The Best Movies of the 2019

The end is here, at least for the cinematic year, which has gifted us with a premium of daring dramasdocumentariescomedies, thrillers, and action-adventures. From crowd-pleasing blockbusters to under-the-radar celebrations, eclectic imports to boundary-pushing epics (we’re looking at you, The Irishman), there’s been something for everyone at the theater – and, also, on the different streaming services that now strive for cinephiles’ attention. The Oscar season may be just kicking into high effects, but at Esquire, we’re ready to crown the year’s 50 (!) standouts. This is precisely what we’ve done here, in the final installment of our summary of the Best Movies of 2019

The top 10 of the best movies of 2019:
  1. The Lighthouse
  2. Marriage Story
  3. The Irishman
  4. Transit
  5. A Hidden Life
  6. Little Women
  7. Uncut Gems
  8. Hagazussa
  9. Under The Silver Lake
  10. Climax

Let's dive in!


Climax movie poster 2019
Climax movie poster

Gaspar Noé’s cinema routinely tracks the line from peace to chaos, and that’s once again true in Climax, the inspired-by-real-events tale of a dance party sinking into hellish madness. Beginning, portentously, with interviews seen on a television set circled by the director’s favorite VHS horror films, the French auteur’s latest is arguably his least intriguing to date. Regardless, it’s still an escalating freak-out scored to pounding electronica and populated by a raft of potential monsters. Even during its more peaceful early-going, his characters’ choreographed numbers exhibit a frightening intensity, and once these artists unconsciously drink some LSD-spiked punch, their emotional stability and interpersonal relationships spiral terrifyingly out of control. Often performed in long single takes, Noé’s swirling, drifting, slithering camerawork is as dexterous as his physically lively subjects. The result is an artistic performance piece that feels like the psychosexual underworld dance divertissement that Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria wanted to be, replete with a finale that takes up residency in some hallucinatory ninth circle of Hell.

Climax is tenth in the best movies of the 2019 list!

Under the Silver Lake

Under the Silver Lake movie poster 2019
Under the Silver Lake movie poster

There are codes within codes within codes in Under the Silver Lake, David Robert Mitchell’s deliriously shambolic neo-noir about stoner sleuth Sam (Andrew Garfield, never better) crossing a Lynch-ian L.A. landscape in search of a secret missing beauty (Riley Keough). Also directing the spirit of Robert Altman, Brian De Palma, Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood golden-age masterpieces (set to a Henry Mancini-esque score), Sam’s cine-odyssey is a quest for purpose in an overstuffed pop-culture world. Movies and legends collide, both mirthfully and sorrowful, as Sam strives to uncover the knotty conspiracy-theory connections connecting everything and everyone. From Super Mario Bros., new-age cultists, pirates, and bomb-shelter tombs, to masturbatory porn patterns, dog killers, comic books (Spider-Man, wink wink) and song lyrics scratched on pizza boxes, secret world-governing ciphers are everywhere. Mitchell reveals them through an adventure that’s amusing, aesthetically handy, and laced with dark disillusionment about the puppetmaster powers-that-be and their covert maneuvers. Reconfiguring noir’s fatalistic heart for our complicated modern condition, it’s a portrait of the surreal new bleakness, with everything parts of a grander whole that offers no substance or solace – leaving only that endless desire for truth, and togetherness.

Under the Silver Lake is number nine on the best movies of the 2019 list.


Hagazussa scary movie poster 2019
Hagazussa movie poster

Dark, demonic power routes through Hagazussa, a legitimately evil folk tale of inheritance, corruption, and condemnation. In the Austrian Alps circa the 15th century, young Albrun (Celina Peter) leads to her mother (Claudia Martini), an assumed witch, in their remote log cabin. Years later, adult Albrun (Aleksandra Cwen) cares for her newborn daughter in that same abode, whose only visitor is Swinda (Tanja Petrovsky), a neighbor who, like the local priest, seems concerned with preserving segregated Abrun’s soul. Light on dialogue but heavy on black-magic mystery, writer/director Lukas Feigelfeld’s fable casts its spell via slow-burn plotting and wicked imagery, climaxing with a kaleidoscopic underwater visual orgy of blood, sources, bone, tendrils, and mutating shapes. Like the mist that embraces the mountainous region’s treetops, suggestions of transitory forces are everywhere – in the sight of Albrun milking her goat, or a shrine for a skull – and they burrow under one’s skin, much like the unholy whispering and crashing bass heard on a soundtrack that heralds insanity, doom, the end.

Uncut gems

Uncut gems movie poster
Uncut gems movie poster

Adam Sandler is a failure who can’t stop chasing that tricky victory in Uncut Gems, an anxiety-inducing crime film fueled by its protagonist’s obsession with the rush of risking it all. Harold Ratner (Sandler) is a Manhattan diamond region wheeler-dealer who thinks he’s hit it big with a unique opal smuggled out of Ethiopia thanks to some African Jews. His plan is to sell it at auction for a cool million and thus compensate his debts to brother-in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his violent partners. That scheme, however, is mucked up by a confrontation with Boston Celtics superstar Kevin Garnett (playing himself), a genuine winner who takes a fancy to the precious rock, as well as by conflicts with his business partner (Lakeith Stanfield), wife (Idina Menzel) and sweetheart (Julia Fox). Directors Josh and Benny Safdie’s material works at a constant fever pitch, their camera gliding and rotating with the jittery thrill and terror of Ratner, and zooming into characters’ eyes—and seeing them at a crane-assisted remove on city streets—with gritty ‘70s-era stylishness. Newcomers Garnett and Fox are great, but the film is eventually all Sandler, whose representation of sleazy, selfish, pleasure-seeking Long Island greed and desperation is outright exciting.

Adam Sandler's movie is number seven on the best movies of the 2019 list.

Little Women

Little Women movie poster
Little Women movie poster

Greta Gerwig confirms herself as one of world cinema’s finest directors with Little Women, an evolution of Louisa May Alcott’s novel that’s shattering with effervescent life. Led by a gathering of outstanding performances thrumming with adolescent energy, longing, regret, anger and resolve, the film revisits the diverse ups-and-downs of the March sisters. Independent writer Jo (Saoirse Ronan); traditional actress Meg (Emma Watson); prim painter Amy (Florence Pugh); and unwell pianist Beth (Eliza Scanlen). Alongside their loving mother (Laura Dern), obnoxious rich aunt (Meryl Streep) and dreamboat neighbor Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), the siblings venture to make their way in a world where, per Amy and Jo, female independence is only achieved with money, and marriage is both an economic performance and a bond forged by love. Flip-flopping backward and forward in time to create all sorts of tuneful narrative (and formal) echoes, and set to Alexandre Desplat’s lush, lively score (the year’s finest), Gerwig introduces her celebrated story with a feminist spirit that flows naturally from its affecting depiction of its heroines’ intertwined, universal difficulties. From euphoric in-motion beginning to pitch-perfect self-referential end, it’s a time-honored tale made new, and enchanting, once more.

Little Women ranks sixth on the best movies of the 2019 list.

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life poster
A Hidden Life poster

In the masterful hands of Terrence Malick, fascism isn’t simply a socio-political warning, but a moral and spiritual one as well. The director’s A Hidden Life describes the based-on-true-events tale of Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), a farmer in the provincial Austrian enclave of Radegund whose world is forever reconstructed by the 1939 appearance of the Nazis—and the requirement, once he’s forced to enter the Third Reich’s army, that he swears loyalty to Hitler’s party. Franz’s refusal to do so is filled with dangerous consequences not only for himself but also for his wife Franziska (Valerie Pachner), whose steadfast loyalty to her husband in the face of public ostracism is as courageous as is his ethical stand toward tyranny. Malick’s tale couldn’t be more convenient, nor more graceful, as his poetic aesthetics —defined by whirling, sweeping, intimate-and-epic handheld cinematography, James Newton Howard’s soaring musical score, and hushed internal-monologue narration—impart a sense of the alternately peaceful and dissonant relationship between the material and the celestial. Following three bypasses into more purely expressionistic terrain, Malick’s return to narrative-driven moviemaking form results in a delighted film about responsibility—to country, God, clan, and self.


Transit movie poster
Transit movie poster

In a Europe that concurrently resembles today and 1940, German ex-pat Georg (Franz Rogowski) attempts to escape Paris before the arrival of encroaching Nazi-esque fascists. Arriving in Marseilles, he associates the African son (Lilien Batman) and wife (Maryam Zaree) of a former comrade. Through circumstance, he also believes the guise of famous writer Weidel, whose possessions he obtains and whose documentation allowing travel to Mexico await him at the port city’s embassy. So too does Weidel’s wife Marie (Paula Beer), who frequently mistakes Georg for her husband, and who longs for reunion even as she maintains an affair with a man (Godehard Giese) whose obsessive amour hinders him from departing. Borders to cross and barriers impeding passage are everywhere in Transit, which like so much of writer/director Christian Petzold’s transition-fixated oeuvre, is a forlorn romantic reflection about identity, sorrow, trauma, and rebirth. Moreover, it’s another of his masterworks to confront concerns of personal and national awareness through a distinct cine-filter, with Casablanca and The Passenger proving two of its many refined touchstones. Its characters linked by spectral bonds they can feel if not quite identify (or control), it’s an entrancing and essentially mysterious ghost story that’s both timeless and, sadly, of our distinct moment.

Transit is number four on the best movies of the 2019 list.

The Irishman

The Irishman poster
The Irishman poster

Rejoining him with his favorite stars (as well as Al Pacino), and clocking in at a whopping 209 minutes, The Irishman serves as Martin Scorsese’s grand closing remark on the gangster genre he helped elevate to greatness with 1990’s Goodfellas and 1995’s Casino. Using unprecedented (and largely effective) de-aging CGI to make his cast look decades younger, the director’s adaptation of Charles Brandt’s non-fiction book I Heard You Paint Houses describes the criminal life of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), an enforcer for mafioso Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and close national of Teamsters bigwig Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), the latter of whom he reportedly killed in 1975. An era-spanning tale that charts the crossings of the mob and domestic politics (including the election and assassination of JFK), Scorsese’s film is also a flashback-layered drama about the journey of time, and the impact – or chilling lack thereof – that sorrow, betrayal, and immorality have on a man’s soul. Led by bravura turns from its leads (Pesci quiet and threatening; De Niro stoic and void; Pacino fiery and charismatic), it’s an epic about American degradation and underworld disgrace.

Marriage Story

Marriage Story poster
Marriage Story poster

Divorce is a catastrophe that destroys the past, present and future—as well as forces one to reconfigure their very sense of self—and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story apprehends that explosion with stinging authenticity and insight. The separation of Brooklyn theater director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) begins with peaceable intentions but soon devolves into a costly and traumatizing legal war that’s brought out by cutthroat, self-interested lawyers (Laura Dern, Ray Liotta), and strands the couple’s young son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the middle of a metaphorical (and, at one point, literal) tug of war. Their ensuing custody fight hearts on which coast their kid will call home, and Baumbach’s sharp lettering and visuals—full of close-ups of pain and fury, and remote structures that separate and isolate his adrift protagonists—locates the way in which that battle necessarily warps that which was once good, leaving only bitterness and ruin in its wake. No film on the subject has ever been this bracingly true to life, and much of the account for that triumph go to Driver and Johansson, whose greatest dueling performances—wounded and righteous, forlorn and infuriated, and marked by respective musical numbers—are as subtle as they are wrenchingly real.

The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse poster
The Lighthouse poster

The appeal of the light drives two men into pitch-black insanity in Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, a work of period-piece madness that more than fulfills the commitment of his 2015 debut The Witch. On a New England rock covered in crashing-wave mist and bombarded with torrential rain, 19th-century lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) tend to their responsibilities, with the former protecting the illuminated tower and the latter securing their home and coal-burning furnace. Their laborious toil is joined first by interpersonal tensions over Wake’s possessiveness concerning the lighthouse itself, and then by run-ins with squawking gulls (vessels for dead sailors’ spirits, says Wake) and visions of muddy tentacles and inviting mermaids. Shot in luminously grainy 4:3 black-and-white that gives the action the look of a weathered old photograph, counted to unholy bellowing and siren screams, and driven by ornate storybook dialogue fit for a marine nightmare, it’s a film about guilt, embarrassment and selfishness (and the psychosis it begets) that exudes uncomfortable, soggy malevolence. Dafoe’s curse to the oceanic gods is an all-timer, and a superb Pattinson matches his sloshed, wild-eyed lunacy step for floorboard-creaking step. Eggers eventually sinks his material in slithering sexualized imagery of a crazed sort and caps things off in a manner that’s all the more cautionary-tale haunting for remaining so unforgettably twisted.

The Lighthouse is the number one in the best movies of the 2019 list.