Published Dec 09, 2019All of 2019's top-grossing films were either superhero blockbusters (Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home) or Disney reboots (The Lion King, Toy Story 4). And as thoroughly enjoyable as many of these were, they tended to suck up all of the air out the room, leaving less room for original stories to shine.
Luckily, some great movies still managed to cut through the noise. Films like Midsommar and Booksmart became word-of-mouth favourites, proving that audiences and critics still had a thirst for inventive storytelling with heart, while Parasite and The Last Black Man in San Fransisco gave necessary voice to hot-button political issues. These are Exclaim's 15 Best Films of 2019.
A couple of these films also appear on our list of the 30 Best Films of the 2010s.
Directed by Alexandre Aja
A divorced dad trapped in a flooded crawl space, looters getting mauled by gators during a Category 5 hurricane — Crawl is basically a "Florida man" meme come to life, as an estranged father and daughter attempt to survive a storm while being hunted by a pack of hungry reptiles. It's a totally unpretentious, old-school creature feature (and it kicked the shit out of Godzilla: King of Monsters when it came to 2019's best lizard-based thriller). Scorsese probably doesn't consider things like this "cinema," but it's as much fun as we had at the movies all year.
14. The Farewell
Directed by Lulu Wang
So much of The Farewell's premise seems too over-the-top to be true — a family refuses to tell their beloved matriarch that she's been diagnosed with cancer — but it's a common occurrence in many Chinese families, including director Lulu Wang's own, and she uses her latest feature film to share her family's story with a broader audience. The film balances cultural commentary with drama and humour for a heartfelt story, but while lead actor and comedic breakout Awkwafina delivers a rare dramatic turn, it's in the humour and splendour where the film really shines.
13. Knives Out
Directed by Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson pairs clever writing, meticulous direction, brilliant characters, and a large sense of fun with a cast any movie would die for. Knives Out channels the whodunits of old and updates the genre for the modern world, where everyone is a suspect and no one is free of guilt. There's a human story that drives underneath it all, of how kindness and goodness can win the day. It's a message we need — and for it to come in a murder mystery film with so much to say already, it makes Knives Out a must-see movie of 2019.
12. In Fabric
Directed by Peter Strickland
In Fabric was terminally underseen, but that's not your fault. The film first debuted in the fall of 2018, then played festivals in perpetuity before finally receiving a release in December 2019. But while it's playing hard-to-get, the film is one that you should definitely seek out. Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) has maintained his knack for stylish storytelling, but In Fabric ramps up the camp. The result is a truly bizarre comedy that obfuscates fast-fashion behind quirks that are genuinely unique. Plus, there's a vampiric cum shot.
11. The Beach Bum
Directed by Harmony Korine
Now that Adam Sandler is cool again, someone needed to step up and make uncool Adam Sandler movies. Leave it to one of the coolest directors around — Harmony Korine. The Beach Bum is exuberantly stupid, a grinning shitpost of a movie that sees Matthew McConaughey deliver the worst Matthew McConaughey impression as a Jimmy Buffett-type who moonlights as a beloved American poet. He smokes weed with Snoop Dogg, performs cunnilingus on Isla Fischer, moshes to Creed with Zac Efron, and goes dolphin watching with Martin Lawrence. It's just dreamy enough that you could wax bullshit about the meaning of it all, but ultimately The Beach Bum is just a joyfully moronic romp. In other words, it's precisely what we needed.
Directed by Jordan Peele
Us, Jordan Peele's second horror film after the groundbreaking success of Get Out, proved that Peele isn't just good at "socially-conscious horror," although Us touches on everything from performativity to race and class. It demonstrated that he's just as adept at good old-fashioned scares via murder, mayhem, and ratcheting tension. Even if it gets lost in its own mythology towards the end of the film, it's still imaginative, unique, visually striking, and wildly ambitious, with an incredible performance from Lupita Nyong'o, who's given the difficult task of having to play the hero and villain of the film at the same time.
Laura Di Girolamo
Directed by Olivia Wilde
High school is nearly over, and with one foot each out the door, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are breaking from their nerdier sides to have one big blowout amongst their peers before college. It's a coming-of-age story that has been done again and again — and yet Olivia Wilde's Gen Z take on the teen buddy comedy format sets itself apart from the Millennial classic Superbad or Gen X's Dazed and Confused before it. Its use of the same teenage tropes and roster of archetypes aside, the film touches on something comedy rarely does in this much depth: female relationships. Paired with an updated arsenal of socially conscious gags and sexualities, Booksmart breathes new life into a genre beaten nearly to death.