By the end of 2019, I watched 22 films that comprised a year of instant classics and movies that were a bit of a social media lightning rod. There were a few holes in my indulgence of the year in cinema. After a little catch-up in January, here are the 28 2019 movies I have watched, ranked in reverse order. All movies are ranked by favorites, with recently watched films in bold.
28) Late Night – Mindy Kaling’s film won a record distribution prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Its top bidder, Amazon Studios, undoubtedly believed that the comedy had a chance to repeat the success of its Oscar-nominated The Big Sick. The writing of Late Night is not up to par, frequently going through long stretches devoid of humor.
27) Highwaymen – Kevin Costner is often hot and cold. If given the right role, he can carry a film to extraordinary heights. This was not the case with Netflix’s depiction of the hunt for Bonnie & Clyde. Woody Harrelson carried what parts of the film could be salvaged, but the buddy cop story was frequently flat.
26) The Laundromat – If the Cohen Brothers directed a poor man’s version of The Big Short, it would be The Laundromat. The Steven Soderbergh film on the Panama Papers is filled with snippets of great acting from Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, and Jeffrey Wright. The 95-minute story is less compelling. The Laundromat literally ends with a lecture on socio-economics and voting.
25) Toy Story 4 – The latest installment of the classic Pixar series struggled to measure up to its predecessors. It was entertaining, but ultimately not quite as memorable. New characters voiced by Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Keanu Reeves have the few memorable scenes.
24) Marriage Story – Noah Baumbach’s story about divorce is a painful reminder of how crushing that process is. Unfortunately, the domestic trial that unfolds is an equally grueling watch. This is not due to the acting. Scarlett Johansen, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, and Alan Alda are among the talents who keep the laborious onscreen product compelling.
23) Uncut Gems – The most overrated movie of 2019. Uncut Gems is intense, but the story never develops beyond two hours of yelling. Adam Sandler’s rare performance in a dramatic role lacks depth. Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie’s film suffers from bizarre music selection that weakens its most tense moments. The premise had potential. The final product is a bust.
22) The Lighthouse – A weird film with terrific acting and cinematography. The second movie from director Robert Eggers lacks the substance to vault the story of two trapped lighthouse keepers into being a cut classic. Even if the Willem Dafoe-Robert Pattison vehicle is otherwise forgettable, the black and white flick is shot in interesting ways that earned recognition at the 2020 Oscars.
21) The Two Popes – The tale of two pontiffs is little more than an acting showcase for outstanding talents Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Price. There is some character development, but the effortless story is best suited for the stage and not the big screen.
20) Rocket Man – I am not a huge fan of music biopics. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll typically follows predictable story arcs. Rocket Man gets credit for going against the cheesy biography formula of Bohemian Rhapsody. Instead, the musical was an audacious and entertaining film that had fun with the tornado that is Elton John’s early career.
19) Yesterday – Danny Boyle’s Beatles fantasy is an enjoyable frolic through Penny Lane and Strawberry Hills. If you check some plot holes at the door, Yesterday succeeds in what it is trying to do: briefly consider a world without the Beatles. The ceiling of expectations for Yesterday was never too high, but it is the most inventive concept of the current wave of Classic Rock movies.
18) A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – The most automatic casting choice imaginable: Tom Hanks as Mr. Rodgers. Hanks was matched by his screen partner: in Matthew Rhys, who played a cynical writer struggling with inner demons. Although the story was fairly pedestrian, both actors deserve consideration for acting nominations this awards season.
17) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – No film had bigger expectations in 2019 than the final chapter of the Disney Star Wars. The Rise Of Skywalker is a solid film without much to diagnosis. J.J. Abrams probably did the best he could, but even the most fluid of the new movies never came close to the next level possibilities of the original trilogy.
16) Ford v. Ferrari – I have immense respect for Christian Bale and Matt Damon. Their screen pairing is an automatic win, but it is stunning that Ford v. Ferrari was nominated for Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars. Nearly every scene in the movie is predictable in sequence. One significant plus of the film is its racing scenes. The races at Le Man and Daytona are the best takeaways from Ford v. Ferrari, but are hardly good enough to justify its place in the Best Picture conversation.
15) El Camino – Vince Gilligan has already followed one of the greatest television shows of all-time with the cerebral prequel Better Call Saul. The unlikely continued expansion of the Breaking Bad universe is more action-packed than BCS, but added greater dimensions to Jesse Pinkman’s story. Gilligan has a unique talent for selecting the right stories. In El Camino, Gilligan fleshed out heavily scrutinized characters and satisfied fans yet again.
14) The King – The Netflix Henry V drama unfortunately flew under the radar of The Irishman. It is a non-Shakespearean take on Henry’s ascension to the throne and victory at Agincourt. The King lacks the dynamism of Kenneth Branagh’s film, but Timothee Chalamet is solid as the young monarch. The best performance comes from Robert Pattison as the eccentric Dauphin who steals his moderate amount of screen time.
13) The Last Black Man In San Francisco – The indie love letter to San Francisco is a bittersweet statement on gentrification and dream chasing. Director Joe Talbot received a Best Director nod at the 2019 Sundance festival and may garner serious attention for his Bay Area drama.
12) Tolkien – The biopic interweaves the tragic youth of J.R.R Tolkien with beautiful fantasy scenes. A sleeper nominee for one of the most enjoyable films of 2019, Tolkien appeals to dreamers, Anglophiles, and Lord of the Rings fans. The underrated Nicholas Hault is fantastic as the young author. Cinematographer Lasse Frank and director Dome Karukoski elevated the film with fantastic visuals.
11) Us – Jordan Peele’s Get Out follow-up is funny, creepy, and haunting. While not as compact as the Oscar nominee, the early trend from Jordan Peele’s films as a director is films worth dissecting and discussing as social art.
10) The Irishman – I had great expectations for Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, which details the life of alleged Hoffa hitman Frank Sheeran. The movie has a dream cast – Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, and Al Pacino, et al. The Irishman is an all-star game that ended in a tie. The story lacks the explosiveness and concision to justify three-and-a-half hours that could have filled a director’s cut.
9) Little Women – A sterling example of how storytelling and editing enhance the final product. Greta Gerwig’s direction and non-linear adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s novel keeps Little Women more entertaining than the expected straightforward telling of the Civil War-era story.
8) Booksmart – High school jocks, cliques, and young adults in danger of peaking before high school graduation are rarely as hilarious and refreshing as Olivia Wilde’s woke comedy. Booksmart defies the usual high school themes and is one of the best high school movies in recent memory. Not to be overlooked: Billie Lourd is an omnipotent comedy force throughout.
7) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Quentin Tarentino’s Hollywood fairly tale is a well-shot film that constantly buries the lead. The immersion in Sixties Los Angeles through two characters is filled with interesting creative choices, but ultimately under delivers on the Manson Family. Tarentino’s indulgence in Hollywood ultimately drags the film. The visit to the Spahn Ranch may be the best movie scene of 2019.
6) Hustlers – I never expected a movie about strippers to be one of the top films of 2019, yet here we are. Jennifer Lopez is sensational as the mastermind behind an extensive scheme of drug-induced robberies. The script contains Adam McKay’s trademark Wall Street commentary, creating a faux Robin Hood flare that adds extra layers to the story.
5) Parasite – The Korean drama constantly adds entertaining and provocative wrinkles. The black comedy about a working class family who entangles themselves with a wealthy family’s life is far more thrilling than it first appears. Director Bong Joon-ho deserves praise for a balancing art, intrigue, and entertainment better than many of his more heralded contemporaries in 2019.
4) Jojo Rabbit – If Springtime For Hitler cast an imaginary friend, it would be Taika Waititi’s mockery of the German dictator. Waititi, who also directed the film, does an excellent job of using satire to make Hitler into an buffoon. Jojo Rabbit has a fantastic supporting cast of adult actors like Sam Rockwell, but young actors Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenize brilliantly play children growing in the waning years of World War II.
3) Joker – I understand why Joker is not for everyone, but I enjoyed it because it draws from my favorite elements of Batman: take a dark story and roll around in it for a couple hours. Joker does this with Batman’s greatest nemesis and incorporated story elements from classics like The Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. While not as strong as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, this Joker movie is a strong indicator of how R-rated stories can make comic book source material more compelling.
2) Knives Out – Rian Johnson’s revenge for the disproportionate The Last Jedi backlash should garner screenwriting and directing Oscars. His whodunnit starring Daniel Craig as an exaggerated private detective is captivating from start to finish. The film checks all Agatha Christie boxes by mixing in light social commentary, curiosity, and a wonderful finish. Fans of Knives Out will be thrilled at the possibilities of a Benoit Blanc sequel has been greenlit.
1) 1917 – A true theatrical experience, 1917 is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns delivered a truly remarkable film that is best consumed in front of a big screen. The breathtaking cinematography and next-level sound engineering are nothing short of impressive. The single-shot technique has been regularly dismissed as a gimmick, but it is an immersive style that puts audiences in the trenches that few war movies have ever accomplished.