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Best Of 2019

Looking back on the films of 2019, individual moments stood out the most. The heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe returning in the end of "Avengers: Endgame." The heartbreaking fight between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in "Marriage Story." Matt Damon taking Tracy Letts' Henry Ford for a test drive in "Ford v. Ferrari." The audience singing “Over The Rainbow” in the end of “Judy.” The revisionist finale of "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood." And more -- so much more.

We were moved by the endings of "The Peanut Butter Falcon" and "The Farewell." We were wowed by the filmmaking prowess of "The Irishman" and "1917." We laughed at "Jojo Rabbit," "Dolemite Is My Name" and the funniest movie of the year, “Long Shot.” We certainly did not laugh at Joaquin Phoenix in "Joker," but wow was he terrific, and the movie got us thinking. To that end, so did "Us" and "Parasite."

Some performances surprised us – we never knew Jennifer Lopez could do what she did in "Hustlers," or that Adam Sandler could not only succeed, but excel, in a dramatic role in "Uncut Gems." What’s more, let's hope Antonio Banderas ("Pain and Glory"), Brad Pitt ("Once Upon A Time In Hollywood") and Eddie Murphy ("Dolemite Is My Name") get the recognition they've earned for their terrific work this year.

Whether you saw a 2019 film on a large or small screen, odds are there was plenty that moved you, made you laugh, and inspired you. Many films were set in a different time period, yet felt as modern as could be. Such is the state of the film industry, forever in flux and evolving, yet always reflecting our current world.

I felt lucky to call myself a film critic in 2019. Here are the ten best films of the year.

10) Avengers: Endgame
Last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” may have been a better movie on its own, but “Endgame” served as the perfect culmination of the 22 movies that comprise the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No matter how you look at it, that’s a substantial, and impactful, accomplishment. Available on home video.

9) Richard Jewell
Director Clint Eastwood said he wanted to make this movie for years, and thank goodness he got it done. At times infuriating but always sympathetic, this study of the Atlanta security guard falsely accused of the 1996 bombing at the Olympics was storytelling at its finest. In theaters now.

8) Waves
This study of an affluent African-American family goes from a troubling exposé of social pressures to an emotional tome of grief and loss. It’s a riveting cinematic experience, and a movie you will not soon forget. In theaters now.

7) Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler has succeeded in drama before (“Reign Over Me” 2007), but his turn here as a gambling addicted jeweler is a revelation. The movie, directed by the Safdie brothers (“Good Time”), was darn good as a whole as well, with sharp writing and strong performances across the board. In theaters now.

6) 1917
Certainly the most technically impressive film of the year, as it followed two soldiers on a long journey in what looks like one long take for nearly two hours. The fact that it had heart too made it an absolute must-see, and a likely Oscar contender. In theaters now.

5) Ford v Ferrari
Two stubborn gearheads played by Matt Damon and Christian Bale overcame the competition (and their bosses) in this superbly acted and told drama. Damon has been consistently solid for years, Bale stole the show as a loose cannon racecar driver, and together their chemistry was impeccable. In theaters now.

4) The Farewell
A movie with melancholy and sweetness to spare, writer/director Lulu Wang based the events of the film on her own Chinese family, and deftly articulated Eastern vs. Western sensibilities in the process. Awkwafina, Tzi Ma and Shuzhen Zhao gave the performances you’ll remember, but more than anything you’ll remember how good the movie made you feel. Available on home video.

3) The Irishman
Director Martin Scorsese’s epic was excellent in every way a movie can be excellent, highlighted by terrific performances and masterful storytelling. It may be long at 209 minutes, but it was worth every second. In limited theaters now, and on Netflix streaming.

2) Parasite
This brilliant exploration of social class inequality in Korea has emerged as the best foreign language film of the year. Director Bong Joon Ho’s film was more than social commentary, though. It also bent genres, kept you guessing, and was clearly a work of a man at the top of his craft. In theaters now.

1) Marriage Story
The movie that moved and touched like no other in 2019. Terrific acting often trumps all, and this film featured the three best performances of the year in their respective categories. If there’s any justice, Adam Driver (Actor), Scarlett Johansson (Actress) and Laura Dern (Supporting Actress) will be Oscar winners, and there will be no shortage of accolades for writer/director Noah Baumbach’s heartbreaking film. In limited theaters now, and on Netflix streaming.

Honorable Mention: Jordan Peele’s “Us” featured an excellent Lupita N’Yongo; “Blinded By The Light” proved the universal appeal of Bruce Springsteen’s music; “The Peanut Butter Falcon” had a profound gentility at its core; “Echo In The Canyon” was a fascinating look at the great music emanating from Laurel Canyon in L.A. in the 1960s, and it served as a perfect complement to Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood,” which was set during the same time period and featured great performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt; “Hustlers” offered plenty to think about in addition to visceral thrills and a terrific Jennifer Lopez; “Dolemite Is My Name” gave us the funny and vulgar Eddie Murphy we love, and got us to care about his character too; “Ad Astra” was beautifully shot and told an epic-scale story in two hours; Joaquin Phoenix’s performance highlighted the notably grim, and intense, box office smash “Joker”; Antonio Banderas was at his career-best in Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory”; "Portrait Of A Lady On Fire" was superbly shot, acted and edited; and you may not be sure if “Jojo Rabbit” was ridiculous or brilliant, but then that's where writer/director Taika Waititi's movies live.

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