February is another slow month for movies. The Oscars will air and celebrate the best of 2019, but 2020 is off to a sluggish start. Surprisingly, February has become a window for new horror movies, and there are a few interesting ones being released this year. Plus, we’ll get the first big superhero blockbuster of the year. Here’s five of the most interesting movies coming out this month.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) [Feb. 7]
Rating: R Starring: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor
After breaking up with the Joker, Harley Quin teams up with a group of formidable women to protect a young girl from a narcissistic crime lord.
Why I’m excited: Margot Robbie really seems to love playing Harley Quinn. Coming off the lackluster Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey looks like it’s leaning much more into the comic book craziness. Birds of Prey is the first of several female-led comic book movies in 2020 and I can’t wait to see them all.
See this if you liked:Suicide Squad, Justice League, Wonder Woman
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Feb. 14)
Rating: R Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel
A woman is commissioned to paint a wedding portrait for a wealthy bride-to-be, but their relationship develops into something much more than artist and subject.
Why I’m excited: This movie technically premiered in 2019, but it’s just now getting a wide release. A lot of professional critics I follow have listed this in their top 10 movies of the year. Last year I learned to appreciate foreign-language movies more, so I’m excited to see if this is just as good as everyone says.
See this if you liked:Parasite, Call Me By Your Name
Sonic the Hedgehog (Feb. 14)
Rating: PG Starring: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Jim Carrey
Sonic the hedgehog teams up with an ex-police officer to evade capture by the evil Dr. Robotnik.
Why I’m excited: Sonic infamously went through a complete character redesign last year after the visceral reaction to the first trailer. The new version looks much more like the original character. Jim Carrey looks like he’s returning to form with his Dr. Robotnik performance. I’ll see this just out of support for the visual effects team that completely redesigned the main character.
See this if you liked:Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, Tomb Raider, Mortal Combat
Emma (Feb. 21)
Rating: PG Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy
Emma Woodhouse entangles herself in the romantic lives of her friends.
Why I’m excited: I hope this rides some of Little Women’s success. It similarly looks like it’s bringing a bit of modern comedic timing to the original story with shades of The Favourite as well.
See this if you liked:Pride and Prejudice, The Favourite, Little Women
Wendy (Feb. 28)
Rating: PG Starring: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Shay Walker
A young girl is taken to a mysterious island where children don’t age and befriends a young boy.
Why I’m excited: This retelling of Peter Pan looks unique and visually interesting. The trailer gives off a younger Lord of the Flies vibe.
See this if you liked:Peter Pan, Beasts of the Southern Wild
The 2010s were a great decade for movies. Sure, the Marvel universe, blockbuster franchises and Disney remakes dominated the box office, but an incredible range of stories were told over the last 10 years. Stories from new and different perspectives that challenged the way we see and empathize with others. Stories that took us to new worlds – some that exist in our reality and others that can only be found in our wildest dreams.
I still have a lot of movies from this decade that I need and want to see – I didn’t really get serious about watching more than blockbusters until about 2016, so this list is probably too weighted towards the back half of the decade – but until then, I hope this list gives you inspiration to watch something! Here are my top 50 movies (in alphabetical order), including blockbusters, award winners, game-changers, and personal favorites from 2010-2019.
What it’s about: When a fleet of alien spaceships land on earth, an expert linguist is recruited to decipher the aliens’ language and determine if they come in peace or hostility. Why you should watch it: Arrival is an incredible study of language, communication, understanding and time. It’s a movie that makes you think, but the way the characters interact with the aliens, study their language and learn to access their full potential just sucks you in. Amy Adams helps take a difficult and nebulous subject matter and make it understandable and engaging.
The Avengers (2012)
What it’s about: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes come together to face a dangerous enemy. Why you should watch it: This was the game-changer to end all game-changers. To bring multiple characters who had been set up in their own movies together in one mashup had never been done like this before – and it shouldn’t have worked. But thank goodness it did. Joss Whedon masterfully blends these characters together and makes it feel believable that they live in the same universe. Plus Whedon perfected the Marvel style of humor and solidified the Marvel formula. This was truly where the reign of Marvel began.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
What it’s about: The surviving Avengers must find a way to reverse the Snap and bring back half of the universe. Why you should watch it: How do you even begin to wrap your mind around this movie? In a year that saw multiple beloved franchises ending, Endgame somehow pulled it off in the most satisfying way, wrapping up dozens of storylines from 22 previous movies. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. give the performances of their lives. We’ll never see another movie like this in our lifetime.
Baby Driver (2017)
What it’s about: A young getaway driver finds himself in over his head and attempts to get out of a life of crime. Why you should watch it: This is one of those movies that really gets better the more you watch it. The action is mind-boggling, and the way the sound design works in concert with the music, the entire movie becomes a strange action-ballet. Ansel Elgort is great as the quiet but determined Baby, the calm in the center of a hurricane of increasingly wild characters.
Black Panther (2018)
What it’s about: After the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa returns home to Wakanda to take his place as king and face off against a dangerous rival. Why you should watch it: When Marvel takes risks and does something new, it usually turns out great. Guardians, Black Panther and even the first Avengers are all examples. Black Panther even became the first Marvel movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars and ultimately took home three trophies. The cast is phenomenally talented, and they tell a unique story from a perspective that only this movie can – and one that feels relevant and prescient in today’s world. Michael B. Jordan in particular gives us one of the best Marvel villains of all time.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
What it’s about: A solitary blade runner discovers a secret that threatens to tear down his entire society. His search leads him to find Rick Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years. Why you should watch it: Quite possibly one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen – no wonder it won the Best Cinematography and Visual Effects Oscars. It’s a little on the long side, but Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford give some fantastic performances while asking us what it means to really be human.
What it’s about: Two over-achieving seniors attempt to cram four years’ worth of fun into one night before they graduate. Why you should watch it: Coming of age movies have had a bit of a resurgence in the 2010s, and Booksmart is one of the best. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever have incredible chemistry and the dialogue flows between them effortlessly. On top of that, the supporting characters played by Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo are two of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen in any movie. Masked in the incredible humor are themes of growing up and moving on, learning to love yourself, and the dangers of stereotyping and judging others without getting to know them.
What it’s about: A woman goes above and beyond to impress her lifelong friend who’s getting married to plan the perfect wedding Why you should watch it:Bridesmaids really reinvented female-driven comedies and showed that girls could play ball with the boys. Kristen Wiig is a true comedic force, and the interplay between her, Maya Rudolph and Rose Byrne enhances every scene. The movie also made Melissa McCarthy a movie star (and earned her an Oscar nomination). Every time she’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off her. It’s easy to trace the influence of Bridesmaids through other female-led comedies to this day – from Girls Trip to Booksmart.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
What it’s about: A young man and his father’s summer doctoral student explore their relationship during a summer in 1980s Italy. Why you should watch it: Man, this movie. It’s a gorgeous snapshot that’s the cinematic equivalent of a lazy summer day. You get to live with these characters and invest in the buildup between them. Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer are electric together as they explore relationships, finding themselves and experience heartbreak. It reminds us that it’s okay to feel bad and upset, because that makes the good times that much better. By the end, you’ll be yearning for more.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
What it’s about: Steve Rogers uncovers a secret plot that has hidden within SHIELD for decades. Why you should watch it: By design, Captain America is a very basic, black-and-white character. But The Winter Soldier takes this “boy scout” and places him in the modern world that is so much more complicated than the 1940s. Cap has to question his loyalty, his morals and his own beliefs. The friendship between Steve and Natasha is at its best in this movie and their mutual respect carries through the rest of the MCU. This movie also introduces us to the Falcon and made Bucky Barnes one of my favorite characters in the MCU. The impact his return has on Steve makes for some of the best moments in the movie.
What it’s about: A movie stuntman and getaway driver gets involved with a heist gone wrong and must protect himself and those he cares about. Why you should watch it: Ryan Gosling has had a great decade. He can say more with just his facial expressions than a lot of actors can say with the words, and here that talent is on full display. Drive explores what it means to be a hero and the struggle to be a good person in a not-so-good world. This isn’t a Fast and Furious-style action movie about cars, but the action is unique and exciting.
Eighth Grade (2018)
What it’s about: Thirteen-year-old Kayla must survive her last week of eighth grade while dealing with the everyday struggles of being a teenager. Why you should watch it: Even though I was in eighth grade 15 years ago (!!!), this feels like one of the most realistic movies about being a teenager that I’ve ever seen. Middle school is one of the most awkward and terrible times of your life, but it can also be amazing. Eighth Grade is great at balancing that line and sitting in that awkwardness.
Ex Machina (2014)
What it’s about: A computer programmer wins a competition to participate in an elite experiment with a reclusive CEO and the world’s first artificial intelligence. Why you should watch it: This is another one of those movies that really investigates what it means to be human and being truly free. The effects on Ava are incredible and the metaphorical chess game played between the three characters keeps you engaged throughout the entire movie. It’s a slow burn but when you realize what’s been going on the whole time, the ending is truly spectacular.
The Farewell (2019)
What it’s about: A Chinese family come together when they learn their grandmother is dying, but they decide not to tell her about her diagnosis. Why you should watch it: This movie is a fascinating look at the differences between Western and Eastern culture and doing what we think is best for someone out of love. It’s great to see Awkwafina in a more serious role, and Nai Nai (the grandmother) is delightful. A good chunk of this movie is subtitled, but the acting is so good that it’s not difficult to follow along.
The Favourite (2018)
What it’s about: Two of Queen Anne’s ladies-in-waiting form a bitter rivalry as they battle to become the queen’s favourite. Why you should watch it: This movie was a trip and not your typical period piece. In fact, the political rivalries and scheming feel quite relevant for today. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman are all incredible in this, and Colman rightfully won the Oscar and Golden Globe for her performance. It’s hilariously awkward and deeply heartfelt.
First Man (2018)
What it’s about: The story of Neil Armstrong as he trains to become the first man to step foot on the moon. Why you should watch it: One of my all-time favorite movies. We all know about the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s famous words, but First Man takes a look and the man inside the spacesuit and his journey to taking that one small step. And it’s amazing. A movie like this reminds you of the genius, ingenuity, bravery and guts it took to blast men to the moon. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy are spectacular, Justin Hurwitz’s score is perfect, and the entire sequence on the moon will leave your jaw on the floor.
Get Out (2017)
What it’s about: An African American man visits his white girlfriend’s family who put on a friendly aura but harbor a truly terrifying secret. Why you should watch it: The fact that this movie came from one half of Key & Peele is incredible. Talk about range. Get Out arguably launched the current horror renaissance that’s going through Hollywood right now. The levels of understanding and metaphor in Get Out are truly awe-inspiring and the movie presents a unique perspective on the African American experience. It challenges the way you think, it’s uncomfortable, it’s frightening, and it’s amazing.
What it’s about: A disaster in space leads a pair of astronauts through a series of life-changing decisions as they try to survive the vast emptiness of space. Why you should watch it: I just remember seeing this in theaters and when it was over realizing how tense and stressed I had been the entire movie. Sandra Bullock pulls you in so quickly and holds your attention by herself for 90% of the movie. The visual effects are so good that you can’t even tell they’re there.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
What it’s about: A rag-tag group of space idiots unite to save the galaxy from a crazed villain. Why you should watch it: Bet you didn’t think you’d be crying over a tree at the end of this movie, did you? Guardians was by far Marvel’s biggest gamble at this point. But with director/co-writer James Gunn and an incredibly likable cast, Marvel once again showed that they knew exactly what they were doing. The use of music in this movie was an inspired choice and really set the bar for movie soundtracks. After Guardians, the door was wide open for Marvel to do whatever they wanted.
What it’s about: In the near-future, a man falls in love with his operating system’s artificial intelligence. Why you should watch it: First of all, Her is one of the most visually and aesthetically beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. Secondly, it asks difficult questions about love and what it means to be human. Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson give incredible performances. Johansson’s performance is particularly notable since we only ever hear her voice. The story is both lovely and heartbreaking.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
What it’s about: A young Viking befriends a dragon and changes the lives of everyone he knows. Why you should watch it: I love this movie so much. It’s a story about friendship, overcoming stereotypes and challenging tradition when you know there’s a better way. The heart of this movie is the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless – one that carries through two sequels to complete a perfect trilogy. The animation is beautiful, and the dragon designs are interesting and unique. AND THE SCORE. Oh man, do I love the music in this movie. It’s emotional and powerful and uplifting and just fun. The “Test Drive” sequence is one of the best moments of the entire decade.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
What it’s about: A pregnant young woman sets out to clear her fiancé’s name after his false imprisonment. Why you should watch it: There’s something about this movie that is almost relaxing and peaceful, which goes against its plot and subject matter. It’s an emotional story about young love and the struggles against institutional racism. The two leads – Kiki Layne and Stephan James – are so enchanting and have fantastic chemistry. Sometimes everything feels so natural that it’s hard to forget it’s acting. Regina King is powerful as always. Beale Street is equally beautiful and heartbreaking.
What it’s about: A team of specialists must undertake a mind heist to implant an idea into the target’s subconscious. Why you should watch it: Ten years later and people are still dissecting this movie. It’s one of those rare original movies (not based on comic books, novels, remakes or other IP) that became an integral part of the public consciousness. It’s a genius idea with incredible visuals to match. The Joseph Gordon-Levitt hallway fight is mind-blowing. And Hans Zimmer’s score invented the “BWAAAHHHHH” you hear in every movie trailer now. You’re still probably wondering about that ending, too.
Inside Out (2015)
What it’s about: A young girl moves to a new city and her emotions must help her navigate a new world and the general anxiety of growing up. Why you should watch it:Inside Out is definitely one of Pixar’s most unique and moving films. The way they interpret the inside of a person’s mind, memories and emotions is outstanding. Like any good Pixar movie, you’ll be crying well before it’s over. It gives you a new way to think about your feelings and consider the relationship between joy, sadness and allowing yourself to truly experience each emotion.
What it’s about: A group of astronauts journey to the furthest reaches of space to travel through a wormhole in order to crack interstellar travel. Why you should watch it: At the very least, Interstellar is a visual treat. The effects make space look both beautiful and terrifying. The research for this movie even led to some legitimate scientific breakthroughs. It’s easy to see the influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Interstellar, especially in the third act. Even with the vast and epic backdrop, the heart of this story is a family, and especially the relationship between a father and daughter.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
What it’s about: A rough kid from London joins a secret spy organization looking to take down a dangerous tech billionaire. Why you should watch it: A true out-of-the-blue hit that became one of my favorite movies of all time. Kingsman expertly balances paying homage to the great spy movies of old and poking fun at some of the more ridiculous tropes of the genre. It’s so much fun and Taron Egerton kills it in his breakout role. The humor, the action, the characters…it all works perfectly for me.
Knives Out (2019)
What it’s about: A wealthy patriarch is found dead and his entire family is suspect as to who killed him. Why you should watch it: This movie is so much fun. It knows you know it’s a murder mystery, so it works to subvert those expectations at every turn. Honestly the entire cast is a standout in this movie, but Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig and Chris Evans are particularly spectacular. The mystery unfolds in such an interesting way that it keeps you engaged and guessing until the very end. The house where most of the action takes place is so interesting to look at, every second could be paused and framed – that central knife display is instantly iconic.
La La Land (2016)
What it’s about: An aspiring actress and jazz pianist struggle to balance chasing their dreams with their budding relationship in Los Angeles. Why you should watch it: Another one of my all-time top 10, La La Land is really a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals, like Singin’ in the Rain, and you can certainly feel their influence. The music and songs are incredible, from the colorful “Another Day of Sun” to the first duet “A Lovely Night” to the spell-binding final sequence. The movie asks what you would do to reach your dreams and what it might cost to achieve them. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are enchantingly charismatic, and John Legend is a surprise highlight as well.
Lady Bird (2017)
What it’s about: A high school senior is desperate to leave her home and her overbearing mother. Why you should watch it: Saiorse (SER-sha) Ronan is one of the best young actors of our time. The relationship between Lady Bird and her mother holds the movie together and is both frustrating and full of heart – like most real-world mother-daughter relationships. Some of the best moments come from conversations where they can go from yelling at each other to loving something together in the blink of an eye. Beanie Feldstein has one of the greatest lines of the decade in this (“It’s the titular role!”) and Timothee Chalamet is continues to be great. Lady Bird is one of the best coming-of-age movies of the 21st century.
The Lego Movie (2014)
What it’s about: An average Lego-man finds himself caught up in a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the entire world together. Why you should watch it:The Lego Movie is one of the most unique movies of the past decade. What looks like a cheap cash-grab to sell more toys ends up being a heartwarming story about finding what’s special in all of us. The attention to detail is insane – even water from a shower head is made from Lego pieces. The voice cast is fantastic and the cameos from popular characters are a delight. And the twist at the end brings an emotional conclusion to a fun adventure. SPACESHIP!
Little Women (2019)
What it’s about: The lives of four sisters living in a post-Civil War Massachusetts. Why you should watch it: I’m obsessed with this movie. There’s something just so naturally comfortable and cozy about this adaptation of Little Women. The cast is phenomenally talented and everyone seems perfectly designed for their role. Saiorse Ronan and Florence Pugh as Jo and Amy March steal the show. For a movie set during and after the Civil War, it’s surprisingly relevant and current, but not in a way that’s in your face.
Love, Simon (2018)
What it’s about: Simon has a huge secret and only his anonymous pen pal knows. But when his secret is in danger of coming out, his comfortable life is in danger of falling apart. Why you should watch it: This is a great John Hughes-esque coming-of-age movie for the 21st century featuring characters that finally get their time to shine in teen comedies. Through the laughter is the ever-relatable yearning and pain of wanting to just fit in. The second half of this movie packs some serious gut-punches – Jennifer Garner in particular gets the most incredible scene about halfway through. Simon is someone you can’t help but root for and the payoff is truly fantastic.
Mad Max Fury Road (2015)
What it’s about: A group of rebels and escaped prisoners go on the run in search for home in an apocalyptic wasteland. Why you should watch it:Fury Road is one of those movies that hides a deep and emotional story within a bombastic blockbuster. Sure, it has absolute bonkers car chases, action and a guy with a guitar flamethrower. But the heart of the story is a powerful woman risking it all to save five girls from slavery in hopes to find a new home. It’s truly a story of survival – of humanity and the environment – and hope that needs to be seen.
What it’s about: A young man comes of age, finds himself and falls in love over three defining periods of his life. Why you should watch it:Moonlight is truly an experience – you’re not quite the same person at the end as you were when you began. It’s gorgeous to look at and has more heart than nearly any movie on this list. No matter your race, age or sexuality, you can connect to this story and the empathy that crashes through every scene. It’s also one of the most important movies on this list, as the life of a gay black man has rarely been seen as tenderly as it is in Moonlight.
Paddington 2 (2017)
What it’s about: Paddington wants to earn enough money to buy a book for his Aunt Lucy. Before he can buy it, the book is stolen, so Paddington goes on a journey to track it down. Why you should watch it: This might be the ultimate feel-good movie ever made. It’s cute, funny, poignant and surprisingly optimistic. It reminds you that people can be good, and when we treat each other with respect, the world is a much better place. Like Paddington says, “if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
What it’s about: A poor South Korean family cons their way into working for a wealthy family where they take advantage of their new lives before everything slowly begins to unravel. Why you should watch it: Nothing in this movie was what I expected. It’s better the less you know about it. But it’s an incredible depiction of class structure and the haves vs. the have-nots. It doesn’t give you a clean, easy answer to the complicated problems of society. While it’s set in South Korea, the issues presented are relatable across the world.
What it’s about: A housekeeper in 1970s Mexico City takes care of her employer’s house and children while finding time for her own life. Why you should watch it: This movie barely feels like a movie. There’s something almost voyeuristic about this movie and the way you watch these characters live their lives. It’s almost calming but incredibly engaging and you become so invested in these people. Even more impressive is knowing this is the first-ever acting role for Yalitza Aparicio, who plays the main character.
What it’s about: A young mother and her son live in Room. It’s all the boy has ever known. But one day his mother tells him of a world outside Room and how they’ll get there. Why you should watch it: The first hour of this movie is one of the most intense hours I’ve ever seen. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are phenomenal in this. Tremblay in particular may be the best child actor I’ve ever seen. It lets you sit in the terror and hopelessness of their situation until a glimmer of hope has you desperately praying for their success. The second half of the movie explores the effects of trauma, the lengths we go to for survival and the power of family.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
What it’s about: Scott Pilgrim falls for the mysterious Ramona Flowers, but he must defeat her seven evil exes before he can date her. Why you should watch it: This movie is so over-the-top and wild, but it commits to its vision and pulls you along for the ride. It’s probably the most comic book-y movie ever made but has a story that’s full of heart and soul at the center. The cast is surprisingly impressive (Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Brandon Routh, Anna Kendrick) in some truly bizarre performances that you can’t help but love. The video game style and the incredibly smart humor sets Scott Pilgrim apart from most other movies of this genre.
What it’s about: The story of Martin Luther King Jr. and the buildup to the Selma to Montgomery “Bloody Sunday” march. Why you should watch it: The Civil Rights era is one of the most important periods of American history, and Selma is the most recent portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. David Oyelowo commands the screen as King and infuses him with great humanity. As an Alabamian, we should use moments like Selma to remember our past and learn how we can be better in the future.
Sing Street (2016)
What it’s about: In 1980s Ireland, a teenage boy starts a rock band to impress a girl. Why you should watch it: Another of my all-time top 10, this movie hit a lot of boxes for me: musical? Check. 1980s setting? Check. Irish accents? Check. Coming-of-age story? Check. I love the way music from the 80s help define each “era” for the kids. Their sound and look changes with their influences. The original songs are just so, so good – “Drive It Like You Stole It” is my personal highlight. The characters feel so natural and authentic, and you can’t help but cheer for them as they learn to find themselves and take risks to chase their dreams.
What it’s about: The remnants of humanity have all been boarded onto a high-speed train that never stops. A strict class system threatens those at the bottom, who must fight for their survival. Why you should watch it: Conflict is central to storytelling, and the “rich vs. poor” dynamic has always made for interesting movies. Snowpiercer takes that conflict and drops it into a claustrophobic environment, adding an urgency to the stress points. Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton own this movie – Swinton’s character is particularly fascinating. The best and worst of humanity are on display in Snowpiercer, which reminds us to take care of each other – not just those who are like us.
The Social Network (2010)
What it’s about: The origin of Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. Why you should watch it: The story is fairly straightforward but cutting back and forth between the early events and the later investigation really increases the tension. As with any Aaron Sorkin production, the dialogue is the real star. But the cast does an incredible job performing – particularly Jesse Eisenberg’s awkward and neurotic Zuckerberg and Andrew Garfield’s increasingly frustrated Eduardo. Special shout out to Armie Hammer for pulling double duty as the Winklevoss twins in a Lindsay Lohan-in-The Parent Trap-level performance. It’s a little unsettling to watch this movie a decade later knowing the impact Facebook has on our lives and the dangers we now know it can hold.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
What it’s about: Miles Morales must balance school and his new spider-powers just as other from across the Spider-Verse come crashing into his life. Why you should watch it: The greatest legacy of comic books and superheroes is the idea that anyone can be a hero. After two decades of the current superhero movie onslaught, Into the Spider-Verse reminded us of that idea and made us believe all over again. Miles must learn to become a hero in his own way. On top of the fantastic story and themes, this movie has some ground-breaking animation. Each Spider-person has their own look and design. It allowed this movie to break the mold and take some wild chances that revolutionized the superhero genre.
What it’s about: A team of reporters at The Boston Globe investigate accusations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Why you should watch it: On paper this doesn’t sound like the most visually exciting movie. But underneath the montages of research and newspaper work, it exposes the dangers of an organization without accountability and the continual importance of investigative journalism. In a lot of ways, this acts as a precursor to the investigative journalists that broke many of the #MeToo stories a few years ago. Anchored by a solid cast, Spotlight takes a seemingly uncinematic story and turns it into a can’t miss movie.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
What it’s about: Rey begins her Jedi training while the Resistance must outrun the First Order. Why you should watch it:The Last Jedi is the most challenging Star Wars movie, dealing with questions the series doesn’t usually address: learning from failure, disappointment, the true cost of war and how to rekindle a lost hope. For a while, Episode VIII showed us that anyone can be a hero, regardless of your own past. The Last Jedi challenges what viewers have known about the Force and the Jedi for decades, but it allows the new characters to grow into leaders that will guide us into the ultimate conclusion. It also helps that this is the most visually beautiful Star Wars movie yet.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
What it’s about: As Andy gets ready to leave for college, Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys end up in a day care that looks like paradise but has a secret dark side. Why you should watch it: For a movie about kids’ toys, Toy Story 3 is incredibly mature. While most people don’t want to think about growing up, this movie shoves that idea in your face and makes you look at it head-on. Sure, there are the expected laughs (Mr. Potato Head as a tortilla is genius) but you leave the movie thinking about your next chapter and realizing that it’s okay to move on. And we all cried.
The Tree of Life (2011)
What it’s about: The life of a young boy growing up in Texas and the questions he asks himself as an adult. Why you should watch it: It’s hard to even explain this movie. The Tree of Life is one of the most existential and metaphorical movies of the 21st century – the closest thing I can compare it to is 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie tackles deep questions of grace, love, family and life itself. It’s also surprisingly spiritual. This movie is definitely not for everyone, but if you keep an open mind, you’ll find the beauty in it.
The Way Way Back (2013)
What it’s about: A lonely teenager strikes up an unlikely friendship with a water park manager during his summer break. Why you should watch it: There’s something about this movie that really resonates with me, and I think everyone can relate to on some level. Being a teenager is the worst and rarely do you feel like you matter. But this movie reminds you of your worth and to believe in yourself, regardless of what others say. Allison Janney is my favorite part of this movie, closely followed by Sam Rockwell. This also feels like the beginning of Steve Carell’s transition to more serious acting, and he does a great job at being a douche.
What it’s about: A drum student joins the jazz band under a ruthless director who pushes him to every limit. Why you should watch it: How far would you go to be the best? That’s what Whiplash asks the audience as it powers through some of the most intense drumming since Drumline. Miles Teller and JK Simmons are electric, but Simmons is the one you’ll remember from this movie. He’s terrifying, he demands perfection, but somewhere deep down, he cares. The soundtrack is unsurprisingly full of great jazz music and that ending performance will stay with you long after the movie ends.
I watched a LOT of movies in 2019. Some were good (like Rocketman), some were not (like Dark Phoenix), some will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life (like Cats), and a few became instant classics. Here are my top 10 movies of 2019 and the entire list of new movies I saw this year.
1. Avengers: Endgame
The culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it, Endgame brought satisfying conclusions to (nearly) all the man heroes we’ve grown to love over the past decade. Throughout the three-hour runtime, you’re just reminded of why you love these characters and these movies. It’s astonishing that the filmmakers pulled this off as well as they did. It allows you to sit in the sadness and horror that our heroes experienced at the end of Infinity War until it moves into a breakneck and fan-service second act, all leading to an enormous final battle with some of the greatest moments in any Marvel movie ever. I love this movie for the journey our heroes go on, the satisfying conclusion to 22 movies and the joy it shows in how it loves these characters. In a year when multiple beloved franchises came to an end, Endgame managed to deliver. Is this technically the best movie of 2019? Definitely not, but the personal connection I have to these characters and the stories that Marvel has told over the past 12 years keeps this at the top of my list.
Holy cow, this movie. Parasite tells the story of two South Korean families who seem similar but have striking differences and how their lives impact each other. It’s a parable about social structures, caste systems and societal responsibility of taking care of those less fortunate. Parasite begins seemingly innocent enough until the underlying tensions between the two families boils to the top. Halfway through, it makes a truly wild turn that throws everything you’ve learned before on its head. The more you learn and the further you go down the more you can see the cracks beginning to break. And it has the single most terrifying shot of any movie I’ve seen this year. Even though it’s not in English, reading the subtitles doesn’t take away from the acting and the story. The last 30 minutes of this movie has wild twist after wild twist. It’s as shocking as it is strangely cathartic and by far one of the most thought-provoking movies I’ve ever seen.
3. Little Women
I’m obsessed with this movie – arguably the feel-good movie of 2019. There’s something just so naturally comfortable about this adaptation of Little Women. The cast is phenomenally talented and everyone seems perfectly designed for their role. Every character feels like a real person. Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep are all delightful, but Saiorse Ronan and Florence Pugh as Jo and Amy March steal the show. The chemistry the four sisters have just makes you smile throughout the entire movie, and you can tell that Greta Gerwig made the set so much fun and comfortable to be on. Laura Dern’s one-two punch of Little Women and Marriage Story this year has solidified her as one of my favorite actresses. I love the way the movie cuts back and forth through time and how easy it is to understand the relationships between these characters. For a movie set during and after the Civil War, it’s surprisingly relevant and current, but not in a way that’s in your face. I love this movie.
4. Knives Out
Who doesn’t love a good whodunnit? Knives Out is a perfect murder mystery movie that knows it’s a murder mystery. Halfway through watching this I was so confused because everything seemed solved and wrapped up. But that’s what kept me engaged the entire time because I had no idea where it was going to go from there. I was just enjoying the ride. Knives Out has one of the most star-studded casts of the year and it’s obvious they had the best time making it. Ana de Armas, Chris Evans and Daniel Craig carry the main weight of the movie, but everyone, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford and Lakeith Stanfield, feel unique and interesting. The production design on this movie is crazy good too. Every room in the main house is unique and interesting. Also hidden in the mystery is a commentary on the social order, the haves and the have-nots, and what it means to be a good person regardless of your social standing.
This movie follows in the footsteps of raunchy bro comedies of the early 2000s like Superbad, but with two females at the lead it feels fresh and new. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever have incredible chemistry and feel like real friends. On top of that, the supporting characters played by Billie Lourd and Skyler Gisondo are two of the funniest characters I’ve ever seen in any movie. The movie follows some traditional high school tropes, but the performances and the jokes take the movie to a whole new level. It also features a lesbian love story that’s not presented as something special, but treated just like any other teen romance, and includes one of the most bizarre animated sequences of the year. Masked in the incredible humor are themes of growing up and moving on, learning to love yourself, and the dangers of stereotyping and judging others without getting to know them.
6. Marriage Story
This is one of the most heartbreaking and heartfelt movies of the year. Marriage Story is really about a divorce between a couple who still cares for each other, even though their lives are pulling them apart. The movie does a fantastic job of seeing the story from both points of view, and you end up rooting for and against both characters at different parts of the movie. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are phenomenal in this, and Laura Dern and Merritt Wever give two of the best supporting performances of the year. Your heart breaks as they get deeper into the divorce process and become more selfish and hurtful to each other. But the love never really fades away, and as so many families do, they learn to live in their new normal. I was captivated the entire time watching this, and while I may never watch it again (it’s emotionally exhausting) I’m so glad I did.
7. The Farewell
Have you ever loved someone so much that you didn’t tell them some big news in order to save them from the pain and anxiety it would bring them? The Farewell deals with this heavy question through the lens of a unique cultural dynamic. In this movie, Billi learns that her grandmother is dying, but the family has agreed not to tell her to protect her from the worry and stress of living with that knowledge. Instead, they stage a quick wedding for Billi’s cousin so the entire family can travel to China and spend a few final days with their grandmother. The Farewell really highlights the different perspectives of Western and Eastern cultures, especially the individualistic vs communal perspectives. Billi (raised in the US) wants to tell her grandmother the truth, but her family (who grew up in China) fights to keep it a secret. Awkwafina is fantastic in her first dramatic role and it’s impossible not to fall in love with Ni Ni (the grandmother).
8. Ready or Not
I am not a horror or scary movie guy. Traditional horror movies just stress me out – I’m usually anxious the whole time just waiting for the next jump scare or villain reveal. But Ready or Not is not a typical horror movie. It’s certainly a thriller that feels familiar to horror fans, but it flips certain horror tropes on their head. And it’s freaking hilarious. The night after her wedding to the son of a wealthy board game tycoon, Grace finds herself trapped in an insane family ritual version of hide and seek. The cast is fantastic, but Samara Weaving really carries the movie through her increasingly manic performance. Adam Brody has the second-best character and both he and Weaving acta as the audience surrogate in key moments to point out how ridiculous this all is. The ending comes completely out of nowhere, but I have never laughed so hard in a horror movie before that it surpassed all my anxiety and fears and made me love this movie.
9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
The How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is one of the most underrated franchises of the past decade. While Pixar gets all the praise and awards, How to Train Your Dragon and its two sequels quietly created one of the most complete, emotional and engaging stories in all of animation. The trilogy completely hinges on the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, which is at its most heartbreaking in the final installment. The Hidden World follows Hiccup and Toothless as they continue to grow, become leaders and be comfortable in their independence. The animation in this movie is just insane, especially the Hidden World sequences, and John Powell continues to build on one of the best scores of the decade. There’s been so much heart in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy, and The Hidden World beautifully closes out one of the most complete portraits of adolescence, growing up and friendship of the past decade.
10. Jojo Rabbit
A movie about a Hitler Youth who sees Hitler as his personal imaginary friend sounds absolutely insane on paper. But Taika Waititi somehow makes Jojo Rabbit both hilarious, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. It’s incredible to watch this movie be carried by two children, who give two of the most engaging performances of the year. Taika’s Hitler caricature is great to laugh at, but he has enough dark moments for you to not forget the horrors the real man enacted. Scarlett Johansson is an understated hero in the movie, and you don’t realize how much of an impact she has until the movie’s tonal shift halfway through. Jojo Rabbit may be an uncomfortable movie to watch, but it allows you the catharsis of making fun of Nazis while also reminding you of the small acts we can all do that can change lives.
And here’s the ranking of the rest of the 2019 movies I saw this year: