Here is my list of my favourite movies of 2019, now that I have caught up with the late releases of December. And, while we’re at it, I feel I should list my favourite movies of the past decade as an addendum, so keep scrolling.
I saw some good ones this year, but for me Sam Mendes’ 1917 was jaw-dropping in its execution of a seemingly single-take narrative of two soldiers tasked with delivering orders across No Man’s Land. The imagery is powerful and evocative, the cinematography astonishing (especially the city in ruins at night lit by rising and descending flares) and the performances by everyone are beautifully understated. I’ve seen it twice and the second time was even more powerful than the first. Truly awesome.
#2: Toy Story 4
When I first heard they were making a fourth installment in a series that ended over a decade before on an impossible-to-beat note, I thought it was a terrible idea. Never in a million years would I have expected the filmmakers to top the untoppable, but I was wrong. Toy Story 4 did it with such heart and sincerity and empathy that I was completely floored. Whereas the third film saves all of its emotional power for the finale, this one is an emotional roller coaster from start to end that had me in tears as often as laughter. I adore this movie.
#3: The Lighthouse
As much as I love traditional glossy Hollywod product, I love the other end of the spectrum at least as much. The Lighthouse is a dark, weird and minimal story about two men trapped together in a lighthouse, slowly descending into madness. The black-and-white cinematography and the square aspect ratio lend a lot to the oppressive atmosphere and Willem DaFoe is mesmerizing.
This Korean film is a wicked satire about class antagonism which I loved. The tone is light until it starts twisting in truly unexpected ways as it progresses. I loved the dark sense of humour that toyed with my sympathies at first playfully, then more conflictingly as everything unravels toward the end. What I love most about it is how multi-faceted it is; there are a lot of ways to look at it and pick it apart which, to me, is the sign of real art.
Another film I thought was a bad idea from the outset but turned out to be just right. Humanizing a psychopath like the Joker is very dangerous, in my opinion, but the brilliance of the film is in the ways that it tests your sympathy. Initially, you feel sorry for the guy, but at a certain point he crosses a line. Where that line is for different audiences is interesting to note, but I do think the movie is good as an overall look at the narcissism and lack of empathy that poisons society. Also, after Heath Ledger, I didn’t think there was anywhere left to go with the character, but Joaquin Phoenix proved me wrong.
BEST OF THE DECADE
This is not a list that can easily be arranged in any kind of order. Looking back at the movies that came out in the past ten years, it has been a truly astonishing decade for film. I could have simply put the movies from previous years’ favourites list, but instead I chose movies that have stuck with me for one reason or another since I saw them. Here they are chronologically.
- Inception (2010) – What a way to start the decade! Inverted heist movie with a star-studded cast under Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction.
- Bridesmaids (2011) – Great comedy, gut-bustingly funny stuff with a really sweet heart at its center.
- Cloud Atlas (2012) – Unbelievably ambitious narrative, packing six stories spanning several centuries into a single movie that I found to be so compelling I had to put it on my top ten all-time favourites list.
- Gravity (2013) – The most thrilling ride I’ve ever had in a cinema, I had to see this one five times and it is one of only two movies I believe are enhanced by the 3D experience.
- 12 Years A Slave (2013) – Quiet, understated but tremendously moving for all its subtlety. The poetry of its images is still strongly in my mind.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Absolutely delightful comedy that balances whimsy and tragedy like no other. And what a cast!
- X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – The best X-Men movie, in my opinion, with character motivations as compelling as the plot is complex.
- Birdman (2014) – Wonderful characters and hilarious situations are everywhere in this story of showbiz madness, ego and death told in a single take.
- Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Phenomenal. Wall-to-wall action, mind-blowing production design and eye-popping stunts combine to make this quite possibly the greatest action movie ever made.
- Arrival (2016) – It’s hard to think of another sci-fi film that approaches alien contact so intelligently, but the real power in this movie is its emotional core which squeezes tears out of me every single time I watch it. Absolutely beautiful.
- Moonlight (2016) – One of a handful of movies I’ve seen that truly made me feel transported into another person’s life, this is one of the most amazing exercises in empathy I’ve ever seen.
- La La Land (2016) – A really sweet story of love and respect that swept me away with its charming leads and the most surprising and satisfying ending of any rom-com ever.
- Toni Erdmann (2016) – This German film about a practical-joking father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter swings the pendulum from the ultimate in cringe-humour to the most heart-breaking empathy. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed and cried so hard in one movie.
- mother! (2017) – This movie is black as pitch in its scathing portrayal of humanity’s confused struggle with nature and religion. At least, that’s what I got out of this surreal, oppressive, incredibly dark fever dream that is unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. Intense.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – That rare beast of cinema, a sequel that improves upon the original. Tonally consistent with its predecessor but with a far more satisfying emotional payoff.
- Sorry to Bother You (2018) – This movie is full of surprises and is a wonderful example of scrappy indie spirit making the most of meager resources to create something really different, funny and smart.
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – The best Spider-Man movie ever, in my opinion, told with a really fresh and dynamic animation style.
- Eighth Grade (2018) – Simultaneously hilarious and heart-breaking, I was amazed at the universality of the story: no matter the era, being 13 is the worst time of your life.
- Hereditary (2018) – The most fascinating horror movie I’ve seen in a very long time, this movie has a terrific story with some truly shocking turns, but it’s Toni Collette’s performance that is really something to behold.
- 1917 (2019) – Single-take journey across the war-torn fields of Europe in World War I, this movie shows you things you’ve never seen before and has some of the most rousing moments in any war film.
And those are just twenty examples of the amazing movies of the past decade. Here’s hoping the next decade is as exciting!