This year will be remembered in many ways for the innovation filmmakers brought to the screen – from making actors look decades younger to making a film look like it didn’t need an editor. And yet, the best movie of 2019 tells a story requiring none of those bells or whistles. Before picking apart the list below, take a listen to my recent conversation with Anne Bothwell for a little context:
- Marriage Story – The hardest watch was also the one with the most to say. Plenty of movies have centered on breakups, but writer and director Noah Baumbach distinguishes his film in demonstrating how so often it’s the process of divorce that turns reasonable people into enemies.
- Parasite – Writer and director Bong Joon Ho takes ideas about class divisions and manifests them into the physical realities of the world that his characters inhabit. The film’s climactic outburst manages to be both shocking and well-earned – not an easy trick to pull off.
- 1917 – Using what looks like a single, unedited camera shot could’ve been a gimmick. In this case, though, the unbroken view of the action amps up the immediacy of the mission two young British soldiers are tasked with as they navigate World War I trenches and wide-open no-man’s land. The top film as chosen by the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association.
- The Farewell – The best stories are often the simplest. In this case, the central question is: Should you tell someone that they have a terminal illness, or is blissful ignorance a gift? Lead actress Awkwafina was the revelation of the year.
- American Factory – Still wondering how directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert were allowed so much access to tell this story of a Chinese-run factory operating in Ohio. The cultural differences that keep the world’s two superpowers from seeing eye-to-eye play out on the factory floor.
- The Irishman – The last half hour of this three-and-a-half-hour epic is the most rewarding. Martin Scorsese has told his share of gangster stories, but this feels like the first time his main character is truly forced to reckon with the life he’s chosen and the decisions he’s made. This is primarily a story about the consequences of the male ego.
- Jojo Rabbit – A hopeful movie about Nazis. If there was a combo award for the person who had the best year as a writer, director and actor, Taika Waititi would be a shoo-in.
- Little Women – Confession: All I knew about this story going in was that it was about four (possibly short?) sisters and that I somehow manged to dodge it all throughout my formal education. So while I can’t judge how it stacks up against the novel or its many screen adaptations, I can say that the relationships between the sisters, their mother and the dreamy Laurie from down the road feel authentic and lived-in.
- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – This one pulls off quite a double play of a) making you want to be a better person and b) feeling like with a little effort that’s totally possible.
- Booksmart – There’s always a spot reserved on this list for the funniest movie of the year.
Honorable mentions: The Two Popes, Pain and Glory, Invisible Life, One Child Nation, Knives Out, Bombshell, Judy