(Updated: July 13, 2020) From Marvel’s top-grossing Avengers: Endgame and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, the first non-English film to win Best Picture Oscar, to Scorsese‘s Irishman and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019 was an eventful year at the films. Here’s our list of the 34 best movies of the year (in no particular order):
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Bong Joon-ho’s social satire tells a timeless tale about the rich and the poor. But the brilliance lies in the layers of fascinating details that offers a unique viewing experience. The narrative is centered on two nuclear families in Seoul, one poor and one rich. The poor Kim family cons their way to work for the wealthy Park family. The horrors of economic disparity wreak havoc on both the families. Parasite largely unfolds in grey zones without assigning blame to a particular class. It shows how antipathy is rooted in both sides and the villain here is the stratified system.
Watch Parasite on Amazon Prime
2. Ash is Purest White
Director: Zhangke Jia
This isn’t a gangster movie per se. It’s a sort of pulp gangster romance directed by noted Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke. Starring Zhao Tao, the story focuses on a woman separated from her love, and the journey which takes her back to him, spanning two and a half decades in a rapidly-changing Chinese landscape. The movie is divided into three sections, and Zhao Tao’s performance takes the cake in this gangster epic.
3. High Life
Director: Claire Denis
French director Claire Denis is known for pushing the envelope with challenging, unique stories. Her latest flick, which sees Robert Pattinson play a convict sent into space as part of an inhumane experiment, is Claire Denis at her finest. With Pattinson giving a terrific performance, the compelling storyline, combined with Denis’ unique direction, this film will challenge your IQ and EQ, in a bleak but beautiful movie.
Director: Jordan Peele
A few years ago, everyone knew Jordan Peele as one half of the comedy sketch of Key and Peele. In 2019, we know him as Jordan Peele, Oscar-winning director for the critically acclaimed movie, Get Out. With his second movie Us, Peele tells his naysayers that he is much more than just a comedian. Only he could make a zombie-slasher film with political and social undertones. Now, while it wasn’t the glorious debut that was Get Out, one can’t help but applaud Peele for his attempt to convey messages of race, class and privilege in such audacious, weird fashion. With Lupita Nyong’o giving a spectacular performance, Peele’s visual style combined with his compelling script is enough to keep you reeled in for the duration of the film.
Director: Christian Petzold
The year is 1940. German expatriate Georg (Franz Rogowski) attempts to flee Paris for Marseille before the arrival of fascists. He assumes the identity of a famous writer whom only Georg knows committed suicide — and then falls madly for the writer’s befuddled wife (Paula Beer). In an emotionally rich film which tackles issues of social and national importance, director Christian Petzold envisions a time which can simultaneously be compared to the present day, taking inspiration from classics like Casablanca. Transit was selected to compete for the Golden Bear in the main competition section at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival.
6. Fighting With My Family
Director: Stephen Merchant
Who’d have thought that a movie produced by WWE Studios would actually be good? Fighting With My Family, the biopic of real-life WWE wrestler Paige, is an inspiring story of a young girl from Norwich, England, who goes through emotional and physical torture to achieve her dreams. Florence Pugh, who plays Paige, brings out the best parts of the real-life figure, tender and ferocious at the same time. This unlikely combination of director Stephen Merchant, WWE Studios and executive producer The Rock, becomes a heart-warming, funny and inspiring story set in the world of sports entertainment.
7. The Souvenir
Director: Joanna Hogg
Set in the backdrop of 1980s Britain, the film focuses on the toxic, uneasy relationship between a young film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) and a heroin addict (Tom Burke). It is essentially a clash of ideals and outlooks. She wants to make movies and has a curiosity and a sense of optimism in the world around her. He, however, with his pessimistic and cynical nature, can’t help but put himself on a path that would eventually destroy him. What follows is a heart-breaking narrative that would resonate primarily with older audiences, people who have been through most stages of life and have experienced all there is to, as opposed to younger, 20-something audiences. With director Joanna Hogg’s astute attention to detail, each scene of the film is portrayed with the utmost precision.
8. John Wick: Parabellum
Director: Chad Stahelski
The John Wick franchise belongs to the action genre. And John Wick: Parabellum brings it in spades. Under former stuntman Chad Stahelski’s expert direction, the action sequences become more beautiful and more creative than the previous movies. From samurai dogs to horseback chases, this movie pulls out all the stops and more, and turns the franchise into Keanu Reeves’ most successful and critically acclaimed yet. It has, undoubtedly, become one of the greatest action franchises of Hollywood, standing toe-to-toe with James Bond, Die Hard, Terminator and the like.
9. High Flying Bird
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh is back with this sports drama that’s sort of mix between Jerry Maguire‘s behind-the-scenes look at a player-manager relationship as well as the technical aspects we’ve come to see from Moneyball. For sports fans, this will be an interesting look at the life of an NBA star, as well as the life of a sports agent. With a documentary sort of vibe to it, Steven Soderbergh gives us a basketball movie without all the locker-room huddles and last-second shots. This is a basketball story without the highlight reel. Also, the whole movie was shot on an iPhone. A master at work.
10. Birds of Passage
Director: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Set in an indigenous Wayuu community in the early days of the Colombian drug trade, Birds of Passage focuses on the side of the drug trade which is oft overlooked. The girlfriend, the wife, the significant other. These characters are never given prime importance in a film, they are just there to act as a supporting character to the drug lords and kingpins. Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s crime epic, which is split into five chapters (or cantos) tells the story of Zaida (Natalia Reyes) and her family’s rise and fall whilst getting swept up in the marijuana trade of the 1960s and 1970s in Columbia. Its sprawling tale, complete with gun battles and bracing double-crosses will get audiences immersed in the world of Birds of Passage.
11. Amazing Grace
Director: Sydney Pollack
The late-great Aretha Franklin had a special gift. Her voice was so sweet, yet so powerful. It could evoke the most powerful of emotions from the listener. Amazing Grace recorded over two nights in 1972 at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, would go on to become the best-selling gospel album in history. Footage of this concert was considered ‘lost’, the only copy being filmmaker Sydney Pollack’s footage of the concert. The film he planned to make was never completed. That is until music producer Alan Elliott managed to finish it, roughly nine years ago. But it was blocked from release by Franklin herself. Sadly, The Queen of Soul is no longer with us, but Amazing Grace is a testament to her abilities.
What makes this movie even more special is the command she has over the audience, whether it’s in the church or in the theatre. She truly had a special, special gift.
12. Alita: Battle Angel
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Alita: Battle Angel is a well-written, directed and executed live-action movie inspired by an anime of the same name. And it’s really good! Believe me when I say that there are not a lot of those out there. This is one of those movies that often go under the radar. But the entire cast and crew have created something magical. And it is quite extraordinary that they have been able to make any sense in the short runtime of the movie for the source material consists of thousands upon thousands of illustrated pages. They had to show an origin, design a good villain, introduce you to the sprawling world and interesting characters, all in the span of a couple of hours. And what they delivered may not be perfect but it was quite satisfactory.
This movie deserves to be on the list because of the powerful performances and the great visuals which portray a clear love of the creators towards the project.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Sir Elton John is one of the most respectable musicians who is still hailed a genius in the world of music. In order to experience his life and musical excellence to the fullest, director Dexter Fletcher has created something magical. Taron Egerton has delivered, perhaps, what we could call his best performance ever. The first time I watched it, I was left teary-eyed. It’s one of those films where words fail me. Rocketman is a spectacle not to be missed.
14. The Two Popes
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Fernando Meirelles’ nuanced drama offers deliberately fictionalized series of imagined conversations between Pope Benedict and his successor Cardinal Bergoglio. While Bergoglio represents the new age of liberalization, Pope Benedict stands for the church’s conservatism. They converse for hours and days, and finally start to see the common ground between them. The narrative is unhurried yet surprisingly hilarious for a movie that features two supposedly serious, religious men. Furthermore, the film is strengthened by the two terrific central performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce.
15. Knives Out
Director: Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson’s star-studded Hollywood flick delivers a delectable murder mystery. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s locked room whodunits, the film revolves around the dysfunctional family of a multimillionaire. The family’s octogenarian patriarch and popular novelist, Harlan Thrombey is discovered in his bedroom with his throat cut. Though initially ruled as a suicide, a gentleman private detective (Daniel Craig) unearths layers of falsehoods and deceptions. Moreover, everyone in Thrombey’sclan seems to have ample motive to murder him. Replete with well-staged plot twists, the narrative also makes a smart commentary on class divisions.
16. Jojo Rabbit
Director: Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi, the New Zealand filmmaker of quirky indie comedies, takes up a risky concept here: a Hitler comedy. Charlie Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, and Mel Brooks have previously made winsome satires on Hitler and Nazi Germany. Still, it’s a very challenging kind of comedy to realize. Jojo Rabbit revolves around 10-year-old German boy who wants to be part of Hitler Youth. He worships the Fuhrer, who appears as the boy’s imaginary pal (played by Waititi himself). The rest of the narrative is about the boy wising up after witnessing the horrors of war and anti-semitism. Waititi zeroes-in on a theme that’s very relevant for our times – dangers of fanatical hatred.
17. Avengers: Endgame
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Avengers: Endgame provided closure to Marvel fans after the unforeseen chaos that was Infinity War. The film is three hours of pure fan service. A mix of nostalgia, shock, euphoria and finally an ending which couldn’t be bettered if anyone else tried. It wasn’t the macho-heroism or the superhuman abilities that defined these heroes. It’s what they were willing to give up for the greater good that mattered. That’s what 10 years of world building by Marvel told us time and time again. The conclusion is probably the most perfect part of the film. This is the end of an era. But it is also the beginning of a bright new future with endless possibilities. It was a privilege to watch the evolution of this universe, and the world cannot wait to see what Marvel has planned next.
18. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, a once famous TV star who is now struggling with the reality of a declining career in the face of an evolving industry. Not wanting to star in Italian films as a last resort, he spends most of his time with his friend and stuntman (Pitt) looking for work and secretly hoping he could be friends with his new neighbor, director Polanski and his wife to help his career. Set in the 1960’s Tarantino makes several references to real life figures and events at the time while taking artistic liberties with history. Watch out for the now (in)famous Bruce Lee depiction.
Director: Todd Phillips
A film so far removed from the usual cliches associated with comic book characters, Joker makes no attempt to stay within past references or craft a villain for the wider box office. Joaquin Phoenix molds the Joker into his own, and does a spectacular job that Heath would have been proud of. The film raises questions about mental health and our attitudes to those suffering from it without pretending to provide answers. Raw and gritty, not for the faint of heart.
Watch Joker on Amazon
20. Ford vs Ferrari
Director: James Mangold
Carrol Shelby (Damon) and Ken Miles (Bale) undertake the arduous task of building a new racing car for Ford that can beat Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans in France. Based on a true story, the film is a gripping tale of the real names behind the project and their internal as well as external struggles. James Mangold’s direction and a great lead pair in Bale and Damon are appealing enough even if you don’t care about cars or racing.
Director: Ari Aster
A group of young American students visit a rather remote festival in Sweden that turns out to be a gathering for a pagan cult and their rituals. The film follows the group’s discovery and subsequent attempt to flee while witnessing murderous rituals and under the influence of drugs. Rather unsettling but deeply captivating, director Aster takes this genre and makes it his own. It is clear that visual stimulation (and shock) is a large part of how Aster conveys his story. For a genre that is usually depicted with gore and senseless killing, Midsommar does a good job of spinning its own tale while appealing to the resident crowd.
Watch Midsommar on Amazon
22. The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers’ spellbindingly atmospheric feature might come under the horror genre. But it doesn’t follow any of the stylistic and narrative conventions of the horror flick. Set in an unnamed rocky island in the 1890s, enveloped by layers of mist, revolves around two lighthouse keepers. One is the old and grumpy Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), and other is a greenhorn named Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). The monotonous life in the cursed, isolated rock takes a toll on both. Ephraim’s contempt for the surly Thomas pushes him beyond the threshold of his sanity. Despite the thin plot, the film must be watched for the unsettling atmosphere of dread.
Watch The Lighthouse on Amazon
23. Marriage Story
Director: Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach’s mature drama is an earnest look at the tough, transition phase after initiating the divorce. Impeccably performed by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story opens with the end of a marriage relationship. The couple Nicole and Charlie after their decision to separate, decide not to get lawyers. But their good intentions are thwarted when custody battle of their young son rises. Although Marriage Story deals with divorce, it isn’t a joyless or hopeless film. It takes a very honest look at married relationships, dismissing all the usual movie clichés.
24. The Irishman
Director: Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated Netflix original gangster epic thankfully lived up to its hype. This sweeping tale of infamous criminal figures hits on themes not usually encountered in gangster genre. Scorsese and Zaillian’scontemplative tone showcases the inviolable connection between crime and politics. They also subtly explore the burden of taking a darker path in life. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci’s fantastic performances definitely make this an unforgettable work in Scorsese’s oeuvre.
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Kantemir Balagov’s poignant story set in the post-WWII Leningrad received Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival. Inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s book, the narrative revolves around Iya and Masha, two friends who struggle to rebuild their lives after war. Larisa Sheptiko’s 1966 movie Waves dealt with trauma of war from a woman’s perspective. Otherwise such characters and stories are rarely addressed in Russian World War II cinema. Moreover, similar to the works of Andrey Zvyagintsev, the scenic and restrained camerawork is the key attraction of this feature.
26. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director: Celine Sciamma
A young female painter is commissioned by a lady to sketch her daughter’s portrait for a suitor in Milan. Set in the 18th century, the film follows the romantic relationship between the reluctant bride and her painter. With an all woman cast, director Celine Sciamma handles a nuanced enigmatic drama with her signature minimalism, and won the best screenplay at the Cannes. If you liked girlhood by the same director, you’ll love this one.
27. The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang
Upon learning that their grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and has only weeks to live, a family gathers together on the pretext of a marriage without telling her the real reason. Spanning both their American and Chinese lives, the film takes us back to China exhibiting the dynamics of a Chinese family’s culture and relationships. Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for her role and along with the film, has garnered critical acclaim. Special mention for the grandmother in the film.
28. Pain and Glory
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz star in this film about a director’s life in his declining years. It explores the defining milestones in his life from his schooling and relationships to his discovery of cinema. The Spanish entry for the best feature film at the Academy awards, Banderas also won the best actor at Cannes. At 70, some say this is Pedro Almodovar’s best film, a hard call to make no doubt considering his significant achievements in cinema.
29. Sorry We Missed You
Director: Ken Loach
A touching story about a family and their struggle with financial drain, Sorry We Missed You is a hard reflection of the gig economy on it’s contractors. Director Ken Loach keeps even the color grading to a minimal in an effort to convey the harsh realities this film delves into. In one scene, Ricky is trying to make an unsuccessful delivery when we learn that he doesn’t get paid until the package assigned to him is delivered. Critics have likened this film to Loach’s 2016 Cannes Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake.
30. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Director: Joe Talbot
Another wonderful film that espouses real life events in today’s society, The Last Black Man in San Francisco centers around the gentrification in the Bay Area, and its effect on long time residents there. Director Talbot grew up in the area and takes real-life inspiration from a childhood friend. The film has already won Best Director at the Sundance film festival and holds a rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
Is it a bloody political fable? Or an old style Western mixed with Tarantinoesque gore? Or a difficult-to-slot artistic revolt against current Brazilian leadership? Or is it all of the above? Whatever it may be, it’s a mind-blowing, top-class example of cult-making filmmaking. A village in the Brazilian outback is in the middle of a violent takeover. The plot against it is diabolical and executed by mercenaries who kill because it thrills. Its identity is disappearing. The residents have no choice but to fight back, bullet by bullet. Brazilian great Sonia Braga plays an unforgettable role. The acclaimed Brazilian drama won the Jury Prize at Cannes 2019.
32. Queen And Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas
The one that wasn’t nominated for the Oscars but is richly deserving. A story of racial prejudice and trigger-happy policing in today’s America and how a black couple’s first Tinder date goes horribly wrong, making them a runaway couple. On the road, they experience unexpected support and love blossoms. It’s a heartbreakingly tender story in the backdrop of racial profiling. Taut and well made. Jodie Turner-Smith delivers a powerful performance.
Watch Queen And Slim on Amazon
33. Little Women
Director: Greta Gerwig
Delightful and endearing, this creative adaptation by Greta Gerwig of Louisa May Alcott’s novel is a treat to watch. Saoirse Ronan delivers a remarkable performance (25-year-old and she has already bagged four Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe for Lady Bird, three Globe nominations and five BAFTA nominations, wow!) and the film leaves you in good humour. Definitely a better film in the season of Oscars.
Director: Kasi Lemmons
A brilliant true story about the slave stealer and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, who freed many slaves before the American Civil War. Cynthia Erivo deserves an Oscar for a masterly performance that’s controlled and uplifting. Wonder if she will get it because to the Oscars’ jury, generally the people of colour are invisible!
Imagine this outstanding film isn’t even nominated for Best Picture category in this year’s Oscars. Shameful and totally unacceptable.
By Arun Kumar, Aditya Sarma, Deepjyoti Roy, Sanjay Trehan