List: Top 10 Movies of 2019 (Ryan McQuade)
As a decade closed, 2019 was filled with memorable stories, characters, and moments to keep you thinking for years to come. While there were a couple of films to highlight, the front half of the year left much to be desired. But right around July, we saw a shift in the release schedule, with tons’ movies coming out to heighten 2019’s quality. There were times it was hard to keep up, with multiple trips to the theaters within the same week, extending to other cities for myself. Overall, the year turned out to be stronger than last year and led to 155 movies seen within the calendar year. So, with this staked year, the process to make my Top Ten grew more and more agonizing as the days came. But when it came down to it, these films, in this order, are what I think the best movies of 2019 are.
We do encourage you to listen to Episode 360 to hear more about our picks, but as we do every year, listed here are my Top 10 Movies of 2019.
10. Pain and Glory
When deciding to fill in the number ten spot on your list, it mostly just comes down to which movie you can’t stop thinking about after it’s over. When you see Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, I doubt you won’t stop daydreaming about it. In a semi-autobiographical take on his life and career, he places his longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas in his shoes, examining their up and down relationship and being completely honest about it. Along with those elements, Almodóvar tackles his love life, his inspirations, childhood, and health. All of these subjects are wrapped within the best performance of Banderas’s career. Many meta films can be so insightful to a creator’s life, but this might be one of the most beautiful films in the sub-genre. Click here to listen to our full review.
9. The Farewell
The Farewell was by far my most personal experience at the theater this year. With the passing of my grandmother in late 2018, Lulu Wang’s examination of her family’s struggles with her grandmother’s disease hit me right in the heart. Told in almost eerily similarities, I strongly connected with Awkwafina’s Billi as she navigates through the presumed final days and moments with Zhao Shuzhen’s Nai Nai. The Farwell is not only a loving tribute to the women who carry our families, but it’s deeply relatable, with humor and honesty shining through the somber moments of life. Click here to listen to our full review.
Throughout the year, we get bogged down or obsessed with so many serious films; a flat out comedy can be a pleasant surprise and lovely change of pace. But Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is not just a pure comedy built in a template we’ve seen before; it’s the comedy classic for a new generation. While familiar, the way the story and jokes are told feel fresh, giving Booksmart a modern perspective representing our future humanity. Not only is it the breakout film for Beanie Feldstein, Katlyn Dever, and Billie Lourd, it’s also the directorial debut of the year for Wilde. Booksmart is how comedies should be down, with smart writing, stylish direction, and touching performances. Everything about Booksmart will put a smile on my face, and it’s up there as one of the most rewatchable comedy we’ve seen this decade. Click here to listen to our full review.
When I attended the world premiere of Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out, he kept many of the secrets of Us to himself. But the one thing he did say this movie was made for audiences living in the Trump era, while Get Out was for the Obama era. Peele is not wrong, Us is an angry horror film, showing how our anger and hate can consume us and ultimately destroy our world. It’s as biting of an American commentary as Peele’s previous outing, proving he is the writer-director I trust the most to tap into the consciousness of our country right now. Beyond just the message of the film, Peele directed the best performance of 2019 from Lupita Nyong’o. He takes every good thing he learned when making Get Out and elevates it for Us. Peele will enter the next decade as one of three directors on this list whom I’d consider as an emerging Top 5 director working today. Click here to listen to our full review.
6. Knives out
Known, unfairly, as the man who destroyed Star Wars, director Rian Johnson is back with a whodunit ranking up with the best of them. Johnson is known for subverting the audience’s expectations, thus leading to twists and turns no one sees coming. He has you in the palm of his hand from the beginning of each story and Knives Out is no different. Set within a timely murder mystery, Johnson subverts within not just the story, but what he is trying to say overall. Knives Out is playful and entertaining but his commentary on political and personal detractions within his life spring forward. He creates a world so similar to the one we live in, though invites a larger than life character with Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc to stir everything up. If Johnson’s true to his word, we should be back in the world sooner rather than later, and you can count me in. Click here to listen to our full review.
5. Little Women
I’ve never been someone who loved Little Women. I had family members who would watch one or more of the film adaptions and enjoy every second of it. To me, it just wasn’t my thing and never thought it would be. But when I heard Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to Lady Bird would be a new adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, I grew intrigued by the idea and showed up opening day to see what I’ve been missing. And, once the end credits started rolling, I realized how wrong I’ve been and how Gerwig has made the Little Women for my generation. Unabashedly charming and shockingly modern, Gerwig joins Peele and Johnson by finding her voice as a filmmaker. By doing so, she can make it shine with elevated writing and direction. Gerwig is more than just one of the best female directors working today; she is one of the best directors working today, period. Click here to listen to our full review.
4. Uncut Gems
The Safdie Brothers are directors I’ve respected but haven’t fallen in love with. Something has been missing for me within their chaotic, vibrate style of filmmaking. This is especially the case with their previous film, Good Time, which I found unrelenting. But throw all of those concerns out the window because Uncut Gems takes all of the negatives of a Safdie film and turns them into positives. I can’t explain it other than this project just clicked with me from the beginning. Maybe it’s the story of this desperate jeweler who can’t get out of his way or how they tie sports and gambling into everything. Or perhaps it’s the maturity we see from these brothers from all aspects behind the camera mixed with Adam Sandler’s wild performance in front of the camera. Regardless of how and why, Uncut Gems is a unique rollercoaster experience matched by nothing else in 2019.. Click here to listen to our full review.
3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Seen towards the end of the year, if you gave me more time to disgust this film, it might have been higher on my list. But the third spot on my list seems to be the right spot for Céline Sciamma’s near-perfect historical romance right now. Most of you will be seeing this sometime around February at your local arthouse theaters, and when you do, you will witness the most gorgeous film shot all year. Sciamma takes the story of a female painter falling in love with her subject and use a lavish house with a picture-esc setting to surround the forbidden love blossoming in front of our eyes. Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t have a shot wasted, with cinematography by Claire Mathon and Sciamma’s direction gleaming with perfection from frame to frame. Add two tantalizing performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, and you have yourself one of the most romantic, beautiful films of the decade. Click here to listen to our full review.
In a year filled with stories covering the class struggles within our world, director Bong Joon-ho created the definitive film on the subject. Without getting too much into the plot (because you really should go in knowing nothing), Parasite is the movie we will look back on as the movie of 2019. It crosses over to every culture because it’s simply about human beings struggling to survive in an unfair system. Two families are at the center of this, but there are no real villains. As fantastical as it goes, the movie is realistic in showing both sides of this struggle and making you feel something for all who are involved. It’s a perfect balance of tone, being a compelling drama, suspenseful thriller, and shockingly funny all wrapped into one. Parasite is something you could write books about, study for years. But to make things short and sweet, Parasite is one of the best films of the year and the best foreign-language film in a year dominated by cinema from around the world. Click here to listen to our full review.
1. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
While Parasite might be the movie of 2019, it’s not my favorite movie. That’s because I saw my favorite film of the year in the middle of the summer, in a crowded Alamo Drafthouse, projected in 35mm, and it could have played for hours, and I would have eaten it all up. What Quentin Tarantino has given us with his ninth film is his most mature film to date. Tarantino sets out to provide us with a fairy tale commenting on the lost innocence of our society due to the horrific murders that shook the world in 1969. By doing this, he is able to give the audience, but more importantly, the family of Sharon Tate the justice she and her child deserved. At the same time, Tarantino shows by avoiding this tragedy; we could try and hang on to the hope and love we carry with us on a day to day basis. It’s profoundly moving and unsurprisingly entertaining to see this world he builds, including an aging actor and his stunt man, be her savior. In essence, her savior is the savior for all of us, the movies. In our times of need, we look at the cinema to save us, so why couldn’t it genuinely do it when we need it the most? Every frame, song, character is perfectly realized, with Tarantino’s exceptional screenplay and directions taking center stage. Next to him, the performances from DiCaprio, Pitt, and Margot Robbie as Tate are some of the best Tarantino has ever gotten from his actors. As he stated in his sixth film’s climax, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood just might be his masterpiece. Click here to listen to our full review.
To round out my Top 20, here is the rest of my list:
11) The Irishman
12) High Flying Bird
13) High Life
15) Ford v Ferrari
16) The Last Black Man in San Francisco
17) Ad Astra
18) Her Smell
20) A Hidden Life
Let us know what you think. Do you agree or disagree? We’d like to know why. Leave a comment in the comment section below or tweet us @InSessionFilm.