2019 was by no means immune to having bad movies – Disney live action remakes continue to exist, in defiance of even the basest standard of human decency – but we also got several really good films in the last year. Joker and 1917 stand out as movies that have worked their way into my top five, reminding me in a good way of Inception and Gravity, two films which have (evidently) stuck in my head for 7+ years. Avengers: Endgame is more of a popcorn film, but it was a satisfying finale to a decade-spanning cinematic megaproject, ambitious for its sheer scale even if not for the specific notes it tried to hit. Knives Out proves once and for all that Rian Johnson isn’t bad at making movies, he just hates Star Wars, JJ Abrams, or both.
Movies like Detective Pikachu, Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Lego Movie 2, and Toy Story 4, which could’ve been solid contenders for second best film of the year in most other years, are instead fighting each other to even make it into my top five of 2019. This checks out for 2017, where they’d be fighting Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Lego Batman, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for second place behind Logan, 2016, where they’d be fighting Rogue One, Captain America: Civil War, and Zootopia for first (although I never did see Hacksaw Ridge), and 2015, where Inside Out and Mad Max: Fury Road are fighting for first, the Martian has third locked down, but any of the 2019 also-rans could’ve pretty solidly beat the fourth-place contenders out of the top five, like Age of Ultron and Ant Man. Funny enough, 2018 was also more crowded with good top five contenders, giving us all of Black Panther, Into the Spider-Verse, and Infinity War, but while these can all soundly trounce 2019’s also-rans, they compare less well against 2019’s own best movies. Particularly, the Infinity War vs. Endgame comparison isn’t kind to Infinity War.
This isn’t changing the world of cinema forever or anything. Film historians aren’t going to look back at 2019 and say “we’ll never have another year like that again.” If you could find a way to chart movie good-ness by year, 2019 would probably show up as noticeably above the trendline, but probably not as some massive, unprecedented spike. For starters, I already mentioned that 2018 holds up a pretty tough fight, and I only checked back to 2015. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t get a year about as good as 2019 once every decade-ish. But still, 2019 is the best year we’ve had for movies in a while.
Of course, about half the legs on this thesis can be knocked out if 1917 is actually a 2020 release. I’m counting it as a 2019 movie because both its worldwide premier and its American release were December, but there were other nations that got it in 2020, so you could list it as a 2020 film and that wouldn’t be inaccurate either. Joker is still a stand-out movie, but lots of years have stand-out movies. I still think 2019 is above par even without the one-two punch of both Joker and 1917, but it’s definitely less decisive if it has to ride more on Endgame (which is itself riding on every Marvel movie that came before it) and a slightly bigger crop of good second-place contenders to fill out its top five.
You’ve also probably noticed that I don’t watch all movies, or even all good movies, and there’s some good 2019 movies that I haven’t listed. But, like, there’s also movies from the other years that I’ve heard good things about but did not actually see, and that a good deal of my thesis rests on two absolutely fantastic movies coming out in the same year, so I’m reasonably confident my thesis is going to hold even on closer examination.