2019 is over and with it, we are near the final awards show of the year with the Academy Awards coming up in early February. I try to see most of the award contenders each year, and while I can’t ever see all of them (because I’m not an awards voter so I don’t get screeners and Birmingham is AWFUL when it comes to the number of films we have a realistic chance to see), I like to see as many as possible and break down how I feel about them.

Each year, I typically have a few of the Best Picture contenders in my top 10 along with some unique options that really spoke to me. I will also give my most overrated, underrated, biggest disappointment and most pleasant surprise of the year as well as who I think deserves the major awards (whether they even get nominated or not).

I should also note that I obviously can’t see every single movie within the 2019 calendar year, so I may get a chance to see movies after the fact and come back to change my top 10. Also, my top 10 isn’t necessarily just in how I rate films. In other words, I may have a movie I gave an 8 over a movie I gave a 9 to for various reasons. A movie may, for all intents and purposes, be perfect and get a 10/10, but it might not be my absolute favorite of the year.

First up, here is my top 10 for the year:

10. Parasite

This was an interesting one for me. I was really hyped up for this one after watching Okja as my first Bong Joon Ho experience. I normally am not a fan of subtitles and have always preferred my anime with dubbed voices instead. However, as Ho said when accepting the Golden Globe for best screenplay, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

That was true for me last year with Roma. I am a sucker for cinematography and that originally drew me into Roma, but I got so much more out of it when I just forced myself to watch it despite subtitles and I was opened up to a whole new world of cinema. That continued with Parasite.

That said, I do have a few gripes about the film which is why it’s not #1. It’s mostly some editing choices every now and then in the film and the one thing I can’t get over without knowing the language is emphasis in certain phrases and sentences. Words gets mixed around in translation in terms of the order they are spoken and there were a couple of times the emphasis on what was being said was lost in translation. Also the social commentary was a bit on the nose, especially at the end.

Overall, I did really like the story, the direction, the acting and the cinematography. Solid film that I recommend despite the foreign language.

9. Joker

I was skeptical of this movie from the start, and you can read more into why in my “most welcomed surprise” category. The movie was acted to perfection from Joaquin Phoenix and I think he was better than Heath Ledger personally, which is why a second Joker will win an Oscar. The movie overall was shocking, disturbing, upsetting and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting for what shocking thing would happen next.

Todd Phillips has established himself as a good dramatic director after nailing the comedy genre, and I look forward to what else he can do (and perhaps a Joker 2).

8. Uncut Gems

This was one I was very much anticipating because it’s been a while since we’ve had a good Adam Sandler movie. His whole Netflix run hasn’t been my cup of tea except for The Meyerowitz Stories which was good but not great. I somewhat liked Pixels (but more of a respect for getting the gaming stuff right than he being a good movie) and That’s my Boy was just ok. Outside of that, the last really good movie he did was probably Click or I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry back in 2006/07.

But what really sold me on this movie was how good Kevin Garnett was. I expected his role to just be a cameo, but he was actually in the film a good bit and was the focal point of the story. I am really impressed with how he acted in the film. I like Idina Menzel and Lakeith Stanfield a lot as well and loved that they had Mike Francesa play Sandler’s bookie.

My only real complaint on this movie is that there is a lot of screaming in it and the intensity never calms down. The actors hardly ever stop screaming throughout the entirety of the film. Outside of that, it’s a great movie that will make you never want to place a sports bet again.

7. Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi is 3-for-3 for me when it comes to his films. I first started with Hunt for the Wilderpeople which was really solid, then he hit a grand slam with Thor: Ragnarok, and he continued it with Jojo Rabbit. That’s just for directing, he is also becoming a great actor and voice over artist as well. He directed the final episode of The Mandalorian which was amazing. I think if they ever handed him the green light to do a Star Wars film, he could knock it out of the park.

As for this movie specifically, he was really good in it, but Scarlett Johansson, Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie were all amazing as well. Davis, who plays Jojo, is in the movie the entire time and acts flawlessly for his first ever film (which earned him a Golden Globe and SAG Award nomination). To be so young, yet to play such a conflicted role in a movie that can somehow accurately portray Nazis in a comedic way without being too offensive and I think truly understand the weight of his role was incredible at such a young age.

6. The Lighthouse

A movie that looked good, but I was skeptical on if I would like it or not. Shot as a grainy black and white film, there are only two people in it minus the occasional mermaid cameo and another cameo that would spoil the story. It’s amazing how good this movie is yet it’s two actors aren’t up for any major awards (although it is up for plenty of minor awards).

It’s a horror movie, but one that I actually enjoyed. Those of you that know me well know I hate horror movies. It’s a slow building film that never changes scenery and is shot in grainy black and white, yet is also one of the deepest films of the year with so much to it that you have to stop and think about it for days after viewing.

5. The Farewell

I’m so glad Awkwafina won best actress at the Golden Globes because I think she deserves it. She carried this movie and did an amazing job portraying such a human story. I also think Zhao Shuzhen should get more love than she is for portraying the grandmother. This is a movie that the trailer basically gives the premise, you just have to watch it to see acting at it’s finest from someone who has never really done any serious acting before.

4. Marriage Story

A beautifully acted, heartbreaking story that makes you hate and love everyone in the film, yet it’s two leads probably aren’t going to win a single major award for it. This could easily be the #1 movie of the year, but it could also be this year’s “nominated for everything, but doesn’t win anything” movie.

Marriage Story tells the story of a couple who are going through a divorce and how it can get nastier and more complex the longer it goes on. It’s a devastating movie that leaves you in tears at the end of it yet you don’t know if they are tears of sadness or joy or anger or frustration. It’s a great look at how our society functions when it comes to a divorce along with the money and power grabbing that happens from all sides.

3. Luce

This was one of only two 10/10 films this year for me. For all intents and purposes, this was a perfect film in my opinion. The story and the way it unfolded left you on the edge of your seat waiting for the story to snap into action at any point only for it not to, but at the same time explode with passion – all of it was expertly done. By the end of it, you don’t know who to believe, or who to cheer for, so instead you sit back and ponder on how it fits society perfectly – the fact that none of us are perfect and every stereotype is real but at the same time that there is no real “good” or “bad” guys in life, we are all unique and on different points of the spectrum.

Kelvin Harrison Jr. was absolutely phenomenal as was Octavia Spencer.

This film (along with Parasite) also helped put Neon on the map for me. Where A24 has ruled in the past few years, Neon has come on strong since starting in 2017. What started with films like Colossal, Ingrid Goes West and I, Tonya has blossomed into two top 10 films this year for me, and I can’t wait to see what happens moving forward with them.

2. The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Yet another A24 film to make the list with an absolutely mesmerizing piece about gentrification in San Francisco. Following a great film in Blindspotting from last year that followed a similar style of story across the bay in Oakland, The Last Black Man in San Francisco had everything that I love about a movie – great cinematography, pacing, acting, writing, directing and more.

It’s a movie I can’t stop thinking about and actually made me want to visit the city, which I did on my honeymoon and my wife and I were able to go see the house that is the focal point of the movie.

Another amazing feat is the fact that this is the first movie the director and lead actor have ever done. It’s semi-autobiographical and the main character, Jimmie Fails, plays a fictionalized version of himself. It’s such a heartbreaking and authentic story and I can’t recommend it enough.

Also, it’s the world’s greatest trailer – I want to cry just watching it. Check it out above!

1. 1917

I expected a lot out of 1917 since seeing the first trailer of it, and many times when I go into a film with high expectation, I am let down because I’ve put it on too high of a pedestal. However, occasionally films will live up to that hype and those are usually the ones that make it to the top of my list. Enter 1917.

If you know me, you know there is one thing I love more than anything else when it comes to movies – great cinematography. 1917 is done by Roger Deakins, one of the two greatest cinematographers ever to walk the earth (the other being Emmanuel Lubezki who did films like Children of Men, Birdman and others). Deakins just won his first Oscar two years ago for Blade Runner 2049, which is one of my all-time favorite films from Denis Villeneuve (they also hooked up for Prisoners and Sicario). However, he’s been nominated 14 times for films like: The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Skyfall and more.

For those that don’t know, this film is meant to look like one long continuous shot. They play tricks to help the passage of time happen from one afternoon to the next morning (yet happen over the course of only a 2 hour movie), and the entire thing is brilliantly shot and executed.

That also speaks to the direction and acting in the film as well. Sam Mendes won the Golden Globe for best director and has done some amazing films in the past such as Skyfall and American Beauty. He’s had five films nominated for Academy Awards for a total of 23 nominations and 9 wins. I personally think Skyfall is the best Bond film of all time (and I didn’t hate Spectre like some did). The direction in this movie was flawless in my opinion.

George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman (known for playing Tommen in Game of Thrones) were both amazing, but especially McKay. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to film some of these long scenes. Like I mentioned above, they played some tricks that you can notice if you pay close attention to break up long “single shot” scenes, but there are plenty of long sequences with the actors on screen for 10+ minutes at a time with no relief from even a camera turning off them for 5 seconds.

1917 is a perfect movie, and an absolute work of art. I rarely walk out of a movie and feel like I’ve seen a masterpiece without some kind of gripe. I have no gripe with 1917, it was a master class in every facet of filmmaking. Go see it.

To see my full ratings, check out the list here.


Most Overrated

The Irishman

This movie just didn’t do it for me. Most Scorsese movies I see I really enjoy, but this one was just too slow and long. Long movies with long scenes have to keep your attention and this one didn’t. It just didn’t flow right. I feel like if this movie was re-edited and cut to around 120-150 minutes, it would be much better. I think the subject matter was also a little old for me and maybe if I was around back in the day like my parents when Kennedy was president and Jimmy Hoffa was more of a public figure, I would have enjoyed it a little more. Also the CGI to make the old actors seem young didn’t work for me, they still looked so old in their mannerisms (like when De Niro looked like an 80 year old man with a 40-50 year old man’s face beating someone up).

Honorable Mention(s): Fighting with my Family

Most Underrated

Frozen 2

Call me crazy, but I actually liked this one better than the first. I will admit, I didn’t see the first one in theaters and wasn’t all in on the hype train until well after it came out. However, I really like this one with a little more seriousness, a slightly darker tone and plenty of good stuff for adults and kids alike. While “Let It Go” was a phenomenon that swept the world, I think the music was better in the sequel overall and the visuals were spectacular.

Honorable Mention(s): Happy Death Day 2U, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Biggest Disappointment

Captive State

The pieces were there for this to be a great movie, but it just never got going. A really good cast with John Goodman, Jonathan Majors (who is one of the leads in my #2 movie of the year), Vera Farmiga and Ashton Sanders (from Moonlight). I expected so much more from this movie but it ended up being a snoozefest.

Honorable Mention(s): Cats, Dumbo

Most Welcomed Surprise

Joker

Maybe not a “surprise” to some people, but I was very skeptical of this actually working when originally announced. Just because a movie like Logan had worked as a darker, R-rated comic book movie, doesn’t mean it will always work. I didn’t expect this to be bad, but I didn’t expect it to be such a hard hitting, intense movie – and it worked for me. I am always looking forward to the next Todd Phillips movie and now I am looking forward to another Joker film.

Honorable Mention(s): Yesterday, Toy Story 4


Individual Categories

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

He will win every award and rightfully so, but it sucks that Adam Driver won’t get the love he deserves too. Marriage Story was so great because of the two leads and neither one of them will hardly win anything. Joker only worked because of Phoenix’s performance and everything he did was right in it. His “laugh because I can’t cry” moments were what put him over the top in this one.

Honorable Mention(s): Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Luce)

Best Actress: Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)

What a year she had, from Avengers: Endgame to Jojo Rabbit (which she was also great in) to Marriage Story. I will admit I haven’t seen Judy yet, but it will be hard to beat the overall year Johansson had.

Honorable Mention(s): Awkwafina (The Farewell), Charlize Theron (Bombshell), Ana de Armas (Knives Out)

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood)

I have no problem with him winning everything this year because he was really good in this. Leonardo DiCaprio and him were great together and I’d love to see more of it because they really played off each other well.

Honorable Mention(s): John Lithgow (Bombshell), Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse), Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit)

Best Supporting Actress: Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

Also shout out to Kate McKinnon who was really good in Bombshell as well and had a good back and forth with Robbie. I think Laura Dern was good, but she wasn’t what made Marriage Story for me. She’ll probably win all the awards, but I prefer Robbie.

Honorable Mention(s): Zhao Shuzhen (The Farewell), Laura Dern (Marriage Story), Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)

Best Director: Sam Mendes (1917)

Phenomenal direction in 1917 from Mendes and he deserves everything he wins for this. He has done well in the past with Skyfall, American Beauty and others and will continue to be one of the better directors working today.

Honorable Mention(s): Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story)

Best Original Screenplay: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Absolutely phenomenal. A brilliant story written from the heart and soul of two real people who grew up in the city.

Honorable Mention(s): Parasite, Marriage Story, The Farewell, Us

Best Adapted Screenplay: Jojo Rabbit

I’d be very interested to see what the book is like, it’s supposedly very serious in tone, but basically the same main character. There is sadness and seriousness in the film, but it’s surrounded by comedy.

Honorable Mention(s): Joker, Toy Story 4

Best Visual Effects: Avengers: Endgame

The final battle scene is what puts it over the top for me.

Honorable Mention(s): Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Lion King

Best Original Song: Into the Unknown (Frozen II)

I really liked this song, maybe not quite to the level of Let it Go, but it fits well into the movie (along with the melody constantly being played throughout the film) and I really enjoy the Panic! at the Disco version as well.

I should also note, it’s not original but the rendition of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” from The Last Black Man in San Francisco was absolutely amazing.

Honorable Mention(s): Speechless (Aladdin), Catchy Song (Lego Movie 2), I’m Gonna Love Me Again (Rocketman)

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.