Art by Travis Wilker
It’s that time of year folks – the end. It’s that time where we all look back, take a hit of recency bias and make our top (insert number here) films of the year. I do mine a little differently than others. I pick a large number in 25 because I see a lot of great films each year, and if I just did a top 10 then I’d have a long “honorable mentions” section which is pointless – just make the list longer. Please note, this is a list of my favorite films of the year, not a list of what I think are the best films of the year – that’s a completely different list and it’s not as much fun to make so I’m not gonna do it. There is simply no joy in making that list. Also please note, if I have written about the film I will embed a link to said writing in the title of the film.
Also, I didn’t do the action hero power rankings this year. John Wick: Chapter 3 came out, so why even pretend there was a competition? Keanu wins it in a no contest, his second championship belt in 3 years. Elite stuff.
Disclosure: I haven’t seen a few big titles like 1917 and Portrait of a Lady on Fire because they don’t reach my city until January and February and I’m not waiting until March to do this shit. So with all due respect to those films that I’m sure I’ll love, they will not be on this list.
But before we continue, I have to acknowledge that I didn’t write this past year nearly as much as I used to. Let me explain.
It’s really hard to give a shit about writing anymore. All the writers that made me want to write don’t really write anymore. Wesley Morris doesn’t write about film nearly as much as he used to and even Bill Simmons has acknowledged that he’s just a podcaster at this point. It’s hard to care about writing when so much of the landscape is just noise/hot takes. This year, major publications put out articles about being disappointed that Pennywise – a child-murdering clown – wasn’t a queer ally, and another piece compiling great films made by women that when listing Triumph of the Will by Leni Reifenstahl argued that Hitler at least supported female filmmakers. I won’t dignify them with a link to the articles. If you watched a demonic clown kill children for 3 hours and were disappointed that he never said “gay rights” then I don’t know what you’re watching a movie for. If you watch Triumph of the Will and go “Hitler was more woke to feminism than Hollywood” then I don’t know what you’re watching a movie for. I just don’t know what the fuck we’re doing anymore when it comes to how we digest film and talk about film. I’m just exhausted. I’m exhausted that the way we digest the art form I love is dominated by whoever can say the stupidest shit, and that the way we value the art form I love is dominated by an aggregate score from a website. Over the past year I’ve come to the conclusion that we truly don’t deserve good things. We don’t deserve The Irishman. We didn’t deserve The Last Jedi. We didn’t deserve Blade Runner 2049. There’s a lot of great films we don’t deserve. So, in my continued effort to write only about films I love, I will rededicate myself in 2020 to writing about these good things we don’t deserve.
Alright, enough doom and gloom, let’s get to it.
25. High Flying Bird
I’ve been waiting for someone to finally give Andre Holland a role where he just chews dialogue for 90 minutes, it’s rapturous. Every young filmmaker should be grateful for Steven “Fuck it, why not?” Soderbergh for shooting films with big actors on an iphone, thereby legitimizing the choice for the rest of us.
The definitive document of social media stardom and influencer culture. Hilarious and jaw dropping at all the right moments. Director Liza Mandelup should be on everyone’s lists of directors to watch. To quote Kenny Powers: “Your shit isn’t real!”
One of the rare documentaries that is far more interesting for what it can’t prove than for what it can. It is hysterical in all the right moments building up to a finale that will have you enraged.
The second hardest I laughed in a theater this year. It’s always great to see Justified alum Kaitlyn Dever shine.
21. Dragged Across Concrete
I wish I didn’t like this film as much as I do. It’s a film made by terrible people, starring terrible people, about terrible people doing terrible things to each other. I loved every minute of its 2 hour and 40 minute runtime. It harkens back to the grimy cinema of the 70s like The Seven-Ups and The French Connection.
20. One Child Nation
I’m a fool for missing this at Sundance, and an even bigger fool for missing it in theaters. A shocking expose on a human rights travesty just ignored by the world for decades. I can’t stress how important this film is. Nanfu Wang is an expert documentarian who I need to see more of.
Trey Edwards Shults forever. Still only his second most stressful film.
18. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Perhaps the most gorgeous looking film I watched this year. If you want to learn how to light a frame, you should watch this film. Jonathan Majors is an actor you should buy stock in.
17. Hail Satan?
Hail Satan? Hail Satan!!!!!! This church may be the greatest force of good in organized religion.
16. For Sama
The opening shot of this film is a wonder that all filmmakers dream to achieve. A baby cries softly as the building around her is bombed. If this was a narrative feature, the shot would feel heavy handed and trite. Seek out this wonderful documentary.
15. Everybody Knows
Few filmmakers know how to craft as devastating and damning tales of choice in the face of tragedy than Asghar Farhadi. It’s on Netflix now since that’s the only way you fuckers will watch a film anymore.
Pippa Bianco is a filmmaker I immediately want to watch 10 more films from. Share is an expertly crafted slow burner that manages to encompass so much in just 90 minutes. I’m sad it’s only on HBO, because then people are less inclined to take this wonderful work serious as a movie.
13. Knives Out
Vomit as a plot device. Just brilliant. Rian Johnson forever.
12. The Lighthouse
There is no more glorious bit of acting this year than Willem Dafoe invoking the wrath of Neptune on Robert Pattinson for not liking his cooking. It’s secretly one of the most hilarious films of the year.
11. The Art of Self-Defense
Riley Stearns returns with this darkly hilarious tale that actually understands how to be a modern day Taxi Driver, instead of just blindly hitting copy and paste like Joker. One of Jesse Eisenberg’s finest roles, an examination of how toxic masculinity is bred and influenced. My buddy Huston called it “The most fucked up Batman movie ever.” He’s not wrong.
10. Hobbs & Shaw
The two best line readings of the year are in this film when The Rock says “WHAT IN THE FRESH TURKEY HELL WAS THAT?!” and when he says “That son of a bitch really is black superman!!!”
9. Jojo Rabbit
Not every great filmmaker needs to meet this criteria to be great – but there is definitely a certain type of great filmmaker who eventually makes a film that only they could pull off. Jojo Rabbit is that film for Taika Waititi, somehow managing to make a film that’s both hilarious and absolutely gutpunching all at once. Only Taika Waititi could have pulled this film off.
If I ever get successful enough to meet with A24, I’m going to ask them what the fuck happened with this film. Why did they bury David Robert Mitchell’s followup to It Follows? Because guess what, it can’t be because it’s bad – BECAUSE IT’S REALLY FUCKING GOOD.
This film has been with me all year since Sundance. J.D. Dillard is a filmmaker I immediately bought stock in as he crafted a supremely fun and meaningful little monster film. This film is now on Netflix since that’s the only way you fuckers will watch something.
6. Uncut Gems
The Safdie Brothers are truly gifted in ways that other filmmakers aren’t. I mean it. When I watched Good Time in theaters two years ago, the word “singular” was what came to mind. Singular is the way to describe the Safdie Brothers and their films. They make films that you want to crush into a powder and rub on your gums. They have a way of inhabiting you in a hyperreal world with all its little ticks in a way that feels totally authentic, yet if another filmmaker tried it we wouldn’t buy it for a second. I am very much a fan of the scumbag cinema the Safdies create. Sandler gives a career best, and Julia Fox is a wonderful discovery that I hope we see more of. Darius Khondji doing natural light and handheld camerawork is divine. We should be grateful that we have a lifetime of films to spend with the Safdies.
5. Ad Astra
“We are all we got.” Thank you James Gray.
4. The Irishman
I don’t have much to say that I didn’t in my review, so I’ll just refer you there.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
This film joins the hall of fame of movies about me and my buddy Huston. The hardest I laughed in the theater this year.
2. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
This is the best franchise right now, plain and simple. These movies are legitimately some of the best things to happen in my life. I love you Keanu Reeves.
Secretly one of the most hilarious films of the year while obviously being the most horrifying and emotionally scarring. Ari Aster is a bad, bad man. Hereditary was my favorite film of last year, and he returns to take the spot two years in a row. I will follow him into hell and back, I can’t wait to spend my life watching his films.