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.

20. A Hidden Life (2019)

8.2

Country

Germany, Italy, United States of America

Director

Terrence Malick

Actors

Alexander Fehling, Alexander Radszun, August Diehl, Bernd Hölscher

Moods

Slow, True-story-based

Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) is back in full form with this three-hour movie based on a true story. His creation has one of the most beautiful depictions of happiness ever seen in film, portraying the simple yet joyous life of a farmer in the Austrian mountains. You’d have to see it for yourself to understand, but how Malick depicts this character’s love for his wife (and her love for him), their children, and even their farming rituals are nothing short of cinematic wizardry. 

This peaceful existence changes when World War 2 intensifies and this farmer is called to serve for the Nazis. He refuses to enroll out of principle and puts himself and his family at great danger and alienation from their village. The question at the center of the film is one that other villagers and the church ask him a lot: what good can his actions do? And the title of the movie is taken from A George Eliot quote: “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

19. I Lost My Body

best

8.2

Country

France

Director

Jérémy Clapin, Jérémy Clapin

Actors

Alia Shawkat, Dev Patel, George Wendt, Hakim Faris

Moods

Smart, Thought-provoking

Two storylines take place in this Parisian animation: one of a Moroccan immigrant who works as a pizza delivery guy, and the other of his hand, somehow no longer part of his body, but also going on a trip around Paris.

The hand storyline is not gory by the way, except for one or two very quick scenes. Mostly, this is a film about loneliness and not being able to find your way back, both as an immigrant who misses how they were raised and as a hand who misses its body.

Sporting some of the most beautiful animation work this year, this movie premiered at Cannes where it became the first-ever animated film (and Netflix film) to win the Nespresso Grand Prize.

18. Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

8.2

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Ed Perkins

Actors

Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Laura Obiols

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This documentary starts with Alex Lewis, who gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in the hospital not knowing who he is. He doesn’t remember anything (not even what a bicycle or a TV is, or who his mother or father are), but he remembers his twin brother, Marcus. When Alex gets back into his childhood home, he’s full of questions, and Marcus is full of answers. However, slowly, Marcus realizes his power to reshape Alex’s version of their past. Marcus leaves one important detail from Alex’s life that makes this documentary (as if it wasn’t already) such an insane story. I know I said it’s a sad movie, but it’s also fascinating and, ultimately, humanizing of the brothers’ experience.

17. Paddleton (2019)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Lehmann, Alexandre Lehmann

Actors

Alana Carithers, Alexandra Billings, Bjorn Johnson, Christine Woods

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Dramatic

There are three big reasons to watch Paddleton. The first two are Ray Romano and Mark Duplass, who play the two neighbors at the center of the story. And the third is Alexandre Lehmann, the director, who also is responsible for Blue Jay (on Netflix as well).

These two misfit neighbors find themselves together when one of them is diagnosed with cancer. They embark on a trip to the nearest pharmacy (a six-hour drive) which turns into an adventure.

This premise gives Paddleton a lot to play on: it’s a comedy, but it’s also a drama about a fatal disease. It’s a bromance, but it’s about a fragile friendship. All these contradictions make Paddleton a great slice-of-life movie. And again, both actors are amazing. Watching it just for them is worth it.

16. There Are No Fakes (2019)

best

8.3

Director

Jamie Kastner

Moods

Mind-blowing

The highly unusual story of this documentary starts with Kevin Hearn, a member of the band Barenaked Ladies, realizing that his painting by famous Canadian Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau is a fake. When he sues the collector he bought it from, he starts a series of inquiries that unravel a story that gets progressively darker: drug dealing, organized crime, addiction, sexual abuse, and completely crazy characters (reminiscent of Tiger King).

Behind all of that, There Are No Fakes is about the exploitation not only of Indigenous art but of Indigenous people in Canada in general.

15. Diego Maradona (2019)

best

8.4

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Asif Kapadia

Actors

Alberto Bigon, Ciro Ferrara, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive

Asif Kapadia, the genius of biopics who gave us Senna, is back with this documentary on an even bigger sports personality: Argentinian soccer player Diego Armando Maradona. Considered as possibly the best soccer player of all time, Maradona’s footage on the pitch is pure wizardry, and you’ll feel that way whether you are a soccer fan or not. But that’s not the focus of this documentary. What happens outside the pitch is more interesting: from Maradona’s modest beginnings to the passionate hatred (and love) that entire countries develop of him. And it doesn’t make his story less interesting that during his time in Naples he was affiliated with the mafia.

This is an excellent documentary that distills 500 hours of footage into 2, giving you all you need to know about a character who captured the imagination of a big part of the world for decades. 

14. Honey Boy (2019)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Alma Har'el, Alma Har'el

Actors

Al Burke, Ben Maccabee, Byron Bowers, Clifton Collins Jr.

Moods

A-list actors, Gripping, True-story-based

There is so much power to this story based actor Shia Laboeuf’s life. As a kid, he lived with his father on the road during the filming of Even Stevens and other star-making roles. His dad was a war veteran who goes to bikers’ AA meetings and who had a brief acting career himself.  He was full of anger that made Laboeuf later suffer from PTSD, but which he was able to perceive in a fascinating way. 

Putting Laboeuf’s fame aside, this is an incredible movie on emotionally abusive parent-child relationships. It’s a universal story. With Shia Laboeuf as his father and Lucas Hedges as current-day Laboeuf. 

 

13. A Sun (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chung Mong-hong, Mong-Hong Chung

Actors

Apple Wu, Chang Han, Chen Yi-wen, Chen Yiwen

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

In The Sun, a family of four is dealt with tragedy after tragedy, beginning with the younger sun A-ho’s sudden incarceration. The mother is sympathetic but the father all but shuns him as he chooses to throw all his affection to A-hao, the older brother, and his med school pursuits instead. Themes of crime, punishment, family, and redemption are then explored in gorgeous frames and mesmerizing colors with director Chung Mong-hong doubling as the film’s cinematographer. 

Despite itself, The Sun never falls into cliche melodrama territory. Its heavy themes are undercut by naturalistic acting and poetic shots, resulting in a deeply emotional but balanced film. Rich in meaning and beauty, The Sun will surely stay with you long after your first watch.

 

12. And Then We Danced (2020)

best

8.6

Country

France, Georgia, Sweden

Director

Levan Akin

Actors

Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli

Moods

Feel-Good, Heart-warming, Romantic

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it’s also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

11. For Sama (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Syria, Syrian Arab Republic, UK

Director

Edward Watts, Female director

Actors

Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab, Waad Al-Kateab, Waad Al-Khateab

Moods

Depressing, Intense, Touching

This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.

There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.

We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.

When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

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