Looking back through the cinematic roller-coaster of 2019, it seems the main movie trends were chiseled men, no-nonsense women, and… trauma? There was a lot of trauma.
We’ve done our best to sift through our virtual ticket stubs and round up the best sweaters, scissors, flower crowns, and used sporks of the year—but tell us your favorite films in the comments!
While I enjoyed watching how Rian Johnson played in the Star Wars universe for The Last Jedi, Knives Out is the very best encapsulation of his talents. He somehow made a whodunnit even more fun, by drawing out incredible performances from a knockout cast—and then subverting all that to prove that the movie isn’t really about them. This should be required holiday viewing every year. —Natalie
BEST MOVIE BEST SWEATERS BEST MOVIE CHRIS EVANS JAWLINE BEST MOVIE SONDHEIM REFERENCE BEST MOVIE RIAN JOHNSON YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD. —Leah
I cosign everything above and would like to request that Daniel Craig sing a different Sondheim number in every film he appears in for the rest of his career. Bond can keep up the trend by singing along in his car to “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch” in No Time to Die. —Em
Elsa and Anna go through some emotional highs and low lows, in an unflinching way that recaptures the spirit of the original. Hopefully this will provide the blueprint for future authorized Disney sequels. —Natalie
Ugh, my heart. This movie made me cry far more than I was prepared to. —Em
Doctor Sleep might have been a little overlong? And it could have just been a by-the-numbers horror story. Instead Mike Flanagan used the bones of the film to build an affecting story of trauma and its aftermath, with Jack Torrance’s alcoholism and abuse echoing through the lives of his son Dan and Dan’s little-sister-in-Shining, Abra. Even that would have been a great accomplishment, but on top of that Flanagan uses the film to knit King’s book together with the events of Kubrick’s vastly different film, bringing two horror classics together in a way that satisfied King himself, and the Kubrick Estate, and a lot of horror fans. Though not enough sadly—the film didn’t do nearly as well at the box office as expected. So I’m also shouting it out here in the hopes that you’ll all rent or buy or stream or whatever, because I really think this movie deserves more attention than it got. —Leah
Terminator: Dark Fate
I am here for this trend of bringing back the original women of beloved franchises and letting them kick even more ass than they could before they had wrinkles and gray hair. And augmented super-soldier Mackenzie Davis gives me hope for the human race. —Natalie
I’m upset that this film didn’t get the box office bank that a lot of far lazier films got this year because, if I don’t get another movie with the new Terminating Squad, I am going to revolt. —Em
Kristen Stewart is the queer spy of all of our dreams, and this reimagining/continuation was a welcome addition to the undercover-ladies-kicking-ass canon. —Natalie
How long have they been on that island? They don’t know, we don’t know—but watching Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson squabble like furious seabirds makes for an intense cinematic experience.
It: Chapter Two
I’m including IT: Chapter II here mainly for Bill Hader’s amazing performance as Richie. I was one of those kids who read IT way too young and attached to Richie Tozier like an orphaned duck imprinting on a lucky Instagrammer. So when the screenwriters and director nudged the story into making Richie a closeted queer man who had been in love with his childhood best friend his whole life, but, because he forgot his childhood because of IT’s terrible powers, he’s basically just had a hole in his heart for his entire adult life and only learns why because he has to go back to a hometown he doesn’t remember and kill this fuckin’ clown?
There’s a lot here. And to be honest I don’t think the film quite does justice to the plot point. But it does explicitly show a gaybashing incident as an example of IT’s greatest evil, and it answers that evil with the love Richie feels for Eddie, so I’m including it on the list really for that. And for all the fanfic it’s inspired. —Leah
Steven Universe: The Movie
Steven Universe: The Movie only premiered on Cartoon Network in September, but I feel as though it’s lived in my heart since my birth? It’s a beautiful summation of the past seven years of the show, effortlessly combining the ’30s-style animation of a new character, Spinel, with the usual SU look, and then making her retro look a key plot point. It somehow checks in with all of the major characters? I don’t even know how? But it never feels rushed, or like Rebecca Sugar’s just ticking down a list. It also, even more shockingly, was able to rehash some old conflicts, and then comment on that rehashing in a way that showed how much all the characters have grown. And it did all of this crazy emotional work and gorgeous animation, while also giving us a whole movie’s worth of new SU songs, one of which, “Other Friends” has been stuck in my head (in a good way) ever since I first heard it.
Just, heart eyes, heart eyes, heart eyes.—Leah
Spider-Man: Far From Home
In so many ways this was more of a gut-punch than Endgame: Peter’s struggles to move forward without Tony mirroring the Avengers scrambling without a leader; the low-simmering rage of Mysterio and his co-conspirators; and especially that audacious fake-news ending. Keep taking risks, Marvel, I am here for it. —Natalie
Look, part of me wants to just yell “Jake Gyllenhaal in the EDITH glasses!!!” and run away. But the thing this movie did incredibly well, I thought, was show us a Peter Parker who has already lived through the grief of losing his parents, Uncle Ben, the battle with Vulture, having his first attempt at a date completely botched, all the battles with the Avengers, and then his own Dusting or Blip, or whatever we’re calling it. This is a battered Peter Parker, even as Peter Parkers go. But the movie showed him reacting to the loss of Dad Stark like a kid, not like a hero—he really just wants to go to Europe and have fun with his friends and maybe see if the whole MJ thing is a possibility. The way he attaches to Quentin Beck? The way he tries over and over to ignore his heroic life? The way Nick Fury keeps intruding? The way he sees literal shrines to Tony everywhere he turns? And then all of that contrasted with how Ned actually has the summer Peter wanted? This is the Peter Parker-est Peter ever. Also? Maybe the best MCU after-credits scene since the original.—Leah
The whole “Spider-Man has to step into Iron Man’s shoes” theme was a little off to me, but Holland continues to be a perfect Peter Parker, and I will gladly watch him occupy that space with every awkward stammer he can muster. —Em
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
You’ve got Idris Elba as Black Iron Man (more accurate than Superman, considering his relationship with his bike) in a globe-trotting science fiction spy caper, not to mention the wonderful snarky dynamic of The Rock and Jason Statham. Pure, laugh-out-loud fun. —Natalie
I want a spinoff series about Luke Hobbs’ mom. She’s the BEST. —Leah
I have never been a Statham person, but if Hobbs and Hobbs is the next movie in this franchise, I will line up to see it several times in one day. —Em
Who knew Hereditary’s Ari Aster would be the one to give us the lush, quasi-vicarious, cathartic breakup movie we so desperately needed for 2019? —Natalie
Toy Story 4
Forky is my God now.
I am trash, we are all trash, it is our destiny and our greatest gift.
This movie gave me Forky.
This movie goes on the Best Movie List. —Leah
It’s Woody as the Velveteen Rabbit, okay? This was always going to destroy me. —Em
The Dead Don’t Die
Can Jim Jarmusch do a werewolf movie next? Or a Frankenstein? The Mummy? Between this and Only Lovers Left Alive, I need a full monster set. —Em
So I was on the train one day, and this guy got on carrying a guitar in a case and wearing a The Dead Don’t Die t-shirt. And I looked at the guy for a second, and almost complimented the shirt, but because I live in New York I’ve been socialized never to speak to ANYONE, I looked away. And then after the guy got off the train I nudged my friend I was with and I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was Sturgill Simpson, the guy who sang the titular theme song for The Dead Don’t Die?” And then my friend looked Sturgill Simpson up on his phone and THAT WAS TOTALLY HIM ON THE TRAIN. —Leah
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
This movie was just a script tweaking away from being an amazing epic fantasy film. As is, I still adored it. You can fight me on this one. —Em
This ambitious conclusion to ten years’ and dozens of movies’ worth of stories was wildly imperfect and failed as often as it succeeded, but it was a tremendous effort that deserves commendation. Time-traveling back through previous movies was exactly the meta take needed for an epic wrap-up of this magnitude, and “Avengers… ASSEMBLE” was a near-perfect moment. —Natalie
Plenty of issues with this one, but at least we got to see our superbbys one more time. —Em
I’m always here for Leftovers fanfic.—Leah
Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to It Follows (It Follows-Up?) is a modern L.A.-noir pastiche that riffs on everything from The Long Goodbye to Inherent Vice to The Big Lebowski to Columbo, but the reason I’m including it here is, well, it’s kind of hard to define? Allow me to try: This movie feels like an indie movie that was made in the early ’90’s, flopped terribly, and then slowly built a cult following across dorm rooms and high school sleepovers for two decades until it washed up in 2019 with people saying “I can’t believe this movie wasn’t a hit! This is exactly the kind of original weird-ass cinematic experience people claim to want! What the hell?” Except of course that whole 20 year trajectory happened over the spring and summer of 2019. It’s also seems to be Andrew Garfield trying to reckon with his entire career up to this point? But with hilarious references to Spider-Man, genuinely spooky urban legends, SoCal cult shenanigans, and a really solid portrait of life in L.A.
What I’m saying is, you should try this movie and let me know what you think. —Leah
Every trailer transmitted this movie’s core emotional theme—get up one more time than you got knocked down—and yet I still sobbed when Carol did the thing. An excellent re-origin story and period piece, the likes of which I’d love to see more of in the MCU. —Natalie
“I don’t have to prove myself to you.” —Leah
This movie wanted you to know that being a woman who understands her own worth and power is a joyful experience. This movie is right. —Em
After Get Out, of course we’d be looking for the twist in Us. So while Jordan Peele’s followup wasn’t quite as shocking as his deadly meet-the-murderous-rich-white-parents horror film, its class commentary was no less haunting. —Natalie
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
The second LEGO Movie lacked the unabashed joy of its predecessor, but that was by design. While in 2014 we needed the anthem of “Everything is Awesome,” the sequel is equally necessary for now, with its lessons about letting bitterness isolate you from others and lead to destruction instead of teamwork. —Natalie