Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Year in ReView: 10 standout films of 2019

Well, 2019 was a hell of a year at the movies. Maybe not domestically, but we’re hard-pressed to think of a year this decade that was packed so full of wonderful films — maybe 2012? 2017? But yes, aside from Disney basically monopolizing the film industry and the Paramount Decrees being revoked, it was a fantastic year for cinema. Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe both came to a close, leaving nerds to finally get the lives that they so frequently avoided. Tom Hooper scarred legions of children and will probably never direct a big-budget movie ever again. Joker won the Golden Lion at Venice, and somehow the sun rose the next day. A Charlie’s Angels movie came out, and no one cared! Yes, it was a weird one, full of unexpected successes and tremendous flops, and wonderful art films that few people will see, but like The Velvet Underground and Nico, will inspire those that do see them to potentially make great art or write great criticism (not that the two are mutually exclusive).

These 10 are by no means the only films we liked in 2019, and there were plenty more that we wished we could have shouted out here. Oh, wait, we can totally do that!

Honor Roll:
The Lighthouse, Waves, Luce, Knives Out, Richard Jewell, Gemini Man, Ford v Ferrari, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Blinded by the Light, The Art of Self-Defense, The Death of Dick Long, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Child’s Play, Luz, Crawl, Detective Pikachu, Villains, Girl on the Third Floor, The Day Shall Come, Greener Grass, The Hole in the Ground, Honey Boy, Happy Death Day 2 U, Little Monsters, Sweetheart, The Nightingale, The Souvenir, Fighting with My Family, Velvet Buzzsaw, Climax, High Life, Her Smell, In Fabric, Greta, The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, The Dead Don’t Die, Avengers: Endgame, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Hail Satan?, First Love, Under the Silver Lake, Monos, Dark Waters

And, without any further ado, here’s our 10 Standout Films of 2019, with excerpts from our reviews at the time of their release. Thanks for reading, everyone, and we hope you have a lovely holiday.

Strangest Movie to (justifiably) Cry In: The Beach Bum

“It’s been a few days now since I’ve seen ‘The Beach Bum,’ and each time I think about it — a lot down here in Austin when you see the posters for it plastered over every singe Alamo Drafthouse that one comes into contact with — I grow fonder and fonder of it. It’s an earnestly sweet, incredibly funny, and extraordinarily affecting work that, much like its protagonist, possess such a beautiful heart beneath all the aesthetic trappings. It’s wonderful to drift about the world with Moondog and his friends, imagining just how beautiful life could be if one could truly embrace it.”


Best Comeback: Dolemite is My Name

“But it’s Murphy’s show, and he’s engaged in a way that he hasn’t been in decades, spitting fire left and right, annihilating audience members like the Wu-Tang Clan in the Duel of the Iron Mic. Blaxploitation purists might have an issue with Moore essentially becoming another Murphy character — indeed, the legends were very much on different wavelengths — but honestly, if we’re going to give Tom Hanks honors for speaking slowly and in a Southern accent this awards season despite looking or acting nothing like the man he’s playing, why should we apply that standard here? But mainly it’s just so wonderful to see Murphy tearing his way through each and every scene, operating once again at the top of his powers.”


Best Movie Based on a This American Life episode: The Farewell

“What results is a masterfully executed and earnestly-felt (well-informed by Wang’s own lived experience, though that’s not necessarily a given here) look at a complicated and painful situation for this family, one worthy of comparison to filmmakers like Hirokazu Kore-eda. ‘The Farewell’ is sure to be a massive hit whenever it hits theaters later this year, given just how expansive its emotional range is, and how accessibly it renders a culture clash that some viewers might not be aware of, but will most definitely be compelled and moved by.”


Most Likely to Cause You to Wonder What You’re Doing With Your Life:A Hidden Life

“Some have said that this is Malick’s most political film, and that’s true enough: It is fundamentally depressed about the state of the world during troubled times like these, about the nature of demagoguery and populist fascism and what they do the brain. It is also angry at what this sickness has done to the yeomen in the village: Nazism infects St. Radegund like a slowly-developing virus, as the men and women who once walked by Jägerstätter in the morning begin, over time, greeting him with a “Heil Hitler” instead of a hello or bullying him into donating to a veterans fund and stalking him when he doesn’t. But Malick could have made this film in 2004 and its message would still be as potent as it would be today: Doing the right thing will require incredible, impossible courage, and you will be tempted at every single turn by the men and women who fail to see a point in your sacrifices, who refuse to see a conscience as anything other than a nuisance meant to be denied. And, unlike Jägerstätter, who was beatified by the Church in 2007 (though he never expected such a thing), there is very little certainty that you will be remembered in any meaningful way for your actions. But the rewards for this bravery — not in any theological sense, as well — include the preservation of your very soul, of your legacy, of your defiance. ‘A Hidden Life’ reminds us of this fact, and shows us the horror and the beauty of it all. “


Best Last Hour: The Irishman

“If it seems like I’m focusing on the film’s final hour, in which Hoffa’s disappearance is explained, and Sheeran has to confront his body count, the havoc that it has wrecked on his family, and the slow death march towards the grave, it’s only because it’s one of the best of Scorsese’s long career. It’s the moment in which the director interrogates his specific fears of decline and death, a sort of anti-‘Hugo’ where his worst fears are concretely realized. That isn’t to say that the specter of mortality is absent from the rest of the film — Scorsese and Schoonmaker continuously emphasize how the various mob figures we meet throughout met their deaths in freeze-frames captioned with the hows and wheres — but it’s the moment where the universality of Sheeran’s condition overtakes the specificity of his story, though it is attached to his tale with good reason. Here sits a hobbled old man who took part in several of the last century’s greatest conspiracies, and was centrally involved in an event that has consumed more than one true crime aficionado’s life, and, by the very end, his nurse can’t even recognize Jimmy Hoffa, his silence no longer serving anything save his pride. And when we, and Scorsese, leave Sheeran, the final shot smartly alludes to that of John Ford’s ‘The Searchers’ in very poignant ways, suggesting that the door will soon close on an entire generation and the things that it held so significant. ‘I Heard You Paint Houses’ (or ‘The Irishman’) is a terrific and tragic epic about confronting the dying of the light in all of its ugly mundanity, rather than raging away against it.”


Sexiest Giallo Homage: Knife+Heart

“Yann Gonzalez’s ‘Knife+Heart’ is a dreamlike tribute to ‘70s pornography and its close and lurid relative, the giallo film, the hyper-stylized Italian genre of crime film popularized by filmmakers like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Luciano Ercoli and Andrea Bianchi. It’s a slow-moving but absorbing journey through the underbelly of the Parisian gay porn industry featuring a masked slasher killing his way through a stable of performers who all share one thing in common: They worked for Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a stressed-out and lovelorn director who likes her liquor hard and can’t help but put herself into her work. Not literally, of course, but still. Anne is still in love with her editor, Lois (Kate Moran), with whom she had a ten-year romantic relationship (that recently went down the tubes) and a professional relationship that’s lasted even longer. And when the bodies of her performers start turning up and the police begin knocking at her door, she begins to make a film about the experience, and starts to unravel the reasons why this killer is targeting her actors.”


Our Favorite Movie We Saw This Year:Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

“It’s laconic hangout vibe, which perfectly suits the sunny late ‘60s Los Angeles that its characters inhabit, and lack of the director’s hallmarks (revenge plots, over the top violence, narrative fuckery) make it almost unrecognizable as a Tarantino film. It’s endowed with an emotional maturity — about friendship, about aging, about the cultural specters that still haunt us to this day — that will ultimately viewers who haven’t been paying attention to his output since 2009’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (his greatest triumph, IMO) and his work in the intervening years since. It is a masterpiece, and very possibly will be one of the best films of the year.” 


Most Likely to Win Best Picture at the Oscars: Parasite

“But make no mistake; this isn’t some sort of dry Marxist treatise: this thriller is expertly crafted, an exhilarating ride through a twisty, turn-filled plot in which one never truly has their feet upon solid ground. It’s likely to please fans of the director’s earlier work, who have been frustrated by the director’s shift into straight genre over the last decade, though his experiences crafting films like ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘Okja’ have helped him to refine his style into its most-pure form yet. His actors are stronger than they’ve ever been (perhaps a welcome surprise to some viewers, given how well, say, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in ‘Okja’ was received), with Bong’s longtime collaborator Song Kang-ho receiving one of the deepest and most interesting roles of his long career here, rivaling his work in ‘The Host’ for its level of humor and empathy. It’ll be easier to sing hosannas about this film once opening weekend’s come and gone, but I can say without a doubt that Parasite is even better than what you’ve heard, and it’s one of the very best films in what is shaping up to be a great year in cinema at large.”


The Best Movie We Saw This Year: Uncut Gems

“And from there, ‘Uncut Gems’ becomes the kind of wacky-yet-straight crime thriller that the Safdies are known for, and it maintains a painful tension throughout each of its 130 minutes as we follow Howie his quest to retrieve his priceless jewel in time for the auction. In doing so, the directors just stack and stack new difficulties for our lead and pull away more and more of his comforts, like a game of bar Jenga where the bricks are covered in razor blades. Their ability to make scenes clear which, if placed in other filmmakers’ hands, would otherwise be incomprehensible, remains unparalleled, and their take on the Altman-esque ‘talking over each other’ sound mixing in stressful scenes is, well, brilliant. Even more striking is their newfound usage of visual effects in several sequences where the cosmic beauty hidden within the gem is fully explored within the frame, and often lead to amusing ends; such as in the film’s opening sequence when the nebulae-like beauty of the microscopic world inside the gem is revealed to actually be a close-up of Sandler’s asshole during a colonoscopy.” 


Best Horror Movie: Us

“‘Us’ is a bit longer and shaggier than ‘Get Out,’ which is understandable given that the latter is an impossibly tight movie if there ever was one, but it serves a purpose: We spend so much time with our leads that we organically absorb their routines, their tics, their style. And when that is reflected back to us in the form of those red-suited menaces, it’s as if we’re staring into a funhouse mirror: It’s the same, but distorted and ugly, contorted into with a kind of menace, as if you were imagining your worst qualities standing in front of you. Each member of the ensemble does fantastic work — it’s hard enough playing one part in a movie, not to mention a second that’s essentially one’s id — but no member of the cast is as astonishing as Nyong’o, whom horror fans should be grateful towards for leaning into the genre in the past year. Her work as both matriarchs borders on the sublime, and there are moments in which she commands the attention of every single eyeball in the room. Seriously, if you thought Toni Collette was good in ‘Hereditary,’ see this. It’s on par with, or dare I say it, better than that performance.”