The 19 Best Movies of 2019 So Far

We’re about halfway through 2019 and there’s been no shortage of great movies. While the headlines may belong to the flops right now, you would do well to remember the worthwhile titles that have hit theaters and streaming so far this year. Although there are still some great movies on the horizon, we wanted to check in with the most noteworthy movies 2019 had to offer thus far, and looking at this list, it looks like our year-end Top 10s will be difficult to sort out. You could already make a pretty serious Top 5 list from these titles alone, and so if you need to start catching up with the year’s best offerings, check out our list below.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Image via Dreamworks Animation

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is one of the best movies of the year and a strong contender for the best film in the franchise. Not only does it complete the trilogy in a satisfying way, the concluding chapter acts as a culmination of the story that began with Cressida Cowell‘s books and continued on the big and small screen over the last 10 years.

What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome dragon has become an epic saga that spans their entire lives over the course of three films. In this final installment, the heroic pair finally fulfill their destinies as Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) takes on his inherited responsibility as the village chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid (America Ferrera), while Toothless becomes the legendary leader of his own kind. In this concluding chapter, the Vikings and dragons of Berk face their darkest threat yet in the evil strategic genius Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) while Toothless discovers his soulmate in the mysterious Light Fury; the bonds of Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship are tested like never before. It’s a solid film from beginning to end and a fitting finale for one of the best cinematic stories of the 21st century. – Dave Trumbore

Funan

Image via FIAF Animation First Festival

Funan is one of the most important animated films I’ve ever seen. I can safely say that you’ve probably never seen anything quite like it. From writer/director Denis Do, making his feature film debut, comes a true-to-life story about the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975 and how it upended the lives of a Cambodian family, just one among many. Suffering exile, separation from their family members, and their grueling new reality in the work camps, a young woman named Chou will risk everything to reunite her surviving family members, no matter the cost.

It’s a story that should belong solely to our past but its characters and conflicts are also recognizable in the context of modern, ongoing atrocities. The tale itself would be powerful enough simply as a history lesson about the evils carried out by the Khmer Rouge but it becomes even more meaningful thanks to Do’s personal connection to the story. He opts to focus on the effects that the regime has on his characters rather than glory in the violence of the many awful and barbaric practices the soldiers carry out. Funan is a prime example of how animation is not, and never really has been, “just for kids” while also showcasing its versatility as a storytelling medium for difficult subject matter. It’s also one of the best films of the year, hands down.  – Dave Trumbore

Long Shot

Image via Lionsgate

The romantic comedy genre has thankfully been attempting a comeback over the last couple years, and Long Shot is a swell addition. In the vein of The American President and Dave, director Jonathan Levine’s (The Night Before) comedy follows the U.S. Secretary of State (Charlize Theron) reconnecting with an old friend (Seth Rogen) who she hires to help punch up her speeches. Romance and hilarity ensues. Theron and Rogen’s chemistry is genuinely charming, and the film actually offers up something thoughtful and substantial to say about how the current U.S. political climate has affected relationships amongst its citizens. Plus, Boys II Men! – Adam Chitwood

Us

Image via Universal

With Get Out, Jordan Peele announced himself as a challenging and talented filmmaker to watch. With his second film, Us, Peele solidified himself as one of the most exciting talents working behind the camera today. Bigger, deeper, and more severe than Get Out, Us is a story about class and how one’s upbringing and social status can affect one’s outlook on the world. There’s plenty for nature vs. nuture nerds to fawn over here, and Peele packs every frame with intent and symbolism—indeed, from a directorial standpoint Us is a major step up from Get Out, which itself was mighty impressive. But on top of all of this, Lupita Nyong’o gives two of the best performances of the year in her dual roles here, reminding us the Oscar winner has been underutilized in the time since her 12 Years a Slave win. I sincerely hope she doesn’t get forgotten come awards season. – Adam Chitwood

High Flying Bird

Image via Netflix

Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to ambition, and his Netflix film High Flying Bird—which was shot entirely on an iPhone—hones in on this theme both in front of and behind the camera to swell results. Taking place over the course of a single day, the film follows a sports agent (Andre Holland) who wheels and deals to try and relinquish a basketball lockdown. It’s a testament to the talent of both Soderbergh and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney that you’re never distracted by the lack of specific NBA mentions or imagery, and indeed this character-focused drama propels from scene to scene with delightfully forward-thinking pacing and momentum. All hail Steven Soderbergh, a man seemingly incapable of making an uninteresting film. – Adam Chitwood

Always Be My Maybe

Image via Netflix

Netflix brought the romcom back in a big way with 2018’s Set It Up, and the streaming service’s 2019 effort Always Be My Maybe is similarly charming and delightful. Co-written by and starring Randall Park and Ali Wong, the film follows a pair of teenaged best friends who have since drifted apart and are pushed together once more in adulthood, even though their lives have followed very different paths. Park and Wong are dynamite together, and the film takes time to breathe with some well-paced dramatic sequences. It’s also not lacking in scene-stealers, as Michelle Buteau is a hoot and Keanu Reeves once again proves his talent knows no bounds. – Adam Chitwood

The Kid Who Would Be King

Image via 20th Century Fox

I like to imagine a future where The Kid Who Would Be King will be a cult hit that savvy parents show their kids even though they missed it in theaters. Joe Cornish’s long-awaited follow-up to Attack the Block is a wonderful spin on the legend of King Arthur where young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) must bring together his friends and enemies to defeat the forces of darkness led by Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). It’s a story about leadership and honor in the face of prevailing cynicism and despair. It’s perfectly of its time yet harnesses a timeless quality that should inspire and delight future generations. – Matt Goldberg

Apollo 11

Image via CNN Films and NEON

Behold the new gold standard in footage restoration. Todd Douglas Miller’s ingenious documentary is comprised entirely of contemporary footage of the launch, reveling in a widely-documented event and then editing it perfectly with eye-popping restoration to make it look like the footage is both from 1969 and yet still pristine. Through skillful cutting and pacing, Apollo 11 is as exhilarating as something like First Man or Apollo 13 but with the benefit of all the footage being authentic. Don’t be surprised to see this as a serious contender for Best Documentary at the end of the year. – Matt Goldberg

Under the Silver Lake

Image via A24

Before seeing Under the Silver Lake, I was worried this would be either too-L.A. (something locals would appreciate but too esoteric for the rest of us) or something like Southland Tales where the director’s reach surpassed his grasp. Thankfully, it’s neither despite being a very odd duck. The basic story is how a directionless 30-something (Andrew Garfield at his scuzziest) starts to “investigate” the disappearance of his hot neighbor whom he barely knows. But the core of Under the Silver Lake is a damning indictment into the world of weak men who feel entitled to the world despite contributing nothing and consuming the most disposable aspects of pop culture. It’s a weird, unwieldy movie, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell has a very particular target in mind, and he absolutely eviscerates it as long as you’re on the movie’s wavelength. – Matt Goldberg

Fast Color

Image via Lionsgate

For those who like their tales of superpowers grounded, you won’t do much better than Fast Color. Julia Hart’s thoughtful tale spans three generations as the conflicted Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) comes home to her mother (Lorraine Toussaint) and daughter (Saniyya Sidney), and while all three have the power to dissemble and reassemble matter, Ruth’s powers have become buried beneath guilt and shame. Set in a marvelously-realized world where it hasn’t rained in eight years, Fast Color feels both otherworldly and immediate with its harsh landscape symbolizing the fractured relationships between the characters. It’s a marvelous movie that would probably get a lot more attention if it was an adaptation of an existing character rather than an entirely new story. – Matt Goldberg

Booksmart

Photo by Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

I have a strong suspicion than in about ten years, we’ll look back at this little indie comedy and see a cavalcade of A-list stars that happened to share the screen with each other. But even setting aside the terrific cast, director Olivia Wilde has made an outstanding debut with Booksmart. The story tells of two polite nerds (the endearing Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who realize that they sacrificed high school social lives for studies, so they resolve to fit all the craziness into one night by attending the biggest party the night before graduation. Far from simply just being Superbad-with-women, Booksmart speaks in its own voice to get to the emotional core of these two particular characters and the love and tension between them. It’s a wild ride that’s both brutally honest and painfully hilarious. – Matt Goldberg

Rocketman

Image via Paramount Pictures

You don’t have to be a die-hard Elton John fan to adore Rocketman. Dexter Fletcher’s film about the music icon eschews typical biopic fare by leaning into the genre’s artifice and then hitting to the truth of John’s story, which is about a man so desperate to be loved yet failing to find it from his parents or his boyfriend. Anchored by an Oscar-worthy performance from Taron Egerton (who actually sings the songs rather than lip-syncing), Rocketman is both a tribute to Elton John and also a raw exposé that shows him at his most vulnerable and dejected while breaking free of the typical rise-fall-redemption arc of these kinds of movies. Plus, the electric way that Fletcher shoots the musical numbers makes John’s music come alive in a way it never has before on screen. – Matt Goldberg

Toy Story 4

Image via Disney/Pixar

It’s pretty remarkable that over the span of 24 years and four movies, all Toy Story movies are great. However, they really should stop with Toy Story 4, which provides a perfect grace note to the series as it explores what our purpose is and how we have to change when the world changes. The plot is standard Toy Story stuff—a toy gets lost, Woody comes to the rescue—but the way the film plays with the rules of the Toy Story universe allows this new installment to come to some surprisingly profound conclusions while also being one of the funniest movies Pixar has ever made. – Matt Goldberg

Climax

Image via Wild Bunch

Gaspar Noe’s dance horror Climax is a drug-fueled trip straight to hell, packed with kinetic energy, unhinged performances, and dazzling technical showmanship. Climax follows a modern dance troupe in 1996, who hole up at a community center to rehearse and party through a winter night that transforms from a light-hearted dance off to a hypnotic fight for survival after someone spikes the sangria with LSD. Noe starts off with a jubilant series of solo introductions for his dance troupe, before kicking things into high gear with a staggering group dance scene — impressive not only because of the physical feats on screen, but the way Noe captures them with his agile camera work and attention to detail. Then the night starts to boil as hallucinogens, paranoia, and lust overtake the evening, bringing everyone’s inner demons out to play. Climax is indulgent, as are most of Noe’s best works, but it’s captivating and propulsive, daring you to look away from the growing chaos as the rules of polite society devolve. Sofia Boutella taps into her pro-dance past to deliver a harrowing, peak-physical performance, and despite the color-saturated kaleidoscope of bleak reveals, Climax is easily one of Noe’s most accessible films and one of the best horror movies of the year. — Haleigh Foutch

High Life

Image via A24

Robert Pattinson has been on roll in recent years, choosing one daring project after the next, and his latest auteur collaboration led him to the great Claire Denis. A filmmaker who has always hopped genres and defied easy labels, Denis delivers one of her most mystifying works yet with High Life, a spectacular sci-fi drama that stages an emotional epic on the journey towards a black hole. Pattinson stars as Monty, one of several death row inmates given the opportunity to journey into space for a government experiment. Left in the charge of a perverse doctor (Juliette Binoch) obsessed with procreation, the inmates journey beyond the limits of the universe and the rules of society, and we follow Monty on a decades-long parallel journey, the moments of which are intercut in a way that teeters between confounding and profound. Denis isn’t overly interested in the science part of science fiction, though it’s well-researched, but fascinated with the base fluids and functions of human physiology and the equally messy muck of the mind. High Life is a slow-burn, challenging narrative that doesn’t immediately open itself up on a first watch, but Pattinson is captivating with another of his charmingly bizarre performances and the carnal potency of High Life’s story settle in a little deeper the longer you think about it. — Haleigh Foutch

Her Smell

Image via TIFF

Elisabeth Moss and Alex Ross Perry already put audiences through one excruciating topple down the rabbit hole of sanity with Queen of Earth and with Her Smell they deliver a hell of a cousin film, centered around the spectacular flameout and slow crawl back to stability for a ‘90s rock star. Moss is electric and putrid as Becky Something, a self-destructive grunge queen, beloved and enabled for her brilliance who’s spiraling out on drugs, unchecked antics, and buying the hype. Uncontrollable and unreliable, Becky is a terrible mother to her young daughter, abusive to her friends and bandmates, and dead set on destroying everything she has going for her. Perry makes you part of the downward spiral with intimate close-ups and mortifying reaction shots that refuse to look away, but it’s Moss’ unflinching portrait of Becky’s beat-for-beat breakdown and recovery that make Her Smell such a shattering portrait of redemption. Moss makes no concessions for vanity, and because of her bravura performance, Her Smell is among the most complex, challenging, and rewarding dramas of the year. — Haleigh Foutch

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Image via Lionsgate

Knives, books, and horses, oh my! Sorry, those are just three of the roughly 1,000 things that Keanu Reeves uses to kill someone in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Lionsgate’s action franchise has been consistently upping the ante since the first John Wick, but I believe Parabellum broke the ante, delivering mind-boggling set-piece after set-piece that seem like magic tricks in their impressively complex violence. Reeves is, of course, sturdy as always at the center as the unkillable hitman with an equal love of headshots and pit bulls. But the ever-expanding Wick world keeps the action interesting, especially the addition of Mark Dacascos as a quirky ninja-cult villain and Halle Berry as a former assassin with a pair of extremely loyal attack dogs. The dogs alone are the source of a set-piece so impressive it’s worth the ticket price on its own. Very, very good dogs.  – Vinnie Mancuso

Avengers: Endgame

Image via Marvel

How do you craft a film that ties up not only the massive, universe-dusting cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War, but also satisfies a decade of big-screen comic-book storytelling told over 21 movies? There’s no “perfect” answer, but woo boy Avengers: Endgame is probably as close as you could get. The massive Marvel film juggles so many threads, characters, and timelines that it’s a genuine miracle it makes any narrative sense, much less speeds along with this much joy. Sure, not all that time travel wonkery adds up, but when you’re hitting years-in-the-making story beats this hard, some sins can be forgiven. Black Widow’s sacrifice. Lebowski Thor. Professor Hulk. Cap wielding Mjolnir. “I am Iron Man.” Watching Endgame in a theater was like being at the most rapturous of rock concerts, just one explosion of joy after the other. Endgame might come up just shy of Avatar‘s all-time box office record, but it’s certainly going to leave a Hulk-sized pop culture footprint that we’re not going to forget any time soon. – Vinnie Mancuso

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

Image via Netflix

What even is The Lonely Island‘s Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience? Extremely hard to say, but since Collider, against my many demands, isn’t doing a Best Half-Hour Visual-Poem Short Films of 2019, here we are. Directed by Mike Diva and Akiva Shaffer, Bash Brothers is a filmed concept hip-hop album starring Akiva and Andy Samberg as Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, the chemical-enhanced duo who took the MLB by storm in 1988. The entire thing is equal parts incomprehensible and absolutely brilliant. What elevates it past a why-does-this-exist joke is the fact that it’s so, so earnest; underneath the steroids, the silk robes, and the Sia guest spot by way of a wig-wearing Sterling K. Brown, there’s a sweet, obvious affection for the 80s, for the Oakland A’s, and for Canseco and McGwire themselves. It also doesn’t hurt that most of these songs are straight-up actual jams. “IHOP Parking Lot” has been stuck in my head for several weeks now with no signs of stopping. – Vinnie Mancuso

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