Pop Culture

Everybody Relax: We've Got The Best Movies Of 2019 Right Here

You bet your ass I'm serious.
You bet your ass I'm serious. Paramount Pictures
2019 is almost at an end, meaning we've all had another year to ponder our own insignificance and the utter meaningless of existence.

But hopefully you got to watch some movies!

Cinematically, this year saw comic climaxes (Avengers: Endgame, Dark Phoenix) and nightmarish "live action" remakes of beloved animated properties (The Lion King, Dumbo). It gave us the return of Quentin Tarantino, John Wick, and Godzilla ... and Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu. It was also a year in which streaming services vaulted into the fore, with movies like The Irishman, The Report, Uncut Gems, and Marriage Story bypassing wide theatrical release.

As in previous years, I'm going to drop a top 10 list on you (in alphabetical order, and with excerpts from my reviews, where applicable). You might disagree with some — or all — of my choices, which is fine. It's still a free country.

For now.

Apollo 11

One can certainly make a case that the billions spent to send humanity to the moon might have been better used on domestic priorities, or that the endeavor served as a useful (if expensive) diversion from the government's less savory escapades. However, it's undeniable that the triumph of the first moon landing was one of the last times it felt like we were united by something other than tragedy, and Apollo 11 captures that zeitgeist in stunning fashion.


The movie proceeds to spin us off to deal with their different stories, always returning to the dance floor, and every time we do it's like descending another level into hell as Noé and longtime cinematographer Benoît Debie's camerawork and color palette become progressively more nightmarish. By the time we finally reach the apocalyptic ending, it's so difficult to absorb what's going on it's almost a mercy.


But say what you will about Aja, he knows his aquatic horror. Combining the claustophobia of a subterranean crawl space with the threat of drowning is harrowing enough. Throw a couple (at first) pissed off dinosaurs (or, as Dave refers to them, "pea-brained lizard shits") into the mix and you've got some spicy survival horror gumbo.

For Sama

"In Aleppo, there is no time to grieve."

Waad Al-Khateab's family has more pressing concerns than whether or not Avengers: Endgame is "cinema." Like not being blown to shreds by Assad's bombs. As devastating and infuriating a film you're likely to see this year, and one that's vital for you to watch.

Knives Out

Writer/director Rian Johnson's last movie was something called The Last Jedi, a trifle of a film which made little impact at the box office and generated no online reaction whatsoever. It therefore makes sense that he'd want to try his hand at something more character-driven, and he's assembled quite the murderer's row for this purpose (pun intended).

The Nightingale

Kent consummately shows us how Clare's thirst for retribution, while echoing Hawkins' behavior, can't possibly compete with the institutional cruelty that backs him. Indeed, the young lieutenant's biggest sin in the eyes of his superiors is his inability to keep his transgressions private. Clare and Billy's victories, cathartic as they occasionally are, can't overcome the disheartening reality that none of it ultimately matters. 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

It's QT's least confrontational movie since ... possibly ever. In fact, most of the controversy the movie is generating involves the ending, and while that won't be spoiled here (and how have you managed to avoid spoilers this long?), it makes sense given the context of everything leading up to it. Tarantino clearly believes the murders on Cielo Drive were culturally and politically transformative (and he's not alone). Unsurprisingly, he has something to say about it.


Class struggle is also at the forefront of Parasite, though it's based in an all-too authentic present day. It's a movie that lays stark the divide between the wealthy and pretty much everybody else. Where every time we're lulled into thinking the relationship between the haves (the Parks) and have-nots (the Kims) is anything more than that of employer and employed, Bong douses us with harsh reality. 

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

I'm just glad we live at a time when Sterling K. Brown can play Sia in a Terrence Malick-inspired Oedipal takedown of baseball's steroid era.

Fine, this doesn't qualify as a "movie," but I liked this better than either The Irishman or Marriage Story.

Uncut Gems

Here's a thought experiment: consider the arc of Adam Sandler's career absent the early successes of movies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Would struggling early on have forced him into seeking out more challenging opportunities? Would an inability to produce forgettably lucrative crap like Grown Ups and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry mean his performances in Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems would be the norm instead of outliers?

It's a question that doubtless keeps him tossing and turning on his Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money every night.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar