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The Best Films Of 2019 | Movies | Empire – Empire

As the year draws to a close, it's time for one of Empire’s favourite traditions – looking back at the movies we've loved the most this year. The final year of the 2010s has been another belter, filled with cinematic surprises, indelible imagery, deeply emotive dramas, thrilling new voices behind and in front of the camera, and bold returns from masters of the medium.
The final list – as voted for by Team Empire – comprises everything from period dramas, to original horrors, to superhero epics. It’s a list that reflects a stellar year for work by female filmmakers, for brilliant indie filmmaking, and blockbusters that delivered on an ever-greater scale of spectacle and emotion. Take a look through the gallery to see Empire’s full list of the best films of 2019.
Empire's Best Films Of 2019
20) High Life
Space jizz, a 'fuckbox', multiple rape scenes and a black hole of death: when it comes to space movies, High Life is about as far away from Star Wars as you could ever manage. The first English-language film from French auteur Claire Denis presents a deep, humanistic nightmare with a clean, Kubrickian aesthetic and a Tarkovskian sense of slow, brooding despair. Robert Pattinson plays a cosmic prisoner grappling with fatherhood in the emptiness of the void, while Juliette Binoche plays the self-appointed "Shaman Of Sperm". Traumatic and hypnotic, it burrows under the skin and forces you to confront the big questions. Questions like: 'Would you bring a dildo on a spaceship?'Read the Empire reviewBuy now on Amazon
19) Can You Ever Forgive Me
If you're one of those people who have written off Melissa McCarthy's career as confined to wacky studio comedies, here comes Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which cemented what the rest of us already knew: there's much more to her than that. Comedy still exists in the bleakly funny, based-on-truth tale of struggling writer Lee Israel, whose biography-writing career saw her fall out of step with current literary tastes in the early 1990s. As a result, the acid-tongued misanthrope turned to faking celebrity letters. McCarthy is all snap and crackle, supported perfectly by Richard E. Grant as her drinking buddy/sometime partner in crime Jack Hock. Sensitively directed by Marielle Heller, it scored three well-deserved Oscar nominations. Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
18) Monos
Apocalypse Now: Junior Edition? Well, not quite, but Alejandro Landes' drama manages to round up an impressive young cast of unknowns and set them as feral teens forced into child soldier service by a mysterious force known only as The Organization. Into this chaotic existence – defined by paramilitary maneuvers by day and hormone-driven hedonism at night – comes a recognisable face in the form of Julianne Nicholson's Dr. Sara Watson, held hostage by the young warriors. But an attack on their compound sends them scattering and bonds begin to fray. Landes and co-writer Alexis Dos Santos keep up the tension and the audience off guard by shifting character focus constantly. It's not always an easy watch, but it's extremely rewarding.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
17) Pain & Glory
Pedro Almodóvar goes self-reflective for his latest, bringing along familiar muses Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. The former is a stand-in for the director himself, confronting demons from the past and former colleagues in the present as Spanish auteur filmmaker Salvador Mallo, suffering from just about every malady under the sun. Invited to a screening of his '80s classic 'Sabor (Taste)', he faces an uneasy reunion with the film's leading man, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), with whom he fell out during the shoot. Cue reminiscences and recriminations, while Mallo flashes back to memories of his mother from his youth (where Cruz plays his mother). It's Almodóvar on quiet, and quietly magnificent, form.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
16) Little Women
Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is among those novels that has been adapted so many times already that you start to wonder what a director can really do to make it feel fresh. Enter Greta Gerwig, who scored Oscar nominations for her directorial debut Lady Bird, and seems assured to be back in the race for this. With Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Eliza Scanlen and Meryl Steep in the stacked ensemble, this Little Women plays with time to add something new, while squeezing plenty out of the traditional tale's own subversive take on youth and womanhood. Read the Empire review
15) The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg's semi-autobiographical film set in 1980s London triumphed at Sundance and became one of the standout indie films of 2019. Honor Swinton Byrne is extraordinary in her first feature role as Julie, a film student trying to find her voice and keep her footing while sinking into her first real relationship with a manipulative Foreign Office employee (played by Tom Burke). Also alongside Swinton Byrne is her mother Tilda Swinton, who in few scenes, brings tension and devastating tenderness to an already toxic situation. It's an exquisite look at how the brutality of early love and ambition forges our character, the very outline of our adult self. And it's Joanna Hogg at the very height of her powers as a filmmaker. Bring on next year's Part II.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
14) Hustlers
The one that almost no-one saw coming. Despite its attention-grabbing trailers, few predicted that Jennifer Lopez' latest – drawn from a true crime tale – would be so much damn fun. Lopez plays stripper Ramona, leading a group of fellow dancers who decide to take a little revenge on the scummy male clients who leer at them night after night, and end up running a criminal scheme. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria gets the most out of her star, who gives as role tipped with Oscar potential – and loaded with instantly iconic imagery, from that dance routine to that giant fur coat. She has fine support from the likes of Crazy Rich Asians' Constance Wu, Keke Palmer and Cardi B – a group that Scafaria shoots with Scorsese-inspired vibrancy and energy, with a female gaze that never objectifies or judges its subjects.Read the Empire review Pre-Order on Amazon
13) The Farewell
Awkwafina made her mark on cinema with films such as Ocean's Eight and Crazy Rich Asians, but with The Farewell she ascended to new heights of drama and performance. Based on writer-director Lulu Wang's own family experience, the film finds Taiwanese-American Billi (Awkwafina) heading back to China when she learns her grandmother is terminally ill. Except the family have decided not to mention this slightly important fact to the elderly relative (played to winning impact by veteran actor Shuzhen Zhao). Cue an impromptu wedding scheduled as the reason for everyone to gather, misunderstandings, tension and some loving laughs. It's specific in its way, but totally universal at the same time.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
12) Eighth Grade
The depth of empathy in Bo Burnham's pre-teen comedy-drama is nothing short of overwhelming. It's impossible not to feel completely immersed in the battling emotions of Elsie Fisher's Kayla, who's no longer a child but not yet a fully-fledged teenager either. As a product of the social media generation, she espouses positive messages on her YouTube page about being confident and loving yourself, things she herself struggles to embody. Then there's her dad (Josh Hamilton) who's desperate to support her but pushed away at every turn, aware that his daughter is changing but struggling to understand how he can relate to and help her. As funny as Eighth Grade is – and it really is funny – it's the sheer humanity, the complete warmth and heartbreak – at once minor and completely apocalyptic – that will stay with you. GucciRead the Empire review{:target=_blank :rel=noopener noreferrer}Buy on Amazon
11) Us
Following up Get Out was never going to be an easy task – but instead of trying to out-do himself, Jordan Peele switched things up with a wilder and weirder second film. Part doppelgangers-with-sharp-scissors slasher, part meditation on the American underclass, part Jaws-inspired beach-horror, Us sees Peele working on a much bigger canvas, with bigger ideas to match, conjuring up imagery that's madder than a box of frogs – or, cage of rabbits. And then there's Lupita Nyong'o giving two incredible peformances as mum Adelaide and her tethered counterpart Red, Winston Duke confirming himself as one of today's most charismatic actors, that instantly iconic orchestral version of 'I Got 5 On It', and the best Siri-based gag of the year. Read 15 spoiler-filled Us facts from Jordan PeeleBuy on Amazon
10) Joker
The superhero – or rather, supervillain – movie that even Martin Scorsese might like (partly because it owes a big debt to his work and that of his 1970s contemporaries), Joker felt like a gamble… And it paid off big time, becoming the most successful R-Rated movie ever released. Todd Phillips, co-writing with Scott Silver and directing, comes up with his own origin story for Batman's grinning foe. He wanted Joaquin Phoenix to play him, and he got him, with the actor turning in a nuanced, tortured performance. Controversy about the movie's potential to incite violence didn't stop it becoming a big hit. Just don't expect it to spawn a load of sequels.Read the Empire reviewPre-Order on Amazon
9) Midsommar
Ari Aster follows up his ultra-dark grief horror Hereditary by stepping out into the light – where even more fresh hell awaits. Florence Pugh continues her flawless streak with another incredible turn as Dani, a young woman whose life is shattered by tragedy, and whose boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is only staying with her out of a sense of duty. Their fracturing relationship erupts when they attend a Swedish cult festival where… well, if you've seen it, you know. If you haven't, you'll want to experience it for yourself. Shooting in bright sunshine, there's no shying away from the disturbing imagery Aster has in store – and he once again proves to be a master craftsman in making unforgettable sequences and emotionally-charged, character-focused storytelling. A distressing (but also surprisingly funny) festival of frights.Read the Empire reviewBuy the director's cut on Amazon
8) Knives Out
Following up The Last Jedi (and the wave of online debate and, from some corners, hate) that swept in with it, Rian Johnson plays out his latest film on a much smaller scale, bringing a fresh feel to the whodunnit. Simmering a stew of potential suspects played by a starry cast (Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson and Katherine Langford), Johnson makes it work wonderfully. Solving the alleged murder of crime writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) falls to eccentric detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, on swampy accent form), and the result is a comic delight with more issues on its mind than just who-did-it. Read the Empire review
7) If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins is back after Oscar triumph with Moonlight and, if it didn't get the same love from the Academy – aside from a well deserved Best Supporting Actress trophy for Regina King – or indeed, audiences at the box office, it's not because the film isn't worth the attention. It absolutely is – Jenkins' searing, emotional adaptation of James Baldwin's classic book finds two lovers doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of society in 1970s Harlem. Kiki Layne is luminous as Tish, while Stephan James has a quiet rage and real feeling underlying his work as Fonny. There's great support from King (as Tish's mother) and Brian Tyree Henry (as Fonny's friend). Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
6) Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
A near-three-hour shaggy dog story (that features a non-shaggy dog), this sun-baked tale of an imploding actor, an ice-cool stuntman and a historically doomed movie star is Quentin Tarantino at his most playful and laidback. Set largely over a February weekend in Los Angeles, 1969, it doggedly sticks to the lazier pace of a world before mobile phones, emails or paparazzi – in one of the most charming scenes, Sharon Tate has to actually inform a movie theatre ticket vendor who she is – only accelerating in its madcap final ten minutes. Textured with the kind of period detail only this director would think to add, like the Hopalong Cassidy cups on Rick Dalton's shelf (Tarantino's own), it's guaranteed to reward repeat viewings. As for the most quotable quote, we're torn between Rick Dalton calling a car a "mechanical asshole" (a phrase lifted from John Carpenter's Christine) and the immortal words, "I'm as real as a donut, motherfucker."Read the Empire review Buy now on Amazon
5) The Irishman
Martin Scorsese returns with a film that both brings him back to a cinematic world he helped define (gangster movies) but within a new method of distribution (Netflix, though it also hit cinemas) and with some cutting edge technology. But despite all the digi-de-ageing, it's really down to what he does best: compelling stories staffed by some of the best in the business, reuniting with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel, and working with Al Pacino for the first time. Taking its spine from Charles Brandt's book, I Heard You Paint Houses: The Biggest Hit In Mob History, The Irishman plays out like GoodFellas meets Silence – a more languid, meditative take on the mafia movie, with a final reeled steeped in existential emptiness. Another late-career masterpiece.Read the Empire reviewWatch now on Netflix
4) Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach has made love stories before, and divorce stories, but never a love story about divorce. Marriage Story details the splintering relationship between Adam Driver's Charlie and Scarlett Johansson's Nicole, tracking the fallout as they try to navigate the pain and awkwardness while dealing with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Baumbach expertly excavates the weird, funny, human moments among the heartbreak, offering an authentic, non-judgmental portrayal of each side of the divide. There's a stellar supporting cast too, with the likes of Laura Dern, Merritt Wever, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta on hand as the lawyers and friends caught in the couple's orbit. Love, in all its sharp edges, is on display here. Read the Empire review
3) The Favourite
Months after it infiltrated the Oscar ranks, Yorgos Lanthimos' period-drama-like-no-other still lingers in the memory. A darkly funny, often heartbreaking take on the court of Queen Anne (an ever-brilliant Olivia Colman), the power-struggle for her affections between Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) is a wickedly barbed tale of shifting allegiances and sexual intimacy. With a c-bomb-laden screenplay, fisheye-lens shots, and moments of shocking bloodiness, Lanthimos' unique, mannered style makes for a fascinating, human-focused history lesson – and it goes without saying that Colman couldn't have deserved her Best Actress Oscar more.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
2) Booksmart
In Kaitlyn Dever's Amy and Beanie Feldstein's Molly, cinema just got two brand new era-defining teenage icons to rank alongside Ferris Bueller, Cher Horowitz, Kat Stratford, and Cady Heron. Olivia Wilde's whip-smart directorial debut is a rip-roaring, ultra-stylish, progressive teen movie that takes all the best things about the coming-of-age genre – youthful energy, earworm soundtracks, amped-up emotions – and imbues them with a sense of complete platonic adoration. As they prepare to leave high school behind them for good, the two best friends embark on one heady night where they hope to prove to their classmates that they're fun as well as studious – and watching the pair empower and uplift each other is just as entertaining as watching them lose control. Wilde shoots in ambitious extended takes with a visual confidence that announces her as a major filmmaking talent. Party on.Read the Empire reviewBuy now on Amazon
1) Avengers: Endgame
There's no getting around it – Endgame is a triumph in nearly every way. The grand finale (Spider-Man: Far From Home aside) of the MCU's Infinity Saga pays off 20-plus films with an epic, surprising narrative, considerable character development, and the jaw-dropping action showdowns you've been waiting to see ever since Nick Fury popped up at the end of Iron Man. After the astonishing finale of Infinity War, Endgame is a film of major consequence – one that dares to take its heroes to drastic new places, and in some cases take them off the board for good. An epic, rollocking blockbuster with a finale that sticks the most difficult of landings with genuine emotional impact, it's an incredible achievement. We love it 3000.Read the Empire reviewBuy on Amazon
Space jizz, a 'fuckbox', multiple rape scenes and a black hole of death: when it comes to space movies, High Life is about as far away from Star Wars as you could ever manage. The first English-language film from French auteur Claire Denis presents a deep, humanistic nightmare with a clean, Kubrickian aesthetic and a Tarkovskian sense of slow, brooding despair. Robert Pattinson plays a cosmic prisoner grappling with fatherhood in the emptiness of the void, while Juliette Binoche plays the self-appointed "Shaman Of Sperm". Traumatic and hypnotic, it burrows under the skin and forces you to confront the big questions. Questions like: 'Would you bring a dildo on a spaceship?'Read the Empire reviewBuy now on Amazon
Read the Best TV Shows Of 2019 (So Far) and the Best Games Of 2019 (So Far).
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