And now, the last chapter. With all awards, yes, even the (amazingly good this time!) Oscars accounted for and my Top Score list out, here it is. My final take on the films of 2019.
It was a year that, a few exceptions aside, felt rather empty and slow until the very end, when a crush of amazing films all came out at once. Still, this year it was a rather easy and straightforward process for me to make this list. As always, the ranking are my own and purely subjective, so absence from this list in no way means I didn't like whatever movie you now hate me for not granting a top spot to. Let's get to it!
Honorable Mentions: Tell Me Who I Am (documentary), The Irishman, 1917, I Lost My Body, Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in Okinawa (documentary), A Hidden Life
10. How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (Dean DeBlois)
Last chance for me to get this franchise on a Top Ten list, and I ain't wasting it. All things considered, the first film probably remains the best on an individual level, but the degree to which this final installment committed in following through on not ending with easy solutions, or things turning out the way the heroes hoped. There is always new life and new love, but growing up in this world involves risk, and risk can't always be faced without losing something one holds dear, and can never really have back again. Never before has the story of a boy and his dragon been told so truly and honestly.
9. Us (Jordan Peele)
Peele's follow-up to his Oscar-winning debut Get Out might not be on quite the same epic level- though to be honest, that's par for the course when directors try to follow a career-defining masterpiece- but Us is still a challenging, unique use of the horror genre to force the audience to question the complicated interactions between race, class, and personal trauma in American society. All while finding yet more ways to make shots of nothing more than a person's eyes genuinely horrifying. Lupita Nyong'o adds another masterful double-lead performance to her resume, further establishing herself as one of the most insanely capable actresses in the business today. I could watch these two team up forever.
8. John Wick 3- Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)
The John Wick franchise continues to be an insanely fun, no-holds-barred reinvention of the 80's genre of Unstoppable Action Demigods. Keanu Reeves and his crew have mansged to not only reestablish himself as a star presence in the world, but to also provide some of the most gripping, astounding, and influential action sequences in the game this side of the superhero arena. Each film finds more ways to leave action fans like myself gaping in awe and wondering, "Who the hell thought THAT up?" It's silly, it's so over-the-top, and I am so here for it.
7. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Rian Johnson not only did not let the utterly depressing level of hate The Last Jedi received get to him, he came right back out of the gate swinging with his next film. Knives Out is a broad riff on classic sleuth films, right down to gloriously pompous closing-in shots of the master detective readying his next monologue, and yet it keeps finding new ways to twist things just enough to go places you don't quite expect. The writing and filmmaking are sharp as, well, knives, and the entire cast is game, especially the lovely Ana de Armas and Chris Evans doing a far, far better job of casting off his Avengers persona than Robert Downey Jr.
6. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach uses his own personal history to help fuel arguably the best film he's yet made, headlined by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson giving some of the best performances they've yet achieved, and supported by a rock-solid supporting cast, especially the Oscar-winning Laura Dern. Loaded with filmmaking choices, writing, and nuanced bits of acting that fill out the screen with a wealth of detail about two mostly-sympathetic people utterly failing to bring their lives back together- plus one of the year's best scores- you can't help but get swept up by the emotions driving the story to its painful (though not hopeless) end.
5. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
Greta Gerwig continues to amaze, and Saoirse Ronan continues to refuse to give me my heart back. I've still not read the original novel, nor have I seen any of the other classic adaptations, so I came into this film entirely new, and it swept me right off my feet, as if I, too, were dancing with Jo and Laurie on a darkened porch in the middle of a party. This film is imbibed with a love of the drive and passion that leads people to create, and, most crucially, allows space for both the disappointment and the elation that the process of creating and trying to find success brings. It is a tender and loving story of people, trying to live and thrive amidst disappointment and struggle, and I simply adored it.
4. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)
Hark, those who may enter here, for toxic men we are, and toxic men we is! This most twisted and deranged film of the year, featuring a dynamite duo of Pattinson and Dafoe, can be interpreted on so many levels, a whole treatise could be written on how the film manages to work in themes of mental illness, repressed sexuality, restrictive and nonsensical social mores, toxic masculinity, and even Greek mythology into one incredible filmgoing experience. Brilliantly shot in a square frame, using black-and-white imagery and featuring meticulously researched dialogue, this film works as a period piece, as a blackbox character drama, and as a Lovecraftian Fantasy/Horror mashup all at once. Let no one dare question the quality of this film's lobster.
3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma)
This is one of those rare films that is simply perfect- every piece of dialogue, every shot, the framing of every scene, how lighting and music are used, how themes of fear, longing, and loss are woven into every bit of the film's fabric- all of it fits seamlessly together into the whole. Masterfully paced, directed, and acted, this is a French lesbian love story that puts male-gaze-oriented films like Blue Is The Warmest Color to absolute shame. Not that the film is modest- not at all- but the more downplayed way it paints the growing emotional (and eventually, physical) passion of its heroines is all the more potently erotic as a result. After seeing this, I knew I would never be able to listen to Vivaldi the same way again.
2. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Ah what joy, when the top Oscars actually go to one of the year's best and most ambitious films! For one glorious year, justice reigned, for Parasite truly is one of the year's absolute best, a cinematic tour de force that swings wildly from genre to genre and tone to tone without ever losing control of itself. Beyond its qualifications as an excellent film, impeachable as they are, the movie also has an awful lot of sociopolitical commentary packed into it, a direct challenge to notions of capitalistic meritocracy that suffuse every frame, especially in its bonkers second half.
1. Jupiter's Moon (Kornel Mundruczo)
I still can't believe it, but somehow, a Hungarian director following up a film about a literal dog uprising with one about a Syrian refugee ended up making possibly the best Superman film yet made. Combining hard-core, ground-level commentary on the plight of refugees and discrimination within modern Europe with flights of visual fantasy, there is no other film that uses the both the concept of flying and literal flight quite like this. This film has only gotten extremely limited distribution and so far, almost no one has seen it, which is a crying shame, because, like Parasite, this is one of those gems everyone needs to experience.