(AUTHOR/EDITOR NOTE: This is my personal list of my favorite movies in 2019. Expect an official FBC list in January.)
2019 was a great year in film. But also a weird year. For starters, it’s weird how great this year was.
Let me explain.
This year saw a lot of amazing films made by a lot of amazing filmmakers. Some of the best directors making movies today came to the plate swinging hard. Hell, Martin Scorcese made two films this year, both for Netflix. But none of them made their best film, and it seems like because of this, this year would seem like the ultimate runner-up in movie years.
And yet, this isn’t the case. In fact, this may be the best year of film in the 2010’s. It was filled with rich stories and amazing characters and bold filmmakers willing to take chances to sometimes ask the hard questions and sometimes just take us to places we wish we could be.
I saw 70 films this year, but by no means is this list complete. I still need to catch up with Uncut Gems and Ad Astra and The Lighthouse and a bunch of other films which I have been assured that I would love by people whom I respect. I hope to catch up with them before the official FBC list is made. However, at some point, you just have to stop watching movies and your list is your list.
So, with that being said, here’s mine.
10. Apollo 11 (Dir: Todd Douglas Miller)
This year saw the 50th anniversary of the landing of the Apollo 11 on the moon; one of the most seminal moments in the history of our nation. To celebrate it, Todd Douglas Miller gives us this amazing documentary with piles of never before seen footage.
However, it’s the way that Miller chooses to tell the story that is truly impressive; the entire film is strictly archival footage. There are no current interviews or recreations, everything you’re seeing is from 1969. Because of that, you really feel like you’re at Cape Canaveral or NASA headquarters or THE FUCKING MOON, because we did that. Even the score to the film is entirely played on electronic instruments that were available back in 1969.
Miller isn’t interested in having people tell us how important the event was or what it meant or learning about how people feel about it now. He only cares about what was happening then. In doing so, he tells a compelling narrative that reminds us of one of the best events our country ever had.
9. Homecoming (Dir: Beyonce Knowles-Carter)
In 2019, Beyonce reminded us that there was nothing- literally nothing- that she cannot do.
In chronicling her headlining performances at 2018’s Coachella Music Festival, Knowles-Carter has made the best concert film since Stop Making Sense. By having her back-up performers dress in yellow for one performance and pink for the other, Beyonce is able to split between the performances for some absolutely visually stunning edits. However, it’s not like we need them to be entertained: we’re watching a Beyonce concert. And no one can do production like Bey.
Homecoming has one of my favorite moments in film all year: “Deja Vu” gets started, and Knowles-Carter, who talks about the incredible work she had to do (including recovering from a difficult pregnancy) to make these performances possible, is dancing moving and making it all seem so effortless. Her husband, Jay-Z, runs onstage to drop his opening guest verse and is clearly winded after roughly three seconds. This goes to prove something we all should have learned a long time ago: Beyonce doesn’t just live in this world. She owns it.
8. Captain Marvel (Dir: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)
Come at me, you fucking nerds. Because Captain Marvel was the best film to come out of the MCU in 2019.
In telling the origin story of Captain Marvel, Boden & Fleck create a fun, exciting, charismatic movie (though one that relies a little bit too much on nostalgia). Brie Larson was the perfect choice to play Vers/Carol Danvers, a woman with no memory of where she’s been but someone who knows exactly who she is- a fighter, a warrior, a rebel and a leader. She doesn’t need to be cute or funny or charming; she’s going to do what she thinks is right and blow a hole through you if you stand in her way. There’s a great moment where a Skrull, the shape-shifting baddies in the film, screams before going to fight Vers. Any other of the Marvel characters would say something pithy, but this is not Captain Marvel; she just screams right back and kicks his ass.
Boden and Fleck make this film feel fresh and new, even while dealing with standard superhero tropes. Samuel L. Jackson is here as Nick Fury, and it’s fun to watch him play the sidekick as opposed to the guy behind the scenes moving all of the pieces in place. This is just good, old-fashioned popcorn fun; the kind of thing the MCU is great at. In 2019, we learned about Captain Marvel. And it made me excited to learn more.
7. Blinded By The Light (Dir: Gurinder Chadha)
Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor (who co-wrote the screenplay), Blinded By The Light tells the story of Javed (Viviek Khalra), a Pakistani immigrant living in England in the 1980s who is inspired to write through the music of Bruce Springsteen. As the Boss’ songs inspires Javed to write poetry, he finds himself dealing with obstacles both personal and municipal: his father just wants him to focus on school and get a job, some of his friends don’t understand why he’s not into more modern music, and his small town is fighting anti-immigrant bigots.
Chadha, best known for the delightful Bend It Like Beckham, clearly knows how it feels to fall in love with music. As Javed first hears songs like “Dancing In The Dark” and “Promised Land” we see the words thrown up on buildings, as if they’ve exploded out of his Walkman.
This is a truly special, joy-inspiring film about passion and art and family and culture and trying to find a way to make all those things come together. It’s a song for all the tramps who were born to run.
6. Hail Satan? (Dir: Penny Lane)
Hail Satan?, the documentary about the political activism group known as The Satanic Temple, may be the funniest movie I saw all of 2019. However, one of the reasons it’s so funny is because the point they’re trying to make is important.
The Satanic Temple is a group which noticed that a lot of Christian organizations, under the guise of freedom of religion, have tried to blur the lines between church and state through acts like wanting prayer during city meetings or having the Ten Commandments displayed in courthouses. So, the Temple tried to test the limits of these organizations by, for example, stating that if the Ten Commandments can be in front of a courthouse, so should a statue of Baphomet. That’s when the hypocrisy of these Christian groups showed up: they want freedom of religion, but only for their religion.
Penny Lane helps show us what effective trolls The Satanic Temple are, but also what a strange force of good they have become in the world: some of the chapters have formed after-school groups for children or have adopted highways or sent feminine products to women’s prisons (under the amazing name “Menstratin’ For Satan”). The members of The Satanic Temple seem to be principled people; many admit to being agnotic or aethiest and definitely not worshippers of the Dark Lord. They just want religion and government to be seperate, and are willing to go to some pretty amazing and hilarious lengths to do so.
When my wife and I finished watching Hail Satan?, she turned to me and asked, “I think we’re Satanists now.” And I think she’s right, which is telling about the times we’re living in.
5. Toy Story 4 (Dir: Josh Cooley)
Josh Cooley had some pretty big shoes to fill with his directorial debut. Not a lot of directors have their first film be helming the latest installment of Pixar’s first, and best, franchise. Fortunately, he was up for the task.
The Toy Story films have always used the concept of toys to have us ask questions of our own existence, creation and purpose, and Toy Story 4 cleverly asks a lot of those questions through the best character in film in all of 2019: Forky, a decorated spork voiced perfectly by the amazing Tony Hale. Every major character in the film is grappling with who they are and what they were designed to do. There are questions about free will and finding your purpose and attempting to locate your inner voice.
And this is a children’s movie.
The existential nature of the film sets an impressive tone, but the film also has enough laughs and gorgeous Pixar visuals to be, pardon my Disney, the spoonful of sugar which helps the medicine go down. How nice is it to have a family film for the entire family, something which can lead to conversation and laughs and a great time at the movies.
4. Marriage Story (Dir: Noah Baumbach)
If you’ve gone through a divorce, you know how you go through all of the emotions. Every single one. Sometimes with your ex-spouse (or ex-spouse to be), sometimes by yourself. It’s exhausting and maddening and hard to get through. And I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a director express that better than Noah Baumbach in Marriage Story.
Focusing on the end of a marriage between Charlie and Nicole (Adam Driver & Scarlett Johannson, both at the top of their games), Baumbach takes us through every uncomfortable emotion and terrible moment that happens in a divorce. Lines are drawn, feelings are hurt, casualties happen. What makes it worse is that it’s all happening while their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) is there, in the balance and also being fought for.
To me, there is no better scene in cinema this year than a full emotional blowout between Nicole and Charlie in his apartment. It feels like we’re held hostage and forced to watch these two lob verbal weapons at each other for the sole purpose of trying to hurt the other. It’s heartbreaking and horrible and performed with such vitriol and heat that you can’t look away. In this scene, and in all of Marriage Story, Baumbach shows you the damage as it’s happening and the wounds which form afterwards.
3. The Farewell (Dir: Lulu Wang)
Between this film and Marriage Story, I realize now that we’ve gotten to the heavy part of the list. Lulu Wang’s The Farewell was a film I wasn’t ready for and just absolutely floored me. The film tells the story of Billi, who returns to China to see her dying grandmother. However, the family has decided to not tell her grandmother of her terminal diagnosis, and instead brings everyone together to celebrate a wedding. What’s amazing about this movie is that it’s based on true events from Wang’s life.
This is a quiet and delicate film, all held together by Awkafina’s lead performance, which is perfect. She’s normally an actress who gives big showy roles filled with joy and expression, and in this film, you don’t even see a twinkle in her eyes. Awkafina’s Billi carries so much emotional baggage that you just see it in every step she takes and every word she speaks.
Is Billi’s family doing the right thing by keeping the news from her grandmother? The film wrestles with that question a little, but it’s also not what The Farewell is about. It’s about family and love and knowing you’re going to lose someone even if they don’t know it.
2. Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood (Dir: Quentin Tarantino)
In his ninth film, Quentin Tarantino reminds us why he’s one of the best directors working today. Whether it’s his attention to detail, his willingness to let a shot just linger a moment longer than most of his peers, or how he lets a film just explode into chaos; these are all things that few do as well as Tarantino, and it’s all on display here.
This isn’t a film so much about Rick Dalton and his stuntman best friend or Sharon Tate or Charles Manson as it is about the Golden Age of Hollywood coming to an end. You see some people trying to hold onto it as hard as they can, and others exciting to see what new and wonderful things will come from the change. As these two generations come together, Tarantino uses a flawless soundtrack to have us fall in love with this world, as he clearly has.
There is talk that Tarantino’s next film may be his last. Maybe that is why this film is so carefully considering what the end of an era feels like. Personally, I could do with many more films from him. Because he hasn’t stopped being great. And it’s possible he could still get even better.
1.Parasite (Dir: Bong Joon-ho)
When it comes to films about class struggle, there is no one better at telling those stories in interesting and beautiful ways like Bong Joon-ho. Parasite is the darkest of dark comedies, but still contains Bong’s queries that you see in all of his films: What would people do to obtain wealth and power? And would people do to keep it?
Parasite follows a poor family and they lie, cheat, and manipulate themselves into the lives of a very wealthy family. As Bong’s beautiful puzzle comes together, we find ourselves examining the morals of every character in the film.
This film is funny and strange and gorgeous and complicated, exactly like every other film we’ve been given by the Korean auteur. When this film is said and done, we feel like we’ve been on a roller coaster ride. Up can feel like down; wrong can feel like right…
That’s the sign of a fantastic movie.
11. Jojo Rabbit
12. Knives Out
13. Peanut Butter Falcon
14. Avengers: Endgame
15. Her Smell
16. Missing Link
18. Long Shot
19. Little Women
20 Spider-Man: Far From Home