The 50 Best Movies of 2019

The 50 Best Movies of 2019

June 14, 2024

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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.

41. 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.

42. 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.

43. 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. 

44. Rewind (2020)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Actors

Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Mystery, domestic horror, and urgent true crime investigation rolled into one, Rewind sees filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger revisiting his own abuse at the hands of a family member while remembering to let his case amplify into a call to action to protect children everywhere. His personal testimony would have been powerful enough, but he dares to put numerous members of his family in front of the camera, too, who begin to unravel a history of neglect and trauma rotting the core of this family over generations. Innocent home video footage turns sinister and seemingly inconsequential memories become warning signs that every adult should be on the lookout for, no excuses.

45. Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, France, Romania

Director

Anca Damian, Female director

Actors

Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari

Moods

Heart-warming, Lovely, Original

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can’t help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn’t afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

46. 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.

47. 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.

48. 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. 

 

49. Bait (2019)

7.9

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Mark Jenkin

Actors

Edward Rowe, Georgia Ellery, Giles King, Mary Woodvine

Moods

Gripping, Mind-blowing, Suspenseful

Shot on a hand-cranked silent camera with all the sound and dialogue added in during post, Bait immediately stands out as a film that appears lost in time. With the visual texture and slightly displaced audio of an independent film made during Hollywood’s infancy, the movie manages to convey its character and class conflicts with an additional air of surreality, even in its simplest sequences of shots. But writer/director/cinematographer/editor Mark Jenkin doesn’t approach this project with an ironic or flippant attitude. Through the most fundamental techniques of an art form that’s constantly changing, he crafts a story about the inevitability of change and those who really stand to lose the most from the passage of time.

50. Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019)

7.9

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Werner Herzog

Actors

Bruce Chatwin, Elizabeth Chatwin, Karin Eberhard, Marcus Wheeler

Moods

Gripping, Instructive, Mind-blowing

The sooner you adjust your expectations for Nomad—and realize that this isn’t a travel documentary but Werner Herzog’s own wonderfully offbeat way of remembering his dear friend—the better. Any uneven moments in this film’s construction are smoothed over by the sheer authenticity of what Herzog puts on screen, from his own distinctive narration, to gorgeous excerpts from Bruce Chatwin’s writings, to the sounds and images that make up the strange worlds that both men were fascinated in. No mysteries are solved here, but just being closer to the strange and surreal becomes a way for Herzog to come to terms with the strangest and most surreal of life’s realities: death.

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