From horror to drama, international to American, 2019's films served as the perfect close to the decade.
Too much content out there? Of course! 2019 was full of straight-to-streaming masterpieces and box office-busting blockbusters. But, in between the two was a sea of original films that challenged the mind and inspired the soul.
Some of my favorite movie moments this year weren't solely the scenes that induced goosebumps or tears. They were the times I was in a theater hearing how affected others were by the power of a film that stayed with me long after the credits rolled. Like, in Judy, when you could hear the sobs of audience members as Renée Zellweger's Judy Garland stumbled through the word of "Over the Rainbow." Or, the laughs and guffaws heard throughout Parasite and Jojo Rabbit, both films that served as entertainment and commentary on society.
I was shocked more than once, most notably during that scene in Waves and that scene in Uncut Gems. And goosebumps did arrive, sometimes during the moments when it was least expected. The closing title card of A Hidden Life offered a beautiful quote that kept me in my seat for a while. The final looks by heartbroken lovers in films like Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Pain and Glory rocked me somewhere deep inside. The laughs I felt during Booksmart were therapeutic. And the surprise of stumbling across 'little' films like Atlantics and I Lost My Body allowed them to resonate ever more than expected.
Best-of lists can be pretentious, especially since art is so subjective. How a film connects to its audience is different for each and every person. As an escape from actual life, how we choose to channel our feelings and how we choose to suspend our disbelief depends on how vulnerable we allow ourselves to be. I hope you've found joy in the movies you've seen this year. I hope suspense has kept you on the edge of your seat. I hope you've choked back tears. And, I hope you've left a theater so excited to share the magic of the screen with everyone you know.
Here are the twelve (because I couldn't stop at ten) films that I haven't been able to stop talking about throughout the year. (For a look at my recap of the decade in film, click here.)
01 // A HIDDEN LIFE
Malick's direction is inspiring. August Diehl's performance is heartbreakingly good. The cinematography is breathtaking. The score is beautiful. I haven't stopped thinking about A Hidden Life since I saw it. Very rarely do I feel like a movie is a 'must-see,' but A Hidden Life falls into that category.
02 // PARASITE
It's just as funny as it is thrilling. Bong Joon-ho has always been a master at clever storytelling and Parasite serves as his most accessible, while still being unique and challenging. Come for the incredible production design (the house is a set!) and stay for the twists and turns.
03 // UNDER THE SILVER LAKE
The one film this year that never quite got its due, Under the Silver Lake succeeds when you let it just exist as what it is: a stoner noir. It's as colorful as a West Coast sunset and as weird as the collection of people you'd meet on Hollywood Blvd. Give this one a chance. Trust me.
04 // PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
It's still shocking to me that this isn't France's official submission for the Oscar (though, Les Miserables is incredible). Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the year's most beautiful film. The sweeping cinematography will keep you captivated. The tragic story of love will break your heart.
05 // ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Tarantino's love story to late-'60s Hollywood is delicious and fun and surprising. Leonardo DiCaprio has never been better. Brad Pitt steals every scene. Margot Robbie deserves the Oscar. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is a fairytale we've never seen and Tarantino's attention to the details, most of which are achieved practically, makes the film a masterpiece.
06 // THE SOUVENIR
The Souvenir is a captivating study of relationship. There's a specificity to the pain shared that sets the film apart from the typical romantic drama. Add to it a heightened level of coming-of-age intrigue and you've got one of the more enriching film experiences we've seen in a while.
07 // PAIN AND GLORY
Antonio Banderas gives a career-best performance in director Pedro Almodóvar's semi-auto-biographical tale of life's successes and regrets. It's a celebration of both the ups and downs, hence the title, that works on such a precise level that I couldn't shake this one for a few days after seeing it.
08 // MARRIAGE STORY
Noah Baumbach's screenplay for Marriage Story is biting and sincere. Both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver deliver vulnerable performances that feel ripped from the stage. This may serve as a salute to the real-life dramas of Cassavetes, but it stands alone as a singular, original story that's worthy of your time. Three cheers to both Merritt Wever and Martha Kelly in hilarious supporting roles.
09 // AD ASTRA
Boy, did some people have opinions on this film. As more of a quiet study on the human psyche and familial relationships, Ad Astra soars as one of the year's tightest stories. It hits every mark it attempts to reach, including top-tier special effects. Brad Pitt gives his second-best performance of his career. It's a story of selfish redemption that left me speechless for much of the afternoon.
10 // MIDSOMMAR
Ari Aster returns from his 2018 success with the brightest horror film ever put to screen. Midsommar is wonderfully bizarre and terrifying. Florence Pugh is stark and brilliant. Aster has become a master at never folding to the mainstream movie tropes typically found in this genre and Midsommar is proof that his vision is worth every slow, drawn-out beat.
11 // LITTLE WOMEN
Greta Gerwig takes the American classic and turns it on its head. To be honest, it took me watching it twice to appreciate her choice to shift the timeline in a non-linear fashion. But, it works. Saoirse Ronan is the best Jo put to screen. Florence Pugh gives Amy a persona that not only works but makes her the most memorable piece of the entire film. Laura Dern deserves Oscar talk for this film, instead of Marriage Story. See this. See this. See this.
12 // THE LIGHTHOUSE
Want to see something horrifying and weird and unlike anything you've ever seen? Here it is. If you can muster up the courage to sit and delight in The Lighthouse's deep and dark black-and-white cinematography and Willem Dafoe's wacky performance, then you will be treated to easily the year's most original experience. (Notice I didn't say 'film experience' because how you feel following this beast of a piece of art, it will solidify as a life experience not completely exclusive to just being a film.)