From the Archives: Top 10 Films of 2019

From the Archives: Top 10 Films of 2019

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

As we approach the end of the year, it occurs to me just how stellar 2019 has been for movies. It also occurs to me how many damn lists I’ve made in just the past month alone. I look forward to 2020, as with the new year comes a renewed distance from end-of-year lists. With this final list sharing multiple entries with my end-of-decade list, I fear there may be some repeat thoughts here. No matter, I’m happy to tout the majesty of each and every movie contained herein ad nauseum because each entry is very important to me for some reason or another. Don’t worry, I’ll leave some room at the end for a handful of heartbreaking cuts. Let’s do this.

Oh, and check out the Top 10 of 2019 episode of my podcast, I Like to Movie Movie where Garrett and I are joined by Ryan counting down our top 10s!


10. The Vast of Night (dir. Andrew Patterson)

The first alien invasion movie to capture both the horror and wonder of extraterrestrials since Signs, and this one doesn’t have any lame religious junk in it (btw I love Signs, but I also love talking smack on religion). A small town location makes this feel simultaneously cozy and cut off from the rest of the world, making for a comfortable-yet-exciting experience. A low-budget miracle that uses our podcast lizard brains to great effect. Bold formal swings establish Patterson as a talent to watch, and the performances are some of the finest of the year. So much quick-talking over old timey broadcast process. A dream for anyone who grew up watching The X-Files.


9. Yesterday (dir. Danny Boyle)

Yeah, it’s schmaltzy, but when did that become such a bad thing? A celebration of the human capacity to create and consume art, and Boyle directed the fuck out of it. A massive swing is taken at the midpoint that I simply cannot believe pays off so well. Get that stick out of your asses, cinephiles, and let the love in. More original stories like this one, please. Himesh Patel has the voice of an angel.


8. Her Smell (dir. Alex Ross Perry)

Boogie Nights by way of The Runaways, my first foray into the work of Perry was an absolute stunner. Five long scenes that showcase the combined talents of a filmmaker and his muse in a way that will absolutely gut you. Elisabeth Moss is the best actress of her generation and it’s not even close. The soundtrack, comprised entirely of imaginary bands, is aces. Sort of unrelated, but I came out of this movie with a renewed fervor for reminding the world how incredible Courtney Love is in The People vs. Larry Flynt. No, Love is not in this movie, but you’ll see what I mean when you watch it WHICH YOU SHOULD.


7. Us (dir. Jordan Peele)

I’ve spoken at great length about this movie over the past year, and I think I’m out of things to say, so I’ll just reiterate this: Jordan Peele murdered the sophomore slump with this one, creating a tale that’s twice as scary and relevant as his exceptional debut. With Us, he has created a new horror iconography that will be aped by copycats for years to come. A true game changer.

6. Luz (dir. Tilman Singer)

I’m pretty sure the budget for Luz was something like ten bucks, yet this thriller isn’t handicapped by its lack of funding in any way. In fact, the creative things done simply through editing, lighting, and sound design go well beyond what many filmmakers could do with a considerable stack of cash. I often say about newer filmmakers “I can’t wait to see what they can do with a budget,” and while that is certainly the case here, I think I’m more interested in seeing what else Singer can do with his back to the financial wall. Then again, if he can make something so effective on a shoestring, who knows what magic he could create with more resources? All I know is that whatever happens next for Singer is going to be great, as well as for titular star Luana Velis, whose compelling performance as a taxi driver with a demon problem remains my favorite of the year.


5. Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)

Remember when I said that Jordan Peele murdered the sophomore slump? Well, Aster was right behind him doing the exact same thing with his second film. Midsommar, like Us, is completely new, and will undoubtedly inspire a million other films in its wake. Impossibly, the director’s cut, which adds an additional 30 minutes to an already very long film, makes it even better. Midsommar is the most stunning piece of horror film craft this side of The Shining. I mean that. A masterpiece.

4. Waves (dir. Trey Edward Shults)

With his debut, Shults was playing with structure. With his follow up, he worked with light. With Waves, one of the most promising voices in cinema is now mucking about with color, creating one of the most visually stirring dramas ever made. But beyond the technical prowess on display is a deeply affecting story about family, love, loss, and survival. Shults’ on-brand mix of emotional gut punches and moments of utter hilarity reaches amazing heights here, masterfully taking the viewer on an incredible journey through the waves (guhh!) that ripple outward from tragedy. Absolute perfection. I died 4 times while watching this one.


3. Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher)

The best musical biopic ever made, full stop. In the wake of Walk Hard, the formula for this sort of thing has been exposed and turned into a joke. After Bohemian Rhapsody stumbled though said formula in a state of aggressive mediocrity, we all pretty much assumed that this genre was functionally dead. Nope. Rocketman throws factual accuracy to the wind (but not entirely), instead going for emotional veracity. I’ve emerged from many a biopic contented, feeling as if I had just listened to a greatest hits album, which is fine, but it’s a lacking experience overall. When Rocketman ended, I felt like I knew Sir Elton John personally. Also, Taron Egerton is operating at god-level here, as is Jaime Bell, who nails the the of role he’s been seeking for his entire career as songwriter Bernie Taupin.

Now that I think about it, the musical biopic may indeed be dead, because I don’t foresee anything topping this one in the future. It’s that good. Sir Elton John breathes something different than the rest of us here on earth, and Rocketman manages to give us a whiff.

NOTE: My top two might as well be tied. They are both the best movie I’ve seen this year. One gets the edge because it needs support while the other doesn’t.


2. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I’ve given it a ton of thought, and this is undoubtedly Tarantino’s best. It’s everything I love about movies wrapped into one supremely entertaining beast of a film. Career best work from both Pitt and DiCaprio, with a warmth that is typically lacking from Taratino’s body of work. Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood is the movie that only Tarantino could make, and he couldn’t have made it until now. The man has become his own influence, and in doing so, has advanced his unique (and uniquely borrowed) style into the stratosphere. He’s one of the greats, and he has made the film he was born to make. Yeah, it may not be for everyone, but we’re all allowed to be wrong sometimes.


1. Uncut Gems (dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie)

Holy fucking shit. Don’t go see this movie if you have a heart condition. Do go see this movie if you’re pregnant and trying to move things along. The Safdies love telling stories about people on the fringe of society, whose compulsions threaten to become their entire identity. This time, they’ve chosen the life of a degenerate gambler, whose success in life is being sapped away by his need to “win.” The entire time I watched this film I wanted to Last Action Hero my way into the screen, grab Sandler’s Howard Ratner by the sweaty collar of his leather jacket and scream “YOU HAVE EVERYTHING THAT A REASONABLE PERSON COULD WANT AND THEN SOME — GET OUT NOW!!!”

The Safdies have established themselves as new masters of the grime picture, and their latest is the finest piece of New York sleaze cinema since Taxi Driver. In fact, I may like this one better than Taxi Driver, if only for the sheer fact that I can’t wait to show it to people and watch their reaction (Taxi Driver is old enough that its expiration date on such things has passed). Uncut Gems is a lean and mean thriller, overflowing with shitty people doing shitty things for shitty reasons. All we can do is hold on to our butts and watch. Also, LaKeith Stanfield is my favorite person and he is in this movie.

Honorable Mentions/Tough Cuts:

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Masterpiece!

  • Ready or Not – Bold ending that I still can’t believe!

  • The Art of Self-DefenseFight Club for a new generation of frustrated men.

  • Joker – Yeah, it’s actually really good if you divorce it from the insane discourse.

  • The Lighthouse – AAAAAAAAART!

  • Apollo 11 – Best space doc ever made.

  • The Death of Dick Long – Read nothing, just watch. You won’t believe your eyes.

  • Doctor Sleep – An impossible sequel turns out to be damn near perfect!

  • Rambo: Last Blood – Offensive and repulsive in every way. I loved it.

  • In Fabric – A haunted dress fucks with the people who wear it. That’s all you need.

  • The Beach Bum – Hardest I’ve laughed at any movie this year, and it’s also probably the best film about class outside of Parasite.

  • Parasite – Probably the best film about class.

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