2019 has been a very interesting year for cinema. There have been a variety of brilliant films and there have been some real head-scratchers. Coming up with my top 10 list was very difficult. There were many remarkable films by women, for example: Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, Nia DaCosta’s Little Woods, Minhal Baig’s Hala and Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers. There were some stellar horror films that left a mark on me, for instance Christopher Landon’s Happy Death Day 2U, Jordan Peele’s Us, Andy Muschietti’s It: Chapter 2, and André Øvredal’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Florence Pugh hit us with three fantastic performances, in equally fantastic films: Stephen Merchant’s Fighting With My Family, Ari Aster’s Midsommer, and Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.
*It should be noted that as I am writing this I have not seen Little Women, but I know in my heart it would have made it to the top of this list.
I can go on and on about the films of 2019 that should be celebrated and revered, but I finally managed to compile a top 10 list of films that truly spoke to my soul.
*This list is in accordance with US/Canada release dates*
10. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (dir. Xavier Burgin)
Horror is one of my favourite genres. It is a genre that offers a variety of stories, characters, mythology, and scares. However, one thing that has always stuck out to me was the lack of people of colour, and the poor treatment of Black people specifically. As a Black woman this is something that I can’t help but notice, but I could never articulate what I was seeing, or not seeing. Xavier Burgin‘s documentary Horror Noire came along to give me a crash course in the history of Black people in horror. It is an insightful look at how this genre shapes the image of Black people and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. The film is also a celebration of the Black talent that managed to break through and make their mark in horror. Every horror fan should watch it and be educated.
9. Booksmart (dir. Olivia Wilde)
This movie earned a spot on my top 10 list just off of Billie Lourd’s performance. Luckily, Lourd is not the one and only thing that makes this film exceptional. Booksmart is about friendship, a bond (that at times) can feel stronger than the bonds we have with our families – especially when we think of the high school friendships that had us in ride or die mode.. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are dazzling together and have wonderful chemistry. They both imbue there characters with an earnestness that permeates the entire film. Every supporting role is unique and genuine, and the characters don’t feel out of place or faked for comedic purposes, and the comedy is character driven, smart, and relatable. Booksmart does the work to bring dynamic girls to forefront in an honest and hilarious manner. Not only does it make my top 10 of 2019, it also makes my top 10 coming-of-age films of all time.
8. John Wick 3 (dir. Chad Stahelski)
John Wick was a pleasant surprise in 2014. It was a lean and mean action thriller that seduced us into the secret world of assassins. It was the story of the honourable journey to avenge a beloved pet. Keanu Reeves was giving us everything. His swagger and intensity left many in need of fresh air. The cinematography, the action sequences, and fashion were all central elements in fully immersing us into the modern fantasy of the criminal underworld. It is in many respects a perfect film. It spawned two sequels, both excellent in their own ways. The third, John Wick: Parabellum manages to exceed all expectations. Perfect franchises are rare, but John Wick did that, and there is so much more to come. I, for one, cannot wait.
7. How To Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World (dir. Dean DeBlois)
It finally happened…the story about a boy and his pet dragon has come to an end. Dean DeBlois’ animated adaptation of the How To Train Your Dragon books has been an exciting and emotional journey. Hiccup and Toothless grew up before our eyes, and now we must say goodbye. There are very few film trilogies that can be considered perfect, but this trilogy has been an adventurous and endearing ride. Each entry manages to expand on the previous film in a meaningful manner, while still hitting us with what we desire to see and experience. The animation left us breathless, the action had us at the edge of our seats, and the comedy had us in stitches. The Hidden World is a very satisfying end to a lovely journey.
6. Fast Color (dir. Julia Hart)
This film is probably one you haven’t heard of; when it was released the hottest film at the box office was Captain Marvel. Fast Color is the other woman-led superhero film released in April 2019. Writer and director Julia Hart’s second feature film starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a young woman on the run from a shady government organisation because she possesses powers. Hart’s understated superhero film plays like an indie version of an X-Men film. It is anchored by a stellar performance from Mbatha-Raw who has been giving us a steady stream of impressive leading lady performances starting from her breakout role in Amma Asante’s Belle in 2014. The movie as a whole is an impressive feat. It is an emotional journey about a family dealing with the ups and downs of having powers. It is a film that proves that despite the limitations with smaller budgeted films, there can still be exceptional filmmaking. The film is accessible via streaming and on home video, so please check it out if you can. Luckily, the show managed to get someone’s attention as it is to be adapted into a TV series on Amazon.
5. Ready or Not (dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)
Ready or Not, Knives Out, and Parasite would make for an interesting triple feature about the rich getting played. In this horror-comedy Samara Weaving (a.k.a. the secret love-child of Eva Green and Margot Robbie) has to fight for her life after she marries into a psychotic cult-like family. What starts off as a seemingly harmless family game of hide and seek, turns into a deadly cat and mouse game throughout a lavish mansion. Weaving’s commitment to being a kickass scream queen (emphasis on scream), is enough to earn a spot on my list. But, there is so much more that captures my heart (that I am fairly sure stopped a couple of times during the film). From Andie MacDowell’s killer high ponytail, the cast of incredible Canadian actors, the comedy, and of course the kills, Ready or Not is a wildly entertaining time.
4. Knives Out (dir. Rian Johnson)
Who would have thought that a knitted-sweater would be deadlier than a knife? Yes, Johnson has brought sweater weather to forefront of cinema with his zany whodunnit, Knives Out. This mystery sub-genre is one that has been mastered in literature, and in a number of films and TV. However, it has been quite some time since we’ve had a large ensemble play in this arena in such a memorable way. Johnson is a creative who enjoys upending expectations and values creating an experience. Johnson put great care into crafting his characters and this environment, and making every element (that isn’t directly connected to providing answers to the crime) enjoyable. There were several moments in this film where I forgot that a death is being investigated because there is so much to take in. From the eccentric cast to the intricate set design, Johnson delivers. Knives Out is an overall fun experience with some very important and pointed messaging. Johnson’s knives been out!
3. Proxima (dir. Alice Winocour)
2019 brought us three films about astronauts dealing with some form of a crisis. In Alice Winocour’s Proxima, she tells the story of Sarah (Eva Green) an astronaut who has been approved for her first mission in space. The pressures of being an astronaut are difficult, but even more so when the astronaut is a mother. Winocour’s film is a quiet, but powerful portrait of the resilience of mothers (especially career-driven ones). It is no secret that I think Eva Green is one of the greatest actresses ever, and her performance here solidifies it. She balances an array of emotions with a studied and measured approach. Her greatest gift is expressing her character’s inner thoughts, concerns, and emotions with a simple look. Her silence speaks volumes. Winocour and Green put forth a film that celebrates the tenacity and drive of women who risk so much for their careers, their passions, and in this case the exploration of space. It is a perspective we haven’t gotten before, this is why it makes my top 10 films of 2019. Read my review here.
2. HΘMΣCΘMING: A Film by Beyoncé (dir. Beyoncé)
Beyoncé’s Homecoming has been with me ever since it dropped on Netflix earlier this year. I have devoured every moment of the music documentary and the accompanying live album. Homecoming is a complete vision, Beyoncé’s vision. It is a glimpse into her life, her mind, her work, told from her perspective. There is something utterly thrilling about consuming a piece of art that is truly and wholly one person’s vision. In this brief glimpse into her world you see that perfection and excellence is what drives one of the greatest artists to ever be. To witness the culmination of a near 23-year long career into this 2-hour show is an experience that many will carry with them. I know I do.
1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Parasite can only be best described as a scathing commentary on the state of wealth inequality. It is one-third hilarious comedy about a family of scammers (I love me some scammers scamming on the filthy rich), one-third horror (things get super dark), and one-third surrealist drama. Creative, nuanced, and comedic approaches to heavy topics is a difficult thing to master, but Joon-ho has been mastering this for years and it has brought us perhaps one of the greatest films ever. Parasite did what others have tried and failed to do. It is 100% that bitch. #BongHive.
By Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick
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