We reviewed hundreds of movies this year. Here’s our ten favorite.
The end of the year brings a chance to catch up with all of the movies we’ve reviewed this year. To get things off on the right foot, we’ll start by breaking down our ten favorite films of the year.
Over the course of the year, we reviewed a lot more than feature films. We’ve looked at short films, series, and even streaming platforms. We’ve also covered quite a few classic films in our new Cinema of the World segment. To keep to things most audiences have seen as well, we’re narrowing our scope to feature length films released in 2019. Sorry, The Big Bus, you were a blast from the past but we’re only talking new films here.
2019 Retrospective: Favorite Films.
Honorable Mention: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (April)
Terry Gilliam’s 25 year long struggle/labor of love finally hit theaters this year. Kinda. It officially premiered in 2018…but the long tangle of obligations, burnt bridges, and studio politics meant that it functionally came out in 2019…for one day. Man, when Terry Gilliam pisses off the big wigs of the studio system, they stay pissed.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote lived up to its reputation as a quixotic beast. Brilliant in places, muddled all to hell in others. It was a vision only a lunatic auteur like Gilliam could deliver. He was also assisted by a fantastic cast up and down the board, and a heroic crew who labored to bring the costumes, sets, music, and cinematography to life. Well worth your attention.
10. Ready or Not (August)
The team over at Radio Silence finally moved beyond horror anthologies to create this dark satire. Samara Weaving stars as a commoner marrying into wealth and privilege, only to find that her groom’s family literally loves games to death.
While the social satire lacks a deep bite, the film does shine when it comes to dark comedy and palpable body horror. Weaving leaves pieces of herself all across the screen, literally and figuratively. It’s such a clever and devious film, I wish there was a way to make a sequel. But, you know, everyone blew up like water-balloons full of blood at the end, so I don’t know how you pivot to a follow up there.
9. IT: Chapter 2 (September)
The Losers’ Club return to Derry to defeat an evil clown couldn’t quite live up to the gory glory of the first chapter. It did however make some smart adjustments to bring Stephen King’s monstrous tome’s second half to life.
A packed cast and sound directing kept this second effort from feeling like a copy of the first film. Taken together, Muschietti’s films are certainly one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel…in year that saw both excellent and awful attempts to adapt other works from the master of horror.
8. Arctic (February)
Director Joe Penna’s first feature film showed off all of the finely honed instincts he cultivated in his excellent short films. Mad Mikkelsen plays a man marooned above the Arctic Circle, eeking out a brutal subsistence. When a rescue attempt leaves him as the sole hope for an injured pilot, he makes a grim trek out of the ice.
In another harrowing performance, Mikkelsen goes all out, very nearly landing himself in the hospital. The cinematography and pacing of this gripping thriller are immaculate. Penna really struck gold on his first big film, and I eagerly look forwards to his next effort.
7. Dora and the Lost City of Gold (August)
On paper, this should have been a disaster. Adaptations of cartoons are dodgy affairs, and this film is trying to make an education show for very young children work for a general audience. Thanks to a phenomenally energetic and charming performance from Isabella Moner, a strong supporting cast, and a dedication to smart, earnest fun, Dora and the Lost City of Gold became one of my favorite films of the year. I still hope this film gets rewarded with a sequel.
6. Us (March)
Jordan Peele’s return to the horror genre after his excellent premier may not have equaled his work on Get Out, but it was great in its own ways. Lupita Nyong’o is electric in dual leading roles, and Winston Duke is now officially my favorite movie Dad.
The story about doppelgangers breaking free and trying to replace their originals mines rich veins of social and racial criticism. The film feels more disjointed than Get Out, but taken separately each part is effective.
5. The Last Black Man in San Fransisco (June)
I had to wait for this indie gem to come to streaming before getting a chance to sink my teeth in. It was worth the wait. Joe Talbot‘s story about gentrification and racial identity, based on and starring his friend Jimmie Fails, really hits home.
The cinematography is gorgeous. The film deftly jumps from satire to criticism to nostalgia, weaving surrealism and daily life together. It features touching performances, heartfelt characters, and wry humor. Not even ten minutes into The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I knew it was a winner.
4. Alita: Battle Angel (January)
I had high hopes that Robert Rodriguez could adapt my favorite Japanese manga and retain its distinct character. After languishing in studio hell under the aegis of James Cameron, Alita finally got a chance to shine.
Alita, a cyborg living in a blasted dystopia and fighting to reclaim her identity, is brought vividly to life by bleeding edge CG and Rosa Salazar‘s passionate performance. Rodriguez keeps the mechanical heart of the manga alive while smartly reworking the story to fit the big screen. It gave me the Alita I loved while also making a story new enough to grab me all over again.
3. Avengers: Endgame (April)
The capstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s long journey absolutely stuck the landing. It blended all of the disparate stories, characters, and tones of the earlier films together to provide a moving, high-energy finish.
More than just the finale to nearly two decades of films, it provided a blueprint for other franchises to emulate. With Rise of Skywalker wrapping up four decades of Star Wars films, we’ll see if Marvel shared their secret with their Disney siblings.
2. Dolemite Is My Name (October)
The end of the year finished up strong, thanks to a resurgent effort from Eddie Murphy. Wearing the persona of Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite like a second skin, this biopic had it all. It was smart, slick, funny, and audacious. It also showed a lot of heart. The story of an unlikely star playing an unlikely hero in what is probably the most unlikely movie ever made had surprising depth and awareness. I absolutely loved it.
1. Doctor Sleep (November)
The follow up to The Shining thematically honored Stanley Kubrick’s film, and brought out the best elements of King’s book. The scares really scared, the villains brought the menace, and the two leads gave the film emotional impact.
It seems lots of people passed this film over in November, which is a shame. The story and the charms of the film are hard to communicate in the bite-sized medium of a trailer. I would heartily recommend folks ignore the botched press material and take a deeper look at this deeply satisfying movie.