The year 2019 is coming to a close, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for year-end lists! Over the next few weeks we’ll be revealing our “Best of…” lists, ranking the top movies, television shows, performances and more from 2019. Today, I’m breaking down my favorite films of the year.
This was an incredible year for movies – both at the box office, and for me personally.
From the epic conclusion of the Infinity Saga to the not-so-epic conclusion to the Skywalker Saga, 2019 was filled with big-budget blockbusters, stellar independent films, and everything in between. Before I get to breaking down my 25 favorite movies of the year, I want to take a minute to reflect on the past 365 days for myself and Inside The Film Room.
After beginning to seriously critique movies last year, I made a commitment to write reviews more consistently this year. Over 75 trips to the theater this year and nearly as many reviews later, I can honestly say I met that goal.
In addition to publishing my reviews through Inside The Film Room, I gained my first professional experience as a paid film critic for CLTure.org. Over the summer, I was inducted into the North Carolina Film Critics Association, a tremendous honor and a way to keep my mailbox overflowing during awards season. In October, Inside The Film Room became accredited as an official media outlet for the first time, and we sent two writers to cover Film Fest 919 in Chapel Hill. On top of everything, the Inside The Film Room crew gained two incredibly smart new writers in Johnny Sobczak and Josh Martin.
All in all, it’s been a huge year for myself, Inside The Film Room and moviegoers everywhere. So, enough about me, let’s get to what you really came to find out.
Without further ado, the 25 best films of the year, according to me:
23. “Just Mercy”
20. “The Farewell”
19. “Ford v Ferrari”
18. “Toy Story 4”
15. “Little Women”
13. “Long Shot”
Ari Aster’s debut feature “Hereditary” was high on my list last year, and the new king of horror is back again this year. In “Midsommar,” Aster channels the exact opposites of nearly everything that made “Hereditary” so terrifying – and the result is just as scary. Set in broad daylight, Aster utilizes the brightness to lull viewers into a sense of security before unleashing a truly disturbing sequence of events. Throw in a severely overlooked performance by the year’s biggest breakout star, Florence Pugh, and it’s easy to see why “Midsommar” is one of the year’s best.
9. “Knives Out”
Regardless of how you feel about Rian Johnson and Star Wars, we can all agree that he absolutely crushed “Knives Out.” Its humor is unrelenting, the script is wicked smart and it’s all around one of the best moviegoing experiences of the year. Johnson puts an incredibly campy modern twist on the classic whodunnit and as a result completely revitalizes the murder mystery genre. Plus, “Knives Out” is the definition of a star-studded cast, anchored by a standout performance from Ana de Armas and an all-time showing from Daniel Craig.
Scamming white collar Wall Street suits out of thousands of dollars may not sound as wacky as a whimsical murder mystery, but it’s equally deserving of a spot in this year’s Crime Film Hall of Fame. Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers” details the true story of four New York City strippers turned criminals, and it does so in an unconventional manner – flashing from present-day interviews to the past escapades. This method creates an intriguing blend of tones, both flashy and gritty, as Scafaria shows the highs and lows of the real-life crooks. The most impressive part of “Hustlers” is its ability to place characters who have done objectively bad deeds front and center and still have audiences rooting for them, and this is due in large part to stellar performances by Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and the rest of the leading ladies.
Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film may be his best yet. The legendary filmmaker explores the fall of old Hollywood in “Once Upon a Time,” and he does so in an epic love letter to the city and the era. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Once Upon a Time” pulls off a sweep at this year’s Academy Awards, because Hollywood loves movies about itself, but also because it’s really just that good. Tarantino’s iconic direction and writing is in peak form, and so are his supporting players. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a career-best performance as Rick Dalton, and Brad Pitt isn’t far behind as his best friend, Cliff Booth. From the music, to the cinematography, the dialogue, and the classic third-act twist, there’s not a single misstep here.
“Waves” was one of the most shocking, stressful and incredible films of 2019. Its rapid pace and startling tonal shifts may be enough to turn off some viewers, but everything about this film worked perfectly for me. In the same vein as HBO’s “Euphoria,” “Waves” sheds light on the modern teenage experience and the tragedies that can result when high schoolers start down the wrong path. It’s raw and honest, and it’ll have you holding your breath for the entirety of its 135-minute run time.
Bong Joon-ho’s latest is nothing short of a masterpiece. In “Parasite” the Korean filmmaker has created a film with scathing socioeconomic commentary, but packaged it in a way that’s never overbearing but instead feels like a popcorn thriller. “Parasite” is part family comedy, part edge-of-your-seat mystery, and all absolutely wild. It’s a film that’s best entered cold – as I did – because the less you know heading in, the more enjoyable the mind-boggling ride will be.
4. “Uncut Gems”
I see your “Waves” and raise you an “Uncut Gems.” Talk about a stressful movie, but in all the best ways. The Safdie Brothers and Adam Sandler have teamed up to create one of the most anxiety-inducing yet enjoyable films of the year. Sander’s charisma as the larger-than-life Howard Ratner is magnetic, and co-stars Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Eric Bogosian, Idina Menzel and LaKeith Stanfield hold their own, too. It’s the most edge-of-your-seat movie of the year, and one that will require some serious decompressing once the credits roll, but it’s all worth it for two hours in the Diamond District with Howie.
Rarely can a movie simultaneously shatter your heart into a million tiny pieces and have you laughing the whole time. “Marriage Story” does just that. Writer-director Noah Baumbach has crafted an intimate and heartbreaking look at one of the ugliest things humans can experience: divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson go toe to toe throughout the film, consistently outdoing each other until it all culminates into one of the most devastating and well-acted scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It’s incredibly sad, surprisingly funny and cautiously optimistic – and you’ll feel every single one of those emotions and more over the course of the film.
This was the only film to rival “Knives Out” when it came to pure fun in the theater. After 10 years and 21 films of build up, Marvel let it all loose in the epic (almost) finale to the Infinity Saga. Three full hours of superhero smackdowns, and it was incredible. Scorese be damned, “Avengers: Endgame” is an excellent movie. In a year where more than one franchise suffered an underwhelming conclusion, “Endgame” checked every box. It was exciting, unpredictable, emotionally resonant, and flat-out well-made.
I have already watched this movie three times this year, and every single viewing makes it even better. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is an absolute masterpiece. What makes “Booksmart” so incredible is its authenticity as the perfect modern-day high school film – channeling the exact tone of 2019. From the pop culture references to the slang or the music, not a thing is out of place. The script is sharp and smart, with dialogue that actually sounds like something a teenager would say, and the humor is unrelenting. Time and time again, I’ve found myself cackling at how perfectly each joke lands.
On top of being laugh-out-loud funny, though, Wilde has crafted a high school party movie that actually has something to say. Underneath the hilarity lies an important message about authenticity, compassion and self-acceptance. On the surface, the characters may appear to fall into the typical high school archetypes, but Wilde quickly breaks these down to reveal multifaceted characters, just like real life teenagers. “Booksmart” would be nothing without its cast, led by the ridiculously charming Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, as well as an extremely talented ensemble with names like Billie Lourd, Molly Gordon, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Skyler Gisondo and many more.
With just one film to her name, Wilde already has me begging for more.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.