As usual, this was a great year for cinema, and while it was difficult to organize a top 25, I knew I could have kept tweaking it for months so I had to just lock it in. My top five was much easier to sort this year than last year, but there were a large number of titles vying for the top 25 so here they are. I’m loving the large amount of genre films that are landing on my (and my peers’) lists this year, and I’m hoping that’s a trend we’ll see increase in 2020. For more of my thoughts about my top ten, give our year-end podcast a listen here and click here to check out all of our 2019 lists.
25. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
24. Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan)
23. Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)
22. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)
21. Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett)
20. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)
19. Greener Grass (Jocelyn DeBoer, Dawn Luebbe)
18. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn)
17. A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)
16. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)
15. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
14. The Farewell (Lulu Wang)
13. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)
12. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt)
11. Dolemite Is My Name (Craig Brewer)
10. Us (Jordan Peele)
After the break-out success of Get Out in 2017, Jordan Peele’s follow-up had some high expectations, but he quickly proved once again that his talents for blending comedy and social commentary with abject terror were not confined to just one story. Lupita Nyong’o is incredible, but the entire cast excels in making us root for the family while terrorizing us with their doppelgangers.
9. The Art of Self-Defense (Riley Stearns)
With its surprisingly dark turn and impeccable script, Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense is a biting comedy that stuck with me since first seeing it earlier this year, and it’s one that I think far too few people talked about. It’s absurd, hilarious and, at times, shocking and certainly one of the best comedic films of the year.
8. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
Somber, brilliant and indescribably bleak, Hu Bo’s first (and last) feature film feels like the masterwork of a director honing his craft for decades. This four-hour epic bathes in constant misery as we spend a day in the interconnected lives of four people struggling through life during China’s economic downturn. Tragically, Hu Bo took his own life after finishing An Elephant Sitting Still, and it’s impossible not to be reminded of this throughout the journey, which only adds to the sadness that permeates throughout every exquisite shot in this essential piece of cinema.
7. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
Settling into The Irishman is like reuniting with a friend you haven’t seen for years. For two seconds it seems like it’s going to be awkward, but those notions quickly melt away and suddenly it’s like you’ve never been apart. Allowing Scorsese to tell this story in its full scope with no runtime hindrances brought with it the ability to not just tell an incredible gangster story, but to delve into the legacy of the genre itself and to present a more reflective crime tale.
6. Midsommar (Ari Aster)
Ari Aster ups the ante from his previous film, Hereditary, delivering a sprawling, nearly two-and-a-half-hour descent into chaos that, like his previous film, ends with a blood-curdling denouement that leads to the inevitable, completely unforgettable conclusion. With a stand-out performance from Florence Pugh, Midsommar is not only one of the top horror titles of the year, it’s one of the most memorable and well crafted movies, bar none.
5. Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie)
I loved the non-stop energy the Safdie brothers gave us with their fourth narrative feature, Uncut Gems, which may be their most accessible (and successful) title to date, but it retains the gritty visual style that made me want to instantly devour anything they create. They’re experts at New York grime, and bringing Adam Sandler into that world was a stroke of genius. Aside from Sandler giving his best performance in years, the entire cast was outstanding, especially Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian and LaKeith Stanfield.
4. One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda)
I had zero interest going into Shinichiro Ueda’s debut feature, One Cut Of The Dead, when I saw it at a festival in the early part of the year, but it immediately made it to my best-of-the-year list, where it remained. Although poorly marketed, this is easily one of the best zombie comedies in existence, constantly subverting audience expectations. It’s brilliant and should be watched with zero knowledge to fully appreciate all that it’s doing.
3. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot)
Propelled by its two leads, Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors, Joe Talbot’s feature debut, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, presents a funny, heartfelt story about a man attempting to reclaim his past in a city that’s quickly forgetting him. The cinematography by Adam Newport-Berra is fantastic, and the music by Emile Mosseri is one of the few scores I’ve listened to outside the theater this year. It’s sweet, sad at times (but also uplifting) and one of the most emotionally resonant experiences I’ve had at the cinema this year.
2. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Making for one of the most fun movie-going experiences I had this year, Knives Out reminded me how much I love a good whodunnit and why I need more of them in my life. Rian Johnson has proven himself a master behind the camera, and he reinforces his status with this funny, compelling, stylish ensemble piece that’s bolstered by its perfect casting.
1. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
We’ve seen a lot of films tackling the disparity of wealth, but none so acerbic as Bong Joon-ho’s tightly wound Parasite. Firing on all cylinders from start to finish, this is a film I yearn to revisit again and again, spending more time with the fictional Kim family. Although I’ve been a proud member of the #Bonghive for nearly half my life, Parasite is his most compelling and brilliantly crafted work yet. The award-worthy performances from nearly the entire cast (give Kang-ho Song an Oscar damnit!) push this over the top, making it easily my No. 1 film of the year.