The 50 Best Movies of 2019

Updated June 11, 2024 • Staff

2019 was a climactic year for film. This last full pre-pandemic movie season gave us staggering box office returns (with Avengers: Endgame being crowned the highest-grossing film of all-time) and heralded the mainstreaming of international cinema in Hollywood and the rest of the world (with Parasite triumphantly kicking the door down for more South Korean movies and other subtitled fare). But beyond the headlines, 2019 still gave us an embarrassment of riches: diverse stories from singular voices from every corner of the world, now getting more of a chance to share their experiences through global streaming.

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50.

Uncut Gems (2019)

A crazy, anxiety-inducing thriller that turns Adam Sandler into a thrill-generating machine, which in its own speaks volumes about the rhythm of this movie. It follows a jeweler who gets himself in trouble with what feels like all of New York - a gang, Kevin Garnett (the NBA player), other jewelers, his family, odd twins that appear out of nowhere - everyone. This all happens in the backdrop of him feeling he has “hit big” and is on the verge of receiving a lot of money.

If you watched Good Time, you know what to expect from directors Safdie brothers: excruciating tension that keeps building up when you thought it wasn’t possible. And that might be the only problem with Uncut Gems; the tension doesn't feel that different from Good Time, and having watched one you can guess where the other one is going.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Actor: Abel Tesfaye, Adam Sandler, Alexander Gilkes, Andrea Linsky, Anthony Mecca, Ara Daglian, Aren Topian, Arthur Borukhov, Benjy Kleiner, Chad Neves, Damany Eastman, Debbie DeLisi, Eric Bogosian, Glenn 'Doc' Rivers, Greg Yuna, Hailey Gates, Idina Menzel, Jake Ryan, Jennifer Venditti, Jeremy Sample, John Amos, Jonathan Aranbayev, Josh Ostrovsky, Judd Hirsch, Julia Fox, Keith William Richards, Keith Williams Richards, Keren Shemel, Kerwin Frost, Kevin Garnett, Lakeith Stanfield, Larry Sloman, Liang Wei-Hei Duncan, Liang Wei-Hui-Duncan, Louis Anthony Arias, Maksud Agadjani, Marcia DeBonis, Marshall Greenberg, Mesfin Lamengo, Michael A. Sollecito, Mike Francesa, Mitchell Wenig, Natasha Lyonne, Noa Fisher, Paige Neuenschwander, Paloma Elsesser, Pom Klementieff, Ricky Barksdale, Robbie DeRaffele, Roman Persits, Roza Babekova, Sahar Bibiyan, Sean Ringgold, Shemsi Selimaj, Shiv Pai, Suin Zhi Hua-Hilton, Sun Zhi Hua-Hilton, The Weeknd, Thomas Kominik, Tilda Swinton, Todd Vulpio, Tommy Kominik, Trinidad James, Ursula Triplett, Victor Plajas, Wayne Diamond
Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
Rating: R
49.

Just Mercy (2019)

This drama is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a young Harvard graduate who moved to Alabama in the 80s to defend wrongly accused prisoners on death row. He's played by Michael B. Jordan, who brings to the surface the unstoppable determination and ambition of the character. Components that were necessary to go on such a difficult task, especially with the racist barriers at the time. Not to mention, no one had ever been released from death row in the history of Alabama at that point. An inspiring and well-acted movie, made by Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Crime, Drama, History
Actor: Adam Boyer, Al Mitchell, Alex Van, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Ben Peck, Benjamin Weaver, Brad Sanders, Brie Larson, Bryan Stevenson, C.J. LeBlanc, Carl Palmer, Charlie Pye Jr., Charmin Lee, Christopher Wolfe, Claire Bronson, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Darryl W. Handy, Deadra Moore, Denitra Isler, Desmond Phillips, Dominic Bogart, Drew Scheid, Drew Starkey, Elizabeth Becka, Greta Glenn, Harvey B. Jackson, Hayes Mercure, J. Alphonse Nicholson, Jacinte Blankenship, Jamie Foxx, Jay D. Kacho, Jay DeVon Johnson, John Lacy, Karan Kendrick, Kelly Mumme, Kirk Bovill, Leydi Morales, Lindsay Ayliffe, Mallory Hoff, Mary Kraft, Matthew Byrge, McDaniel Austin, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Harding, Norm Lewis, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Olivia De Paux, Patti Schellhaas, Pete Burris, Rafe Spall, Rhoda Griffis, Rob Morgan, Robert Tinsley, Ron Clinton Smith, Ryan Dinning, Sandy Givelber, Scarlet Olivia Dunbar, Sebastian Eugene Hansen, Steve Coulter, Susie Spear Purcell, Tatom Pender, Ted Huckabee, Terence Rosemore, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Hooper, Tim Ware, Tonea Stewart
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Rating: PG-13

Free Watching Options:

Watch Just Mercy (2019) on Amazon Prime for free
48.

Zana (2019)

Antoneta Kastrati’s debut feature film Zana follows Lume, who appears guarded and subdued as she goes about her daily routine: milking the cows, harvesting crops and flowers, hanging laundry out to dry. Part of Lume’s routine also includes visits to the doctor, accompanied by her mother-in-law and husband, who pressure her to conceive.

When conventional medical advice does not yield a viable pregnancy, Lume is brought to a witch doctor, and later a televangelist. The former suggests Lume may be cursed, while the latter insists she is possessed by a supernatural creature called a jinn. Lume appears largely apathetic, at least outwardly. But slowly, she starts to unravel—and with her undoing comes the reveal of the war that traumatized her. 

Kastrati’s family drama has elements of horror, but the real terror here is psychological. It makes for an important exploration of a deeply patriarchal society that is only beginning to heal the collective traumas of a complicated war, and how its violence continues to ripple through time and into domestic life. 

 

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama, Horror
Actor: Adriana Matoshi, Alketa Sylaj, Astrit Kabashi, Bislim Muçaj, Çun Lajçi, Ilire Vinca Çelaj, Irena Cahani, Mensur Safqiu, Rozafa Celaj, Shengyl Ismaili, Vedat Bajrami
Director: Antoneta Kastrati
47.

Bait (2019)

Shot on a hand-cranked silent camera with all the sound and dialogue added in during post, Bait immediately stands out as a film that appears lost in time. With the visual texture and slightly displaced audio of an independent film made during Hollywood's infancy, the movie manages to convey its character and class conflicts with an additional air of surreality, even in its simplest sequences of shots. But writer/director/cinematographer/editor Mark Jenkin doesn't approach this project with an ironic or flippant attitude. Through the most fundamental techniques of an art form that's constantly changing, he crafts a story about the inevitability of change and those who really stand to lose the most from the passage of time.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Drama
Actor: Edward Rowe, Georgia Ellery, Giles King, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd, Tristan Sturrock
Director: Mark Jenkin

Free Watching Options:

Watch Bait (2019) on Hulu for free
46.

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019)

The sooner you adjust your expectations for Nomad—and realize that this isn't a travel documentary but Werner Herzog's own wonderfully offbeat way of remembering his dear friend—the better. Any uneven moments in this film's construction are smoothed over by the sheer authenticity of what Herzog puts on screen, from his own distinctive narration, to gorgeous excerpts from Bruce Chatwin's writings, to the sounds and images that make up the strange worlds that both men were fascinated in. No mysteries are solved here, but just being closer to the strange and surreal becomes a way for Herzog to come to terms with the strangest and most surreal of life's realities: death.

Our staff rating: 7.9/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Bruce Chatwin, Elizabeth Chatwin, Karin Eberhard, Marcus Wheeler, Michael Liddle Pula, Nicholas Shakespeare, Petronella Vaarzon-Morel, Stefan Glowacz, Werner Herzog
Director: Werner Herzog
Rating: PG

Free Watching Options:

Watch Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) on Amazon Prime for free
45.

Official Secrets (2019)

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Michael James, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton
Director: Gavin Hood
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch Official Secrets (2019) on Hulu for free
44.

Apollo 11 (2019)

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, History
Actor: Andy Aldrin, Bill Anders, Bruce McCandless II, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Janet Armstrong, Jim Lovell, John F. Kennedy, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, Patricia Mary Finnegan, Todd Douglas Miller, Walter Cronkite
Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Rating: G
43.

The Report (2019)

Adam Driver, Annette Bening, and Jon Hamm are among the many recognizable faces of this star-packed political drama.

Driver, pictured above in his ‘I’m goofy but I will save the world’ signature stare 😍, plays Daniel J. Jones, an investigator working with the Senate. He is assigned to write a report (“the” report) about the CIA torture program post 9/11.

If you so much as liked Vice, the hit movie from earlier this year, you will love The Report. It covers similar grounds: incompetency, unclear intentions, confusion, etc; but in a way that is more to-the-point (which might make it feel dry to some). It also helps in understanding or getting a refresher on, how the Senate works and how organizations like the CIA interact with (bully) other branches of government. 

I would almost go as far as to say that if you are a U.S. citizen, watching this movie, with its many goofy Adam Driver moments, is your civic duty.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Actor: Adam Driver, Alexander Chaplin, Annette Bening, April Rogalski, Austin Michael Young, Ben McKenzie, Carlos Gómez, Corey Stoll, Daniel London, Dominic Fumusa, Douglas Hodge, Evander Duck Jr., Fajer Kaisi, Guy Boyd, Hope Blackstock, Ian Blackman, Jake Silbermann, James Hindman, Jennifer Morrison, Joanne Tucker, John Rothman, Jon Hamm, Joseph Siravo, Julia K. Murney, Kate Beahan, Linda Powell, Lucas Dixon, Matthew Rhys, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, Noah Bean, Pun Bandhu, Ratnesh Dubey, Sandra Landers, Sarah Goldberg, Scott Shepherd, Sean Dugan, T. Ryder Smith, Ted Levine, Tim Blake Nelson, Victor Slezak, West Duchovny, Zuhdi Boueri
Director: Scott Z. Burns
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Report (2019) on Fubo for free
42.

Dark Waters (2019)

Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins star in this well-executed and eye-opening drama based on a true story. Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is a successful corporate lawyer in New York. He is visited by a distressed farmer from his hometown in Cincinnati whose cows have been developing strange behaviors and diseases. Robert decides to take on this case in what will become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in the country: the use of cancerous chemicals by the company that commercializes Teflon (the stuff in pans). Excellent acting in an incredibly frustrating but necessary story that will trouble you more than any other legal thriller you have watched in the past: prepare to be outraged (and throw away your pans).

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Drama, History, Thriller
Actor: Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner, Angel Kerns, Anita Farmer Bergman, Anne Hathaway, Barry G. Bernson, Barry Mulholland, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Bret Aaron Knower, Brian Gallagher, Buz Davis, Caleb Dwayne Tucker, Carly Tamborski, Chaney Morrow, Clara Harris, Courtney DeCosky, Daniel R. Hill, David Fultz, David Myers Gregory, Denise Dal Vera, Elizabeth Marvel, Geoff Falk, Glen Yrigoyen, Greg Violand, Jason M. Griggs, Jeffrey Grover, Jim Laprelle, Joanne Popolin, John Newberg, John W. Harden, Jon Osbeck, Karen Koester, Kathleen Ellerman, Keating P. Sharp, Kelly Mengelkoch, Kevin Crowley, Lea Hutton Beasmore, Louisa Krause, Lyman Chen, Marcia Dangerfield, Mare Winningham, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Hudson, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Michael King, Mike Seely, Ming Wang, Ramona Schwalbach, Richard Hagerman, Robert Gerding, Scarlett Hicks, Sheryl Annette Colley, Steven Schraub, Teri Clark, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William "Bucky" Bailey, William Jackson Harper, Wynn Reichert
Director: Todd Haynes
Rating: PG-13
41.

Love, Antosha (2019)

This movie narrated by Nicolas Cage is the incredible story of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Like Crazy): from being born to a Jewish Russian family in Leningrad to moving to the U.S. and ending with his sudden death at age 27. Anton, or Antosha as his loved ones called him, was a gifted kid: he was making his own movies at seven years old, taking highly sophisticated notes on Fellini movies, and picking up playing guitar in a short time. He took photographs that still show in exhibitions around the world. He led an extraordinary life, portrayed here, one that was cut way too short.

Our staff rating: 8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ben Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pine, Drake Doremus, Frank Langella, Guillermo del Toro, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Joe Dante, John Cho, Jon Poll, Jon Voight, Kristen Stewart, Martin Landau, Nicolas Cage, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Willem Dafoe, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
Director: Garret Price
Rating: R

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