The 50 Best Movies of 2019

The 50 Best Movies of 2019

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2019 was a climactic year for film. This last full pre-pandemic movie season gave us staggering box office returns (with Avengers: Endgame being crowned the highest-grossing film of all-time) and heralded the mainstreaming of international cinema in Hollywood and the rest of the world (with Parasite triumphantly kicking the door down for more South Korean movies and other subtitled fare). But beyond the headlines, 2019 still gave us an embarrassment of riches: diverse stories from singular voices from every corner of the world, now getting more of a chance to share their experiences through global streaming.

40. Midsommar (2019)

7.8

Country

Sweden, United States of America

Director

Ari Aster

Actors

Agnes Westerlund Rase, Anders Back, Anders Beckman, Anki Larsson

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Thrilling

You may have heard about this 2019 critic-favorite from clips like this one of a kid running to flee the movie theater during a screening. “little billy ran the f**k out the door”, the caption reads.

You will want to do the same. Recovering from losing her sister and her parents in a single incident, a young girl goes on a trip to Sweden to observe a ritual within a bizarre commune that occurs every 90 years. This cult’s idea of death and their traditions intersect with the girl’s grief to create unthinkable monstrosities.

Note: while some readers praise the movie for its depiction of anxiety, I highly recommend against watching Midsommar if you suffer from panic attacks.

39. Zana (2019)

7.9

Country

Albania, Georgia, Kosovo

Director

Antoneta Kastrati, Female director

Actors

Adriana Matoshi, Alketa Sylaj, Astrit Kabashi, Bislim Muçaj

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Intense

Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

38. Just Mercy (2019)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Destin Daniel Cretton

Actors

Adam Boyer, Al Mitchell, Alex Van, Andrene Ward-Hammond

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Inspiring

This drama is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard graduate who moved to Alabama in the 80s to defend wrongly accused prisoners on death row. He’s played by Michael B. Jordan, who brings to the surface the unstoppable determination and ambition of the character. Components that were necessary to go on such a difficult task, especially with the racist barriers at the time. Not to mention, no one had ever been released from death row in the history of Alabama at that point. An inspiring and well-acted movie, made by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton.

37. Uncut Gems (2019)

7.9

Country

South Africa, United States of America

Director

Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Actors

Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky

Moods

Action-packed, Dark, Intense

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York – a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere – everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn’t feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

36. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019)

7.9

Country

Malawi, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Actors

Aissa Maiga, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday, Touching

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

35. House of Hummingbird (2018)

best

8.0

Country

South Korea

Director

Female director, Kim Bora

Actors

In-gi Jeong, Jeong In-gi, Jung In-gi, Kil Hae-yeon

Moods

Lovely, Slice-of-Life, Slow

It’s 1994, and Seoul is facing massive, rapid changes. The unrest is reflected by a lot of its residents, including Eun-hee, a disaffected teen with a less-than-stellar home and school life. She manages to get by with the help of friends and lovers, that is until they change too, and Eun-hee is forced to grapple with the volatility of it all. 

Sensitively told and genuinely captivating, House of Hummingbird is a stellar debut by writer-director Kim Bo-ra. Her command shines in how young actress Park Ji-hoo dynamically portrays Eun-hee, in how the story meanders but never loses footing, and in how each frame displays a quiet gorgeousness as the primary colors of her youth pop against the faded backdrop of urbanized Seoul. The delicate balance of all these elements is sure to evoke a sincere, profound feeling in every viewer. 

34. Happy Old Year (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Thailand

Director

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

Actors

Aokbab Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, Apasiri Nitibhon, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying

Moods

Lovely, Slice-of-Life, Sunday

An interior designer comes back from Sweden to her birthplace in Thailand where she tries to declutter her family home to make it a minimalist, Marie Kondo-type house. “Minimalism is like a Buddhist philosophy. It’s about letting go,” she tells her mother as she tries to convince her. “Are you nuts?” The woman replies.

Jean insists and she embarks on a journey of touching what hasn’t been touched in decades: traces of an absent father and a past lover among the old Nokias and VHS tape recorders.

Happy Old Year is a contemporary exploration of the age-old resistance to throwing things away. Decluttering is a costly act, one of rejecting and discarding memories. The film was Thailand’s official submission to the Oscars.

33. Invisible Life (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Brazil, Germany

Director

Karim Aïnouz

Actors

António Fonseca, Carol Duarte, Cláudio Gabriel, Cristina Pereira

Moods

Dramatic

This 140-minute Brazilian drama is an epic and touching tale of two sisters torn apart. In 1950s Rio de Janeiro, Eurídice, 18, and Guida, 20, are inseparable, but their dreams soon take them away from each other, from their conservative family, and from Brazil.

After they are separated, each one of them believes the other is achieving her dreams when often the opposite was happening. Family betrayal, silence, and a suffocating social climate shatter the aspiration of the sisters but also highlight their strength.

32. Monos (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Argentina, Colombia, Denmark

Director

Alejandro Landes

Actors

Deibi Rueda, Jorge Román, Julián Giraldo, Julián Giraldo

Moods

Action-packed, Mind-blowing, Thrilling

This crazy adventure thriller was Colombia’s nomination for the 2020 Oscars. “Monos” translates to monkeys, the nom de guerre of a group of teenagers holding an American hostage in an isolated bunker. Other than the occasional visit from their supervisor, they’re left to their devices, forming relationships, smoking weed, drinking, and eating psychedelic mushrooms. One day, on top of the hostage, they’re also trusted with a milk cow, named Shakira. A party goes wrong and one of the Monos accidentally kills Shakira, triggering a series of events that sends them deep into the jungle, and deep into despair. 

Monos is not an action movie, it’s more of a character study. It was loosely based on The Lord of the Flies.

31. Driveways (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Andrew Ahn

Actors

Bill Buell, Brian Dennehy, Christine Ebersole, Fernando Mateo Jr.

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Slice-of-Life

This beautiful drama is set over a summer in New York State. Kathy and her son Cody drive to her estranged sister’s house, who had just passed. Kathy plans to quickly sell the house and go back to her normal life but that doesn’t happen when she learns that her sister was a hoarder. Forced to spend more time cleaning the house, her son sparks a friendship with the next-door neighbor, an old Korean War veteran. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking, Gran Torino, right? The initial set up is the same but in Driveways is much more realistic, and its characters don’t really need to be redeemed (no one is screaming “get off my lawn” with a shotgun). In fact, the actor who plays the old man, the fantastic Brian Dennehy, brings so much kindness and heart to the story. It ended up his last movie before his passing, and what a beautiful farewell his performance is.

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