FRN's Best Movies of 2019

Dec 31, 2019

2019 is officially in the books and in many ways the year in movies was as eclectic, chaotic and satisfying as everything else we encountered in 2019. We had a brand new all-time box office champion, a record-setting year for Disney as a studio that is unlikely to ever be challenged, the emergence of Awards front-runners on streaming services and one of the truly most baffling films in recent memory (Cats). As such here on the Front Row Network we put the task out to our writers to come up with the best films of the year in given categories. 

CRAIG MCFARLAND (Associate Editor-In-Chief)

Overall Top Film of 2019: Knives Out
In Rian Johnson (I almost always) trust. Such a fun spin on a whodunnit movie. Character/ensemble acting the the highest degree. Just a blast to sit in a theater and lay back and watch for two hours. Highly suggest this one. I want more Daniel Craig/Ana de Armas mysteries.

Animated: Frozen 2
I really enjoyed the first Frozen, but I enjoyed the second Frozen even more. To me the songs are better crafted to the story, the plot line is more interesting and fun. Overall, it’s a wonderful movie that I’ll come back to again and again (thanks Disney+).

Comedy: Long Shot
I didn’t know what to expect going into this film, but I really enjoyed every bit of it. There is some gross out humor, which I typically don’t enjoy, but it worked well with the story in this film. Theron and Rogan have great chemistry on screen. You can tell they both had fun with this film. A comedy about a politics campaign? Sign me up!

Drama: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
A Tarintino movie made my list??? I usually don’t like his over the toppness (is that a word?) in films. This film to me was really his love letter to classic Hollywood of the later 60’s. He goes full Tarintino in the last ten minutes, but by then I’m OK with it. I’d be happy with a Best Picture win for this one (although I think Marty has it in the bag).

Sequel: Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker
Come at me haters. It wasn’t perfect by any means. Hardly any film is perfect. There was so much pressure on the writers and the director to deliver a satisfying ending to a fan base that was deeply divided after Last Jedi. I think JJ pulled it off. I wish they had a better plan from the outset. Hindsight, JJ should have taken all three films from the jump, and they should have given an innovative writer/director like Rian Johnson his own separate Star Wars property to run with. Sitting in the theater I just had a grin on my face the entire film. It felt like the original trilogy to me. It was the most enjoyable experience I had as a geek all year.... except....

Superhero: Avengers: Endgame
I loved everything about this movie. Just an incredible way to bring this chapter of the saga to a close. “On your left” was truly one of the most emotional moments I’ve witnessed in film. Send offs for our two main heroes. New beginnings for many others. One character we will see again on screen next May. These films mean so much to me, and the Russos did right by all of us. I love them 3000.

JAY HOFFMAN (FRN Regular)

Overall Top Film of 2019: Midsommar
I have never had a movie make me physically feel as anxious and nervous as this movie did. I think Ari Aster approaches grief in the most extreme ways imaginable and one cannot help but feel it. This movie follows in the footsteps of the Wicker Man. Not the Nic-Cage-get-the-bees-off-me, punch-ladies-in-the-face version. The original version that sticks with you in a powerful way. This movie features very little darkness. In fact, I would argue this is one of the brightest films I have ever viewed, yet the tension and fear continue to rise throughout the whole movie.

Whodunit: Knives Out
This is kind of a gimme genre for this movie, but it was in a close second to my favorite movie of the year, and it demanded being discussed. Everything about this movie was great from start to finish, and it will require many viewings to catch everything. Every actor had their moment, but I want more adventures with Mr. Benoit Blanc. Daniel Craig has created a classic character that I hope he and Rian Johnson bring back in the future.

Animated: Missing Link
Laika studios is up there with Disney and Pixar as far as the quality of their animation and storytelling goes, unfortunately they do not seem to rake in the money like Disney and Pixar. They have master claymation to the point that you cannot really tell it's not animated. The stories tend to be a bit darker, less silly, and they do not talk down to their young audience, but my experience is that my 7 & 3 year old love them. This one continues their streak of quality animated movies.

Comedy: Ready or Not
I just recently saw this the other day as I had been hearing more and more how great it was. This movie was not remotely on my radar, but man am I glad I caught it. This could have also been put under the horror genre, but horror and comedy tend to go hand-in-hand. A rich family with weird traditions introduces their newest family member to the tradition after a wedding at the family mansion. Chaos, hilarity, scares, and shocking twists ensue.

Drama: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Saw this gem on my birthday, and I loved it. This is a much slower and more subtle burn for Quentin Tarantino, but it showed his love for the entertainment culture of the time. I also think it made great commentary on societal violence. He uses the Manson murders, which have become legendary to the point of the fantastical, to build tension throughout only to flip the whole damn thing on its head in the most Tarantino way possible.

Horror: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
This movie is rated PG-13, but it has some great scares. The creature-feature work on this movie is phenomenal and some of these creatures are sure to be oft repeated. My 7-year-old has no interest in seeing it again, my 3-year-old loves the creatures and kept telling me how much he loved the monsters. I miss the time when movies had a younger audience in mind, but wasn't afraid to pull punches with scares and heavy emotions. These emotions exists, and no reason to pull away, and you can't help but feel for the characters.

Honorable Mentions: Detective Pikachu, Alita: Battle Angel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Rocketman, Joker, Irishman, and Marriage Story

Haven't Seen, But Need To: Hustlers, Long Shot, The Lighthouse, & Dolemite is My Name

PHIL ROCKWELL (Pop Culture Draft Night Host)

Favorite Film of 2019: Knives Out
I can’t remember the last time I saw a film where every single element stands out without overshadowing the others. It’s like an arch where every block is the keystone. Rian Johnson’s meticulously constructed puzzler benefits from a cast of game veterans relishing the opportunity to play against type. But Daniel Craig’s high-wire act as Benoit Blanc was my favorite surprise of the year, and Ana de Armas does the quietly difficult work of the film’s moral center. Both deserve recognition as two of the best performances of the year, but the film looks too much like “entertainment” to get the laudits it earned. There will be a lot more to come from me on this film (and a different Rian Johnson film for that matter..

Favorite Animated Film: I Lost My Body
A gorgeously animated, wistful tale of a severed hand struggling through the streets of Paris to find the body it was separated from. From that creepy concept comes one of the most visually striking animated films in recent memory. Co-written by the writer of Amelie, it’s unsurprisingly weird yet surprisingly moving. Currently Streaming on Netflix.

Comedy: Knives Out
My need for comedy was fully sated by television this year, but I’m still looking forward to watching Booksmart. That seems as good a bet to make as any.

Drama: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…
The first film by Quentin Tarantino that seemed to tell us who he is, rather than remix what he likes. A love letter to what QT considers the good old days in the City of Angels, it’s a luxurious trip through the final year of Hollywood’s golden age powered by Leonardo DiCaprio’s career best performance, Brad Pitt’s star power completely unleashed, and Margot Robbie’s sunny humanism. I never would have guessed QT was capable of orchestrating a film to fall in love with, but he did it here.

Sequel: Doctor Sleep
This film should have been impossible. Knitting together the literary universe of Stephen King’s The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of the same in a way that manages not to favor either but to elevate both is like threading the right needle in a stack of needles. Not only does writer director Mike Flanagan manage it, he makes the whole enterprise his own with his clear storytelling gift: bringing humanity to the horror genre. A film destined for a cult-like devotion from its fans, it also gave us the scene-stealing Rebecca Ferguson as our newest horror icon, Rosie the Hat.

Superhero: Fast Color
A superhero film operating at a different speed and with very different intentions than the output of the bigger names in the game. An Amazon Studios rescue that they’re subsequently turning into a series, the film explores three generations of black women with special gifts  Instead of viewing powers as marketable accessories, the film explores them as genetic inheritance that must be reconciled and accepted in order for their benefactors to grow. It definitely does not operate on the same wavelength as the blockbusters that immediately come to mind when “superhero” is uttered, it nevertheless deserves more attention. Streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

Horror: Crawl
A gnarly, lean thriller that transcends its potentially laughable concept. This is not The Meg. It’s not cheeky or ironic. It’s mean and relentless. If we can give DiCaprio an Oscar for eating uncooked liver and freezing his ass off, Kaya Scodelario deserves recognition for her physically and emotionally punishing performance as a college swimmer trying to evacuate her father (and dog) from an alligator infested home during a Cat-5 hurricane (not joking).. A tense 90 minutes that knows right when to quit, this may be minute-to-minute the most entertaining experience I had in a theater this year. If you don’t lose your **** when the alligators make their ferocious first appearance, check your pulse. You are a dead person.

JEREMY GOECKNER (Editor-In-Chief)

Top Overall Film of 2019: Knives Out
I’m not entirely sure of Knives Out’s chances on the awards circuit this year. But one thing I can confidently say is that it’s the movie of 2019 that I can answer “yes” to almost any question about it. Is it funny? Is it suspenseful? Is the mystery really that good? Are the twists truly surprising? Yes and more. Rian Johnson has been one of my favorite filmmakers since I saw his debut Brick all the way back in 2005 and he hasn’t let me down yet. And his prowess as both a director and a writer are on full display in the ensemble mystery that manages to somehow be about 6 different film genres all at the same time. The ensemble works together seamlessly while also vaulting rising star Ana De Armas into official legit star status. And if we don’t get some further adventures of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc then these studio execs need some head examinations. All-in-all, this film brings back the idea that a murder mystery can be, well, fun again.

Comedy: Booksmart, Fighting With My Family
I went back and forth between these films so many times and just couldn’t make a choice. So I’m cheating. Many attempts have been made to recreate the formula of 2007’s Superbad. But none have done it better than Booksmart. Turning the graduating high schoolers’ partying on their last night formula and putting it from the perspective of the overachiever females that sacrificed their high school fun for grades to diminished results is nothing short of genius. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever have great futures ahead of them. Fighting With My Family chronicles the story of real-life WWE superstar Paige from her beginnings in Norwich family promotion to the WWE women’s championship. If it sounds too niche trust me when I tell you that it is not. Stephen Merchant expertly directs this as both a love letter to wrestling fans and as a screwball family comedy that is way more relatable than it has any right to be. Throw in some fantastic cameos from The Rock and you’ve got one of the best movies of the year.

Drama: Joker
To be honest with you, when I first saw Todd Phillips’ Joker I would never have thought it would end up as my top drama. But repeat viewings have brought more into focus what this film truly is trying to do. The easy part is the insanely captivating and Oscar-worthy performance of Joaquin Phoenix. He creates a truly sympathetic view of the clown prince of crime that I did not think was possible. But it’s not empathy for the criminal that is what’s going on here. No, it’s rather empathy for the downtrodden and the danger of assuming they’ll never do anything about it. That all of it this arises from a DC Comics supervillain should give you some indication of just what Phillips and company have created here.

Sequel: IT - Chapter 2
Andy Muschietti’s IT was the surprise hit of 2017. Hence the follow-up/conclusion to Stephen King’s epic horror classic was about as highly anticipated as any film this year. It’s not easy adapting a 1000-page novel. While Chapter 2 doesn’t have the inherent charm of the first film due largely to the diminished role of the perfectly cast child actors, it does pick up perfectly from the last film and hits the exact right casting notes again with the Loser’s Club adult actors; Bill Hader making a sure-fire star turn in the process. Some have criticized the film for its length and seeming disjointed-ness, but I don’t see that. This is a slow build to an epic conclusion that finally gives a good sense of what King’s nightmarish vision was and a deep understanding of how to deal with your inner demons. Bill Skarsgaard’s Pennywise will go down in movie villain history and the changed ending leaves us with a perfect coda to this epic horror saga.

Superhero: Avengers - Endgame
What more can be said that hasn’t already been said about Endgame? It’s record-breaking box office haul, it’s unprecedented level of talent, it’s breathtaking action have all been written about non-stop. To this reviewer it’s simply this: they landed all of it. They gave a perfect cap to a 10-year cinematic saga that we likely will never see again. For those that invested in the MCU from the beginning like me, this movie was pure joy and the best possible pay-off for the commitment. This film boasts not only the culmination of the Infinity Saga, but one of the quintessential movie scenes in all of film history with the Portals scene. This one scene encapsulates everything that makes the MCU not only the most fun at the theater but also one of the highest quality bets in all of filmdom. Tough to see where Marvel goes from this high point, but after Endgame, do you really want to bet against them?

Horror: Ready or Not
It was another banner year for horror films and thus the competition for the head of this category was quite fierce. In the end however, it’s the fun black comedy gore-fest Ready or Not that takes the cake. This film has everything you want in a modern horror-comedy. A fantastic premise follows burgeoning star Samara Weaving as her character marries into a family wealthy from the board game industry. Tradition dictates that a game must be played on the wedding night, with potentially dark consequences for all involved hanging in the balance. The script is just the right amount of irreverent and the gore is alarming without being grotesque. And this film also boasts one of the best endings of the entire year in film.

LOU HARE (Guilty Pleasures host)

Top Overall Film of 2019: The Irishman
It would be satisfying enough to see Martin Scorsese reuniting with frequent collaborators Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci for one last job. The fact that all three manage to do so in a film that sees career-best efforts all the way around makes this an easy choice for film of the year despite some very strong competition. All three subvert expectations built up by resumes that span over 40 years. Pesci has never been more understated, DeNiro never more vulnerable and Scorsese manages to build onto his gangster film legacy while also providing a somber counterpoint to his previous films (the final 40 minutes is not so much of a gut punch as a twisting and tightening  of a knot that’s built up over years). Epic, sprawling, yet surprisingly intimate, The Irishman earns every minute of its much talked about runtime. It is a masterpiece by a filmmaker who has already given more than his fair share.

Runner-Up: Knives Out

Best Drama: Marriage Story
Speaking of gut twists, Noah Baumbach’s achingly personal film sees the relationship of two likeable, sympathetic characters slowly bottom out each other as they wade through a divorce. The miracle of this movie is the balancing act Baumbach navigates to be clear there is no “side” to take here. While each character wades through the brutal minutiae of the divorce process, we’re  never meant to feel more sorry for one than the other. Much of this is owed to the performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Both are given your typical “Oscar clip” scenes, but they are perhaps most effective in the films quieter moments, of which there are many. Frustrating, heartbreaking, funny and warm, Marriage Story may be the most human film of the year.

Runner-Up: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Comedy: Dolemite Is My Name
The feel good movie of the year that also recreates a scene where a man gets his guts ripped out by a Kung-Fu pimp. Craig Brewer’s ode to 70s comedy icon Rudy Ray Moore captures the comedian’s go for broke risqué humor while also injecting a charm that is undeniable. Of course, most of that is provided by Eddie Murphy, possibly one of the most undeniable movie stars of his generation in a landmark performance. Murphy simultaneously channels Moore’s essence whilst harkening back to his own R-rated superstar heyday. Surrounded by an all-star supporting cast (highlighted by a riotous Wesley Snipes), Murphy brings his trademark swagger and underrated sweetness as a man fighting to make his mark on the world in his own unique way. Some biopics try to frame their subjects as underdogs, but Dolemite is My Name earns its underdog narrative and pays off in a triumph for Moore, Murphy and fans of comedy everywhere.

Runner-Up: Long Shot

Sequel: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
No one certainly expected the “Keanu Reeves avenges his dead dog” movie to yield two sequels. Even less expected is for the trilogy to be the action movie franchise of the decade. This third installment lacks the tacked on-exposition of the second film (a necessity when you make an unplanned sequel) and escalates the world-building and practical-effects action sequences that have become the hallmark of the franchise. And, oh yeah, Keanu kills a dude with a book. 2019 was Keanu Reeves’ year, and it’s hard to imagine it happening without the role that returned him to action movie superstardom.

Runner-Up: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Superhero: Avengers - Endgame
Truth be told, I REALLY wanted to put Captain Marvel in this spot and I think that pound-for-pound it might be a better film than Endgame. But two things ultimately compelled me to give it to the new global box office champion. First is the instantly immortal “Portals” scene, which will never not give me goosebumps. The image of all of the MCU’s heroes together at last may be the defining moment the year and a succinct encapsulation of this era of the movie industry. It’s also sure to be on every Acadamy Awards “We love movies” montage from here to eternity. Second, in a year marked by finales of long running franchises that angered, disappointed and divided fans (coughcoughSTARWARScoughcoughGAMEOFTHRONES), the ability of Marvel to stick the landing with a truly satisfying, emotional finale that wrapped up a 22-film narrative without riots in the streets (or worse, Twitter) is nothing short of a miracle.

Runner-Up: Captain Marvel

RYAN LOOTENS (Flashback Co-Host)

Overall Top Film of 2019: Us
This was a very tough one to figure out because of all the great films that were released in 2019. But upon further reflection, I have decided that Us is my favorite of 2019. The themes that drive Jordan Peele’s Get Out follow up, still resonates a great deal since I saw it in March. The central theme of the duality of humanity is hauntingly portrayed through the actor’s performances, especially Lupita Nyong’o. She shone bright as Adelaide, making the audience feel her past trauma, while terrifying us as Red, the doppelganger who mysteriously is the only dopple that can speak…sort of. This is not the horror movie they said it was. Instead, we get a physiological thriller that plays with our mind until the final twist is revealed. I understand why this movie was labeled as a horror movie by others. Because there is nothing scarier than the person looking back at you when you look in a mirror…and Us elevates this idea to nightmarish proportions.

Animated: Toy Story 4
Toy Story 4 is really the only animated film I saw that I can reflect on. This is fine by me as the film was great. It was a nostalgia trip that reminded me why I liked the Toy Story films as a kid. It kept me entertained but reminded me the importance of friendship. The central theme of moving on is what stuck with me the most. The film set up the departure of some beloved characters while introducing new characters that will help carry Toy Story in the future if they chose to do so.

Comedy: Knives Out
Knives Out is a great film and is on my Top 5 list. If it wasn’t for Us it would probably be number one. This film presents a whodunit tale unlike anything we are used to. The sad thing is this is how whodunits are meant to be done. Rian Johnson brings a cast of stellar actors to an amazing setting. These actors, led by Daniel Craig and Ana de Armis (both spectacular performances), guide us down a twisty tale of family secrets and murder but in a funny way. With a great story and amazing performances across the board, the comedic timing is spot on. I never thought I would have so much fun trying to figure out a murder mystery. But Knives Out is the most entertaining comedy of the year that allows the audience to do just that.

Drama: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
I am a HUGE Tarentino fan and his ode to old Hollywood nailed it and then some. Hollywood follows the career of a floundering Hollywood actor (DiCaprio at the top of his game) and his friend and stunt double (Brad Pitt in what I am hoping is an Oscar winning role). Tarentino uses Charles Manson’s cult as a backdrop to help drive the film as DiCaprio lives next to Sharon Tate. As these friends try to figure out their future in a changing movie business, it is clear that Tarentino has yet again delivered another Oscar quality screenplay. It is not his typical push the envelope screenplay but it is still a Tarentino screenplay with zany dialogue non the less. If Tarentino is only going to give us ten feature films, then his penultimate film is the best to date (Sorry Jackie Brown).

Sequel: John Wick 3-Parabellum
When you usually think of film sequels you always going in wanting to see the essence of the previous films portrayed. The John Wick universe gives us that and more. These films push the action to greater lengths than what the previous films accomplished. And I am happy they do! The action really drives this films and it is very evident that they are trying to outdo the previous. Keanu Reeves kills it (pun intended) as John Wick and the supporting cast is phenomenal as well. Halle Berry as the female equivalent of John Wick is just as show stopping as Reeves. However, Reeves is a beast and he dominates this spectacular series. I can’t wait for the fourth film…because I am seeing that before I see the new Matrix.

Superhero: Avengers - Endgame
If you tried to argue that any other superhero movie could best Endgame as the superhero movie of the year, I would just laugh in your face. Yes, there can be arguments made (Shazam), but this has been what Marvel has been building up to and It delivers. It has great action, performances, visuals, and sentimental moments. This was the culmination of 21 films and the payoff was astronomical (see box office returns). What a spectacular send off for some and the passing of the SHIELD for others (see what I did there). Thanks Stan for giving us these characters to begin with. We love them and you 3000.

Horror: Crawl
Crawl is by far my surprise like of the year. I went into this thinking it was going to be a dumb creature feature but it wasn’t. It delivers a very taunt suspense horror tale as a young woman trys to track down her father as a storm rages. She finds him as well as a nest of alligators. If you don’t jump when the alligators, make their first appearance I need to speak with you and learn your secrets. I have been watching and loving horror for years and that scare got me good. Alexandre Aja delievers a great film that doesn’t play into normal creature features. He happens to tell a story with creatures in it. Kaya Scodelario carries the film from start to finish and Barry Pepper follows her lead. Truly the biggest surprise of the year.