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Ryland’s Top 50 Films of 2019

Recency bias is a real thing, but damn it feels like there were a lot of great movies this year. Still I can’t remember a year in recent memory where I had a clearer number 1. It was a bit harder task to rang 2 to 50, but I’ll let the list speak for itself.

Standard Disclaimer: I base my annual list on the films I see during the calendar year that have either world premiered at a festival or been released theatrically/digitally during the year. This is not the best films that played festivals in 2019. Nor is it the best films that came out in theaters or digitally in 2019. These are my favorite films that I saw for the first time in 2019 that either played at festivals or came out in theaters/digitally.

That means you won’t see Biggest Little Farm on this list since it was #5 on last year’s list. It also seems like there are more movies on this year’s list that are yet to be released than is typical. Great, that means you can keep an eye out.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter at @RylandAldrich.

50. Us
Get Out ranked 31st on my list two years back so you can use maths to determine that I guess I wasn’t quite as big of a fan of Jordan Peele’s follow up eerie thriller. But it was a good enough time nonetheless.

49. Atlantics
I didn’t quite flip for the Cannes-premiering Senegalese drama that has been shortlisted for “Best International” Oscar. However I do recommend giving it a watch on Netflix.

48. Greener Grass
I stand by my claim that Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe’s comedy about a strange community of stranger people is the wackiest movie I’ve ever seen in Sundance’s Midnight program. Sorry Greasy Starngler. It’s available now.

47. The Long Walk
Mattie Do’s twisting and turning Laos-set tale is a beauty of a film. No word yet on US release.

46. Sound of Metal
Riz Ahmed gives a stunning performance in this story of a punk rock drummer battling hearing loss. Seek this one out when Amazon puts it out later this year.

45. A Good Woman is Hard to Find
Abner Pastoll’s feature follow-up to Road Games is another assured thriller. The lead Sarah Bolger is excellent.

44. The Farewell
Touching, funny, poignant… What else can I say about Lulu Wang’s Sundance-premiering Chinese-American comedy. It’s great to see Awkwafina getting so much love.

43. Mike Wallace is Here
Director Avi Belkin uses fabulous nontraditional techniques to craft this bio-docu about the 60 Minutes newsman.

42. American Factory
This docu about an old plant in Ohio purchased by a Chinese company is a perfect snapshot of 21st Century industry. Plus, Barack Obama loves it.

41. Knives Out
Did you see it coming the whole time? It doesn’t matter in Rian Johnson’s whodunit because the ride is just so damned fun.

40. Port Authority
Mubi picked up the US rights to Danielle Lessovitz’s stellar Cannes-premiering trans love story set in NYC’s vogueing scene — but as of yet it doesn’t seem available on their platform. Hopefully soon.

39. Booksmart
While it can be accused of perhaps trying a bit too hard, Olivia Wilde’s feature directorial debut is indeed funny as hell and certainly worth a jolly giggle.

38. All I Can Say
Admittedly I am an enormous fan of Blind Melon, so of course I was going to nuts for this incredibly personal documentary about the band. It was created (almost?) entirely from deceased lead singer Shannon Hoon’s own videos. No US distributor yet but keep an eye out.

37. Citizen K
Alex Gibney’s latest about oligarch-turned-political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky is wild ride through post-soviet Russia and a lesson on why even billionaires have a hard time fighting Putin.

36. Synchronic
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a knack for brain-twisters. In their latest they got the chance to work with a couple A-listers in Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie and results are even stronger.

35. Dolemite Is My Name
It’s great to see Eddie murphy back and in a role he seems to have been born to play. It may be reductive to call it the black Disaster Artist, but it’s also kind of right on the money.

34. One Child Nation
Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang have crafted an informative, personal, and at times heart-wrenching documentary about China’s one child policy.

33. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
I’m all in on Joe Talbot’s tale of a couple friends dealing with gentrification. Jimmie Falls gives a career-making turn in the lead role. If you missed this one, it should be available now online.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO is a gorgeous and truly touching movie with remarkable performances across the board. It’s also goofy AF.

32. Downton Abbey
Sure it’s candy for the costume drama lovers out there but everyone needs some frivolous sweets every now and then.

31. Marriage Story
My wife’s favorite movie of the year. I enjoyed the strong performances and crisp writing most.

30. Jawline
One to seek out on Hulu, Liza Mandelup’s feature documentary debut is a deceptively layered look at YouTuber culture through both the successful and the wannabes.

29. The Lighthouse
While the striking cinematography might be a tad bit heavy handed, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s performances in Robert Eggers follow up to The Witch are two of the year’s best.

28. The Unknown Saint
I really enjoyed this biting Morrocan satire that premiered in the Critics Week section of Cannes. It doesn’t appear they’ve quite cracked the North American market yet.
Moroccan Alaa Eddine Aljem’s debut feature THE UNKNOWN SAINT is a biting satire that’s all kinds of fun throughout. Great premise and lovely cinematography. Solid Cannes hidden gem.

27. The Truth
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (Shoplifters, After Life) first movie outside of Japan is a wonderful and layered exploration of generational secrets and love. Juliette Binoche, Catherine Deneuve, and Ethan Hawke are all excellent.

26. The Irishman
I had a great time with this Scorcese swan song. Maybe not quite Top 10 great time, but a worthwhile watch nonetheless.

25. The Gasoline Thieves
Edgar Nito’s directorial debut is a spectacularly impressive and surprisingly personal story set in rural Mexico. It hits its notes just right. It should be hitting US screens this Spring.

24. Hail Satan?
One of the most subversive and most entertaining documentaries of the year is Penny Lane’s look at the secularist action group veiled as a Satanist cult.

23. Light From Light
One of the real stand outs from Sundance 2019 was this Jim Gaffigan and Marin Ireland-starring drama directed by Paul Harrill. You should be able to catch it streaming soon.
LIGHT FROM LIGHT is a touching movie both filled and made with love. Human and contemplative in the best ways.

22. The Personal History of David Copperfield
It shouldn’t be too surprising considering it is directed by Veep creator Armando Iannucci, but this take on the Dickens classic is wonderfully whimsical and fall down funny. Dev Patel kills it in the titular role. Searchlight has it slated for May.

21. Pain and Glory
I was completely won over by the latest from Pedro Almodovar, and not just because of the incredible lead role by Antonio Banderas. Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, and Nora Navas have excellent supporting roles (not to mention Penelope Cruz).

20. Monos
I was told that Columbia’s entry for the Best Int’l Oscar really needed to be seen on the big screen and I’m glad I made the effort. It’s extremely impressive and also one of the loudest movies I can remember seeing recently. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t a big hit with Academy voters. But Neon still plans to bring it out in theaters and it’s well worth the trip to the cinema.

19. Waves
Krisha director Trey Edward Shults’s third feature is another nontraditional cinematic marvel set inside a family affected by teenage violence.
Trey Edward Shults’s third feature WAVES is an emotional powerhouse! Quite different from his first two but it has an incredible timeliness that feels so of the moment and fits perfectly into A24’s slate. Every single performance is a knockout.

18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
If you were thinking that you had no interest in seeing a Mr. Rogers biopic, I highly recommend you reconsider. It’s deeply affecting without being manipulative in the slightest.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD was not at all what I expected. A portrait painted from a distance with just the right touch of magical realism that evokes so much more emotion than any standard close-up could. Masterful work by Marielle Heller

17. Joker
Perhaps this movie has been more impacted by backlash than any other this year (well, except Cats), I truly enjoyed this villainous take and there is no denying Joaquin Phoenix’s performance.

16. Jojo Rabbit
Jojo! Perhaps my sky high expectations kept Taika’s rollicking Nazi romp from cracking my Top 10, but I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and will surely revisit it in years to come.

15. Luce
Taking the crown as top Sundance movie on my list, Julius Onah’s story of high schooler struck by startling allegations is an excellent feat of filmmaking with a star-making lead turn by Kelvin Harrison Jr. (also the star of my #19 Waves).
LUCE is a gripping drama that explores very interesting subject matter. Incredibly satisfying story, top notch performances, and extremely mature directing from Julius Onah. Can’t miss Sundance title for sure.

14. The Two Popes
With a particular nod to incredible production design, Fernando Meirelles’s imagining of the relationship between Popes Benedict and Francis is a joy to watch.

13. 1917
Making a late charge for the Best Picture Oscar, Sam Mendes has crafted (with Roger Deakins, for sure) a remarkable cinematic experience in this “single shot” style Great War epic.

12. Uncut Gems
Pulse pounding is an overused term in cinematic criticism but it very much applies to what the Safdie Brothers do. Add in one of Adam Sandler’s best ever performances and you have a real opal.
The Safdie Bros.’ latest UNCUT GEMS is intense and insane in all the right ways. Not quite the relentless pace of Good Times but a similar frenetic energy. Adam Sandler slays.

11. Just Mercy
I might have been a bit overly bullish on the awards potential on Destin Cretton’s criminal justice drama. That notwithstanding, this is a brilliantly crafted move and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Watch out! The best picture race just got a crazy strong contender in JUST MERCY. Both Micheal B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx should be frontrunners. Damn Destin Cretton, that’s some phenomenal filmmaking.

10. The Great Hack
It was a bumper year for documentaries and one getting a fair amount of deserved praise is Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim’s exposé on the Cambridge Analytical scandal. Check it out on Netflix now.

9. Midsommar
I wasn’t a huge fan of Hereditary (let’s discuss over a few beers), but Ari Aster knocked it out of the park with this considerably more mature and still eerie-as-hell thriller. The big difference, scares are earned. Oh and Florence Pugh is a star (see #8).

8. Little Women
Greta Gerwig took on the challenge of telling a story that most everyone has seen done multiple times and bringing a new, strong voice. The cast is stellar (Florence Pugh +1) but more than anything it’s just an extremely fun and incredibly well made movie.

7. Diego Maradona
No big surprise after Senna and Amy (both previous Top 10ers), but Asif Kapadia’s take on the eponymous soccer star is a masterpiece.
DIEGO MARADONA is exactly the masterpiece I have spent the last few years hoping for. So informative and so emotional. SENNA, AMY, and now this complete an incredible hat trick for Asif Kapadia.

6. The Climb
A big cheer for Mikey Covino’s feature directorial debut starring him and best pal Kyle Marvin. This movie is one of the rare films to achieve the film festival version of the EGOT, the CaTTS (that’s Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Sundance). Sony Classics took it on a brief Spirits qualifying run but will bring it to theaters properly soon. Don’t miss it.
THE CLIMB is a fantastic exploration of the heartache of true friendship. With his captivating filmmaking style and hilariously biting dialog, Michael Covino is about to burst into the hearts of both American and international indie film fans.

5. 17 Blocks
Taking the top docu spot on this year’s list, Davy Rothbart’s incredibly emotional film was over two decades in the making and the wait was worth it. MTV has picked it up for US distro and will hopefully get it in front of the right people for the 2020 awards race.
Davy Rothbart’s incredible documentary 17 BLOCKS is a 20-year journey of loss, love, struggle, and redemption. Brilliantly edited and beautifully conceived, this is quite frankly one of the year’s best documentaries.

4. Les Misérables
Far from the top movie at Cannes, but the best movie I saw at Cannes, Ladj Ly’s Parisian slum crime epic is a fists flying knockout. Don’t let thoughts of the musical enter your head. This is something very different and fantastic ride.

3. Bombshell
Jay Roach has quietly become the go-to director (along with Adam McKay) for political dramas and this Fox News scorcher is his best yet, thanks in a large part to the remarkable makeup work and acting roles across the board.

2. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Is anyone making cinema with the kind of focus on FUN that Tarantino does? Scene after scene it’s just a joy to watch. The fact he still gets the resources to do it his way and that he is rewarded at the box office is very encouraging in this era of cinema.

1. Parasite
Hands up! Who saw this one coming? Bong Joon-ho has impressed with each and every film he has put his stamp on, but his latest is truly his greatest and well deserving of the praise. It just gets better with every viewing as the layers are peeled back. If there is any better actor out there than Song Kang-ho, I haven’t seen him. And with flawless production design and music, I can confidently say that the best movie of the year.

Alright, lemme hear it!

Posted by enderzero at 1:29pm on Jan. 10, 2020