Our Best Ten Movies of 2019

Best movies of 2019

In mid-February, I asked everyone who has ever contributed to our movies and TV section to submit their best ten movies of 2019. There are seven of us in all; one of us is bereaved so in all, six people returned their list of ten best movies. There will be those who will question our qualifications to make this list. The best qualification is that we actually watch movies which is something you cannot say of many Oscar judges. Among the six of us, we watched more than two hundred different movies. In contrast, only 60 movies, at most, are considered Oscar movies in a year and there have been instances where a significant percentage of Oscar judges didn’t watch the Best Picture winner.

All our judges are under the age of forty and open-minded and living in three continents which is a lot for a small website. While there is only one woman among us, there are three feminists in our rank. Our list contains mostly drama but we have a throw-in of film(s) that, in literary-equivalence, can be considered a genre movie. Our movies are drawn from four continents.

I and the lead editor made the final selection off the lists our contributors sent. We have had causes to rewatch some movies and call our contributors to discuss some of their choices. The two of us made the ranking of the films but we couldn’t agree on the position of the best three so we contacted our contributors. The votes were tied for the best movie so tie-breaking power was used.

We are that meticulous.

Best ten movies of 2019

10. Us

Lupita Nyong’o’s name was mentioned among actors whose snubbing at the last Academy Awards nomination hurt the most. They said she played two different roles in “Us” and excelled in them – she deserves at least a nomination for Best Actress. So I went and watched the movie. First of all, the movie is one for the patient person. It is not a movie that hits the proverbial ground running. It is a movie that, at first, does not seem to be going anywhere with its plot as the characters seemed content in lazying around and picking their noses. Then a group of bloodthirsty monsters who look exactly like the family members attacks the family. The father’s alter ego faces the father, the mother’s alter ego faces Lupita, the daughter goes to the daughter, the son to the son, like that.

The movie is a horror movie but it is not the kind of horror movie that was created just for the sake of making a horror movie even though that is exactly the case, it just does not look like it.

There are movies we thought could have made this list but there is no room for them and we didn’t want to create ties. the British film “Harriet” for one has what it takes to be on this list; “Judy” too. And as for the “Two Popes“, we excluded it because with numbers 9 and 1 on this list (not to talk of number 2), we didn’t want to be accused of being excessively pro-male buddies films.

There is always politics in every award no matter how small you are.

9.  Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood

When discussed as a unit “Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood” is not a great movie; in fact, it would be lucky to escape the tag of average. But if you watch the movie in bits and pieces, they would come as a whole, in your eyes, a massive piece of art on the big screen. And no, it is not because Quentin Tarantino, Leonardo Dicaprio, and Brad Pitt where involved in this but the movie might not be this strong if they were not in it. It is just the way the movie was made. It was made to tap into the skillset of its A-star actors without leaning on it too much, without making it a union but by creating strong units.

When the character of Bruce Lee tells Brad Pitt you look too cute to be a stunt man. When Brad Pitt goes into the hippy region to check on his old friend; when Leonardo Dicaprio played the role of a kidnapper with a little girl in this hand and a pistol in the other hand; when Dicaprio broke down and wept over his unraveling career; when the hippies attack Dicaprio at his home; when Dicaprio burned a hippy alive in his pool; when his neighbors are proud of him for taking away the little mosquitoes that disturbed him (though they look humans, but they are hippies and so can’t be humans and not the human level of Hollywood celebrities). Etc. So many more.

This is a movie that you can just open at any time bar and enjoy it or hate it. It is also a movie that would be here long after we have done this.

8. Miracle in Cell Number 7

I haven’t heard of “Miracle in Cell Number 7” until two of our contributors suggested it in their top five. No, saying I haven’t heard about the movie is not the whole truth. I haven’t heard of the Turkish movie industry before the suggestions. It never came to my mind that Turkey has a movie industry. Turkey is Eurasian which makes it hard to count it when Asian movie industries are counted and near impossible when European movie industries are asked to stand up. But thanks to the well-made “Miracle in Cell Number 7”, we now know about their industry and what a strong first impression it is!

I checked “Miracle in Cell Number 7” on Netflix which is called “Yedinci Kogustaki Mucize” in its indigenous language and it turns out to be really good. Adapted from a 2013 Korean movie of the same title, the movie tells the story of a man who is not mentally perfect – he has a cognitive disorder that makes him the same age, mentally, with his ten- or eleven-year-old daughter. Widowed and raising his daughter alone, the man is accused of murder and sent to prison with hardened prisoners who turn out to become his buddies. So they do the unthinkable for him – they smuggle his beloved daughter into prison so father and daughter can see again.

A heartbreaking movie, this one.

7. Parasite

Best Picture winner 2020, “Parasite” is a history-making movie, the first non-Western movie, the first non-English language movie, the first Asian movie to win the biggest price in the movie industry. So many firsts. It is impossible to not include this movie here but as you can see from the place we place it, we do not rate this movie directed by Bong Joon-Ho who was the best director winner.

“Parasite” is a movie about a poor family who gain acceptance and wealth by pretending to be what they are not, the classic fake-it-until-you-make-it scenario. It’s a good movie, a really good movie which may even lay claims to greatness but it is not a Best Picture great. I believe “Parasite” is a movie that came at the right time. It isn’t just about Oscar, the move came at the time when the west wanted to promote a non-Western movie, so from Cannes to Sydney to numerous other film festivals, to aggregating sites such as Rotten Tomatoes to reviewers, “Parasite” was acclaimed.

But we have seen this before. When America wanted a black man as president they chose a man who had only spent three years in DC. Obama became a rock star before our eyes and could do no wrong. When the world of soccer wanted a defender to win the Ballon D’or, they chose Fabio Cannavaro even though he wasn’t the overall best footballer in 2006. It was the time for a non-English movie to scoop the Best Picture Award and “Parasite” was there. If “Parasite” was made in 2013 or 2015, it will not even have made the nomination.

“Parasite” is just a very good movie, period. The good news, however, is that when Best Picture winners are ranked from best to worse, “Parasite” won’t be in the bottom half.

6. Just Mercy

Just Mercy” is a story based on an event that really happened in the Deep South of the United States where and when injustice was mixed with racial violence and served to blacks. Michael B. Jordan of “Black Panther” was the lead character who, after earning a law degree goes to Alabama to defend death row inmates whose sentencing cannot stand the scrutiny of a serious legal system. But there were a few fair courts in Alabama in those days and Jordan has to involve the media and beat up the public sentiment from the whole of America in order to get justice for one man played by Jamie Foxx.

The film which also stars Brie Larsson is a movie which you cannot watch standing on the fence. It forces you to come down and join in the troubles of people we only thought of as characters in stories in the pages of history and newspapers, as people who matter in the perspective of your essay or analysis. In “Just Mercy”, the racial past of America comes alive, turning the head of the present.

Best movies of 2019: Top Five

5. Marriage Story

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson united for this one. Directed by Noah Baumbach, this Netflix movie about divorce must have shocked the producers for the massive success it turned out to be. At the end of the day, three of the cast got Academy nominations and Laura Dern ends up winning the Oscar for her supporting role as Scarlett Johannson’s divorce lawyer.

For a story that relies heavily on dialogue, this movie has the tendency to drag, and to bore. But it doesn’t drag so much nor does it bore at all; the characters talk and talk a lot but they talk so much sense. That line where Laura Dern called God an absent father of Jesus of Narazeth was a wincing moment that was also powerful. (I disagree with her, of course, because she was using a physical term to qualify a relationship that was spiritual.) The chemistry between the two protagonists even after divorce and the dozens of questions their situation raises help to make the movie a strong one.

“Marriage Story” is not a movie that immediately draw you to her beauty. It happens gradually. If we had made this list immediately “Marriage Story” came out, it might not make the list. But the passage of time, like fine wine, has made the movie better.

4. Jojo Rabbit

You should read our review of “Jojo Rabbit”. I will bet you haven’t seen a movie review title as this one. Reviewers don’t go on emphasizing how much they wept in the cause of writing a review. But I understand her sentiments, “Jojo Rabbit” is a fine fine movie. It is set in World War II Germany, revolving around a boy of ten, Jojo, played by Roman Griffin David who is a Nazi fanboy and an aspiring fanatic, but he lacks the guts to hurt even an animal let alone a human even though she is a Jewish girl hiding in the attic of their home, even though he has a fantastic Hitler played by the director Taika Waititi breathing hard on his neck.

There are hundreds of movies about World War II but the fact that Waititi manages to give us a film that is emotive, entertaining, and demands that you rethink the concept of the Nazi and the war is more than commendable. There are a few reviewers who were mad that there is a movie out there that glorifies some elements among world’s most destructive group of the 20th century. They fear that the world should not encourage white supremacists by showing the Trumpian “there are good people on both sides”. But it is shallow to suggest the movie is propaganda – it is a movie about a boy who has to make tough decisions in such young an age, it is about a woman whose humanity see her confront an evil regime and pays the ultimate price, it is a movie about the personal destruction of war, it is a film about resistance.

If you insist on seeing “Jojo Rabbit” as a propaganda piece, it’s fine but it is a great movie and one of the most iconic films of 2019.

3. Living in Bondage: Breaking Free

The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood has been popular for a long time. It is the second- or third-largest producer of movies on earth after Bollywood. But most of these movies are not A-class. You see, the cinema is only beginning to gain traction in Nigeria. The average Nigerian movie is direct-to-video and the average direct-to-video movies in Nigeria are predictable, weak, and all-round lazy. But Nigerians since 2009, and peaking in the last two to three years, are beginning to make powerful movies for the theaters.

Living in Bondage: Breaking Free” is a movie directed by Nollywood legendary actor Ramsey Nouah. The movie is a sequel of “Living in Bondage” from 1992 which has been dubbed, erroneously, the first Nollywood movie. Nollywood has been existing since the 1950s but “Living in Bondage” had such a widespread impression on the populace that they gave him the erroneous title. In November 2019, its sequel came out and had a similar impression on Nigerians and the rest of English-speaking Africa.

The movie is about a young man played by Swanky JKA whose father was a member of ritualists who make human sacrifices for wealth. The father has now left to become a pastor while the son is roped into the secret society, forcing him into a corner where he now has to make the decision of whether to sacrifice himself or the people he loves and lives for.

“Living in Bondage: Breaking Free” is arguably the best movie to come out of Africa in the last few years and was rewarded with eight awards at the recent Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, AMVCA. It might even be the best movie of 2019 on earth but we just weren’t in the mood to blow our trumpets to the sky. Humility will be the death of us.

2. 1917

Before watching “1917”, by just watching the trailer, I was sure it would be a banger. It came out in January 2020 in cinemas in the US and elsewhere and it didn’t disappoint. “1917” is a war film but it is not your average war film where you watch buildings exploding and limps flying into the heavens. “1917” is more of a psychological movie set in the last year of World War 1 in France. Two soldiers are sent on what is more or less a suicidal mission. They are to go behind enemy-line to warn another regiment of soldiers who are walking into a German trap.

One of the soldiers happen to be the brother of one of the officers walking into the trap so it is an added motivation for him, it is personal. But the danger they encounter is fatal and they must survive to save their comrades or die trying. The film was set to appear like the events take place in one day which makes it tighter and which helps make the movie a powerful piece of art.

This movie is the winner of BAFTA Best Picture and it is not nepotism. Like the Brits, it has a big impression on us and it took a tie-breaker to keep it from becoming the best film of 2019 here.

1. The Irishman

The fact that “The Irishman” lost out of the Best Picture at the Oscar and nobody is whining is the evidence of the kind of era we are living in. This is the year when the media decided that a non-English language movie should win the award. Scorsese’s masterpiece was caught in the crossfire of the urge to balance power in the top movie prize on earth and no one can complain because you will be tagged racist, xenophobic, or sexist or two of these, depending on your gender, nationality, and race.

The title and protagonists of “The Irishman” are white and male which is combustible in today’s political correctness and balancing. Male, white films have dominated The Academy but this doesn’t mean powerful films should be thrown to the gutter because their protagonists are white dudes. “The Irishman” is a powerful movie, it is a movie that connects with you and forces you to take sides and to think during the movie and long after it. The actings of Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro were untouchable, legendary even.

“The Irishman” is by far the most powerful film of 2019.

Image source: The Verge

About Amos JC 33 Articles
Amos JC is the head of movies and TV content.