What a great year for cinema 2019 was! Old-timer directors and actors returned to the big screen, horror movies continued to impress us with their renaissance, DC Comics released their best film in years, foreign cinema was in top form, A24 produced another batch of excellent independent films, and Netflix has once again proved itself capable of coming up with award-worthy movies.
Choosing the titles for this list was a difficult challenge and we are sure there will be some cases where you won’t agree with us. For a few more films which we couldn’t fit on the list, please check out the honorable mentions sections at the end of the article.
Also, bear in mind that when selecting the titles for this list we took into consideration their initial release date. This is the reason why you might find some titles missing despite their 2019 release dates in the USA or other countries. To make things simpler, we chose not to include animations and documentaries.
As always, let us know in the comments which were your favorite movies of 2019.
20. The Peanut Butter Falcon
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of the most touching films we’ve seen last year and a fantastic directorial debut from Tyler Nielson and Mike Schwartz.
The film focuses on Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome who lives in a care home and dreams of becoming a professional wrestler and attending the wrestling school of his hero, the Salt Water Redneck. One night, Zak runs away from his care home to chase his dreams in a lengthy and life-changing journey.
“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a funny, lovely and very emotional film with a strong and beautiful message about overcoming odds. The film also benefits of great performances from Dakota Johnson, who plays an employee at the care home, Shia LeBeouf, who gives a career-best performance as a thief Zak meets on his journey and, of course, Zack Gottsagen, who absolutely shines with his performance.
19. The Souvenir
A semi-fictionalized version of director Joanna Hogg’s experiences at film school, “The Souvenir” is set in the 1980s Sunderland and stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, a young film student who falls in love with Anthony (Tom Burke), an older man who works at the Foreign Office. What starts as an intense relationship shortly stumbles because of Anthony’s untrustworthy character and hidden addictions.
Joanna Hogg’s might have benefited from a shortened runtime as it drags during its second act and at times becomes a little tedious, yet charming performances from Byrne and Burke combined with Hogg’s very personal script and David Raedeker’s grainy cinematography make “The Souvenir” stands out as one of 2019’s better-crafted dramas.
This Colombia and United States co-production was present on some critics’ end of the year lists and has won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and been selected as the official Colombian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, yet we still feel that it went a little unnoticed last year.
Set on a remote mountain in Latin America, the film follows a group of armed teenage guerillas who is assigned to watch over an American hostage, Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). Playing out like an alternate version of William Goldings’ novel “The Lord Of The Flies”, “Monos” impressed us with its lush cinematography, great performances from its young actors, and unique subject. While it didn’t always live up to its premise, this is still one of 2019’s most memorable films.
17. The Farewell
A Chinese-American family discovers that their beloved grandmother Nai Nai has only a short time left to live after she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Hiding the bad news from Nai Nai, the entire family decides to pay her a farewell visit and travel from America to China under the pretext of a wedding celebration.
Partly based on director’s Lulu Wang personal life experiences, “The Farewell” is a touching drama which mixes heartfelt moments with slices of humor and, despite playing it a little too safe to be considered something truly outstanding, there is no doubt that it is one of the best family movies of the year.
16. A Hidden Life
Since his 2011 Palme d’Or winner film “The Tree Of Life”, the reviews for Terrence Malick’s movies were mixed, with many critics complaining about his experimental narrative choices. “A Hidden Life”, which has also competed for a Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is Malick’s most straightforward film in years and in many ways feels like a return to his roots.
The film depicts the life of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), an Austrian farmer and devout Catholic who refused to fight for the Nazis in World War II. This is an epic and at the same time intimate story about a man whose faith and convictions were more important than anything, yet we have to say that the most impressive aspect of “A Hidden Life” was the way it was presented. The cinematography, which uses wide-angle lenses, looks incredible and gives the film an ethereal, dreamlike atmosphere that makes even the most common images like a field of grass or a dusty road seem grander than they are.
Trey Edward Shults, who has directed the impressive yet underrated “Krisha” (2015) and “It Comes At Night” (2017), solidifies his place as one of the most talented newcomer directors with his 2019 movie “Waves”.
Set in South Florida, “Waves” tells the emotional story of a suburban family that is collapsing in the aftermath of a personal tragedy and is one of the most intimate, honest and heartbreaking movies of the last year. Apart from a moving story and great performances from its entire cast, the film also benefits from a fantastic soundtrack (songs from Radiohead, Tame Impala or Kanye West come to mind) and, like Shults’ previous work, exquisite cinematography and camerawork that are so good that they even stopped some of the film’s narrative flaws from bothering us.
14. Knives Out
With an impressive ensemble cast that includes Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, and Christopher Plummer, Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” was the best whodunit mystery film we’ve got in years.
Inspired by old murder-mystery tropes, the film begins with the untimely death of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) just after his 85th birthday. Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives at Thrombey’s estate to investigate Harlan’s dysfunctional family and devoted staff and has to sift through a web of red herrings and lies in order to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s death.
The film’s abundance of renowned actors and great performances is complemented by an excellently written script and a clever modern twist that turn it into one of the most entertaining experiences we’ve had at the cinema last year. While “Knives Out” is not the kind of movie to receive awards or to come up with groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, it is just perfect for what it sets out to do.
13. The Irishman
“The Irishman” was one of the most anticipated movies of 2019 and saw Martin Scorsese reunite with Robert De Niro and ex-retired Joe Pesci and doing what they do best. Al Pacino also starred in the film, marking his first-ever project with Scorsese.
Based on Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses”, “The Irishman” has many resemblances with Scorsese’s 1990s epic mob films “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, but it is a more contemplative film that dwells a lot on old age, loneliness, life, and death. The movie tells the real-life story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who became a labor union official with mob connections and claimed to be involved in the killing of labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
“The Irishman” received positive reviews and was particularly praised for the performances given by De Niro, Pesci and Pacino. It is another great entry in Scorsese’s filmography and perhaps the swan song of a generation of actors. However, while there are many things to admire in Scorsese’s passion project, the exaggerated runtime and occasionally distracting CGI de-aging kept us from placing it higher on this list.
12. Midsommar (The Director’s Cut)
Ari Aster blew us away with his 2018 horror drama “Hereditary”, a film that set him up as one of the most promising emerging directors and received widespread acclaim as a masterpiece of the genre. Coming up with a second film that lived up to the mastery of his debut was a hard job for Aster, but “Midsommar” proved that he was far from a one-hit-wonder movie director and received widespread acclaim for its ambitious subject and excellent craftsmanship.
Inspired by Robin Hardy’s “The Wicker Man” (1973) and the ancient Pagan rituals of the Midsummer festival, the film follows a group of college students who attend a Swedish summer festival that turns into a daymare. From its very start, which features one of the main characters going through a traumatizing event, “Midsommar” establishes itself as one of the most unsettling movies of the year and for its remaining runtime it only gets more and more disturbing. It is a memorable film and, while less affecting than “Hereditary”, it is bigger in scope and shows even more prowess from director Ari Aster.
11. The Last Black Man In San Francisco
Joe Talbot’s debut film amazed us with its jaw-dropping cinematography, camera work, and a soundtrack that is hard not to fall in love with. The film follows Jimmie Fails (played by Jimmie Fails) a young Afro-American who dreams of reclaiming a Victorian house that was once owned by his grandfather. Along with his best friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors), Jimmy starts refurbishing the house despite the owners’ complaints, hoping that one day it will become his own home.
With many memorable scenes, likable characters and a very original script, this was one of the biggest surprises of 2019. And while it is uneven and its first half is much better than its second, “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” contains some of the best film moments we’ve seen all year and is the kind of movie where the visuals and atmosphere are so good that they make the plot flaws less disturbing. This is a must-watch for every film lover.