As is usually the case when I make a film ranking, I find it difficult to compare one movie to another, particularly when said films couldn’t be more different. Add in the complications of time—a film enjoyed six months ago vs. last week—and it gets even more tricky. For 2019, I tried my best to take a snapshot of the movies I thought about most often, that stood out most in my memory, and that moved me beyond all reason. Here are my top 10 films of 2019.
The ending sticks in my craw, and it’s perhaps not as tight as it could be, but then I think of all those little one-off bits, beautiful montages, and, most significantly, the touching friendship at the film’s core. Quentin Tarantino can’t resist being himself, but when he makes a film that looks this good, this detailed, this suffused with love, it’s hard to ignore. Ironically, this is the film from 2019 I’d most like to watch again.
9) Richard Jewell
Paul Walter Hauser can maybe only play a handful of “types” as an actor—and that’s fine. Especially if he’s going to crush those roles as he does here in Clint Eastwood’s latest. In truth, Clint’s work plays to type too, and he knows what he has with his star. What they achieve together is almost miraculous: it’s impossible not to get on Hauser’s side, even though his Jewell is a guy you’d cross the street to avoid.
8) Marriage Story
The highs of this film arrive thanks almost exclusively to Adam Driver. The rest of the casting is perfect, and writer-director Noah Baumbach knows how to build to a laugh-line or emotional beat, but let’s be real: Driver is who we want to watch. Whether or not this is an autobiographical film becomes beside the point; Driver makes it feel real.
A crime story. An epic romance. A document of a changing China. Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White is all those things and, quite possibly, even more. It’s also a Tao Zhao delivery device, and getting to watch her carry this epic film is, in and of itself, enough to rank it here.
6) The Irishman
I feel like I’ve spent the past two months telling people The Irishman is supposed to be as long as it is. It’s supposed to meander. It’s supposed to capture all the details of one man’s life as he willfully misunderstands himself and his own role in a horrible history. The film isn’t necessarily peak Martin Scorsese, but it does feel like a culmination. We may never see Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino like this again.
5) Dark Waters
An impressive legal procedural made all the more worthwhile for its veracity and structure. Director Todd Haynes is unobtrusive in his style yet we feel him behind the scenes, surging with anger. When star Mark Ruffalo gets his moment (or two, or three), it comes as a relief, even though nothing is really solved. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this one.
4) Ad Astra
I still can’t get over the general tone of James Gray’s space masterpiece, the film populated by people forcing themselves to remain calm even as their situation grows increasingly dire. Watching Brad Pitt, a movie star of the highest order, put himself through the emotional wringer—and, sure, deep isolation too—is never not imminently watchable. We just want him to be OK.
Speaking of being OK, those are the stakes of Marielle Heller’s latest, a film about how to be a good and functional person. The hook may be Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, but her work goes well beyond that. In fact, despite a modestly engineered plot, the film burrows deeper and expands into something else. The points of its narrative almost don’t matter. We’re moved to think about ourselves, and the people in our own lives, instead.
The first half of Parasite, a stunning achievement from Bong Joon-Ho, is a mystery; the second half a violent farce. That one could spill into the other is a marvel. That it could also be wonderfully acted, sharply filmed, and function as, yes, a commentary on our age is to put it among the very best films. You’ll feel angry, you’ll laugh, and you may even cry. This is a tour de force.
1) Uncut Gems
This movie is so good, it had me caught up in the outcome of an NBA playoff game that happened seven years ago. There is no other film like Uncut Gems. None.