My Top 25 Films of 2019

The joy of being a film critic is highlighting why you loved a film so much, in the hopes that you can convince others to watch it, and give that film an audience it deserves. So, because I have to cut off my list somewhere, I have composed a top 25 films of 2019 (a list which could've kept expanding, to be honest).

Milhouse was delighted at how many films he could discover from this list.

There are some notable omissions, largely because I haven't seen films like Uncut Gems, The Last Black Man In San Francisco, and 1917 at the time of writing. So, here is my list of the top 25 films I saw from 2019.

25. Crawl

The arrival of a huge hurricane leaves a father and daughter trapped in their family home, forced to contend with rising water, and addressing their fractured relationship head-on. This makes for captivating material enough, brought alive thanks to terrific lead performances, but throw in a nasty group of alligators which are hunting them, and Alexandre Aja has made for a tense feature film. Running at a lean 87 minutes, this film grips you by the throat, and threatens not to let go.

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24. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

A ballet of breathtaking action, Chad Stahelski has delivered one of the best recent examples of what action cinema can deliver. After his previous actions see him on the run, John Wick is fighting for his life, as a $14 million bounty sends the most ruthless assassins after him. The proceedings feel like a breath of fresh air, feeling worlds apart from traditional Hollywood action cinema, and this can be seen from the weaponized use of a book. But it's also a tale about actions having consequences, and how living on is the best way to remember those who have passed on, and Keanu effectively captures those interwoven elements. Bring on Chapter 4.

23. Lords of Chaos

Told on the backdrop of Norwegian Black Metal's birth, Jonas Åkerlund tells an engrossing story about Mayhem, it's band members who want to be famous for notorious reasons, and the increasingly worrisome question about what they'll do to reach those heights. Thank goodness for the moments of light humour woven throughout, for this story becomes utterly brutal, intense, and with the help of Dan Martin's impressive practical effects, very gruesome. But it works so well because of the exceptional performances put into the characters, and Rory Culkin is the standout performer, capturing the scared kid who wants to make it big, no matter what lies he must tell.

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22. Midsommar

With his feature debut as a director, Hereditary, Ari Aster announced himself to the world as an exceptional voice in horror cinema. Just one year later, that title is solidified with his sophomore film, which sees college students travelling to a remote commune in Sweden, to study a summer festival that's held every 90 years. But at the core of it, this is about a deteriorating relationship, thinly held together by grief, and it's a compelling piece of work which is so distinctive, burrowing its way into your brain long after the engaging 144 minute runtime.

21. Doctor Sleep

Considering the tangled history with The Shining, adapting a cinematic version of the sequel seemed like an arduous task. Somehow, Mike Flanagan managed to bridge the feature film and the original novel, while adapting the 2013 sequel novel, and make it seem effortless. Decades have passed by, but Dan Torrance is haunted by his past traumas, and he must confront his past by helping Abra, a telekinetic girl that's being hunted by the True Knot, a cult who don't age by feasting upon the pain of those with such abilities. A haunting and captivating tale which flies by, being a worthy sequel to the chilling classic.

Rocketman (film).png20. Rocketman

Just like last year, Dexter Fletcher has directed, to completion, a film depicting the life of an LGBTQ musician, and their encounter with John Reid. This time, Fletcher appears to have been given free reign, and has crafted something compelling which blends the standard biopic with an all-out musical, complete with stylish fantasy sequences. Between Taron Egerton's exceptional performance, and the careful selection of where to place his tunes into the story, this is an emotionally resonant film about one man who puts on a show for all, but wants to feel love, even in a simple hug. This is the film Bohemian Rhapsody should've been.

19. Booksmart

One of 2019's most empathetic films, Olivia Wilde made an exceptional splash with her directorial debut, which is an utter gem worth discovering by all. A pair of high school friends have gotten the grades they hoped for, at the cost of partying and socialising with their peers, but are shocked to discover their classmates achieved high grades also, while balancing that which the friends sacrificed. They hope to make up for that with one last blow out before graduation, and what occurs is a memorable coming of age tale that's hilarious, while telling a story about how prejudging others prevents us from actually knowing who they are. Plus, Billie Lourd delivers one of the year's best performances, as a constant scene-stealer.

After delivering an exceptional love-letter to silent cinema with Shaun The Sheep Movie, Aardman Animations reiterate that dialogue isn't always necessary to tell a story. Through this feature fronted by Plasticine sheep, this universal tale conveys so much without any actual words being uttered, as we see Shaun trying to send an alien back to her home planet, and out of the hands of a shady organisation. This time around, the simplicity of the film is presented alongside a clear love for science-fiction, throughout a joyous and charming 87 minutes. No matter your age, prepare to laugh and smile.

Hustlers (Official Film Poster).png17. Hustlers

What if somebody took a socially relevant tale like The Wolf Of Wall Street, and told it through the energetic lens of Magic Mike? You'd get something contemporary, engrossing, and visually engrossing, as what Lorene Scafaria has done with this real life story, depicting strip-club workers struggling to make a living, turning the tables on the Wall Street clientele who flaunt their wealth in the wake of the financial crisis. None of our lead group are doing this to get rich quick, it's to support loved ones, realising dreams, or simply surviving. We believe in their characters and friendships through the smallest of moments, and we care for them just as easily. A must see, especially if you're a fan of Martin Scorsese's work.

16. Harpoon

An ocean set three-hander, this confined film will make you laugh, and as the blood flows, leave you just as easily white-knuckled. Rob Grant captures the story of three friends at each others throats, and trying to patch things up on an ocean trip. Oh, and there's a spear gun on board. There are enough moments of these friends having a good time to sell their long relationships, but they're fundamentally broken people, and as the story unfolds, it's gripping to see what may happen next.

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15. One Cut of the Dead 

Zombies are one of the most familiar subgenres in cinema, so what more can be done with them? Shinchiro Ueda found a way, proving that unlike the walking dead, original cinema is still alive. A film crew decide to make a zombie film within an abandoned plant, but when a real zombie apocalypse begins, the director is insistent to keep filming whatever happens. The first act is standard stuff told in one take lasting 37 minutes, but the joy comes in discovering the next two acts. What's left is something so multi-layered, inventive, and hilarious, resulting in a genre entry unlike anything else you'll see.

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14. Knives Out

After giving us one of the best entries into a galaxy far, far away, Rian Johnson brings his passion project to the big screen, in this Agatha Christie inspired murder mystery. As a wealthy crime novelist is found dead at his estate, Detective Benoit Blanc investigates his family. What unfolds is a tight and focused mystery, as one of the years most ingenious screenplays holds your attention as it unfolds before your very eyes. Plus, this is an utterly magnificent cast assembled, and none of them feel wasted, each getting their moment to shine, with Ana de Armas proving to be the films secret weapon.

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13. Avengers: Endgame

The culmination of a 22 film saga, the weight of sticking the landing must've been heavy for the creatives at Marvel Studios. Thankfully, they haven't stumbled at the last hurdle, and deliver possibly the most expensive season finale to date. After half of all life in the universe was wiped out, the survivors cope with the fallout, and must unite to undo the horrific actions. What we're left with is a 3 hour epic which feels ambitious, paying tribute to what came before it, satisfyingly closing out storylines, and delivering an exceptional score by Alan Silvestri. However this franchise turns out from this point on, we still have this exceptional end to the Infinity Saga.

A gloved hand holds a baby's hand, against the background of a green garden12. High Life

The first English-language film by acclaimed director Claire Denis, she shoots for the stars, and leaves viewers with an unforgettable tale set in the eternal void of space. The story focuses on Monte and his baby daughter, the last survivors of a damned mission, who must rely on each other to survive, as they hurtle towards a black hole. It also utilises flashbacks to grant some backstory to the mission, and its previous inhabitants. We bear witness to a hopeless mission, with the horrors depicted in such a captivating manner, while holding onto optimism, and the ideas of moving on from trauma, and that redemption is an achievable goal. Powered by Robert Pattinson's phenomenal portrayal, this is a hauntingly beautiful feature.

Us (2019) theatrical poster.png11. Us

Has a recent horror film made waves as powerfully as Get Out did? Jordan Peele follows up his Oscar winning directorial debut with some food for thought, wrapped within a chilling tale about the class divide, which contains the best recent use of N.W.A. A vacation to Santa Cruz sees a family besieged by intruders, who turn out to be their own horrific doppelgangers. This allows for an exceptional cast to deliver not one, but two brilliant performances each, showing off their versatility through their presence and physicality. In a just world, Lupita Nyong'o would be garnering all kinds of awards attention for her portrayals, proving masterful as the comforting mother, and her chilling double.

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10. Monos

On a remote mountaintop, a group of armed teenagers are assigned to watch over a hostage, and keep a milk cow safe. What Alejandro Landes has captured is a brutal and unforgiving picture about child soldiers, accompanied by a stunning score by Mica Levi. The powerful performances bring alive these well defined characters, with Hannah Montana's Moisés Arias being an utter revelation. But as much as these children deserve a loving family, that isn't their reality, and we never forget about the weapons they wield, and their willingness to commit atrocities. This is a heartbreaking experience which grabs your attention, twists your heart, and threatens not to let go.

9. Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach captures the breakdown of a marriage for the painful experience it is, showing the messiness of divorce, as two people are left to figure out what's next and try to move forward. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are exceptional in playing the well meaning parents, and wisely, the film refuses to take sides, approaching them as flawed beings who should learn from the past, and try to be better. Once the lawyers get hired, the best intentions turns toxic, long simmering resentments burst forth, and it turns into a dirty fight to score points for their own sides. It's a beautiful way to get your heart broken.

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8. Little Women

Due to me being unfamiliar with Louisa May Alcott's original book, or any of its prior adaptations, I can't comment on how different this film is to its predecessors. What I can say is that over 130 minutes, I was swept along by what Greta Gerwig had brought to screen, and I wanted to stay in their company for much longer. The killer combination of the brilliant performances and strong writing ensured I was invested in each of the key characters, each felt so fully formed, utterly human, and so very real. 

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7. Daniel Isn't Real

A tale about toxic masculinity, and living with a mental illness, Adam Egypt Mortimer grants those topics a cosmic edge, in this stylishly realised feature. A college student copes with a family trauma by resurrecting his childhood imaginary friend, who's returned as an adult, and must deal with what he's unleashed. Central to the proceedings are Miles Robbins, so terrific in capturing the inner turmoil of his character, and Patrick Schwarzenegger as the chilling imaginary friend. What's been wonderfully described by The Evolution of Horror as "a horror version of Drop Dead Fred", it's certainly been twisted into something horrifying, otherworldly, and unforgettable.

6. The Irishman

The perfect full stop to his time working on gangster films, Martin Scorsese has taken a feature over a decade in the making, and turned in a decades spanning epic which makes 3 and a half hours fly past. The uniting of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, has resulted in these long-celebrated actors delivering among the best portrayals in their storied careers, an impressive feat considering their past roles. Not one moment feels wasted, as the gripping story leads into a reflective and haunting end-point, where the only combatants for our lead are time and old age, and asks whether everything he did was worth it.

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5. Honeyland

What was originally conceived as an environmental documentary changed, as the directors discovered the story of Macedonian beekeeper, Hatidzhe Muratova. While also caring for her elderly mother, her days are spent caring for the bees, intent on keeping a balance between nature and man. Lamenting how her life could've turned out, the bees are the one constant in Hatidzhe's life, so when new neighbours want a part of the honey, their selfish actions have horrifying results. When we've been told how much the bees mean, these destructive acts are heartbreaking to witness in a tale that's been so empathetic throughout.

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4. Tigers Are Not Afraid

A solemn and unflinching fable which feels fresh, this blending of the fantastical with real life horrors is a triumph by Issa López. Set in a Mexican city devastated by a drug war, a young girl has been left alone after her mothers sudden vanishing. She joins with a group of orphans, and must survive on the run from a violent cartel, while armed with three wishes. At it's heart, this is a story of children trying to survive on the streets, while trying to not be the next victim to receive a bullet. An exemplary showcase for the young cast, with Juan Ramón López especially impressing as the group leader carrying a lot of hurt, while keeping his friends safe. It may only last 83 minutes, but it'll leave a mark on your emotional state.

3. Bait

Set in a Cornish fishing village, an engrossing story is told about locals who must cope with an influx of tourists, either adapting to make some money, or causing friction by acting against it all. Gentrification is this films enemy, as Mark Jenkin makes you feel the unbearable tension all throughout, ready to pop at any time over the 89 minute runtime. An absolute testament to the power of old cinema, made with care and utter love.

2. Parasite

It goes without saying that films are better experienced without being spoilt, but that's especially true of this feature. Go into this blind, for Bong Joon-Ho is ready to take you on an extraordinary journey, and reward you with one of the best recent experiences in film. A financially struggling family see themselves granted with an opportunity to turn their luck around, as each manage to position themselves into the employment of a wealthy family. A biting piece of satire that's full of humour, and bursting with heart.

The Farewell poster.jpg1. The Farewell

A story about the lies we tell to those we love, Lulu Wang has drawn a heartfelt story from an extremely personal place. Based on an actual lie, a Chinese-American woman finds out her beloved grandmother has been given a terminal diagnosis, and the family want to keep her in the dark about her own illness, to make her remaining days comfortable. To cover up their return to China, the family rapidly stage a wedding. What could've been passed off as a novelty is treated as anything but, lending the way to a heartfelt story about cultural differences, and the lengths one will take for those they love, with Awkwafina being exemplary at capturing the inner conflict of going along with such a decision. It's hilarious and emotional, but on a personal this film resonated with me in ways I couldn't have expected. Seeing Billie feeling at a distance from her cultural home, isolated in her own way while visiting the extended family she hasn't seen in a long while, I saw a bit of myself within the lead character. This is masterclass stuff for me, and my number one film of 2019.