And one you won't find: 'Richard Jewell,' our critic's lone zero-star movie of the year
I’m here as a film critic to tell you that I’m aware of the inherent ridiculousness of ranking subjective opinions about movies, hence this list is my “top” movies (not to be confused with the “best” movies).
Some omissions are intentional, but there are also movies I just missed and still need to see. Regardless, it’s pencils down time. These were my favorite times spent in movie theaters in 2019.
In technical terms, are there “better” movies on this list? Sure. But Olivia Wilde’s hilarious and endearing modern take on the traditional high school comedy stuck with me all year. It had fun with turning tropes on themselves and ultimately delivered an uplifting message: The kids are all right.
Bong Joon-ho’s Korean black comedy thriller was a case of the “Snowpiercer” director again taking a look at the class divide, as two families from different economic planets become intrinsically entangled.
3. “Knives Out”
After making the most exhilarating “Star Wars” movie in decades, Rian Johnson’s next trick was an utterly delightful modern whodunit featuring one of the year’s best ensembles. In terms of sheer enjoyment and entertainment, it was tough to beat.
4. “Uncut Gems”
Believe the Adam Sandler Oscar hype. He’s the best he’s been since “Punch Drunk Love” in Benny and Josh Safdie’s tale of a jeweler whose questionable choices lead to ever more precarious situations. You won’t find lovable characters here, but the tension is unbelievable.
5. “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”
As his planned retirement from directing looms, Quentin Tarantino makes the year’s great buddy movie, set against a backdrop of the Manson murders in a changing Hollywood. It’s pure Tarantino, but it also shows how he’s grown as a filmmaker.
6. “Jojo Rabbit”
Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire, a delicate balancing act of tone, was hilarious, heartfelt and sometimes heartbreaking. A young German boy in the waning days of WWII whose imaginary friend is … Adolph Hitler? You can’t say that’s not original, but it’s also a very timely message being delivered here.
7. (tie) “Midsommar”/“Climax”
OK, I rarely do these shared rankings because they feel like cheating, but these two films deserve it. Ari Aster’s follow up to “Hereditary” and Gaspar Noe’s latest head trip were both the stuff of hallucinogenic nightmares. This would make a great bad trip double-feature.
Writer-director Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) tells a winding tale of loss and forgiveness, centered on a suburban black family in South Florida. It’s beautiful, shocking and complex, marking Shults as a true directing talent to watch.
Todd Phillips’ gritty take on the comic book villain’s origins went full late-’70s Martin Scorsese. And while critics were divided on everything except the lead performance by Joaquin Phoenix, I’m here for more exploration like this of the tired superhero genre.
For his next trick after “Get Out,” Jordan Peele proves he’s the new master of smart horror with something to say. And though the movie came out all the way back in March, I hope award voters don’t forget how amazing Lupita Nyong'o was here.”Knives Out” was the worst movie Andy saw in the theater this year. (“Parasite” being the only other film he saw on the big screen.) Sign up for our daily newsletter
11. “The Irishman”
It was by no means new ground for Martin Scorsese, but he delivered a full-blown crime epic worthy of his storied career with a dream-team lineup of actors including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and an out-of-retirement Joe Pesci.
12. “The Lighthouse”
Robert Eggers’s follow-up to “The Witch” was another hallucinatory psychological horror story that gets under the skin, thanks to incredible performances by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.
13. “Marriage Story”
Noah Baumbach’s tale of a disintegrating marriage should come with a trigger warning, but it’s an honest and compassionate tale of divorce that turns emotionally brutal. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are impeccable in the lead roles.
14. “The Farewell”
Lulu Wang made one of the year’s sweetest comedies centered on a family gathering in China to celebrate the passing of the family matriarch who hasn’t died yet. Rapper and actress Awkwafina will also be on the Oscar shortlist, for sure.
15. “Honey Boy”
Director Alma Har'el works from a screenplay by Shia LaBeouf that mines LaBeouf’s own experience as a child actor who has a difficult relationship with his father. LaBeouf plays a fictionalized version of his dad, while young Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges are outstanding as the character based on LaBeouf.
These year-end lists tend to celebrate movies of high artistic merit, but can we get some love for movies that just pop? Lorene Scafaria tells the true story of a group of former strippers who hatched an organized con to separate rich Wall Street bankers from their cash.
17. “Ready or Not”
This pitch-black horror-comedy is about a young bride who discovers the wealthy family she’s marrying into isn’t what they seem. Like “Parasite” and “Knives Out,” it’s got an undercurrent critical of the wealthy class. It’s also a bloody good blast with one of the year’s best endings.
18. “The Beach Bum”
Harmony Korine’s stoner comedy is as easy going as its perfectly cast lead, Matthew McConaughey. One of the wackiest ideas on paper this year, it’s actually a truly sweet journey and the role McConaughey has been, um, training for his whole life.
19. “The Art of Self Defense”
Another great black comedy in a year full of them, “Self Defense” turns a satirical look at toxic masculinity into a movie that feels like it’s got future cult status, thanks to a perfectly cast Jesse Eisenberg.
20. “Little Women”
It’s only clocking this low based on my great expectations and the inherent challenges of taking a beloved literary work to the big screen. But if Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan are the next great director/actor partnership, I’m here for it. I’m also quite sure that subsequent viewings will probably have this one climbing my list.