The Year in Review – 2019


by Ken Bakely

Another year has gone by, as has another decade. While other, more seasoned critics can surely offer far more meaningful and detailed evaluations of the last ten years, it’s certainly apparent to me that the 2010s have ushered in wide transformations in how movies are made and viewed, and I will comment on one particular portion of that change in this column. But this isn’t a decade-best countdown – making a list for just one year provides me enough overthinking as it is – just a place to single out the movies of the past 12 months that have moved and impacted me the most. 

As has been increasingly common, multiple movies on my top 10 list were released by streaming services. Slightly more surprisingly, one was never theatrically released at all, which made me reflect upon what is perhaps the most-discussed topic of the last few years of moviegoing. My feelings on how streaming platforms operate and how they have impacted us over the past few years are mixed, and probably similar to that of many other critics. Nevertheless, indulge me for a few passing comments, just so I can put some stray thoughts on the record:

2019 represented the furthering of changes that have emerged in recent years in film distribution, particularly with respect to the streaming era. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and the many studio-specific outlets have released more titles than anyone could ever hope to keep track with, and yet again, I raise the question of how the smaller, less promoted films on these platforms could possibly ever get their fair shot at an audience. It’s bitterly ironic that a streaming format, which can serve as a great equalizer of all kinds of movies, can also bury titles with the same intensity that it can raise other ones up.

As we move into the new year, my hope is that there are more opportunities for streaming titles that match their enviable levels of access: sure, we can see whatever we want on Netflix whenever we want. But there’s so much more to getting people to see them than just having them on the platform. Many streaming services have been taking considerable leaps with their content, moving away from the bland middle of a lot of American major-studio fare to seek out stories from underrepresented voices and communities. And even when they go big, they often can take risks that the major studios wouldn’t in terms of creative freedom for filmmakers. In essence, we have the tools and the technology to advance these lasting changes and broaden the horizons of otherwise limited cultural discourse. But as long as the streaming platforms pick and choose what they value, and struggle to co-exist with traditional distribution models or media releases, problems will still remain. I don’t have any answers, but I am certainly curious to see where things go.

But with that being said, here’s my list of the 2019 films that have stayed with me the longest and have the strongest recommendations for. Like last year, I have assembled a ranked top 10 alongside an alphabetical list of five honorable mentions. At Film Pulse, the other website where my writing regularly appears, you can read my list annotated with my reasons for choosing each of the 10. Unfortunately, not every movie on this list has a written review for it. But I feel strongly that each of these titles should be part of the discussion on the year that was:

The Top 10 (ranked)

  1. The Farewell (Lulu Wang)
  2. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
  3. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter)
  4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma)
  5. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)
  6. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)
  7. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)
  8. Us (Jordan Peele)
  9. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde)
  10. Knives Out (Rian Johnson)

Honorable mentions (alphabetical)
Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)
High Life (Claire Denis)
1917 (Sam Mendes)
Wild Nights with Emily (Madeleine Olnek)
Wild Rose (Tom Harper)

And with that, we close the book on 2019. Onwards, and hopefully upwards, into 2020.