Best Films of 2019

They say having a kid forces you to stop watching the movies you want. This is true. But not in the way that I thought it once was. The assumption is that babies will take all of your time and then dominate your media consumption. This is also true. But you can still get around it if you prioritize it (and have a generous, flexible partner). Where you run into trouble is that by the time you sit down at 8:00 after putting your child to bed, the 2.75 hour Tarantino flick is a time barrier that even the most ardent cinephile will struggle to overcome. This exhaustion was a difficult barrier this year and I pushed back films I might have otherwise enjoyed by this point. Nevertheless, I managed to see almost everything I wanted to, a decent enough number of what are widely regarded as the best films of the year. This is my ranking of those movies.

Before I give you my favorites, here are those I haven’t seen yet: Portrait of a Lady on Fire; Pain & Glory; The Nightingale; Monos; Transit; Clemency; Tigers Are Not Afraid; 1917; Jojo Rabbit

My favorite movies of the decade list will be coming soon. I again blame being a parent for my tardiness.

10. Ash is Purest White (Zhangke)

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The personal and political overlap as the story of Qiao (played by Zhao Tao) unfolds over decades. Jia Zhangke’ s gangster drama is a slow burn, walking the line between how much our personal choices affect who we become and how much the system forces us into it. Tao is marvelous here as a forlorned lover seeking answers about what happened to her life after she is imprisoned for her involvement in a crime. The club scene involving crowds of people doing the YMCA and the motorbike fight are two of the best shot sequences of the year in what is a gorgeous, subtle, and complex film.

9. Uncut Gems (Safdies)

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The Safdie brothers latest is like if you combined the zany nonstop movement of a screwball comedy with a tense thriller. Every scene features constant motion as Sandler’s Howard Ratner concocts and re-concocts plans to “win”. It’s a jaw clenching movie, stuffed to the brim with great performances from the strangest cast of the year (Sandler playing off-brand! Kevin Garnett giving a good performance as himself! Lakeith Stanfield! Broadway star Idina Menzel! The Weeknd as himself! Julia Fox’s debut!). This movie is airtight, there’s no false note to be found, no wonder the Academy blanked them!

8. Birds of Passage (Gallego / Guerra)

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This is ostensibly a gangster film, it’s about the rise of the drug trade in Colombia, particularly amongst tribal peoples, and how this forces them into modernity. Directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra focus on the specificity of this setting, allowing the traditions and practices to speak first, while gorgeously showcasing them in ways that make for revelatory cinema. It’s a gangster film, but one that spends time in this specific setting, allowing the tensions that rise and all that breaks after it to truly mean something.

7. Marriage Story (Bambauch)

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Twitter memes may have ruined the reputation of this movie, highlighting images out of context in ways that seem silly, yet Bambauch’s divorce story is fantastically written and more subtly executed than the internet would have you believe. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are both great as a couple experiencing the messy fallout of a split. Bambauch adds his devastating wit and a musical moment from another famous story about relationships in what is a wholly satisfying drama.

6. Parasite (Joon-Ho)

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The breakout film of the year lives up to all the hype surrounding it. Like many Joon-Ho projects it’s darkly funny, nails genre conventions, and critiques capitalism with a strong conviction. This story about a poor family who con their way into working for wealthy socialites twists and turns until the very nature of humanity is laid bare. We’re all selfish at  heart, it’s just that some of us can pay our way out of ever having to feel that way.

5. The Lighthouse (Eggers)

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This is a wild film. Eggers again dives into a period with such passion, writing a script that so replicates its characters way of speaking, that it becomes difficult to understand the dialogue at times. It’s 1.19:1 aspect ratio forces you to feel the claustrophobia present in the small island that Dafoe and Pattinson occupy, while the black and white images evoke old mythologies. Their hysteria soon becomes your own and your mind becomes hallucinatory. Did you actually see that on screen or is it just a trick played by Dafoe? This movie delivers, fully encapsulating you in its era, in its characters crazed brains, and its seagull infested location.

4. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Heller)

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While watching this I wondered if it might be the best biopic ever made. I’m not sure if it’s there, only time will tell, but Marielle Heller has come up with the best biopic convention ever. Heller places you within an imagined episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, to introduce you to Lloyd and how he will come to have his life changed by the ethereal man. A Beautiful Day tells the story of Lloyd Vogel and Fred Rogers, but it also serves as a guide to doing the hard work of being kind. It’s beautiful and honest and will make you a better person.

3. Her Smell (Ross Perry)

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Some slight spoilers will follow so for those of you who don’t want to know the direction this movie takes please avoid, but I feel it’s necessary to talk about what Her Smell is able to accomplish. Her Smell stars Elizabeth Moss as aging rock star Becky Something. We meet Becky at her most destructive, she’s drug fueled, self sabotaging, and a new mother as unfit to accomplish this job as any that’s ever graced the screen. Alex Ross Perry films her as if he’s shooting a horror movie, it’s claustrophobic, often following her from room to room as she makes horrid decisions and ruins her relationships with anyone who cares for her. The first half to two thirds of this movie are almost nauseating in their intensity. BUT! But, Ross Perry allows room for growth. He allows Becky to change. It’s not easy, but we see Becky slowly break her addictions, break her self-destructive habits, open up to being a mother. What Ross Perry (and Moss) are able to accomplish here, moving from the horrific to a truly grace filled ending is truly astonishing.

2. Knives Out (Johnson)

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Rian Johnson is the best working genre filmmaker. He’s done noir, time travel, Star Wars, the con movie, and now the whodunnit. Knives Out is so much fun. It’s funny, clever, well shot, well acted, filled with twists and turns, tackles the political and class tensions of our modern era, and actually has a satisfying conclusion! It’s the kind of movie I will throw on for years to come, just to watch it all unfold again. Ana de Armas is a revelation, Chris Evans’ sweaters are perfect, and Daniel Craig proves his comedic chops once again. I can’t think of a single person I wouldn’t recommend this movie to.

  1. Little Women (Gerwig)

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Greta Gerwig’s sophomore picture only further elevates her genius as a director and screenwriter. I’ve never seen or read Little Women (my mistake), so going into it cold I didn’t know what to expect, but what Gerwig (and Louisa May Alcott) delivered blew me away with its charm and its grace. I know they have been treasures for hundreds of years, but the March sisters are utterly delightful. Their rebelliousness, creativity, and compassion are a trio of characteristics that I hope and pray are instilled into my own family. I get the feeling that this movie will be a comfort to me for years to come, it’s warm without being easy, a celebration of life in all its complexities.

Best TV Shows of 2019

10. I Think You Should Leave, s1

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One of the surprise hits of the year, Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave is a wacky sketch show about trying to fit in and tripping over your own shoelaces in the process.

9. Mindhunter, s2

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Season two improved upon the first by backing off from Holden and diving into Bill and Wendy’s lives. It’s particularly Bill who must deal with his own messes at home which hauntingly begin to overlap and interfere with his work. The overlapping scenes in Atlanta trying to find the child killer are thrilling and frustrating in their injustice.

8. Catastrophe, s4

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The final season of this bittersweet show ends with the same tone it carried throughout. Rob and Sharon end with an ambiguous note, seemingly stronger and more fraught in their relationship than ever before. There was no other way for this hilarious show about fragile people choosing to love each other despite their tenuous circumstances to end.

7. Russian Doll, s1

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A brilliant and twisting play on the Groundhog’s Day repeating day trope. Natasha Lyonne stars as a deeply damaged New Yorker who finds she must repeat her birthday over and over, dying at the end of each night. It’s rapidly paced, tremendously acted, and emotionally satisfying.

6. The Other Two, s1

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Drew Tarver and Helene Yorke star as the older brother and sister of a viral teen sensation. The Other Two parodies the modern entertainment world through the perspective of two jealous and stunted millennials trying to leech off their (truly sweet) younger brother’s dreams. Though Tarver and Yorke may be jealous of their brother’s success, the show never gets nasty, instead it mocks the era we live in, one in which we all believe we can be stars.

5. Ramy, s1

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Ramy Hassan’s portrayal of life in America as a Muslim is full of struggle and grace. Rarely is a show so able to capture two different parts of living, the struggles with being treated different for who you are, while also struggling with trying to be different as Ramy reconciles his faith with the desires of being a 20-something. It’s an immigration tale, but also one of the best portraits of trying (and often failing) to be religious I’ve seen on TV.

4. The Watchmen, s1

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Damon Lindelof’s sequel-of-sorts to the popular graphic novel of the 80s is a wildly entertaining, creative, and provoking piece of entertainment. Set in Tulsa, a town run by progressives but where racial tensions are bottled up and ready to explode. Watchmen examines our histories, both personal and national, and how the inflicted traumas have lead us to where we are. It’s a daring show, consistently forcing us to rethink our notions of who each character is and the injustices that have brought them to do what they do.

3. Succession, s2

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Succession proved any doubters wrong by delivering a second season that was just as good, if not better than the first. The Roy family continues to struggle to hold on to the family company as each member within makes their own play for power. It’s the funniest show on television, as sickening as it is to say.

2. Pen15, s1

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Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle play versions of their teen selves in this 00s period comedy.  The show may seem like it would be nostalgia-heavy, and there are references-a-plenty but at its core it tackles growing up–the insecurity, heartbreak, and various awakenings–with great heart and cringey, but not unbearable, comedy.

  1. Fleabag, s2

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Fleabag season one was a clever, funny, and poignant reckoning of mourning and aging into your 30s. It’s probably a masterpiece. Season two definitely is a masterpiece as Fleabag’s internal tensions and emotional traumas continue to heighten, this time around her father and his partner and the priest who will marry them. There are questions of faith, interpersonal conflict, sex, and the entire framework of the show (Fleabag’s cutting remarks to us, the audience) is brought into question in an emotionally devastating manner. Lead actress/writer/creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge has said this is the final season of the show, and good for her for trying to stick to something that is so utterly a complete work, but there’s maybe nothing else I long for in television than watching Waller-Bridge play Fleabag once again.

Honorable mentions: A Black Lady Sketch ShowBarry; Big Mouth; Stranger Things 3; Fosse/Verdon

Best Albums of 2019

10. DaBaby “Baby on Baby”

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One of 2019’s breakouts, DaBaby blasts out of this album like a stick of dynamite and doesn’t stop until the album reaches its end 30 minutes later. Streaming services incentivize artists to create double albums to increase their streaming numbers so DaBaby’s nonstop (and non pop) flow is a refreshing and infectious ride.

9. Sacred Paws “Run Around the Sun”

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Sacred Paws is a two-piece guitar rock band that utilizes every ounce of talent from both of its members. Their bouncy guitar licks are met by overlapping vocals with the occasional 90s ska brass section that give this album a perfect summer vibe. Lay back in your flowery shirt, sip your icy drink of choice, and give “Run Around the Sun” a whirl. You won’t regret it.

8. Caroline Polachek “Pang”

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The former Chairlift front woman’s first proper solo album picks up where her Apple commercial approved indie pop band left off, while continuing to take her sound to places of new depth. The layers of production give her bubblegum pop a melancholic undertone. You’ll want to sing along, empathizing with every word, while dancing away the pains of loves lost.

7. Jay Som “Anak Ko”

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Jay Som’s second album is dreamy, lulling you back into the 90s with high soaring melodies over distorted guitars. After its airiness has melted your brain into clouds, guitar riffs jolt you awake, reminding you of other genres of the same era. Each bit overlaps with precision, a feat considering its bedroom rock production stylings.

6. Future “Save Me”

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This is probably and technically an EP, which would disqualify it, but 7 tracks seems long enough to constitute an album in 2019, so I’ll accept it here. “Save Me” feels like the apex of sad Future. It’s like Future went out to a cabin in the woods, became Bon Iver for a few weeks and released this album, regret leaking from every distorted note. Future’s tales of debauchery always feel regretful, but here he feels most out of sync with that life. He’s come down from his high and is wallowing in the midst of whatever his life is now. Most of this is mumbled through a Bon Iver-like voice distorter, making it even harder to understand what he’s saying and amplifying the melancholy in every song.

5. Tree & Vic Spencer “Nothing is Something”

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Self-proclaimed “soul-trap” artist Tree is joined by fellow Chicago-native Vic Spencer to create one of the best rap albums of the year. The “soul-trap” title is apt and the album is full of Kanye-like soul samples, with an experimental edge. Tree’s voice is pure gravel with a world weariness that is a joy to listen to. Spencer is more technical, using rhymes and wordplay to play against Tree, combining to create a unique listen.

4. American Football “LP3”

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American Football’s eponymous third album might be their best work yet. The legendary emo band continues their emotionally driven post-rock sound to create beautiful and technically crafted songs of sorrow. The band has never been in a hurry to go anywhere fast, they waited years to release a follow up to their highly influential debut and each song lulls in the moment before expressing itself fully. But perhaps more than ever American Football has let pop influence their sound, LP3 features several guests who add another layer to what is now American Football’s classic sound. Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams all accompany Mike Kinsella and bring new life to an already great band.

3. Bon Iver “i, i”

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Bon Iver could have had an okay career as that hip indie folk artist who sang “Skinny Love”. He could have joined the likes of others like him who came out of that era: Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers, Mumford and Sons. That twee group of Urban Outfitters produced folk. Yet amazingly and consistently Bon Iver has evolved in ways that leave me surprised and nourished. “i,i” fits somewhere in between the soaring melody of “Bon Iver” and the beautiful chaos of “22, A Million”, showcasing all of what Vernon and collaborators are able to accomplish. Vernon is too good for any of this to feel stale and he’s once again created an album that pushes his folktronica (???) sound forward.

2. Theon Cross “Fyah”

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The London jazz scene is one of my favorite places to look for new music. It’s filled with blends of jazz, hip hop, electronic, and world sounds that are coming together to make fun and progressive jazz sounds. Theon Cross was my first real foray into that scene this year. Cross, a member of other modern jazz stalwarts like Sons of Kemet and a player for Makaya McCraven, is a tuba player, something I had never heard as the lead instrument in jazz before. Cross uses the tuba like a bass guitar, developing rhythms for his guest players to riff around. The result is an absolute blast and “Fyah” is filled with jams you’ll have in your head all day long.

  1. Lana Del Rey “Norman Fucking Rockwell”

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I don’t know how Lana did it, but she managed to create an album of sad songs without a single vocal inflection. I suppose that’s her thing, but here she perfects it, riffing on the American ideal in a way that is so post-everything she doesn’t even need to change her voice. This is the record for the post-irony age and in all sincerity, Del Rey has created a masterpiece full of despair. This is pop in 2019, a sorrowful, post-everything, classic-yet-hollow Hollywood of an album that is so beautifully made you can’t bear it. Each song creeps into your being, full of lament at the ways our longings have exposed themselves as farce. It’s beautiful.

Honorable mentions (ranked!): 11. IDK “Is He Real?”; 12. Pom Pom Squad “Ow”; 13. Sleater-Kinney “The Center Won’t Hold”; 14. Denzel Curry “ZUU”; 15. Carly Rae Jepsen “Dedicated”; 16. Nilufer Yanya “Miss Universe”; 17. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Anger Management”; 18. FKA Twigs “MAGDALENE”; 19. Vampire Weekend “Father of the Bride”; 20. The Comet is Coming “Trust in the Lifeforce”; 21. The National “I Am Easy to Find”; 22. Maxo Kream “Brandon Banks”; 23. Drinking Boys and Girls Choir “Keep Drinking”; 24. Big Thief “UFOF”; 25. Thom Yorke “Anima”

Best Songs of 2019

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These are the songs that represent this year for me and which is why there are 51 ranked here. Within you will find a few jazz selections from the London jazz scene that is destroying right now (Kokoroko, Theon Cross) and a nu-jazz epic from The Comet is Coming. There are sad leaning hip hop songs (Future, Young Thug, Dave) next to the next wave of rappers (Rico Nasty, Dreezy, DaBaby, Denzel Curry, NLE Choppa). There is a whole wave of experimental dirges sung by women that created some of the best music of the year, from FKA Twigs’ industrial pop to Caroline Polachek’s distorted yet bouncy electropop. Lana Del Rey features heavily with her stone-faced sadness; as does Big Thief’s folk songs that cut you with surprise aggression. There’s also plenty of white boy indie rock, to be sure, I mean Vampire Weekend and The National and Bon Iver and American Football released albums this year, all of which were good. There are no blurbs for each song this year. I’ve gotten a bit behind and I’ve got to write up my best of the decade lists as well. I’ll attach videos to those songs I think you don’t know so you can explore them for yourselves. Thanks for reading and be sure to check some of these out and let me know your favs.

51. Dave “Psycho”

50. Kokoroko “Uman”

49. Tree & Vic Spencer “Cognac and Beer”
48. Future “Krazy But True”
47. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ “Cold”
46. Fetty Wap “History”
45. Big Thief “Cattails”
44. Dawn Richard “jealousy”

43. Sharon Van Etten “Seventeen”
42. James Blake (feat. Andre 3000) “Where’s the Catch?”
41. Carly Rae Jepsen “Julien”
40. Dreezy “Chicken Noodle Soup”
39. Future “Shotgun”
38. Lana Del Rey “Next Best American Record”
37. Charli XCX (feat. Haim) “Warm”
36. Polo G (feat. Lil TJay) “Pop Out”
35. Mark Ronson (feat. YEBBA) “Don’t Leave Me Lonely”
34. Vampire Weekend (feat. Danielle Haim) “Hold You Now”
33. Theon Cross (feat. Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia) “Activate”
32. DaBaby “Suge”
31. Denzel Curry “SPEEDBOAT”
30. Taylor Swift “Death By a Thousand Cuts”
29. Bon Iver “Hey, Ma”
28. Cherry Glazerr “Wasted Nun”
27. Yola “Faraway Look”

26. FKA Twigs “Cellophane”
25. Sleater-Kinney “The Dog/The Body”
24. Sacred Paws “Shame on Me”

23. The National “I Am Easy to Find”
22. Sir Babygirl “Haunted House”

21. NLE Choppa “Camelot”
20. Theon Cross “Radiation”
19. Pom Pom Squad “Cherry Blossom”
18. Thom Yorke “Traffic”
17. Maxo Kream “8 Figures”

16. Carly Rae Jepsen “Want You in My Room”
15. Soccer Mommy “yellow is the color of her eyes”
14. Lana Del Rey “Cinnamon Girl”
13. Kirk Franklin “Love Theory”
12. Sharon Van Etten “Comeback Kid”
11. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beat$ (feat. Splurge) “Mood”
10. Emily Reo “Strawberry”

9. Young Thug “Just How it Is”

8. Big Thief “Not”

7. Rina Mushonga “Narisc0”

6. FKA Twigs “mirrored heart”

5. The Comet is Coming “Birth of Creation”

4. American Football (feat. Hayley Williams) “Uncomfortably Numb”

3. Caroline Polachek “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”

2. Lana Del Rey “Venice Bitch”

1. Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall”