First, I think I ought to apologize for how long-delayed this year in review would have been, but I had become incredibly busy over the past few months – to that point I was unable to write many film reviews as of late. Yet I still managed to find enough time to myself to catch films over the year as it was coming to its end in time for awards season, though it also left me with more than enough time to think back upon how great a decade this has been for film in general.
While it still feels sad to have to come think about one journey being over, it only feels most fitting we come back to the thought that we must always make way for tomorrow – the past has run its course, and thus we can dwell upon everything great about such in order to move forward. But as much as the 2010’s may have also been taken over by franchise films eating away the public interest every chance it has, it also made searching for the hidden gems all the more fun too. Yet as the best films of 2019 had already shown us, great cinema is still alive and well, and what matters most is how much we can continually share those experiences with others.
As far as this decade’s years of great films have gone by, many of 2019’s highs have struck a chord with me that I can’t quite put my finger on – but to put it lightly it was also the sort where I knew these films were going to be among films that define the decade too. It feels great to have been able to revel in what these films stood for within their moments, so without further ado, these are my favourite films of 2019.
A Hidden Life
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
And now comes the countdown.
10. An Elephant Sitting Still
What saddens me is the thought that this is to remain the only feature-length directorial effort of Hu Bo, a filmmaker who tragically had taken his own life prior to the film’s premiere at TIFF in 2018. Yet the film that Hu Bo had left behind in his wake is a four-hour long journey all about searching for hope. An Elephant Sitting Still may prove difficult, whether we speak regarding its bleakness or the context behind its making and the context behind the life of filmmaker who brought it to the screen, but it will prove a rewarding experience.
9. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’s follow-up to The Witch is still every bit as beguiling as one can expect, but that’s also what reaffirms how terrifying it is. It’s only fair to say that The Lighthouse is the sort of nightmare that only a filmmaker like Robert Eggers could make, but there’s a certain audacity you can feel in his vision for the horror genre that feels like only he could have pulled off. Boasting great performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse is more than just terrifying, it’s also funny every now and then but also just gorgeous from start to finish.
8. Little Women
Greta Gerwig already made her mark as one of the most exciting directors to look out for after having established her name through collaborations with Noah Baumbach, and it only remains further solidified by Little Women. Being another coming-of-age tale from her eyes, Little Women does far more than just bring back to the screen another story that has been adapted many times over the years: it still reaffirms the story’s own impact by sharing how it captures generation after generation, which I think becomes the film’s greatest asset.
7. Uncut Gems
The Safdie brothers always know how to rack up anxiety to the max but in Uncut Gems, what comes forth is everything you’d have wanted from the makers behind Good Time and much more. Boasting a career-best performance from Adam Sandler, who is at some of the best he has ever been since Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, seeing the sort of work he manages to pull off in Uncut Gems does more than prove he is a wonderful dramatic actor when working outside of his familiar circle. You’ll feel your heart racing as you watch Uncut Gems, but the ride will absolutely be worth it.
6. The Irishman
It’s hard to say no to a new Martin Scorsese film, because he may arguably be the greatest American filmmaker working today – but he always finds a new way to approach the familiar subject matter of his work. In The Irishman, he returns once again to making gangster films to tell the story of how Frank Sheeran climbed his way up the mafia and even got himself involved with the case of Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, but in typical Martin Scorsese fashion, there’s never a dull moment in this three-and-a-half-hour long odyssey. Yet it also shows Scorsese within a more introspective mode, which can be felt from having stuck around Frank’s life from his youth all the way to his old age. By the time you’re finished, you’ll feel like you lived his life, asking questions about how much of it was worth it.
5. Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf has already made a name for himself as one of the most fascinating figures working in the industry today but seeing how he enters a more sensitive side within Honey Boy only gives one all the more reason to love him. The narrative directorial debut of Alma Har’el, this semi-autobiographical film all about Shia LaBeouf’s own life experiences, as penned by him, and starring him as his own troubled father, Honey Boy is more than a tribute to the people whom he loved most, it’s a testament to what goes on in the life of a child star – and how those experiences have come to define the sort of person that he has become. I’m also looking forward to what Alma Har’el has got in store for the future, because this movie hasn’t left my head very easily.
4. The Farewell
For an Asian audience member, The Farewell will already strike chords for some – but there was something else that I had felt from watching it. Part of me saw my own life experiences feeling exactly like it had been for Awkwafina as shown in Lulu Wang’s film. It can be hard to say no to family matters, but what also makes The Farewell ring so perfectly comes out from how much it’s clear that Lulu Wang had written this as her own family’s love letter. Showcasing Awkwafina at some of her very best, The Farewell may be a slow burn but in that awkwardness it makes you feel from seeing family members you may have been estranged with for so long, it becomes a beautiful emotional rollercoaster.
3. Marriage Story
The ironically titled Marriage Story shows Noah Baumbach as he returns to familiar territory after The Squid and the Whale but tells of the adults’ perspective on the situation. But for Noah Baumbach it’s clear that this is a subject that nonetheless still hits him very hard, which is what makes it so easy to feel Marriage Story making its impact right from the film’s start, all the way until its end. To call Marriage Story the best that Noah Baumbach has ever been would already be easy enough, but when you’re also taking into account the many personal details sprinkled in, the title already feels fitting. It is less a film about the divorce and a film all about why they married to begin with, which best captures its impact.
2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire won the Queer Palm and the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival, but what makes this lesbian love story so beautiful can already be felt in its testament to great art. Sciamma’s film is one that is all about looks: how they define the artist’s relationship with muse, but also how both those feelings define the art we make. Boasting some beautiful production design as well as amazing performances from Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a stunner.
People who have followed me closely would already know that there was no other movie that would take this spot. Aside from being more rewarding with multiple viewings, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is a film that approaches a subject that seems familiar to us, in the most outlandish yet most entertaining way possible, although not without its willingness to hit back with the harsher realities surrounding the circumstances we see onscreen. I feel like there’s already so much in my prior review that I haven’t been able to cover because ever since I had seen the film then, I could already feel as if it were only set to become even more rewarding as I kept coming back to revisit Parasite more over time. Equal parts funny, equal parts gripping, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is more than just the best film of 2019, it’s wholly thoughtful and encourages its viewers to look back at the class landscape that they live within.
The Best Performances of 2019
Actor, Leading Role:
- Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems
- Song Kang-ho, Parasite
- Adam Driver, Marriage Story
- Robert De Niro, The Irishman
- Robert Pattinson, The Lighthouse
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Noah Jupe, Honey Boy
- Daniel Craig, Knives Out
- August Diehl, A Hidden Life
- Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Actress, Leading Role:
- Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
- Cho Yeo-jeong, Parasite
- Noèmie Merlant, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
- Awkwafina, The Farewell
- Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
- Lupita Nyong’o, Us
- Zhao Tao, Ash is Purest White
- Ana de Armas, Knives Out
- Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart
- Julianne Moore, Gloria Bell
Actor, Supporting Role:
- Joe Pesci, The Irishman
- Choi Woo-shik, Parasite
- Al Pacino, The Irishman
- Lee Sun-kyun, Parasite
- Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
- Timothée Chalamet, Little Women
- Shia LaBeouf, Honey Boy
- LaKeith Stanfield, Uncut Gems
- Asier Exteandia, Pain and Glory
Actress, Supporting Role:
- Park So-dam, Parasite
- Laura Dern, Marriage Story
- Florence Pugh, Little Women
- Adéle Haenel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
- Chang Hyae-jin, Parasite
- Zhao Shuzhen, The Farewell
- Julia Fox, Uncut Gems
- Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
- Penelope Cruz, Pain and Glory
- Jamie Lee Curtis, Knives Out
The Worst Films of 2019
- Katie Says Goodbye
- The Lion King
- The Dirt
- The Haunting of Sharon Tate
- It: Chapter Two
And so, this concludes what’s already been a wonderful decade of truly astonishing films – stick around, we’ve also got more to come as I talk about the best films of the decade.