2019 started out as a bumpy road. By summer I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make a full top ten. By year’s end, however, some fine work started to shine.
1. (an absolute tie of the two most original and cinematically pleasing films of the year!): “The Irishman” (directed by Martin Scorsese) / “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” (directed by Quentin Tarantino). Both films brought back a substance and style that electrified the best of the “New Hollywood” films of the seventies. Both Scorsese and Tarantino’s focus on character made these two films something special. Both are late career masterpieces for the two filmmakers (read my full review of “The Irishman”)
2. “Parasite”(directed by Bong Joon Ho; featured image)
A sharp allegory of class warfare wrapped up in a thriller- personal drama that is the most unique film of the year.
3. “Midsommar” (directed by Ari Aster)
A more frightening horror tale I did not see last year. This one was merciless, as it gave it audience nowhere to hide. The horrors happen in the brightness of the sun. A masterclass in pacing and absolute terror.
4. “Birds of Passage” (directed by Christina Gallego and Ciro Guerra)
An ethnographic, artful and visually-stunning look at real events in the Colombian drug trade in the sixties through the eighties. A film alive with culture.
5. “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (directed by Joe Talbot)
A soulful, touching, and completely original look at race, friendship, and the forced erosion of the black culture in gentrified cities.
6. “When They See Us” (directed by Ava DuVernay)
Expertly-directed and acted film that packs an emotional punch. A film that gets to the very soul of the American justice system, warts and all, through the retelling of a real-life event.
7. “Dragged Across Concrete” (directed by S. Craig Zahler)
Tough-as-nails film that pays homage to the style and characters of James Ellroy. A searing character study of desperation and corruption featuring career-best performances by Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson.
8. “Pain and Glory” (directed by Pedro Almodovar)
Another late career (near) masterpiece with Pedro Almodovar finding poetry in a semi-autobiographical search for truth and healing. The best performance of Antonio Banderas’s career.
9. “A Hidden Life” (directed by Terence Malick)
A return to form of sorts for the master filmmaker. An aurally and philosophically potent tale of man standing opposed to the rise of evil.
10. “First Love” (directed by Takeshi Miike)
Miike takes genre filmmaking and turns it on its head in this massively entertaining, darkly comedic, and haunting pulp film that finds a touching heart in madness (full review).
11. “Joker” (directed by Todd Phillips)
A D.C. comics prequel told as homage to “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy” and to gritty seventies cinema in general. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely stunning (see article)
12. “Uncut Gems” (directed by Bennie and Josh Safdie)
A non-stop and absolutely relentless film about a man burning down everything around him as he devours what is left of his own soul. And yes, Adam Sandler is very good.
13. “Rabid” (directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska)
A reimagining of a David Cronenberg classic that makes powerful statements on the toxic side of modern masculinity and the desperation for physical perfection. It’s also a fantastic horror film—entertainment on a grand scale (read my full review)
14. “The Lighthouse” (directed by Robert Eggers)
Riveting psychological tale of madness and terror that features the best sound design of the year. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are jaw-droppingly excellent (full review)
15. “Marriage Story” (directed by Noah Baumbach)
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, you won’t see two better performances by anyone else this year!
“Harriet” (directed by Kasi Lemmons)
A powerful tale of one of American history’s greatest souls. Oscar-worthy work from Cynthia Erivo guides us through the fascinating life of Harriet Tubman. An imperfect film that is nevertheless effective in telling Tubman’s accomplishments and steadfastness.
“Toy Story 4” (directed by Josh Cooley)
Didn’t think they could do it again? Yes they can! Laughs, tears, and warmth as this animated gem shows us all what true friendship can be.
“Little Woods” (directed by Nia DeCosta)
A fantastic character study of a woman in a small town ruined by fracking who fights to save her home and her life.
“The Highwaymen” (directed by John Lee Hancock)
A poignantly-written (by John Fusco) examination of the myth of Bonnie and Clyde and the men who brought them down. Some effective moments.
Anthony Francis is Senior Contributor to Screen Comment (author page: https://screencomment.com/author/anthonyfrancis)