Look back on the most noteworthy films of 2019 and they all display a diverse array of superb talent–in front of and behind the camera.
These movies entertained, educated and often inspired us. They challenged our opinions. They made us contemplate our fate and become more aware of the world around us.
- Booksmart (***1/2) – Two coeds (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever), high-school outcasts, find refuge in their close friendship. Animated performances. Funny and thoughtful dialogue. Astute comic direction by first-time filmmaker and noted actress Olivia Wilde. Who knew nerdy teen angst could be hilarious?
- Dolemite Is My Name (****) – King of comedy Eddie Murphy rises like a phoenix in this oh-so-hysterical ode to comedian and pioneering indie filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore. Dream team cast includes: Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes, Mike Epps and scene stealer Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
- The Farewell (***1/2) – An Asian family handles the last-chapter of life process with charm to spare. Writer/director Lulu Wang digs into her own experiences in a premise and script filled with colorful kinfolk. Star turns by Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhao and Tzi Ma make the characters lifelike.
- Harriet (***) – Depicting the legendary life of the courageous abolitionist Harriet Tubman is a task few are worthy of. Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) is the chosen one. Her epic bio tale catalogs the inhumanity and humanity of the 1800s. Cynthia Erivo (Widows) infuses Tubman’s spirit in every frame. Terence Blanchard’s emotionally charged musical score is haunting.
- The Irishman (****) — Martin Scorsese, Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino team up for an impressive crime/drama/thriller about a man who purportedly murdered Jimmy Hoffa. Brilliant performances. Strong direction, writing and editing. Ingenious use of CGI. The crowning achievement of Scorsese’s career.
- The Lighthouse (****) – Two workers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) and a bunch of seagulls are engaged in a melodramatic relationship at a desolate new England lighthouse, circa 1890s. Brutal allegory. Totally engaging. Director/writer Robert Eggers and co-writer Max Eggers make riveting cinema on a black and white canvas (cinematographer Jarin Blaschke).
- Little Women (****) — Actress turned director Greta Gerwig gives the classic Louisa May Alcott Civil War novel her own feminist spin with relatable three-dimensional characters. Fiery relationships among sisters, parents and friends. Feels like you’re on a long buggy ride with lots of bumps in the road. Superb performances by Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet and Laura Dern.
- Marriage Story (****) — Writer/director Noah Baumbach captures the angst of thirtysomethings (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) going through what should have been a friendly D-I-V-O-R-C-E that turns into a war of threats, betrayals and raw emotions. As primal in ways as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Full of life at its worst and people struggling to take their next steps.
- Queen & Slim (****) – Easily the most talked about black movie of the year. Director Melina Matsoukas (HBO’s Insecure) and screenwriter Lena Waithe (TV’s Master of None) weave a very modern crime tale and a poignant love story together. Hints of social relevance are threaded in. Lovers on the run are played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. So thoughtful. So cool. So romantic.
- Uncut Gems (****) — A gregarious, Jewish NYC jeweler (Adam Sandler) is deep in debt to thugs. His schemes dig him into a deeper hole. Gritty, sewer-level urban drama written and directed by the very talented brothers Benny and Josh Safdie. Sandler deserves an Oscar nom. Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Julia Fox and LaKeith Stanfield round out a powerhouse cast.
Noah Baumbach = Marriage Story
Robert Eggers =The Lighthouse
Greta Gerwig = Little Women
Melina Matsoukas = Queen & Slim
Martin Scorsese = The Irishman
Best First Films
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre = The Mustang
Mati Diop = Atlantics
Melina Matsoukas = Queen & Slim
Olivia Wilde = Booksmart
Phillip Youmans = Burning Cane
Best Foreign Language Films
Ash Is Purest White
Miles Davis: The Birth of the Cool
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Tony Morrison: The Pieces I Am
Robert DeNiro = The Irishman
Daniel Kaluuya = Queen & Slim
Eddie Murphy = Dolemite Is My Name
Robert Pattinson = The Lighthouse
Adam Sandler = Uncut Gems
Awkwafina = The Farewell
Cynthia Erivo = Harriet
Lupita Nyong’o = Us
Alfre Woodard = Clemency
Renee Zellweger = Judy
Best Supporting Actors
Jamie Foxx = Just Mercy
Aldis Hodge = Clemency
Joe Pesci = The Irishman
Brad Pitt = Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bokeem Woodbine = Queen & Slim
Best Supporting Actresses
Indya Moore = Queen & Slim
Florence Pugh = Little Women
Da’Vine Joy Randolph = Dolemite Is My Name
Jennifer Lopez = Hustlers
Shuzhen Zhao = The Farewell
Ad Astra = James Gray, Ethan Gross
The Farewell = Lulu Wang
The Lighthouse = Max Eggers, Robert Eggers
Little Women = Greta Gerwig
Queen & Slim = Lena Waithe
1917 = Roger Deakins
Atlantics = Claire Mathon
The Irishman = Rodrigo Prieto
The Lighthouse = Jarin Blaschke
Queen + Slim = Pete Beaudreau
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Toy Story 4
Other Great Films
1917, Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, The Beach Bum, Giant Little Ones, Good Boys, A Hidden Life, Hotel Mumbai, Hustlers, The Mustang, Never Grow Old, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Report, Rocketman, Sauvage, Skin, Us, The Two Popes, Woman at War.