2019 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

After many delays – some of which were my fault, some of which were beyond my control – I present to you the best and worst films of 2019.

Chris Galust and Lauren "Lolo" Spencer in Give Me Liberty
10. Give Me Liberty (dir. Kirill Mikhanovsky)
If you haven’t heard of this one, don’t feel bad. It won me over at Sundance, and only got a brief fall release from Music Box Films. But as it hits home video and streaming this year, you should absolutely take a chance on this moving story from a first-time filmmaker. Alex Galust plays a bus driver having the worst day of his life: His family is in town for a funeral, he’s running late, and protests have closed off his normal routes to pick up his fares. The film takes us on a chaotic but life-affirming journey that I want to share with everyone.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers
9. Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria)
An expertly crafted con artist movie from one of our best directors, with effortless sexiness and cunning insight into which financial scams are deemed legitimate. Jennifer Lopez is absolutely electrifying as the mentor who inevitably pushes this dangerous scheme too far. If someone must take up the mantle of New York crime movies from Martin Scorsese, let it be Lorene Scafaria and not Todd Phillips.

The cast of Little Women
8. Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)
I was certainly pleased with Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel the first time I saw it. But the second time, when its back-and-forth rhythm finally clicked, it absolutely wrecked me. Every cast member is terrific, with many of them giving their best performances to date. It’s a lovely, deeply effecting film that shouldn’t be dismissed as “been there, done that.”

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once upon a Time in Hollywood
7. Once upon a Time in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
And speaking of films that didn’t click until a second viewing, Tarantino’s ode to the L.A. of his childhood is among his most vulnerable films. Yes, there’s still some extreme violence and a lot of bare feet, but this is one of the best movies about male friendship I’ve ever seen. And even with limited screen time, Margot Robbie is magnificent as Sharon Tate, bringing to life an actress who died too young.

Jue Huang in Long Day's Journey into Night
6. Long Day’s Journey into Night (dir. Bi Gan)
One of the most incredible theatrical experiences of the year, Bi Gan’s immersive mystery features an hour-long single take. While its U.S. release was only shown in 2D, I was blown away by its technical wizardry, but its haunting story hooked me long before that shot.

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)
One of the most sumptuous love stories in years, you’ll have to wait until Valentine’s Day to see this exquisite French film. Noémie Merlant plays the artist commissioned to paint a heiress (Adèle Haenel) about to be placed in an arranged marriage. Their brief affair is captured through the gorgeous cinematography of Claire Mathon, whose snub at the Oscars was among the most egregious. Few films have ever perfectly captured the mixed feelings of desire.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story
4. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)
We can debate forever which character the film is more sympathetic to, but it’s clear that their marriage was never going to survive, they both did awful things to one another as the divorce dragged on, and they both got eaten alive by the legal system. But even at the end, there appears to be hope. No, they’ll never get back together (and shouldn’t), but they can find a way forward.

3. Apollo 11 (dir. Todd Douglas Miller)
An absolutely stellar documentary that takes a story we know, condenses it to 90 minutes, and still manages to be dazzling for every last one of them. A feat of editing as much as anything, Miller and his team took tens of thousands of hours of unedited video and audio and synced them up for one magical tribute to human ingenuity and bravery.

Dean Charles Chapman and George Mackay in 1917
2. 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes)
The knock on this riveting war movie is that it’s “just like a video game” or a theme park ride. But those reductive folks miss the compelling emotional beats of the film, in addition to its spectacular cinematography, production design, visual effects and sound work. This was one of the most intense in-theater experiences of the year.

The cast of Parasite
1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
After I saw this film in October, nothing else came close. Bong had already cemented himself as a master of world cinema, but this is his masterpiece: a thrilling, hilarious, deeply disturbing allegory about the hideous lengths capitalism forces the working class to go to in order to survive in a world where the wealth gap is widening every day.

Honorable Mentions
Amazing Grace (dirs. Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott)
Ash Is Purest White (dir. Jia Zhangke)
Avengers: Endgame (dirs. Anthony & Joe Russo)
Blinded by the Light (dir. Gurinder Chadha)
Climax (dir. Gaspar Noé)
Dark Waters (dir. Todd Haynes)
Dolemite Is My Name (dir. Craig Brewer)
The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)
Ford v Ferrari (dir. James Mangold)
A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
High Flying Bird (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (dir. Dean DeBlois)
The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (dir. Chad Stahelski)
Knives Out (dir. Rian Johnson)
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (dir. Joe Talbot)
The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)
Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)
Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
The Souvenir (dir. Joanna Hogg)
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (dir. Henry Dunham)
Transit (dir. Christian Petzold)
Uncut Gems (dirs. Josh & Benny Safdie)
Under the Silver Lake (dir. David Robert Mitchell)
Waves (dir. Trey Edward Shults)

Didn’t See But Probably Would Have Loved
The Art of Self Defense
Honey Boy
Just Mercy
Motherless Brooklyn
The Nightingale
The Report

The Worst Movies
Cats (dir. Tom Hooper)
Joker (dir. Todd Phillips)
The King (dir. David Michod)
Miss Bala (dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (dir. J.J. Abrams)

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