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Top 25 Films of 2019

From Ari Aster to Greta Gerwig to Quentin Tarantino, movies are still in good hands

Top 25 Films of 2019
Top 25 Films of 2019
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    Last month, Martin Scorsese warned that we should all be a little bit more worried about the future of filmmaking, particularly in the United States. Since a lot of the discussion around his remarks got bogged down in tribalism and loud shouting about whether Marvel movies are good movies, we’d like to revisit one key quote from that discussion:

    “If you’re going to tell me that it’s simply a matter of supply and demand and giving the people what they want, I’m going to disagree. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue. If people are only given one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.”

    Scorsese’s point is not that one kind of movie dominating the market is bad because of the kind of movie it represents. It’s that when the market is so dominated by that kind of movie, it’s bad because of how much harder it then becomes to get other important movies in front of the people who should see them. Film is not and has never been the sum of the dollars made, even now, when those dollars are measured in billions to a probably unsustainable extent. Its value will always be derived from its ability to resonate with different audiences at different times, and sometimes from its resonance with all audiences at the exact same time.

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    2019 was a great year in film all around, and don’t let all the “worst of the year” lists and talk of high-profile flops fool you. Indie productions are flourishing, boutique studios are getting some of the year’s most essential work in front of the people who want to see it, and even the major production houses are putting their muscle behind some of the year’s most valuable movies. (Just look at this year’s No. 1 feature, a major summer release backed by a global corporation.) There’s great cinema to be found at every level of distribution, and from some of the year’s biggest hits to some of its most unsung/uncut gems, the movies are as great as they’ve ever been.

    As we move into a new decade of filmmaking, if one where its future remains uncertain, let the end of this one serve as proof that the movies are still in good hands. And if you want to make sure that they stay there? Keep putting your money where your online discourse is.

    –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
    Senior Writer


    25. Crawl

    Crawl (Paramount)

    Crawl (Paramount)

    Who’s In It? Kayla Scodelario, Barry Pepper, and plenty of gators

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Florida is flooded
    Gators on the attack
    Better swim or sink

    You Gotta See This: It’s ironic that a movie about killer alligators is the rare horror movie in 2019 that doesn’t bite off more than it can chew. By avoiding any social or political commentary, Crawl’s central message remains simple: don’t fuck with Florida ‘gators. Directed by Alexandre Aja, this slickly executed thriller flexes its muscles within the “when animals attack” sub-genre, providing an abundance of electrifying set-pieces throughout its brisk 87-minute runtime. There’s also a little dark humor in these waters that nurtures the tension until the credits roll. –Mike Vanderbilt

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    Extra! Extra! Read Meagan Navarro’s full review here.


    24. Booksmart

    booksmart olivia wilde beanie feldstein kaitlyn dever movie annapurna

    Booksmart (Annapurna)

    Who’s In It? Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd, Jessica Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, and Jason Sudeikis

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    The jumpsuits you want
    Billie Lourd is everywhere
    Ivy league slackers

    You Gotta See This: Booksmart does two important things: 1.) It represents Gen Z, thus giving old fart millennials like me (and beyond) an accurate depiction of their feelings and experiences and vision for the future; and 2.) For women of generations before Gen Z, it’s the movie we always wish we had. In her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde delivers one of the most realistic displays of female friendship: the highest ups and the lowest downs, all in the unapologetically vulgar but heart-warming tone that Judd Apatow joints dominated in the aughts with straight male leads. –Carrie Wittmer

    Extra! Extra! Read Randall Colburn’s full review here.


    23. Ready or Not

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    Samara Weaving, Ready or Not

    Ready or Not (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

    Who’s In It? Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, Nicky Guadagni, and Kristian Bruun

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Wedded bliss falters
    In-laws take Game Night too far
    ‘Til death Do They Part

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    You Gotta See This: All hail Samara Weaving! This star-in-the-making turned in a killer performance in one of the year’s biggest surprises. Pun intended. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett know exactly what type of movie Ready or Not should be and deliver an air-tight horror-thriller that zips along with raucous energy and gory glee. Full of suspense and macabre humor, the cast fully commits to every cheeky eccentricity the script requires of them. The satire aiming for the jugular of the 1% has never been as deliciously violent or as stylish as it is here. It’s the horror-thriller riff on Clue we didn’t know we needed. –Meagan Navarro

    Extra! Extra! Read Meagan Navarro’s full review here.


    22. Blinded by the Light

     Top 25 Films of 2019

    Blinded By the Light (Warner Bros.)

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    Who’s In It?: Viveik Kalra, Kilvinder Ghir, Meera Ganatra, Dean-Charles Chapman, Rob Brydon, Haylet Atwell, and Nell Williams

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    It’s Thatcher’s England
    Finding purpose with the Boss
    You can’t stop smiling

    You Gotta See This: Feel-good movies are often dismissed as mawkish, cloying, and unrealistic. But Gurinder Chadha’s sunbeam of a motion picture (based loosely on the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor) infectiously charts the life of a Pakistani British boy named Javed (a beautifully exuberant Viveik Kalra), who finds purpose and actualization in the music of Bruce Springsteen during the tumult of Thatcher-era England. The Boss’ words swirl around Javed’s head and paint themselves on the fabric of his surroundings, cutting right to the heart of the way the right art at the right time can actualize us in the best, most inspiring ways. –Clint Worthington

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    Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.


    21. High Life

    high life a24 movie claire denis robert pattinson

    High Life (A24)

    Who’s In It? Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, and Mia Goth

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!” 

    Welcome to the box
    Convicts see the galaxy
    Space is a bummer

    You Gotta See This: Extraterrestrial exploration generally fosters stories of curiosity or critter-like danger, but in the case of Claire Denis’ High Life, her thesis on deep space is far, far more sinister. Perhaps we’re all alone in this universe, and the final frontier is confronting our own awful selves. Hell of a hard-hearted, right? Well, get ready to see final frontiers unlike you’ve ever seen in Denis’ vicious vision. Denis places Pattinson’s Monte, a by-all-means decent convict, against insurmountable odds and dangers. Between defending himself from others onboard, to protecting his space-born daughter, the outer rims of our existence have rarely looked this existential and menacing. –Blake Goble

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.


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    20. Knives Out

    Knives Out (Lionsgate)

    Knives Out (Lionsgate)

    Who’s In It?  Everyone who ever acted in anything, ever. (More seriously: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Colette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz—Frank Oz!</em— and the wonderful, film-anchoring Ana de Armas.)

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    She pukes when she lies
    A gentlemen detective
    Sees truth on her shoes

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    You Gotta See This: A two-faced film about a world full of two-faced people made for the most fun we had at the movies all year. Rian Johnson’s fiendishly clever screenplay finds room between the twists-on-twists for plenty of off-kilter, sharp-toothed, or slow-drawled humor (keep your ears peeled for Shannon’s “one iota of shit,” perhaps the line-reading of the year). Yet the real sleight-of-hand here is the way in which Johnson manages to make the film’s sly political message and its empathetic center the same. Eat the rich, but if you can’t, at least find a way to enjoy your coffee in peace. —Allison Shoemaker

    Extra! Extra! Read Dan Caffrey’s full review here.


    19. Horror Noire

    Horror Noire (Shudder)

    Horror Noire (Shudder)

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    Who’s In It? Jordan Peele, Tony Todd, Rachel True, Ernest R. Dickerson, Keith David, Rusty Cundieff, Ken Foree, Ashlee Blackwell, Robin R. Means Coleman, Tananarive Due, and Miguel A. Núñez Jr.

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    School is in session
    Revealing and insightful
    It’s a graveyard smash

    You Gotta See This: Adapted from Robin R. Means Coleman’s Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from 1890s to Present, Xavier Burgen’s documentary takes us on an insightful, socio-cultural journey through the role African Americans play in horror. More than a vital history lesson of genre films by an underrepresented perspective, it’s a meaningful education on America’s complicated relationship with race. Full of wit, passion, intelligence, and humor, Horror Noire handles complex themes with power and grace, gifting us with an impactful and canonical course on film history. A profound look at the past, present, and evolving future of the genre, this documentary is essential viewing for those with even the slightest interest in film. –Meagan Navarro

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    Extra! Extra! Read Rathan Krueger’s full review here.


    18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

    Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Photo by Lacey Terrell

    A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony Pictures Releasing)

    Who’s In It? Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    You Gotta See This: Fred Rogers never asked for perfection. Sure, thanks to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he became an icon of kindness and patience and emotional generosity. But he never sought to teach kids to be perfect, or to know what to do every time they feel sad or angry or confused. He just wanted to teach them how to deal with their problems, knowing that one day they’d become adults who have to know how. Marielle Heller’s film about Rogers (Tom Hanks) and the journalist (Matthew Rhys) sent to capture him takes unexpected chances at almost every turn, casting aside biopic conventions to cut to the heart of why Mr. Rogers asking us to be his neighbor mattered like it did, and continues to resonate as it does. As Heller and Hanks sublimely depict at one point in the film, he has his bad days too. We all do. Life’s just about knowing what to do when they come. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.


    17. Tigers Are Not Afraid

    Tigers Are Not Afraid (Shudder)

    Tigers Are Not Afraid (Shudder)

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    Who’s In It? Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas, Nery Arredondo, and Tenoch Huerta

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    You Gotta See This: There are parts of the world where children are not able to be children, where they must either learn how to survive in unspeakable circumstances or perish fast. Tigers Are Not Afraid, set among the rooftops and alleyways of a Mexican city overrun by cartel violence, is all too aware of this even as it harbors hope for the intrepid young gang of orphaned kids at its center. Director Issa López deals in flourishes of magical realism throughout, but those sparks of innocence are never allowed to diminish the grave realities that drive the story. In its portrayal of lives torn apart before they even have a chance to begin, Tigers makes for thoroughly difficult viewing. But in the film’s bleakly wishful world, the machinations of the corrupt are no match for three wishes in the hands of the kids who’ll one day inherit the Earth. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Extra! Extra! Read Scout Tafoya’s full review here.


    16. The Lighthouse

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    The Lighthouse (A24)

    The Lighthouse (A24)

    Who’s In It? Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, and a menacing seagull

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Pirate dialogue
    R.Patz does the mermaid sex
    Why’d ya spill yer beans?

    You Gotta See This: Unlike Robert Eggers’ debut The Witch, which told a terrifying albeit straightforward story about a Puritan girl seduced by witches by way of a goat called Black Phillip, The Lighthouse leaves a lot to be desired – intentionally, maniacally, and successfully. Shot in black and white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film captures isolation, paranoia, and the benefits of sea salt on hair texture. Despite its artistic value, its performances from Pattinson and Dafoe (whose headshots belong next to the Urban Dictionary definition for “doing the most”) make The Lighthouse more memorable than it ought to be. But it’s the quieter moments that linger — and that includes a scene in which Pattinson goes to (sex) town with a mermaid on a rocky shore. –Carrie Wittmer

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    Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.


    15. Jojo Rabbit

    Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

    Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

    Who’s In It? Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson

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    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    I hate the unknown
    Adolf Hitler, BFF
    I have much to learn

    You Gotta See This: Based on Christine Leunens’s Caging Skies, Taika Waititi’s coming-of-age dramedy is billed as “an anti-hate satire,” and that tagline couldn’t be more apropos. Which is why all the exhaustive backlash stemming from its surface-level conceit — a German boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi at his most charming, ironically) — is so ludicrous. Jojo Rabbit is penicillin for an era of cancel culture, a beautiful meditation on how hatred is never forever, and that’s something everyone could learn to swallow. Wielding one of this year’s sharpest screenplays, Waititi never leans too hard into its satirical premise, either, avoiding any kitsch that would torpedo this film. –Michael Roffman

    Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.


    14. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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    the last black man in san francisco a24 movie sundance

    The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

    Who’s In It? Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Dany Glover, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Tichina Arnold, and Thora Birch

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Jimmie Fails is failed
    By cities and by systems
    Blackness in relief

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    You Gotta See This: One of the boldest, most audacious debuts of the year, Joe Talbot’s poetic retelling of the story of childhood friend (and star/co-writer) Jimmie Fails feels nothing short of miraculous. A tale touching on everything from the specter of gentrification to the lies on which we build our self-worth, there’s not a false note in Last Black Man‘s soulful, yearning presentation. From Fails’ wounded lead performance to Talbot’s dreamlike direction (not to mention Jonathan Majors’ show-stopping supporting turn and Emile Mosseri’s aching score), The Last Black Man in San Francisco is at once a loving ode to its titular city and a harsh rebuke to what that place has become. –Clint Worthington

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.


    13. The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese's The Irishman no wide theatrical release

    The Irishman (Netflix)

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    Who’s In It? Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel, and this year’s most divisive silent performance by Anna Paquin

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Heard you paint houses
    All in the still of the night
    It is what it is

    You Gotta See This: The Irishman could have gone so wrong for Martin Scorsese. The de-aging process alone spelled disaster when it was first announced all those years ago. Instead, Marty came through, delivering arguably his most sobering drama to date. While he doesn’t exactly warrant the weighty three-and-a-half hour runtime — that first hour is lethargic — things eventually start boiling over. Pacino saves the middle, Pesci is quietly rapturous, and De Niro comes in with a final left hook that stings with solemnity. At 77, Scorsese chews on themes of memory, mortality, and the futility of man with the utmost clarity. This isn’t just cinema, to crib from the auteur, it’s a requiem. –Michael Roffman

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    Extra! Extra! Read Brett Arnold’s full review here.


    12. The Souvenir

    The Souvenir

    The Souvenir (A24)

    Who’s In It? Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Tilda Swinton

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    A film student dreams
    Her tough past but bright future
    Damn junkie lover

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    You Gotta See This: Joanna Hogg’s frail remembrance of doomed art school romance feels more generous and thoughtfully examined than perhaps it need be. Time will do that, and we’re so lucky. Based on her own experiences, Hogg represents herself as Julie (Swinton Byrne), film student of means but indecipherable vision. She’s honest, hard-working, and admittedly uncertain of her vision. But Anthony, a pompous, and frankly alluring counterpart, gives Julie unexpected strength. And equal if not greater heart-ache. This is a brilliant effort on how we learn and evolve from personal tragedy, how the past makes us who we are, and how painful that remembrance can be. –Blake Goble

    Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.


    11. Little Women

    little women 2019 film timothee chalamet saoirse ronan

    Little Women (Sony)

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    Who’s In It? Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, and Meryl Streep

    “Garth, that was a haiku!”

    Sisters March returns
    A classic remixed with joy
    See Chalamet burn

    You Gotta See This: It’s almost like a great Altman flick. The camera is loosely set, the audio’s clean enough. (The warm art direction and vintage costuming doesn’t hurt either.) And then you get this wonderful cast of very talented people to do the work. They get the film to assemble through perfectly told and observed mini-stories. Moments, beats, jokes, sadness, and lives being lived in the moment. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women does invaluable service to Louisa Mary Alcott’s novel by letting her characters live, breathe, and simply be. From Jo’s defiance, to Amy’s admonishment, and everyone in between, this is lively entertainment, filled with life caught on film. –Blake Goble

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