Considering the large number of stellar titles released in 2019, it was difficult to narrow down a top 20 list. Not since 1999 has a crop of films highlighted the power of cinema in such creative ways. Sequels and franchises may have dominated the box office, but it was the original narratives that we will still be discussing and revisiting years from now. While there are many films that could have made this list, these are the titles that spoke to me the most.
20. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open packed one heck of an emotional punch when I saw it at TIFF, but the film has grown on me even more in the subsequent months. It is a haunting and captivating film that one does not easily forget.
19. I Lost My Body
The year’s best animated film is also one of the saddest. I was a little depressed after watching this beautifully somber love story, but I have not stop thinking about it.
18. Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame is one of the rare MCU films that allows the consequences of heroism, including its failures, to truly sink in. The film rewards fans for their loyalty to the franchise while not sacrificing its storytelling or character depth in the process.
Anchored by Lupita Nyong’o’s sensational dual turn as Adelaide and Red, Jordan Peele’s film captures how one’s stairway to heaven is another’s to hell. A chilling and thought-provoking horror, Us gives plenty of reasons to be afraid of our own shadow.
Filled with thrilling musical numbers that never take away from the emotional beats, Rocketman is a wonderfully imaginative crowd-pleaser. The film is a fitting tribute to a musical icon who is still standing after all this time.
Hustlers is an energetic and refreshing tale of greed, sex and excess. Displaying the thin line between the Wall Street hustle and the strip club hustle, Lorene Scafaria’s film weaves an entertaining examination of friendship and power that is one of the year’s pleasant surprises.
14. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is an epic tale of crime and politics that ranks among the director’s best works. The film plays like both a retrospective of the director’s career, and a layered exploration of family, loyalty and corruption.
13. Knives Out
I watched Rian Johnson’s murder mystery twice in the theatre and was thoroughly entertained each time. Filled with biting social commentary, Knives Out is a fun and intelligent whodunnit that will keep you guessing to the very end.
12. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Any other year this film would have been the obvious front-runner in the awards season conversation. Regardless, Marielle Heller’s film is still an emotional journey worth taking. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reminds us that pain is a part of life and that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
1917 creates a cinematic experience that is unforgettable. Its technical feats and the unsettling feeling it evokes ensures one will be on the edge of their seats every step of the way.
10. Little Women
Little Women is a delightful tale of family and self-discovery that reminds us why we love cinema. Featuring strong performances from the ensemble cast, Greta Gerwig’s heartwarming film succeeds in carving out its own memorable space.
9. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ follow up to The Witch is an exploration into madness unlike anything you have seen before. Elevated by the strong work by Willem Dafoe and Pattinson, who deliver two of the year’s best performances, Eggers’ film is a stunning and dizzying work that is exhilarating to behold.
8. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma made one of the most riveting and sensual tales of forbidden love to hit theatres in years. A work of art that is equally beautiful and heartbreaking, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an exquisite love story.
7. (TIE) Jojo Rabbit / A Hidden Life
Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit skillfully walks a tightrope between risky satire and deeply moving coming-of-age drama. Whereas Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life presents a mesmerizing exploration of faith and the cost of standing up for one’s conviction. Though they are vastly different films, each use World War II to show that, in divided times, real courage is standing up on the side of good even when the majority of society is pressuring you to follow false prophets.
6. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story captures the highs and lows of married life in a way that feels fresh and familiar all at the same time. Offering a blisteringly honest portrayal of the stress and pain divorce causes, Baumbach masterfully forces us to wallow in the central couple’s uncomfortableness.
5. The Farewell
Lulu Wang’s film finds the right amount of humour and drama to make the family at its core resonate with viewers. The Farewell does not present easy answers to the thought-provoking questions it raises. However, it is the film’s rich morally complexity that makes it feel both universal and intimate at the same time.
The fact that Mati Diop’s film refuses to be placed in one specific box is part of its appeal. A hypnotic and richly constructed love story, Atlantics is a stunning debut that defies convention in the best possible way.
3. The Last Blackman in San Francisco
Joe Talbot’s debut film is a vibrant work of art that celebrates the colourful residents of the city by the bay, while simultaneously lamenting the gentrification that is systematically erasing a community. It is a riveting film about choices, displacement, black masculinity, and so much more.
2. Uncut Gems
A masterful tension filled dark comedy, the Safdie brothers craft a film that gleefully has one rooting for the bad guy. Featuring a tour de force performance by Adam Sandler, Uncut Gems is a rare treasure indeed.
Far from a simple family dramedy, Bong Joon-ho uses elements of mystery, suspense and satire to effortlessly create a one-of-a-kind-film. Parasite’s flawless blending of genres makes its commentary on economic disparity in modern society digestible in a way that transcends borders.
Honourable Mention: Her Smell, Luce, Booksmart, High Flying Bird, Dolemite is My Name, Midnight Traveler, The Cave, Homecoming, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Knock Down the House, American Factory, Joker, John Wick: Chapter 3, Klaus, Mouthpiece, The Garden Left Behind, Ash is Purest White, Monos, Falls Around Her, Horror Noire, Ready or Not