2019 is about coming to an end that also marked the final year of this decade. Following the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2019, here is my list of Top 10 Best Movies of 2019 that I have seen over the last 12 months.
10. The Lighthouse
Robert Eggers’ much-anticipated follow-up to 2016’s The Witch sees the acclaimed writer and director paired Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, who play two lighthouse keepers stationed on a remote island and gradually find themselves losing their sanity. Shot in moody black-and-white cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, Eggers made the right choice framing his movie in a boxy aspect ratio to give The Lighthouse an appropriately claustrophobic feel. Both Dafoe and Pattinson display great performances, with the former’s grizzled turn as Thomas Wake stands out the most. Eggers, in the meantime, has again proved why he is one of the most promising horror filmmakers of today’s generation. He has a keen eye for deliberately-paced, dread-inducing horror that doesn’t rely on jump scares to make a point while his storyline and its chamber-piece setting evoke the tone and feel of The Shining.
While I personally found Todd Phillips’ homage to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983) wasn’t as deeply resonant as I initially hoped for, it’s hard to deny that the director has a great eye for details. This is particularly evident when comes to the movie’s overall visual palette that evokes the gritty 1970s character-driven psychodrama. But of course, this edgy comic-book movie wouldn’t have worked if not for Joaquin Phoenix’s committed performance as the titular madman. The kind of award-worthy role that it would be a crime if the Oscars fail to recognise him with an acting nomination. (Read my full review here)
8. Avengers: Endgame
In this day and age of modern era where attention spans no longer what they used to be, releasing a 3-hour superhero movie that deals with more dramatic heft than an action-packed approach sounds like a disaster-in-the-making. But not for Avengers: Endgame, where the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe) are bold enough to take considerable risk of emphasising a sombre drama that explores the likes of grief and loss. And it works well enough, thanks to an overall heartfelt screenplay and the emotional arcs that they successfully build upon most of the recurring characters’ respective journeys of both past and present. Then, there’s the epic payoff of an all-out battle finale while Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans deliver among the best performances of their lifetimes as Iron Man and Captain America. (Read my full review here).
Ari Aster’s epic follow-up to 2018’s Hereditary sees the writer-director goes full-on Wicker Man vibe in Midsommar, which follows a group of friends (among them are Florence Pugh’s Dani and Jack Reynor’s Christian) travelling to Sweden’s remote hometown’s titular festival. Well, what happens next is clearly something you have to see it for yourself. Clocking at over two hours long (147 minutes, to be exact), Aster moves with a deliberate pace but his direction is absorbing enough to keep me hooked throughout the movie. His decision to shoot most of his movie in broad daylight is a stark reminder that darkness isn’t the only logical option to define the visual aesthetics of a horror film. As a result, it allows him to capture the vivid contrast between its idyllic beauty of the festival and the shockingly graphic imagery all the more unsettling and visually captivating at the same time. More than just a mere folk horror film, Aster also brilliantly incorporates his own subversive allegory on how he views the consequence of a toxic relationship between Florence Pugh’s Dani and her insensitive boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor).
6. Ford v Ferrari
It may have been an old-school biographical drama but James Mangold sure knows how to make the best out of it. In Ford v Ferrari, Mangold’s engaging direction elevates the story’s otherwise familiar underdog story of a Ford team attempting to overcome the undisputed race-car champion of Ferrari. The movie also benefits from strong character-driven moments, particularly Matt Damon’s Carroll Shelby and Christian Bale’s Ken Miles and genuinely thrilling racing sequences. (Read my full review here)
5. The Farewell
Not in a million years that I would expect Awkwafina can actually pull off a role beyond her usual comedy repertoire. And that is playing a subdued and sympathetic performance as Billi, a young Chinese-American writer who finds out her grandmother (Zhao Shuzen’s Nai Nai) has terminal cancer. Except for the twist is, Nai Nai herself is not aware of her own condition other than her family who decided to keep a secret and only choose to tell her in the given time. It was an ingenious premise that you might find it disheartening but believe it or not, such a situation happens to be a common custom in China. Which gives writer-director Lulu Wang an upper hand to tell the story (it was actually based on her own life experiences) from a fresh perspective in the otherwise conventional movie that deals with a terminal illness. Both Awkwafina and Shuzen share terrific lived-in chemistry while Wang’s overall script and direction deftly explored both of her main theme, cross-cultural subject and the importance of family bonding — all in a funny and poignant way.
Bong Joon-Ho’s historic Palme d’Or winner sees the acclaimed writer and director offers the familiar theme of class divides between the rich and the poor a fresh angle, which you might not see them coming. That said, the movie is filled with unpredictable plot twists while Bong’s magnetic visual flair is on full display here. His genre-defying approach is seamlessly integrated throughout its 131-minute running time and he certainly brings the best out in all of his cast, notably Song Kang-Ho’s father role of Kim Ki-Taek as well as his teenage son and daughter played by Choo Woo-Sik’s Ki-Woo and Park So-Dam’s Ki-Jung. (Read my full review here)
Most of us have been there at some point in our lives. It goes something like this: You work harder than anyone else regardless of school or workplace. But at the end of the day, you find yourself been missing out a lot because you are not living your life to the fullest. That’s the premise behind Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart, a coming-of-age teen comedy featuring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s breakthrough performances as the two titular best friends. The story — credited to Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman — is both whip-smart, funny and genuinely heartfelt. Not to mention it boasts an excellent soundtrack, namely Lizzo’s “Boys”, Leikeli47’s “Attitude” and Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” that complements well with the varied moods of the movie. Then, there’s Olivia Wilde. The same actress that most of us would remember her playing the role of Quorra in Tron: Legacy (2010). Believe it or not, this is actually her feature-length directorial debut and she has proved herself to be worthy of a seasoned filmmaker.
2. The Irishman
Neither Goodfellas nor Casino redux, Martin Scorsese ditches his usual vibrant filmmaking style in favour of a more melancholy approach in The Irishman. While the 209-minute running time can be a test of patience, kudos go to Thelma Schoonmaker’s brilliant editing for putting every scene together without resorting The Irishman into a heavy-handed manner. It also helps that Scorsese assembled among the best cast of 2019, with a trio of excellent late-career performances all around from Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. The movie’s much-talked-about extensive de-ageing effects may have been a mixed bag (e.g. De Niro’s glassy eyes) but Scorsese’s overall meditative direction is one for the ages. (Read my full review here)
Jay Roach’s re-telling of the 2016 Fox News scandal involving the high-profile sexual harassment case against the disgraced network CEO Roger Ailes couldn’t be more timely enough, particularly given its hot-button issue and the #MeToo movement. And he does it remarkably well with the help of Charles Randolph’s lively, yet witty screenplay. Bombshell also gets an excellent boost from a stellar cast, with Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie all deliver award-worthy performances. And of course, John Lithgow’s perfectly despicable turn as Roger Ailes. (Read my full review here)