Disney, the IP empire behind Marvel, Star Wars, and remakes of its own animated classics, was responsible for an asinine, unprecedented 80 percent of box office hits in 2019. The dominance of a single multimedia conglomerate is counter to the oligopoly that we’ve grown accustomed to in the entertainment industry (and, broadly speaking, the United States).
In spite of a relative monopoly on blockbusters, Disney did not account for a disproportionate number of the year’s best films. Instead, fresh-faced auteurs like Ari Aster and Greta Gerwig were accompanied by old heads like Quentin Tarantino and Sam Mendes. Four movies nearly cracked the top 10: American Factory, I Lost My Body, The Irishman, and Uncut Gems. Without further ado, the best films of the year:
10. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood: Tarantino’s first film since 2015’s The Hateful Eight is allegedly the director’s penultimate work. Like the film that precedes it, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is… complicated. I’ve had six months to sort out my feelings about Once Upon a Time, and I still can’t decide where it should rank amongst Tarantino’s filmography.
9. The Lighthouse: Director Robert Eggers decided to follow The Witch with the story of two 19th century lighthouse keepers gaslighting one another to the point of insanity. I’m not complaining. Hark!
8. Little Women: Writer-director Gerwig reinvented a 150-year-old story with a renewed focus on a gendered economic disparity that’s as relevant now as it was in 1861. Stars Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, and Eliza Scanlen bring an abundance of charm to carry one of the year’s most uplifting films.
7. Ad Astra: The Lost City of Z, the last effort by director James Gray, cracked my top 10 in 2017. Gray soars even higher with Ad Astra, an affecting space odyssey and the best performance of Brad Pitt’s career.
6. Midsommar: Horror movies take place in dilapidated Victorian homes, isolated cabins in the woods, and vacant hotels. They don’t take place during Pagan festivals in Scandinavia, and the scares definitely don’t occur on bright, sunny days. At least, they didn’t until Midsommar.
5. 1917: I would watch multiple documentaries on the filming of 1917. Mendes and master cinematographer Roger Deakins captured war setpieces that rival Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, and The Bridge on the River Kwai.
4. Pain and Glory: Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar composes an intimate, semi-autobiographical tale around friend and lead actor Antonio Banderas. Banderas, portraying Salvador Mallo, a stand-in for Almodóvar, has never been better.
3. Marriage Story: Marriage Story flipped the traditional divorce story on its head by showing the value of marriage, even when it doesn’t last forever.
2. Knives Out: Mid-budget genre films have receded in favor of mega-budget blockbusters, low-budget comedies and dramas, and the occasional micro-budget indie movie. The studio desire has to maximize investment dollars has left a genre-sized hole. Rian Johnson’s quick-witted whodunit was the ideal movie to fill that hole. Almost like a donut hole within a donut’s hole.
1. Parasite: If South Korean director Bong Joon-ho didn’t announce himself to international audiences with 2013’s Snowpiercer, he loudly declared his brilliance with Parasite. The canny, twisty thriller supplied the year’s most intense experience on film while clearly speaking to income inequality and class warfare, the defining social problems of the era.