The best movies of 2019 and the decade12/28/2019
It was a year that saw Martin Scorsese go to Netflix, Adam Sandler and Shia LaBeouf get critical acclaim and Greta Gerwig taking on a classic novel. Despite the drumbeat that the movies are dying, there were lots of quality films out in 2019.
Here, our critics tell us their picks for the best of the year.
Best movies of 2019 — Johnny Oleksinski
If Hollywood went to therapy, the 2010s would’ve been a rough session.
“How can I compete with TV?!” the movie business would shout, as a man in a chair nods. “‘The Crown’ on Netflix looks hotter than me. Should I go hipster? Artsy?!” More silence.
And then, in 2019, it finally had the breakthrough moment: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
This past year in movies has been the best of the decade — an often dismal period marred by increasingly niche, detached fare that the public didn’t give two shakes about.
But the clouds have parted, thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime becoming major producers of acclaimed original films, and the traditional Hollywood studio system course-correcting its initial overreaction to them. They’re back to making enjoyable movies regular people want to see.
The best of those was “1917,” director Sam Mendes’ personal, technically flabbergasting World War I epic. It was edited to look like one continuous shot, which transcended gimmickry and created intensely intimate storytelling.
Another ginormous picture that had everybody talking was Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” a mob movie spanning five decades, and starring legends Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. It was a huge undertaking that only Netflix was bold enough to pay for. To make the movie work, actors were digitally de-aged, but the acting shone through the tech.
But they say size doesn’t matter, and this time, that’s actually true. My year began at the Sundance Film Festival with a pair of tiny-but-beautiful heart-warmers: “The Farewell,” starring Awkwafina in a breakthrough performance, and “Blinded by the Light,” a coming of age tale set to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Another Sundance premiere, the semi-autobiographical “Honey Boy,” written by and starring Shia LaBeouf, was more painful than euphoric. But it proved, once again, that LaBeouf is one of Hollywood’s rawest, most underrated talents.
From a growing boy to those “Little Women”: “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig followed up her Oscar-nominated triumph with an emotionally rich, slyly modern take on the classic novel that will be a highlight of many a family Christmas.
And here are a few weirdos: You won’t find “Child’s Play” on anybody else’s list, but I found the scary Chucky reboot to be a visually gripping break from all the self-serious “Get Out” wannabes. Adam Sandler gave a career-best performance as a sleazy New York diamond dealer in “Uncut Gems” and Olivia Wilde made a seismic directing debut with the wacky “Booksmart.”
And then there was “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s psychological comedy-drama-thriller that, as far as originality goes, is in a league of its own. People whine about “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” spoilers, but the most shocking twist of the year was in this South Korean stunner.
Plus: Best movie of the decade — “The Social Network”
David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 drama didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, but boy did it prove prophetic. The crackling film introduced us to Mark Zuckerberg, a headstrong young man who would later explore a presidential run, massively influence the 2016 election and, worst of all, control all our lives.
Best movies of 2019 — Sara Stewart
Some years it’s hard to dredge up 10 films you genuinely love; this year, the paring down has been the painful part. It’s no struggle to award top honors to Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” the darkly comic South Korean thriller about the twisty relationship between two families — a group of basement-dwelling grifters, and the oblivious upper-class clan who become a reliable revenue source for them. Building on the class warfare of his 2013 dystopian masterpiece “Snowpiercer,” the director delivers an even more intricately cutting satire here. Meanwhile, the documentary “Hail Satan?” explores a group of real-world subversives in the Satanic Temple, a tongue-mostly-in-cheek religious group in America aiming to expose First Amendment hypocrisy, one goat-headed statue at a time.
Women and the worlds they make for themselves are at the center of some of this year’s most unforgettable achievements. Céline Sciamma’s swooningly beautiful “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which pulls off the feat of making nearly every frame look like a period-appropriate painting, is both a wonderfully erotic lesbian romance and a daring utopia in which men are barely ever glimpsed during several days in the lives of a marriage-dreading noblewoman, the female portrait artist hired to paint her and the unhappily pregnant house maid. And Greta Gerwig has made the “Little Women” adaptation that will set a new standard, growing Louisa May Alcott’s story of the four devoted March sisters into an exploration of gender and freedom, and, like “Portrait,” of the creation of art under cultural pressure. “Booksmart,” Olivia Wilde’s comic directorial debut, also delves deep into female friendship, giving us two high-achieving teen besties on a mission to pack all their partying into a single night — and, miraculously, without succumbing to a single dumb high school party movie cliche.
In another comedy of reinvention, Eddie Murphy makes the year’s splashiest comeback playing cult ‘70s star Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite Is My Name,” Craig Brewer’s rollicking biopic about the genesis of a comic who saw what the “Shaft” franchise was doing and decided it was too subtle. Not since his “Beverly Hills Cop” days has Murphy been so on his hilarious, R-rated game.
At the PG end of the spectrum, Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” took what could have been a rote biopic about children’s show star Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) and instead delivered a melancholy yet incredibly hopeful drama in which Matthew Rhys, as a cynical journalist (and stand-in for today’s audiences) learns the delicate importance of how lives are shaped in childhood. Shia LaBeouf also taught us that lesson, albeit way more harshly, in his semi-autobiographical screenplay for “Honey Boy,” in which the former child actor plays his own troubled, troubling father in a marvelous dramatic feature debut from director Alma Har’el.
For old-fashioned cinematic spectacle, Sam Mendes’ “1917” cannot be beat, with its simple yet seemingly impossible task of following two soldiers through the trenches of World War I in what appears to be a nearly seamless shot dotted with cameos from the likes of Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden and more. But Robert Eggers’ black-and-white dramedy “The Lighthouse” comes close, with its claustrophobic freak-out involving two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) who become increasingly unhinged. “Joker” may have gotten a lot of lip service for its own departure from the hinges, but “The Lighthouse” is a lot more fun.
Plus: Best movie of the decade — “Mad Max: Fury Road”
George Miller’s post-apocalyptic desert wasteland spectacle hits the trifecta: It’s the decade’s most stupendous, CGI-spurning sci-fi action movie; a terrifying depiction of a future world decimated by climate change; and a lean, mean feminist manifesto led by a never-better Charlize Theron as the shaved-headed, one-armed Imperator Furiosa.
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