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Top 25 Films of 2019

on December 09, 2019, 12:00am
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20. Knives Out

Knives Out (Lionsgate)

Knives Out (Lionsgate)

Who’s In It?  Everyone who ever acted in anything, ever. (More seriously: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Colette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz—Frank Oz!</em— and the wonderful, film-anchoring Ana de Armas.)

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

She pukes when she lies
A gentlemen detective
Sees truth on her shoes

You Gotta See This: A two-faced film about a world full of two-faced people made for the most fun we had at the movies all year. Rian Johnson’s fiendishly clever screenplay finds room between the twists-on-twists for plenty of off-kilter, sharp-toothed, or slow-drawled humor (keep your ears peeled for Shannon’s “one iota of shit,” perhaps the line-reading of the year). Yet the real sleight-of-hand here is the way in which Johnson manages to make the film’s sly political message and its empathetic center the same. Eat the rich, but if you can’t, at least find a way to enjoy your coffee in peace. —Allison Shoemaker

Extra! Extra! Read Dan Caffrey’s full review here.

19. Horror Noire

Horror Noire (Shudder)

Horror Noire (Shudder)

Who’s In It? Jordan Peele, Tony Todd, Rachel True, Ernest R. Dickerson, Keith David, Rusty Cundieff, Ken Foree, Ashlee Blackwell, Robin R. Means Coleman, Tananarive Due, and Miguel A. Núñez Jr.

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

School is in session
Revealing and insightful
It’s a graveyard smash

You Gotta See This: Adapted from Robin R. Means Coleman’s Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from 1890s to Present, Xavier Burgen’s documentary takes us on an insightful, socio-cultural journey through the role African Americans play in horror. More than a vital history lesson of genre films by an underrepresented perspective, it’s a meaningful education on America’s complicated relationship with race. Full of wit, passion, intelligence, and humor, Horror Noire handles complex themes with power and grace, gifting us with an impactful and canonical course on film history. A profound look at the past, present, and evolving future of the genre, this documentary is essential viewing for those with even the slightest interest in film. –Meagan Navarro

Extra! Extra! Read Rathan Krueger’s full review here.

18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Photo by Lacey Terrell

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Sony Pictures Releasing)

Who’s In It? Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, and Chris Cooper

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

You Gotta See This: Fred Rogers never asked for perfection. Sure, thanks to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he became an icon of kindness and patience and emotional generosity. But he never sought to teach kids to be perfect, or to know what to do every time they feel sad or angry or confused. He just wanted to teach them how to deal with their problems, knowing that one day they’d become adults who have to know how. Marielle Heller’s film about Rogers (Tom Hanks) and the journalist (Matthew Rhys) sent to capture him takes unexpected chances at almost every turn, casting aside biopic conventions to cut to the heart of why Mr. Rogers asking us to be his neighbor mattered like it did, and continues to resonate as it does. As Heller and Hanks sublimely depict at one point in the film, he has his bad days too. We all do. Life’s just about knowing what to do when they come. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.

17. Tigers Are Not Afraid

Tigers Are Not Afraid (Shudder)

Tigers Are Not Afraid (Shudder)

Who’s In It? Paola Lara, Juan Ramón López, Ianis Guerrero, Rodrigo Cortes, Hanssel Casillas, Nery Arredondo, and Tenoch Huerta

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

You Gotta See This: There are parts of the world where children are not able to be children, where they must either learn how to survive in unspeakable circumstances or perish fast. Tigers Are Not Afraid, set among the rooftops and alleyways of a Mexican city overrun by cartel violence, is all too aware of this even as it harbors hope for the intrepid young gang of orphaned kids at its center. Director Issa López deals in flourishes of magical realism throughout, but those sparks of innocence are never allowed to diminish the grave realities that drive the story. In its portrayal of lives torn apart before they even have a chance to begin, Tigers makes for thoroughly difficult viewing. But in the film’s bleakly wishful world, the machinations of the corrupt are no match for three wishes in the hands of the kids who’ll one day inherit the Earth. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Extra! Extra! Read Scout Tafoya’s full review here.

16. The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse (A24)

The Lighthouse (A24)

Who’s In It? Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, and a menacing seagull

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

Pirate dialogue
R.Patz does the mermaid sex
Why’d ya spill yer beans?

You Gotta See This: Unlike Robert Eggers’ debut The Witch, which told a terrifying albeit straightforward story about a Puritan girl seduced by witches by way of a goat called Black Phillip, The Lighthouse leaves a lot to be desired – intentionally, maniacally, and successfully. Shot in black and white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film captures isolation, paranoia, and the benefits of sea salt on hair texture. Despite its artistic value, its performances from Pattinson and Dafoe (whose headshots belong next to the Urban Dictionary definition for “doing the most”) make The Lighthouse more memorable than it ought to be. But it’s the quieter moments that linger — and that includes a scene in which Pattinson goes to (sex) town with a mermaid on a rocky shore. –Carrie Wittmer

Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.

15. Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit Movie Review

Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Who’s In It? Taika Waititi, Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, and Scarlett Johansson

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

I hate the unknown
Adolf Hitler, BFF
I have much to learn

You Gotta See This: Based on Christine Leunens’s Caging Skies, Taika Waititi’s coming-of-age dramedy is billed as “an anti-hate satire,” and that tagline couldn’t be more apropos. Which is why all the exhaustive backlash stemming from its surface-level conceit — a German boy whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler (Waititi at his most charming, ironically) — is so ludicrous. Jojo Rabbit is penicillin for an era of cancel culture, a beautiful meditation on how hatred is never forever, and that’s something everyone could learn to swallow. Wielding one of this year’s sharpest screenplays, Waititi never leans too hard into its satirical premise, either, avoiding any kitsch that would torpedo this film. –Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Joe Lipsett’s full review here.

14. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

the last black man in san francisco a24 movie sundance

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (A24)

Who’s In It? Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Dany Glover, Mike Epps, Finn Wittrock, Tichina Arnold, and Thora Birch

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

Jimmie Fails is failed
By cities and by systems
Blackness in relief

You Gotta See This: One of the boldest, most audacious debuts of the year, Joe Talbot’s poetic retelling of the story of childhood friend (and star/co-writer) Jimmie Fails feels nothing short of miraculous. A tale touching on everything from the specter of gentrification to the lies on which we build our self-worth, there’s not a false note in Last Black Man‘s soulful, yearning presentation. From Fails’ wounded lead performance to Talbot’s dreamlike direction (not to mention Jonathan Majors’ show-stopping supporting turn and Emile Mosseri’s aching score), The Last Black Man in San Francisco is at once a loving ode to its titular city and a harsh rebuke to what that place has become. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

13. The Irishman

Martin Scorsese's The Irishman no wide theatrical release

The Irishman (Netflix)

Who’s In It? Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel, and this year’s most divisive silent performance by Anna Paquin

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

Heard you paint houses
All in the still of the night
It is what it is

You Gotta See This: The Irishman could have gone so wrong for Martin Scorsese. The de-aging process alone spelled disaster when it was first announced all those years ago. Instead, Marty came through, delivering arguably his most sobering drama to date. While he doesn’t exactly warrant the weighty three-and-a-half hour runtime — that first hour is lethargic — things eventually start boiling over. Pacino saves the middle, Pesci is quietly rapturous, and De Niro comes in with a final left hook that stings with solemnity. At 77, Scorsese chews on themes of memory, mortality, and the futility of man with the utmost clarity. This isn’t just cinema, to crib from the auteur, it’s a requiem. –Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Brett Arnold’s full review here.

12. The Souvenir

The Souvenir

The Souvenir (A24)

Who’s In It? Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, and Tilda Swinton

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

A film student dreams
Her tough past but bright future
Damn junkie lover

You Gotta See This: Joanna Hogg’s frail remembrance of doomed art school romance feels more generous and thoughtfully examined than perhaps it need be. Time will do that, and we’re so lucky. Based on her own experiences, Hogg represents herself as Julie (Swinton Byrne), film student of means but indecipherable vision. She’s honest, hard-working, and admittedly uncertain of her vision. But Anthony, a pompous, and frankly alluring counterpart, gives Julie unexpected strength. And equal if not greater heart-ache. This is a brilliant effort on how we learn and evolve from personal tragedy, how the past makes us who we are, and how painful that remembrance can be. –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.

11. Little Women

little women 2019 film timothee chalamet saoirse ronan

Little Women (Sony)

Who’s In It? Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, and Meryl Streep

“Garth, that was a haiku!”

Sisters March returns
A classic remixed with joy
See Chalamet burn

You Gotta See This: It’s almost like a great Altman flick. The camera is loosely set, the audio’s clean enough. (The warm art direction and vintage costuming doesn’t hurt either.) And then you get this wonderful cast of very talented people to do the work. They get the film to assemble through perfectly told and observed mini-stories. Moments, beats, jokes, sadness, and lives being lived in the moment. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women does invaluable service to Louisa Mary Alcott’s novel by letting her characters live, breathe, and simply be. From Jo’s defiance, to Amy’s admonishment, and everyone in between, this is lively entertainment, filled with life caught on film. –Blake Goble

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