2019 was a solid year for movies. I had a hard time whittling down my list to just ten, and as you’ll see I cheated a good bit here as well.
10. Avengers: Endgame
This wasn’t originally on my list. Then I watched the trashfire that was The Rise of Skywalker and reflected on the abomination that was the final season of Game of Thrones and I realized Marvel deserves a lot of credit for landing a 20+ film/10+ year story that was so coherent and satisfying. Yes, they continue to write Black Widow horrible storylines, and they obviously have no idea how to tell a Captain Marvel story that involves other (significantly less powerful) heroes. It’s far from a perfect film, but endings are harder than you think.
9. Little Women
I wasn’t sure what to think of this film going in – I’ve never seen an adaptation or read the original book. What plot I know, I know from internet posts (hard to call Beth dying a spoiler at this point). I didn’t love Ladybird, director Greta Gerwig’s previous outing. But Little Women is a fun, seamless story. It works so well as a film I had trouble imagining it as a novel, and the (apparently) controversial ending left me with a big smile on my face. It’s still in theaters, so go catch it!
Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook is brutal and dark. It’s also gorgeous and complicated. It flips a classic revenge trope on its head, and sets it all in colonial Tasmania. (As of publication, this is streaming on Hulu.)
When you think of raunchy comedies, you think of boys. From Animal House to American Pie to Old School to Superbad, they’re all about boys being boys (and how that always turns out okay). So in the wake of Kavanaugh and Brock Turner and Larry Nasser, Booksmart was exactly the sort of reimagining of the genre we needed. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is whip-smart and hilarious. (Plus it’s streaming on Hulu, so you’re welcome.)
6. Just Mercy
I got to see a very early screening of this movie with my friend Matt Mikalatos. It is amazing. Based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, the film shows us exactly how our justice system works to punish persons of color and the poor, and what it takes to change that system. The cast is all-star, and this movie will hit you in every feel you have. It just hit theaters so please make it a point to go see this.
5. Captain Marvel & Shazam
There’s a long, complicated history between these two heroes, so it’s bonkers that we got a movie of each of them that came out within a month of each other. Captain Marvel was, inconceivably, Marvel’s first female-fronted film and it was terrific. It illustrated challenges that face modern women without being preachy. Also, that darn cat! Shazam! was a DC movie that managed to be good! The villains are the seven deadly sins, and there’s a powerful spiritual message about how we overcome sin through adoption into God’s family. No, seriously. Plus, it’s hilarious and thrilling.
Ari Aster’s follow-up to the terrifying Hereditary was in some ways the polar opposite – it’s bright and colorful and, uh, out in the open. It is still, at its core, a response to trauma. And if you’ve see A Cabin in the Woods, then you know to watch for the horror movie trope characters, including a final girl named Dani. What Aster creates with these familiar horror ingredients won’t keep you up at night, but I think about this movie a lot. It’s haunting more than frightening.
3. Hail Satan?
This documentary from Penny Lane is an exploration of The Satanic Temple, an officially atheistic organization that’s garnered fame for its political antics. Or are they protests? Rituals? The line is blurry, which is exactly Lane’s point. The film becomes a meditation on what it looks like to be religious in public. I wish I could make this film required viewing for American Christians. Complete with a thorough discussion afterwards.
2. The Farewell
By the time the credits roll, you can’t tell if your tears are from laughter or sorrow. Because it’s both. What really makes this film – about a Chinese-American millennial who disagrees with her family’s decision not to tell her grandmother about her terminal cancer – brilliant is how deftly it refuses to take sides in a cultural argument. Every fiber of me agreed with Awkwafina’s lead character, but I realized it’s because I’m an American. The Chinese cultural sensibilities were presented so beautifully that I left the film genuinely conflicted. It’s a stellar achievement.
1. Eat the Rich: Parasite, Knives Out and Ready or Not
These three films were all amazing, and while they all dealt explicitly with class warfare, they all did it wholly unique ways. Parasite is by far my favorite film of the year. It’s brilliant and compelling, with one extended sequence that had me on the edge of my seat for the better part of an hour (I didn’t know I could hold my breath that long!). Knives Out is murder mystery fun with a huge twist and an all star casts that is so much fun to hate I almost felt bad. And Ready or Not was my favorite horror film of the year because it’s so much fun and has a killer ending. What a treat to get three such terrific films in the same year!
Since I’m not a professional critic, there’re still quite a few films I haven’t seen yet, including A Hidden Life. Even still, I’m really happy with this list.