The 25 best movies of 2019

Yahoo Movies
Avengers: Endgame, Knives Out and The Irishman (Photo: Everett Collection)
Avengers: Endgame, Knives Out and The Irishman (Photo: Everett Collection)

2019 was a year of cinematic goodbyes. Some of the longest-tenured Avengers didn’t make it out of the box-office-dominating Endgame. The adventures of the Skywalker family came to a close in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. And Sheriff Woody bid adieu to his gang in the tear-jerking Toy Story 4. You could also argue movies said goodbye to the big screen with the proliferation of streamers like Netflix, Amazon, Apple+ and Disney+ producing quality feature-length films.

Whatever the medium, however, there were dozens of worthy films, from the aforementioned blockbusters to auteurs like Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino offering some of the best work of their careers, and on-the-rise visionaries like Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig, Taika Waititi, the Safdie brothers, Trey Edward Shults and Lulu Wang continuing to impress.

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Here is Yahoo Entertainment’s hard-fought picks for the best 25 movies of 2019. — By Ethan Alter, Marcus Errico and Kevin Polowy

25. Joker

Years from now, we’ll look back at Todd Phillips’s dark-hearted origin story of the Dark Knight’s longtime nemesis and think, “That movie made a billion dollars?” Maybe that’s the twisted genius of Joker, which seemed to capture the general mood of moviegoers in a way that no other 2019 comic book-inspired feature did. Sure, Endgame made $2 billion, but Joker got under peoples’ skins, aided in no small part by Joaquin Phoenix’s intensely committed performance in the title role. If Phillips’s attempts at social commentary and Scorsese-level artistry don’t entirely land, Phoenix successfully punctures the “Clown Prince of Crime” image of the Joker, instead putting the sad, scared and severely screwed-up psyche behind the greasepaint on full display. — Ethan Alter

24. Hustlers

Hustlers will likely go down in history as the movie that earned Jennifer Lopez her first Oscar nomination, and it's no doubt the second-best performance of her career (No. 1 will always and forever be the 1998 treasure Out of Sight). But this slick and stylish film from Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) about New York City strippers who scam Wall Street types packs a lot more punch than the other recent stripper drama of note, Magic Mike. Hustlers is a heist thriller that is wickedly ambitious and sneakily smart, much like the aging exotic dancer-turned-con artist J.Lo plays so well. — Kevin Polowy

23. TIE: Honey Boy and The Peanut Butter Falcon (a.k.a. The Shia Comeback Special)

He probably won’t take home any Oscars, but Shia LaBeouf is our pick for 2019’s Comeback King thanks to a double bill of movies that are small in scale, but big on heart. Quietly released in August, The Peanut Butter Falcon became one of the year’s biggest indie success stories, growing its audience week by week and banking almost $21 million by the end of its theatrical run. Working the vein of kid-centric ’80s road movies like Stand by Me and The Wizard, writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz craft a crowd-pleasing feature film debut for Zack Gottsagen, who plays a wrestling-obsessed 22-year-old with Down’s Syndrome on a quest to meet his favorite wrestler, with LaBeouf along for the journey as his cranky wingman. The actor gets personal with Honey Boy, a moving, semi-autobiographical story that he wrote in rehab about a troubled child actor (played by Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges at different ages) and his equally troubled father, played by LaBeouf himself in a wrenching performance that he’s called “an exorcism.” Now that he’s newly freed of his personal and professional demons, we can’t wait to see where LaBeouf goes next. — E.A.

22. 63 Up

Star Wars isn’t the only decades-spanning saga that is wrapping up in 2019. Since 1964, Michael Apted has been tracking the lives of the same group of British men and women, checking in with them every seven years from when they were schoolyard tykes to retirees. 63 Up is the latest — and most likely the last — installment in this remarkable documentary series, and it’s a beautiful farewell to people that we’ve come to know by watching them physically and emotionally age on camera. Apted brings each story to a conclusion, while also illustrating how life continues… even for the individuals who have passed on. Taken as a whole, the Up series encompasses an entire lifetime of ordinary people leading ordinary lives. And that’s absolutely extraordinary. — E.A.

21. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

If we’ve learned anything about the last 20 years of Star Wars fandom, from The Phantom Menace on, we knew J.J. Abrams was never going to satisfy everyone. With respect to the nitpickers and naysayers, in our eyes, The Rise of Skywalker is everything we asked for — delivering a rousing, emotional capper that features some of the series' best action, answers all of our biggest questions and perfectly connects the newest characters to the saga's deep history. By the end of it all, you're a kid again watching The Return of the Jedi for the first time. That's movie magic. — K.P.

20. Us

Lupita Nyong'o in <em>Us</em>. (Photo: Universal)
Lupita Nyong'o in Us. (Photo: Universal)

Jordan Peele’s frightful follow-up to Get Out might have lacked the cultural impact of its predecessor, but in terms of pure horror, Us delivered on a whole other level. Yes, the story of an upper-class family that must confront its eerie, murderous, oppressed doppelgängers (a.k.a. the Tethered) offers juicy social commentary, but it also provides plenty of jump scares and moments of sheer terror — all anchored by a chilling dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o that just might scare up an Oscar nod. — Marcus Errico

19. Waves

Trey Edward Shults established himself as one of cinema’s promising young writer-directors with the Spirit Award-winning Krisha and his horror follow-up It Comes at Night. Shults’s third feature is his best yet — a drama about a wealthy African-American Miami family who must cope with unspeakable tragedy, Waves is dizzying and intense yet funny when it needs to be and ultimately poignant and cathartic. Onscreen kin Sterling K. Brown, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Taylor Russell all deliver killer performances, while Oscar-nominated Lucas Hedges turns up in the film’s second half to do what he does best. A stunning, gripping must-see. — K.P.

18. Jojo Rabbit

We read the premise for this “anti-hate satire” and figured it could go very wrong: A boy (the excellent Roman Griffin Davis) in WWII Germany is so enamored with Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi) that the Führer has become the boy’s imaginary friend — until Jojo discovers his mother (Scarlettt Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie). But in the inspired hands of writer-director Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok), this TIFF-winning adaptation of Christine Leunens’s novel will force your PC guard down quickly and have you laughing at its wry, absurdist humor (a scene where various members of the Third Reich greet each other with endless “Heil Hitler!”s comes immediately to mind) and tearing up by its bittersweet ending. — K.P.

17. Rocketman

Taron Egerton in <em>Rocketman</em>. (Photo: Paramount)
Taron Egerton in Rocketman. (Photo: Paramount)

This year’s Elton John biopic has drawn comparisons to last year’s Queen drama Bohemian Rhapsody, and understandably so: Not only do they both commemorate the lives of gay British rock icons, they were at least in part directed by the same person (Rocketman helmer Dexter Fletcher took over Bohemian Rhapsody duties from Bryan Singer mid-production). But Rocketman is far better. Led by a sensational, pitch-perfect performance from Kingsman alum Taron Egerton (who performed all his musical numbers, unlike Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody), this excellent warts-and-all jukebox musical catches a vibrant groove within its first 15 minutes and never lets up, even as its subject material gets darker and darker. — K.P.

16. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

After quietly emerging from Sundance as one of the festival’s best-reviewed films, we figured this triumph from childhood friends Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails could emerge as an indie darling of Moonlight proportions — especially because it shared a distributor (A24) and producing team (Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment). Although The Last Black Man never quite reached Moonlight-level exposure, the film won over audiences and staked its claim as one of the year’s best. It’s a beautiful and poetic story of love and loyalty, not to mention a biting indictment of gentrification in the Bay Area. Seek this one out. — K.P.

15. Avengers: Endgame

Marvel stuck the landing. After 11 years, 21 films and too many super-beings to count, the so-called “Infinity Saga” came to an epic, satisfying (and lucrative) close with Endgame. Five years after Thanos’s fateful snap vaporized half the universe, Captain America assembles the Avengers for one last-ditch (and slightly bonkers) final mission that revisits key moments in our heroes’ past and is by turns bracing and bittersweet. We dare you not to cry as the MCU bids poignant goodbyes to Iron Man, Black Widow and Cap. Martin Scorsese, you got it all wrong. — M.E.

14. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Come for Quentin Tarantino’s note-perfect recreation of 1969 Hollywood, stay for the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and likely Best Supporting Actor winner Brad Pitt as a pair of industry veterans on the cusp of being left behind by the incoming generation of easy riders and raging bulls. While the divisive Bruce Lee scene is a lowlight, other moments in Hollywood are Tarantino all-timers, starting with that lengthy sequence where Pitt’s Cliff Booth drives around the Sunset Strip listening to the radio before heading home to make dinner for himself and his canine companion. Other standout scenes include Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate sneaking into a matinee screening of The Wrecking Crew, and an encounter between DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and a young actress (Julie Butters) who schools him in the art of Method acting. Mileage will vary on where Hollywood falls on everyone’s individual Tarantino rankings, but like every movie he makes it’s an instant conversation-starter. — E.A.

13. Ford v Ferrari

Matt Damon and Christian Bale in <em>Ford v Ferrari</em>. (Photo: Fox)
Matt Damon and Christian Bale in Ford v Ferrari. (Photo: Fox)

James Mangold’s dynamic film about Ford Motors’s attempt to dethrone perennial racing champ Ferrari at the 1969 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race has been labeled “a dad movie,” but that’s not a pejorative. FvF is an inspirational sports drama that in the vein of Field of Dreams, Rocky and Jerry Maguire — good company to keep. And while the racing scenes are nothing short of breathtaking (and akin to what Ron Howard pulled off in 2013’s Rush), what really drives this one is the poignant bond that develops between the two men at the heart of the story, Matt Damon's car designer Caroll Shelby and Christian Bale's driver Ken Miles. — K.P.

12. Apollo 11

Fifty years after humankind landed on the moon, director Todd Douglas Miller recreates that extraordinary feat of engineering and exploration using archival film from Apollo 11’s historic flight. There are no talking head interviews or dramatic re-enactments in this documentary: Everything you see over the course of its 93-minute runtime comes directly from 1969. Seamlessly edited into a “you are there” experience and backed by Matt Morton’s rousing score, that footage takes on new life: It feels like it could have happened yesterday instead of five decades ago. As rousing as Apollo 11 is, it also leaves you feeling strangely melancholic: We reached for the stars once and succeeded. What’s holding us back from trying again? — E.A.

11. Uncut Gems

Co-directors/brothers Josh and Benny Safdie have been pumping out worthy indies for years, and while the 2017 Robert Pattinson starrer Good Time helped put them on the map, Uncut Gems elevates them to a whole new level. Visceral, shocking and anxiety-inducing in all the best ways, this intense drama about a desperate, degenerate New York City jeweler (Adam Sandler, who somehow makes this guy deeply sympathetic in a career-best performance) grabs you by the neck at the get-go and does not relent for 135 fraught minutes. If there’s any justice in this world, The Sandman will land his very first Academy Award nomination. — K.P.

10. Dolemite Is My Name

Eddie Murphy and co-stars in <em>Dolemite Is My Name</em>. (Photo: Netflix)
Eddie Murphy and co-stars in Dolemite Is My Name. (Photo: Netflix)

Eddie Murphy may insist that he never really went away, but the defining screen comedian of the 1980s raised more ruckus than he has in years with Dolemite Is My Name, a loving and hilarious tribute to the singular comic creation of Rudy Ray Moore. Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the film is a fine companion piece to the duo’s 1994 breakthrough Ed Wood — another story about a Hollywood outcast who found fulfillment and community through the act of creating high-quality low art. Murphy visibly thrives on the community that’s surrounding him as well, from Craig Brewer behind the camera to the scene-stealers like Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Mike Epps moving in and out of the frame. Eddie Murphy is his name and making people laugh is, once again, his game. — E.A.

9. The Farewell

The Farewell is a gem of a film that has been steadily winning over viewers for a full year, dating back to its premiere in January at Sundance. Lulu Wang’s sensational drama is about a struggling New York City writer (Awkwafina) who ostensibly goes to China for a cousin’s wedding — but the wedding is really a ruse, an excuse to say goodbye to her “Nai Nai” (Zhao Shuzhen), who has been told that she only has weeks to live. The Farewell makes viewers fall in love with every one of the family members, even those who make questionable decisions. It also challenges our perspective on other culture’s customs — but most of all it challenges us not to cry over the deeply felt relationship between grandmother and granddaughter. Good luck. — K.P.

8. Toy Story 4

<em>Toy Story 4</em> (Photo: Disney/Pixar)
Toy Story 4 (Photo: Disney/Pixar)

We were skeptical when Pixar announced it was going to revisit the world of Woody and Buzz after the sublime Toy Story 3 seemingly concluded the sentient toys’ tale. And while Toy Story 4 didn’t match its monumental predecessor, 4 was the best animated feature of the year (apologies to Frozen 2, which finished just outside our top 25), thanks to its combination of stellar set pieces (the Easter egg-filled antique shop and carnival from hell), brilliant new additions (Forky, Duke Caboom, Ducky and Bunny) and poignant farewells. As in all great Pixar flicks, you won’t get away without shedding a few tears, but they’re all worth it to see Woody get the happy ending he deserves. – M.E.

7. Booksmart

Olivia Wilde’s high-school comedy may not have become the summertime blockbuster many hoped, but expect Booksmart to be the subject of multiple oral histories two decades from now, just like other generation-defining teen favorites like Can’t Hardly Wait, Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The movie’s whipsmart screenplay follows the broad structure of a “one wild night” teen romp, while also knowingly — and hilariously — bending and breaking many of the genre’s outdated conventions. The scene where stars Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein plow through the athletic field fence on their way to graduation belongs on the Mount Rushmore of teen movie moments. — E.A.

6. 1917

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (he of 14 Oscar nominations and a soon-to-be second win) are drawing deserved raves for their work on this highly immersive, highly riveting World War I thriller. Like the 2014 Oscar winner Birdman, the film plays out over a series of super-extended shots (rarely before have you seen such impressive production design) that puts viewers in the thick of the trenches and the pit of despair. And in following a pair of likable British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on a critical but life-threatening mission, pays high tribute to those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. — K.P. 

5. The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s long-awaited return to the gangster genre has more in common with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon than Goodfellas… and that’s a good thing. Where Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster, Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran falls into that career and spends the rest of his life paying for it through moral compromises and personal failures. The three-and-a-half hour runtime may seem daunting, but Scorsese uses that time judiciously, illustrating how Frank’s world grows smaller and smaller over the decades as his gangland “friends” die (at his hand or the hands of others) and he’s left abandoned and alone. As good as it is to see De Niro working with Scorsese again — and Al Pacino collaborating with Scorsese for the first time — Joe Pesci delivers The Irishman’s standout performance as the soft-spoken devil whispering in Frank’s ear, leading him ever forward to his final resting place. — E.A.

4. Little Women

<em>Little Women</em> (Photo: Sony)
Little Women (Photo: Sony)

Every film version of Little Women finds something new in Louisa May Alcott’s beloved 19th century novel, and Greta Gerwig’s knockout adaptation is no exception. Using a time-shifting structure that moves back and forth in the lives of its titular characters — the March sisters — the Oscar-nominated writer-director behind Lady Bird crafts a beautifully nuanced story about adolescent dreams crashing on the rocks of adult realities, only to rise again in different forms. Gerwig’s Lady Bird star Saoirse Ronan is the emotional linchpin in a sterling ensemble cast that also includes Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Eliza Scanlen and Chris Cooper, but the real star here remains Alcott’s book, which continues to inspire new generations of artists to tell their own stories and own their own words. — E.A.

3. Parasite

It’s been said before about many other directors, but this time we really mean it: Bong Joon-ho is the new Steven Spielberg. For proof, just take one look at Parasite, the South Korean director’s dazzling high-wire act of social commentary, dark comedy and edge-of-your-seat thriller. Like Spielberg before him, Bong is a master craftsman who tells stories that have global appeal. He’s also aces at staging lights-out moments that mix humor with high tension; there’s a scene with a coffee table in Parasite that’s basically Bong’s answer to the Ben Gardner boat moment in Jaws. Hollywood will no doubt be chomping at the bit to make an English-language version of Parasite, but this is a film that easily speaks to all audiences, in all countries. — E.A.

2. Marriage Story

Granted, a more accurate title would have been Divorce Story, but Noah Baumbach’s heartbreaking and deeply resonating drama starts hitting us from the very opening moments — two ingenious montages in which future exes (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, both phenomenal) enumerate all the attributes they love and respect about one another. One question that has emerged out of this triumph of a film — Baumbach's best yet, which is saying a lot considering he also wrote and directed 2005’s The Squid and the Whale — is whose side the story is on. But that’s the beauty: It doesn't have to take sides. Sometimes two very good people just aren't meant to be together. — K.P.

1. Knives Out

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig in <em>Knives Out</em>. (Photo: Lionsgate)
Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig in Knives Out. (Photo: Lionsgate)

Rian Johnson needed a palette cleanser after the toxic fandom blowback from 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, so he simply went and made the best movie of the year. An expertly remixed spin on the admittedly antiquated whodunit genre, Knives Out offers a fresh, wickedly clever, hilarious and surprising thriller that marries a twisty plot with ample cultural criticism. While the film's colorful ensemble (including Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas and Toni Collette) is exceptional, it's ultimately Johnson's pen that elevates this film to the top of the list. Knives Out is a film that keeps getting better and better as it goes until the bitter, awesome end. — K.P. 

Did we overlook one of your favorites? Sound off in the comments.

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