Each year, the list grows a little longer. We’ve arrived at that cozy time of year when top 10 encapsulations of the year in cinema consume the media cycle, at least for anyone who needs a break from the impeachment hearings. But look: Those of us on the frontlines just can’t play by the rules. Watching movies throughout the year is a dream job, but the more aggressive one gets about tracking every title out there, the harder it becomes to diminish that experience to 10 slots. A few years ago, I decided I’d take advantage of the decade’s progression and let my list grow a little longer each year, so after last year’s best 18 movies of 2018, the prospects of one more open slot intrigued me. The list-making starts before January, with movies that are booked to open in the year ahead but premiered earlier on the festival circuit. And it gets crowded early on.
As it turns out, 19 is still not enough. And so the annual adage begs repeating once more: Anyone who thinks it was a bad year for movies simply hasn’t seen enough of them. Sure, the movies face a series of existential threats, from dwindling box office to the streaming wars and tiny screens distracting us from virtually every direction. Scorsese is worried about Marvel movies, Marvel movies want to devour Scorsese, and everyone in between doesn’t know where to begin. But the art form shrugged off the panic and kept delivering. This year’s best movies were concerned with the chaos of the modern world: families falling apart, capitalist forces taking charge, systematic dysfunction taking a personal toll, you name it. These achievements provide essential windows into who we are and where we’re headed. We live in the throes of terrifying times. Thank god that the movies are helping us sort through the mess.