A year full of stunning variety, surprising breakouts, and emotional honesty, 2019 ended this decade on a high note. Legendary directors delivered hits as expected and new voices burst on the scene with powerful, personal stories. Crafting a top ten list for this year was no easy task, with so many stunning films left out. You have heard Matt Neglia‘s top 10 of the year and now here is my top 10 list of my favorite films from 2019.
10. Uncut Gems
On paper, the Safdies’ “Uncut Gems” shouldn’t be a film that makes my top ten list. It’s unpleasant, intense, and stars Adam Sandler. Yet, two viewings later, it’s a film I can’t get out of my head. The film is a wild ride, a deep dive into one man’s terrible decisions. I felt the anxiety in my bones from beginning to end. Every bad decision that Howard makes stressed me out, but the unrelenting pace pushes the action forward in a purely watchable way. It’s thrilling and well crafted on every level. Against the odds, Sandler genuinely delivers one of the best performances of the year, and it’s not just because it’s surprising. “Uncut Gems” isn’t fun, but it’s a ride well worth taking.
Gripping and brutal from beginning to end, “1917” is a visceral experience. We feel every explosion, every moment of dread right alongside our main characters. This is a straightforward story, but it’s turned into a masterful achievement. It’s obvious, but Roger Deakins’ cinematography is brilliant, some of the most remarkable work of this century; beautiful compositions and unbelievable long takes that boggle the mind. Likewise, without cuts, we rely on Thomas Newman’s score to set the pace. Every piece of technical work on this film is stunning, especially the production design. The film is more than just a technical achievement, though, it’s effective storytelling, thrilling and immersive. “1917” is a film worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, but holds up at home, as well. One of the best war films I’ve ever seen, and one of the best films of the year.
8. Jojo Rabbit
A film that’s grown on me greatly on repeat viewings, “Jojo Rabbit” is a delightfully strange and beautiful film. Taika Waititi’s moving Nazi tale juggles many tones, but ultimately, sticks the landing. It’s heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hilarious all at once. Roman Griffin Davis carries the film on his shoulders with remarkable confidence, aided by Waititi’s pitch-perfect imaginary Hitler. Thomasin McKenzie has such natural depth here, cementing her place as one of the best young actresses today. Waititi’s direction balances the tones perfectly, never letting the silliness overshadow the emotion. In the end, it’s such a wonderfully enjoyable film about humanity and empathy.
7. Little Women
After naming “Lady Bird” my favorite film of 2017, I was slightly disappointed that Greta Gerwig would be following it up with “Little Women.” She has such a modern voice that it seemed like a safe, or even boring, choice. I’m so happy to have been proven wrong. Gerwig’s iteration of “Little Women” feels fresh in every way, and somehow feels truly modern. The adaptation is so beautifully written and arranged, telling this story in a unique way that refreshes its power. Though it’s brilliantly edited, the non-chronological storytelling was slightly confusing at first. Still, it all clicks eventually, breaking the story up in powerful ways. It’s romantic and lovely, energetic and lovable. The ensemble is so good, with Ronan, Pugh, Dern, and Chalamet shining the brightest. I truly did not expect to love “Little Women,” but it’s a joy from start to finish.
6. The Farewell
Lulu Wang tells such a personal and specific story in “The Farewell” that it manages to connect on a deeply human level. This film is about family, honesty, and grief, and tackles it all with humor and openness. Awkwafina’s career-changing performance shows off her depth. She’s perfectly melancholy; sad but full of humor and personality. The film flows by effortlessly, perfectly capturing the complexity of family relationships. It’s heartbreaking but cathartic, and deeply relatable.
No film this year is as wholly surprising and richly rewarding as Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite.” It’s a taut thriller with dark comedy all balanced on a razor’s edge. Bong has complete control of tone. It’s tense, weird, and funny all at once. The film is like a puzzle perfectly completed, every piece fitting exactly where it’s meant to. As crazy as the film gets, Bong makes every moment fully believable, but always surprising. Gorgeous cinematography, paired with a pitch-perfect ensemble, makes “Parasite” one of the craziest and most endlessly enjoyable films of the year.
4. Marriage Story
More than any other film on this list, “Marriage Story” required a second viewing for it to truly click for me. It’s a heartbreaking film, but one that manages to be really, really funny. The first viewing felt more sad and upsetting to me. On the second viewing, I was able to appreciate the struggle, the pain, and the honesty within this story. Yes, it’s a story about divorce, but it’s also a story about love. It shows us why Charlie and Nicole loved each other, and even how they still love each other. The story is often frustrating, but it always feels authentic. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson make these characters feel so real, giving us little moments where we see their complexity. “Marriage Story” isn’t a pleasant film, but it’s a beautiful 21st-century portrait of a relationship.
3. Ford v Ferrari
No other film this year exhilarated me as much as “Ford v Ferrari.” It’s got pulse-pounding action directed with a skillful hand, paired with a surprisingly emotional story. I’m no fan of racing in general, but there’s so much energy here, making each race and turn so thrilling. Christian Bale delivers his best performance in years (yes, I’m including “Vice” in that), showing us a man who can be the best in his field but also truly love and be there for his family. It’s honestly something we don’t often see on screen. The story is so satisfying, making sure the action means something. It’s thrilling, it’s funny, and it’s wildly entertaining.
2. Knives Out
This may be the definition of “pure entertainment.” Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” breathes new life into the whodunit genre. It’s a perfectly crafted mystery with razor-sharp writing. Johnson has complete control over the audience, giving us the satisfaction of thinking we know what’s going to happen right before he gives us something far better. Thankfully, setups and payoffs make this film hold up remarkably well on rewatches. The best ensemble of the year is deliciously despicable. Ana de Armas gives the best leading performance of the year with her subtle and vulnerable Marta, more than holding her own amongst a cast of legends. More than anything, this script is so brilliant, never taking the easy road out. I can’t rave enough about how fun “Knives Out” is.
1. Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf’s autobiographical film takes us on a journey into his heart. “Honey Boy” is a devastating story about childhood, fatherhood, and a boy sorting out his brokenness. While it’s truly heartbreaking, it’s also a beautiful love letter to a father from his son. LaBeouf plays his father in one of the most cathartic performances I’ve ever seen. He opens himself up and holds nothing back. He sees his father, like, truly sees him, in a way that we all wish we could connect with our parents or our children. The good and bad, the awful and impactful, it’s all blended together, just like any of our childhood. Alma Har’el directs this with an unbelievably confident hand for a narrative debut. It blends the adult and child storylines together seamlessly, showing us how pain affects us over time. Noah Jupe demonstrates remarkable maturity as the lead, and Lucas Hedges is brilliant as always. Along with a score that’s tactile and melancholy, the story is slight, but the emotional power is massive. It all comes together to make for one of the most powerful films I’ve seen in quite some time – and my pick for the best film of 2019.
Be on the lookout for more of our Top 10’s for 2019 and the decade, plus our annual NBP Film Awards and the NBP Film Community Awards as we enter 2020 and get closer to the 92nd Academy Awards (the true end to our film year) all right here on NextBestPicture.com
You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @howatdk