Over the past month or two, we’ve seen a flood of “best of the year/decade” lists. I won’t be compiling a “best of the decade” (I’m saving that brainpower for the blog’s tenth anniversary in 2022!) or a formal list of what I considered to be the “best” new-release films in 2019. But, as is tradition on TMP, I will begin the year by sharing some favorites: my 20 most memorable discoveries from the year in viewing!
Top 20 Discoveries of 2019
The Before Trilogy, directed by Richard Linklater:
Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013)
It’s rare to come across a film that adds itself to my list of all-time favorites on the first watch. For a whole series of films, it’s unheard of! But that’s precisely what happened when I blind-bought the Before trilogy during a Criterion sale. I feel like the last movie-loving person on earth to see these films, so I don’t think I need to tell you how great they are; this is easily the most perfect trilogy I’ve ever watched.
Elevator to the Gallows (1958), directed by Louis Malle
Elevator to the Gallows was my final Criterion Channel viewing of the year, and talk about saving the best for last. While I’ve loved basically everything I’ve watched from Criterion, this is absolutely my favorite discovery on the Channel so far. I won’t say too much about it as I’ll be posting a review soon, but if it’s sitting somewhere in the middle of your to-be-watched list like it was for me, movie it to the top!
Diabolique (1955), directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Another film it took me years to finally watch. Diabolique has been recommended to me many times, and I kept a copy of it sitting on my DVR for much too long! I finally gave it a watch for 2019’s Horror Half-Week and, man, was it great! This film is so well-made and so full of tension. Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot’s performances held a firm grip on my attention, and I loved watching their two characters — who are, in many ways, opposites — interact.
Blindspotting (2018), directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada
I never catch all of the new release films I’d like to watch when they actually come out. This was one of my earliest watches of the year, discovered while playing catch-up on 2018 films I saw on a lot of “Best” lists. It’s another film that struck a chord with me immediately. I have yet to rewatch it (just recently purchased the DVD!), but there are so many scenes that are still stuck in my mind a year later. As soon as I watched it, Blindspotting became my favorite film released in 2018, and it has remained in that spot despite several other splendid discoveries.
Parasite (2019), directed by Bong Joon-ho
I said I wouldn’t make a “best of 2019” list, but if I did, Parasite would top it. Offering a perfectly-executed blend of comedy, suspense, and social commentary, Parasite is packed with fantastic performances. It held my full attention from the first moment to the last, surprised me, and made me think. Believe the hype on this one!
The Stranger (1946), directed by Orson Welles
While many consider this to be Orson Welles’ most conventional film, I don’t see that as a negative thing; Welles managed to master the thriller genre on his first try! Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young co-star with Welles in this story of a man hunting down a Nazi war criminal in a sleepy Connecticut town. The Stranger has a great story, perfect pacing, and top-notch performances, as noted in my November review.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019), directed by Joe Talbot
Like Elevator to the Gallows above, The Last Black Man in San Francisco was a very late discovery. In fact, it was the second-to-last film I watched in 2019! It tells the story of Jimmie and Mont, two young men in San Francisco who set out to reclaim a Victorian home previously owned by Jimmie’s grandfather. The story is told hauntingly and poetically, and I found the central performances by Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors hugely affecting.
Us (2019), directed by Jordan Peele
My 2017 “Most Memorable Discoveries” list featured Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and in that post, I noted my excitement to see what Peele would come out with next. His second directorial feature, Us, did not disappoint. The film is unnerving, eerie, and tense, but I also found it incredibly fun to watch (especially in a packed theater). Lupita Nyong’o, playing both Adelaide and Red, is phenomenal. And, once again, I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele will give us next.
The Farewell (2019), directed by Lulu Wang
It might seem like an odd word to use in reference to a drama about mortality and terminal illness, but The Farewell is delightful. It’s delightful because it captures the humor and sentimentality of life along with the melancholy; it’ll tear your heart in two one moment, then stitch it together with a laugh. The screenplay is wonderful, and the actors do a perfect job of bringing the family dynamics to life.
Blinded by the Light (2019), directed by Gurinder Chadha
Blinded by the Light follows Javed Khan, who loves writing poetry and lyrics and falls in love with the music of Bruce Springsteen after borrowing tapes from his friend Roops. Beyond Javed’s conversion into a Springsteen superfan, the film tackles racism, family issues, and coming of age — and it does so in a way that feels authentic and earnest rather than corny. I feel like this film was unfairly dismissed because of its surface similarities to Yesterday (2019); in truth, their similarities end at the release year and involvement of iconic music. Blinded by the Light is, in my opinion, the “feel-good film of the year” and deserves much more recognition than it has received!
Ride the Pink Horse (1947), directed by Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery directs and stars in this moody crime drama, which follows a man seeking revenge for the death of his friend. Tense and twisty, Ride the Pink Horse is a well-constructed and well-performed film, as noted in my June review.
Their Finest (2016), directed by Lone Scherfig
Underappreciated and mostly known as “the other Dunkirk film” in the year it came out, Their Finest is one of the best period films I’ve seen in recent years. It follows not the soldiers of the Second World War, but a filmmaking team working for the Ministry of Information. I found the premise itself interesting — artists and writers aren’t the first people who come to mind when we think of contributors to the war effort. Add to that a brisk pace and plenty of banter, and Their Finest won me over easily.
Black Narcissus (1947), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Powell and Pressburger adventure to the Himalayas for this tale of a group of nuns tasked with opening a convent in an abandoned palace. In addition to their struggles to adjust to the remote, harsh environment, the nuns find themselves agitated by the presence of a British agent, Mr. Dean (David Farrar). It’s got everything you’d expect from a Powell and Pressburger film: lush photography, plenty of emotional impact. And his film is worthy of a spot on my “most memorable discoveries” list for Kathleen Byron’s performance alone.
The Sun Is Also a Star (2019), directed by Ry Russo-Young
I know, I know: A box office bomb based on a young adult novel? On a favorites list? But I genuinely enjoyed watching this film and won’t apologize for it! It’s a little contrived, but every good rom-com should be. Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton are a ridiculously good-looking and magnetic pair. I’m not usually a huge fan of “instant-love” stories; still, I found them easy to root for thanks to Natasha’s usual cynicism about romance and the very real issues they’re facing, both alone and as a potential couple.
Logan’s Run (1976), directed by Michael Anderson
Would this be a list by Lindsey if it didn’t take a turn for the weird? This dystopian sci-fi flick tells the story of a society where everyone must die at the age of thirty to prevent overpopulation, and those who attempt to escape death will be terminated by the “Sandmen.” It’s silly and strange and features costumes that make the “future” look very mod, but I enjoyed just about every minute of it.
Crimson Tide (1995), directed by Tony Scott
As I’ve sought out to make my dad a fan of classic film and subtitles, he’s sought out to turn me into a fan of “shoot ’em ups,” as he calls them — his favorite action flicks and war movies. While action still is not one of my go-to genres, he actually succeeded somewhat this year — thanks in part to Crimson Tide, Tony Scott’s 1995 submarine action-thriller starring Denzel Washington. I was absolutely riveted by this film, with all of that tension packed into such a claustrophobic environment.
A Simple Favor (2018), directed by Paul Feig
Deception has rarely been more stylish than in this comedy-thriller starring Blake Lively, Anna Kendrick, and Henry Golding. Kendrick and Lively are moms whose children attend the same school; they become friends over playdates, but it soon becomes clear that Lively is a woman with many secrets. And then, she disappears. A Simple Favor‘s twists are wacky, its costumes are impeccable, and I laughed more while watching it than during any of the straight comedies I saw this year. It’s ridiculous in the best way.
The Premature Burial (1962), directed by Roger Corman
One of the lesser films of Roger Corman’s “Poe Cycle,” Ray Milland stars in The Premature Burial as a man with an obsessive fear of being buried alive. While Corman’s other Poe adaptations are far more well-loved, I thought this film was great. The foggy Victorian setting is perfectly grim and Milland plays the obsessive aristocrat perfectly (with a hint of corn here and there). Not a perfect film by any means, but my favorite new-to-me watch of the Halloween season.