Marvel movies—and the discourse around them—have a way of sucking up all the oxygen in a room (some superpower). But when you get past those radioactive takes, what you’ll see of 2019 is a year in cinema (yes, actual cinema) that was altogether high-flying. Whether it was the memeified horror of Us, the seductive star power of Hustlers, or the exuberant mystery of Knives Out, there were a lot of big, fun, bonafide movie-going events . And that’s to say nothing of all the movies that were breathtakingly intimate (The Farewell, Marriage Story), relentlessly incisive (Parasite, Dark Waters), and sublimely weird (High Life, Midsommar). The best movies of 2019 were a fitting way to round out a precarious decade—for film and the world alike. These movies exhaled some of the strange brew of surreality, horror, and perpetual tension. But they also, occasionally, were a necessary inhaler: a true reprieve from all the toxic air.
Here are some things The Irishman is. It’s Martin Scorsese’s apology for decades of ultra-brutal, machismo-drunk movies. It’s a coda to all of those films, a melancholy, meandering capper to a half-century of American violence that is, in parts, even more brutal than his earlier work. It’s a breathtaking showcase for the return of Joe Pesci, inverting (burying?) the FUNNY HOW? shtick that made him a legend in the first place. It’s a disquieting vehicle for CGI de-aging technology, which can make Robert De Niro look like an allegedly 35-year-old mob hitman named Frank Sheeran, but cannot make him walk like one. It’s home to one of the funniest scenes of Al Pacino’s career. It’s a movie about how, after Kennedy got shot, men started wearing shorts, unions exploded, and everything went to hell. It’s a Netflix production, which I feel weird about. It is also, finally, a film of indisputably perfect length. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. —Sam Schube, senior editor
The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine at his most... well... harmonious. The Beach Bum’s tone feels incongruous with the real world of 2019, but a little escapism never hurt anyone. Korine and Matthew McConaughey take what should be a frivolous side character in his other movies and puts Moon Dog (yes, real name) center stage. Beset with tragedy, poverty, and addiction, Moon Dog always has an answer, or at least some kind of stoner koan to keep him going. “I’m quite certain the universe is conspiring to give me a good time,” he says near the film’s end, having lost just about everything.—Tom Philip, GQ contributor
Though Bombshell hasn’t hit theaters yet, I can without question say Charlize Theron’s uncanny valley performance as divisive former Fox News personality Megyn Kelly will be talked about and dissected long into the new year. Though the rest of Bombshell doesn’t entirely hold up to the power its lead wields every time she hits the screen, there’s a lot else to love about the movie, from Alanna Ubach’s perfectly unhinged Jeanine Pirro (give me this spinoff) to a warm, wonderfully cast Mark Duplass (having the fall of his life) as Kelly’s husband. This is prime “the pieces are better than the whole.” But damn are the pieces great.—Brennan Carley, associate editor
The only movie I saw in theaters more than once this year other than Hustlers (three times and counting, baby), Booksmart is everything you’d ever want out of a mid-budget studio comedy. It’s comfortable and lived-in, its world fully thought out and rendered by director Olivia Wilde. Plus, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are the most inspired on screen pairing in years; I could watch a thousand sequels to this and never get bored. I pray Hollywood takes Booksmart’s success as a sign that investing in movies like it is a genuinely worthy venture.—B.C.
In a landscape dominated by shared cinematic universes, Crawl’s simplicity was as refreshing as a dip in a Florida crawlspace that’s rapidly flooding with alligator-infested water. Alexandre Aja, director of Piranha 3D, swapped comically violent killer fish for only slightly less comical killer gators and had them hunt down a father-daughter duo played by Barry Pepper and Skins star Kaya Scodelario. The elevator pitch for Crawl—“trapped in a flooding house with alligators”—is perfect in its efficiency, and Crawl uses that intentionally limited, claustrophobic premise to come through with well-executed gator-sized action. Our moviegoing reptile brains crave dumb thrills, and Crawl delivers.—James Grebey, GQ contributor
Activism isn’t the job of movies. Nor is it what Todd Haynes was aiming for in adapting the true story of a corporate lawyer’s 16-year battle against DuPont. But it’s a testament to Haynes’s empathy and facility as a filmmaker that Dark Waters is one of the most cutting films about the environmental costs of corporate greed that I can recall. It both effortlessly educates (the curriculum includes science, history, and math, all bleak) and also viscerally shows the interpersonal cost of fighting a broken system. Haynes doesn’t grasp at a happy ending; instead, he inspires you to fight for a happy next act.—Max Cea, GQ contributor
When I spoke with The Farewell director Lulu Wang earlier this year, I asked her how she was able to make such a confident film about a Chinese family's emotional trauma without feeling the need to explain subtle cultural differences to an American audience. Part of the challenge, she said, was learning to trust her own creative impulses when her peers might argue otherwise. For example, one note that she received was that the mom—played by Diana Lin—came across as "too mean." (Which I didn't see, either.) "I think that if you're raised in a different way, you might see that as being mean because somebody speaks in a very honest, clear way," Wang told me. "To me, even the arguing isn't being mean. It's just them working their thing out." This, I think, is part of what makes The Farewell such a special film: In a strange, roundabout way, the more specific and honest a work of art is with itself, the wider it resonates. That smaller aperture brings clarity.—Chris Gayomali, site editor
I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t the six people who saw this movie hate it? Well, yes, but I liked it, so deal with it. The Goldfinch has become infamous as one of the most catastrophic attempts at Oscar bait in recent memory, but it’s a shame that this ambitious adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been remembered more for its failures than its successes. Sure, it’s a mess, but Roger Deakins’s cinematography is mesmerizing; it mirrors the color palette of the eponymous painting stolen by a young boy to telegraph the lingering remnants of trauma. Give it a shot and don’t let that Rotten Tomatoes score scare you away.—Iana Murray, GQ contributor
Give Elisabeth Moss the Oscar for Best Actress already. Her high voltage turn as the aging rock star Becky Something is as good as it gets. Terrifyingly unhinged, totally off the wall, with an arc that bends towards quiet remorse. With its fever dream intensity, I’m still not sure I enjoyed Alex Ross Perry’s latest. But it definitely shreds.—M.C.
Has there ever been a movie quite like Honey Boy? One where a former child actor bares all and tries to reckon with how they went from goofy kid to a publicly perceived utter trainwreck? Some critics have interpreted Honey Boy as Shia LaBeouf making an excuse for his misdeeds. To me, it’s more an exercise in self-therapy—one that hopefully helps LaBeouf progress, but regardless is a powerful peek behind the child actor curtain.—M.C.
Jennifer Lopez sitting on a rooftop in a fur coat in the middle of winter as she smokes a cigarette is, full stop, the most iconic movie scene of the year. And the rest of Hustlers—a deeply fun, hugely confident piece of filmmaking—follows similar suit. With an all-star cast (special nod to the excellent Cardi B, chomping up every second of scant screen time), the best soundtrack of the year, and a breakneck pace that never lets up, Lorene Scafaria’s runaway success story is exactly the escapist fantasy we needed this year.—B.C.
I love Clue. I’ve always loved Clue and I always will love Clue. Part of me always wanted an extended Clue-niverse just so I could spend more time with the movie’s gleefully unwell cast of characters. But that would’ve, of course, been a bad idea with diminishing returns—so I’ll take all the Clue-inspired grandchildren Hollywood wants to give me, including Knives Out, an excellent Rian Johnson playground for Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and a wildly good group of actors to inhabit. More whodunits! More Jamie Lee Curtis! These are my demands.—B.C.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is full of pitch-perfect images that deliver crystal clear messages. We know, for instance, that San Francisco’s natural resources have become poisoned, because we see three-eyed fish leap out from the city’s bay. It would not be hard for a movie about gentrification, and the many ways that our economic system has failed Black people, to lose sight of itself and become a tired exercise in virtue signaling. But that is not this movie. Jimmie Fails (played experly by the real-life Fails) spends the movie fixated on a home he remembers living in as a child, and through him, the film’s images gain much-needed substance and context.—Daniel Varghese, commerce writer
Greta Gerwig’s copy of Louisa May Alcott’s novel is probably weathered from years of reading and re-reading, with pages dog-eared and enough notes scribbled in the margins to write a book of her own. Following up Lady Bird with yet another cinematic adaptation of Little Women seems like an illogical choice, but this version stands apart from its predecessors. Gerwig reworks the ending to give the timeless story a modern edge. Saoirse Ronan, as the fiercely independent Jo, can pull off performances as layered and dynamic as this in her sleep by now. But it’s Florence Pugh who steals the film, as she turns the most despised March sister into the most sympathetic.—I.M.
It might not be the movie I’d want to be stranded on a remote island with. But me thinks no movie tickled me fancy quite like this one (please forgive me for my Piratese). It would be hard for any actor to match the deranged commitment of The Lighthouse’s two leading men, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Always remember: It’s bad luck to kill a sea bird!—M.C.
Nobody is better at capturing the interpersonal angst of the creative class than Noah Baumbach, and Marriage Story is the filmmaker at his best. Nicole (Scarlett Johannsen) and Charlie (an oft-yelling Adam Driver) go head-to-head as a divorcing couple whose initially amicable separation unspools into an ugly custody battle for their son. The film is buoyed by a crackle of dark humor but sneaks in its fair share of wrenching gut punches. Special mention goes to Laura Dern and Ray Liotta who, as the couple’s aggro divorce lawyers, are absolutely sublime.—Gabriella Paiella, culture writer
Not only my movie of 2019, but easily one of the best of the decade. Parasite is Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece, and it may not be his last (or even first). It’s a desperate, angry rallying cry against class structure. It’s an Upstairs Downstairs warped sitcom. It’s a horror movie. Somehow Joon-ho’s most audacious and grounded work in a long time, Parasite defies easy description. Considering just how fun it is to watch the whole thing unfold for yourself, that’s not a bad thing at all.—T.P.
Pain & Glory
“Pedro Almodóvar” and “subdued” are two words that rarely appear in the same sentence, but if 2016’s toned-down Julieta proved that the director is still capable of working his magic without all the flash, then Pain & Glory showed us just how far he can take it. A semi-autobiographical tale about an aging director depressed by the prospect of not making movies again, he confronts the relationships of his past. Sometimes this happens in flashbacks, sometimes in exquisitely affecting and radically honest real time. Starring longtime muse Antonio Banderas in the lead role, Pain & Glory is a worthy culmination of four decades of Almodóvar’s work—not that we want it to end here.—G.P.
Have you ever hoovered a rail of cocaine and then gone skydiving? Or swallowed a hornets’ nest before walking a tightrope over a ravine? Have you ever been KIDNAPPED by a STROBE LIGHT?? Me neither, but I have watched Uncut Gems, the new Safdie brother opus starring Adam Sandler as the diamond-district barnacle Howard Ratner, which I imagine produces roughly the same amount of pick-at-your-skin anxiety. The movie follows Ratner as he assembles a house of cards that threatens to teeter over and take him with it at any second. The Safdies re-contextualize Sandler’s man-child style within a movie that somehow massages The Weeknd, suburban dilemmas like pool resurfacing, and the 2012 Eastern Conference finals starring a super-powered Kevin Garnett into a very tight two-and-a-half hours. It’s no coincidence that a film that should come with the same health warning that precedes a rollercoaster—check with your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for Uncut Gems—is also the funnest movie of the year.—Cam Wolf, style writer
A perfect capstone to the 2010s: bright, loud, fast, stylistically dazzling, and a forceful attempt at reckoning with a tragedy that can’t be undone. Trey Edward Shults, more simply, knocked the wind out of me.—M.C.
Originally Appeared on GQ