Whenever a year nears its end, it’s time to look back on the movies that resonated the most. This article focuses on my Top 10 favorite films released in 2019. These are not necessarily the best films of the year, but they are the ones I enjoyed most, ones that stayed with me and I’d happily re-watch in an instant.
***Warning: This article contains some spoilers about the following films.
10. A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood does a wonderful job at capturing what made Mr. Rogers such an incredible person. The scenes where he listens to journalist Lloyd Vogel or any other character are particularly compelling. Hanks portrays Mr. Rogers in a way that makes it’s clear he’s giving his undivided attention. He’s actually listening, doing everything in his power to understand others and fully engage with them. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s become rarer every day and it’s so powerful and important, something Hanks clearly conveys in his performance.
Mr. Rogers speaks about giving the world positive ways to deal with their feelings. It is essential that people recognize their feelings–the good, the bad, and the ugly–and find ways to deal with them. Emotions are valid, but more important are the ways people choose to deal with them.
The only real flaw of this movie is that Matthew Rhys is not always convincing as jaded journalist Lloyd Vogel. At times this becomes a distraction as so much of the story rests on Lloyd and the audience’s investment in him.
Overall this doesn’t detract much from a heartwarming film communicating simple, yet powerful themes.
9. Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s distinctive style as a filmmaker brings to life a whodunnit that feels like both a classic and refreshing take on the mystery genre. It’s got all the staples of a whodunnit, but with enough unique touches to make it a truly memorable film. Johnson’s cinematography and the costumes are gorgeous to behold.
Ana de Armas makes Marta Cabrera a nuanced and riveting protagonist. She makes the character sympathetic and compassionate, while also showcasing her smarts, determination, unwavering moral compass, and a keen sense of self-preservation. The rest of the characters are essentially caricatures, but it works as they’re perfect fits for classic characters within the whodunnit and they serve the needs of the story. When these characters are also played by the likes of Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and Michael Shannon, it’s easier to buy into these larger-than-life characters.
Tackling issues like ageism, classism, and the current political climate are among the touches that elevate this film from others in the genre. The elderly “Great Nana” is overlooked because of her age, yet she holds an essential clue the entire time. A quiet scene between her and Daniel Craig’s detective character Benoit Blanc is one of the best in the entire film. He begins by offering condolences for her son’s death, noting how sorry he is to probably be the first one to offer such comfort. He is patient and respectful of her and by treating her like an actual human being, he receives key information that helps uncover the truth behind the mystery.
The tension between Marta and the Thrombey family explores classism and the current political climate. The Thrombey family see themselves as charitable and compassionate for offering to give Marta part of the inheritance, claiming that she’s like family to them. When Marta receives all the inheritance and they receive nothing, though, they turn on her completely. They cannot abide the idea that a lower-class immigrant has the money they’ve felt entitled to their entire lives. Threatening to expose Marta’s mother–who is in the country illegally–is another statement in itself. The Thrombeys had no issue with this knowledge while Marta was helping their family, but the moment she becomes an obstacle to their wealth and social status, they have no qualms about destroying the Cabrera family. This makes the final scene in the film–Marta drinking from Walter Thrombey’s mug from the mansion balcony as she looks down at the Thrombey descendants–all the more satisfying.
Some of the plot twists in the film are a bit predictable and as such can feel disappointing, but ultimately this matters little compared to all the wonderful things the movie achieves.
8. Doctor Sleep
I’m not a superfan of The Shining. I saw the movie once and enjoyed it, but have never read the book, nor have I become enraptured by it as so many have. It was therefore to my great surprise that I became so enamored with the sequel Doctor Sleep.
Sequels of iconic stories often struggle to do anything new and instead just rely on nostalgia and callbacks to the things people loved so much from the first story. Part of what impressed me about Doctor Sleep is that overall it doesn’t fall into this tempting trap.
It tells its own story and does new things, all while expanding the world-building established in The Shining. The adult Danny Torrance feels like a fully fleshed out character. Struggling with and eventually conquering his literal and figurative inner demons feels relatable to anyone who’s experienced significant conflict within themselves. The scenes in hospice where he uses his ability to ease the passing of others are all at once touching, bittersweet, and liberating. It’s a testament to his character’s growth and is played well by Ewan McGregor.
The true heart of the film manifests in the relationship Danny forms with Abra. Kyleigh Curran does a wonderful job playing the eager, clever, powerful girl who finds an unlikely friend and mentor in Danny.
Rose the Hat and the rest of her crew serve as terrifying villains worthy of a Stephen King story. Their whole existence and their mission builds upon what we knew of The Shining world in new and fascinating ways. The scene where Rose tries to invade Abra’s mind is particularly intriguing; the visual representation of Abra’s unexpected retaliation and how she forces Rose out of her mind is both unsettling and beautiful.
With this and so much more, Doctor Sleep does more than enough of its own thing before the story inevitably returns to the iconic setting–the Overlook Hotel–for Danny and Abra’s final confrontation with Rose.
Both Danny and Abra lose characters that are close to them in devastating fashion, but the movie doesn’t really give them time to grapple with these losses. It’s an unfortunate thing that happens in a lot of movies, though it’s disappointing to happen in a movie that does so many other things so well.
Now I want to read both The Shining and Doctor Sleep and to dive much deeper into this universe.
7. Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel is fantastic, except for its choppy beginning. The first 10-15 minutes cram in way too much information about Kree society, the Supreme Intelligence, the Skrulls, and Carol’s relationship with Yon-Rogg. As a result, audiences barely have time to get their bearings.
Once she crash-lands on Earth, the movie finds its footing and is a fun ride. Brie Larson’s sarcastic, compassionate, fierce portrayal of Carol Danvers makes her a treat to watch. There’s instant chemistry between her and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, which makes it easy to be invested in their friendship and alliance.
As Talos, Ben Mendelsohn steals every scene he’s in and makes the Skrulls plot twist feel authentic rather than forced. That plot twist is one of the best in the entire MCU, one that is game-changing not only for Captain Marvel but for countless future films, as already evidenced by Spider-Man: Far From Home.
The sequence with all the flashbacks of Carol getting knocked down and then rising back up is empowering to behold, as is her telling Yon-Rogg that she owes him nothing. It took way too long for the MCU to have a female superhero leading her own story, but when they finally did it, they did it right.
Captain Marvel is not just a fun and empowering origin story. It also becomes a fitting prequel for the Avengers and most of the MCU.
6. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
The Breaking Bad series finale is a perfect culmination of Walter White’s story. Yet, in many ways the show belonged to Jesse Pinkman just as much as it did to Walter White. El Camino is a proper finale to Jesse’s story as Aaron Paul delivers one of the best performances of his career. It provides closure while also serving as a genuine exploration of trauma.
The flashbacks between Jesse and Todd are particularly unnerving to watch. Jesse Plemons captures the essence of what made Todd such a bizarre and memorable character, an endearing psychopath whose every action is unpredictable. The amount of focus on Todd’s character is unexpected, though it works perfectly as Jesse copes with his trauma and tries to move forward.
Todd is far from the only satisfying cameo in El Camino. Jesse gets to see his old friends Badger and Skinny Pete one last time. As irresponsible as they could be, them helping Jesse demonstrates the authenticity of their friendship, and Skinny Pete’s line about Jesse being his hero is a genuinely touching moment. Jesse tricks his parents so he can get a gun, but at least the phone call gives closure on both sides. The flashbacks with Mike, Jane, and Walt are even more satisfying as they helped shape Jesse more than anyone and it is their influence that now guides him to his final choices and a fresh start.
El Camino is slower-paced and more ruminative than the regular Breaking Bad episode. It may take a little getting used to, but it works well as Walt received an ending befitting of his journey, and now Jesse gets an ending that his befitting of his journey, one that is surprisingly hopeful and refreshing.
This movie works so well because it’s not really about the Joker’s origins; it’s really an exploration of society neglecting and mistreating the mentally ill. Arthur Fleck is grappling with severe mental illness, yet practically no one shows him kindness or actually tries to help.
From the guys on the street who steal his sign at the beginning of the movie and beat him with it, to the guys harassing the woman on the subway, to the famous Murray Franklin himself, he is physically and emotionally assaulted throughout the movie. His mentally ill mother only makes his condition worse, as does the revelation of how abuse was deeply rooted in his childhood.
Arthur is receiving some help and medication from a social worker, but she is overworked and has limited resources, and it’s not long before budget cuts end her sessions with Arthur and prevent him from getting the medication he needs.
The commentary in this film is more relevant than ever as it showcases the dangers of a society that lacks compassion and that deepens the divide between rich and poor as the middle class is erased. Real problems are ignored as the wealthy elite like Thomas Wayne line their pockets. Murray Franklin and other characters are shocked when Arthur explodes, but what were they expecting after tormenting such a troubled person?
The film also does a nice job at using ambiguity, from not showing what happens after Arthur realizes the devastating truth about him and Sophie, to the final scene at the mental hospital.
The only issue with this movie is that the inclusion of a young Bruce Wayne feels a bit shoehorned in, including the fact that the Joker is essentially responsible for his parents being gunned down in an alleyway. It feels like forced setup in what is otherwise a perfect standalone film.
4. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Movies don’t often give fans time to grapple with the death of a beloved character. That is one of the strengths of Spider-Man: Far From Home as it gives audiences time to further grapple with Tony Stark’s death and what it means for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie serves many purposes as it becomes an epilogue to Avengers: Endgame and the entire MCU so far, setup for the MCU’s future, and a perfect continuation of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man story.
The hole Tony left behind is enormous and the movie doesn’t shy away from that as it defines much of Peter’s struggle in the movie. Tom Holland is charming as ever and his awkward, cute chemistry with MJ–played by Zendaya–is a treat to watch. Fortunately she gets a lot more to do in this movie than she did in Homecoming. Jon Favreau is a scene-stealer as Happy Hogan and essential to helping Peter navigate a world without Tony Stark.
Quentin Beck/Mysterio earns his place among the best villains of the MCU because he feels relatable and human. He’s a mistreated employee who’s received no recognition for his work. Even though pretty much everyone knew he was going to be the villain, Jake Gyllenhaal presents such a likable performance that we’re already invested in him by the time he’s finally revealed to be the antagonist. His reliance on illusion and twisting reality is trippy and forces the audience to constantly question everything that is happening.
The post-credits scenes are among the best in the MCU as well. They’re genuinely shocking and make you reevaluate the whole movie you just watched, which fits perfectly with the story’s whole approach of making the audience question the reality of what they’re seeing.
All these elements make Spider-Man: Far From Home a heartfelt, hilarious, mind-bending, action-packed adventure and one of the best films of 2019.
2017’s Get Out was a cinematic experience unlike any other. Despite setting the bar so high, Jordan Peele managed to create another masterpiece in the form of Us. The thought-provoking nature and commitment to tackling deeper issues is what elevates Peele’s films far above others in the genre.
The whole concept of the Tethered and people’s struggles to confront them is representative of our country’s inability to confront our past of oppression. It is also representative of the idea that all privilege comes at the expense of others’ suffering. While that’s something that is objectively known, no one wants to experience coming face-to-face with those they’ve made suffer in the name of privilege. Within this is an exploration of identity and how we define ourselves.
Executing these weighty themes in a way that feels earned largely hinges on Lupita Nyong’o as she delivers arguably the best performance of 2019 as both Adelaide and Red. She’s entirely convincing in her portrayal of both characters, adding touches that make them both distinctively different, yet undeniably connected. It’s because of her incredible acting that audiences can buy into the game-changing twist about Adelaide and Red at the end of the film.
Everything that happens from start to finish allows this movie to meet its potential. The movie’s opening scene is unsettling and ambiguous. It sets the tone for the entire film and it isn’t clear what it means until the end when everything is brought full-circle. After the opening scene, ample time is provided for the audience to get to know Adelaide and her family before the creepiness ensues. It’s essential that the audience understands adult Adelaide and the dynamics of her family before s*** hits the fan. What follows is deeply unsettling–more so than Get Out and with less humor–but it’s equally compelling to watch as it explores thought-provoking questions in a way that never feels as though it’s insulting the audience’s intelligence.
With a second masterpiece under his belt, Jordan Peele has established himself as one of the most exciting filmmakers in the film industry. It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker take substantial risks and see those risks pay off in brilliant fashion.
2. Toy Story 4
Toy Story 3 is a perfect film and seemed like a worthy end to the Toy Story franchise. As such, I couldn’t help feeling a bit wary about Toy Story 4, though I tried to be open-minded and place my faith in Pixar and a series that had yet to let me down. Fortunately my faith was rewarded with an excellent film that in true Pixar fashion resonates with both kids and adults.
I wrote about this in more detail after I first saw the movie, but I’ll reiterate some of the highlights within those thoughts about why the movie works so well. The simplest of these highlights is that it’s the funniest Toy Story yet. Almost all the new characters provide their own unique comedy. It’s not just Forky, as other characters like Duke Caboom, Ducky, and Bunny are also hilarious. There’s also wonderful humor with Woody and Buzz talking about their inner voices and how Buzz consults his “inner voice” throughout the movie. The toys’ schemes to get reunited and prevent the RV from leaving also leave you laughing hysterically.
Beyond the humor, longtime characters like Woody and Bo Peep receive the endings that they deserve. The movie is a testament to the growth of both characters. For both of them it has to do with gaining agency and finding self-worth beyond how others perceive them.
This connects to Woody, Forky, and Gabby Gabby all struggling with questions of self-perception versus how others perceive them. These are moving and important questions that many audiences will find relatable.
Despite following in the footsteps of a perfect film, Toy Story 4 is able to be an outstanding film in its own right that entertains all ages, conveys meaningful messages, and furthers the franchise for the better.
1. Avengers: Endgame
This movie is tied to me getting engaged and that will always make it a favorite of mine.
Getting into why I loved the actual movie, though, requires a look back at its predecessor. Avengers: Infinity War ended by killing half the universe in one fell swoop and with the villain victorious. It was a bold ending and one that would be hard to follow up. Avengers: Endgame was up to the challenge, though, providing an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the Infinity Saga and making some bold choices of its own.
Killing Thanos about 20 minutes into the movie is one of those choices. Slaying the villain is so often the solution in superhero films, but what happens when you kill the villain and it fixes nothing?
Instead of rushing to the part where the Avengers overcome this obstacle and get all their friends back, the movie actually spends a decent amount of time exploring the world after Thanos’s Snap. The 5 year time jump is a smart move that allows the audience to see how the world has progressed since the Snap, from the everyday folk in Captain America’s support group to the surviving heroes themselves.
This allows the audience to feel the hopelessness and that some have even made peace with the world Thanos created. This includes Thor’s surprising arc in Endgame, one that many fans failed to realize is not about fat jokes, but about someone struggling to deal with trauma, the loss of almost everyone they loved, and an identity crisis after being a hero who failed to save the universe. By giving the audience time to experience this world, the far-reaching impacts of the Snap are felt and the decision to try and undo it feels earned.
The time travel heist that follows is a love letter to the MCU. It ends up working so well because of the little character moments, from Thor getting a proper goodbye with his mother Frigga, to Tony having an unexpected heart-to-heart with his father Howard, or the moment of connection between Nebula and Rhodey after she burns her hand.
The whole movie works because it’s character-driven. It culminates the relationship between Tony Stark and Captain America and gives them emotional and impactful endings that serves their character development. It’s a proper sendoff for much of the old guard as the new guard is ushered in.
“I love you 3000” and the portal scene are forever embedded into popular culture. Endgame isn’t perfect–I still take issue with the fact that characters like Okoye and Wong survived the Snap but weren’t utilized until the battle at the end–but overall it’s an emotional and epic culmination to a decade’s worth of storytelling in the wonderful Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What were your favorite movies of 2019? Let me know in the comments!
If you enjoyed my writing here, check out my work for Screen Rant, Dork Side of the Force, and FanSided Entertainment.