Here is my obligatory annual top 10 list of movies, ranked according to mainstream standards. In other words, weird movies are allowed in this list, but I attempt to rank 2019 releases according to their general merit, intended for people who don’t specialize in the genre. Provocative cults film like Under the Silver Lake can (and did!) make this list, but they will not automatically be catapulted to the top. When ranked by mainstream standards, they may even show up in a different order (and do!). Stay tuned for the top 10 weird movies of 2019 at a later hour.
Contenders I couldn’t fit in screenings of before this article’s the deadline: Atlantics, Honeyland, Uncut Gems.
10. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote: Read Giles Edwards’ review! Toby, once an idealistic filmmaker and now a director of commercials, revisits Spain to find that the old shoemaker he cast as his lead in his “Don Quixote” student film now believes he is Quixote and Toby is Sancho Panza. It would have been a relief if the result of this legendary event that spent almost three decades in development hell was just acceptable. It’s actually good. gives us a whacked-out classical postmodernism reminiscent his 80s and 90s classics, with near-perfect comic chemistry between ‘s “Quixote” and ‘s “Sancho” and an almost overwhelming serving of medieval spectacle in the billionaire costume ball finale.
9. Under the Silver Lake: Read the Apocryphally Weird review! A Los Angeles slacker becomes obsessed with the disappearance of his hot blonde neighbor–his investigations uncover increasingly bizarre conspiracies involving a dog murderer, hidden messages in songs by the hip new band “Jesus and the Brides of Dracula,” and secret death cults. If you were jonesing for more Inherent Vice, here comes another messy California-set stoner conspiracy theory noir; this one puts you right inside the mind of its paranoid and dangerously unhinged antihero. It had a troubled debut at Cannes and a delayed theatrical release, but it’s destined to find an audience and be a crowned a “cult favorite” in the near future.
8. Apollo 11: An assemblage of restored footage from NASA and other sources chronologically documenting 1969’s 8-day Apollo 11 mission that landed a man on the moon. Will the crew make it back safely? Is the Earth really round? Didaccidentally leave a visible boom mic in frame? You’ll have to watch to find out.
7. Toy Story 4: Woody, now with a new owner and no longer the favorite toy, tutors a newcomer, finds a lost friend, and tries to defend himself against a broken antique doll who wants his voice box. Old favorites return, but this late sequel features new toys: two stuffed carnival prizes, a Canadian motorcycle daredevil, and of course, Forky. It features some surprisingly complex moral choices, for a toy story. Animation, comedy and action are all of the usual high quality for the series. Toy Story 3 was such a perfect ending for the series that it was the height of chutzpah to push for a fourth installment; incredibly, it paid off.
6. Monos: Read Gregory J. Smalley’s review! A squadron of teenage soldiers are tasked with holding a hostage (and a cow) in a remote jungle location, but bad decisions lead to tragedy. Multiple critics threw out comparisons to Apocalypse Now, but it’s more Lord of the Flies meets Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Very fine work, no matter what touchstone you choose.
5. I Lost My Body: A severed hand crawls through the streets and alleys of Paris, having flashbacks to its former owner’s sad love story. The adventures of the hand are magical, but too slim to support a feature; the owner’s story is well told and touching, but ordinary in style. Each part of the film makes the other better; together, they make a touching whole. Full review forthcoming.
4. Parasite: Through deceit, a poor family worm their way into roles as servants for a rich one, but a secret in the house will turn their scheme upside down. Just solid storytelling fromin a tale that moves from dark comedy to suspense, all the while weighed down in the melancholy of economic hopelessness. Pencil this in as everyone’s vote for Best Film Not in the English Language, and expect it to top many Best Film lists, too.
3. The Lighthouse: Read Giles Edwards’ review! Ephraim Winslow takes a job tending a lighthouse under supervision of a crusty veteran “wickie”; after he violates an ancient sailor’s taboo, things go to hell for both men. Shot in an archaic aspect ratio only a little wider than the movie poster, The Lighthouse is constrained in era, in space, in theme, and in cast. Writer/director uses these confines as walls for the characters’ madness to ricochet off of. and are excellent, with each given one magnificent, bone-chilling Melvillian monologue. Given the weird imagery and impenetrable accents, this did surprisingly well with audiences, which were probably composed almost exclusively of people who were enchanted by The Witch.
2. Midsommar: Read Gregory J. Smalley’s review! Four grad students go to a remote Swedish village above the Arctic Circle to observe a festival celebrating ancient pagan beliefs held during the midnight sun; things go predictably bad for them. ‘s sophomore feature has the same icky feel as his hit Hereditary—slow-build occult horror built on a background of grief—and although it won’t surprise you like his first film, it doesn’t disappoint, either. I went back and forth between A24’s two 2019 art horrors for the number two slot, and if I watched The Lighthouse again, it’s I’d probably swap their slots once more. Consider them 2a) and 2b).
1. Knives Out: A famous and wealthy mystery writer dies on his 85th birthday of an apparent suicide, but a private detective hired by an unknown party suspects murder. There’s a neat gimmick where one of the suspects is physically incapable of lying. Brilliantly written and acted, true to the spirit of Agatha Christie, and also one of the funniest movies of the year. Please pulloff any future Star Wars projects so he can make more like this. The plot’s not 100% airtight—there’s one little implausibility that bugged me—but it’s an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser with thrills, twists, comedy, and a heroine who gets what’s coming to her.