Madison’s Top 15 Movies of 2019

Commentary, Film and Television

I probably say this every year, but it’s been a good year to be a movie fan.

2019 brought us new flicks from some of my favourite filmmakers (including Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton, not to mention Martin Scorsese and horror master Mike Flanagan). Sophomore filmmakers Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Eggers released their hotly-anticipated follow-ups to Hereditary, Get Out, and The Witch (respectively).

We also had another John Wick sequel, a Breaking Bad spinoff, biopics of Mayhem and Motley Crue, a bunch of Stephen King adaptations, and a big alligator movie. Established properties aside, it’s been a year of pleasant surprises from new (and new to me) filmmakers.

Without further ado, below are my Top 15 movies of the year.

(Please keep in mind that I haven’t yet had a chance to see Little Women or Rob Zombie’s Three From Hell.)


 

Top 15 Movies of 2019

15. Dumbo (Dir. Tim Burton)

Tim Burton’s lavish Dumbo remake is a visually stunning update that captures the sorrow and joy of the original. Burton revels in the whimsical circus imagery without forgetting the sense of loss at the core of the story, and Ehren Kruger’s script has several quietly devastating moments. That’s not to say there’s no bombast – a climactic escape scene set at a Disney-style theme park makes Free Willy’s ending look like a relaxing trip to the beach. Although I wish the film would have leaned a bit more into its darker instincts, it’s a satisfying family fantasy with all the eccentricity you’d expect from the director of Beetlejuice and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Read my full review here.

14. Ready Or Not (Dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett)

Ready Or Not takes a charmingly old-school premise and adds some modern touches, mixing ancient curses and gothic mansions with security cameras and social media for a fun, gory horror comedy about a bride forced to play a deadly game on her wedding night. The game in question may be hide-and-seek, but Ready Or Not feels like a spiritual sequel to Clue.

Full review here.

13. Dolemite Is My Name (Dir. Craig Brewer)

Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name is a loving biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, the comic and Blaxploitation star often deemed “the Godfather of Rap.” The film boasts a comedically talented cast and a sharp script by biopic veterans Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. And Eddie Murphy (for whom Dolemite seems to have been a passion project) really shines in the role of this braggadocios dreamer who bets on himself and wins.

Full review here.

12. Parasite (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is an intricately plotted, subtly devastating black comedy starts out quietly clever and builds to a carefully orchestrated mayhem.

Full review here.

11. High Life (Dir. Claire Denis)

Claire Denis’s ethically-challenging sci-fi psychodrama is a riddle without an answer, as well as a vehicle for another hauntingly ambiguous Robert Pattinson performance. Starring Pattinson as an austere young murderer on an outer space prison, raising an experimentally conceived child while hurtling towards a black hole, High Life pits raw human emotion against the cold inhumanity of the void – and asks how it is that humans have the capacity to be even colder.

Full review here.

10. Lords of Chaos (Dir. Jonas Åkerlund)

Lords of Chaos repurposes the salacious story of a pioneering black metal band as an unlikely morality play. By focusing on the youthful recklessness of its protagonists, the film may sugar-coat the deeper problems within Norway’s black metal scene, but it doesn’t pull punches anywhere else, with graphic depictions of murder, suicide, and desecration of corpses both human and animal. Tonally, the film shifts erratically, going from a rock biopic to true crime tragedy, but works best as a black comedy, anchored by a bombastic yet thoughtful performance by Rory Culkin.

Full review here.

9. One Cut of the Dead (Dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda)

One Cut of the Dead is a brilliant long con of a movie, with a lot of heart and even more guts. Deliberately straining its audience’s patience with a deliberately mediocre first act, the film switches gears dramatically, becoming something much more than a zombie movie.

Take my word for it, see this movie and watch the whole thing. And don’t read anything about it beforehand, unless it’s my review.

8. Doctor Sleep (Dir. Mike Flanagan)

Horror auteur Mike Flanagan reconciles Kubrick and King in this sequel to The Shining, which follows an adult Danny Torrance as he tries to rescue a psychically gifted girl from a cabal of energy vampires. Blending emotional subplots with hallucinations, flashbacks and psychological trickery, Doctor Sleep recalls King classics The Dead Zone and Firestarter, as well as Flanagan’s own disorienting output.

Full review here.

7. Crawl (Dir. Alexandre Aja)

Produced by Sam Raimi and directed by horror master Alexandre Aja, Crawl is non-stop alligator action – a home invasion movie disguised as a disaster film. Following a headstrong father and daughter trapped in a hurricane flooded basement, the plot moves as relentlessly as the floodwaters, the tension never lagging until it reaches its immensely satisfying conclusion.

Full review here.

6. John Wick 3 (Dir. Chad Stahelski)

Packed with the beautifully shot, impeccably choreographed action sequences we’ve come to expect from the franchise, John Wick 3 is absurd and eloquent in equal measure. The hyper-violent, slightly surreal film sees our grieving assassin alluding hundreds of hitmen as he embarks on a continent-crossing journey to reclaim his place in the underworld. By fleshing out the lore and pushing John to his physical and emotional breaking points, John Wick 3 adds to and improves upon its predecessors – and sets up what’s sure to be an equally awesome sequel.

Full review here.

5. The Lighthouse (Dir. Robert Eggers)

In his follow-up to The Witch, Robert Eggers forsakes coherent momentum in service of immersive disorientation. With a foreboding score and stunning shots of eerie, mist-drenched rocks, the atmosphere of The Lighthouse is so strong it could carry the movie even if everything else were lacking. The acting is also marvellous, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson perfectly cast as a verbose old lighthouse keeper and his sullen, secretive assistant. Stranger and more ambiguous than his first film, the mysteries of The Lighthouse will haunt you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Full review here.

4. The Irishman (Dir. Martin Scorsese) 

The story of a union thug who became a mafia hitman, The Irishman is a piece of Tarantino-esque revisionist history, helmed by the best mob movie-maker of the last two centuries. Like Scorsese’s best films. The Irishman is something of a morality play, chronicling the wasted life of someone who probably believed himself to be a good man – or perhaps, didn’t really care if he was.

Full review here.

3. Us (Dir. Jordan Peele)

Jordan Peele returns with a surreal slasher even more challenging than Get Out. A deceptively simple set-up – a family tormented by their murderous doppelgängers – quickly becomes something much weirder as vague allegories and references to government conspiracies are cloaked in layers of opaque fantastical imagery, vast networks of tunnels teeming with rabbits, hauntingly violent dance sequences, an army of killers joining hands in a baffling act of defiance. It’s brutal, beautiful, and baffling in equal measure.

Full review here.

2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a dark fairy tale about a town that produces fictional happy endings by the hundreds while providing too few real ones. Two parts show business slice-of-life, one part revisionist re-telling of the Manson murders, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s most ideological film, but also his most personal, distinguishing itself from other show business satires with a sincere empathy for its characters and an earnest love of its subject.

Full review here.

1. Midsommar (Dir. Ari Aster)

Ari Aster’s hotly-anticipated follow-up to Hereditary is a hallucinatory fever dream that fuses coming-of-age drama with vintage occult horror. Midsommar moves with an almost Kubrickian slowness, lingering lovingly over serene but sinister Swedish valleys and the ancient rites of a remote cult, which form the backdrop to a relationship-driven story of a grieving people pleaser and her detached, neglectful boyfriend. With complex characters, stunning visuals, and a sadistically gory climax, it’s another masterpiece by Aster.

Full review here.


Honourable Mentions

  • Ford v Ferrari was an excellent car race movie with excellent performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale. [Review]
  • Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two improved upon its predecessor and gave its child-eating clown more adult fears to feed on. [Review]
  • Taika Waititi’s WW2 film Jojo Rabbit was a devastating (and surprisingly sweet) satire that used humour to mock fascism and expose how the normalization of tyranny. [Review]
  • The Perfection was a high-brow exploitation flick that featured what was easily the year’s grossest scene. [Review]

Bonus content!

Just for you fine folks who read to the end (or skimmed right to number 1, I guess), my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2019:

  1. Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)
  2. Us (dir. Jordan Peele)
  3. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)
  4. Crawl (dir. Alexandre Aja)
  5. Doctor Sleep (dir. Mike Flanagan)
  6. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda)
  7. Ready or Not (dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett )
  8. It Chapter 2 (dir. Andy Muschietti)
  9. The Perfection (dir. Richard Shepard)
  10. The Dead Don’t Die (dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Tell me in the comments:

  • What was your favourite movie of 2019?
  • What are you looking forward to in 2020?

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