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The best movies of 2019, so far

Every film you should be sure to see this year

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These days, entertainment is less “the show must go on” and more “is there ever a time when the show isn’t on?” Which is to say, there’s more to watch than ever. In case 2019 has already been a little overwhelming for you, we’ve put together a list of what to make sure you see.

Not to worry, we’ll update this as the year goes on. From survivalist dramas to science fiction epics and everything in-between, this year’s must-sees are (and are sure to continue being) an eclectic bunch. Here are the very best movies of 2019.

Alita prepares to fight in the street of Iron City
Alita (Rosa Salazar) about to jump into action.
20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel

Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga was an unlikely blast, defying skeptics (myself included) of the film’s “big eyes” tactic to deliver on one of the most visually impressive films of the year. Starring Rosa Salazar as the amnesiac title character, Alita: Battle Angel soars on the back of its stunning world-build and action sequences. Sure, the love story is boring at best, but everything from the made-up sport of Motorball to a bevy of robot dogs packs as much of a punch as Alita herself.

Currently in theaters

Aretha Franklin performing in Amazing Grace.
Aretha Franklin performing in Amazing Grace.
Neon

Amazing Grace

In 1972, Aretha Franklin spent two nights recording Amazing Grace at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie) filmed the proceedings with the expectation that a concert documentary would be released in conjunction with Franklin’s double album. Except the production team forgot to use clapper boards to match the audio and visual tracks, making it nigh impossible to sync the footage in post-production. The snafu left the film in limbo — until now. The film version of Amazing Grace is a marvel, a reminder of just what a force of nature Franklin was, and of just how transporting music can be.

Currently in theaters

Buzz Aldrin, suited up.
Buzz Aldrin, suited up.
Neon

Apollo 11

That man has set foot upon the moon is still perhaps the most incredible feat in history, and the documentary Apollo 11, directed by Todd Douglas Miller, miraculously matches that sense of wonder. The entire film is built from archival 70 mm footage that was previously unreleased, and is so pristine, you may start buying those Kubrick-inspired conspiracy theories. The true feat is that, despite knowing the mission was a historic success, Miller’s edited film still manages to generate a sense of tension. A big part of that is Apollo 11 avoiding voice-over and narration, apart from brief clips of news and mission control broadcasts, letting the awe-inspiring footage speak for itself.

Currently in theaters

Mads Mikkelsen grimacing from the cold in Arctic.
Mads Mikkelsen grimacing from the cold in Arctic.
Bleecker Street

Arctic

Between Polar and Arctic, the two chilly Mads Mikkelsen films out this year, the latter is the one to see. Joe Penna’s film is remarkably sparse, starring Mikkelsen as a man stranded in — you guessed it — the arctic, and fighting to survive. For the most part, he’s on his own, and the movie is almost completely silent as such, never falling back on the use of flashbacks and dreams to fill in exactly who Mikkelsen’s character is or how he got there in the first place. On the periphery of it all is the knowledge that a polar bear roams the landscape, too, though the film takes a page from Jaws’ book and largely refrains from showing it. Arctic is the perfect example of how to craft a powerful, compelling film without tipping every card in one’s hand.

Currently in theaters

Liao Fan and Zhao Tao in Ash is Purest White.
Liao Fan and Zhao Tao in Ash is Purest White.
Cohen Media

Ash is Purest White

The love story between Qiao (Zhao Tao) and Bin (Liao Fan) is a fraught one, and director Jia Zhangke sets it all against the changing landscape of modern China. As their relationship undergoes change, so does the country in which they live, though the waxing and waning bond between them isn’t ultimately as malleable as you’d hope. Ash is Purest White itself is as beautifully ponderous as the rest of Zhangke’s work (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart), with fleeting, unexplained allusions to sense memory and seemingly irrelevant — but still striking — phenomena.

Currently in theaters

Moondog (McConaughey) and Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) out on the water.
Moondog (McConaughey) and Lingerie (Snoop Dogg) out on the water in The Beach Bum.
Neon

The Beach Bum

Against all odds, Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum is likely the warmest, purest film you’ll see this year. Starring Matthew McConaughey as a perpetually stoned poet named Moondog, The Beach Bum is more about enjoying the journey than reaching the destination. With a colorful supporting cast including Snoop Dogg as a singer named Lingerie, and Zac Efron as a pyromaniac named Flicker (and an all-time great cameo from Martin Lawrence as “Captain Wack”), the film’s love song to the burnout lifestyle may seem trivial (if also extremely fun), but Korine — and his cast — are so earnest that they elevate the material into something divine.

Currently in theaters

Booksmart - Molly and Amy confer by the lockers
Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) confer.
Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Pictures

Booksmart

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut centers on two graduating high school girls who, after having spent high school following all the rules and focusing on getting good grades, decide to get down and party on their last day of classes. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein star, with Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, and Will Forte rounding out the adult cast. It’s the rare coming-of-age tale that puts a fresh spin on a tried and true formula, and sure to become a classic of the genre.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

Liam Neeson climbing into a snowplow in Cold Pursuit.
Liam Neeson climbing into a snowplow in Cold Pursuit.
Summit Entertainment

Cold Pursuit

Despite leading man Liam Neeson’s disastrous publicity tour, the English-language remake of Hans Petter Moland’s In Order of Disappearance is actually quite good. With Moland returning to remake his own movie (almost shot for shot), Cold Pursuit finds Neeson moving into a new phase of his career. The story of a man getting revenge for the murder of his son is a typical post-Taken Neeson plot until it morphs into a thoughtful black comedy, as Moland doubles down on just how absurd such a quest would be in real life. When Neeson’s character kidnaps a gangster’s kid for leverage, he resorts to reading a snowplow manual aloud to put the kid to bed. Cold Pursuit’s quirky, Alexandre Desplat-esque score underlines that tonal dissonance, especially as Neeson’s character’s good nature gets the better of him.

Currently in theaters

Erana James in The Changeover
Erana James in The Changeover.
Vertical Entertainment

The Changeover

Based on Margaret Mahy’s young adult novel, The Changeover mixes coming-of-age drama with horror and magical realism to remarkable results. Directed by Miranda Harcourt and Stuart McKenzie, the film doesn’t lack for the supernatural, as witches dominate the magical landscape, but every strange occurrence is still so firmly grounded in reality that when things start to rev up, the film becomes all the more unsettling to watch. At the heart of it all is the teenage Laura (Erana James), forced into action when her little brother Jacko (Benji Purchase) falls under the sway of a mysterious stranger (Timothy Spall). As Laura does her best to rescue her little brother from sinister influences that only she seems to be able to perceive, James plays her as prickly in a way that young heroines often aren’t allowed to be, while Spall is so marvelously unsettling that he alone is worth the price of admission.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete.
Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete.
Summit Entertainment

Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete is grueling to watch, even more so than director S. Craig Zahler’s previous films, Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. The film, which centers on two rogue cops and an attempted crime bust gone wrong, is difficult not only for how deliberate Zahler is in depicting violence, but in its muddy politics — which extend to the problematic metatext of casting of Mel Gibson as a racist police officer. Still, it’s a masterfully made drama; few filmmakers are as patient as Zahler, and as aware of how tropes can be exploited to shock and affect an audience.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth in Fast Color.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth in Fast Color.
Jacob Yakob/Codeblack Films

Fast Color

Superhero movies only seem to come in one size these days: gigantic. Fast Color, directed and co-written by Julia Hart, is the exception to the rule. The story of three generations of women who have — and hide — superhuman abilities, Fast Color is more reminiscent of Jeff Nichols’ under-appreciated Midnight Special than anything Marvel or DC have put out. It’s more focused on raw emotions and building a believable family than on an onslaught of action, which makes it all the more impressive when the supernatural finally does manifest.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

Bill Duke and André Holland sit on the bleachers in High Flying Bird.
Bill Duke and André Holland sit on the bleachers in High Flying Bird.
Peter Andrews/Netflix

High Flying Bird

Steven Soderbergh’s new film dissects the NBA with remarkably fluid grace, digging into the racial politics and history of the sport as owners, agents, and players jockey for agency. Starring André Holland as a frustrated agent who tries to change the game in response to a frustrating and morally dubious lockout, High Flying Bird jumps hoops and opines on the notion of talent-vs-capitalism with more than a few parallels to Soderbergh’s journey as a filmmaker. It’s also just an impeccably shot film, with each composition reflecting the coldness of an industry that often treats its players as disposable objects rather than people.

Stream it on Netflix

A boat on the water in The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
A boat on the water in The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
A24

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails stars in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which is based in part on his life. The story revolves around the former Fails family home, which was purportedly built by Jimmie’s grandfather. Since his father lost the house, Jimmie has been obsessed with returning to it. Along with his playwright friend Montgomery (played by a terrific Jonathan Majors), Jimmie embarks upon a quest to get it back. Joe Talbot’s directorial debut is a stunningly beautiful elegy, from the glowing Bay Area cinematography to a triumphant score.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

The Bash Brothers fist bump
Akiva Schaffer and Andy Samberg in The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience.
Photo: Eddy Chen/Netflix

The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

For anyone mourning the lack of a Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping sequel, there’s The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience, a half-hour delight that bills itself as a “visual poem” by baseball stars Jose Canseco (Andy Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Akiva Schaffer). With guest appearances from Sterling K. Brown, Maya Rudolph, and even the Haim sisters, the film is evidence that The Lonely Island just keep getting better and better.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

Christian (Jack Reynor) and Dani (Florence Pugh) in shock.
Christian (Jack Reynor) and Dani (Florence Pugh) in shock.
A24

Midsommar

If your relationship is on the rocks, Midsommar may be the litmus test for whether you’re going to make it out alive. The surprisingly funny (but still harrowing) folk horror film sends Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) on vacation to a rural Swedish village, where a midsummer ritual that only occurs once every ninety years is about to occur. It quickly becomes more than they bargained for as the festivities grow increasingly strange, and the strain on their already-deteriorating relationship worsens. It’s a gorgeous film, set almost entirely during the day and with abundant pastel colors, and an impressive follow-up to Aster’s first feature, Hereditary.

Currently in theaters

Detective Pikachu - Tim, Pikachu, Lucy, and Psyduck on the ground looking up
Tim (Justice Smith), Pikachu, and Lucy (Kathryn Newton) in Detective Pikachu.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

The facts are these: Detective Pikachu is great in every respect. Like the games it’s based on, it’s aimed at a young audience, but it doesn’t take any (or at least most of) the low-hanging fruit that such movies (I’m looking at you, Minions) usually go for. It’s a well-crafted adventure story and noir mystery, sending Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) on a quest for the truth when his father disappears, leaving behind only his partner, a talking Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). The film also doesn’t require any knowledge of Pokémon to fully enjoy — it’s just the cherry on top of the cake if you’ve ever tried to catch ‘em all.

Rent it on iTunes | Amazon | Google Play | Vudu | YouTube

spider-man: far from home action scene
Spidey swings into action.
Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Homecoming quickly established the web-slinger as one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Far From Home only further serves to cement the fact. Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) summer vacation, which sees him traveling across Europe on a class trip, is interrupted by the arrival of monsters known as Elementals, and a mysterious new figure named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). With the fallout of Endgame still fresh in everyone’s minds and hearts, Peter’s desire to live a normal high school life and pursue his crush on MJ (Zendaya) is particularly difficult to manage alongside his superhero responsibilities.

Currently in theaters

Toy Story 4 - Woody, Buzz, Jessie, Forky
Our favorite toys, in chaos.
Image: Pixar/Disney

Toy Story 4

Pixar’s Toy Story is the rare franchise to have elegantly aged with their audience. The existential angst in each movie has only increased, culminating in Toy Story 4’s rumination on why any of us are alive, and what our purpose is. The avatar of said angst is Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), a spork who, having been made out of disparate parts found in the garbage, doesn’t understand why he now has life and longs to return to the trash. Happening in parallel is Woody’s (Tom Hanks) existential crisis as he reckons with his lessening popularity with Bonnie, and the possibility of life outside of being a plaything.

Currently in theaters

Lupita Nyong’o in Us
Lupita Nyong’o vs Lupita Nyong’o in Us.
Universal Pictures

Us

Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is plagued by memories of a night on the boardwalk, when she, as a child, encountered a double of herself. When she and her family return to the beach many years later, her doppelgänger reappears — as do doppelgängers of everybody else, intent upon killing them. Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out leans harder into genre territory — both horror and comedy — but it’s just as fun (and just as interesting to dissect), and provides a showcase for the whole cast (Nyong’o, as well as Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker) to strut their stuff with two entirely different performances.

Currently in theaters

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir and Woman at War’s accompanying band.
Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir and Woman at War’s accompanying band.
Magnolia Pictures

Woman at War

Woman at War deals with heavy themes like destructive effects of aluminium plants on the Icelandic highlands, and the way that corporations and governments can control a narrative, through the perspective of a spirited heroine. As choir conductor turned environmental activist Halla, actress Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir is a delight, perfectly balancing the strength required to go on her one-woman crusade with a vulnerability that trickles through as a long-forgotten adoption application is suddenly approved.

Currently in theaters