Some years, I struggle to put together a top ten favorite movies list. Others, I struggle to trim titles off of it. I’m happy to say that 2019 was the latter type of year — a stellar 12 months of film indeed, bursting with interesting, boundary-pushing movies spanning all genres.
What follows are the movies that moved me the most. That I kept thinking about for days, weeks, or even months after I saw them. The ones I recommended to anyone who would listen. Not all of them are going to be award-winners or nominees or judged to be “the best” by those in the industry. But they’re the ten that mattered most to me.
Here there are (listed in alphabetical order):
Avengers: Endgame – I’m going to make the exact same statement about Endgame that I wrote about Infinity War on my 2018 list: Watching this movie was the most fun I had in a theater this year. It had everything: powerful performances (with Robert Downey Jr. as a standout), humor, action, and a payoff for fans who’ve watched all 21 MCU movies leading up to this one.
Booksmart – I identified with the characters in this movie within the first five minutes. It does such a wonderful job of summing up all the anxiety, hopes and fears about that pivotal time between high school and college for so many young adults. And Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd is absolutely fantastic in it as the comic-relief character Gigi.
The Farewell – I went into this film apprehensively, as I knew it revolved around a dying grandmother. What I got instead was not at all what I expected: a heartfelt ode to family traditions and bonds, and a missive about being yourself, all wrapped up in a true story with a truly uplifting ending—keep watching the end credits!
Frozen II – I’ve seen this movie several times now in less than a month, and each time I’m so happy and thrilled about the powerful positive messages it sends both boys and girls (and really, all of us). And its soundtrack—wow! I’m going to make a controversial statement: I think its music is actually better than the original movie.
Jojo Rabbit – I honestly didn’t expect this unique “anti-hate satire” set in Nazi Germany from Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi to make my list before I watched it. And I didn’t know quite what to make of it while I was watching it. But its parallels to real-world events taking place right now cannot be denied, and its message of empathy, compassion and hope is one I’ll gladly take anytime.
Little Women – When I was younger I read Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 book about a family of sisters coming of age during the Civil War, but all I remembered about it was rooting for the character Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan in this adaptation by Greta Gerwig). Well, I was rooting for her again, and loved the subtle ways Gerwig updated the story. I was also a huge Timothée Chalamet fan before and am even more of one now (he plays the neighbor “Laurie”).
Marriage Story – When they hand out tissues at the start of a screening, you know you’re in for an emotional ride, and Marriage Story did not disappoint on that front. But what stuck with me were Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver’s powerful performances as a wife and husband whose union is falling apart and how their lawyers begin to influence what happens. Laura Dern as one of those lawyers is a standout and provides some levity.
Parasite – This isn’t a ranked list, but if it were, this would be my #1 (and my critics group, the Chicago Film Critics Association, agreed). I don’t even want to describe its plot as it’s the kind of film that it’s best to know nothing about beforehand. I’ll only say that it’s a Korean comedy/drama/thriller that has a lot of say about class relations. So do yourself a favor and seek it out (it will come to Redbox in 2020!) and prepare for some twists and turns from celebrated director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Snowpiercer).
The Two Popes – I’m not Catholic, but I was straight-up fascinated by this behind-the-scenes look at what led up to the 2013 transition from the more traditional (and controversial) Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) to the humbler and more informal Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). I also appreciate having more context to go from when reading about announcements or decisions coming out of Vatican City.
What were your favorites of the year?