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.

30. Hail Satan? (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Penny Lane

Actors

Anton LaVey, Bill O'Reilly, Cecil B. DeMille, Chalice Blythe

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Mind-blowing

The question mark in the title represents the central idea of this fascinating documentary: what if worshipping Satan is the only way of ensuring religious freedom for everyone?

That’s what a group of young members known as The Satanic Temple believe, led by a determined and well-spoken Harvard graduate. They embark on a journey across the U.S. to challenge corrupt officials and the prevalence of religious biases in government agencies. They always request that their belief system (Satanism) is given the same favorable treatment as Christianity, effectively proving that authorities will really only accept a show of religion if it’s one religion: Christianity.

But their intoxicating energy comes with costs: divisions within the organization and growing pains. This documentary perfectly illustrates not only a misunderstood religion (in the documentary it’s referred to as “post-religion”) but the difficulties of establishing grassroots movements in general.

29. Love, Antosha (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Garret Price

Actors

Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ben Foster

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Mind-blowing

This movie narrated by Nicolas Cage is the incredible story of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Like Crazy): from being born to a Jewish Russian family in Leningrad to moving to the U.S. and ending with his sudden death at age 27. Anton, or Antosha as his loved ones called him, was a gifted kid: he was making his own movies at seven years old, taking highly sophisticated notes on Fellini movies, and picking up playing guitar in a short time. He took photographs that still show in exhibitions around the world. He led an extraordinary life, portrayed here, one that was cut way too short.

28. Dark Waters (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Todd Haynes

Actors

Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner

Moods

Dramatic, Thought-provoking, True-story-based

Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins star in this well-executed and eye-opening drama based on a true story. Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is a successful corporate lawyer in New York. He is visited by a distressed farmer from his hometown in Cincinnati whose cows have been developing strange behaviors and diseases. Robert decides to take on this case in what will become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in the country: the use of cancerous chemicals by the company that commercializes Teflon (the stuff in pans). Excellent acting in an incredibly frustrating but necessary story that will trouble you more than any other legal thriller you have watched in the past: prepare to be outraged (and throw away your pans).

27. The Report (2019)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Scott Z. Burns

Actors

Adam Driver, Alexander Chaplin, Annette Bening, April Rogalski

Moods

A-list actors, Instructive, Thought-provoking

Adam Driver, Annette Bening, and Jon Hamm are among the many recognizable faces of this star-packed political drama.

Driver, pictured above in his ‘I’m goofy but I will save the world’ signature stare 😍, plays Daniel J. Jones, an investigator working with the Senate. He is assigned to write a report (“the” report) about the CIA torture program post 9/11.

If you so much as liked Vice, the hit movie from earlier this year, you will love The Report. It covers similar grounds: incompetency, unclear intentions, confusion, etc; but in a way that is more to-the-point (which might make it feel dry to some). It also helps in understanding or getting a refresher on, how the Senate works and how organizations like the CIA interact with (bully) other branches of government. 

I would almost go as far as to say that if you are a U.S. citizen, watching this movie, with its many goofy Adam Driver moments, is your civic duty.

26. Apollo 11 (2019)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Todd Douglas Miller

Actors

Buzz Aldrin, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell

Moods

Instructive, Sunday, True-story-based

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

25. Official Secrets (2019)

best

8.0

Country

China, Switzerland, UK

Director

Gavin Hood

Actors

Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen

Moods

Instructive, Suspenseful, True-story-based

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn’t happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

24. If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Barry Jenkins

Actors

Aunjanue Ellis, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Dave Franco

Moods

Slice-of-Life, Slow

Barry Jenkins’ follow up to his award-winning film Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a highly compelling tale that explores the extent of the emotional consequences of racial injustices through the lens of a young couple torn apart by the judicial system. Staying faithful to James Baldwin’s original novel while adopting Jenkins’ signature melancholic style, it fails to reach the brilliance of Moonlight, but still stands strong enough on its own and successfully tugs on your heartstrings.

23. Scheme Birds (2019)

best

8.2

Country

Sweden, United Kingdom

Director

Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Thought-provoking

In Motherwell, you either “get locked up or knocked up,” or so says Gemma, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood growing up in an old Scottish steel town. Gemma runs among a tight-knit group of friends, at the center of which is ordinary mischief, routine, and roughhousing. And beneath that lies a certain kind of everyday violence. 

As Gemma enters young motherhood, she reckons with how to reconcile her own aggressions with the protective tenderness she feels toward her newborn. Beautifully and thoughtfully directed by Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, Scheme Birds never feels invasive. Rather, their documentary lets Gemma speak for herself—and in doing so, illuminates not just her life, but the complicated lives that intersect hers, too. 

22. Rosie (2019)

best

8.2

Country

Ireland

Director

Paddy Breathnach

Actors

Clare Monnelly, Eva-Jane Gaffney, Johanna O'Brien, Killian Coyle

This emotional and moving story is about a mother of four who is forced into homelessness in Dublin. With her husband working in a demanding restaurant job, Rosie is left to take care of the children while trying to find anything resembling accommodation. She starts by seeking the help of the city council, but every facility she calls is full or refuses to welcome them.

As a viewer, the heartbreaking reality of the situation sinks in quickly: Rosie and her husband are priced out and there are too many people in their condition. Their car doesn’t fit them. But to her children, relatives, and school officials, Rosie keeps up appearances and doesn’t compromise on her overwhelming child care tasks. 

21. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

best

8.2

Country

France

Director

Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Actors

Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras

Moods

Heart-warming, Romantic, Well-acted

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn’t approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

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