So here we are suddenly, after all that fuss, in December — the nursing home of the year — looking back with wistfulness, regret and not a little self-mythologizing at the friends we made and betrayed, the tall tales we’ve heard and the, um, houses we’ve painted in the year of our Lord 2019. That’s right, I am comparing the compilation of The Playlist’s Best Films of 2019 list to the mental reckoning of a lonely, aging mob hitman who may or may not have been involved with the death of Jimmy Hoffa. It is what it is.
32 regular Playlist writers contributed a top 10 list which then went into our superSystem (pat. pending) to determine with ruthless mathematical accuracy the exact 25 films which were empirically better than all the others released in the US this year. Disagree all you like, (there’s at least one on there that I’d happily rub out) but not too much, or you’re basically a Flat Earther or a creationist: you’re fighting pure science.
So now as the camera slides silkily down the quietening hallway of 2019 while the Five Satins croon, and just before the old-age drugs fog our brains completely, let us take you on a trip back through the 25 Best Films of 2019, as collectively reminisced by our staff.
Leave the door open, will you?
25. “I Lost My Body”
In theory, Jérémy Clapin‘s feature animated film shouldn’t work. An adaptation of Guillaume Laurant‘s novel “Happy Hands,” the parallel narratives of a hand making its way across Paris, a mission fraught with innumerable dangers, and Naofel, an Algerian immigrant trying to find himself in the same city of lights, would seem an odd mix for a feature, let alone an animated one. But Clapin takes Laurant’s original inspiration and transforms it into a harrowing and unexpectedly emotional journey. The artistic depiction of the hand is noteworthy in itself, but Clapin’s team of animators breathe life into Naofel too, using mostly hand-drawn animation techniques. Throw in Dan Levy‘s haunting score and the result isn’t just one of the best movies of the year, but should be contending as one of the best of the decade — it just needs more people to see it (and it’s on Netflix right now). – Gregory Ellwood
24. “In Fabric”
Peter Strickland continues his hot streak of painting on the lush, Technicolor canvas of Bava and Argento with arguably his funniest film yet. The central premise — a killer dress that is sold from a bizarro Macy’s from Hell — is one that could go completely south with the wrong direction. Yet Strickland uses it both as a commentary on how we think consumables will fill the voids in our hearts, and also as a melancholy vehicle to get us invested in two different sets of characters, before deliberately and delightfully going off the rails and burning the screen down in a “They Live”-like manner. People like to argue about what is and what isn’t a “Christmas Movie,” so we’re going to go ahead and throw down now that “In Fabric” is the perfect Christmas horror. – Ryan Oliver
It came and went in theaters back in September without making much of a splash, so it’s gratifying to see Alejandro Landes’ stunning, feverish “Monos” ultimately had enough fans to make our list. Centering on a group of not-quite-child (but certainly not grown-up) soldiers in an unnamed Latin American country, tasked with guarding an American hostage (an excellent Julianne Nicholson), the film wears its influences on its sleeve to be sure: a little “Lord Of The Flies,” a little Herzog, a little “Apocalypse Now.” But it recombines them as something entirely new: vivid, hallucinatory, moving, terrifying, unexpectedly queer and, thanks to Mica Levi’s thundering score, a little otherworldly. “Monos” is a major, major piece of work. – Oli Lyttelton
22. “Jojo Rabbit”
Taika Waititi’s “anti-hate satire” could have gone so wrong so easily, but instead it is one of the most heartfelt movies of the year. “Jojo Rabbit” is the story of a lonely, awkward, and “massively into swastikas” kid named Jojo, who starts to realize that maybe his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler doesn’t have his best interest in mind. What starts as a hilarious farce about indoctrination and political extremism quickly becomes an emotional drama as Jojo’s world starts crumbling, and his coming-of-age is hastened as he starts to realize the nature of the awful thing in which he childishly believed. Taika Waititi not only writes a phenomenal script that makes you laugh before quickly and brutally breaking your heart, but he joins Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin as one of the great satirical Hitler performances too. — Rafael Motamayor
From “The Wolf of Wall Street” to this year’s “Parasite,” this decade saw a surge in anti-capitalist cinema that captured economic anxieties, while satirizing our dependency on superficial, materialistic needs. One of the more surprising additions to the canon was Lorene Scafaria’s true crime dramedy “Hustlers.” That’s not a backhanded compliment, as much as a sigh of relief that Hollywood was able to produce a crowd-pleaser as entertaining, intelligent and economically scathing as this without falling prey to the same kind of sociological hand-holding as other “timely” 2019 releases. Following a group of strippers in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the film is undeniably fun (that Usher scene alone is one of the most brazenly joyous moments of 2019), but it’s the film’s unabashed love for its characters and genuine respect for sex workers that make it such a rewarding experience. Featuring a never-better Jennifer Lopez delivering the kind of wickedly fun dialogue you only usually find in vintage Paul Verhoeven thrillers (“Doesn’t money make you horny?”), “Hustlers” is pure joy from start to finish, and a riveting indictment of patriarchal capitalism. – Max Roux