Ending the decade with a bang: A ranking of the top films of 2019

By Kyler Guebert, Staff Writer

I’ve been saying this for months, but 2019 is easily the best year for film of the entire decade, perhaps even the millennium.

I’ve been able to see so many amazing films this year that making this list took months of preparation and I may have lost some sleep thinking about my rankings.

So, after careful consideration, here are my choices for the top 10 films of 2019, as well as a few honorable mentions.

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10. The Peanut Butter Falcon

After escaping his nursing home, Zak, a young man with Down syndrome journeys with a crab fisherman on the run to get to his dream wrestling school across state lines.

The film’s plot is beautiful and weaves a story that doesn’t diminish the struggles of those living with Down syndrome, but also doesn’t allow it to become the central driving force of the film.

Shia LaBeouf gives one of his best performances, and newcomer Zack Gottsagen proves to be a talent to watch. It’s smartly written, filled with humor and tension, and it’s easily the most heart-warming film of the year by far. 

9. The Two Popes

Set predominantly in 2012 after the Vatican leaks scandal, the film follows the unlikely relationship formed between Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis) and Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) as the latter prepares to step down from his papal duties.

Director Fernando Meirelles’ choice to shoot the majority of the film as if it were a documentary draws you deep into the complicated life of Bergoglio, played to hilarious and heartbreaking perfection by Jonathan Price, as he struggles to understand the plan God has laid out for him.

It’s incredibly heartwarming, surprisingly funny and expertly crafted all while shining a light on the difficulties of belief and truth in this modern era. 

8. Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach wrote and directed this film about a couple dealing with the fallout of a divorce. The film is truly an emotional roller coaster and left me screaming at my television about how I could fix their marriage.

The performances are subtle and heartbreaking, with leads Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson expected to receive Oscar nominations for their work, as is Laura Dern for her supporting role. It’s a painful yet beautiful ode to love and the people we choose to give our love to, even if it doesn’t always work out.

7. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Directed by the incredibly talented Marielle Heller, the film is like a feature-length episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, teaching lessons of love and kindness like only Fred Rogers could.

We follow a journalist, played by Matthew Rhys, who is assigned to write a piece about Rogers. The film is incredibly emotionally charged, and Tom Hanks as Rogers gives one of his best performances in years.

Heller is a master of the craft and deserves so much more attention for her work overall in creating a beautiful ode to Rogers and the messages and dedication to love and kindness he gave to the world. 

6. Jojo Rabbit

A satire set in World War 2 Germany, the film follows young Jojo, a Nazi youth who discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. The film is incredibly funny and balances the darkness of the times with the humor only writer/director Taika Waititi (who also stars as an imaginary version of Adolf Hitler) could bring.

Newcomer Roman Griffin Davis perfectly leads the all-star cast, with standouts including Thomasin McKenzie, Rebel Wilson, and Archie Yates.

Each viewing has created a greater appreciation in me for the film, creating a beautifully hilarious and powerful experience I plan on enjoying again and again.

It’s a film about humanity and love, even in times of extreme hate, and how the actions of one can have enough impact to help so many more. Waititi proves to be one of the best filmmakers working today, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what he does next. 

5. Hustlers

Adapted from a 2015 New York Magazine article written by Jessica Pressler, ‘Hustlers’ follows a group of women working at a strip club who, after the 2008 Wall Street collapse, devise plans in order to keep their lives afloat.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez both turn in amazingly demanding performances, with Lopez expected to earn her first Oscar nomination for her work. Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are scene-stealers and bring absolute hilarity to every scene they are in.

Writer/director Lorene Scafaria handles the material with grace and beauty, and editor Kayla Emter beautifully pieces the film together, even if we feel unsure of what is the truth and what is all a part of the hustle created by Scafaria.

Hearing stories of how Scafaria protected the set culture and made the other women on set feel safe and respected proves that we need more women telling female-centered stories.

4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Directed in perfect fashion by Céline Sciamma, the film follows a female artist who is hired to secretly paint a wedding portrait of the daughter of a French countess. Watching this film unfold is like watching someone paint something absolutely breathtaking.

Stroke by stroke and color by color, Sciamma has created a complex work filled with beautiful performances and cinematography from Claire Mathon that needs to be seen by anyone who appreciates filmmaking as an art form.

The film slowly adds small details throughout, creating something you do not fully understand and see for what it truly is until you step back and look at it as a completed work. It’s an absolute masterpiece, and I cannot get it out of my head in a way that only truly beautiful pieces of art can do. 

3. The Farewell

Awkwafina stars as Billi, a Chinese-American woman who learns her grandmother is dying of cancer. However, in Chinese culture, the family does not tell their elders if they are dying, so Billi must travel to say goodbye without letting it slip to her grandmother that she is sick.

It’s a heartbreaking and incredibly emotional debut from writer/director Lulu Wang, and it draws some fascinating parallels between American and Chinese culture, especially for someone who exists in the lines between both.

The entire supporting cast is stellar, especially Zhao Shuzhen, who plays Billi’s “Nai Nai”, which should hopefully earn her an Oscar nomination. It’s filled with so much raw emotion and love, with just enough humor to keep you from weeping throughout the entire runtime (which I still did).

Wang fought for her film to be made authentically to her experience and her life, and her love and dedication can be felt heavily throughout the film and makes this film a truly remarkable and emotional experience.

2. Little Women

Based on the Louisa May Alcott novel, writer/director Greta Gerwig tells the story of the March sisters in a way that has never been done before. The entire cast is dedicated to Gerwig’s vision, and help to create the beautiful bond of family that is so integral to the story.

Florence Pugh is easily the best of the bunch and absolutely deserves to win the Supporting Actress prize at the Oscars this year.  The way Gerwig is able to wave so much love and beauty into her direction and screenplay elevates the film in a way I cannot explain.

It’s rare to find something that makes you fall in love again with something you’ve spent your entire life loving, but Gerwig did that for me with Little Women. This film deserves to be in the conversation this awards season and is absolutely worth the theatre experience.

Even if you know the story, Gerwig’s love and dedication to the source material and Alcott herself permeates from the screen directly into the hearts of the audience in a way that can only be described with one word: perfect.

1. Parasite

Easily the best of the year and one of the best of all time, Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece follows an unemployed family who slowly weaves their way into the lives of an incredibly wealthy family. They soon discover, however, that there is far more at play than they initially gauged.

Every single performance in this film is flawless, especially Song Kang-ho, and the film balances multiple tones throughout in beautiful and unexpected ways. Every time you think you have the film figured out, Bong Joon-ho throws a curveball that completely uproots your understanding of what is going on.

The production design by Lee Ha-joon is breathtaking and adds to the story in immense and beautiful ways, and the cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo is truly breathtaking. It’s a universal story of class and wealth inequality that constantly had me on the edge of my seat.

I don’t want to say more to prevent anything from being spoiled, so I’ll leave you with this: If this film doesn’t sweep at the Oscars this year, specifically the Best Picture prize, then there truly is no justice in this world. 

Honorable Mentions: ‘Honey Boy,’ ‘Ad Astra,’ ‘Luce,’ ‘Booksmart,’ ‘Midsommar’

Staff Writer Kyler Guebert can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @kguebert88.

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