Peter’s Picture Perfect Top Ten Movies of 2019

I’m calling it. 2019 was the best end of the decade year since 1999. If I had the time, I could have easily made a list of 25 or maybe even 50 films. The MCU came to a conclusion (for now) with the fantastic crowd pleaser and box office record-breaker Avengers: Endgame. Studio pics and one particular foreign flick had economic inequality on the brain with Ready or Not, Knives Out, and Oscar hopeful Parasite. We also saw the best teen film in nearly two decades (Ghost World was the last one). This was also another great year for women standing up for themselves, whether on the stage in Her Smell, on a different kind of stage in Hustlers, or on the streets of New York in Brittany Runs a Marathon. In the end, I try to have lists of ten that exemplify a range of what I love about movies. 2019 did not disappoint.

I was this close to adding a certain creature feature in the top ten, but better minds prevailed, I suppose. Still, there was no shortage of fun genre offerings like Escape Room and Happy Death Day 2U, to name just a few. I laughed a lot, seeing Blackish‘s Marsai Martin deliver big laughs in LittleJohn Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum even let the dogs out. Darnit, maybe I should reconsider the monster flick for this list!

Now, without further ado, my films of 2019!

10.  Hustlers

Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) dove into one of my favorite crime sub-genres: the master and the apprentice. Pole dancers (Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhardt) taking all of the Benjamins and control of their lives over countless male ids, aka Wall Street jerks, was one the best experiences at the multiplex in 2019. Yeah, it’s wrong to steal blah blah blah, but there’s no denying Romona’s (Jennifer Lopez) seductive coolness. Most master/apprentice flicks are same-sex pairings (the exception that comes to mind is Heathers). Romona, like Patrick Swayze’s Bodhi in Point Break or Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson in The Color of Money, is the kind of person you want to impress. She always seems like the smartest person in the room. Hustlers even surpasses those previous films as Scafaria makes a bold choice, resisting the urge to portray Romona as an outright villain. Sure, she’ll need to go down, as Johnny Utah would say, but as Bodhi would add, it might sting a bit. Make it rain while you can Romona.


9. Climax

I am a fan of all kinds of dance movies, yet it’s rare to come across one that’s dark (figuratively and literally) and just plain bonkers. Dancing in movies is typically joyous (all hail the Step Up series), or they are disturbingly psychological like Black Swan or the recent remake of Suspiria. In the later films, the struggle to be free costs in every move. The pain is visceral. Gasper Noe’s bizarre, tense nightmare of movement in which a troupe of dancers accidentally trip on acid has all the weight of a horror film, but the dancing is exhilarating, even as the characters descend further into hell. Set in the 90s, Climax’s fever dream begins where it ends: with a solo dancer bloodied and adrift in a wintery, snow-bound landscape. We see this from high above, an angle that will be employed a lot as well as long takes highlighting the precision and skill of the dancers, including the versatile Sophia Boutella (The Mummy). Before the crew loses themselves to the worst trip ever, there is an incredible five-minute single take where everything is a glorious, pulsating house party. They are a collective living being with the camera weaving in and out as the company puts on a show. And what a show it was.


8. Dolemite Is My Name 

In the spirit of one of my favorite “movies about movies,” Ed Wood, the same writing duo, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, found a soulmate in the story of Rudy Ray Moore. Living in LA, I’m surrounded by many who see every film, read every screenplay, and become amateur experts in the craft of filmmaking (Not really the art but that’s a subject for another post). Eddie Murphy’s inspired performance as Moore and his alter ego Dolemite is the opposite of such folly. Like early punk bands that didn’t know how to read music, Moore and Wood were folks who loved entertainment but didn’t necessarily know how to make “good” films. Yet, unlike The Disaster Artist, a movie that can’t help but keep making fun of Tommy Wiseau, director Craig Brewster (Hustle & Flow) loves these characters. A passion for something rarely equals the skills, yet that’s what makes these kinds of films so darn charming. Murphy keeps his oversized star power wattage and melds it with the vulnerability of a man who never got his big break. Any chance we can get a spin-off with Wesley Snipes returning as the cocky, brash D’Uerville Martin?


7. Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s directorial follow-up to the terrific Lady Bird is another revelation. A gorgeously crafted costume drama with great turns by a cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet. The ups and downs of the March sisters have been portrayed in over a dozen films and television series, yet Gerwigs infuses her version (she also adapted the book) with a strong sense of gender identity. In the end, we’re not on the edge of our seats wondering if Jo will settle down with a husband but rather should she and more importantly, what impact will those actions have on the generation that follows her, as in audiences who watch the film in this new decade.


6.  Midsommar

In the dead of night, worrisome Dani (Florence Pugh)’s finds out her sister performed a mass suicide taking their mom and dad with her. That’s the film’s opening. Things only get worse. Cults have been an obsession of mine since Brit Marling convinced me she was from the future in 2011’s Sound of My Voice, years before her Netflix series The OA. Ari Aster’s follow-up to Hereditary shares similar traits. Both films have quiet followers in dressed in white and both know how the real terror is of being swallowed up whole by forces so powerfully alluring. That the real battle is waged in one’s mind is even more discouraging. The bulk of the film takes place in a remote village in Sweden, where literal darkness can’t compete with brightly lit days and nights. There is effectively no place to hide.


5.  Uncut Gems

I had never seen a Safdie Brothers film until this 135-minute snapshot of addiction. Adam Sandler plays a gambling addict who can’t say no to the next point spread on a Celtics game, even when thugs with guns might do very bad things to him (or his loved ones) to get their $100K back. The entire run time is urgent, and by far the tensest I’ve been in a theater all year, as we follow Howard (Sandler) through NYC over a potent Passover holiday. Is that a good thing? I think so. After all, movies can’t all be sunshiny MCU rainbows, right? Some have noted how Sandler is “unlike you’ve ever seen him,” but that’s entirely not true. The greatness of his performance is realizing no other named actor could deliver this level of manic energy, bouts of rage, and juvenile behavior. It’s pure Sandler. The catch is how the actor uses his skills in a role that is, for once, truly lived in, not just an SNL skit masquerading as a movie. Uncut Gems is one of the most honest films of the year.


4. Booksmart

There have been a lot of great teen films in the past twenty years, but none left a mark as fresh, optimistic, and just plain funny as Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart. I had a smile on my face the whole time, loving the adventure that Amy (Kaytlen Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) embark on for a jam-packed night before graduation. And has anyone ever had a better introduction than Gigi (Billie Lourde)? Beyond the jokes is the feeling that as one age ends, another begins. If Mean Girls was the teen film for the millennials, Booksmart might be it for Gen Z (If not, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is a terrific alternative). And wow, this film is striking in its use of colors, editing, and music. Also, more important than generational lines, the film is thankfully bereft of villains. As someone who grew up in the John Hughes era, I’m over the simplistic privileged dolts the main characters must contend with. As with the best coming-of-age flicks, it’s all about the internal struggle. Molly can’t fathom that all the hard work she did, all that time avoiding parties, etc., meant zilch as the students who did just that also got into great universities. Perhaps a life lesson for us all.


3. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film is his best since 2009’s Inglorious Bastards. It also feels like his most personal. Is this intentional? Maybe? Either way, it’s hard not to see Rick “F@#$” Dalton (Leonardo DeCaprio) as a kind of stand-in for the director. Rick observes the movies he’s loved are waning as television is getting bigger. All the while, Rick’s career has dwindled to playing the heavy on TV. He still lives large, but is he relevant anymore? Is this QT indirectly speaking to streaming services like Netflix swallowing up film culture? Whatever the truth (I’m sure it’s somewhere in the middle), Tarantino assembled an incredible cast (including Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie) to shine a light on a period of cinema he treasures. The sixties as a culture were about to implode with Charles Manson’s infamous murders, but Once Upon A Time… suggests stars like Sharon Tate will live on.


2. Parasite

Until Parasite, I was not the biggest fan of director Bong Joon-ho. I found his attempt at a big monsterfest, The Host to be lacking, his Netflix movie Okja was middling, and Snowpiercer had a great idea, but was only sporadically satisfying. Yet here Parasite is at #2. The puzzle-like structure set at a stunning one-percenter residence the bulk of the film takes place in was catnip to me. How could I resist a well-made ensemble between the have’s and the have not’s, focused on two such families who were both tied to the same plot of land? The film is dense but also quite funny, and the impression Parasite left still has me thinking about it months later. Maybe I am ready to join the Bong-Hive now.


1. Marriage Story

My film of the year, in many ways, could also work as a terrific stage play. Ironic, as the co-lead of this tale of divorce, Charlie (next-level great Adam Driver), is a New York director of such things. His soon-to-be-ex, Nicole (also impressive Scarlet Johanson), is an actress who wants to have their son live with her as she makes the move to Los Angeles. Yes, this is another variation on the NY versus LA plot (“the space!”), yet the balance writer/director Noah Baumbach shows is considerable. We shift our alliances not just between Nicole and Charlie, but the two cities too. Marriage Story highlights how bad things can get between people who truly loved one another; thus, we never forget that original bond between them. The film is a rare masterpiece that finds the time for much-needed singing and dancing. Driver’s rendition of Sondheim’s “Being Alive” is everything I could ever want in a film.


Honorable mentions in no particular order except so much this:

11. Crawl!!!

and the rest:

Brittany Runs A Marathon
The Farewell
Her Smell
High Life
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
The Souvenir
Toy Story 4


4 Responses to “Peter’s Picture Perfect Top Ten Movies of 2019”

  1. Brian White

    Wow! What a pleasant surprise waking up to this today. I even love the lead in image. Minus the Avengers and Star Wars our lists are pretty close in content.

    I love your bold pick for #1 and I can’t wait to see Parasite in a few weeks and whenever JOJO Rabbit comes out.

    What is wrong with me? Hustlers should be a film I love like everyone else does. It has everything that makes a Brian film, but I didn’t latch onto it like I wanted. Wasn’t your original score a 3.5? Did you like it more after a repeat viewing?

    So happy not to see Irishman on anyone’s Top 10 slots.

    I’m also one of two only people that did not like Booksmart. It made me feel old and I was completely bored. I did like Ghost World (saw it for first time two years ago).

    You reminded me of Climax. I DID want to see that!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    Best end of decade year since 1999? I dunno – 2009 had Inglourious Basterds, Avatar, Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Fantastic mr. Fox, Where The Wild Things Are, that Star Trek people love, Hangover, In the Loop, 500 Days of Summer, District 9, Coraline, Drag Me To Hell, A Serious Man, etc… but regardless, I’m just happy to call it a great year for film.

    I mean, when we all (mostly) love The Irishman, and it’s merely like number 11 or 12, that’s a pretty good year for movies 🙂

    But great list overall. Looks like Midsommar and Once Upon a Time may be the Why So Blu movies of the year, with Uncut Gems and Parasite sitting right behind.

    Glad Dolemite made it on there somewhere. Nice to have such a sweet and hilarious movie get its props.

  3. Brandon Peters

    Best end of decade year since 1999…so basically it won the 2009 vs 2019 battle for you? Hahah, just having fun.

    We had 6 crossovers which is awesome. I dug Hustlers a lot. That might have been my biggest surprise in 2019 for me overall, cuz I really enjoyed it a lot and did not expect to maybe even check it out. I STILL need to see Little Women.

    Crawl was all right, though I didn’t find myself as over the moon for it as many likeminded people to me were. Oh well, happens.

    Nice list, but most importantly, nice to have you come on board here at WSB in 2019.

  4. Gerard Iribe

    Oof, I thought Crawl was a severe misfire, I don’t care what Quentin Tarantino said about it.

    I’ve only seen about a quarter of your Top-10, but what I have seen, would have also made my Top-10 theatrical films of the year.

    I really need to watch Climax, though!