The theme for my year-end list, it certainly seems, is that these films were genre breakers for the most part. For those new to Film Pulse, I annually sort my Top 10 list by “best of” in each category and choose my winners based on “re-watchability” or, in some instances, for being profoundly moving, hilarious or astonishing in some way.
But a common thread seems to have emerged this year, where each film – while appropriately nestled in its category – could well have been in two or three. A biopic that doubles as an action film, a whodunnit mystery with loads of jokes and a slasher with a strong message about unlikely friends and misleading appearances round out this year’s must-see movies.
Yes, there are many other critically acclaimed films that did not make this list, but it is certainly not because they went unnoticed. The extraordinary cinematography of war film 1917, the nail-biting energy of anti-hero pic Uncut Gems and the groundbreaking buddy film Book Smart all deserve honorable mentions, are worthy of praise and will no doubt make on many critics’ year-end lists.
But the films that most spoke to this particular critic, those that were both well made and totally entertaining, are listed below in no particular order. Also, the caveat accompanying this list is that I have yet to see Little Women, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Harriett or Just Mercy, as this list needed to be sent in for publishing.
Best ‘Whodunnit’ Film
It’s probably no surprise to you, reader, that most of my fellow critics have called Knives Out one of the best murder mystery flicks in years. Beautifully blending humor with intrigue, Knives Out delivers a slew of great cast performances with delicious twists around every corner.
Best Horror-Comedy Film
I suspect nothing will prepare you for the ending of Ready or Not, and that’s a good thing. Not for the faint hearted, this film is a slasher for sure, but it’s also littered with dark-comedic shots and lines, superb performances and an ending that will blow you away.
Best Family Film
I definitely went into The Kid Who Would be King with low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised by this little Arthurian gem, so much so that it made it into my Top 10. Yes, it’s not an entirely new story, but it has a few surprises and some endearing elements that make it quite a lovely little film…and one of the few on this list you could watch with the whole family.
Best Slasher Film
Before you see Happy Death Day 2U, I strongly recommend watching Happy Death Day. While it could still be an enjoyable standalone film, it would be much more enjoyable to come into it appreciating the story first. Both films deliver a fresh take on the Groundhog Day-esque formula, but unexpectedly, HDD2U elevated the slasher saga even more.
Best Drama Film
Built around the premise of a family members who travel to China to be with their dying matriarch – only she isn’t aware that she’s not long for this world, The Farewell manages to keep its audience totally captivated each step of the way. For a film that easily could have been dull or depressing, it’s neither.
Best Comedic Film
With so many of 2019’s films full of biting comedic elements, I struggled to select “best comedy.” Arguably Knives Out belongs here, but I’m going to say Zombieland: Double Tap takes the top spot here due to its visual gags and silly banter. Taking place 10 years after the first film, Zombieland: Double Tap isn’t as thrilling as the first, but it’s an enjoyable ride nonetheless.
Best Action Film
Not many other filmmakers besides, say, Gareth Evans have a chance at topping the action of a John Wick saga entry when put head to head in a Top-10 list. So, the obvious choice for 2019 was and is John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The last year of this ‘terrible teens’ decade was also a very good year for sequels and threequels (see Happy Death Day 2U, Zombieland: Double Tap), including another welcome submission from director/stuntman Chad Stahelski and the incomparable Keanu Reeves.
Best Biopic Film
In what shouldn’t have been much of a surprise, Ford v. Ferrari – and its top talents of Matt Damon and Christian Bale – blew away this critic, who is decidedly not a car enthusiast, with its exciting race sequences, interpersonal stories and enough hand holding to keep me keenly plugged into the stakes at hand.
Best Historical Fiction Film
You’d think a movie with a goofy Adolf Hitler character acting as comic relief might be pushing the envelope too much, but the delicate subject matter is handled deftly by Taika Waititi (playing Hitler), who somehow blends JoJo Rabbit’s humorous dialogue with heartbreaking sadness, followed by one of the most quaint, welcome and consoling dance numbers seen on film. The performances by nearly every character on screen are captivating, especially from Sam Rockwell; Scarlett Johansson; Archie Yates; and JoJo himself, Roman Griffin Davis.
It’s no secret that Parasite topped many critics’ lists this year. It’s best to go in cold to this one if you’re able, so what I will say is that Parasite is unlike any movie I have ever seen. Every time you think you know what’s going on, the film manages to surprise you. Bong Joon-ho’s commentary on class inequality (not totally unlike his other commentary on class inequality, the superb Snowpiercer) is a total stunner.