Most of the year’s best films fall under the umbrella of drama, a genre that is by far the largest and most artistically sound collection of films not just in any given year but in history. In a lot of ways this is one of the most diverse genres as well incorporating pretty much any movie that can’t be pigeonholed into any of the other movie genres out there. In 2019 we got a slew of incredible dramatic works that provided us with insightful, engaging, heartwarming, and even heartbreaking cinematic stories…some based on real life and others taking an original look at the tragedy and beauty of reality from different angles. As the year comes to a close it’s time to look at my final genre list of my Best of 2019 countdown before I finally reveal my picks for the best films of the year on New Years Day. These are my picks for the Top 10 Drama Films of 2019.
For this list I looked at any movie that was considered primarily to be a drama or that were so diverse in their incorporation of genres that they couldn’t fit on any of my other Best of 2019 lists. I had to have seen and reviewed these movies for them to count and, as it happens, every movie on this countdown today received a perfect score from me making this the most competitive group of movies assembled for my year-end series.
This was a tough list to narrow down from a short list of 15 films so I know there are probably some that got left out that you might have enjoyed. I want to know from you: what was your favorite drama of 2019? Hell, what was your favorite MOVIE or 2019? Let me know in the comments below and I will see you guys tomorrow for my Top 20 Films of 2019.
10. “Peanut Butter Falcon”
Shia LaBeouf has continued to prove over the years that he is a legitimate acting force to be reckoned with. Since his departure from the “Transformers” franchise and subsequent strange antics in the public eye he has made numerous amazing choices in film projects and “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is one of his best in recent memory. Focusing on LeBeouf as a drifter who travels through the south with wannabe wrestler Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen who has Down syndrome in both the film and real life, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a heartwarming modern Huck Finn-like tale that challenges viewers to be more compassionate and understanding of not only each other, but each other’s dreams. In my review I called it “an amazing modern American fairytale that captures a classic and bygone style of storytelling and adapts it to a modern tale of tolerance, friendship and finding the true joy of life.” It’s a good place to start on a list consisting of some of the year’s best films.
9. “Cold War”
The fact that this movie is so low on this list is a testament to the competition. Technically a 2018 release but receiving its most prominent North American run this year after receiving nominations for the Oscars, this Polish-language drama is nothing short of a Shakespearean tragedy showcasing two lovers torn apart and reunited by the titular Cold War over several decades. This is such a beautifully shot an acted film and considering the tragic romance was inspired by the love story of director Pawel Pawlikowski’s own parents it feels very personal. In my review I commended the film as “beautifully shot, artistically crafted, amazingly performed and carefully written to capture every detail as if painting a picture of life.” Like “Roma” before it “Cold War” is an example of how dramatic cinema is still the source for some of the best art in the business.
8. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
A cinematic feature about Mr. Rogers is just what the world needed in these trying times and while I’m sure a lot of people would have rather had a more Rogers-centric biopic, one that shows his relationship with a writer and how that bond helped the journalist’s life is just as impactful. Tom Hanks turns in one of the best performances of the year as Rogers in a story that serves as a powerful reminder of how the legendary television personality’s tact and uncompromising approach to his craft made his lessons and analysis of life truly timeless. In my review I commented that the movie “uses a touching story and the likeness of a great man to remind us just how important it is to feel and to accept those feelings and, possibly most importantly, that it’s okay to ask for help.” The emotional payoff of seeing a grown man’s life transformed by a personality many would readily argue is “just for kids” forces you to open your mind to what it truly means to leave a mark on this world.
7. “Ford V. Ferrari”
The year’s best sports drama…really it’s only sports drama…”Ford v. Ferrari” was a true treat for me personally in 2019 having been a race fan for over two-thirds my life. Director James Mangold’s cinematic telling of the partnership between driver Ken Miles and legendary Ford designer Carroll Shelby in an attempt to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a tightly packed, fun and all-around engaging experience from start to finish. From the committed performances by Matt Damon and Christian Bale to the racing sequences that were mostly if not completely filmed with practical effects “Ford v. Ferrari” is not just one of the best dramas of 2019 it’s one of the best racing movies ever. I reflected that in my review when I called it “one of the most perfectly balanced, entertaining and all-around well-made motorsports movies of all time” that doesn’t skimp on the dramatic depth of its narrative while still keeping things fun and upbeat. I’m genuinely excited for the opportunity to experience it all over again.
6. “Little Women”
This year was the first year I actually got to see an adaptation of this timeless classic and it didn’t disappoint. Sporting a stellar cast, great costume design, and a timely interpretation of the themes included in Louisa May Alcott’s legendary book “Little Women” is another home run from Greta Gerwig who also directed my favorite movie of 2017, “Lady Bird.” In my recent review of the film I called it a timely adaptation of a timeless classic that “packs heart, charm, drama and even at its most cliche some real significance in the story it tries to tell.” While it’s no “Lady Bird”, “Little Women” is continued proof that some cinematic stories are just made to be retold over and over again. After seeing this work for myself I’m genuinely intrigued to see what the other six cinematic versions of the story have in store.
5. “The Farewell”
Who would have ever thought comedian Awkwafina would turn in one of the finest dramatic performances of the year? Well with material like “The Farewell” to work with it’s not that big of a surprise. “The Farewell” is based on director and writer Lulu Wang’s own real life experience after her grandmother was diagnosed with an illness threatening her life and explores an Eastern tradition where families learn of the diagnosis of a loved one first and keep it from their loved one to bare the brunt of the emotional weight. Whereas in America the patient gets to know their fate first, this movie introduces us to a new perspective and, in the process, forces us to examine how we perceive the rest of the world and outside cultures. In my review I said “few films can manage to capture such humanity and complexity with such a simple story” and noted that there’s a perfect balance of tact and harsh truths presented in the narrative. It’s a challenging film and, as I stated in my review, truly one of the best of 2019.
4. “The Irishman”
I didn’t love “The Irishman” as much as some others did, but I understand why it’s so beloved by critics and the industry. Martin Scorsese is a master of his craft and this Netflix original and likely Oscar favorite is a great example of his immense talent for storytelling. Sporting some amazing performances by the likes of Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino “The Irishman” is a carefully crafted gangster flick based on a real-life mob enforcer. At 3.5 hours long it’s the longest movie I’ve reviewed in 2019 and can be a chore to get through, but after two viewing I began to understand why people love it so much. In my review I concluded “I can say with confidence it is a work of art and like many great works it’s not the immediate interpretation and understanding that will define its legacy but how we look back on it in years to come.” While I personally don’t count it among Scorsese’s absolute best, “The Irishman” shows the filmmaker can still directs circles around the competition even with his most basic offerings.
God, I loved this movie. I honestly didn’t think this would be one of my favorite movies of the year but here we are. “Rocketman” is a fantastical drama that takes a look at the life and rise of one of the greatest rock artists of all time, Elton John. Taron Egerton brings an amazing performance as Elton to the screen while the use of music and the film’s willingness to take creative liberties and admit itself as a “fantasy” of sorts only helps to support its efforts to underscore and dramatize the complicated life that John has lived and the struggles that come with fame, fortune and self identity. In my review I called it “one of the best biographical pictures of the last few decades and one worthy of great respect” especially for its unapologetic look at both the good and bad of Elton’s life while avoiding the watered down approach most biopics tend to embrace. “Rocketman” proves you can be entertaining, moving, and insightful at the same time and is, by many accounts, a genre game changer.
2. “Marriage Story”
Netflix has had an incredible year in 2019 but while “The Irishman” has gotten most of the attention the true best film from the streaming service over the last twelve months is something even more human, “Marriage Story”. Exploring the deteriorating marriage and subsequent divorce procedures of a couple, played excellently by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, “Marriage Story” dares to explore the intricacies of such a separation even providing insight into how divorce has become a lucrative business at the cost of civility. Yet, this is a movie that offers hope. The central couple might fight and bicker, but they remain friends especially with a young son between them. In my review I called it “a very powerful viewing experience that offers great insight into the culture of divorce as well as the torture that both sides go through to end a once-perfect union.” These are the kinds of stories movies were made to tell, giving insight into the human experience even at its most depressing.
The hype around the phenomenon of the year is real. I just barely got to see “Parasite” before the end of 2019 and boy, am I glad I did. This South Korean film is nothing short of a masterpiece. Virtually genreless packing elements of thriller, horror, comedy and, of course, drama into the mix, “Parasite” earns the top spot on this list for many reasons including its incredible writing and craftsmanship, its insightful and original story and its impressive ability to blur the lines between arthouse and escapism entertainment. This movie is the full package in almost every way. In my review I discussed several of its relevant social themes concluding that “there’s so much we can learn and take from this film which tries so hard, and succeeds on so many levels, to capture the humanity and tragedy of its character’s lives and how the separation of class serves as a primary driver for all of the conflict.” There’s a lot that has been said about this dramatic thriller that it would take me another entire post just to delve into all the things that make it great. For now, I’ll call it a frontrunner for my favorite film of 2019 and let you decide for yourself.