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These are the best movies of 2019

2019 might be the year that revenue from streaming services finally eclipses the total brought in by the box office. With major new player Disney+ set to offer the first real challenge to entrenched services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime — and upstarts like YouTube Premium, CBS All Access, and Apple TV+ all trying to horn in on their pieces of the market — it's truly a boom time for having access to quality entertainment in the comfort of your own home. It's a brave new world, to be sure... but don't start playing the funeral march for your local multiplex just yet.

Despite the encroachment of what seems like dozens of streamers on its territory, Hollywood had its biggest year ever in 2018, nearly breaching the $12 billion dollar mark domestically and raking in an eye-popping $41.7 billion globally. It turns out that the secret to getting butts in seats isn't so secret after all; you just need to make really good movies, and last year, Tinseltown fielded a heck of a lot of those. With the dominant superhero and horror genres having another exceptionally strong year, those box office records might not stand for long, thanks to flicks like these — the best films of 2019.

The Kid Who Would Be King

An updated, family-friendly take on the King Arthur legend, The Kid Who Would Be King had a lot going for it right out of the gate. It's the second directorial effort from Joe Cornish, who helmed the excellent (and very, very British) sci-fi comedy Attack the Block, and who collaborated on the original script for Marvel's Ant-Man with Edgar Wright. The flick's casting is pure genius, with Sir Patrick Stewart as the wizard Merlin and Rebecca Ferguson (of the Mission: Impossible series) as the evil enchantress Morgana. In the lead is young Louis Ashborne Serkis, whose father Andy is a performer of some note. 

The story of a British schoolboy who stumbles upon the mythical Excalibur and must embrace his identity as a leader, The Kid Who Would Be King was a significant money-loser for studio Fox — but it scored with critics, which should give it a strong enough home video showing to lessen that sting. Reviewers found it to be "sentimental in all the right places, and impossible to dislike" (you know, like the British), with Cornish delivering a "sword-and-sorcery adventure with the intelligence and sensitivity that kids' films deserve, but do not always receive." Here's hoping its box office stumble doesn't dim the prospects of Cornish, who has talent to spare and has proven to be skilled at juggling comedic and dramatic elements in service of his unique visions.

Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

2014's The Lego Movie was not only a surprise hit, but was one of the very best animated films of that year — far better, really, than any movie based on a line of building-block toys had any right to be. It cleaned up at the box office, made hot properties out of writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who just took home on Oscar for producing last year's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), and, well, was absolutely delightful. This year's cleverly-titled The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part saw the return of the first flick's stellar voice cast (including Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell and Will Arnett) and added such talent as Tiffany Haddish and Jason Momoa (reprising his role as Aquaman from last year's live-action blockbuster). 

"While it takes a few beats to rediscover the manic rhythm of the original... about half an hour in, every piece more or less clicks," wrote The Globe and Mail's Barry Hertz, "and I will not apologize for that sentence." Reviewers had praise for the film's "surprisingly sophisticated" storytelling, and while many of the positive notices lamented that it wasn't quite as good as the original, more than a few begged to differ. Said Film Inquiry's Maria Latilla, " It's nice to know that, at least in Legoland, everything is still awesome.

Fighting With My Family

WWE Studios isn't exactly known for generating critically-acclaimed box office hits, being mostly producers of straight-to-video action vehicles for its wrestling stars (and, for some reason, the underrated 2014 horror flick Oculus). But the studio found gold in its fictionalized treatment of the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, which focused on the rise of WWE superstar Saraya "Paige" Knight. Helmed by reliable comedy director Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office and co-star of Hot Fuzz) and featuring an eye-opening turn from Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) as Paige, the flick didn't exactly blow up the box office — but critics found it to be engaging, heartfelt, and funny, and a worthwhile watch even for those not particularly interested in the world of pro wrestling.

In fact, this was a common refrain among reviewers, from Devesh Sharma of Filmfare ("Watch it even if you aren't a fan of pro wrestling") to The Film Pie's Matthew Toomey ("You could know next-to-nothing about wrestling and still be enthralled by this eclectic group of characters") to Bob Chipman of Geek.com ("It's a hard movie to dislike, and I suspect it'll find more than a few fans who never thought they'd like a 'wrestling movie'"). But the most common was praise for Pugh, as characterized by The Detroit News' Adam Graham: "It's rising star Pugh who hits her finisher... she sells this tale even as it gets caught up in WWE mythmaking. Someone give her a title shot."

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon franchise has garnered the kind of critical praise — not to mention box office receipts — normally reserved for Pixar's offerings, and with good reason. Technically accomplished and imbued with a depth of storytelling and emotion uncommon for kids' animated features, the 2010 original and 2014's How to Train Your Dragon 2 raked in over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office and settled comfortably into the hearts of families everywhere. It took five long years for trilogy capper The Hidden World to finally arrive, and surprise — it was very, very good.

Praise for the ever-evolving animation and stellar voice cast (which includes Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, and the great F. Murray Abraham) abounded; on his Mad About Movies podcast, Kent Garrison brought out the big guns, calling the flick "a touching and fitting end to one of the very best animated franchises in film history." Said Laramie Movie Scope's Robert Roten, "There aren't too many feature length animated trilogies, perhaps none as good as this one... [It's a] nice story, combined with marvelous animation, which has only gotten more sophisticated and effective over the years." But among the legion of critics marveling at Dreamworks' sticking the landing on their animated trifecta, none were so succinct as Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post. "The movie," he said, "could easily be called How To End Your Trilogy."

Captain Marvel

At this point, one could be forgiven for simply expecting to find the latest Marvel releases on lists such as these, but Captain Marvel had its work cut out for it. An origin story for a character that had yet to be introduced in the MCU, the film — the first big-budget tentpole for indie filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck — had to give us a compelling story of its own while setting up the wildly anticipated Avengers: Endgame, and — thanks to an efficient script from Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Tomb Raider) and a winning lead performance from Oscar winner Brie Larson — it largely succeeded

The flick's message of female empowerment was not lost on critics, though it wasn't the only reason Larson was roundly commended for bringing a strong sense of pure fun and a healthy amount of swagger to her role. The effortless chemistry between Larson and Samuel L. Jackson as a digitally de-aged, two-eyed Nick Fury was also consistently singled out for praise, as was the performance of Ben Mendelsohn as the Skrull warrior Talos. 

But those observers most familiar with the MCU tended to be the most impressed, for a simple reason. Said Allen Adams of The Maine Edge, "Captain Marvel could have floundered under the storytelling load it was asked to shoulder, but instead manages to (mostly) soar... With outstanding performances by Larson and Jackson, some clever jokes and a handful of good action sequences (both large-scale and small), it's a worthy choice as Phase 3's penultimate offering."

Shazam!

It's an odd bit of serendipity that the first big-screen appearance of DC Comics hero Shazam — once known as Captain Marvel, until the rights to that name changed hands — happened to show up less than a month after the MCU's Captain Marvel, but if there's a competition going on there, it's a friendly one. In fact, Shazam! could be described as one of the friendliest superhero flicks ever, as star Zachary Levi completely sells the notion of a 14-year-old (played in his mortal form by young Asher Angel) inhabiting a superhero's body, bringing all of the wide-eyed wonderment to his role that that conceit would suggest. Shazam! is the first straight comedy for the formerly grim and dour Worlds of DC, and constitutes strong evidence that studio Warner Bros.' commitment to course-correction away from that vibe is not only very real, but it's working.

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern nailed down this notion pretty hard in his assessment. "What Shazam! lacks most obviously is gravitas," he said. "And grimness. Also bleakness, darkness and relentless self-seriousness. In other words, it's terrific fun." Much praise was heaped upon the performances of Levi and his young co-stars, with many also noting that director David F. Sandberg (Annabelle: Creation) proved himself adept at juggling the film's humorous, emotional, and action-packed elements. Most were simply excited for what the film means for DC moving forward, with Salon's Matthew Rozsa calling it "a sign that it is at last ready to compete with Marvel."

Us

If there were any concerns that writer/director Jordan Peele's Academy Award-winning debut feature Get Out would prove to be some kind of fluke, they were put resoundingly to rest by Us. Featuring what some are already deeming an Oscar-worthy performance by Lupita Nyong'o, the story of a family plagued by their own evil doppelgängers during a terrifying night at their beach house was immediately hailed as a "very significant horror film," one that is "freaky, scary, carefully crafted and deeply unsettling," and which "[opens] up subterranean levels in the psyche and [lets] the creatures within come out to play."

Even reviewers more reserved in their praise for the film as a whole were stunned by the performance of Nyong'o. Said The Lamplight Review's Brent Hankins, "Performances in genre pieces are often dismissed and disregarded, but make no mistake: Nyongo's work in Us is some of the very best of her career." Remember, the woman took home an Oscar for her supporting role in 12 Years a Slave

The rest of the cast, including Black Panther's Winston Duke and The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss, were also effusively praised, as was Peele's deft mixing of comedic elements with nerve-jangling terror. Stephen Silver at Splice Today perhaps summed it up the best: "Us combines masterful visuals with dense storytelling, and a half-dozen instant-classic sequences. And," he was sure to add, "it's scary as hell."

Little Woods

Writer/director Nia DaCosta only has a handful of credits to her name, but given the startlingly assured nature of her feature directorial debut Little Woods, that's about to change in a hurry. DaCosta also scripted this tale of a pair of North Dakota sisters, one a convicted drug runner trying to get through her last few days of probation, who must turn once again to the drug trade when their mother dies and leaves behind a hefty mortgage on the family home. The unheralded director nabbed one of the hottest actresses around for the lead role of Ollie in Tessa Thompson (Thor: Raganarok) and filled out the rest of her cast with the likes of Lily James (Baby Driver), Luke Kirby (Glass), and Lance Reddick (the John Wick series) to craft a "neo-Western" that simply floored critics.

Much praise was reserved for Thompson's performance, with descriptors like "towering" and "riveting" being par for the course. But it was DaCosta's eye for small details and sweeping, cinematic shots alike, along with her "tight control of tone and action" that likely had critics frantically Googling her name before penning their reviews. The director is next set to helm a contemporary take on horror classic Candyman for producer Jordan Peele, a man who knows a thing or two about coming out of left field. Her future is tantalizingly bright: "If this is [DaCosta's] starting line," wrote A.V. Club's Katie Rife, "imagine what she'll be able to do once she hits her stride."

Missing Link

Animation house Laika Studios has earned a reputation for imbuing each of its productions with wholly unique, inventive visual styles; it's fielded such diverse and well-received efforts as 2009's Coraline, 2012's ParaNorman, and 2016's Kubo and the Two Strings. For its latest trick, the studio recruited ParaNorman director Chris Butler and a talented voice cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Zack Galifianakis, and Zoe Saldana for Missing Link, the story of a Bigfoot-like creature who enlists famous explorers to lead him on a quest for for his relatives. The action-packed narrative and sweet humor helped to win over reviewers, but true to Laika's form, the eye-popping stop-motion animation was Missing Link's ace in the hole.

Abby Olsece of Rave Reviews called it "the studio's most detailed movie yet... Missing Link continues to prove not only Laika's visual mastery, but also the studio's commitment to telling emotionally resonant stories." Consequence of Sound's Dominick Suzanne-Mayer agreed, writing, "As with so many Laika films, you'll come for the breathtaking animation, and you'll leave both enchanted and surprised by the big, beating heart beneath it." Even less effusive reviews couldn't help but gush over the film's visual style; Jane Horwitz of the Washington Post felt the movie was "missing something" (no pun intended, we're sure), yet still conceded that "it is visually stunning, with well-realized characters and humor that really does work." Unfortunately, its mediocre box office performance may not be enough to keep the financially troubled animation house afloat.

Avengers: Endgame

More digital ink has been spilled dissecting Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of Marvel Studios' 22-film Infinity Saga, than any release in recent memory. Somewhat obscured in the analysis of all of its Easter eggs and ramifications for future Marvel releases, however, was the fact that the picture was simply really, really good — brimming with jaw-dropping action, a surprising amount of humor, and the kind of emotional resonance capable of ensnaring diehard fans and casual moviegoers alike. 

While at least a passing familiarity with the MCU was pretty much required to make it a complete viewing experience — more than one critic pegged it as one of the greatest acts of fan service ever put to film — the movie was all the more impressive for how well it worked on its own terms. MaryAnn Johnson of Flick Filosopher called it "A miraculous blend of grief and humor... I am only starting to get my head around the emotional and creative right-hook of it. A fitting end (for now) to the MCU." Siftpop's Aaron Dicer stated in no uncertain terms just how hard the film lived up to its hype: "The word epic gets thrown around so much that we've forgotten what it actually means," he said. "This movie is here to remind you." But it was Matthew Norman of London Evening Standard who really nailed it: "The only complaint about Avengers: Endgame," he wrote, "is that it raises the bar so high that there may well never be a superhero movie to match it."

John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

The John Wick series has never aspired to be high art, and has never apologized for what it is: one of the purest adrenaline delivery devices in modern cinema. Director Chad Stahleski and star Keanu Reeves have perfected the formula at this point, and John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum gave action diehards exactly what they came for and then some. Reeves' beleaguered hitman on the run is swiftly becoming an icon, and it was his intense and committed performance just as much as Stahleski's sharp direction and staging that had critics applauding the third entry in the series.

"[Reeves] has charisma to burn," wrote Alison Rowat of The Herald. "By the time two hours are up, Wick is once again living up to the Latin in the title, desiring peace but preparing for war." Emmanuel Noisette of The Movie Blog called it "a buffet of action that only leaves you wanting more," while Eileen Jones of The Jacobin singled out the series' "greater and greater achievements in inventive fight scenes, no small task at this point." But it was Flickering Myth's E.J. Moreno who most succinctly pointed out that, far from losing steam as many such franchises are apt to do, the John Wick series seems hellbent on outdoing itself with each entry. "Where some franchises stumble with their third movie, John Wick just keeps getting better," he said. "Chapter 3 is not only action-packed, but brings enough heart and humor to engage any viewer." 

Long Shot

The rom-com genre isn't exactly known for inventive and intriguing premises, but Long Shot — thanks to a smart screenplay by The Office alum Dan Sterling and The Post's Liz Hannah — isn't your average entry. In the flick from director Jonathan Levine (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane), the awesomely named Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) reconnects with his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who just happens to have become a powerful and influential figure who is gearing up for a presidential run. Charlotte rather impulsively appoints Fred to be her speechwriter, hijinks ensue — and a surprising amount of sparks fly, owing to the amazing chemistry between the film's leads.

While not all reviewers were won over (and even positive reviews lamented the film's predictable structure), praise was abundant for Rogen and particularly Theron ("Charlize Theron can do anything, apparently," wrote Eric D. Snider of Crooked Marquee). Carey-Ann Pawsey of OrcaSound proclaimed that the movie "renews [her] hope in the whole genre," while Dann Gire of The Daily Herald wrote, "The Longest Shot of all: What are the odds that this zany rom-com would turn out to be the funniest crowd-pleasers of 2019 so far?" The Mail on Sunday's Matthew Bond agreed, and summed it up best: "This is surely one of the most welcome surprises of the cinematic year, with Jonathan Levine's enjoyable film showing that unorthodox casting combinations can work and that there is still life in the romantic comedy."

Rocketman

Rocketman, as perhaps evidenced by its title being rendered as one word instead of two (like the actual song), is not a traditional biopic. It instead aims to capture the life of the legendary Elton John through a deft blending of fact and fantasy — a bold gambit that somehow works swimmingly, thanks in large part to a brilliant lead performance from Taron Egerton, who actually sang all of the featured songs.

Chicago Reader's Leah Pickett opined that the fantasy conceit is part of what made the film work so well. "This fantastical take... is undoubtedly how the unconventional artist at its center wanted it to be," she wrote. "The story reshuffles reality, especially time and facts, and the film is more enjoyable for it." Nearly all observers were in awe of Egerton's performance, with descriptors like "electrifying," "star-making," and "magical" being par for the course. ("In case you weren't already in love with Taron Egerton," opined Marianna Neal of Impression Blend, "this movie will get you there.") But Quad City Times' Linda Cook summed it up best with a sweet homage: "I hope you don't mind that I put down in words," she wrote, "how wonderful life is when Elton John's music, and this movie, are in the world."

Toy Story 4

They said it couldn't be done, and what's more, some were even of the opinion that it shouldn't be. The Toy Story series gave us three near-perfect animated films in the space of fifteen years, and after a flawless capper in Toy Story 3 and a nine-year gap, fans could be forgiven for being a bit wary of Toy Story 4. They should have known better: Pixar did it once again, fielding a fourth entry in the saga of Woody, Buzz, and the gang that's every bit as heartfelt, lovingly animated, and hilarious as the previous ones.

"Toy Story 4 is so good it's criminal," wrote Matthew Norman of the London Evening Standard. "The legislation it flouts is the law of diminishing returns which governs movies with numbers after their names." The film's accolades were many, and covered every aspect of its production, from the animation ("One of the most impressive technical achievements in the history of computer animation," wrote Alternate Ending's Tim Brayton) to the story ("a masterpiece in... storytelling [that] will make you want to watch it again immediately," opined Matt Rodriguez of Shakefire) to its treatment of its new characters ("Everyone gets time to tell their story, whether it's Duke Caboom or Buzz Lightyear," wrote NBC News' Ani Bundel). But perhaps the highest praise, delivered by Reno News & Review's Bob Grimm: "Is it the last one? Oh, come on. Just keep making these movies forever."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Fans waited four long years for the ninth film from Quentin Tarantino, and as usual, the master delivered a singular and amazing piece of cinema. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is QT's portrait of the swinging '60s in Tinseltown, and how they came to an abrupt end the night of August 8, 1969 — the night that followers of the infamous Charles Manson visited the home of pregnant actress Sharon Tate, leaving the town changed forever in their bloody wake.

The story is told through the lens of fictional washed-up actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best buddy and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they find themselves in the middle of the seismic events of that night. The flick was praised by critics as "bittersweet [and] complex," characteristically packed with "verbal and visual jokes and period-appropriate music," a "loving, affectionate tribute to those who give their life to cinema" as Tarantino has. Praise was effusive for Pitt and DiCaprio's "amazing" onscreen chemistry, and while not every critic was convinced — and many found its history-rewriting final act to be "questionable" — Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was generally found to stand with QT's best work. "Tarantino has created a storming hangout movie for the ages," wrote Lou Thomas of Den of Geek, "changing times captured remarkably by a film in love with cinema itself."

Spider-Man: Far from Home

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have never failed to dominate the pop culture conversation during any of the last 11 years, but 2019 was something special for the studio. Three movies, three critically acclaimed, billion-dollar-plus grossing hits — an unprecedented feat to bring a close to the three-phase Infinity Saga, which concluded with the sweet, action-packed coda Spider-Man: Far from Home. The first live-action Spidey vehicle to ever break a billion at the global box office may have been a touch preoccupied with Peter Parker's reaction to the death of friend and mentor Tony Stark, but that's only fitting — it was on all of our minds, too, and Far from Home provided a bittersweet sendoff for the armored Avenger who, even dead, is the hero.

Critics were taken with how the film played with the conventions of its genre, continually upending audience expectations — especially with respect to its alleged secondary "hero," the devious Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose performance garnered widespread praise. Star Tom Holland, of course, continued to inhabit his role as Marvel's greatest stars do; Sean Keane of CNET called his turn "spectacular," noting that "he gets a pretty rad set of costumes, too." The Spider-Man series remains a favorite among Marvel fans, thanks to director Jon Watts' distinctive John Hughes-esque tone: for all its butt-kicking spectacle, many critics praised it as simply a delightful coming-of-age comedy — one that just happened to also feature some of the most jaw-dropping post-credits scenes the MCU has yet offered.

Crawl

Producer Sam Raimi (of the original Evil Dead series) and director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) would sound like a winning combination for horror fans no matter what they were offering up, and Crawl sported a unique premise: trapped in her father's home during a massive hurricane with flood waters on the rise, a woman gets some unexpected company in the form of some very hungry alligators. The flick milks this premise for all of the inventive set-ups and scares it's worth, and critics generally agreed that the result was a white-knuckle fright-fest rich with tension and chills.

Lead Kaya Scoledario was praised for grounding the action with her "energetic" performance, helping to whisk the film along from one terrifying set piece to the next. As many of the flick's champions noted, it's tough to go wrong in the hands of skilled filmmakers with all of these ingredients at their disposal: "When you combine a natural disaster, scary predators, [and] confined spaces, all through a personal human lens," wrote The Movie Blog's Emmanuel Noisette, "you have a solid film on your hands." While the movie had its requisite share of detractors, positive notices were quick to point out that Crawl delivered exactly what it promised. "If you go into Crawl hoping to see a woman improbably outswim large, pissed-off reptiles, or watch ATM thieves get messily devoured," wrote Pete Vonder Haar of Houston Press, "you're in for one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences of the year."

Midsommar

Writer/director Ari Aster made a huge noise in 2018 with his terrifying debut Hereditary, but in 2019, we discovered that he had just been warming up. For his sophomore feature Midsommar, Aster moved the proceedings away from the claustrophobic interior of a suburban home and into the great wide open, as the flick finds troubled couple Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) going on a trek through the Swedish countryside to a remote village. The bizarre happenings there unfold not in the dead of night, but in broad, sunny daylight — one of many unusual aspects of Aster's tale of terror which critics singled out for praise.

The film's underlying themes also packed a punch, as Dani's grief over a family tragedy opens the door to a harrowing examination of our ability to deal with internal struggles. Wrote Salon's Matthew Rosza, "Midsommar isn't just a great horror movie, or proof that director Ari Aster is a budding auteur who likely has a bright future ahead of him. It is also one of the best movies ever made about living with mental illness." James Berardelli of ReelViews praised the film's "staying power," a sentiment echoed by Film Mafia's CJ Johnson: "[Midsommar is] one of those films," he wrote, "that makes the whole world outside the cinema seem creepy and weird when you emerge."  That's about the highest accolade we can think of for a horror flick, and an accurate assessment of a singularly bizarre film.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

From producer Guillermo del Toro and director André Øvredal (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) comes the big-screen adaptation of the beloved childrens' book series Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which weaves elements of the series' mythology into its spooky tale of a group of teenagers who discover the lost writings of a very troubled little girl. Said writings have a way of leaping right off the page... literally, as the book's spooky contents start coming menacingly to life.

Katie Walsh of Nerdist admired the film's approach to its material, opining that it had quite a bit more on its mind than one would expect from a horror-tinged adaptation of kids' books. "[The] PG-13 horror flick [is] impressively gruesome, and thematically rich," she wrote, "drawing on political allegory that goes far beyond the simple spooks and scares of the stories themselves." Sarah Marrs of Lainey Gossip agreed, writing that the movie is "a story about the power of stories, particularly how folklore is often wielded against women." Of course, none of this unexpected subtext took anything away from the film's scares, as Øvredal is no slouch when it comes to bringing those — although, in keeping with its target audience, the flick was found to be "more spooky than grisly." But most critics agreed that the director had notched an admirable achievement: "If there ever was a case of a film adaptation improving on the original source material," wrote Chicago Reader's Andrea Gronvall, "this is it."

Ready or Not

As anybody who has ever seen the Netflix original movie The Babysitter can attest, no young actress working today (with the possible exception of Happy Death Day's Jessica Rothe) pulls off comedy/horror quite like Samara Weaving. The doe-eyed actress is able to convey innocence and malevolence with equal aplomb, and she's called upon to do both in Ready or Not, in which a new bride is treated to a murderous game of hide-and-seek (in the interest of a wealth-preserving ritual sacrifice) at the estate of her allegedly loving husband's family.

The flick earned stellar reviews, most of which praised its underlying themes of tension between the rich and poor, as well as its deft mix of comedy and jaw-dropping gore. Said Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, "What a decadent blast to watch a comic takedown of the rich done with the rude energy of a horror thriller and the courage of its own manic anti-marriage convictions... the wow factor of Ready or Not helps you jump the hurdles of any plot predictability." Weaving's performance was also singled out for praise early and often ("dynamic enough that any lingering issues fade away," wrote Vulture's Angelica Jade Bastien), but the definitive assessment of the flick was handed down by Allen Adams of The Maine Edge. "In Ready or Not, you get a brutal and darkly funny twist on horror movie tropes," he wrote. "You'll laugh, you'll cringe... and you'll probably do both at the same time."

Downton Abbey

For six seasons, the British period drama Downton Abbey kept audiences on both sides of the pond enthralled. The aristocratic Crawley family served as a lens through which viewers could see a smorgasbord of historical events unfold: the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War I, and the Spanish influenza epidemic, to name a few, all provided the backdrops for the series' immense cast of characters to navigate their world of artfully scripted melodrama. Downton Abbey ended in 2015, but the feature film of the same name picked up right from where it left off — and it did so without missing a beat, to the delight of fans and critics.

Make no mistake: Downton Abbey is fan service of the highest order, and while it might have left the uninitiated puzzled, the flick was a welcome gift for longtime viewers. Allen Adams of The Maine Edge went so far as to call the film "The Force Awakens for the NPR set," a sentiment elaborated upon by Matt Zoller-Seitz of RogerEbert.com. "The [three and a half] star rating at the top of this review is not for people who don't like Downton Abbey, have never seen it, or grew tired of watching it," he wrote. "The rating is for die-hards who will comprise the majority of viewers for this big-screen wrap-up... for the kinds of viewers who will, I suspect, turn this movie into an unexpected smash." Lo and behold, he was right, illustrating that Downton Abbey knew its audience better than perhaps any film of 2019.

Ad Astra

Ad Astra belongs to a subset of cinematic offerings that have had mixed fortunes of late: the thinking person's sci-fi drama. For every Interstellar or Arrival, there's been a Jupiter Ascending or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. If Ad Astra had fumbled its weighty premise — an astronaut discovers the secrets of life on Earth while journeying to the edge of the universe to find his missing father — even the presence of Brad Pitt, one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, might not have saved it. 

Fortunately, co-writer and director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) largely stuck the landing, and Pitt assisted with a performance that has generated early Oscar buzz (although the star has said that he will "abstain" from campaigning for a nomination). Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post praised Pitt's "mesmerizing, minimalist performance" while opining that the visually impressive film's greatest strengths lie in its themes. "It's a terrific ride, yes," she explained, "but also a provocative meditation on masculinity, the things we choose to cherish or squander, and other eternal verities of life that swirl, unresolved, while our little blue marble continues to spin."

Virtually all reviewers agreed that Pitt's performance was among the finest of his career, with many proclaiming it to be Gray's masterpiece. Wrote the great Leonard Maltin, "James Gray is one of our foremost, and most original, filmmakers. We already knew that Brad Pitt is an exceptional leading man but this performance burnishes that reputation. The film is among this year's very best."

Good Boys

The tagline for Good Boys may have told us all we needed to know about the film: "From the guys who brought you Superbad, Neighbors, and Sausage Party," it trumpeted, and if you were familiar with those cinematic provocations, you knew right off the bat whether Good Boys would be your cup of tea (or perhaps can of cheap beer). For viewers who found the idea of a trio of foul-mouthed tween boys stumbling into a series of inappropriate situations in an effort to replace a drone that they destroyed while spying on a lascivious couple to be a formula for hilarity, the flick delivered, big time. 

Good Boys' young leads Jacob Tremblay (Doctor Sleep), Keith L. Williams (The Last Man on Earth), and Brady Noon (Boardwalk Empire) were roundly praised for their charming performances in a movie that served up a surprising amount of warmth alongside its crass comedic sensibility. Chicago Sun-Times critic and former Roger Ebert cohort Richard Roeper wrote, "Even the most hardcore jokes have a good-natured and even sweet larger context... For all its wacky, gross-out, shock-ya humor, Good Boys has a lot of heart." The sentiment was echoed throughout the positive notices for Good Boys, an "amiably cheeky, enjoyable little confection" which is "pleasingly rude," and ultimately "succeeds due to the fact that it is so sincere."

Brittany Runs a Marathon

It seems like only a matter of time before the charismatic and hilarious Jillian Bell achieves major stardom. If the universe is a just place, Brittany Runs a Marathon will be the final stop before that destination. The dramedy failed to set the box office on fire, but it has all the makings of a future cult classic: it's a sometimes hysterical, sometimes heartfelt examination of what it takes to achieve true self-improvement, anchored by a lead performance which suggests that this was the role Bell had been waiting for all her life.

"[Brittany Runs a Marathon is] an enjoyable mainstream comedy asserting that change is possible, weight can be lost and races can be won, or at least completed," wrote Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune. "The movie succeeds because Bell succeeds. It's gratifying to see a so-called character actress with reliably deadly comic timing loosen up, stretch out and learn what it means to carry a movie." 

Indeed, if there was one recurring theme to be found in the flick's positive notices, that was it: Bell's "unexpectedly impressive performance" was the glue that "[held the movie] together," resulting in "a truly enjoyable experience that is inspirational, heartwarming, and gut-bustlingly funny, yet never comes off as overly preachy." With any good fortune, the actress will soon be a household name; she'll next appear in writer/director Charlie Day's El Tonto, which features an all-star cast and has all the makings of a smash.

The Farewell

The cast of The Farewell won't be terribly well-known to American audiences, with one glaring exception: Awkwafina, the rapper-turned-actress who has had perhaps a hotter two-year run than anyone in Tinseltown. The dramedy deals with a large Chinese family who throw together a wedding as an excuse to get together when they discover that their grandmother is dying. Writer/director Lulu Wang puts her star through her dramatic and comedic paces in service of a film that deftly pulls off a trick which is slowly starting to become more common in Hollywood: telling a universally relatable story from a specific cultural point of view.

The Farewell received near-universal praise, with one common caveat: bring your tissues. "[It's] a film about family, with all of its frets and foibles, fondness and fidelity," wrote Total Film's Jamie Graham. "It is heartfelt and beautifully observed, so while everyone on screen is doing their utmost to hold back tears, yours will come unchecked." The Times' Kevin Maher agreed, stating bluntly, "A surefire Oscar contender... you'll be spewing with tears before the first act is done." Alison Rowat of The Herald called it "Funny, surprising, and poignant in all the right places," while Alistair Harkness of the Scotsman joined a chorus of critics praising Awkwafina's "wonderfully complex, deeply felt performance." Hailed as one of the very best films of the year, The Farewell is a quiet little picture that just might make a lot of noise come Oscar time.

Hustlers

Hustlers was nothing if not a pleasant surprise; a heist flick with a majority female cast based on New York magazine article, the movie stars Jennifer Lopez as a veteran stripper who trains her peers in the finer points of her side job — drugging and ripping off wealthy clients. Taking place against the backdrop of the 2008 financial collapse, the flick was hailed as timely and smartly written and directed, with amazing chemistry among a cast that also includes Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), Keke Palmer (Scream: The TV Series), Lili Reinhart (Riverdale), and Julia Stiles (Jason Bourne).

Inkoo Kang of Slate called Hustlers "An immediate entrant into the pantheon of female friendship movies... a pretty much perfect film," praising writer/director Lorene Scarafia's "masterful control of tone and narrative structure." The movie was called a "great crime drama" along the line of "Goodfellas, but with strippers," featuring a career-best performance from Lopez ("It's a treat to see a true movie star assert herself so emphatically," wrote New Zealand Herald's Dominic Corry). 

Many critics noted that those expecting a pandering, empty exercise would be disappointed: "What could have been a film weighed down by its own agenda presented its main characters as living, breathing, complex individuals — shying away from the empty 'girl power' rhetoric that a lot of Hollywood features try to feed the masses as feminism," wrote FilmBunker's Ciaran Kerr. "Furthermore, it was entertaining and a pleasure to watch."

Abominable

DreamWorks Animation wrapped up one of the best animated trilogies of all time with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World in 2019, and the studio kept the ball rolling with Abominable, the story of a teenage girl named Yi (Chloe Bennet, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) who must help return a lost Yeti to its home atop Mount Everest. A joint production with Chinese studio Pearl, critics found the film to be a fun and engaging ride, if not a terribly innovative one.

"[Abominable] is so distinctive pictorially, and so manifestly good-hearted, that it's easy to forgive if not quite forget the ragged quality of its storyline," wrote Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern. "Original storytelling isn't the production's strong suit... The beauty of the film lies in its vivid colors and tumbling images of rural vastness, riparian grace, streams populated by legions of koi, resplendent Yellow Mountains and giant blueberries that explode like party balloons." 

The flick's visuals were singled out for praise early and often, and while its story didn't quite hit the sweet spot for the majority of reviewers, its characters were found to be charming and memorable, especially Bennet's protagonist. Wrote ComicBookMovie.com's Josh Wilding, "[Abominable is] a stunning movie led by a stellar performance from Chloe Bennet... an absolute blast with heaps of beautiful visuals and plenty of heart."

The Lighthouse

Writer/director Robert Eggers burst onto the scene with 2015's The Witch, a singularly weird film that is as open to interpretation as any horror movie of the last decade. For his next trick, he offered up The Lighthouse, a black-and-white period piece in which two lighthouse operators (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) slowly lose their minds while stationed on a forbidding island — which ended up being a lot more entertaining than that sounds, thanks in large part to the committed performances of its leads.

Adam Graham of Detroit News drew an interesting comparison in his assessment of the film. "[It's] like staring into a blinding light: you're hypnotized, you can't look away, and your eyes won't be the same after," he wrote, "[and] neither will your head." Most critics agreed that the choice to shoot in black and white benefited the film immensely, including the legendary Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times, who wrote, "This truly is must-see cinema — one of the most visually striking films you'll ever see, featuring magnificent performances from the two leads. Dafoe goes bigger and bolder in his work, but Pattinson has his moments of screen-filling madness as well. They're equally brilliant." 

It's another home run for Eggers, and fans of The Witch will appreciate the sentiment of the Impression Blend YouTube channel's Marianna Neal. "To say that The Lighthouse leaves you wondering what the hell you just witnessed," she said, "is an understatement."

The Irishman

Much had been written about The Irishman well before its release, because the Netflix film carries a pedigree unlike any other: it's a late-career work from Martin Scorsese, perhaps the greatest living film director, which stars his longtime accomplices Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. It's also got Al Pacino, with whom Scorsese (oddly enough) had never worked previously. The film is based on the life of union leader Frank Sheeran, who definitely had mob ties and may just have killed Jimmy Hoffa. Critics welcomed it as an absolute tour de force, one of Scorsese's best efforts in a filmography full of masterpieces.

"Prepare for fireworks," wrote Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. "This director and these actors... make every minute count... With The Irishman, America's greatest living director creates his late-career masterpiece, a deeply felt addition that vibrantly sums up every landmark in his crime-cinema arsenal." The movie earned near-universal praise, cited as "phenomenal," "nothing short of an experience," and "a profound success," among other superlatives. But it was left to Screen Junkies' Dan Murrell to peg The Irishman for what it really is: the best film of the year.

Ford v Ferrari

Veteran director James Mangold gave us a superhero movie unlike any other with 2017's Logan, and for his next trick, he decided to smoothly shift gears from "mutant with unbreakable claws navigates post-apocalyptic future" to "the real-life story of two guys trying to make a really kickass race car." Fortunately, Mangold is extremely skilled at both nerve-jangling action and character development, and with Ford v Ferrari, he was working with a pair of actors (Matt Damon and Christian Bale) who are quite good at imbuing their characters with layers of emotional complexity.

The resulting flick is a rousing historical crowd-pleaser, with critics mostly agreeing that the movie is every bit the well-oiled machine that one would expect, given its title. "Mangold indulges himself with this tale of American manhood... but he knows he can afford it," wrote San Diego Reader's Matthew Lickona. "He's got Bourne and Batman as brilliant, brawling best buds...Think Iron Man and Captain America, only it's a (mostly) true story, and what's at stake is not the fate of the universe... but the glorious, endless pursuit of perfection." More than a few critics opined that the film is a touch too long, but that the amazing chemistry between Damon and Bale carries it through its more draggy stretches. Its overall reception was best summarized by Quad-City Times' Linda Cook: "Ford v Ferrari," announced her review's headline, "is a great ride."

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Tom Hanks appearing as Fred Rogers is about the most spot-on piece of casting anyone could have ever hoped for, and the biopic A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood makes good on its promise. At a time when we could all use a bit more of the values that Rogers espoused — kindness, helpfulness, understanding — the movie isn't content just to illustrate the late children's' show host's dedication to said values. Instead, it honored his legacy by picking up the Kindness Torch in its own right.

As pointed out by RogerEbert.com's Monica Castillo, though, Beautiful Day isn't exactly a biopic — because Mr. Rogers isn't at its center. The flick follows cynical journalist Lloyd (Matthew Rhys), assigned to write a piece on the TV icon for Esquire magazine. "[The movie] isn't so much a biopic as it is a way to look at the way Mr. Rogers affected generations of children, young and grown," she wrote. "If his character seems too simple, it's likely because that's how many people saw him, uncomplicated and confined to his on-screen persona... There's not been an era in the world where it wasn't nasty, scary or mean, but for a time, so many of us were lucky enough to learn that it didn't have to be that way. That's the lasting power of Mr. Rogers." Hanks has earned near-unanimous praise for his performance, and the flick was pegged by the vast majority of its reviewers as one of the year's very best.