It will shock you to learn how long this year has been. Remember Captain Marvel? That came out all the way back in March. Feels like eons, right? That’s been the pervasive feeling of 2019, and this decade generally: a relentless, soul-crushing hellscape that feels way lifetimes longer than it actually was.
Back in 2019, a lot of the movies were escapist, or offered a sense of catharsis to them. Who will forget the feeling of Chris overcoming his captors in Get Out, or the languid pleasures of Call Me By Your Name? Some of this year’s films have some of that same hard-earned positivity, but the overwhelming mood is much darker. Things are getting worse, and the only light (literally and metaphorically) is the collective acknowledgment that we need to act sooner rather than later.
Grimness notwithstanding, this year has been terrific for film buffs: there were vivid family dramas, feminist genre films, and even Adam Driver punching a wall. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming. It is difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Vesper Arnett, Ross Bonaime, Kaylee Dugan, Benjamin Freed, Svetlana Legetic, Diana Metzger, and Alan Zilberman – submitted their top movies of 2019, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top ten movies of 2019, complete with a silly superlative and concluding thoughts.
11. Marriage Story – Best Reason To Watch Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – Marriage Story
In order to pay for the mounting legal fees during his divorce with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, writer/director Noah Baumbach did rewrite work for Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. The man who once told personal stories of arrested development in Kicking and Screaming or his parent’s divorce in The Squid and the Whale was now relegated to telling the story of a zebra wearing a rainbow Afro wig trying to get back to the Central Park Zoo. It’s these types of disgusting depths that divorce will take you to in Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical story of his own divorce.
Baumbach’s remarkably even-handed look at the relationship between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they separate while living across the country from each other is arguably the greatest film about divorce and the problems inherent in the system. Charlie and Nicole start off wanting an amicable divorce, but slowly the relationship dissolves into something neither one of them could’ve expected. But Baumbach ultimately makes Marriage Story a positive story about finding yourself in a new way, outside of the institution that you once expected to be forever. With one of the most heart-wrenching screenplays of the year, subtle but beautiful direction, and two stunning lead performances, Marriage Story makes the struggle of writing Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted worthwhile. –Ross Bonaime
10. Pain and Glory: Best home we want to live in
No matter how dark Pedro Almodóvar’s self-examination goes, there’s always a splash of brilliant color somewhere in the frame. And that’s because the home inhabited by down-and-out Spanish filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a near-exact replica of Almodóvar’s own Madrid apartment. The director lent many of his own effects to the production, like the red-matte bookshelves that line his hallway and some of his art collection, while recreating others like the red-and-blue kitchen. The result is an environment that, no matter how deep Mallo’s despair grows, still conveys degrees of warmth and vibrancy, keeping the audience tethered to Almodóvar’s retelling of his own story. –Benjamin Freed
9. Us: Best home invasion? Can we say that?
Jordan Peele famously said Get Out is a documentary. That is a statement of purpose, articulating the anger and frustration that inspired one of the decade’s great thrillers. As a follow-up, Peele said Us is a horror movie. Such a statement might seem redundant, but it is an important distinction. Us deliberately has less to say than Get Out, as it is about an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation. In a terrific dual performance, Lupita Nyong’o plays Adelaide, a mother who defends her family from “the tethered,” a group of deranged doppelgangers (led by Nyong’o) who like to dress in red and wield scissors. Rather than suffer through a sophomore slump, Us reveals Peele is a true original filmmaker. His imagery evokes a sense of menace, and yet there is affection and tenderness for all his characters, even the deranged ones. There is also a weird specificity to his films, particularly in their ability to recall pieces of Americana like Hands Across America. Still, Us is one the year’s best films for a simple reason: the middle act home invasion is one the freakiest, most sustained sequences of the year. By the time the ending arrives and everything we know about the movie has changed, Peele’s deft sleight of hand is staggering. He’s not the new Spielberg or the new M. Night. Like all the greats, he’s the first of his kind. –Alan Zilberman
8. The Farewell: Best episode of 90 day fiancé
Have you ever had to do something you didn’t want to do? Do you love those awkward family photos? You know that feeling when you have to listen to a conversation in which you have absolutely no idea what’s happening but you just nod and smile?
If you haven’t seen it yet, The Farewell is a fantastic dramedy about a Chinese family just giving in to the matriarch’s wish to see her grandchildren marry before she dies, except she doesn’t know she’s dying, and no one is allowed to tell her. American granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) is troubled by this notion, but even more troubling is her Japanese cousin’s sudden (forced) “engagement” to his new girlfriend, to 1) bring the international family together, and 2) make their grandmother happy one more time before she kicks it. Besides, she’s really funny, so it’s not painful. When the couple takes their engagement photos, the grandmother is annoyed that the two aren’t more intimate; it’s like prom pictures. After adjusting the girl’s head to rest on her fiancé’s shoulder, the grandmother quips, “Makes me wonder what they do in the bedroom when I’m not here.” I doubt they’ve even made it that far.
So nod and smile, and let her pay for a big party. Maybe the relationship will work out, maybe it won’t, but the story lives on. –Vesper Arnett
7. Booksmart: Best use of the jumpsuit trend
Jumpsuits, Onesies, Rompers, RompHims, whatever they’re called – they are a hot fashion item that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Since they’re so trendy, they’re also a staple for women in films. Many might say that a catsuit is the best use of the form, but those would be dudes. Latex sucks and is hella hard to get on and off. Not that I speak from experience.
The best use of a jumpsuit in film was achieved this year in a landslide by the warm and seriously witty Booksmart. It centers on two graduating high school seniors, Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein), as they try to cram 4 years of missed debauchery into one last night out. Where the jumpsuit comes to play is when the girls in a fun spin on the makeover montage are trying on going-out clothes. In any other teen movie, this would be a moment of transformation or glamour. The shy, studious girl takes off her glasses or trades overalls for a mini skirt and is suddenly a supermodel. Booksmart so subtly and sweetly captures the true nature of high school and especially young female friendship when both Amy and Molly jump out of changing clothes to discover that the item they’ve chosen to best reclaim their missed youth are matching blue jumpsuits. These aren’t sexy jumpsuits. They have an almost utilitarian look to them, but they capture the fact that these girls feel most themselves and at their best when they’re comfortable, ready for anything, and most of all when they look like a team. It’s that bond they share and their desire to own who they are that really is the heart of this feminist-forward high school comedy that deserves to take the crown for the genre for being at once familiar and completely new. Long live high school besties and long live a practical, utilitarian jumpsuit. –Diana Metzger
6. The Irishman: Best 2020 fashion inspiration
Forget about De Niro’s weird young face and old man body. Ignore the fact that Harvey Keitel is basically shafted, but Ray Romano gets the role of his career. Skip over Anna Paquin’s lack of lines. Stop talking about Jimmy Hoffa as if you knew who he was before you saw this movie. We’re here to talk about the most important aspect of The Irishman, and it’s not the extended screen time, or it’s haunting look at what happens if you meander through your life doing anything anyone tells you. It’s the fashion! 2020 is going to be the year of the gold pinky rings paired with warm hued tropical button ups paired with spearpoint collars. This slightly more subtle, but still wholly ridiculous version of 70s gangster fashion sucks us into a movie of men desperately pretending to know what they’re doing. Pesci’s thick framed glasses top off his calculated veneer, while Pacino and De Niro showcase their affection and regard for one another in a matching set of powder blue pajamas. These sartorial decisions make an already rich movie feel much richer, and we haven’t even gotten into the mania of the pastel frocks worn by mob wives Kathrine Narducci and Stephanie Kurtzuba. It’s an understatement to say there’s a lot going on in The Irishman. Whether you’re interested in politics, history, ensemble casts, mobs or fashion, Scorsese always gives you something to think about. -Kaylee Dugan
5. Apollo 11: THE SINGLE MOST THRILLING MOVIE OF THE YEAR
2019 is the year I officially became a US Citizen. It took 19 years of work, money, patience, sweat, tears and who knows what else to get to that goal. And 2019 is a year I saw Apollo 11, which is a perfect movie to get you completely excited about (finally) becoming an American. The Apollo missions took 11 years of work, money, patience, sweat, tears and some really old-school computers. The final product is as awe-inspiring in 2019 and it was in 1969. Made entirely out of real live found footage from the mission (feat. some very funny Buzz Aldrin behind-the-scenes self-filmed action which would not be out of place in the era of tik-tok), it is a slice-of-extraordinary life filmmaking that feels stronger and more cohesive than most carefully planned narrative movies out there. And the final result, well, if you are not crying, you’re not human. Apollo 11 is what movies should be all about: inspiration, education, empowerment, hope. Fingers crossed some of it carries over into 2020. America will need it. –Svetlana Legetic
4. Midsommar: Best Cult
You can keep your, “You didn’t get the movie!” and “That’s not what it’s really about!” emails to yourself because I don’t care. By the time you read this, I will be on a plane barrelling at 500 knots directly to the heart of Swedish cult country. I will be renting a car in Helsinki and taking a leisurely drive to Hälsingland. I will be getting high in a field with hot college students. I will be sleeping in a huge and beautiful room filled with the annoying sound of babies crying. I will be getting high again and dancing for hours until I’m crowned May queen. I will ignore the bear in the cage. I will wear a white dress and a flower crown. I’m throwing my life in the garbage and I’m joining Ari Aster’s obnoxiously lush, grief-tinged, sex-obsessed murder cult. I don’t care that the movie is a little too long or that the evil boyfriend character is a fuck boy caricature, I want to immerse myself in the eerily captivating universe Aster has created. One filled with impeccable transitions and candy coated imagery and strikingly horrific scenes that almost entirely take place in the bright sunshine. I will be held. I will be home. -Kaylee Dugan
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Best fictional filmography
The immediate joy of the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino’s comes simply from basking in his recreation of 1969 Los Angeles — the Sunset Strip marquees, suspect marauding by members of Charles Manson’s cult, the AM-radio soundtrack. But tying all those elements together is the career of one Rick Dalton, the has-been Western fixture who’s been reduced from the gunslinging hero of Bounty Law to heavy-of-the-week getting laid out younger stars. But what a run Dalton had: a brutal high-plains villain in Tanner; a flamethrower-wielding, Nazi-roasting commando in The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey; and that original run of Bounty Law. Heck, even Dalton’s later Spaghetti period, including James Bond knockoff Operation Dyn-o-Mite!, looks appealing compared to most of today’s big-budget, big-studio fare. To be sure, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood thrives in letting Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton serve as mediation on age and relevancy. But I’d settle for a Rick Dalton double feature, too. Even if it was Cliff Booth doing all the stunts. –Benjamin Freed
2. Little Women: Best argument in favor of remakes
When Greta Gerwig announced that her follow-up to Lady Bird would be yet another retelling of Little Women, it was understandable to question why we needed yet another version of Louisa May Alcott’s story. Little Women has been told in at least twenty different forms, from opera to two different anime series. While it’s easy to look at the films that come out this year and see the joyless Lion King remake and the dead-eyed tech update of Child’s Play and question why new versions need to exist of these films, Little Women proves that every story – no matter how beloved – can be improved.
Little Women, in Gerwig’s hands, is particularly about owning your own story, making Saoirse Ronan’s Jo a meta-text on Louisa May Alcott’s writing career. Gerwig does this by making Little Women feel like her own, through an ensemble that feels so perfect together that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in these parts. It’s astounding how Little Women feels of a certain time and still oddly modern through Gerwig’s script. Through some of the year’s best editing by Nick Houy, Gerwig even rearranges the event of the story for maximum impact. The way she parallels earlier parts of this story with the end of the film gives this film a whole new life.
If there’s ever a story that probably didn’t need to be told again, it would seem like Little Women. But somehow, Gerwig found a way to make the millionth adaptation of this story feel entirely new. –Ross Bonaime
1. Parasite: Best reminder we’re all in this together
The story of Parasite is the story of why the movies are still worth celebrating and defending. It is rare to see a film so universally lauded also see such success. After wining the top prize in Cannes this year, Bong Joon-ho’s sensational thriller caught the public imagination worldwide. It is rare for international films to be hits in the United States, and yet it seems like no one could stop talking about Parasite. Hell, my in-laws in the Las Vegas suburbs managed to see it, and I am just shocked the film made it all the way out there. What is amazing about this phenomenon is that the filmmaker himself is just as surprised by it. He intended the film to be a specific critique of inequality within South Korea, and yet it has resonated, surprised, and disturbed audiences all over the globe. The have-nots, in other words, have to deal with the same shit everywhere, and Parasite makes that literal in a way that anyone – ANYONE – can internalize. –Alan Zilberman