Best movies of 2019, according to critics

Written by:
December 9, 2019
Lilies Films

Best movies of 2019, according to critics

Movie critics are trained in the language of cinema. When they rate a movie, they look at much more than just whether a film is entertaining. Critics look at a film’s ability to convey ideas and inspire reflection; they examine a film’s artistry, technical prowess, and philosophical stance, and they notice shot composition, lighting, and editing (and understand how these techniques link to a film’s themes or meanings). Because critics understand this greater context, the films that most often catch their attention and earn their highest praise go beyond mainstream flicks or blockbusters to be enjoyed with popcorn in hand.

In 2019, there were a few box office hits that earned top scores from critics. The mega-hit “Toy Story 4” topped $1 billion worldwide and ranked highly with reviewers. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” starring a powerhouse cast including Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, was also a box office hit that wowed critics. However, many of the films that ranked highest in 2019 are less familiar arthouse films, international films, or independent features that premiered on the festival circuit. These are the kinds of films that explore the cinematic medium with a creative intensity that’s often absent in the big box office hits.

The best films of 2019, according to critics, often explore themes related to the human condition in its contemporary form by exploring subjects like dislocation, alienation, the refugee experience, gentrification, and queer romance. Such films also highlight stories that center on those with disabilities or with perspectives beyond the viewpoint of the dominant norm. However, such films also use popular modes such as the gangster film or horror genre to offer fresh revamps of familiar tropes with lyrical, poetic styles. In 2019, documentaries also ranked highly with critics, with some of the best documentaries exploring culturally relevant topics with innovative cinematic style.

Stacker compiled data in November 2019 from Metacritic on the best-reviewed films of the year by critics and ranked them according to their Metascore, ties broken by the number of reviews. To be eligible, the film had to be released in theaters or online between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2019, and have at least seven reviews. Get ready for a list of aesthetically excellent movies that entertain, but not always in the ways you may expect.

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1 / 50
Perfect Village Entertainment

#50. Shadow

- Director: Zhang Yimou
- Metascore: 81
- Number of reviews: 25
- Runtime: 116 min

Zhang Yimou is known for his striking use of color, style, and epic scale in previous films such as “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.” In “Shadow,” his stunning visual style is on full display in another wuxia saga centered on martial arts legends. In his film review on The Wrap, Carlos Aguilar describes this film’s use of the yin and yang symbol as a way to explore its theme of duality: “In every frame, the viewer is aware that this story is dealing with the inseparable forces of light and darkness.”

2 / 50
A24

#49. Waves

- Director: Trey Edward Shults
- Metascore: 81
- Number of reviews: 35
- Runtime: 136 min

Director Trey Edward Shults may only be 30 years old, but his third film “Waves” garners high reviews for its stirring tale set within a family drama and its stirring performances from a cast that includes Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., and Taylor Russell. In her review for The Wrap, Sasha Stone offers that “‘Waves’ is a story about how people can get tangled in and around their own complicated emotions but are able to ultimately find their way back to each other after growing apart.”

3 / 50
Chernin Entertainment

#48. Ford v Ferrari

- Director: James Mangold
- Metascore: 81
- Number of reviews: 45
- Runtime: 152 min

Matt Damon and Christian Bale star in this car racing film that dramatizes the real-life 1966 competition that matched up race cars from Ford and Ferrari. David Sims at The Atlantic writes that “the heart of the film is in the oily garages below the executive suites, where Ford’s mechanics and drivers strive to create a machine worthy of challenging Ferrari’s perfection.” Damon plays an engineer up against corporate interference as he tries to get his design on the track and his racer of choice (Bale) in the driver’s seat.

4 / 50
Monkeypaw Productions

#47. Us

- Director: Jordan Peele
- Metascore: 81
- Number of reviews: 56
- Runtime: 116 min

Jordan Peele’s chilling follow-up to “Get Out” is set at a beach house where a family of four (Lupita Nyong’o plays the family matriarch) gets imperiled when menacing figures in orange jumpsuits (who look identical to the family members) show up outside. Kambole Campbell writing for Little White Lies explains that “with the doppelgangers, who refer to themselves as ‘The Tethered’, Peele takes aim at how society interacts with underclasses and Others; the Tethered appear as creepy, funhouse-mirror versions of ourselves.”

5 / 50
Sob Noisse Movies

#46. Relaxer

- Director: Joel Potrykus
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 7
- Runtime: 91 min

“Relaxer” aims to elevate gross-out derangement to absurdist glory as it presents the story of Abbie (Joshua Burge) a man trapped in his seedy apartment as Y2K approaches. Critics recognize the film’s sour tone as uniquely attuned to themes surrounding its slacker antihero. As Eric Kohn puts it on Indiewire, director Joel Potrykus takes “a cartoonish lowbrow approach to acerbic social critique” with this film.

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6 / 50
Exhibit A

#45. Wrestle

- Directors: Lauren Belfer, Suzannah Herbert
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 8
- Runtime: 96 min

Suzannah Herbert’s poignant documentary follows four high school wrestlers in Huntsville, Alabama as they compete for wrestling scholarships that could change their lives. As John DeFore posits in his post for The Hollywood Reporter that this high school sports documentary (in the vein of “Hoop Dreams”) features “personal narratives and class/race-conscious themes that have a stronger pull than usual.”

7 / 50
Netflix

#43. The Two Popes (tie)

- Director: Fernando Meirelles
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 9
- Runtime: 125 min

This biopic stars Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict and Johnathan Pryce as Pope Francis, with each actor giving an acclaimed performance in a film that shows the two popes in conversations, and in flashbacks, that orient their differing points of view. In her review of the film for Vulture, Alison Willmore describes the film as “a series of duels between [the popes], sometimes, about the nature of their faith, and the future of the organization to which they’ve devoted their lives.”

8 / 50
Daylight Factory

#43. Angels Are Made of Light (tie)

- Director: James Longley
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 9
- Runtime: 117 min

This documentary gives a voice to the children of Kabul, Afghanistan, following students in the war-torn city as they confront their future amidst continued political unrest. The film was shot across three years and features voiceovers culled from hours of recorded conversations. In his review for the Los Angeles Times, critic Kenneth Turan applauds the film on its ability to handle its complex subject matter with grace. In his review, Turan also commends director James Longley—who had previously earned an Oscar nomination for his 2006 film, “Iraq in Fragments”—for his “magical ability to envelope us in other realities.”

9 / 50
Give Me Liberty

#41. Give Me Liberty (tie)

- Director: Kirill Mikhanovsky
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 13
- Runtime: 110 min

This heartwarming drama follows a medical transport driver, Vic (Chris Galust), who runs behind schedule as he drives his elderly grandfather and a cohort of relatives to a funeral but finds his route derailed by a protest and several schedule-sabotaging mishaps. The film gains praise for its inclusive representation, as the film portrays not just a culturally diverse cast, but also one in which many of the amateur actors have disabilities like the characters they portray. As reviewer Jennie Kermode explains in her review for Eye for Film, “the immigrant experience is as important to the film as disability.”

10 / 50
Sphinx Productions

#41. Carmine Street Guitars (tie)

- Director: Ron Mann
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 13
- Runtime: 80 min

“Carmine Street Guitars” is a documentary that focuses on artisan Rick Kelly and his Greenwich Village shop where he handcrafts custom guitars, some of which have been built for the likes of Bob Dylan and other major rockers. This acclaimed documentary celebrates music and artistry, rendering both as something pure beyond corporate culture and consumerism. In his review of the film for Variety, Owen Gleiberman writes that it is the film's eccentricity that makes it so mesmerizing, and that its appeal stems largely from what a “stubbornly off-the-beat concoction it is.”

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11 / 50
New Black Films

#40. Maiden

- Director: Alex Holmes
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 25
- Runtime: 97 min

This documentary tells the story of Tracy Edwards who embarked on a yacht race in the 1980s despite sailing’s resistance to women competitors. Alison Shoemaker, writing for AV Club, describes the film as “an undeniably inspirational story...clear of cheap manipulation. Those moved by the film will be moved by the women telling it.” The director of “Maiden” interviews Edwards and others while crafting the story through archival footage that shows the problematic attitude that was often targeted at women during the time of Edwards’ triumphant sail. The effect elevates this material past standard sports story inspiration.

12 / 50
Schramm Film

#39. Transit

- Director: Christian Petzold
- Metascore: 82
- Number of reviews: 30
- Runtime: 101 min

This tense thriller-like plot follows the journey of Georg (Franz Rogowski), a refugee who escaped from a German prison camp, as he attempts to escape Nazi-occupied France. To flee undetected, Georg takes on a false identity: that of a dead author. As he attempts to leave the country, a series of harrowing, bureaucratic snafus set him back, and he finds himself stuck in Marseilles where, rather than finding his way out of France, he finds himself falling in love. Though the film touches on a few different themes, Andrea Gronvall’s review at The Chicago Reader notes that the film is at its core “a profound meditation on the dehumanizing condition of statelessness.”

13 / 50
Multitude Films

#38. Roll Red Roll

- Director: Nancy Schwartzman
- Metascore: 83
- Number of reviews: 9
- Runtime: 80 min

Nancy Schwartzman directed this searing documentary about the events in 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio when a teenage girl was raped by members of the high school football team. Schwartzman’s film examines rape culture and complicity through its examination of the larger social tangle that fosters such crimes. Musanna Ahmed, writing for Film Inquiry, notes the story “is truly exemplary of a disgusting culture in which the rape victim is disparaged and the rapists are safeguarded.”

14 / 50
A24

#37. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

- Director: Joe Talbot
- Metascore: 83
- Number of reviews: 39
- Runtime: 121 min

Director Joe Talbot’s debut film features stunning performances from Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors as two friends on a quest to reclaim a lost childhood home in a city known for expensive real estate. Courtney Small, in her review for Cinema Axis, describes the film as “a vibrant work of art that celebrates the colourful residents of the city by the bay, while simultaneously lamenting the gentrification that is systematically erasing those who provide San Francisco with its culture and heart.” The film’s gorgeous color palette and visual style create vivid and original cinematic poetry that makes the film as aesthetically pleasing as its narrative is powerful.

15 / 50
A24

#36. The Lighthouse

- Director: Robert Eggers
- Metascore: 83
- Number of reviews: 45
- Runtime: 109 min

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson star in this tense horror film shot in black and white and set at a remote lighthouse in the late 1800s, where two lighthouse keepers struggle to keep it together on the eerie island. Director Robert Eggers gives the proceedings a dark, hallucinatory vibe, which is further enhanced by thrilling performances from the two male leads. Manohla Dargis, the film critic at The New York Times, describes the film style: “with control and precision, expressionist lighting and an old-fashioned square film frame that adds to the claustrophobia, Eggers seamlessly blurs the lines between physical space and head space.”

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16 / 50
Columbia Pictures

#35. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Metascore: 83
- Number of reviews: 61
- Runtime: 161 min

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film stars Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt as movie industry insiders in 1969 Hollywood. The film style indulges in period nostalgia as it tells the story of the real-life Manson Murders and provides its own fictional twist. While the film offers an entertaining story that seems to give viewers a new look into the mind of Tarantino, Dana Stevens at Slate observes that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” falls short with progressive gender roles. Stevens writes that, as is often the case, this film is one in which “the male protagonists get the chance to be real characters—prickly, self-deluded, ridiculous, surprising, funny—while [the female lead] functions principally as beautiful, innocent, impeccably go-go-booted bait.”

17 / 50
Lucio Castro

#34. End of the Century

- Director: Lucio Castro
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 8
- Runtime: 84 min

In “End of the Century,” first-time director Lucio Castro’s love story about two men (played by Juan Barberini and Ramón Pujol) follows the pair during different periods as their attraction unfolds with erotic and poetic emotion in the city of Barcelona. Reviewer David Lewis at the San Francisco Chronicle calls the romantic tale an “elegant, transcendent work, both modern and nostalgic.”

18 / 50
Pandora Filmproduktion

#33. In My Room

- Director: Ulrich Köhler
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 9
- Runtime: 119 min

Director Ulrich Köhler’s atmospheric drama stars Hans Löw as a middle-aged man already near crisis who awakens to find all other humans gone in an apparent apocalypse that has left him as the lone survivor. Guy Lodge at Variety writes of the film’s title that “the catch is that the room in question turns out to be the entire world, uncannily depopulated and sprawling with possibility, yet often made to feel as small as the loneliest studio apartment.”

19 / 50
Ciné Tamaris

#32. Varda by Agnès

- Directors: Agnès Varda, Didier Rouget
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 18
- Runtime: 115 min

The late feminist filmmaker Agnès Varda directed over 50 films during her lifetime that were evocative, charming, and tinged with her singular vision as an artist. Her work engaged with the artistic and theoretical possibilities of cinema, using a visual template to explore rarely seen subjects with humor and depth. Aimee Knight at Little White Lies describes Varda’s self-directed (and self-focused, as she is the subject of the work) documentary as a film that defies classification, noting that it’s all at once a documentary, as well as “a lecture, a scrapbook, a clip show, a political missive, a billet-doux, an afternoon with an old friend and a self-penned eulogy.”

20 / 50
SBS Films

#31. Synonyms

- Director: Nadav Lapid
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 21
- Runtime: 123 min

Writer-director Nadav Lapid based this film on experiences he shared with his father, Haim Lapid, who co-wrote the screenplay. Like the main character Yoav (Tom Mercier), Nadav was an Israeli who lived in Paris in his youth. The story follows Yoav as he immigrates from Israel to Paris and tries to assimilate. Hau Chu calls the film “uniquely thrilling” in his review for The Washington Post, where he also describes it as holding a “sense of resignation” where “we’re bound to ourselves—not just our physical bodies, but our heritage—as long as we roam this Earth.”

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21 / 50
Annapurna Pictures

#30. Booksmart

- Director: Olivia Wilde
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 52
- Runtime: 102 min

Olivia Wilde, in her directorial debut, helms this fresh coming-of-age story about an overachiever Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and her bestie Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) as they embark on a night of partying before high school graduation. Monica Castillo at RogerEbert.com notes that “Wilde’s acting background helped lead the cast to give both wonderfully deranged and emotionally moving performances. We ride the highs and lows of Molly and Amy’s odyssey through Los Angeles at breakneck speeds but nothing feels lost.”

22 / 50
Pixar Animation Studios

#29. Toy Story 4

- Director: Josh Cooley
- Metascore: 84
- Number of reviews: 57
- Runtime: 100 min

The familiar franchise’s fourth entry surprised critics with its fresh, entertaining story and smashing animation, making the kids’ film one of the most well-reviewed of the year. In the latest addition to the “Toy Story” series, Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) return, this time with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and the reluctant toy Forky (Tony Hale) in tow. As a follow-up to such beloved films before it, it’s no surprise that “Toy Story 4” had some big shoes to fill, and some critics couldn’t help but feel like it fell a bit short in that regard. Adam Graham, the film critic for Detroit News, found that “‘Toy Story 4’ does contemplate the nature of existence in frank ways, but it spends a lot of time spinning its wheels with a narrative that leans heavily on new characters and forsakes the camaraderie of the original ‘Toy Story’ gang.”

23 / 50
Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH

#28. The Ground Beneath My Feet

- Director: Marie Kreutzer
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 7
- Runtime: 108 min

Marie Kreutzer’s genre-defying thriller follows a high-achieving workaholic Lola (played by (Valerie Pachner) whose experience intertwines in suspenseful, mysterious ways with that of her schizophrenic older sister. In her review for Variety, critic Jessica Kiang writes that Kreutzer “approaches her potentially sensationalist storyline with level-headed realism and her interest in exploring schizophrenia itself rather than using it as a driver for some disposable final plot twist is refreshing.”

24 / 50
ENBU Seminar

#27. One Cut of the Dead

- Director: Shin'ichirô Ueda
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 13
- Runtime: 96 min

Shin'ichirô Ueda’s horror redux begins as a low-budget film with a 37-minute-long take—a single shot—of a zombie movie set in a warehouse. Soon after, a real zombie apocalypse happens, and the film continues by documenting the behind-the-camera mayhem. Katie Rife at AV Club writes that this “horror-comedy does something many, including this writer, didn’t think was possible at this late point in the subgenre’s history: it reinvents the zombie movie.”

25 / 50
De Warrenne Pictures

#26. The Cave

- Director: Feras Fayyad
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 17
- Runtime: 95 min

This sorrowful and affecting documentary looks at a hidden, underground hospital in Syria where a pediatrician treats children while war rages on the ground above. At The Hollywood Reporter, critic Caryn James notes that director “[Firas] Fayyad and his cinematographers and editors wield the cameras and shape the scenes in the documentary so beautifully that ‘The Cave’ is both intensely real and a carefully wrought work of cinema.”

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26 / 50
Cinekap

#25. Atlantics

- Director: Mati Diop
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 22
- Runtime: 104 min

“Atlantics” follows the story of an unfairly treated construction worker, Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), who is in love with Ada (Mame Bineta Sane), a woman bound for an arranged marriage with a wealthy businessman. Frustrated, Souleiman takes to the sea, and soon after a series of dramatic occurrences unfold. Richard Brody at The New Yorker notes that director Mati Diop’s debut film, set in her father’s hometown of Dakar, Senegal, is one that “unites a wide array of ideas and genres with her intensely sensory artistry.”

27 / 50
Chicago Media Project

#24. One Child Nation

- Directors: Nanfu Wang, Lynn Zhang
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 25
- Runtime: 88 min

This documentary examines China’s “one child” law in which citizens were only allowed a single child with dire consequences if the stringent rule wasn’t followed. The film goes over the forced sterilizations, abortions, and child abandonments that accompanied the policy. Writing for Reason, Kurt Loder notes that “the picture seems artless—an assemblage of period file footage and talking heads, basically—but its cumulative impact is powerful. By the end I felt that my heart was ready to burst from my chest and leap to its death down on the floor.”

28 / 50
Lionsgate

#23. Knives Out

- Director: Rian Johnson
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 26
- Runtime: 130 min

Rian Johnson’s Agatha Christie-style whodunit mystery pairs wit and style with an all-star cast in this likable comedy that boasts a twisty ending. Christopher Plummer plays the patriarch of a family (the cast includes Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, and Jamie Lee Curtis) who all become suspects in a murder. Daniel Craig and Lakeith Stanfield play the detectives investigating the case. Stephanie Zacharek at Time puts it plainly: “‘Knives Out’ is filled with deceit, greed, blackmail, overall unpleasantness—and it’s funny.”

29 / 50
Ciudad Lunar Producciones

#22. Birds of Passage

- Directors: Ciro Guerra, Cristina Gallego
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 27
- Runtime: 125 min

Inspired by true events that occurred during the 1960s through 1980s amid Northern Colombia’s Wayúu people, this innovative look at the drug trade eschews the conventions of the drug film genre. At the New York Post, Sara Stewart writes that “‘Birds of Passage’ is a standout in the sprawling drug-empire genre, showing the effects of the trade on locals and refusing to romanticize the family at its center.” Co-directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego aim for an unsentimental look at the drug trade in the region by highlighting its tragic, human toll.

30 / 50
Arte France Cinéma

#21. Ash is Purest White

- Director: Jia Zhangke
- Metascore: 85
- Number of reviews: 34
- Runtime: 136 min

Director Jia Zhangke works closely with his wife, Tao Zhao, in this film where Zhao plays the lead role. “Ash is Purest White” is a gangster romance hybrid set within a Datong crime ring. The narrative covers 16 years as it follows a woman and her gangster boyfriend through prison sentences and life beyond as their lives merge and part. Zhangke’s film captures a sense of modern dislocation through tropes of melodrama. At Vulture, Emily Yoshida writes that “at two hours and 21 minutes, Zhangke’s film is a journey.”

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31 / 50
Cinereach

#20. Black Mother

- Director: Khalik Allah
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 9
- Runtime: 77 min

Director Khalik Allah’s evocative use of visual splendor in “Black Mother” makes this documentary a haunting register of life on the island of Jamaica, with all of its cultural juxtapositions. Carlos Aguilar at the Los Angeles Times compares the film to the rhapsodic style of director Terrence Malick. Aguilar also writes that “each kinetic frame, shot also by the one-man-crew that is the filmmaker, functions as sensorial poetry.”

32 / 50
Dongchun Films

#19. An Elephant Sitting Still

- Director: Hu Bo
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 16
- Runtime: 230 min

“An Elephant Sitting Still” follows the lives of several characters through the course of a single day as they face dramas and tensions that ultimately serve to act as a commentary on the self-absorption in modern society. According to A. O. Scott, writing for The New York Times, the film is a “rigorously bleak, powerfully absorbing feature—nearly four hours long, shot in subdued colors and slow takes—[that] posits a world from which nearly all fellow-feeling has been drained.” Hu Bo’s nihilistic yet visually stunning film was his last as the young director and famous novelist took his own life shortly after finishing this lyrical, innovative film.

33 / 50
Higher Ground Productions

#17. American Factory (tie)

- Directors: Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 22
- Runtime: 115 min

This Netflix documentary examines a Chinese-run American factory through the lens of the changing global economy. It tells the story of a newly opened glass factory near Dayton, Ohio, where the factory’s owner, a Chinese billionaire, employs 1,000 American factory workers and 200 experienced Chinese managers to oversee their work. John Powers sums up the ensuing conflict for NPR: “While Americans expect eight-hour days with vacations and benefits, Fuyao management is used to Chinese employees who work 12-hour shifts, with one day off a month, often sharing dorm-like apartments. The bosses think Americans lazy for talking on the job. Meanwhile, the Americans grow dispirited by the relentless factory regimen.”

34 / 50
Detailfilm

#17. The Wild Pear Tree (tie)

- Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 22
- Runtime: 188 min

This drama from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan follows a young graduate hoping to become a writer who returns home only to be confronted with his father’s gambling addiction. Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, critic Deborah Young describes the experience of watching the nearly three-hour-long film as one similar to that of “plunging into a long novel...laced with philosophy, religion, politics and moral puzzles.”

35 / 50
Apolo Media

#16. Honeyland

- Directors: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 26
- Runtime: 90 min

This film started in an effort to document the Macedonian beekeeper, Hatidze Muratova, who lives in a remote village as a modest honey farmer. However, it takes a turn toward epic drama once a family moves in next door and changes the stakes and Hatidze’s life. Writing for The Guardian, Cath Clarke explains the tension: “Serendipitously for directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov (though not for Hatidze), the family from hell moves in next door mid-shoot, and this small-scale film takes on epic proportions, transforming into a parable about exploiting natural resources, or perhaps a microcosm of humans’ suicidal destruction of the environment.”

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36 / 50
Grey Water Park Productions

#15. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 27
- Runtime: 142 min

Martin Scorsese’s concert documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1975 tour uses real footage from the tour and intercuts it with both genuine documentary footage and fictionalized, dramatic interludes. At Slate, Sam Adams writes that “these fabrications are harmless...but they also don’t serve much of a point beyond churning up a cloud of dust around the entire notion of truth.” Still, critics found the effects both riveting and playful as the film examines the Dylan myth and his larger persona as epitomizing an American era.

37 / 50
AgX

#14. Diane

- Director: Kent Jones
- Metascore: 86
- Number of reviews: 28
- Runtime: 95 min

This understated drama with a deep soul follows a mother (Mary Kay Place) as she cares for her drug-addicted son and seeks unlikely redemption. This narrative film debut from Kent Jones makes an otherwise small story epic while keeping it grounded in realism. Applauding Place’s performance in the film, Ella Taylor at NPR writes that “the actress projects a bewildered resignation that slowly escalates into impotent rage.”

38 / 50
Productions l'Unite Centrale

#13. Genèse

- Director: Philippe Lesage
- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 8
- Runtime: 129 min

"Genèse" is a sweet, but complicated film about first love that elevates the topic well above cliché through its stylized narrative vision told across multiple storylines. Writing for Film Inquiry, Shawn Glinis writes that "’Genèse’ is a steady, assured drama whose power has a strange occasion to sneak up on you.”

39 / 50
Rook Films

#12. In Fabric

- Director: Peter Strickland
- Metascore: 87
- Number of reviews: 14
- Runtime: 118 min

This thriller about a killer dress stars Marianne Jean-Baptiste as a woman whose retail therapy after a separation skids into horror that’s visually arresting and tinged with comic style. Joshua Rothkopf, writing for Time Out, explains that the true terror being depicted here by British writer-author Peter Strickland is “our addiction to buying things.” Critics hail director Strickland’s weirdly alluring exploitation film style and dark humor.

40 / 50
CNN Films

#11. Apollo 11

- Director: Todd Douglas Miller
- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 34
- Runtime: 93 min

Composed using new footage and audio recordings, this documentary chronicles the 1969 moon landing in stunning detail. Reviewer Chris Nashawaty at Entertainment Weekly writes that “Apollo 11” “allows you to experience the first moon landing, on July 20, 1969, in an entirely new and intimate light. And if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere close enough to see it in an IMAX theater, do it. It’s worth the immersive, sternum-rattling upgrade.” The recently discovered footage looks amazing and gives a close-up view of the spectacular event.

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41 / 50
El Deseo

#10. Pain and Glory

- Director: Pedro Almodóvar
- Metascore: 88
- Number of reviews: 42
- Runtime: 113 min

Pedro Almodóvar’s film about an aging director takes its inspiration from his own experiences. Ella Taylor at NPR reports that the director used his own clothing and furniture as props as he “recreates his own history from his childhood in rural Spain in the sixties through his first real love affair amid the sexual freedom of post-Franco Spain.” Antonio Banderas has the lead role as an auteur caught up in memories, as well as emotional confrontations with his mother—a frequent subject for Almodóvar.

42 / 50
Channel 4 News

#9. For Sama

- Directors: Edward Watts, Waad al-Khateab
- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 17
- Runtime: 100 min

The video diary “For Sama” is a riveting documentary co-directed by Edward Watts and Waad al-Khateab, a young college student in Aleppo, Syria. At The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday describes the film as “a compelling, harrowing and occasionally lyrically beautiful narrative,” that began as a protest inspired by the Arab Spring, and continues as it documents al-Khateab’s life and decisions, especially after the birth of her daughter, Sama, the film’s namesake.

43 / 50
CG Cinéma

#8. Long Day's Journey Into Night

- Director: Bi Gan
- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 18
- Runtime: 138 min

Bi Gan’s visually evocative film—set in Guizhou in southwest China and telling a tale of returning home and searching for lost love—stuns audiences with what film critic Justin Chang calls “some alchemy of dazzling trickery and genuine feeling, in recapturing the pleasures of what was once commonly known as ‘movie magic.’” The rapturous, dream-like movie has screened in 3-D, and uses noir-like, impressionistic visuals to follow characters who Chang describes as “lonely wanderers on the margins of society.”

44 / 50
Big Beach Films

#7. The Farewell

- Director: Lulu Wang
- Metascore: 89
- Number of reviews: 47
- Runtime: 100 min

Rising star Awkwafina, who had a supporting role in the smash hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” plays Billi whose family keeps a devastating diagnosis from the family matriarch in this relatable drama. Richard Roeper, writing for the Chicago Sun Times, calls the drama “most charming and special in the Chinese-specific moments large and small,” as the movie sets in Changchun, China and immerses its audience in the nuances of a culture that may contravene one’s own yet somehow feels familiar through the authentic portrayal of universal emotions. The film’s plot draws inspiration from writer-director Lulu Wang’s own experience with her grandmother and her conflicted cultural identity.

45 / 50
Elara Pictures

#6. Uncut Gems

- Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie
- Metascore: 91
- Number of reviews: 15
- Runtime: 135 min

This frenzied, suspenseful crime thriller takes place in New York City’s Diamond District and stars Adam Sandler, in an acclaimed performance, as an in-over-his-head scheming jewelry dealer. Tomris Laffly at RogerEbert.com describes the audience’s experience during “Uncut Gems” as one that is “gloriously suffocated in dark alleys, grimy bachelor pads, and the fluorescent-lit backrooms of jewelry stores, which Darius Khondji’s restless camera captures on film, with apt grit and grain.”

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46 / 50
BBC Films

#5. The Souvenir

- Director: Joanna Hogg
- Metascore: 92
- Number of reviews: 44
- Runtime: 120 min

This autobiographical story follows a young film student, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), whose privileged perspective gets pushed to crisis by her relationship with the charming, but manipulative and destructive Anthony (Tom Burke). Also starring Swinton Byrne’s real-life mother, Tilda Swinton, as her on-screen mom, “The Souvenir” is a powerful depiction of the toll that a fraught relationship takes on almost every aspect of one’s being and behavior. Julie’s Hannah Woodhead at Little White Lies explains that director Joanna Hogg’s “decision to withhold plot details from her cast, and...not provide a shooting script at all, creates a sense of expert fragmentation” in the film.

47 / 50
Lilies Films

#4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

- Director: Céline Sciamma
- Metascore: 93
- Number of reviews: 16
- Runtime: 121 min

This acclaimed period film, set in 1760 France, concerns an artist, Marianne (Noémie Merlant), who must paint the portrait of a young woman (Adèle Haenel) who refuses to pose. The portrait has been commissioned by the young woman’s mother, who intends to send it to her fiancé so that he may see his future bride. In his review for The New Yorker, Anthony Lane, calls the ultimate premise of the film—a painter’s mission to paint an authentic portrait of a subject without that subject know—“a great premise for a film.” The film, by the director, Céline Sciamma, offers an intense and nuanced representation of the dynamics of looking and loving between women.

48 / 50
Heyday Films

#3. Marriage Story

- Director: Noah Baumbach
- Metascore: 94
- Number of reviews: 45
- Runtime: 136 min

Director Noah Baumbach’s career as an indie auteur features such quiet masterpieces as “The Squid and the Whale” and “Frances Ha.” In “Marriage Story,” Baumbach achieves another critical home run. Reviewers hail stunning performances by leads Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a couple with a dying marriage. At the Chicago Reader, reviewer Marissa De La Cerda describes the pair as “each their own separate persons, with quirks and feelings that have evolved and changed” in this drama that shines a fresh light on the complexity of divorce.

49 / 50
Tribeca Productions

#2. The Irishman

- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Metascore: 94
- Number of reviews: 52
- Runtime: 209 min

Director Martin Scorsese returns to the crime genre with acting stalwarts Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino in tow, once again playing gangsters. Despite the familiar premise “The Irishman” offers Scorsese’s signature cinematic style that enraptures audiences despite the film’s nearly three-and-a-half-hour run time. Critic Moira Macdonald explains that despite its length, “The Irishman” is “never less than compelling—Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, all in their mid-to-late-70s, are each carrying a lifetime of work, with practiced ease.”

50 / 50
Barunson E&A

#1. Parasite

- Director: Bong Joon-ho
- Metascore: 96
- Number of reviews: 48
- Runtime: 132 min

Bong Joon-ho’s filmography (“The Host”, “Snowpiercer”, and “Okja”) shows the auteur’s aptitude for reframing arthouse and genre styles into films that are visually arresting and highly watchable while delivering scathing critiques of modern cultures, and “Parasite” is no different. Film critic James Berardinelli explains the powerful class conflict at the heart of the film: “although there are times when the social commentary—visceral as it is—becomes heavy-handed, the movie never loses its momentum, with each act ratcheting up the stakes as it moves inexorably toward a violent, grotesque climax.” This Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival takes place in a mansion where a poor family ingratiate themselves with the wealthy family living there, but with harrowing outcomes.

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