We have come to both the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s. As I reflect back on the last 10 years and 2019, I am filled with immense joy and pride. This was the decade where my love for movies really took off as I finished up college, started Next Best Picture, became a Criterion Collection obsessive and more. I saw a total of 181 new film releases this year which is up from the 149 films I saw last year. For the sake of brevity, I am going to split up my Best of 2019 and Best of the 2010s lists. So, up first are the 10 films I saw in 2019 that had the largest impact on me, whether it was from a technical level, an emotional level, or from a pure entertainment standpoint. Not every film will be represented here and some of your favorites may be left off. This is in no way a “best of” list meant to represent a large group of people. This is my own personal list. For more context, you can listen to our latest episode of the podcast where I revealed my top 10 on the show.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it!
No film in 2019, reduced me to tears more than Trey Edward Shults’ third feature-length film “Waves.” No film also had as unique a storytelling structure as “Waves.” Split into two distinct parts which are wildly different than another, the film is an examination of toxic masculinity, broken homes, broken spirits and the long road towards being healed again. It’s a strikingly beautiful film about how communication, understanding, and love can triumph even the bleakest of circumstances. Despite its flaws, it has resonated with me in a much more profound way than most other movies I saw this year. Featuring terrific performances from the entire ensemble (especially a breakout turn from Taylor Russell), “Waves” announced to the world that Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha” & “It Comes At Night“) has officially arrived in a major way.
9. Knives Out
Definitely the most fun I had watching a movie this year. I had this goofy grin across my face from the beginning till the end of Rian Johnson’s cleverly constructed whodunit comedy thriller. Featuring one of the best ensemble casts of the year, “Knives Out” was a pure blast. Ana de Armas (“Blade Runner 2049“) showed everyone what she could do with her empathetic leading turn as a nurse who gets caught up in the aftermath of a wealthy family’s loss of their patriarch. And Daniel Craig gave such an original and highly enjoyable performance that it had us begging to see more Detective Benoit Blanc adventures in the future. At the end of the day, the real star is Johnson, who plays with his characters and his audience, while also providing some class commentary on the wealthy in a post MAGA world. A sheer delight.
8. Uncut Gems
Probably the biggest success story of 2019 for me. My journey with the Safdie Brothers’ latest has been well documented but for those that don’t know, let me break it down for you here. I first saw “Uncut Gems” at its world premiere in Telluride and I was not a big fan. I recognized that the Safdies were continuing to grow as filmmakers and Adam Sandler had delivered the best work of his career, but I could not get past the film’s overbearing sound design. I found out during a second screening a month later, that the sound I had heard at Telluride was not the final mix and my experience the second time was much better than the first. Fast forward to now, I have seen “Uncut Gems” four times and I want to watch it forty-four more times. It’s a wild, anxiety-driven ride, one which I never want to get off of. Not bad considering my initial impression of the film was a 5/10.
7. Little Women
Greta Gerwig strikes again! After making it onto my list in 2017 with her solo directing debut “Lady Bird,” her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved book “Little Women” found its way onto my Top 10 list again! This wasn’t the case at first though. Like “Uncut Gems,” Gerwig’s film required multiple viewings before I could come around to placing it on this list. My initial complaint centered around the film’s editing (especially during the first 15 minutes). However, after each viewing, I noticed that like “Uncut Gems,” I wanted to continue spending time in the world that Gerwig had fully realized on the screen. Only this world was like a warm blanket I could wrap myself and feel comforted by. The cinematography, production design, costumes, performances, writing, and score are all a step above for Gerwig, as she exceeds her previous work and delivers a timeless adaptation that stands as the best cinematic telling of this story and these characters yet.
Every year, it seems like a Sundance title always manages to find its way on my best-of-list at the end of the year. This year it’s “Luce,” which for a very long time was my number one film of the year up until the fall. It held strong and stayed in the top 10 as the performances, simmering tension and constant back and forth guessing pertaining to the titular character’s motivations kept me coming back time and time again. Featuring career-best work from Octavia Spencer (who is wrongfully being overlooked for a Best Supporting Actress nomination this year) and Kelvin Harrison Jr., “Luce” challenged me with what it means to be black and an American in 2019. It presented new ideas and asked questions that I previously had not thought about before and cannot stop thinking about ever since. Writer/Director Julius Onah, whose previous film “The Cloverfield Paradox” made it onto my list last year as one of the worst films of 2018, came roaring back with a powerful piece of work and has made me anxious to see where he goes next.
5. Marriage Story
The best film of Noah Baumbach’s career is also one of my favorite films of 2019. Topping himself technically, emotionally and intellectually in the way his divorce drama examines the lives of two people who cannot stand to be together anymore, Baumbach’s entire career has been building toward “Marriage Story.” The film gives equal weight to the positive and negative aspects behind both lead character’s (Played marvelously by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, representing the best work of both of their careers) personalities and motivations, that I constantly found myself switching allegiances and coming to grips with how complicated and messed up people really are, especially when lawyers get involved. Deeply personal, surprising hysterical, heartbreaking and endlessly watchable, “Marriage Story” represents a culmination of Baumbach’s entire career.
4. The Lighthouse
What a bat-shit insane experience! Robert Eggers’ follow up to “The Witch,” is a two-hander for the ages, as Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe bounce off of each other in a bizarre and frightening battle of wits and stubbornness. This movie comes flying out the gate at 100mph in terms of its craziness and never lets up. In fact, it increases the craziness as the film progresses to the point that I found myself in the theater cackling and watching with wonder, as to how far Eggers was going to take these two characters. Reaching its breaking point right at the very end and leaving us with one of the most haunting final shots of 2019, Eggers’ “The Lighthouse” managed to top his directorial debut for me, thematically, sonically, visually and everything else in between. I am very fond of this man’s lobster indeed.
One shot. One friggin’ shot. How in the world do you shoot a war movie in one shot? You take a brilliant theater (and action) director in Sam Mendes and pair him with the world’s best cinematographer in Roger Deakins. We already know from their previous collaborations together that Deakins and Mendes are capable of delivering awe-inspiring visuals that help to elevate the story being told on screen (“Skyfall”). However, with “1917” both men top themselves here on a level that rightfully stands as the highest technical achievement of 2019. Once again, blending the epic scope of the story (with miles and miles of detailed production design) with the intimate and grueling journey that William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles Chapman) go on, “1917” is unlike any other war movie I have ever seen before. Imagine the intensity of “Saving Private Ryan’s” incredible opening minutes, coupled along with the quieter and beautiful moments from that same movie but the camera followed the protagonist the entire length of the film, almost in real-time, and you might come somewhat close to imagining what “1917” feels like. It can only be experienced on the biggest and loudest screen possible. It also features my favorite score of the year by Thomas Newman, who’s work here feels like another character as his swelling cues, atmospheric tones and gripping moments of tension, guide us on the emotional journey of these two soldiers during WWI.
2. The Irishman
I talked earlier about movies in 2019, representing a culmination for certain filmmakers and that is exactly what “The Irishman” feels like for possibly the world’s greatest living director, Martin Scorsese. With a three and half hour runtime, an epic story that spans decades, featuring visual effects de-aging technology that has never been seen before, “The Irishman” is a brilliant masterwork and rumination by Scorsese and his cast as they look back on their very own careers. Filled with many callbacks and references to the films that built not only their careers but the gangster genre as we know it, “The Irishman” is a deconstruction of the genre, that can only be told by artists and filmmakers in their 70’s. Like the main character of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro with his best performance in 25 years), everyone involved here is looking back on their legacy in cinema, as we contemplate the passage of time and whether or not it was all worth it. For the audience, the resounding answer is yes. A monumental piece of work that puts a cap on the gangster genre and the careers of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, it makes me wonder where they will go in their careers next? For if this is the note that either of them decided to go out on, I could not think of a more perfect way to go. It’s a miracle that considering my love for the gangster genre, the talent involved in this project, my anticipation heading into it and my deeply personal reaction to it, that this movie is not my number one film of 2019. Which only goes to show you what an incredible year 2019 was that it could produce not one, but two full-fledged masterpieces.
A perfect movie. Pure and simple. Every frame, every moment, every beat, every decision of Bong Joon-ho’s fascinating satirical look at the class disparity in Southern Korea is absolutely immaculate. I cannot stress enough, how badly you need to see “Parasite” with as little information heading in as humanly possible. Part of the whole experience is not knowing the directions which this endlessly entertaining story takes. Feeling the audience around me in a cinema reacting to Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece stands as one of the best cinematic experiences I had in 2019. Shocking, funny, intelligent and at times devastatingly brutal, “Parasite” takes you on a roller coaster, filled with twists, turns, drops, spins and when it’s all over, you want nothing more than to watch it again. With one of the best ensembles of the year, some jaw-dropping modern production design, precise editing, and thought-provoking ideas filled with heart and dark humor, “Parasite” remains unclassifiable and not only the best film of 2019, but one of the very best films of the past 10 years.
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).
You can follow Matt and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @NextBestPicture