Ari Aster | 148 mins | Drama/Horror/Mystery Florence Pugh | Jack Reynor | Vilhelm Blomgren | William Jackson Harper
Much like the early films of Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), director Ari Aster seems to have one single goal with his movies: to make audience members as uncomfortable as possible. With his debut feature, Hereditary, he won over the respect of critics and horror fans, as they found it disturbing, entertaining and scary. Of those three virtues, though, I only found it disturbing. Therefore, I saw Midsommar with rather low expectations, which were met very quickly, thanks to a brilliant breakthrough performance by Florence Pugh. Pugh plays a college student who follows her boyfriend on trip to visit a strange cult in Sweden. Midsommar is nothing like Hereditary in two major ways. First, it’s more of a psychological thriller than a horror film and second, it actually lives up to its hype. In fact, it might just be the most underrated movie of the year.
9. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino | 161 mins | Comedy/Drama Leonardo DiCaprio | Brad Pitt | Margot Robbie | Emile Hirsch
If it’s not broke, why fix it? That’s how Quentin Tarantino must feel about his revenge story blueprint that he has used to alter some of the most devastating periods in history, including the holocaust and slavery. This year, Tarantino decided to intertwine two of his biggest loves together: revenge and Hollywood, and in doing so, he has made one of the most entertaining films of his entire career. Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt – arguably the two biggest heartthrobs of the past 25 years – star as a washed-up TV cowboy and his fearless stunt double during the late 1960’s. With their perfect performances, each of them reminds us why they continue to receive the juiciest roles in Hollywood. Yet, the real star of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Tarantino, whose love for the movies and altering dark historical events shines through and lifts Once Upon a Time… towards the top of his impressive filmography.
8. Ad Astra
James Gray | 123 mins | Adventure/Drama/Mystery Brad Pitt | Tommy Lee Jones | Ruth Negga | Ruth Negga
2019 marked quite a comeback for Brad Pitt, who starred in two of the year’s best movies, Ad Astra and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. The later should earn him his first Oscar nomination since he was honored for his powerful performance in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave with a Best Supporting Actor nod. But it also marked a comeback for gorgeously shot space films, which had a much longer drought. James Gray’s slow but beautiful story of an astronaut who goes on a mission to find the truth about his missing father ranks alongside Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey as the most perfectly photographed science fiction films ever made. Gray has made plenty of acclaimed films before – including The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z – yet, Ad Astra is his most ambitious, most beautiful and most heartbreaking film to date. And, even more importantly, it’s his most perfect
7. MARRIAGE STORY
Noah Baumbach | 136 mins | Comedy/Drama/Romance Adam Driver | Scarlett Johansson | Laura Dern | Alan Alda
Breakup stories are the most delicate of art forms. Some – like Blue Valentine and Revolutionary Road – provide actors with a platform to show off their acting chops, but end up being far too depressing to actually enjoy. Many others – sometimes successfully – turn them into purely a 90-minute joke. Far more don’t even get the greenlight to go into production at all. That’s why it’s such a treat to see a film like Noah Bauchman’s Marriage Story work at such a rare level. From the heartbreaking performances of Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver to the bittersweet script and direction by Bauchman, Marriage Story is the rare film that finds the perfect balance of compassion and heartbreak. It’s a film that realizes that compassion doesn’t disappear, even if the feelings do. Because of these many strengths, I don’t see my love for Marriage Story ending anytime soon.
6. UNCUT GEMS
Bennie Safdie and Josh Safdie | 135 mins | Comedy/Crime/Drama Adam Sandler | Julia Fox | Kevin Garnett | The Weeknd
Based on my extremely limited understanding of the jewelry world, mostly which I gained from watching Uncut Gems, the value of diamonds can vary greatly. There are so many factors that go into it: the diamond size, shape, shine and rarity are all important, but each assessment can vary greatly based on its appraiser. Movies are similar. Some people determine their success based on its box office numbers. Others look at awards and others look at how entertaining it was. Some even judge a film based on Adam Sandler’s performance in it. Regardless of the reason though, it’s nearly impossible not to appreciate something about the Safdie brothers’ new film, Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler – yes that Adam Sandler – platys a deceitful jewelry store owner with a compulsive gambling addiction. It’s a performance that many think is the pinnacle of his career, and I can’t really disagree. But, more importantly, it’s also the best work of the Safdie brothers, as they create a frantic movie world that is suspenseful, unpredictable and unique. And since they’re both in their mid-thirties, they seem like the safest bet to lead us into the 2020s, and even 2030s.
5. THE FAREWELL
Lulu Wang | 100 mins | Comedy/Drama Shuzhen Zhao | Awkwafina | X Mayo | Hong Lu
It has been some ride for actress Awkwafina. Just seven years ago, she became a well-known Youtuber when she released a song named “My Vag.” Since then, she earned a role in the breakout blockbuster, Crazy Rich Asians, and has even received Oscar buzz for her performance in The Farewell. Although many believe she’ll fall short of a nomination, I certainly can’t think of five performances better than her touching performance as a first generation American who travels to China to visit her ailing grandma. Writer-director Lulu Wang’s moving story first appeared on an episode of NPR’s podcast, This American Life in 2016. Three years later she turned it into a full-length motion picture, and one of the best of its kind. The Farewell has so many layers. It’s certainly one of the better films when it comes to studying the cultural differences between the two nations, but more importantly, it focuses on the similarities, including the importance of families and the people who shape our lives. Lulu Wang understands that that’s a shared language, and it’s that understanding that propels The Farewell to greatness.
Jordan Peele | 116 mins | Horror/Mystery/Thriller Lupita Nyong'o | Winston Duke | Elisabeth Moss | Tim Heidecker
Admit it: Jordan Peele’s debut film, Get Out, was a tad bit overrated. After receiving good, but not great initial reviews, it was bolstered to movie of the decade status by year end, partially due to its release date timing which was slightly before the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a worthy cause and a great film– but not nearly as perfect as its year-end praise implied. Peele’s follow up film, however, has found itself on the opposite side of the spectrum. After receiving similar reviews to Get Out, Us has been largely ignored by critics’ yearend lists, which is too bad because it’s the rare horror film that leaves us both on the edge of our seat and challenges audience members to reevaluate their perspectives. Lupita Nyong’o gives the most underappreciated performance of the year as a mother who courageously defends her household when a family of doppelgangers invades their home. The result is a film that thrills audience members and questions their viewpoints. Yet one viewpoint is clear to me: that Us is one of the very best films of 2019.
3. LITTLE WOMEN
Greta Gerwig | 134 mins | Drama/Romance Saoirse Ronan | Emma Watson | Timothée Chalamet | Florence Pugh
Greta Gerwig once said that her Little Women remake was only greenlit after Meryl Streep agreed to play the role of the cranky Aunt March. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I do know that if I were a rich Hollywood producer, I would gladly put my name alongside Gerwig’s on anything that her heart desires. That’s because the Lady Bird director is one of the most creative and strongest voices making movies today, as proven once again by her very charming remake of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel. Of course, some of the most talented young actresses working in Hollywood, including Saiorse Ronan, Emma Watson and Florence Pugh, deserve credit too for their abundant and contagious joy that they share with audience members. I doubt any viewer watches Gerwig’s Little Women without a bit of jealousy that their own family isn’t as strong-willed, joyful or loving as the March family. Although I might be wrong since it was reported in the New York Times recently that many male critics simply have dismissed Little Women as a film only for feminists. If that’s true, I must be a feminist, because I’m looking forward to seeing what Gerwig does next more than that of Scorsese and Tarantino combined. And even the fact that her next movie is about Barbie doesn’t change that one bit.
2. KNIVES OUT
Rian Johnson | 130 mins | Comedy/Crime/Drama Daniel Craig | Chris Evans | Ana de Armas | Jamie Lee Curtis
Two years ago, Rian Johnson directed a Star Wars film that stunned critics but alienated fans to the point where he became the biggest villain of the galaxy far, far away. Those same fans still held a grudge two years later, as a community of Star Wars fans destroyed Knives Out’s IMDb rating before it was even released. By the time of its actual release date, Johnson’s The Last Jedi follow up suffered an IMDb rating around six, thanks to a slew of one-star reviews. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for its rating to rise so high that Knives Out was temporarily included in the site’s top 250 films of all time. Deservingly so, too, since Knives Out is creative, funny, suspenseful and much more fun than you’ve ever had playing Clue on a family board game night. As for those angry Star Wars fans, well, the only reason they should be mad is that they’ve never had and likely never will get another writer as brilliant or as creative as Rian Johnson.
Bong Joon Ho | 132 mins | Comedy/Drama/Thriller Kang-ho Song | Sun-kyun Lee | Yeo-jeong Jo | Woo-sik Choi
If you take all of the best elements from Bong Joon Ho’s previous films – the suspense from The Host, the social class narrative of Snowpiercer, and the unpredictability of Mother, and perfected each quality, you might just get a movie that resembles Parasite – if you’re lucky. Although Ho has been consistently good for many years now, Parasite finds him at new heights as he tells the story of a poor South Korean family whose life is altered when their son is given the opportunity to tutor for a very wealthy family. Laced with hints of Hitchcock, Parasite is an endlessly fun and unpredictable puzzle that gets better with each twist and turn, and one of those rare films that both critics and audiences love. Then again, how could anyone not love Parasite, when it’s so clearly the best film of 2019?