reason. A perfect mix of comedy, thriller, and horror elements, Parasite is one of those movies that’s ‘overwhelming well made’. A Hitchcockian thriller about class divide, capitalism, and the like, Bong has written and directed this so incredibly, and it’s got to be one of the best crafted movies I’ve seen all year. I was already loving it for the first half, but the second half cemented it as not only one of my favourite films of the year, but of the decade. The ensemble cast should also receive plenty of praise for their great performances too, each of them played their roles perfectly. Parasite is one of those movies where not only is the movie itself entertaining, but witnessing the excellent filmmaking was also entertainment. Bong is a master of his craft, and has made something special. If you haven’t seen it yet, go into it knowing as little as possible. To talk in further depth about how great it is would be to ruin the surprise for those who haven’t seen it. I can say that Parasite is truly an extraordinary piece of filmmaking.
1. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese is very likely my favourite director, and with the cast, the premise, and this film being over a decade in the making, I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store. Even with extremely high expectations, I was truly blown away by what he’s delivered. While Scorsese has made mob movies before, he’s never made one like this. Gone are the excess, thrills, and luxury, and instead we are seeing this storying from the perspective of a dying man with many regrets that he can’t make right. While it starts off like a typical gangster movie, after the first act it turns into something else entirely. It’s written excellently, ranging from being genuinely entertaining and even funny, to sombre, reflective, and melancholic. Scorsese’s skill as a filmmaker are on full display here, over 5 decades of experience have led up to this movie. Don’t let the runtime scare you, this is likely the most invested you’ll be watching a 3.5 hour long movie. Even the daunting task of de-aging the main actors was pulled off mostly successfully (outside of one particular scene with questionable directing choices). The acting is effective too, from the quiet but powerful and dangerous Joe Pesci, to the explosive and wild yet emotional Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, to then of course Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran the titular character, the latter of whom gives a stoic and subtle, yet greatly heartbreaking performance. The Irishman is one of the best from Martin Scorsese’s career, and it’s potentially his best film yet.
What are your favourite movies of 2019?