Ben Pearson's Top 10 Movies Of 2019

After a rough start, 2019 ended up being a terrific year for film. Several movies which didn't make my personal list – films like Marriage Story, Toy Story 4, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Us, Apollo 11, One Cut of the Dead, Uncut Gems, etc. – could easily constitute a separate lineup teeming with its own memorable moments. But, as the saying goes, though there are many [lists] like it, this one is mine. Here are my favorite films of last year.

Ben Pearson's Top 10 Movies of 2019

10. Midsommar

Ari Aster's follow-up to Hereditary is a wholly different cinematic experience, but still very clearly from the same twisted mind. Midsommar is the closest thing I've seen to the original version of The Wicker Man since 2011's Kill List (although all three films have their own distinct identities). Aster's sun-soaked horror movie is all about the terror of the unfamiliar, and about finding an unconventional family in an unexpected place. Florence Pugh delivers one of the year's best performances as Dani, an emotionally drained woman who just needs some support during a rough time in her life, but doesn't get it from her self-centered boyfriend (a solid Jack Reynor). The film is loaded with subtle hints that point toward its ending, which feels simultaneously shocking and inevitable and perfectly walks the line between disturbing and cathartic.

9. Knives Out

Rian Johnson is near the top of the list of my favorite working filmmakers, and I was thrilled when word came out that he'd be tackling an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery. In Knives Out, Johnson wonderfully captures the tone of those novels, bringing that classic detective formula into the modern day and providing some twists we haven't seen before in the process. And while it has a great ensemble cast, including an especially fun turn from Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, it also has a real message about immigration and politics as expressed through the character of Marta, the film's stealth lead who's played by rising star Ana de Armas. I can't wait to rewatch this.

8. Ford v Ferrari

I'm a little shocked that I'm not seeing more love out there for Ford v Ferrari, a non-traditional sports movie that made me get invested in racing because of the characters behind the wheel (and in this case, the ones designing the vehicles as well). Matt Damon and Christian Bale are note-perfect, but the real reason I love this movie is because director James Mangold made a film that's about the pursuit of and hard-fought battle for creativity in an environment in which that creativity is supposed to be valued but is all-too-often viewed as an obstacle to be circumvented if possible. The parallels between building a great race car and making a great movie couldn't be more clear. When Bale's character achieves the "perfect lap," it's a small, personal victory within a larger loss – but in the world of studio filmmaking, those smaller victories can often be the grace notes that are remembered long after the credits roll.

7. 1917

I went into 1917 aware of its visual gimmick and with eyes squinted and arms crossed, as if to say, "OK, movie, let's see what you've got." But the power of Sam Mendes's World War I movie quickly made me uncross my arms and fully open my eyes; this movie transcends its one-shot technique and delivers a harrowing, emotional, and urgent story about perseverance, resilience, and doing the right thing under unthinkable circumstances. It's a technological achievement, sure (all hail cinematographer Roger Deakins), but that appearance of a single shot serves to underline the fact that the madness these men endure is essentially just a single day of these men's lives – a single day in a war which lasted for years, and a war which could demand similar seemingly-impossible things from a different man each day. I'll be thinking about this one for a long, long time.

6. Booksmart

I'm frequently disappointed to find that high school comedies spend too much time on diversions that often aren't as purely entertaining as the main storyline. But that's not the case with Booksmart. The movie has its fair share of tangents, but the script is so solid and its characters are so wonderfully realized that I was never bored or impatient to return to another plotline. I'm still shaking my head in amazement that this is Olivia Wilde's feature directorial debut, because it's so expertly crafted that it feels like it could have been her tenth movie. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are phenomenal, Billie Lourd crushes her small amount of screen time, and the movie's mix of laugh-out-loud comedy and true-to-life drama about close friendship puts this in the pantheon of the best high school films ever made.

5. Avengers: Endgame

While I don't suspect the Marvel Cinematic Universe will truly end any time soon, Avengers: Endgame is as satisfying a conclusion as I could have hoped for when it comes to Marvel's so-called Infinity Saga. A three-hour superhero time travel heist film that manages to balance bleakness with effective comedic asides, it's a movie containing several genuinely cheer-worthy moments (as opposed to, say, cheering during a Stan Lee cameo). Cap wielding Mjolnir. Peter Parker's return to life. Scott Lang reuniting with his now-grown daughter. Tony Stark's snap. Cap and Peggy's last dance. Endgame has tangible emotional stakes, ones that have been built up for years and – here's the impressive part – actually pay off in gratifying ways. In a world in which would-be mega-blockbusters are all chasing this particular high, Endgame is a narratively worthy high to chase.

4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The hot takes were a'flyin' when Quentin Tarantino's latest landed in theaters last summer, but I think time has been kind to this one. I recently rewatched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and still found it to be Tarantino's nicest, most reserved movie since 1997's Jackie Brown – a breezy, soulful look at a bygone era, and a reclaiming and reframing of a woman whose tragic death has overshadowed her life. I love hanging out with Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, cruising around 1969 L.A. and watching these guys navigate their relationship as it hits a crucial turning point. I love spending time with Sharon Tate, seeing her vivacious personality on full display. I love the music, the cars, the vibe. Once Upon a Time is Tarantino's most well-realized fairytale, a loving ode to a laser-focused time period so lovingly recreated that it feels immersive in a way nothing else he's directed quite has.

3. Little Women

Writer/director Greta Gerwig took the unusual tactic of restructuring Louisa May Alcott's classic story in her adaptation of Little Women. That shuffling resulted in a unique split approach to the movie, one which somehow seemed to give the events of the film an extra sense of destiny and which added extra emotional weight to its saddest moment. Every single actor is perfectly selected and ideally equipped to play their character, but special props go to Saoirse Ronan's Jo, Laura Dern's Marmie, Florence Pugh's Amy, and Timothée Chalamet's Laurie. You can feel the familial love radiating between these actresses, and the cinematography and production design make the movie feel like a soft, warm blanket that I wanted to envelope me forever. This was the movie Gerwig was born to make.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Listeners of our /Film Daily podcast and readers of the site's Best of the Decade coverage may be sick of hearing me talk about this movie, but in the words of pop star Selena Gomez, the heart wants what it wants. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is, quite simply, one of the best movies about love that I've ever seen. The film is a classical, aching romance that's so beautiful it hurts, and writer/director Céline Sciamma's heart-rending script and expert direction results in cinematic images that are even more beautiful than the gorgeous paintings we see throughout the movie. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are utterly mesmerizing in this devastating, punch-drunk love story that left me dazed as I walked out of the theater. I've thought about it every single day since.

1. Parasite

Writer/director Peter Bogdonovich once said, "I like films where you feel like somebody's home." Parasite fits that criteria in more ways than one. Not only are there multiple families jostling for control of the movie's glamorous house (including a reveal that "somebody's home" in a secret basement), but from a filmmaking standpoint, co-writer and director Bong Joon-ho is in obvious control of each aspect of the production. Every single movement of the camera feels clearly motivated and meticulously planned, the production design is exquisite, and the script, with its extensive exploration of class inequality, gave us the best of 2019's many "eat the rich" stories. Portrait may be timeless, but Parasite is the movie of the year.