10 Best Movies of 2019

The end of the year is nigh. As it comes to a close, our critics are here to give their picks for the top 10 movies of 2019!

Best Movies of 2019

The final year of this decade is about to end. And as 2019 vanishes into history books, it’s easy to become reflective about what has changed over both the last 12 months and 10 years. For instance, it’s hard to remember there once was a time when it was considered a risk for Netflix to develop original content. Now they have two new serious Best Picture contenders this fall. Change is the name of the game as the industry grapples with what is and is not cinema now. But getting lost in this debate is that cinema itself is strong. We would even argue it’s rarely been better this decade than in 2019. So instead of focusing on what divides moviegoers, our critics are here to offer their 10 reasons to celebrate going to the movies. Enjoy.

DAVID CROW’S TOP 10 LIST

Romance in Portrait of a Lady on Fire Best Movies

10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

It is often said that the best portraits make their subjects look alive by simulating movement; wherever you stand it’s as if the painting’s eyes are following you. Yet the magic trick of Céline Sciamma’s achingly beautiful Portrait of a Lady on Fire is that its moving images simulate the thrill of looking at masterful still-life paintings. Every frame of this film is an exquisite composition that captures the inner-life and essence of its protagonists, with their shared whispers acting as the movie’s primary score—their stolen glances creating melody.

A slow boil romance set in late 18th century France, the film documents an insidious situation wherein Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is hired to surreptitiously paint a portrait of another young woman who she must pretend to be a friend to. The painting, in fact, is intended to win Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) a husband she does not want. But the more romantic Marianne and Héloïse’s affections, the cruelty of Marianne’s brushstrokes crafting her lover’s marital bonds become ever more pronounced. This is subtly raw character portraiture of the highest order, realized with astonishing grace by Sciamma and cinematographer Claire Mathon’s decidedly female gaze.

Awkwafina and Cast in The Farewell Best Movies 2019

9. The Farewell

A film about the shock incurred by contrasting cultures, The Farewell is a gorgeously realized portrait of a woman who feels drawn to yet alienated by both sides of her identity. Luckily, whatever confusion she might experience is supplanted by an absolute love for her grandmother, and a love of heritage that extends to the very soul of writer-director Lulu Wang’s movie. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, The Farewell centers on Awkwafina’s Billi, a 30-year-old New Yorker who was born in China but now only has a vague recollection of an idyllic childhood with her grandmother Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhou). That rose-tinted glow and the severed identity it ferments comes to the fore when Nai Nai is diagnosed with lung cancer… and her family refuses to tell her. In China, it is your loved ones’ duty to carry the emotional burden of saying goodbye, hence Billi’s unusual path through grief: one she must take in silence.

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Occupying the space between tragedy and joy, and between Billi’s Western apprehension to Chinese custom and her longing to reconnect with it, Wang finds a canvas to paint every shade of anguish and exhilaration offered by nostalgia and an unfamiliar history. Awkwafina confirms she is a star on the rise by carrying this intimate tragi-comedy with a role that requires her to speak in English, in Chinese, and most impressively, not at all. Even then, she still says everything.

Best Movies of 2019 - Booksmart

8. Booksmart

Despite her celebrity, Olivia Wilde has always seemed a little underrated as an actor. That should change now that she’s announced herself as a major directorial talent with Booksmart. A pitch-perfect comedy that should be a teen anthem for the next generation, Booksmart proves that the R-rated comedy is not dead, and it can only get better as it invites new and diverse voices to reconfigure the form. Screenwriters Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman join Wilde in that conversation, as does a fresh-faced cast that is more than game to refocus the coming-of-age narrative on nerdy young women who previously might’ve been lucky to be in the fuzzy background of a John Hughes wide shot.

Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein make a banquet out of protagonists Amy and Molly, two Ivy League-bound Type As who embark on an odyssey for the perfect Gen-Z party the night before graduation. The movie obviously stands on the shoulders of other teen comedies, most notably Superbad, but it reinvents it in a way that not only rings with truth but also an awareness of the different world Amy and Molly grew up in—one where Amy’s out and proud lesbianism is treated as a fact of life instead of a cross she must bear. It also does so with a determination to showcase a breadth of style and humor that runs the gamut from traditional gross-out to animated surreal. Wilde defies conventions and reveals a knack for conveying adolescence lived on a stage lit by a thousand cell phones.

1917 Sam Mendes Interview War Grandfather

7. 1917

Many a veteran will tell you that war is as much about the soldier serving next to them as it is the mission of the day. Well, there are only two men carrying the weight of the Allied Powers on their shoulders in 1917, yet their movie impressively places it on yours as well. Indeed, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins’ camera is the invisible third man in the trenches, and as it creates the illusion of an uninterrupted shot during LCpl Schofield and Blake’s (George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) mad dash across No Man’s Land and enemy lines, the audience becomes hopelessly involved in their quest.

The greatest technical achievement of the year, 1917 is a haunting film that rewrites the vernacular created for modern war films by Saving Private Ryan. Preferring to focus on the quiet and unspoken presence of death in Blake and Schofield’s journey, the film is comprised of intricate gliding camera movements that build the dread long before the bullets start flying. The end of the world feels at hand in every moment, and a hundred years ago, it was the end of all things that came before. The magic of 1917 is in how that lost world is able to live again with such harrowing vitality.

The Irishman Robert De Niro and Al Pacino React to JFK

6. The Irishman

Yes, The Irishman is long. And yes, the de-aging technology is never quite perfect. But the movie still might be given how much perspective and insight Martin Scorsese provides to what is likely his final gangster picture. While the film echoes earlier masterpieces, The Irishman brings a wizened vantage to the proceedings that comes with decades of experience. This isn’t a remake of Goodfellas; it’s the death of its iconography and the wiseguys who embodied it. 

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After years of films bathed in ambiguity, Scorsese puts his cards on the table, providing a judgement of maximum disgust for the amorality he’s often essayed. And he does this by recontextualizing his cinematic legacy, plus that of stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. It’s the best work all have done in years, and it is as moving a swan song that a generation of legends could hope for.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story

5. Marriage Story

It’s well known Noah Baumbach pulled from his own divorce to make one of the most emotionally devastating films of the year. What often gets lost in the conversation around Marriage Story is how devastatingly funny and sweet-natured it also can be. Told with warmth and grace, the film attempts to tease out the romance that once existed between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) through the slow-moving process of their relationship’s dissolution.

There is certainly no rawer piece of acting this year than when Driver and Johansson finally have it out in the third act after feigning mutual amicability for hours, but as brutal as that battle is, it is only a chapter in their lives, which will always be entwined. Baumbach realizes this with a his/her storytelling dynamic that refuses to make either party innocent or guilty, or their lives to be painted as tragedy. Rather the circumstances that bind, particularly a deep love for their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), suggest an often humorous and entirely humane experience that will carry them past this grim, crestfallen moment in their lives. For Driver and Johansson though, it is a triumphant peak in their careers.

Ana de Armas in Knives Out Best Movies 2019

4. Knives Out

Flat out the most entertaining movie this year, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out unpacks every convention and archetype found in the whodunit—dissecting the clichés and then putting them back together again in a formation that’s wholly original. With 2019’s most eye-catching ensemble, Johnson builds a game board of big personalities and even bigger star performances, but they are all just a distraction.

For Knives Out is a slyly subversive allegory about class and privilege in our times. Technically this is the story about the mysterious murder of a domineering patriarch (a sublime Christopher Plummer). Yet the conventions are but a vehicle to skewer its subject matter and delicately lay out an immigrant story that casts Ana de Armas’ Marta as Watson to Daniel Craig’s Sherlock. It’s a star-making turn for the former and the most fun the latter has ever had on screen. But right up until its delicious final shot, everything about this movie is cuttingly fun. I hope Johnson makes a dozen Benoit Blanc movies.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Best Movies 2019

3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The arrival of a new Quentin Tarantino movie always comes with debate and some degree of controversy. But when the smoke clears, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood will be remembered as one of his very best. A film that demands multiple viewings, Once Upon a Time is the rare major studio movie that requires you to meet it on its own terms, a sad fact Tarantino is aware of and deconstructs with wistful melancholy. An obvious love letter to the long-gone Hollywood of the 1960s, which by ’69 saw the studio system in its death throes, the movie is also a commentary on our own cultural moment where auteurs like Tarantino and movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are almost a thing of the past. Tarantino’s elegiac meditation is as much about his cinema’s own setting sun as it is the Hollywood movies he grew up on. But its eulogies are of a celebratory nature, reveling in just chilling out with morally ambiguous characters and giddy historical revisionism.

DiCaprio and Pitt haven’t had material this good in years. In fact, Pitt may have never been better than as the smiling cowboy whose high noon is with a counterculture he doesn’t fully understand. That showdown is paralleled by the rise of starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the youthful change she represents. The importance of Sharon, and her interconnected place in Hollywood, is determined by how much you know of her going in. For those who do, she is more than just the idol of her age; she is the soul of Tarantino’s sweetest movie, both in terms of its ‘60s setting and its desire to divorce a lifetime of light from the specter of Charles Manson’s darkness. Unlike Tarantino’s last three pictures, this isn’t about revenge; it’s a bedtime yarn dreaming of salvation for Hollywood, for culture, and for a legacy that can live on past 26 years.

Adam Sandler Bling in Uncut Gems

2. Uncut Gems

Virtually turning anxiety into a genre unto itself, the Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems is a film they’ve been trying to make for a decade. That time left to practice twisting the knife paid off since my last nerve ending was frayed by this fast-talking delight. Such is the irritating appeal of Adam Sandler’s Howie Ratner, a New York jewel dealer with a gambling addiction and the irritating ability to stay likable even as he reveals ever greater layers of narcissism.

A seedy crime story that is distinctly New York, Uncut Gems is a masterclass in tension-building and weaponized dialogue. Rarely actually violent, it is the dread of watching Howie’s legion of bad choices catch up with him that makes this a singularly grueling experience and a showcase for a range of surprising talent, from the unknown, like a scene-stealing Julia Fox, to the unexpected, like Kevin Garnett as a through the looking glass version of himself. But most of all, Uncut Gems is a dazzling show floor for Sandler, who gives a career best performance as a bullshit artist so talented that you can’t help but believe in him. Rarely is there so blissful a blend of actor, character, and screenplay. Together, it’s a match made in Long Island dive bar heaven.

Cast in Parasite Best Movies 2019

1. Parasite

The Kim and Park families at the core of Parasite exist on different ends of the class system in Seoul, South Korea. Yet the story found in the chasm between them is universal. Abandoning the artifice of genre, writer-director Bong Joon-ho achieves a parable that starts as a dark comedy and ends closer to tragedy.

At a glance, the title Parasite seems to refer to how the Kims—humorlessly led by Bong staple Song Kang-ho—surreptitiously latch themselves onto an oblivious wealthy family. They pretend to be strangers as they place themselves in every position of employment offered by a well-meaning but flighty Park Yeon-kyo (Jo Yeo-yeong). It is only then the film slowly unpacks how the one percent can be just as parasitic as even the most manipulative of grifters.

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In lesser hands, the movie could be an “eat the rich” allegory, yet there is something more nuanced and ultimately sorrowful at work here. What should be a symbiotic relationship appears irreparably broken, and the eventual horror that unfolds leaves no hands clean. But clean precision is exactly how Bong stages his masterpiece that alternates between an apartment in the literal gutters and a house on a hill—built above the city, so as to not look at the urban sprawl from which it feasts. This is the type of haunting cinema that we will still be discussing at the end of the next decade too.

DON KAYE’S TOP 10 LIST

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse

10. High Life and The Lighthouse (Tie)

If you told me 10 years ago that two movies starring Robert Pattinson would make my Top 10 in 2019, I would have told you to take a hike. But sure enough, here we are in 2019, and two outstanding movies starring Pattinson were both so good that they tied for my 10th spot (and for which my editor may reprimand me).

High Life was a strange, heady mix of cerebral sci-fi and Cronenberg-like body horror from French director Claire Denis, a meditation on time, loss, memory, and death that both subverted its genre and pushed it in ambitious new directions. The Lighthouse, the second feature from writer-director Robert Eggers (The Witch), was almost a genre all its own, a delirious fever dream of psychological terror and Lovecraftian imagery, pairing Pattinson in a tour de force with a towering Willem Dafoe. Both films left me uneasy and mildly frustrated, but both were also unforgettable.

Doctor Sleep: Ewan McGregor

9. Doctor Sleep

If the box office failure of this film spells an end to the recent revival of Hollywood interest in Stephen King, at least the master went out on a high note. Much of that is owed to director and screenwriter Mike Flanagan, whose grasp of the horror genre is remarkable and who has found a clever way to resolve the tension between King’s novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film version of it.

The Doctor Sleep movie is a sequel to both, providing a satisfying follow-up that bridges the gap between King’s text and Kubrick’s interpretation of it. It’s also a moving drama about addiction, recovery and loss, driven by an excellent performance from Ewan McGregor as the now-grown Dan Torrance, haunted by both the Overlook Hotel and the bottle he’s learning to crawl out of. Meanwhile Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat is seductive and complex, adding immeasurably to a film that will hopefully have—as the story itself suggests—a life after death.

Best Movies of 2019 - The Farewell

8. The Farewell

Melancholy and funny, often at the same time, director Lulu Wang’s intensely personal film follows the plight of Billi (Awkwafina), who does not agree with her family’s decision to keep her beloved grandmother in the dark about her own terminal illness diagnosis. Great films show you something you didn’t know before, and The Farewell does that in its examination of Eastern customs and the way that different cultures deal with both death and family.

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Awkwafina is fantastic as the disaffected, adrift Billi, but she is nearly upstaged by Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai (the Mandarin term for paternal grandmother), whose vitality gives you the impression that she could beat her cancer by sheer force of will, even if she did know about it. The Farewell is a small, affectionate and incredibly poignant film, leaving us both wistful for the moments we’ve missed and eventually hopeful for the ones that may still come.

Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters

7. Dark Waters

It’s hard to say one “enjoyed” Dark Waters, but once it’s experienced, it’s impossible to shake off. Todd Haynes (Carol) directs what is on the surface his most conventional narrative yet, but there’s nothing conventional about the way in which the story develops. Mark Ruffalo plays Rob Bilott, a real-life corporate lawyer who goes against his own best interests when he takes on chemical manufacturing behemoth DuPont on behalf of a farmer whose land—and whose town—may be poisoned.

Dark Waters starts out in familiar fashion, and remains gripping even when you think you know where the story is going. But when Haynes takes things up a notch the fight goes to unexpected places unexpected, and the scope of what Bilott uncovers is almost too horrifying for words.

Saoirse Ronan and Little Women Cast Best Movies 2019

6. Little Women

Rich with passion and heart, bursting with life and the joy of living, this umpteenth version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel more that justifies its existence with its sheer exuberance and poignancy. Greta Gerwig has adapted the novel just differently enough to keep things fresh, and directs with a sure hand and a superb eye for both the inner beauty of her vibrant characters and the outer glory of the world around them.

Saoirse Ronan was born to play Jo March while Florence Pugh continues her remarkable year with her thorns-and-all portrayal of the station-obsessed Amy. The entire cast delivers a succession of warm, compassionate, and gently profound moments, making this Little Women feel as big as a movie can.

Clemency Movie

5. Clemency

Alfre Woodard gives one of the best performances of the year as Bernardine Williams, a prison warden whose years of overseeing executions are finally starting to take their toll. As she prepares for another—and possibly unjust one—Bernardine begins to lose her composure as the weight of what she has done bears down.

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Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu has fashioned an incredibly tense drama that serves as both a blistering character study and a harsh condemnation of one of our justice system’s most barbaric components. Within the film’s austere settings, Woodard projects an unnerving stillness, even as she struggles with what’s left of her humanity. And the long, unbroken climactic shot is possibly the most stunning of the year.

Best Movies of 2019 - Avengers: Endgame

4. Avengers: Endgame

Sure, the time travel narrative might crumble like dust if you spend too much time thinking about it, but Avengers: Endgame still pulled off something remarkable: a conclusion to a 22-film saga that was both epic in scope and surprisingly moving in its humanity. By making us care over the course of the past decade about Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and the rest as people, Marvel Studios made this a must-see and wholly satisfying payoff to the puzzle it had been assembling since 2008.

The quality of the filmmaking by the Russo Brothers (on their fourth Marvel entry) is top-notch, and the all-star cast is working at the top of their game as several of them bid farewell. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the MCU movies are the only franchise around at the moment that gives me the giddy feeling I had going to the movies as a kid and watching films like Star Wars and Superman for the first time. Even as tastes mature and evolve, that sensation is still a precious and all too fleeting one.

Best Movies of 2019 - The Last Black Man in San Francisco

3. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Beautifully shot by first-time director Joe Talbot, from a story by Talbot and star Jimmie Fails (who plays himself), The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a moving, poetic meditation on class, race, gentrification, and memory, set in a city where the gap between rich and poor has turned into an almost unimaginable chasm.

Jimmie and his friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) move illegally into a house that once belonged to Jimmie’s grandfather, determined to restore it to glory. But the neighborhood and the city around it may be too far gone for Jimmie to pursue his quixotic dream. Talbot brings enormous sensitivity to his eclectic, absorbing film, which mourns a way of life while hinting that we must find a way to move on.

Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story

2. Marriage Story

Until now, Noah Baumbach’s movies have always had a slightly chilly remove to them—he observes his characters with a certain clinical detachment even if they are going through profound emotional situations. Not this time: Marriage Story is painfully alive with the raw, life-changing accumulation of little victories, defeats, heartbreaks, and disappointments that make up a marriage in dissolution.

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There are moments in Marriage Story that are searing and unflinching, with the film capturing the way that a divorce consumes everything connected to it. Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson give what may be career-best performances as Charlie and Nicole, two people whose love for each other and their child can’t stop their lives from diverging. Baumbach’s camera watches it all, but this time, you can feel it as well.

Parasite Movie

1. Parasite

After years of making one sharp social drama after another—often disguised as black comedy, horror, sci-fi, or all of the above—singular Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho operates here at the peak of his powers. Parasite is a dark, brilliant, and wickedly sharp exploration of class and family, and the ways in which both are twisted by the world around them.

The Parks are the picture of societal perfection: wealthy, beautiful, and successful; the Kims have none of those advantages but manage to survive nonetheless. How they come together and feed off each other, and what their symbiotic relationship uncovers, is the most unique and unpredictable cinematic journey of the year. There was no other movie this year like Parasite, and there may not be another like it for a while.

NATALIE ZUTTER’S TOP 10 LIST

Fall 2019 Movies - Hustlers

10. Hustlers

Depending on who you are, Hustlers will feel either like entry into a secret club or a glittery trap. For me it was the former. It’s intoxicating from the first moment that Jennifer Lopez’s alpha exotic dancer Ramona invites newbie Destiny (Constance Wu) to share her fur coat on a frigid New York City night. Camaraderie among women in the trenches is the true currency of this Robin-Hood-in-lucite-heels tale, from eye contact across finance bros’ laps to planning out heists with the precision of Danny Ocean (although without any of his cool detachment).

These women are out for blood—failing that, they’ll just take your credit limit. But it’s Destiny and Ramona with their micro-betrayals and constant power reversals who are the reason to invest your time and energy in Lorene Scafaria’s unapologetically fierce film.

Lupita Nyong'o in Us Best Movies 2019

9. Us

Even though it was easier to see the wheels turning in Jordan Peele’s head this time around, what fascinating gears they are! Early trailers immediately established an iconic, if enigmatic, costume design for beings from a parallel reality to our own: red jumpsuits and sinister scissors. Then Lupita Nyong’o delivered the performance of the year as the have and the have-not versions of the same person, locked in bloody battle over that fleeting prize of the perfect life. By the time those symbols begin to make sense in context, you’re tethered to Peele’s story. Us kicked off a year of incisive commentary on members of the lower class fighting their way to the top, making up for years of inequality with just one snip.

Always Be My Maybe on Netflix

8. Always Be My Maybe

As much as I am a sucker for a great romantic-comedy premise, I may be even more of a hopeless romantic for a winning behind-the-scenes story. When Ali Wong mentioned in a 2016 interview that she and Randall Park had been trying for years to make their take on When Harry Met Sally… (one of my absolute favorite love stories), I was as hooked as if I had just witnessed the perfect meet-cute. To see it greenlit by Netflix was as thrilling as a movie couple’s first kiss.

And then it actually came out and was everything I wanted it to be: witty, tender, sexy, and with a ridiculous Keanu Reeves cameo that was like something out of our collective fever dream. A film with two Asian-American leads as romantic, or for that matter sexy, heroes should not be so radical. Yet it obviously is. Someday, when more love stories like this are their own Netflix subcategory, Always Be My Maybe will still be a standout.

Best Movies of 2019 - Midsommar

7. Midsommar

The best horror works hard to embed the viewer in its setting—whether a small town, sorority house, summer camp—so they feel like they could be the next victim of the killer’s knife. What a treat, then, to ride along on Ari Aster’s mushroom trip of a thriller that trades the darkness both of the genre and of his previous film Hereditary for a daytime so bright that it’s painfully bleak.

Like Peele, Aster creates a narrative backdrop so detailed, from the eerie tapestries to the startling exhalations, that picking apart every visual and aural moment feels like the most rewarding of scholarly pursuits. Florence Pugh, with her blonde hair and quivering chin, is the ideal Final Girl for an anxious, self-doubting generation searching for the supposed light at the end of the tunnel. Midsommar does not go down as easily as dandelion wine, but it will get your head spinning just as well. It’s also funny as shit, with more than one did I just see that? moment. Honestly, all horror should wed the gruesome with the hilarious this masterfully.

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame

6. Avengers: Endgame

Marvel deserves all the praise for the truly epic fashion in which they wrapped up their Infinity Saga. But these movies are really so much more than that; they’re a cinematic universe that have somehow changed how the industry approached blockbuster filmmaking; they represent Robert Downey, Jr.’s extraordinary career renaissance; and they conclude with an apocalyptic/Rapture event that has resonated even with non-comic book fans in surprising and often disturbing ways.

Having been a pop culture critic for about as long as the MCU has existed, I’ve witnessed these movies transform from niche entertainment to mainstream crowd-pleasers, to oversaturated franchise. And I myself have gone from a casual viewer to uninvested reviewer, to genuine fan thanks in large part to what appear like sincere friendships among the charismatic cast and crew. A super self-referential final mission helped plenty too. Avengers: Endgame was by no means flawless, but it was a triumph of storytelling.

Queen and Slim

5. Queen & Slim

Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas’ stunning collaboration asks, who could the men and women murdered by police have been if they were allowed to live? Building on the year’s best elevator pitch, Queen & Slim is not so much wish fulfillment—because it shouldn’t have to exist as a thought exercise in the first place—as it is an exaltation of unflagging hope. Riveting from its explosive first moments to its journey through the South and toward the hope of freedom in escaping America and its cycles of violence, this is the film that should be in direct conversation with last year’s praise for Green Book.

Awkwafina and Nai Nai in The Farewell

4. The Farewell

In a year of big franchise conclusions, Lulu Wang gave us a solemn masterpiece about a different kind of ending, and how we try to stave it off as long as possible. The premise of The Farewell is subversively unfamiliar to American audiences and our notions about death: Upon discovering that matriarch Nai Nai has terminal cancer, her family lies to her about her health, using the excuse of a grandson’s wedding for all reuniting parties to say goodbye. The execution often dips into gallows humor, with stunning levels of dramatic irony as Nai Nai invests time and energy in the mundane minutiae of wedding planning when Chinese-American granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina, in an incredible performance) believes that she deserves to live out her final weeks knowing the truth.

Growing up an ocean away from my Oma and Opa, I was hit hard by the tenderness of Nai Nai and Billi, from hope for her granddaughter’s future to goodbyes where you don’t turn away until the car can no longer be seen. But what I experienced was only one dimension of a layered, sweet, funny rumination on mortality and the lies that we tell each other, especially family.

Parasite Movie Cake Ending

3. Parasite

In this, the year of increasingly more intricate scams from con artists dedicated to their craft, Bong Joon-ho’s bleak comedy especially resonated. A killer premise that could spiral into straight horror instead explodes itself halfway through, making for a scathing portrait of the utter humiliations of poverty, especially when held up against such gross excess. Like the brilliant and  ruthless family at its heart, Parasite could not survive on just one element—it must be brutal, nihilistic, darkly funny, and devastating in order to have hit as hard as it did.

Chris Evans in Knives Out

2. Knives Out

Rian Johnson sets up a juicy locked-mansion whodunnit, with each thread a beloved actor playing a different brand of rich, out-of-touch asshole—and then picks at and unravels it like Chris Evans’ distressed fisherman sweater. Continuing with this knitted metaphor, Knives Out is cozy yet leaves you cold; it makes you hyper-aware of crimes of privilege and who the real bad guys are; and, of course, it provides the opportunity to watch Captain America cheekily tell the aforementioned luminaries to “eat shit.” An utter delight, and the kind of film that, like a dog-eared paperback, will benefit from countless rewatches.

Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in Booksmart

1. Booksmart

I knew that I would fall unabashedly for this movie, and that I could one day praise it like Amy and Molly on their morning hype-up routine: Who allowed you to take my breath away?! Laughter—uproarious, endless giggle fits—I was ready for. What I did not anticipate was sobbing my way through the gutting best-friend airing of grievances that this entire bonkers night builds up to.

Between Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s authentic rapport depicting that adolescent friendship that feels more like first love, and Olivia Wilde’s passionate direction of a script midwifed by four brilliant female screenwriters, Booksmart hits every point on the high school spectrum with unflinching empathy. I love my shamelessly nerdy, courageous daughters.