Staff writer Jimmy Geurts picks his favorite movies of the year
Closing out the decade, 2019 proved another great year for film — enough that I struggled to narrow this list down to just 10 movies. From epics by veteran filmmakers, to best-yet works by promising new directors, there were plenty great additions to the pantheon of the 2010s.
Here are my 10 favorite films of the year. Some of these movies are still in theaters, while much of the rest are now available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming services.
10. ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’
For all the special effects-laden blockbusters to hit theaters, perhaps the most visually stunning moment of the year came during Bi Gan’s arthouse noir. About halfway into the film, it switches to a nearly hour-long single shot dream sequence that’s also set in 3D, a staggering achievement that I was fortunate to witness during its Sarasota Film Festival screening.
9. ‘Little Women’
Writer-director Greta Gerwig follows her deservedly acclaimed “Lady Bird” with another coming-of-age tale, in this latest cinematic version of Louisa May Alcott’s novel following four sisters in Civil War-era Massachusetts. Gerwig brings a unique take to the material, darting back and forth in time to often poignant effect in conveying life’s passage, while remaining an eminently satisfying and excellently cast adaptation of the story.
8. ‘Ad Astra’
Of all the Hollywood space epics of the past decade, James Gray’s “Ad Astra” is perhaps my favorite, portraying both a universe full of vast details (Lunar pirates! Space baboons!) and the intimate connection between a father and son (Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones) contending with depression. It helps that it’s easily one of the most gorgeous-looking and sounding films of the year, thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and Max Richter’s score.
7. ‘Marriage Story’
After detailing the effects of divorce in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale,” writer-director Noah Baumbach revisits the subject following his own divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s volcanic fight has already become a meme and been critiqued out-of-context on Twitter, yet the overall film’s scope is larger and richer, ranging from screwball farce (a debate on how to serve divorce papers, a mishap with a knife) to its ultimate bittersweet poignancy.
German director Christian Petzold follows his great “Phoenix” with another World War II film of sorts, an adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel about a man seeking refuge from the Nazis in Marseille. Yet Petzold sets the film in a nebulous blend of the past and present, where officers in modern riot gear and vans might suddenly appear, taking the idea of history repeating itself and making it disarmingly literal.
5. ‘The Souvenir’
Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama set in ’80s London captures in unflinching detail a young woman (Honor Swinton Byrne) whose relationship with an addict (Tom Burke) devolves while her future as an aspiring filmmaker grows brighter. Hogg plans to release “The Souvenir: Part II” later this year; after this astonishing work, it’s easily one of my most anticipated films of 2020.
4. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
As Quentin Tarantino supposedly nears his retirement from filmmaking, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” serves as an encapsulation of his career thus far. There’s the sprawling Los Angeles of his first three films, the violent act of revisionist history of “Inglourious Basterds” and of course, the margins of Hollywood that Tarantino’s idolized throughout, captured here in more loving detail and with a deeper wistfulness than ever before.
Bong Joon Ho’s tragicomic thriller about two families from opposing classes was a breakout hit, earning the highest per-screen box office average of any foreign-language film in history and turning into a serious Oscars contender, including for the top prize. If its runaway success was something of a surprise, it’s certainly a deserved one for the great Korean director, who turns in one of his most expertly calibrated creations yet.
2. “Uncut Gems”
Filmmaker brothers Josh and Benny Safdie (“Good Time,” “Heaven Knows What”) make their biggest and best movie to date, following yet another protagonist in unending pursuit: a New York jeweler and compulsive gambler played by Adam Sandler. It’s one of his best-ever performances, but the real revelation is newcomer Julia Fox as his lover, ultimately representing the beating heart beneath the film’s jittery rhythms.
1. ‘The Irishman’
Martin Scorsese’s decades-spanning epic covering the mob, the labor movement and politics employs an unprecedented amount of de-aging visual effects to transform its main cast (Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and a coaxed-out-of-retirement Joe Pesci.) Yet the real marvel of “The Irishman” is how this three-and-a-half-hour elegy about the soul-eroding effects of violence and blindly obeying authority is also the year’s most engrossing and endlessly re-watchable film, with Scorsese aided immensely as always by longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
Honorable mentions: “Apollo 11,” “Atlantics,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Dark Waters,” “Diamantino,” “Dolemite is My Name,” “The Farewell,” “First Love,” “For Sama,” “Homecoming,” “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum,” “Knives Out,” “The Lighthouse,” “Pain and Glory,” “Peterloo”
Regrettably missed: “1917,” “Clemency,” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”