Can't-Miss Cinema

The best movies of 2019 made going to the theater a blast

Buzz Lightyear, Bunny, Ducky, Woody, and Bo Peep in Toy Story 4
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Studios
Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name
Photo by Francois Duhamel
Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Photo by Lacey Terrell
Ray Romano, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino in The Irishman
Photo courtesy of Netflix
Daniel Craig in Knives Out
Photo by Claire Folger
Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Sterling K. Brown in Waves
Photo courtesy of A24
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in ... Hollywood
Photo by Andrew Cooper
Woo-sik Choi, Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, and So-dam Park in Parasite
Photo courtesy of NEON + CJ Entertainment
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story
Photo by Wilson Webb
George MacKay in 1917
Photo by François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

There are some years where the top movies of the year are clear cut, and some years when there are so many great films that it's extremely difficult to pare down the list. Fortunately for a movie lover like myself, this year fell into the latter category, forcing me into some tough decisions over which fantastic movies not to acknowledge. While opinions will differ, it's almost a guarantee that any movie on this list will provide massive entertainment for moviegoers of any ilk.

10) Toy Story 4

The law of diminishing returns with sequels has somehow never applied to the Toy Story series, which has managed to captivate through four stellar films. The latest is buoyed by the outstanding humor and emotion that Pixar has brought to nearly every film in its history. Not only that, but it features such amazing animation that, with a little suspension of disbelief, the film could plausibly be passed off as live action. If this is to be the final Toy Story film, they left us with one last movie for the ages, one that kids and families will be enjoying for generations to come.

9) Dolemite is My Name

It's been a long time since Eddie Murphy has allowed himself to indulge in the type of R-rated humor that made him famous in the first place, and the result here was his best movie in ages. Murphy plays Rudy Ray Moore, a real-life comedian who earned notoriety for playing the character Dolemite, with such verve and joy that it feels like he has a kinship with Rudy and how he went through life. With a fantastic cast of well-known actors willing to back up Murphy, outlandish comedy, and a down-to-earth story, this was the first of a slew of Netflix movies that showed the streaming studio is now playing for keeps.

8) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks is simultaneously one of the most lauded and most underappreciated actors working today. He won back-to-back Best Actor Oscars in 1994 and 1995, and somehow the powers-that-be decided that he should never win again, despite turning in Oscar-worthy performances time and again. He does so again here as Fred Rogers, this time in a supporting role that perfectly emulates the supportive role Mister Rogers has played in countless lives. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood pays tribute to Rogers in an understated and heartfelt way that he would surely appreciate.

7) The Irishman

Yes, the latest from director Martin Scorsese was an endurance test, clocking in at 3 1/2 hours. But after over 50 years in the business, the fact that he can make such a high quality film this late in his career is a testament to his enduring talent. The de-aging technology used on stars Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino was hit-and-miss, but their performances were not, with Pesci being as good as ever nine years after his last film role. This is the Netflix movie almost everyone is betting on at the Oscars, but not the highest one in this particular list...

6) Knives Out

Writer/director Rian Johnson took a lot of daggers for his last film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, so he decided to go in a different direction this time around. A murder mystery that was both modern and reverent of the genre's tropes, Knives Out hit all the right notes. The pleasure of the film lies not in figuring out whodunit, but in how all of the characters interact with each other. With big humor, a twisty story, and great performances across the board, it’s a purely fun time at the movies.

5) Waves

From minute one of this emotional whirlwind of a drama, writer/director Trey Edward Shults demonstrates a mastery of storytelling, introducing his characters in a tornado of camera movements that sets a fantastic tone. Shults shifts aspect ratios in the film to reinforce the mood of certain scenes, and the result is both brutal and beautiful to watch. With another doozy of a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, great hip hop music, and devastating performances by Kelving Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown, it's a film that deserved much more attention than it actually got.

4) Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

I was not able to review writer/director Quentin Tarantino's latest movie up on release, but it's the only film on this list that I've seen three times. Each subsequent viewing revealed more and more depth, as Tarantino mostly eschewed his trademarks - verbal gymnastics and violence - for a tribute to late 1960s Los Angeles. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt made for an outstanding duo, and Margot Robbie was luminous in her brief but unforgettable role as Sharon Tate. The ending is predictably brutal, but done in such a way that feels cathartic and earned.

3) Parasite

Just as with 2018's RomaParasite is a foreign language film that deserves to contend, if not win, for Best Picture at the Oscars. The Korean satirical film could be taken on face value as a thriller, but writer/director Bong Joon Ho goes deeper with commentary on class issues and the world at large. The film is funny, suspenseful, and never boring, with performances to match. Above all else, Parasite is a master class in storytelling, providing one of the finest examples of how to entertain the masses while still telling a deep and meaningful story.

2) Marriage Story

Watching a movie about divorce is not fun, but when it's done as well as this, it demands to be seen. Both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver career-best performances as Charlie and Nicole, going through the months-long progression toward finalizing their divorce. Writer/director Noah Baumbach goes into excruciating and heartbreaking detail about the process, something which is obviously intensely personal for him. But even if you've never experienced a divorce, the emotions that come out are universal. Baumbach has finally made a movie that can be appreciated by most moviegoers without sacrificing quality or toning down his acerbic nature. 

1) 1917

This war epic by writer/director Sam Mendes was named as the Best Picture of the year by the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, and I heartily agree. Edited to make it look like one continuous shot, it's a heart-pounding adventure of two World War I privates sent on a mission to prevent a potential calamity. By never cutting, the tension in the film is increased immeasurably, aided to a fantastic degree by the ever-present score from Thomas Newman and cinematography of Roger Deakins.The level of verisimilitude is also staggering, from the murky trenches to the bodies strewn across the ground to the blown-out buildings. Because of all of this and more, it joins the list of all-time war movies.