Ranking movies at the end of their respective years is always a difficult task. Some films may seem fresh and exciting in my mind now, but in a year, it may be completely forgotten. Still, these “Best Of” lists provide a unique time capsule into where the zeitgeist was at the time. As of this time, these are StudioBinder’s best movies of 2019.
NOTE: As of this writing, there are still some major films I have yet to see. For all I know, Cats could be the cinematic masterpiece of our generation. So if you see a film you love isn’t on this list, there’s a good chance I just hadn’t seen it yet. Or maybe I just didn’t think it was that great. Either way…
It seems impossible to cap off a successful franchise. Godfather Part 3 was a giant step down from the first two. The Dark Knight trilogy couldn’t quite pull it together with the last film. But Avengers: Endgame managed to hit all the right notes. All of the characters we’ve come to love over the last decade got a fitting sendoff, and that’s an incredible achievement on its own.
The final battle against Thanos’ army is the greatest fantasy war put to film since the Battle of Helm’s Deep. There are moments of fan service, but it never loses sight of its emotional core. It’s a triumph, and most importantly, it’s cinema.
BEST MOVIES OF 2019 SO FAR
Despite arriving in theaters in controversy, Joker proved one thing above anything else. Joaquin Phoenix is one hell of an actor. He carries the entire film on his back, dedicating 100% to his performance as a mentally distraught man just looking for some kind of loving bond.A masterful score and incredible cinematography make the entire picture look like an old Scorsese film. And if there’s one thing to be thankful for Joker for, it’s for making general audiences view superhero films as something for adults and not just kids. You can absolutely use the medium to tell a story about mental health, gun violence, and income inequality while including tiny Batman in there to boot.
Shia LaBeouf is one of the more interesting actors I grew up with. From Disney Channel shows to big-budget blockbusters to a very public meltdown, LaBeouf remains in the headlines for one reason or another. With Honey Boy, which he wrote the screenplay for, he exercises his demons by creating a personal account of what it was like growing up with an abusive father during his early years of stardom.
LaBeouf embodies his father in this deeply personal film that works just as much as a therapeutic exercise as it does a film. It’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, in part because we know the real life story. We know LaBeouf, despite some setbacks, made it out of this trying time in his life all right, and other kids can do the same.
BEST MOVIES OF 2019
Much like Ari Aster’s previous Hereditary, Midsommar is more unsettling than it is downright horrifying. It works to the film’s advantage because you feel that sense of unease throughout the film. It all makes for an ambitiously unnerving film that leaves you guessing as to what will happen next.
But all the mayhem isn’t for nothing. The film has a lot on its mind about unhealthy relationships and the uniquely Amerian experience of feeling isolated even when surrounded by friends. Among the carnage on the Swedish commune, Dani finds a sense of community, and even once you see where the film is heading, you’ll want to cover your eyes until the horrors are done.
Queen & Slim is more than just a retelling of Bonnie & Clyde. Lena Waithe’s brilliant script ties together themes resonant from the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the film goes beyond critiquing police brutality. It shows there is hope in community and how one act of defiance can lead to a revolution.
In addition to being a social commentary, the film is also a love story. We see these two people go from an awkward first date to lovers when brought together by unforeseen and grandiose circumstances. It’s this love that drives the film and keeps you rooting for these two until the final moments.
2019 BEST MOVIES
15. Ready or Not
A horror movie based on a game of hide and seek sounds like it was destined for the same ill fate as Truth or Dare or Ouija. But Ready or Not is so much funnier, scarier, and smarter than most other horror movies that came out in 2019 combined. It’s a riot from start to finish. I honestly feel bad for anyone who didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters because seeing this kind of film with a big group of people definitely adds to the experience.
It’s a subversive crowd-pleaser that takes tries not to take itself too seriously. There are also some themes related to class warfare that help give the film some extra bite.
BEST MOVIES 2019 SO FAR
Saying Booksmart is just Superbad with girls does the film a disservice. It’s an incredibly sweet but riotously funny coming-of-age story focusing on two high school seniors who realized they could’ve done more during high school than just study. It’s a movie about transcending expectations others have placed on you as our protagonists show everyone who they really are, but they also learn to be less judgy of their peers, as well.Booksmart shows what’s possible within the teen comedy genre and makes you want other filmmakers to try as hard. Olivia Wilde proves herself to be a great talent behind the camera. The shot during the girls’ argument at the party is outstanding. This is the type of film you want high schoolers to see so that they know it’s all right to be a little different.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a strange beast. For large chunks of the movie, you’re either watching someone act in a different film or someone watch a film they’re in. And yet, it never feels bogged down or boring. A trio of fantastic leading performances draw you in every step of the way to the point I’d be willing to watch an entire TV series with these characters just to see what kind of shenanigans they get into next.
This film displays Tarantino doing what Tarantino does best: writing incredible dialogue performed by the finest actors working today. And with the ever-looming threat of the Manson family in the backdrop, there’s always that sliver of tension that this may not go the way you think it will.
BEST MOVIES 2019
Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out is more of a traditional horror film, but it retains all of the cultural and sociopolitical insight as his previous effort. Us has a lot on its mind. Don’t worry about the plot making perfect sense. It more functions as an allegory for our world where in order to get ahead in life, someone else has to suffer immeasurably.Us hits all the right notes. The cinematography is beautiful. The score is haunting. And Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the best performances of the year. There are so many details, you’ll immediately want to watch it again so that you can pick up on every ounce of symbolism.
TOP 10 BEST MOVIES OF 2019
11. Marriage Story
Marriage Story is one of the rawest looks at an unhealthy and deteriorating marriage put to film. Writer/director Noah Baumbach frequently uses long takes, allowing the characters to really show the depths of their disdain for one another in long, heated arguments.
Among all the arguments, the film never loses its compassion. It never places the blame solely on one party. Additionally, one person is never made out to be the bad guy. They both have their flaws, and they simply don’t work well with one another. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are incredible, making for a realistic portrayal of a marriage no longer working. Reconciling isn’t in the cards. The best they can try to do is pick up the pieces and move on.
RANKING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2019 SO FAR
While the musician’s biopic can be done well, it’s one of the most cliche-ridden genres out there. Fortunately, the filmmaking team behind Rocketman seems to have understood that and created something true to the life of Elton John while simultaneously creating an entertaining picture. It plays more like a musical than just a rehashing of greatest hits.
The movie excels in capturing both the highs and lows of Elton John’s career. From the first scene where he attends an addiction rehabilitation session, we know we’re getting an unadulterated and unedited view into his life. And with a great catalog of songs, you’re never too far away from a toe-tapping musical number to boost your spirits.
RANKING THE BEST MOVIES FROM 2019
2019 was a great year for horror with auteurs like Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Eggers letting audiences know the genre is in good hands going into the 2020s. Eggers’ follow-up to 2015’s The Witch is just as creepy and atmospheric as his first film, a character portrait about two men descending into insanity while chasing the light.The choice of filming The Lighthouse in black and white as well as the choice to use a 4:3 ratio give the film the appearance that it’s from another time and world. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are exquisite, and while the film toys with themes of madness, it never goes off the rails.
REVIEWING THE BEST 2019 MOVIES
2019 belonged to Florence Pugh, and she burst onto the scene in a big way early in the year with the fantastic Fighting With My Family. It follows a young woman set to join the WWE, and while she’s training to make it in the ring, her brother is left behind at home, struggling with the realization he’ll never attain his dreams. Pugh is phenomenal, but the film stands out in the way it transcends expectations and tropes.A sports dramedy based on a true story could’ve been filled with the same niceties you’ve seen a hundred times before. But Fighting With My Family avoid those pitfalls by making the film accessible to anyone who’s ever had a crazy dream. The movie doesn’t pull any punches by insisting the journey is easy, but it’s one of the best feel-good movies that could’ve come out this year, and it deserves more recognition.
TOP MOVIES 2019
War movies are plentiful, so it takes a truly outstanding one to stand out from the pack. That’s what 1917 accomplishes so brilliantly. The one-take aesthetic is more than a gimmick. It puts you in the characters’ shoes, never knowing what the next set piece will hold. Not since Dunkirk has tension in a warm film been captured so well to the point where you need to remind yourself to breathe at certain points.
Two hours seems to simultaneously fly by and last forever with this film. You lose track of your senses until you reach the thrilling finale. It’s the kind of film designed to be seen on the big screen while you hear everyone around you gasp and shake nervously. It’s a visceral experience that needs to be seen to be believed.
BEST MOVIES FROM 2019
6. The Irishman
The Irishman may run for three and a half hours, but it’s by far one of Martin Scorsese’s most thoughtful movies. The pacing is deliberate, letting you feel every moment in this old man’s story. Ultimately, it’s a tale of regret. It’s not so much interested in providing insight into the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa but how one man allowed his family to disintegrate from his apathy.
The storytelling is marvelous as always, but Scorsese really doubles down on CGI technology to de-age his main characters. It mostly works, and it makes for a more engrossing picture. No matter what, it’s worth watching for Joe Pesci’s first performance in over a decade.
TOP 5 BEST MOVIES FROM 2019
Hustlers is a stylish, scathing indictment of modern capitalism. The movie follows a group of strippers who fleece Wall Street guys out of boatloads of money. The film’s hilarious and vibrant. It also has a lot to say about who’s allowed to be a criminal when it comes to making people lose money, making it one of the timeliest films of 2019.It’s an interesting companion piece to The Wolf of Wall Street, almost a feminist critique of that film. But ultimately, what brings the film together is a strong ensemble cast of funny, powerful actresses. You don’t always agree with what they do, but you understand where they are coming from. You even root for them to make it out with all the money in tow. This is the kind of film that will surely stand the test of time and be remind cinephiles where filmmaking was in 2019.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2019 SO FAR, RANKED
If 2013 brought us the McConaissance, then 2019 was the year of the Shia Resurgence. With his roles in Honey Boy and The Peanut Butter Falcon, he proved he’s more than just an eccentric headline chaser. He’s a terrific actor who picks interesting projects. And for this piece, he stars in a Mark Twain-esque adventure about finding family in friendships.
The film knows how to pull at your heartstrings. And while LaBeouf is fantastic, an equal amount of attention should go toward Zack Gottsagen who has some of the best comedic timing you’ll find in any film this year.
TOP 3 BEST MOVIES FROM 2019
3. The Farewell
Nominate Lulu Wang for a Best Director Oscar or we riot. The Farewell is a stunning accomplishment, capturing numerous different types and processes of grief and tragedy. After a family learns their matriarch only has a short time left to live, everyone comes together back to China to celebrate an upcoming wedding.
While the film deals with the inevitability of death, it never feels hopeless. Instead, its message is hopeful. It shows the importance of reconnecting with family and getting back to your roots before those who raised you pass away. It all comes together in the end for a rewarding experience that has you laughing one moment and crying.
RANKING THE BEST MOVIES OF 2019
2. Knives Out
The whodunnit is far from dead with Rian Johnson’s masterpiece, Knives Out. The film retrofits the long-dormant genre into the 21st century by taking tropes when necessary and then supplanting them on their heads. Knives Out is a hoot and the kind of film that keeps you on your toes.
But the film will probably stand the test of time for the thematic political resonances. Behind all the murder and intrigue, there’s a story about who deserves to hold all the wealth. It’s the kind of movie that could spawn thousands of thinkpieces, and each subsequent watch gives you something new to chew on.
THE BEST MOVIE OF 2019
The Great Recession occurred before the 2010s even began, but its reverberations could be felt throughout the last decade. It’s perhaps for this reason, and appropriately so, that the best two films of 2019 deal so heavily with income inequality. Parasite is an amazing film for how it deftly handles these themes while creating an entertaining masterpiece that never loses sight of its characters and plot in its societal parable.Parasite feels like the perfect film to close out the decade. It’s suspenseful, hilarious, and heartbreaking at times. And much like the title of the film itself, it buries itself away in your psyche for quite some time as you mull on its themes. Who are the real parasites in society, the poor or the rich? Parasite allows you to reach your own consensus. With income inequality only set to grow more substantial, this film will likely only become more relevant in the years to come.
The Best Movies of the Last Decade
Hopefully by now you’ve gone through our lists of the best films from each year in the 2010s. Which one do you think will take the top spot overall? You should have some ideas now, and you’re ready to head into our final list in StudioBinder’s ongoing series reviewing the best films of the 2010s.