When talking about composing lists of ‘Best Movies of the Year’, including Best Movies of 2019 list, the problem has always been one: release year. Using the major awards’ timeline is nonsensical for casual viewers with limited access to festivals and other modes. Some of the award-bait movies are not usually released until the year-end; and that only means ‘delay’ for international (a.k.a. non-US) viewers. Therefore, when I compose my personal lists, I tend to compromise even when that means I have to revisit the list and (occasionally) make necessary revisions. This time, I have to do such practices again under similar circumstances (despite the major developments in the movie streaming industry to compete against conventional theaters).
The year is 2019. It’s a monumental cinematic year in this decade for many reasons. The all-time box office record has been surpassed. The decade-long cinematic universe has come to a colossal closure. The chances for streaming giants at Oscars have grown even bigger than before after constant endorsement to Hollywood’s auteurs. In 2020, the odds might even be greater for those streaming giants. But for now, please allow me to wrap the cinematic year now with sinekdoks’ Best of 2019.
P.S.: This list consists of movies with 2019 theatrical releases in Indonesia, 2019 official releases in streaming services available in Indonesia (Netflix, Prime Video, HBO GO, Iflix, Hooq, Catchplay, etc), 2019 official releases in AppleTV+, and others. That might answer why the lots like 1917, Little Women, Uncut Gems and some other titles are absent. From 190 movies I watched in 2019 (plus 5 movies from 2019 I watched in 2020), I shortlisted the entries to only the top 20. The final decision is personal and might be revisited again in the near future. Turn on the notification to get alerts when revisions are made.
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It Comes (Tetsuya Nakashima)
Junichi Okada, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki
It Comes devices a long list of plot twist mechanisms—including anagnorisis, analepsis, peripeteia, red herring, non-linear narrative, false antagonist, to name a few—simultaneously and enticingly in one grand, long-winded horror that demands full attention. Read It Comes review here.
Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)
Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp
The true events are heartbreaking and alarming; and, Haynes captures those senses perfectly, presenting us with a riveting dramatization. The docudrama focuses on opening audiences’ eyes about the crime that capitalist moguls are willing to do to get themselves richer. In delivering the message, this whistleblowing story is undeniably tough to watch. Every truth unraveled is unstomachable and every irony is unbearable. Read Dark Waters review here.
Fighting with My Family (Stephen Merchant)
Florence Pugh, Nick Frost, Lena Heady
Led by stellar casts cheering for Florence Pugh, the biopic of a recent history-making WWE diva, Paige, is uplifting from start to end. Exploiting all the genre familiarity with spectacles and delightful performances by Pugh and the supporting casts, it feels like a Money in the Bank match that went well. Read Fighting with My Family review here.
Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern
Baumbach models this dysfunctional marriage drama after his long and painful divorce process. Even the writer-director roots on-screen conflicts in irreconcilable differences, which were cited as the reason for the real-life divorce. The bias is observable; but, so are the sense of atonement and self-reflection. And that only makes the whole conflict more intriguing, especially when Driver and Johansson’s rawest emotions emanate. Read Marriage Story review here.
That’s the honorable mentions; now, here comes Sinekdoks’ top 20 movies of 2019. Starts here.
20. The Two Popes
20. The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles)
Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins
Hopkins is Ratzinger and Pryce is Bergoglio in this intimate yet casual conversation between the former and the latter popes. While personal and professional (in the scope of the Catholic church), the conversation cleverly glimpses the ethereal discourse of modern Catholicism: to stay exclusive and conservative in European churches’ way or to become more progressive and liberal as in the third-world churches’ methods. The uplifting discussion is only made relevant and enticing by the leading performances. Read The Two Popes review here.
19. Avengers: Endgame
19. Avengers: Endgame (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson
With Endgame, Marvel provides an emotionally overwhelming cinematic experience as a closure to its carefully planned universe and an 11-year journey to being celebrated for years to come. It’s a cinematic experience. It’s a new box office record holder. It’s, by any means, phenomenal and excusable. Read Avengers: Endgame review here.
18. Joker (Todd Phillips)
Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
In this new rendition of Joker, Phoenix makes an unsettling, uncomfortable inferno that does not let us look away from Arthur Fleck’s sufferings that transforms him into a face of horror. It redefines not only the character but also how comic book characters can be treated in a movie adaptation. Read Joker review here.
17. Weathering with You
17. Weathering with You (Makoto Shinkai)
Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori
Reverberating the idyllic fantasy romance of Your Name that transcends time and space, Makoto Shinkai crafts another coming-of-age romance. If Your Name serves as the spiritual answer to 5 Centimeters per Second; his new animation, Weathering with You a.k.a. Tenki no Ko is undoubtedly the spiritual answer to his rain-soaking The Garden of Words. The parallels to Shinkai’s works in this weather-bending romance are crystal clear. Read Weathering with You review here.
16. Us (Jordan Peele)
Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss
Following up on the highly inventive Get Out, the comedian-turned-director presents another high-concept horror called Us. The new horror shares similar DNA as Get Out, but it’s not a follow-up, nor an expansion; it’s more like a soul sister lurking mysteriously from the dark to take audiences by surprise with “fucked-up performance art.” Read Us review here.
15. The Farewell
15. The Farewell (Lulu Wang)
Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Zhao Shuzhen
Wang’s directorial debut is a moody yet heartfelt dramedy about embracing fate and life-and-death deals. Awkwafina moves up from some side-kick roles to become the real deal. The Farewell is completely a chef-d’œuvre. Read The Farewell review here.
14. Toy Story 4
14. Toy Story 4 (Josh Cooley)
Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts
When it comes to Toy Story, it’s always a heartfelt, heartbreaking yet heartwarming ride. And, Toy Story 4 is able to deliver all those feelings to you as you recall the good ol’ memories with Woody, Buzz, and friends. We have no idea if it will actually be the final goodbye; but for now, it’s a perfect closure for the sheriff’s tale. Read Toy Story 4 review here.
13. Ford v Ferrari
13. Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold)
Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal
Bale and Damon got into the Ford GT40, revved up the engine, and never slowed down to lead Ford v Ferrari into the podium. While the narrative drifts on a very familiar trajectory, Mangold excels on how to get it thrilling and enticing even after some heat and occasional pitstops. Read Ford v Ferrari review here.
12. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)
Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles
This is, definitely, not a story of saints nor it is a glorification of crimes; but, Hustlers takes its stance profoundly. It stands with the women as they empower each other and, as fate leads them, take advantage of the broken system while bashing off tottered patriarchy. The witty, ballsy, and gritty Hustlers profoundly sees how women take care of each other to survive, making it more than just a stripper movie. Read Hustlers review here.
11. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)
Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams
You’re forgiven when you think both Feldstein and Dever does not outshine each other. They work as a pair of enlightenment that show audiences just how real people are observed in real life. That’s how Olivia Wilde teams up with the usual sidekicks in Booksmart, an uplifting coming-of-age comedy with enough party, wit, and sincerity. Read Booksmart review here.
10. Ad Astra
10. Ad Astra (James Gray)
Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga
In Ad Astra, James Gray guides us to delve into Pitt’s most resonating performance in recent years as his character delves into a macro and micro journey at the same time. Read Ad Astra review here.
09. Midsommar (Ari Aster)
Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter
Midsommar has sealed Ari Aster’s reputation as a mindfuck storyteller. With a breathtaking blend of wits, visual sensitivity, and the penchant for a mental challenge, Aster is definitely one of the most promising horror directors at this moment. And, Midsommar has proven that the heartbroken Ari Aster is our favorite one. Read Midsommar review here.
08. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
08. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Chad Stahelski)
Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Halle Berry
For every neck-breaking, skull-crunching, blood-gushing, and jaw-dropping action spectacle, Parabellum will either present a glimpse of the myth-building if not some effective comic reliefs. By relentlessly leaping from various orgasmic, nerve-racking action set pieces to ever-expanding world-building, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a wickedly lethal chapter. Read John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum review here.
07. Uncut Gems
07. Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie, Ben Safdie)
Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Eric Bogosian
There’s this kind of electric energy in Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems that makes us anxious for the whole duration. Everybody yells instead of talking; everybody moves frenetically, violently, and urgently. The breathtaking narrative will put you at the edge of the seat more than a horror movie will do. And when the foreshadowing game pays off, you will get the chill on your neck that is hard to forget. At this point, Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner has already clawed his existence right on your mind. Read Uncut Gems review here.
06. Little Women
06. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)
Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Timothee Chalamet
Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel, Little Women, is undoubtedly a timeless story; oftentimes, it feels ahead of its time. Gerwig’s version resonates with the roles of women in the wake of woke culture, with depictions of constant battles for social justice and against gender stereotypes. We have seen this feisty spirit of Gerwig’s characters before, but now, she’s projected this feistiness to May Alcott’s characters, whom she puts in a relentless pursuit for answers to their existences within 19th-century norms and values. It ends up being as it is intended to be: intimate and modest.
05. The Irishman
05. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino
It’s never been a simple reunion. The Irishman is not merely a Scorsese’s through-and-through gangster movie either. It’s a poignant reflection to the director’s career so far and a grand coda to De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci’s long and glowing career. Read The Irishman review here.
04. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
04. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)
Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Watching Tarantino overindulging in his fascination for the zeitgeist of a Hollywood era is a real treat, especially when Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt are on board with a similar spirit. If any of the director’s films before this showing his respectful homage to the particular world cinema’s sub-genre (from the pulpy hard-boiled gangster, blaxploitation, spaghetti western, wuxia and propaganda movies) that fascinated him, his ninth film shows how the 60s Hollywood era influences his body of works. Read Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood review here.
03. 1917 (Sam Mendes)
George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman
Sam Mendes reinvents World War I movie with sophisticated technical prowess and massive scale of production in 1917. It’s a cinematic triumph presented with an illusion of seamless single take for almost two hours, which works more than pleasing the eyes. The technique undoubtedly is the only possible one to narrate Mendes’ captivating story and guide the audiences to the harrowing looks of war in real-time. Read 1917 review here.
02. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-sik, Park So-dam
Bong Joon-ho’s homecoming to Korean cinema following his respective international tenures is a brilliantly crafted cinema experience, pushing forward the director’s renowned prowess in the art of narrative and his constant social justice rage to the border. It’s an uplifting yet bitter family tragicomedy blending a twist of home invasion trope with social commentary and stark thriller. Without any doubt, this is Joon-ho’s thick blood-and-flesh creation, switching genres effortlessly to bring awareness about the cause that the director cares about. Read Parasite review here.
01. Knives Out
01. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)
Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Lakeith Stanfield
Enticing characterizations, carefully planted clues, well-staged mise en scene, and prolific exchange of dialogues blend into a highly exhilarating original whodunit we rarely saw in the recent era. Johnson’s Knives Out a well-crafted tragicomedy of errors and an exquisite exercise of wordplay all at once. It’s safe to call it an instant classic. Read Knives Out review here.
That’s a wrap. Bid the warmest farewell to 2019 and let’s welcome 2020 with better visions ahead.