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.

50. Beats (2019)

7.6

Country

UK, United Kingdom

Director

Brian Welsh, Chris Robinson

Actors

Amy Manson, Anthony Anderson, Ashley Jackson, Brian Ferguson

Moods

Character-driven, Slice-of-Life

This drama is about two friends attempting to rave in 1994 Scotland, after a recent Thatcher-era law banned the act and all music “characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

Johnno and Spanner, one living in fear of his older brother and the other of his stepfather, want to turn things around by joining their first and probably last rave. They’re introduced to the world of illegal parties, a movement as influential as punk, that in the 1990s was born in reaction to the U.K.’s oppressive policies.

49. Kuessipan (2019)

7.6

Country

Canada

Director

Myriam Verreault

Actors

Brigitte Poupart, Étienne Galloy, Katinen Grégoire-Fontaine

This coming-of-age drama set near Sept-Îles in Quebec, Canada is about two indigenous Innu best friends who grow up together. One day, one of them meets a white guy and starts planning a life with him, which is seen by both her best friend and her community as a rupture with them.

“If everybody did the same thing you’re doing, we wouldn’t exist,” her friend tells her. Kuessipan is about that intersection between friends growing apart and indigenous identity, all set in the backdrop of Canadian reserve life. Won the Grand Prix at the Québec City Film Festival.

48. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2019)

7.6

Country

China, France, United States of America

Director

Bi Gan

Actors

Bi Gan, Bi Yanmin, Chen Yongzhong, Chloe Maayan

A man returns to a town chasing the memory of a woman he loved years ago.

Poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan coats his idiosyncratic filmmaking with a thick layer of neo-noir in this sumptuous follow up to his remarkable debut Kaili Blues. This time around, Kaili City is a neon-drenched dreamscape dripping in style and calling to mind the work of Tarkovsky and Wong Kar-wai. 

He may wear his influences on his sleeve, but Bi Gan keeps his trademark moves like the bravado long takes and a poetic disregard for past and present, reality and dreams. This leads to an explosive and unforgettable sequence in the second half that while originally intended for 3D loses little of its mind-bending power when watched at home.

47. The Collini Case (2019)

7.6

Country

Germany

Director

Marco Kreuzpaintner

Actors

Alexandra Maria Lara, Anne Haug, Axel Moustache, Bettina Lohmeyer

Moods

Character-driven, Sunday, Suspenseful

A young lawyer has to defend a murderer after passing the bar only three months prior in this satisfying German drama. To make matters worse, the victim happens to be his mentor, a wealthy and seemingly kind-hearted business man. As for the perpetrator, he refuses to say a single word. Caspar, the lawyer, is from a German-Turkish background, which is a hint to where the complexity of this legal drama lies: in Germany’s history and racial legacy. The Collini Case is satisfying to a fault, but if you’re looking for substance-filled entertainment, this is some of the best you’ll get.

46. Bad Education (2019)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Cory Finley

Actors

Alex Wolff, Allison Janney, Annaleigh Ashford, Brent Langdon

Moods

A-list actors, True-story-based, Well-acted

Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this true story of a big academic corruption case. Hugh Jackman is (of course) excellent as a successful and dedicated superintendent with a complicated personal life. However, when a curious student with the school journal starts digging around in a project he promotes, she uncovers what will become the largest public school embezzlement in the history of the U.S. 

The performances stretch the story to its full potential, as this movie would be nothing without its incredible cast. It should be watched for the acting. Eventually, it suffers from a problem common to all movies based on newspaper articles: the story can be told in a single article.

45. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

7.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Joe Talbot

Actors

Andy Roy, Daewon Song, Danny Glover, Finn Wittrock

Moods

Quirky, Smart, Thought-provoking

Like a Wes Anderson movie, The Last Black Man in San Francisco takes artistic risks and nails every one of them. There are many quirky, aesthetically well-studied, and even funny aspects to this moving story.

Jimmie has been maintaining a typical San Francisco Victorian house, regularly painting the windows and watering the plants. One small problem: other people live there and they don’t want him around. It turns out this was once Jimmie’s family house, having been built by his grandfather in 1948, and he misses it deeply.

This story is based on writer Jimmie Fails’ life, as he tried to reclaim his family home in SF. However, it’s not a movie that limits itself to gentrification. It transcends that to being about the universal yearning to find a place to call home.

44. I’m no Longer Here (2019)

7.7

Country

Mexico, United States of America

Director

Fernando Frias

Actors

Fanny Tovar, Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño, Luis Leonardo Zapata, Xueming Angelina Chen

This Mexican movie set between Queens, New York, and Monterrey, Mexico is a stunning and profound work of art.

Ulises is the leader of a street dancing group that loves Cumbia, an Afro-Colombian style of music. Dancing is an alternative to being sucked in into gang life, which Ulises and his bandmates have ties to.

Ulises is good, and his town starts noticing. But just when his community is flourishing and his dancing is becoming famous, a wrong-time/wrong-place situation has a gang force him to leave everything behind and immigrate to the U.S. He suddenly finds himself lonely and living a life of undocumented existence.

But that is not the progression of I’m no Longer Here, which intertwines scenes of Ulises thriving in Monterrey and alone in New York. The difference is stark and depressing, but the camerawork and great performances are a constant source of cinematic brilliance.

43. Les Misérables (2020)

7.8

Country

France

Director

Ladj Ly

Actors

Al-Hassan Ly, Alexis Manenti, Almamy Kanoute, Bonnie Duvauchelle

Moods

Action-packed, Suspenseful, Thrilling

This Oscar-nominated French movie is set in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables but which today is a rough neighborhood.

Inspired by instances of police violence that happened in 2008, the movie follows a squad of police officers who try to keep the neighborhood under control. Their methods, or lack thereof, inevitably cause things to explode. This is a thriller with a message, one which sometimes feels forced; but the payoff at the end will make you forget all of that.

42. Meeting Gorbachev (2019)

7.8

Country

Germany, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

André Singer, Werner Herzog

Actors

Mikhail Gorbachev, Werner Herzog

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Thought-provoking

This informative documentary about the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev is set against modern-day interviews with him that span 6 months. Sitting opposite of him is the Gorbachev equivalent in filmmaking: Werner Herzog. The prolific director asks interesting questions and narrates events that illustrate Gorbachev’s forgotten importance: ending the cold war, a push for denuclearization and avoiding bloodshed during the fall of the Soviet Block. The fact that Gorbachev is loved by so many, including Herzog – who at some point actually says “I love you” – might be the only problem with this documentary. It’s a great reminder of why people loved the Soviet leader, a phenomenon otherwise known as “Gorbymania”, but it does very little in portraying him in a critical light.

41. The Lighthouse (2019)

7.8

Country

Brazil, Canada, United States of America

Director

Robert Eggers

Actors

Jeff Cruts, Kyla Nicolle, Logan Hawkes, Preston Hudson

Moods

Dark, Slow, Weird

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are the only two actors starring in this eccentric movie, and they deliver such grand performances that it feels like another actor would have been one too many.

They star as lighthouse keepers in the 19th century, left on an island to interact only with each other and their rock. It’s a fascinating premise of how these men, left on their own, deal with boredom, loneliness, and being annoyed with one another.

Incredible performances, an interesting aspect ratio, and perhaps excessive weirdness, make this movie unforgettable.

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