It's fitting that 2019 spent a lot of time celebrating the films of 1999.
20 years ago, 1999 gave us such modern classics as Fight Club, Being John Malkovich, and The Matrix. And like that year, 2019 also spoiled us with essential, landmark films in both the commercial and indie space; a strong, must-see mix of blockbuster studio entertainment (Avengers: Endgame), original stories (Once Upon a Time In Hollywood), and awards fare (Parasite).
The year, like most, had uneven spots marred by bad-to-truly-terrible films. But, for the most part, 2019 delivered a near-embarrassment of riches when it came to reasons to watch movies on the big screen. As the year rockets to a close -- with several high-profile releases coming to theaters (and not screened in time for our list) -- we've assembled our editorial staff's picks for 2019's best movies.
Did your film make the cut? Read on to find out.
You’ve never seen anything like Sam Mendes' 1917.
The notion of doing an entire film as a "oner" is nothing new, but using it to convey the tension, stress, and personal journey of soldiers during trench warfare in World War I is very new. Director of Photography Roger Deakins somehow manages to top his resume of masterful work here, and the score by Mendes' frequent collaborator Thomas Newman is haunting and powerful, providing insight into how music can affect pacing in the way an edit or cut might normally. Director and co-writer Mendes demonstrates how storytellers can use less to say much more. Use a single character in a single shot to tell a deeply personal story that applies to an entire generation. This film should be studied for years to come. - George Edelman
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Credit: SonyQuentin Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood and Hollywood endings is a dense and well-acted film full of details that make repeat viewings so rewarding. By studying one of the most explosive and horrific events in Hollywood History, Tarantino's film gets punch-drunk on the city itself and its deceptive magic and lore. This is one of the best examples of how creatives can use medium to create a sense of time and place. - George Edelman
High Flying Bird
Steven Soderbergh shot this Netflix movie about the National Basketball Association on an iPhone, but the pacing is so taut and the performances so engaging, you won't even notice. The story centers on a sports agent, star players, and high draft picks struggling to negotiate business during an NBA lockout. In doing so, Soderbergh effortlessly covers a variety of topical themes -- like race, class, social media, and corporate abuses of power -- while going back to his indie roots with this underrated, shaky-cam gem. - George Edelman
Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted one of the rare movies that fully and completely lives up to the hype. A family drama about greed and class discrimination unfolds with the white-knuckle tension of a thriller -- and, at times, with the gut-punch violence of a horror movie -- culminating in one of the best movies ever made. - Phil Pirrello
One of the most polished feature directorial debuts ever, Olivia Wilde's Booksmart effortlessly balances R-rated teen comedy with poignant and universal dramatizations of themes like identity and the challenges of figuring out who we are vs. what others shape us to be in ways that all audiences can relate to. The needle drops accentuate the story in a very natural, "hit-shuffle-on-Spotify" sorta way and the performances from breakout star Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are right up there with classic John Hughes. - Phil Pirrello
A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood
Director Marielle Heller's follow-up to 2018's Oscar-nominated Can You Ever Forgive Me? is an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood for adults. With establishing shots of cities that pay homage to the neighborhood model from Mr. Rogers' opening credits, and a sincere, melodrama-free approach to the material, Heller pulls off the movie equivalent of a long, much-needed hug; an injection of hope at 24 fps administered by Tom Hanks' subtle and nuanced performance as Fred Rogers. - Phil Pirrello
Credit: MarvelThe Russo Brothers conclude over a decade of movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting, near-perfect three-hour epic conclusion with big emotional stakes and some of the best character moments and performances in the entire MCU -- especially from Robert Downey, Jr. - Phil Pirrello
Credit: STXIn a just world, it would be a no-brainer that writer-director Lorene Scafaria earned both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay honors from the Academy for her Magic Mike meets Wolf of Wall Street take on the real-life story that was the subject of the 2015 New York Magazine article that the film is based on. Jennifer Lopez gives an all-timer performance as the stripper/entrepreneur who befriends and invites Constance Wu into the plot to enrich themselves as the moral and ethical consequences of their scheme weighs on them. - Phil Pirrello
Alligators. Close quarters. A hurricane. What else could you want out of a movie? This underrated, claustrophobic thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s violent, aggressive, and has the deep character moments that keep you engaged throughout its lean 90 minute run time. - Jason Hellerman
Ford v Ferrari
Credit: 20th Century FoxDirector James Mangold's new movie is a very visceral experience. Every scene is packed with excitement, interesting dialogue, and ingenuity. The cinematography, especially during the race car sequences, pops off the screen. You feel every turn and acceleration. It’s a movie about how corporations tear people apart and how independent voices cannot be silenced. - Jason Hellerman
"Daddy issues" are usually explored on Earth, but this journey into the unknown takes Brad Pitt’s character through something unique and personal. The movie is slow, breathtaking, and envelopes you with moments of wonder and grandeur. - Jason Hellerman
Credit: NetflixA giant, massive swing from one of our most risk-taking filmmakers, Martin Scorsese's The Irishman tries to reckon with the downfall of 20th century union power through the lives and relationships of the individuals at the helm while it happened. A film about memory, priorities, the loneliness of age when you have no real connection with your family, and the banality of violence, it’s also mostly a deadpan comedy. - Charles Haine
Whoddunits are all about information flow; what do you know, when. Writer-director Rian Johnson has tremendous fun with letting information out strategically with this clever film. His well-crafted script deliberately misdirects with glee, and gives audiences a true American Poirot in detective Benoit Blanc, the “CSI KFC” southern P.I. played by Daniel Craig (his second pass through a southern accent after the also enjoyable Logan Lucky).
The film's success truly rests on the stellar performance of Ana De Armas as Marta, the "murder victim's" in-home nurse and friend who is dealing with the agonizing mix of regret, grief and moral anguish in a way that is entirely believable and sympathetic throughout. - Charles Haine