As 2019 draws to a close, PEOPLE’s critic Tom Gliatto reveals his picks for the 10 best movies of the year. Read on for the full list, a mix of horror, comedy, Oscar favorites and one beloved animated film.
1. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
Writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s best movie since the two Kill Bills (2003-04), Hollywood is a work so confounding of expectations it feels like cinematic magic — and what more could you want of a movie?
Ostensibly the ambling misadventures of a declining action star and his stuntman gofer (Leonard DiCaprio and Brad Pitt), Hollywood slouches toward the awful night of Aug. 9, 1969, when followers of Charles Manson murdered actress Sharon Tate in her home on Cielo Drive. For half a century, this notorious crime has been regarded as a grim cultural watershed, one of those tipping points at which American innocence — not to mention California dreamin’ — began a prolonged, agonized slide into the Pacific. For 2 hours 40 minutes we brace ourselves for the bloody climax. And yet Hollywood turns out to be nostalgic, funny and touching — and the doomed Tate, played by Margot Robbie, is never jolted awake from what appears to be a state of sun-kissed, poster-girl bliss. If she’d lived long enough, perhaps she, not Farrah Fawcett, would have appeared on every wall in the 1970s.
2. Little Women
Director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel is gently radiant with an underlying thoughtfulness — a sensitivity to how decisions shape a woman’s fate — closer to the moral gravity of Jane Austen. Women also has the year’s richest ensemble, including Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep.
Featuring a mighty performance by Lupita Nyong’o, Jordan Peele’s Get Out follow-up is an unsettling fable about identity in America. No one is who he or she seems to be, you included.
4. Ford v Ferrari
Christian Bale and Matt Damon team up for this fast-and-furious 1960s bromance about the creators of an American race car destined for France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. One could say it’s a gas.
5. Knives Out
Daniel Craig stars in a whodunnit that pays homage to Agatha Christie — until director Rian Johnson decides to throw out all her old rules. The knives stay, though. Eccentric and entertaining.
Renée Zellwegger gives the comeback performance of the year as Judy Garland, a troubled Hollywood icon struggling for one last comeback of her own.
Director Sam Mendes’s World War I epic about kid soldiers is a stunt — filmed to look like one long shot — but it’s also a hair-raising adventure. Think Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, only in a trench.
8. Toy Story 4
More than 20 years after the original Toy Story changed the face of movie animation (and family entertainment), Woody finally grows up — at least, as much as a pull-string cowboy can.
9. The Irishman
From Goodfellas to Oldfellas to Deadfellas: In director Martin Scorsese’s somber, three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece, hit man Robert De Niro looks back on a wasted life wasting mobsters.
This surprise Korean hit about a family of grifters is a gripping, ingeniously constructed thriller that ultimately asks: Who are society’s true parasites — the affluent or the underclass?