Top 15 Films of 2019 – Allen’s Picks
2019 was such an excellent year in film that I seriously debated pushing this list out to 25, maybe even 30 entries. There was such an abundance of quality work that whittling it down to a small grouping is about the equivalent of a parent trying to choose their favorite child. And this is coming from someone who has already extended their “best of” list beyond the traditional Top Ten.
I’d love to sit here and talk at length about every single good movie that came out in the last twelve months. We could discuss the career best performances of Elizabeth Moss in Her Smell and Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name. Or we can discuss how Keanu Reeves continued to kick butt with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. We could switch things up and discuss how Olivia Wilde made an exceptional directorial debut with Booksmart, or how veteran director Pedro Almodóvar continues to find creative inspiration with Pain and Glory. We can examine how documentaries like Roll Red Roll, Hail Satan?, American Factory, and Honeyland captured issues plaguing contemporary society. There’s also the joy of genre films, with Ready or Not and Crawl providing some much needed fun. Or maybe we can just get weird, with In Fabric, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse offering a heap of arthouse absurdity.
Good movies come out every year, but 2019 seemed intent on ending the decade out with a bang. So with that said, let’s get down to business.
As per tradition, I start things off with a list of my honorable mentions. All of these entries have something to offer, and I recommend that you seek as many of them out as you can:
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Greta, Shazam!, Diane, Intruder, Long Shot, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, The Perfection, Booksmart, The Dead Don’t Die, Toy Story 4, I Am Mother, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Midsommar, Crawl, Ready Or Not, Miles Davis: Birth of Cool, Her Smell, Dolemite is My Name, The Nightingale, Missing Link, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Pan and Glory, Hail Satan?, In Fabric, Hotel Mumbai, Peanut Butter Falcon, The Cave, Arctic, Synonyms, Klaus, Roll Red Roll, I Lost My Body, The Two Popes, Amazing Grace, Little Women, Weathering With You, The Report, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Luce, Queen & Slim, The Lighthouse, Waves, Honeyland, Honey Boy, American Factory, Monos.
See what I mean? Just too many good movies, not enough time. Anyway, let’s move on to the crème de la crème.
Mati Diop’s directorial debut is a lyrical and poetic examination of life in Senegal. To categorize this film would be an act of futility – it’s part romance, part mystery, part horror film, part social commentary – all wrapped up in a narrative that shouldn’t work on paper, but on screen kept me entranced. We follow the life of a young Senegalese woman (Mama Bineta Sane) as she discovers that her lover has suddenly vanished. But Diop digs in further, introducing a supernatural element that threw me off guard and kept me guessing what would happen next. For those that seek out stories off the beaten path, this one is for you.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers one of the year’s best performances in this brazen, unpredictable, high wire iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime. In fact, the connections between this film and the comic book versions of “The Joker” character may actually be its weakest elements. As an examination of a person flooded by delusions of grandeur and an unstable desire for notoriety, Joker works as a down and dirty character study. But this is without question Phoenix’s film, and he carries the material on his shoulders. No performance this year is as unbridled and explosive as this one – it’s a no-holds-barred acting masterclass.
13) Knives Out
On the surface, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out looks like another conventional murder mystery/whodunnit. He quickly subverts our expectations, flipping the narrative into an examination of class, wealth, and xenophobia. As the circumstances of a rich patriarch’s untimely death comes to light, we start looking at his surviving family under a microscope. We come to find greed and selfishness hiding under the surface of prosperity and comfort. Let’s also not forget that this a damn fun watch, with actors clearly having a blast with Johnson’s razor-sharp script. With his film, Johnson has successfully taken a classic premise and breathed fresh new life into it.
12) Gloria Bell
Julianne Moore gives a wonderful, free-spirited turn as the star of Gloria Bell. Playing a single mother trying to find her own fulfillment after years of living for other people, Moore provides life and warmth to her character. A part of that effort involves dancing in L.A. nightclubs. That is where she meets John Turturro’s character as a potential love interest. It is their on again/off again relationship that fuels Gloria’s motivation to break free of anything that could potentially hold her down. This has such a heartfelt tone, with a narrative full of grace and honesty, that I couldn’t help but root for Gloria to find her happy place.