Cultjer Staff Picks: Our Favorite Films Of 2019
Give yourselves a big round of applause. You made it!
Happy New Year Cultjer Readers!
2019 is officially in the books. And with it delivered another fabulous year of film spanning genres from The Irishman to Us to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood to Avengers: Endgame!
As we look back on 2019, it shouldn't come as a complete shock that films such as Us, Parasite, Ad Astra and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood led this year's "favorite 2019 films.” But it goes without saying, our writers were uniquely divided in their honorable mentions spanning everything from Richard Jewell, JoJo Rabbit, and Doctor Sleep. Interestingly, FOUR Netflix originals either cracked our top ten lists or received honorable mentions.
As always, I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to those who supported Cultjer this past year. Cultjer is an open platform for ALL film and television fans. And whether or not you're a consumer, contributor or both, let's continue to never lose sight of what brought us here in the first place; our love of film!
Last, I would like to thank Cultjer's contributing writers along with the site's Editor-in-Chief and creator, Rik Burnsting. This year alone, you all contributed over 400 news articles and first-run reviews. Your thoughtful articulations are the reason why Cultjer exists and will continue to exist as we strive to deliver relevant and insightful content heading into 2020! None of this would be possible without you!
Here's to a memorable 2020!
FILMS WE DID NOT GET AROUND TO SEEING IN 2019
21 Bridges, Crawl, The Intruder
Knives Out sticks out from me. Procrastination turned out to be the thief of joy on this one as Rian Johnson’s acclaimed murder mystery screened for some two weeks in Ghana. Another readily accessible film I haven’t got around to seeing is Noah Baumbach’s, Marriage Story. It’s a classic case of the hype putting me off and I need the cinescape commentary on it to simmer before I dive in.
Got to see most of the mainstream films this year. Being at #TIFF19 helps. But then there’s always more to see and conflicts in the schedule. Like with La Belle Époque, Just Mercy, How to Build a Girl, The Friend, Greed, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Guns Akimbo, So Long, My Son and many, many more
Joker, Knives Out, Booksmart, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Shazam! and many others.
Documenting which films you never got around to seeing is both a humbling and damning thing. And if done year after year, it’s also an effective means to gauge where you fell within one side of the spectrum known as ‘adulting’ to the other side known as ’adulting really sucks’. In 2019, I’d say I teetered on the side of “adulting” with an added bit of “suck” during the third quarter of the film calendar year. I can thank my day job for that.
Little Women, Uncut Gems, The Farewell, Doctor Sleep, Ford v. Ferrari, The Lighthouse, Joker, Knives Out, Waves, and Crawl.
2019 FILM(S) 'THEY WEREN'T FEELING' BUT WE LOVED!
Serenity, Angel Has Fallen, Noelle, Shaft
Picking nits here but El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie was a necessary addition to the culture! I’m not standing for the “did we really need more on Jesse Pinkman” takes. And I get the irritating 'Apocalypse Now' in space comps but James Gray's 'Ad Astra' is much more that.
Also, yell it the streets: of all the CGI delights the past year had to offer, 'Alita: Battle Angel' probably deserved recognition as one of the year’s most entertaining action films.
Terrence Malick’s ‘A Hidden Life’ got some mixed reviews, but I found it to be an amazingly shot and thoughtful film. It’s long, but as a work of art (and if you can bear it) that might actually be one of its strength.
Well, I guess we can now say 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'? 'Richard Jewell'. 'Yesterday' too.
Glass: This film did not do Unbreakable any favors and it certainly shortchanged SPLIT, but I don’t think GLASS is a terrible film. I also think this film benefits on re-watch and/or when expectations are extremely low. I suppose the latter applies to potential first-time viewers.
Aladdin: Blue Chungus: What’s not to love about Will Smith as a muscular but charming genie? And did Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott not exude chemistry? It shouldn’t come as a surprise a Disney redux grossed over $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales while hovering over a disappointing 53% Metacritic and 57% RT. Fact is, the masses came out to see a tentpole that starred whole lotta non-white actors. That's gotta count for something (see - 2020's MULAN)
2019 FILM(S) 'WE WEREN'T FEELING' BUT THEY LOVED
"Booksmart", "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood", "Marriage Story", "The Irishman", "Us", "Captain Marvel", "Uncut Gems", "Hobbs & Shaw", "Long Shot", "Shazam!"
Did the world really need another Toy Story? I don’t think so. A competent film with very intresting; yes, but ultimately a small blotch on what was a perfect trilogy.
Knives Out - I get the appeal, but I found it to be a lot of a lot of fuss about nothing – and admittedly feel a bit old saying that..
Rocketman - The cast is pretty great, and the music is fantastic of course, but the overall flow is horrendous. They went too wild to a point that the story just felt very unfinished. I had such high expectations and it let me down.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - I wouldn’t say I hated episode IX but I certainly didn’t love it. Sure, what's not to love about a 2h 22m fan job? JJ delivered just that through series of moments; some amazing (ReyLo Death Star saber tangle), some flat (“I’m…Rey Skywalker”, Lando/Jannah baby daddy spin-off), some rushed (third act), and some dragged (everything Palpatine Zzzzz). Perhaps I’m also salty because I foolishly shelled out $50 for AMC’s R2D2 collectible, which is now destined for eBay.
Brittany Runs a Marathon - Clearly this is just me in protest since the critical consensus seemed to eat this story up. But I came away feeling underwhelmed. Yes I’m aware of Brittany’s story IRL and yes, Jillian Bell is a treasure but this screenplay did the film no favors.
A host of 2019 Netflix films from Triple Frontier, Black Mirror Bandersnatch (technically 2018), El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Bird Box to Velvet Buzzsaw. Did any of these make your top ten lists? This is essentially the McDonald's drive-thru menu of streaming giant originals. Non-nutritional value that feeds the habit - be it social discourse or unadulterated entertainment - and the end result usually leads to buyer's remorse. Personally speaking of course.
2019 PERFORMANCE(S) DESERVING MORE LOVE
Jessie Buckley & Julie Walters ("Wild Rose"), Robert Downey, Jr. ("Avengers: Endgame"), Kelvin Harrison, Jr. ("Luce"), Paul Walter Hauser ("Richard Jewell"), Geoffrey Rush ("Storm Boy"), Alfre Woodard ("Clemency")
Brad Bitt in 'Ad Astra' seems to have gone cooled, mainly because Pitt is being positioned for supporting actor glory for his work in Quentin Tarantino’s 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'.
Jesse Eisenberg - ‘The Art of Self-Defense’
Shia LaBeouf - ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’
Renée Zellweger - ‘Judy’
Adam Sandler - ‘Uncut Gems’
Taron Egerton - ‘Rocketman’
Eva Green - ‘Proxima’
Jonathan Pryce - ‘The Two Popes’
Sam Rockwell & Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell and Ford V. Ferrari in general. Let’s also not forget Tim Allen and Tom Hanks in Toy Story 4.
Andrew Garfield (Under the Silver Lake) I’m not totally convinced USL offers any nutritional value beyond Garfield’s stinky, sticky finger, dildo-sniffing, magazine jerking performance. It ain’t sexy but it’s a damn fine performance.
Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors (The Last Black Man in San Francisco): Two of my favorite performances of the year in one of the best films of the year. I cannot wait to see what the future holds for these two young actors.
Tiffany Chu (Ms. Purple): See above. Also, I hope Justin Chon has found his leading lady in future Juston Chon joints.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Fast Color): Ms. Mbatha-Raw’s career reminds me of Yayha Abdul-Mateen II’s trajectory. Similarly to Mr. Abdul-Mateen II (cc The Vanishing of Sidney Hall or Aquaman or Get Down), Fast Color is another reminder that Gugu is a rising star just ready to breakout.
Vanessa Kirby (Hobbs and Shaw): It’s amazing how quietly Hobbs and Shaw came and went. Yet for those who couldn’t get enough of her in Mission: Impossible - Fallout, David Leitch and Chris Morgan did the lord’s good work by casting Kirby as the exact same character - but with more lines, more ass kicking, and in the FAST canon. Can we say see you in Fast and Furious 10? I think so.
THEY BETTER WIN AN OSCAR OR WE RIOT (FILMS/PERFORMANCES)
"1917" (Music: Thomas Newman), Paul Walter Hauser ("Richard Jewell"), "Parasite" (International Film)
Still on Brad Pitt, seeing as he is not getting enough love for 'Ad Astra', he better have his hands on that Oscar Statuette come February 2020 for his turn in 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood'.
And to add my own category: The “They better not win an Oscar or we spark armageddon” field, Todd Philips better not win a best director Oscar over Martin Scorsese. But this is exactly the kind of thing the Academy is capable of conspiring orchestrate.
Adam Driver - ‘Marriage Story’
Christian Bale in Ford V. Ferrari.
Al Pacino in The Irishman (his performance is far and away better than De Niro’s).
Some kind of an acknowledgement for Robert Downey Jr in Avengers: Endgame (unlikely but still).
I stand by this list.
Lupita Nyong'o (US) - 'Best Actress' - Did we not learn anything from Toni Colette? Unfortunately, I don’t have faith in the system.
Brad Pitt (OUATIH) - Best Supporting Actor - Look, Brad Pitt does not need our awards support. And if we're talking accolades the man should really be nominated for his lead work in Ad Astra. But in 2019 we got TWO really great Pitt performances. So Best Supporting is not a shabby consolation prize.
PARASITE - Best Foreign Language - Captain obvious here. I still haven’t forgiven South Korea for not submitting The Handmaiden. But we have to take our wins where we can. And yes, we all know Bong Joon Ho's latest masterpiece should be nominated for Best Picture. Alas, South Korea got this one right.
Michael Abels (US) - Best Original Score - There's no way you listen to Abels masterpiece and not think about the two Adelaide's duking it out in the tunnels.
Chad Stahelski and John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum - Best Stunts - Shame on you Academy for not recognizing what makes a film, a film. As a wise man once said (cc Dominic Torreto) "You embarrass me!"
FAVORITE FIRST-TIME VIEWS!
"The Shining", "Mr. Mom"
I didn’t do much time traveling this year outside of continuing my education in classic African cinema. But I finally saw Sydney Pollacks 'The Firm' in full for the first time and I found its near cultish leanings and conspiracy as riveting as Tom Cruise’s ridiculous backflips.
The best of the lot though was the 2010 French prison crime drama 'A Prophet', directed by Jacques Audiard. It’s a film probably in contention for my faves from the decade offering the tactile grit and messy violence I love, all elevated by incisive socio-political subtext. Then there are the haunting surrealist flourishes and the violent changing of the social guard as conveyed by an outstanding lead performance by Tahar Rahim.
Not many old movies, but a couple I missed earlier. A Private War, Dogman, The Square and Vice. Also rewatched some Kubrick films before going to the ‘Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition’ – all still great.
The Godfather, The Departed, West Side Story, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Burning (2018) - This film brilliantly subverts expectations with a perceived outcome that fell just within reach. What were we supposed to believe? I’m still processing this film with “great hunger” and I get excited just talking about it.
Interstellar (2014) - I wish I hadn’t waited so long to experience Nolan’s father-daughter-son space drama. I imagine there would have been plenty of tears had I saw this in 2014. You can't help but feel the push and pull between Murph (Foy/Chastain) and Cooper (McConaughey). And when Chastain’s "Murph" cracked the code, I just about lost my shit.
Leave No Trace (2018) - This film would have easily cracked my 2018 top ten list. You don’t have to sell me on Ben Foster and you certainly don’t have to sell me on a superbly executed drama (h/t Debra Granik) featuring great performances from Foster and Thomasin McKenzie.
Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) - I argue El Royale is Goddard’s most rewatchable film among an already impressive collection of films. This is Cynthia Erivo’s film from start to finish.
Molly’s Game (2017) - This film is low-key great. Reinforced my belief Ms. Chastain should have what, at least four Best Actress awards by now? Also, what’s not to love about Elba and Costner churning out the book of Sorkin.
2019 FAVORITE FILMS - HONORABLE MENTIONS
In alphabetical order: "The Current War", "Doctor Sleep", "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile", "The Farewell", "Fighting with My Family"
Like 'Sicario' in 2015 I have a feeling I’m going to regret not adding 'Joker' to my top five of the year but its sometimes-needy aping of Martin Scorsese took it down a notch in real time.
Seeing Ari Aster strive for more narrative and thematic coherence (as compared to ‘Hereditary’) in ‘Midsommer’ was a real drug trip and singular vision conveying relationship angst in a manner as overwhelming as it was unsettling.
Films like 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood', 'Stand-Off at Sparrow Creek', 'John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum', 'I Am Mother' and 'The Burial of Kojo' (me purely being a homer) are films of note from 2019 that moved the needle.
Sorry We Missed You
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Aladdin was an extremely fun watch and Will Smith along with the rest of the cast soared.
Richard Jewell felt captivating in every moment.
Frozen II created some catchy-tunes and was interesting.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark - Andre Ovredal’s adaptation unleashes a bounty of scares underscored by America's 1968 election and the Vietnam Conflict. Legit, scary times for young American’s. This is perfect YA horror. It’s also one of the harder PG-13’s I’ve seen since Gore Verbinksi’s The Ring (2002).
Light of My Life - Casey Affleck's debut feature is essentially a slow-burning but enjoyable re-tread of The Road + Children of Men + Leave No Trace. The Latter films are still superior but Affleck manages to make it all work as this beautiful post-apocalyptic survival story (sans Zombies and brutal violence). Anna Pniowsky is terrific.
Midsommar - Ari Aster is firmly batting a thousand here. Spoiler alert, this is one fucked up but wickedly just break up movie. Aster’s money is good here for a long, long time.
Under the Silver Lake - I wasn't initially sold on David Robert Mitchell's quirky, offbeat neo-noir until I gave it a second chance. I get it though. Granting second chances can be a difficult task. But when achieved - at least in cinema - there are the rare times when a film reveals a different side you never saw the first go-around.
Momentum Generation - Jeff and Michael Zimbalist's surf documentary effortlessly decode the universal language we call friendship. You don't have to know anything about surfing to enjoy this one. Who are these people and why should we care about them? This one brought me to tears.
And the rest.....Avengers: Endgame, The Irishman, High Life, Apollo 11
2019 FAVORITE FILMS
In alphabetical order: "Ad Astra", "Clemency", "I Lost My Body", "Knives Out", "Luce", "Mike Wallace is Here", "Parasite", "Storm Boy", "Weathering with You", "Wild Rose"
Ash Is Purest White - This list is no particular order but I would cite Jia Zhangke‘s ‘Ash Is Purest White’ as my favorite of the year. I went into 2019 certain 'The Irishman' and its legendary components would be irresistible cinema never fails to surprise. There is something meta about ‘Ash Is Purest White’ beating out Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic because Zhangke’s film looked like it was gunning to be the best gangster film of the decade in its first act but instead digs deeper for more immersive layers of its central characters and Chinese society. Led by a terrific performance by Zhao Tao, what we get is riveting exploration of gifts and curses of time that leave ineffaceable marks on its setting.
'The Irishman' - 'The Irishman' isn’t as seamless as it could have been but it is a masterfully made picture concerned not with the violence and appeal of the crime world but with humanity and the state of one’s soul. The reflective and largely melancholy tinged coming together of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino make it a humbling cinematic landmark in its own right, made that much more monumental by its embracing of streaming distribution via Netflix.
US - Some of the most interesting films of 2019 have been about class and the horrors of exploitation. Jordan Peele’s 'US' set the tone for the year with his unsettling horror pastiche, high on metaphors, that flies the flag of genre filmmaking in remarkable fashion. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the best performances of the year and begs the chilling question; how hard would you fight to hold on to your privilege?
Atlantics - As haunting as it is beautiful, 'Atlantics' is a remarkable debut from writer-director Mati Diop. This contemporary neo-realistic look at contemporary Senegalese society still has a pan-African heart in the way it conveys a heartfelt story about loss and longing, filtered through a mystery and supernatural lens, that seems to traverse time and space for black people everywhere.
Ad Astra - 'Ad Astra' is an earnest exploration of a father-son relationship and once you buy into this, I don’t see how you walk away not being overwhelmed by the film’s very intimate outpouring of emotion. Directed with stunning grace by James Gray, there’s something truly powerful in the metaphor of the son (played with utmost restraint by Brad Pitt) traversing and conquering literal space to bridge that gap with his father.
Parasite is my absolute favorite, as for the rest 2019 was mostly filled with good but not great films in my experience.
Keeping my favorite films list short. My favorite films out of 2019 were Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Little Women, Yesterday, Toy Story 4, and Ford v Ferrari.
My favorite films of 2019 would not be complete without including my top 3 films of the past decade!
2018: BlackKklansman, You Were Never Really Here, Mission: Impossible - Fallout
2017: Columbus, A Ghost Story, Get Out, Dunkirk
2016: The Handmaiden, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water
2015: Spring, Sicario, Mad Max: Fury Road
2014: Whiplash, John Wick, A Most Violent Year
2013: Short Term 12, Stoker, MUD
2012: Magic Mike, The Master, ParaNorman
2011: Take Shelter, The Descendents, Fast Five
2010: The Other Guys, The Social Network, Drive/True Grit
My top three of 2019....
1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood - Perfection in every way.
2. Parasite - That last sequence will haunt my dreams forever.
3. Us - Peele's vision here is a literary mindscape.
And the rest.....
The Last Black Man in San Francisco - Joe Talbot's scintillating meditation on race, class, identity, and place drops one of the best lines of the year. Maybe of the past decade: "You can't hate something if you didn't love it at first."
Ms. Purple - My admiration for Justin Chon - the filmmaker - just continues to grow. As an Asian American, I am 150% invested in the stories Mr. Chon has to tell. Check this out after you watch Chon's feature debut, GOOK streaming on Netflix.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum: Chapter 3 falls a notch below Fury Road and Fallout among my favorite action films of all time. But it is up there alongside The Raid series.
Ad Astra - James Gray's deep space mystery is an absolute spectacle. Gray's vision may be the closest we'll ever get to operationalized space travel. Brad Pitt owns it.
MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2020
"The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run", "No Time to Die", "Trolls: World Tour", "Jungle Cruise", "West Side Story", "King Richard"
Off the to of my head, ‘Tenet’ and its promise of subtle mind fucks leads this list and then there’s the small matter of ‘Dune’.
Seems like 2020 is already bursting with Marvel, DC, 007 and other action franchises/remakes. So far I’m most excited about what Denis Villeneuve will make of Dune though. And as always, whatever comes out of the festivals.
The Call of the Wild, Onward, No Time to Die, Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984, Soul, In the Heights, Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Jungle Cruise, Respect, The Many Saints of Newark, The Eternals, Godzilla vs Kong, Raya and the Last Dragon, West Side Story. I’m sure more as we see more!
TOP GUN: MAVERICK
Coming 2 America
No Time To Die
Fast and Furious 9
Untitled Chris Hemsworth HULK HOGAN biopic
Bill and Ted Face the Music
Gretel & Hansel