Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Rosalie's Favorite Movies of 2019

by Rosalie Lewis
Time for a little math (only a little, I promise): At this point, I have watched 75 movies released in 2019. And out of those, fully 35 of those movies are on my “favorites of the year” list. Don’t worry, I won’t torture you with 25 honorable mentions (though it is tempting). But I do want to acknowledge that a lot of truly wonderful stuff barely missed my top 10—stuff I am positive I’ll return to and perhaps love even more as the years go on.

OK, this is starting to feel like when I was a kid and I’d kiss all my stuffed animals good night before picking up my two favorites and tucking them into bed with me. “You’re all special and loved, I swear,” I would say, trying to allay my guilt over inanimate objects potentially feeling somehow left out. But you get the idea—we got a lot of great movies this year and I can’t mention them all right now. Just trust me on this.

10. Uncut Gems
When I watched Josh and Benny Safdie’s 2017 movie Good Time, I realized by the end that my muscles were sore from clenching them through the entire film. That’s the kind of suspense these guys create. With Uncut Gems, I laughed a lot more but also felt that encroaching sense of dread and chaos that seem on the verge of engulfing charismatic jeweler Howard (Adam Sandler) at any moment. This feeling owes as much to sound mixer extraordinaire Skip Lievsay (who also created the Roma sound mix) as to Sandler’s unstoppable performance.

Howard should by rights be a guy the audience wants to punch in the face, but somehow Sandler and the script make him a guy we end up rooting for—even as he makes one bad decision after another, getting in his own way at every turn. If just one thing turned out right for him, it might fix all the other things—but he does not seem the best judge of what risks are worth the possible payoff.

I have to call out Lakeith Stanfield and Julia Fox, who play Howard’s business partner and girlfriend, respectively. A performance as big as Sandler’s (from a celebrity of his stature) might threaten to dwarf anyone who shared a scene, but these two never hesitate. They more than hold their own and I’d be willing to watch a spin off movie about each of their characters. It’s refreshing when supporting characters have that kind of substance.

9. Us
I get a rush and some spine tingles just thinking about the first trailer I saw for Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out. The red jumpsuits. The ominous remix of “I Got 5 On It.” The doppelgangers. The man dripping blood on the beach. The funhouse that does not seem fun AT ALL.

I ended up watching this twice in the theater, and both times I fell for it completely. Lupita Nyong’o blew my mind with her dual performance. The creeping sense of one too many coincidences before the tethered family shows up at the house got to me both times, even knowing what was coming. The 80s pop culture references cleverly spliced into the flashbacks hinted at social commentary that eventually became less opaque.

My favorite scene of the year in any movie is the dance/fight scene—incredible choreography and music, not to mention the editing. And all to illustrate in such a poignant way that the comforts we enjoy often have a hidden cost; that we ought to examine the ways in which we benefit from systems that hold other people down. I still find myself wrestling with this movie and this topic as we start a new year.

8. Always Be My Maybe
I love a good romantic comedy, and this one made me laugh and smile and cry and seek out boyfriend snuggles more than any other movie of 2019. I think this is my favorite rom com since The Big Sick, which I adore. Ali Wong as Sasha and Russell Park as Marcus find just the right balance of sweet, silly, and relatable as a couple of childhood friends who grew apart and have unresolved feelings for each other. I like that the movie didn’t make the woman give up her career aspirations to pursue love; and it didn’t position the man as some handsome prince. They’re just two people who have their own hang ups but they also care deeply about family and heritage, and they’re nervous putting their feelings for each other out there because that might mean confronting parts of themselves they’re not so comfortable addressing.

In addition to the central couple, James Saito (who played The Shredder in the 1990 TMNT movie) absolutely shines as Marcus’s easy going dad who has a major thing for Diana Ross. Plus, of course, Keanu Reeves has an unforgettable cameo as “himself,” and I have not laughed at anything more this year.

7. Atlantics
I wrote about this one in a recent column, but much like the town of Dakar where the story takes place, I find myself haunted by the film and its characters. Economic inequality cropped up as a theme in a number of my favorite 2019 films, and this one addressed it by having literal specters appear to seek justice from an otherworldly realm. Claire Mathon’s gorgeous cinematography captured moments that felt out of time, and writer/director Mati Diop conveyed a sense of yearning and melancholy rarely found outside an Elliott Smith album. Just thinking about it makes me sigh (in a good way).

6. Midsommar
I didn’t watch Hereditary (I have a phobia of decapitation, alright?!), but this movie almost convinced me I should because Ari Aster is clearly a goddamn genius. The sumptuous production design, the symmetrical overhead shots that might even make Wes Anderson shit his pants, the fully realized world of this Swedish mountain cult, the willingness to go ALLLLLL THE WAY THERE and keep going past that.

Let’s talk about Florence Pugh for a second, who had a hell of a 2019. Her character in this should give a pep talk to Scarlett Johannsen’s character in Marriage Story, because damn. Also, having just seen Little Women, I find it hilarious that she plays two different characters with pyro moments. I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers but if you’ve seen both, you should catch my meaning. I hated her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) from the first five seconds he was on screen, and that hatred intensified as the film went on.

I’m glad I can’t relate to this specific movie scenario, but I’d bet money that most people have been in at least one relationship where one person is clearly more invested than the other, and the less invested person keeps making their partner second guess and give them the benefit of the doubt instead of just walking away. It’s a horrible emotional purgatory to be in, and this movie takes that feeling to its metaphorical end in a brilliant way. I applauded at the final scene.

5. Honey Boy
If I think too hard about certain scenes in this movie, I’m gonna start sobbing. The way Alma Har’el filmed this feels so intimate—like we’re really in the crappy motel room with pre-teen Otis (Noah Jupe) and his volatile addict father James (Shia LaBeouf), witnessing their arguments and breathing in the smoke from their cigarettes and cowering in the corner to avoid a physical altercation.

This thinly veiled autobiographical tale evolved out of a therapy exercise the real Shia LaBeouf did in rehab, and it feels both revelatory and cathartic. I can’t imagine the empathy and courage it takes to inhabit the headspace of a father that behaved this way, but LaBeouf takes it on and it’s a triumph. Jupe delivers one of the best child performances I’ve seen in years, and made me want to just give the kid a big hug at times.

I gotta show love to cinematographer Natasha Braier (whose previous credits include the visually stunning Neon Demon), because she found ways to shoot and light this movie even as the blocking was being improvised moment to moment. It can’t be easy to move back and forth between the sunny Southern California outdoors and the claustrophobic griminess of a cheap motel room, and still make it all feel cohesive and emotionally resonant, but she does it.

4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Somehow, I suspect this will wind up on a few other F This Movie! best of lists. I’m going to go with the reasonable assumption you’ve seen it if you’re reading this, which means you don’t need me to explain too much about the plot or performances.

What did I love about this movie? Everything involving Brad Pitt and his dog. The scene with Leo and the little girl. Sharon Tate at the movies. Every song that played on the radio in Brad Pitt’s car. The flame thrower. Spahn Ranch. Leo rehearsing lines in the pool. And most of all, the underlying message that movies can provide an alternate ending, a second chance, an immortality that real life simply cannot. And isn’t that why we love them? Because they help us imagine a different, better world.

3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
As much as I L-O-V-E LOVE Greta Gerwig’s Little Women adaptation (it’s my number 11 of the year), this is my favorite period piece directed by and starring women of 2019. Celine Sciamma’s earlier films recently showed up on the Criterion Channel, and it’s safe to say she’s becoming one of my favorite contemporary directors.

Since this has not yet opened wide (at least in the Chicago area), I will keep plot details brief to avoid spoiling the experience. Set in 1700s France, we meet Marianne (Noemie Merlant) who gets hired to paint a portrait of Heloise (Adele Haenel). The catch is that Heloise refuses to sit for a portrait, and Marianne must pose as simply a walking companion, sketching furiously in secret based on her brief interactions with Heloise. Something much deeper forms between the two women, and soon you’re watching the most elegant and heart-rending romance this side of a Bronte novel. SWOON.

2. Knives Out
Sure is nice to see Rian Johnson get a win after all the shenanigans he’s put up with since the release of The Last Jedi (which, not to start a war, is my favorite Star Wars movie). I’ve enjoyed his work going back to Brick and Looper, and this movie is now officially my favorite of his. It’s yet another 2019 movie that tackles income disparity and social inequality, but it never ever feels preachy. It just feels clever and fun and precise, the way all the best Ernst Lubitsch comedies do. He manages to make a labyrinthine plot feel light and lived in, with characters that have just enough shading to avoid being caricatures even in such a large ensemble cast.

Let’s talk about the setting: That HOUSE. I want someone to buy that house and preserve it in this form and charge admission so I can just go there and walk around and explore all the rooms in their fascinating, fastidious detail. I also want to read all those mystery novels—or at least see future movies/TV shows based upon them, also written and directed by Rian Johnson and also starring Daniel Craig.

And of COURSE, the cast. Ana de Armas, upstaging everyone just by not being an asshole. Chris Evans, upstaging everyone by being the biggest asshole (and having the best sweater). Christopher Plummer, delighting in the selfish machinations of his dumb family. And the aforementioned Craig, whose post-Bond career promises to be filled with comedic turns and unexpected accents. I could go on and on, but I probably should stop.

1. Parasite
This has been my number one ever since I saw it in early November. Bong Joon-Ho tells a story that’s relentlessly watchable, filled with moral ambiguity and unexpected turns and comic outbursts and at least one jump scare and a bit of the old (ultra) violence. When you get to the end, you can almost imagine a Rashomon-like retelling from the perspective of each major character, and each of those versions would probably be equally fascinating and totally contradictory depending on their point of view. Just when you think you know who the movie wants you to root for, a reveal happens and you’re thrown back into cognitive dissonance about who the real heroes and villains are, or if everyone involved has moments of both. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of films tackled stories of wealth and poverty this year; none did it better than Parasite. I can’t wait to watch this every day for a month when it comes out on streaming/Blu-ray.


I truly loved Little Women, Luce, Ford v. Ferrari, The Farewell, Satanic Panic, Marriage Story, Homecoming: A Film By Beyonce, The Irishman, Blinded by the Light, and Knives and Skin.


I’m still playing catch up on the year, so my watchlist includes The Lighthouse, Harriet, Richard Jewell, Queen & Slim, Alita: Battle Angel, Frozen 2, Luz, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Dark Waters, In Fabric, Waves, and any number of documentaries.


  1. Great list and write-up! "Phobia of decapitation" made me laugh. Also, you name dropping Shredder is what I needed to watch Always Be My Maybe.

    1. Glad you enjoyed! :) I hope you love ABMM as much as I did. It's an utter delight!

  2. Always Be My Maybe, i love the movie (also my favorite romcom of the year), but nobody is talking about the songs, which is a shame because they are awesome

  3. You're right, the songs are amazing! I hope this soundtrack gets one of those special limited edition colored vinyl treatments. I would totally buy it.

  4. I really need to get the Criterion channel. Nice list! You've convinced me that I really need to re-watch US; it didn't stick with me in the way it did for a lot of other people.

    1. You DO need Criterion Channel! It's a treasure and I watch so much on it. The nice thing is that it's not exclusively movies that are available from Criterion on physical releases--they also license things from Kino and other sources for a few months at a time.

  5. Great list! I still need to watch Atlantics and Always Be My Maybe.

  6. Lovely list, Rosie. And yes, you should torture us (or just me) by putting your total 75-movie list online to see where the rest of the films you watched rank. It's hard to kill your babies to make a Top 10, but a Top 75 ranked from best to worst? Believe me, I know. :-P