Turning Back Time: Best Films Of 2019

With 2020 not turning out to be a wash of a year for film releases, let’s travel back in time to a year full of outstanding movies. In 2019, many theatrical, Netflix, and other streaming service releases were making headlines and catching the eyes of critics.

Last year, cinema fans watched award-winning films such as Parasite, Joker, and Little Women, while mystery movies such as Knives Out left them wanting more. There are also some films people might have forgotten about, so keep scrolling!

Knives Out

knives-out-1-1574347538
Lionsgate
Lionsgate

Rian Johnson also directed a film with an ensemble cast, with the likes of Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, and the up-and-coming Ana de Armas, among more. Knives Out was the 2019 murder mystery film no one really saw coming but were very happy it did.

The film was put on numerous “Top Movies of 2019” lists, including Time magazine and the American Film Institute. Right so, too, since it brings the intrigue of 1970s murder mysteries into modern-day cinema — not an easy feat!

Pain & Glory

Pain & Glory
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

With all of the epic films that were released in 2019, Pain & Glory kind of got sidelined. But don’t let that fool you. This is one of the better movies to come out of the year. Starring Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, the film reflects on the character’s life choices as his past and present start to clash.

Banderas’ role led him to receive his first-ever Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards. And Time even called the film the best to come out of 2019.

1917

1917
Dreamworks Pictures
Dreamworks Pictures

The war film 1917 was unlike anything else released in 2019. For one, the movie was filmed in such a way to look like it was shot in a continuous take, making the suspense of watching a character walk through enemy territory at an all-time high.

It is considered to be one of the biggest film achievements of the year, according to many critics. Overall, the movie was an impressive technical achievement that showcased the brutality that was trench warfare during World War I.

Parasite

Parasite
CJ Entertainment
CJ Entertainment

Not only is Parasite considered one of the best movies of 2019 by moviegoers, but the Academy also awarded the Korean film the Best Picture award at the 92nd Oscar ceremony.

If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows the lower-class Kim family as they con an upper-class family into giving them all jobs. Throw in some deception, a guy living in a basement, and a brutal end scene that leaves more than one person dead, and you pretty much have the crazy plot!

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

The comedy-drama Jojo Rabbitt was one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 film catalog. Starring a young and unknown actor, Roman Griffin Davis, for the title character of Jojo, the film is a satirical portrayal of Germany during the later stages of World War II.

It is considered to be one of the top ten best films of the year by both the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. Davis’ co-star, Scarlett Johansson, was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as Jojo’s mom.

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems
A24
A24

If you’re ready for a plot twist in Adam Sandler’s career, then you’re going to want to watch the 2019 film Uncut Gems. The film follows Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who has to retrieve a very expensive jewel in order to pay off a hefty debt.

The dark comedy won Sandler an Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead and is considered to be one of the top ten films of the year by the National Board of Review.

Joker

Joker
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

When a lot of people think of films that came out in 2019, one of the first to come to mind is probably the ridiculous character study film Joker. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the troubled Arthur Fleck, the film is an interesting take on the way society portrays mental health issues.

The film received many nominations, including a Best Actor nomination for Phoenix, of which he ultimately won. This made Phoenix the second actor to win an Oscar for portraying the infamous character.

The Irishman

The Irishman
Netflix
Netflix

One of the most popular Netflix movies to release in 2019 was The Irishman, starring the mafia trifecta of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino. Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic is based on the “true crime story” of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran as he gets involved with Russell Bufalino and his crime family.

The film was nominated for a ton of awards, including Best Picture at both the Academy Awards as well as the Golden Globes.

Marriage Story

Marriage Story
Netflix
Netflix

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson starred in the 2019 film Marriage Story, a top contender for Best Actor Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards. The Netflix original revolves around the complicated marriage of an actress and stage director.

Pretty much, the two struggle to support one another’s dreams that lead them to have a long-distance relationship. They divorce and, obviously, find success apart. But don’t let the “happy ending” fool you. There are a lot of twists and turns in this drama.

Little Women

Little Women
Sony Pictures
Sony Pictures

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women stars one of the best ensemble casts of 2019, so it’s really no surprise it’s considered one of the best films of the year. The period drama is a coming-of-age story based on the Louisa May Alcott novel of the same name.

The film received critical acclaim for its direction, acting, and true-to-the-time costume design. Something of which the film won an Academy Award for, out of its six nominations.

Booksmart

Booksmart
United Artists Releasing
United Artists Releasing

In her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde knocked it out of the park with the coming-of-age comedy Booksmart. Starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two high school seniors, the film follows their friendship as they graduate and decide to break the rules, partying on their last day of classes.

Critics highly praised the movie upon its 2019 release. Many compared its antics to the overly-popular film Superbad, calling it “the best high school buddy comedy” since the 2007 film.

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
A24
A24

The psychological thriller, The Lighthouse, was a one-of-a-kind film in 2019. Not only was it shot in black and white, but it was also a modern take of the last story written by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Light-House.” A story he did not finish.

Starring Robert Pattinson and William Dafoe, the film was critically acclaimed and was highly praised for its cinematography. The movie went on to be nominated for the Best Cinematography award at both the Academy Awards ceremony as well as the British Academy Film Awards.

Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are pals who are trying to make their way through an ever-changing Hollywood. Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood follows the two men as they navigate a declining career in the industry, finding themselves slowly parting ways.

Critics praised director Quentin Tarantino for his direction and screenplay, as well as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting. The film even led to Pitt winning Best Supporting Actor at the 92nd Academy Award ceremony.

Us

Us
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

One of the biggest horror stories to come out of 2019 was the Jordan Peele film Us. Following the Wilson family, as they take a nice vacation, the film is nothing like it seems. With evil doppelgangers stalking them, making them fight for survival, Adelaide Wilson quickly realizes her life isn’t what she thought.

Critics highly praised the film for its originality and its hard conversations alluding to the human condition and American experience. Even if you’re not a horror fan, it’s a film worth watching.

Ad Astra

Ad Astra
Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

With his role in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, people sometimes forget Brad Pitt also starred in the 2019 film Ad Astra. While he wasn’t nominated for any awards, it didn’t deter critics from praising Pitt on his performance in the movie.

A performance that Xan Brooks of The Guardian says, “doesn’t even look like acting,” due to the ease in which Pitt portrays the character of Roy McBride — a man who’s venturing to space in search of his lost father whose experiment can destroy the universe.

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4
Pixar Animation, Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation, Walt Disney Pictures

Just when people thought Woody and Buzz had graced their screens for the last time, Pixar goes and releases Toy Story 4 in 2019. Yes, it was emotional. Yes, we cried. And, yes, we are all for the feminist twist the classic tale brought to the fourth installment of the franchise.

With a solid 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a few Academy Award nominations, and critics praise for the franchise’s continuous reinventions of the characters; this film lands as one of the best of 2019.

Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment
Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Entertainment

Arguably one of the most anticipated films of 2019 was Avengers: Endgame. Finally, fans of the MCU were going to see the finale of an epic battle between the Avengers and Thanos.

And with a lot of major players disappearing after the snap of Infinity War, no one knew what the movie would bring to the table. The film went on to break box office records, exceeding that of James Cameron’s Avatar, making around $2.8 billion worldwide.

The Last Black Man In San Francisco

The Last Black Man In San Francisco
A24
A24

Going back to his childhood neighborhood in San Francisco, Jimmie Fails tries his hardest to reclaim the now-expensive victorian mansion his grandfather built in a now-gentrified area. The heartfelt semi-true story of Fails’ life was critically acclaimed in 2019.

One awards columnist, Pete Hammond, even went as far as saying after he viewed the film he believed it had an Oscar written all over it. The film also landed on many critics lists for the best 2019 films.

Platform

Platform
Netflix
Netflix

Platform is the 2019 sci-fi thriller illustrating a dystopian future. The film alludes to the human condition, where prisoners have to make a conscious decision whether or not to save food for fellow inmates, as there is only one spread for everyone.

One reviewer said the film was “a visceral investigation of how a crisis can expose not only the stratification of human society but also the immutable strands of selfishness coded into our DNA.”

Midsommar

Midsommar
A24
A24

Midsommar is one of the 2019 films that you might not have heard a lot about, as it’s not your typical blockbuster. The folk horror film followed a group of friends traveling to Sweden to partake in a festival that happens once every 90 years. What they didn’t expect was the fall into the hands of a cult.

Starring Florence Pugh as the main character Dani, many critics believe her performance in the film puts her on the top of the list as one of the best actresses of her generation.

Apollo 11

Apollo 11
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

One of the groundbreaking documentaries released in 2019 was Apollo 11. The film consisted of unreleased footage of the 1969 launch, including archival audio and video recordings. Interestingly, the documentary strays from the usual formula, not including modern interviews, recreations, or even narration.

Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com, a film review website, said, “Films this completely imagined and ecstatically realized are so rare that when one comes along, it makes most other movies, even the good ones, seem underachieving.”

The Souvenir

The Souvenir
A24
A24

Joanna Hogg’s semi-biographical drama, The Souvenir, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019, receiving critical acclaim for its story and artistry. The story follows Julie, an introvert film student who falls for an older man. Only the relationship is toxic, and Julie becomes stuck.

Many critics have praised the coming-of-age story. Guy Lodge of Variety said the film is “Achingly well-observed in its study of a young artist inspired, derailed and finally strengthened by a toxic relationship.”

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

A Hidden Life is the 2019 war film that left many speechless, with its real-life characters and storyline. The movie followed the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for Nazi Germany during World War II. As a result, he’s incarcerated and later executed (spoiler alert).

The film was praised by critics for its spirituality, and for director Terrence Malick’s “genius” in making the film “ambitious and visually absorbing.”

Atlantics

Atlantics
Netflix
Netflix

One of the most “real” films to come out of 2019 is the French movie Atlantics. The film is rooted in real-world commentary but sprinkled with elements of the supernatural, something that is not easy to achieve.

K. Austin Collins of Vanity Fair says it best, stating, “Atlantics stuns and surprises because it tries to pull off something slippery and hard to define, a ghost story that’s rooted in the material reality of Dakar and its lower classes.”

Hustlers

Hustlers
STXflims
STXflims

Hustlers is one of those films a lot of people were skeptical about when the trailer was first released. But the talented cast of JLo, Cardi B, Constance Wu, Lizzo, Lili Reinhart, and Keke Palmer, soon proved people wrong.

Critics praised the film for its unique take on a heist drama, making it oddly empowering and invigorating to watch. Jennifer Lopez was especially praised for her lead role as Ramona, with many calling it her “career-best performance.”

Honeyland

Honeyland
Neon
Neon

One of the most interesting documentaries to come out of 2019 is Honeyland. The film explores the life of Hatidže Muratova, a beekeeper who lives in the mountain village of Bekirlija, and how her life was different before and after neighbors moved in next door.

The documentary is the first in history to be nominated for both The Best Documentary Feature as well as the Best International Feature Film. Unfortunately, it was beat-out for both awards.

Waves

Waves
A24
A24

The romantic drama Waves is a story about love, loss, and forgiveness that left critics slack-jawed and in awe of the actors’ performances. The drama follows the emotional journey of a black suburban family in south Florida in a stunning representation of real-life and family coming together.

Critics on Rotten Tomatoes agree, stating that the film is “An up-close look at one family’s emotional ups and downs, Waves captures complicated dynamics with tenderness and grace.”

Synonyms

Synonyms
SBS Distribution
SBS Distribution

The 2019 international drama film Synonyms has been praised as one of the top 100 films of the entire decade. It follows the story of Yoav, a young Israeli man who takes his trusty Franco-Israeli dictionary as he flees to Paris to escape his nationality.

Critics on Rotten Tomatoes agree that the film “latches onto third-rail issues with thrilling audacity — and taps into an energy that proves as discomfiting as it is infectious.”

Jumanji: The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Jumanji: The Next Level was the highly-anticipated sequel to the well-received “reboot” of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The film stars a hilarious cast consisting of The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan. Oh, and Danny Glover and Danny DeVito are thrown into the picture, too.

Being thrown back into the world of Jumanji, the group of friends faces new trials, adventures, and avatars. Thankfully, as the critics put it, the movie was able to keep the classic tale fresh and unassuming.

The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen
STXfilms
STXfilms

The action-comedy The Gentlemen was one of the highest-grossing films of 2020 upon its release to the UK and US, although it premiered in 2019. It follows the story of Michael ‘Mickey’ Pearson, an American drug kingpin living in London who is looking to sell his business.

Of course, nothing goes as planned. Pearson’s antics set off a long chain of schemes and blackmail looking to undermine his operation. Many critics praised the film for being a “welcome return to form” Guy Richie.