The results are in for our 2019 poll of Film Comment's contributors and editors! Our top 20 list includes excerpts from our features, reviews, and interviews about these films from across the year, as well as links to other work about the films and directors. On this page, you’ll find our list of the best films that were theatrically released in the United States. Don’t see your favorite? Check out our Best Undistributed Films of 2019 list.
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Readers’ Poll 2019:
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To the upstairs/downstairs doppelgänger mash-up, Parasite adds a home-invasion element, albeit one that at first seems nearly benign. The poor family “invades” the rich family’s home, not to rob or kill them, but merely to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. The problem is that in conditions of extreme economic inequality, the relationship between boss and worker is necessarily parasitic, though who is the parasite depends on one’s point of view. The film eschews taking sides, and although Bong’s sympathies are with the poor family, he doesn’t give them the high moral ground. "
In The Irishman, Scorsese determinedly sticks by his workingman protagonist: a soldier, not a boss, called upon to act and not considered fair game, as he serves two friends, Bufalino and Hoffa, in an arrangement that bestows order upon his world (and, in historical overlaps with Hoffa and JFK, much of the world anyone in the film knows) until it doesn’t.... As he humbly, loyally serves, Frank puts his faith in a system that seems like it will last indefinitely and that reminds him of the Army: ‘You do what you’re told. You get rewarded.’ "
A glib formula might describe Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood as combining the middle-ager, last-chance gambit of Jackie Brown and the lurid revisionist urge to punch up history in Inglourious Basterds. But it’s something at once mature and madly, deeply, and now less collector-ishly in love with Hollywoodland and, even more, its far-flung margins—and here, in the most artificial of settings, Tarantino achieves something genuine and heartfelt. "
The title of Christian Petzold’s newest film packs a lot of meaning into two syllables. It refers to the papers sought by refugees desperate to escape from Nazi-occupied Europe—transit visas, which permit the holder to pass through a country provided they don’t stay. But the word “transit” starts a train of thought that passes through “transitional” and “transitory,” through ideas about in-betweenness and ambivalence that have run throughout the director’s work. "
Atlantics, a deserving winner of the runner-up Grand Prix at Cannes, synthesizes the intoxicating moods of Diop’s previous work into an oneiric fable of migration and transmigration—suspended between realism and fantasy, the living and the dead, here and elsewhere. If there is one constant in Diop’s otherwise restless cinema, it is the notion of the in-between: the paradoxical conditions of exile and displacement as experienced physically and psychically... "
The autobiographical origins of The Souvenir are obvious (Hogg doesn’t try to hide them), yet she allows for free-floating associations, creating a kind of space where connections are possible, where there can be a wincing kind of recognition, a remembrance of first love and first heartbreak. "
While High Life is the biggest and most expensive movie that Denis has ever made, it gives little indication of its scale having been bartered for at the sacrifice of freedom—or with the stymieing of the go-with-the-gut intuition that has produced a sui generis body of work, created with enormous craft but a total disdain for the rules of the ‘well-made’ film, elliptical in approach and full of jarring tonal shifts. "
The other amazing aspect of the film is that Jia gives us a history of image capture in his films. Working for the first time with cinematographer Eric Gautier, he goes from DV to Digibeta to HD video to 35mm to the high-end Red camera, and yet the changes in the image are never notable for themselves but become the means to show the transformation of his filmmaking and of China itself. "
In this latest film, which is a deeply moving inquiry into the catharsis of delving into one’s own past, and the salvation in coming to terms with it, Almodóvar’s drive toward autobiography goes way beyond ‘write what you know.’ This is more like ‘show who you are.’ "
Working with cinematographer Darius Khondji for the first time on a feature, the directors keep the camera tight on faces, capturing every desperate wince, wink, and grimace, while the dizzying editing, by Benny Safdie and Ronald Bronstein, cuts us into every corner of the shop at once, so the tiny, cramped business—in reality a studio set—feels almost prismatic in its spatial realization. "
Buried and not-so-buried resentments and fury rise to the surface, shadowed by (lingering, disappointed) affections and culminating in the kind of invective that could only be flung between those who know each other too well. The scene’s an incredible feat, showing off not only the actors but also another side of Baumbach, a filmmaker who often sticks to the edge of clever social satire (that is albeit saved by the relentless sharpness of his commentary). "
Any discussion of Mariano Llinás’s La Flor—a decade in the making and 868 minutes in the watching—inevitably begins with its monumentality. It is no longer uncommon, in a digital age that has introduced the concept of “binge viewing,” for any of us to consume vast amounts of narrative media in a single sitting, but duration in cinema remains its own particular kind of collective, reflexive act: among other things, the film becomes about the experience of watching it. "
The modern China chronicled in An Elephant Sitting Still draws a radically dissonant national portrait—one of abasement, grit, and drudgery, trapped in a state of endlessly desperate, demoralizing Beckettian suspension—in contrast to the official national narratives of forward-moving hyper-accelerated social progress shown in that country’s mainstream media and much of its commercial cinema. "
Bi, who has referred to the Internet as a vast movie library, suffers no anxiety of influence. He speaks openly about his admiration of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Apichatpong, Lynch, and Tarkovsky—in Long Day's Journey he has a glass of water wobble off a table in a nod to Stalker—and his acknowledged inspirations are by no means restricted to cinema. "
To be emotionally penetrating, we’re told, a story needs to be driven by nuanced, rounded, autonomous protagonists, a standard that Asako I & II never rises to. But Hamaguchi knows what he’s doing. He sees that, at the mercy of our fundamentally relational natures, personal identity is fragile and contingent—and that our sense of ourselves, and everything that makes us interesting, can be brutally snuffed out by a brush with abandonment and loss. "
Us puts its audience in the position of the status quo, and then it challenges our allegiances. It primes viewers to fear Adelaide, especially when we don’t understand her motivations. She’s a foreign entity with a strange voice and odd clothes, leading an army of silent, irrational-seeming red-clad killers. It is she who must assert, ‘We’re Americans.’ "
To these mediums has been added, in the 21st century, digital cinema. Godard’s collage films, then, are about the inscription of the world in moving images and the re-inscription upon re-inscription of that history in keeping with the transformation of the moving image medium itself. "
The invention of sexuality—that is, the notion that self-expression involves categorizing our desires—is only a little older than the technology of film, so recent are these now fundamental ways of understanding and depicting ourselves. Taking on both traditions, Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire essentially reworks the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice as a queer feminist love story, using building blocks mined from the cultural bedrock. "