The Best Movies of 2019

Ad Astra

Space travel in Ad Astra is a fraught undertaking, with long stretches of silence snapping into desperate, sudden action. To traverse to another planet is to throw oneself at the mercy of the unknown, endangered by space pirates and suit punctures alike. One journeying astronaut invokes St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Another gives a blessing with the words, “May you meet your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God forever.” When encountering the unknown, astronauts voice their fears and hopes in liturgy and in prayer. Roy (Brad Pitt) is the only astronaut who does not give voice to his innermost thoughts. He is silent, content to dwell in the quiet airlessness of cold space. He speaks only when necessary. He compartmentalizes his fear in times of crisis. This equilibrium is shattered when Roy learns that his missing father—himself an astronaut—might still be alive, somewhere on the edge of the solar system. The film follows Roy’s journey from planet to planet, skipping through time while he finds the words to express himself. Ad Astra is the story of a son seeking to reconcile himself with his father’s absence. But it is also a story about learning to pray, voicing grief and joy in the presence of fellow travelers. (Sarah Welch-Larson)

Captain Marvel

We tend to look for ourselves in our favorite superheroes. They inspire us to take action, to do justice, to stand for what’s right. As a woman, I appreciate seeing a female on the front of a Marvel movie poster for a change. Captain Marvel is everything that I admire: determined, strong, just, and willing to be vulnerable. She doesn’t let others tell her who she is or what she can do, but discovers those things for herself. Though another character tells her, “Your emotions make you weak,” she soon learns otherwise—that women aren’t lesser beings and were not created by God to be men’s servants or eye candy. We are all one in Christ. The friendship between Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is particularly wonderful, while viewers can also enjoy the usual explosions and fights familiar to the MCU. This is a fun superhero origin story that carries with it a weighty message of biblical truth if we are willing to look. Superheroes who demonstrate mercy, rescue the innocent, and call out injustice are mirroring attitudes that Christ displayed. Captain Marvel is the best of these. (Allison Alexander)

A Hidden Life

I believe filmmaker Terrence Malick is not only depicting theology in his films—he is truly doing theology through the cinematic medium, a "faith seeking understanding" via the seventh art. His latest film, A Hidden Life, is no exception. Based on the real-life story of Austrian conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter and his beloved wife Fani, A Hidden Life is both Malick's most overtly Christian and most pointedly political film to date. The couple's Edenic life with their children amidst lush European mountains is disrupted by WWII and their local village's devotion to the nationalism and anti-immigrant ideologies of Hitler. The film is biblically saturated, with psalms and prayers complementing the wandering camera's spiritual vision of these silent martyrs, both camera and characters acting as witnesses of Christ's love and light in the midst of dark times. As the George Eliot quote framing the film puts it, "the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." In our present-day climate of political upheavals and outrage, these peacemaking lives of quiet virtue and steadfast dedication both to God and to each other might be seen as a Christian model for us to emulate. (Joel Mayward)

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is in many ways a wisdom literature tale enacted by mobsters, a warning against eating the bread of wickedness and drinking the wine of violence. It’s a tale about the regret that accompanies a life led in the counsel of the wicked. At over three hours, The Irishman is a long, slow-burn of a film. Yet its length only heightens its potent, meditative power. By following the journey of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) from unscrupulous union truck driver to hardened mafia hit man over multiple decades, The Irishman immerses viewers in Sheeran’s regret-filled retrospection. By the film’s last act, which details Sheeran’s final days in a nursing home weighing the totality of his life, our investment in his journey reaches its reflective apex: eventually, the same fate he delivered for others—death—awaits both him and us. As Joe Pesci’s mob boss declares, “It’s what it is.” It’s difficult to watch The Irishman and not muse upon one’s own mortality. The film serves as a meditative reflection of Scorsese’s familiar mob themes—guilt, betrayal, death, longing—but from the perspective of a character staring ahead at death and looking back on a life wasted. At the same time, Scorsese ends the film with a moving sequence involving sin and confession—and an unforgettable image—that suggests God’s mercy is available even to those who’ve squandered their life in evildoing. (Claude Atcho)

Marriage Story

Within days of its release on Netflix, film Twitter began circulating memes based on Marriage Story’s climactic scene, in which divorcing couple Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) finally fight face to face. With no lawyers, family members, or children to intervene, the two let loose every grievance they’ve heretofore withheld. Driver and Johansson give two of the year’s best performances, allowing Charlie and Nicole to spit writer-director Noah Baumbach’s typically biting dialogue at each other with an intensity that careens between furious, vulnerable, and utterly pathetic. Marriage Story is often about seeing things in an unflattering light. The movie begins with a pair of monologues in which Charlie and Nicole describe what they once loved about one another, and from there they both find their identities rejected and reshaped by those around them. It’s an unpleasant but familiar experience, even for those who haven’t gone through a divorce. We all fall short of our best, or even preferred, selves. But God’s grace reminds us that our ultimate identity is that of a forgiven sinner who gives grace to others—even those who make us furious, vulnerable, and pathetic. (Joe George)

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) has made a career out of playing tough guys on camera. For him, these roles provide him with direction—a part to play and lines to recite, just so long as he can remember them. Anxious and insecure, Rick craves the fleeting approval of others; simply put, he wants to matter. But even when he delivers what one young co-star calls “the best acting I have ever seen in my whole life,” Rick remains unfulfilled. Meanwhile, his buddy and stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), is looking for work. For Cliff, these movie roles (that is, Rick’s roles) mean pain and sacrifice, a chance to “carry the load,” and—as with any antihero—perhaps a chance to redeem himself for his shadowy, violent past. Rugged and unsung, often riding in to the rescue, Cliff, at his best, reflects both the image and the spirit of the screen toughs that Rick merely portrays. It’s only in the film’s cartoony climax, when Rick gets his hands dirty and he and Cliff take up the real fight against evil, that they both achieve the relevance that they’ve been chasing. In Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood, writer-director Quinten Tarantino reminds us to go beyond the performance. As readers of the Word, we must learn that it’s not enough to simply know the lines. We have to be prepared to live them as well. (D. Marquel)


Bong Joon-Ho’s incredible Parasite is one of the best kinds of thrillers—a movie that starts one way, then shifts very suddenly into something different and surreal while always keeping its grasp on the social message at its center. The film begins as a story about a family of grifters seeking upward mobility, security, and luxury by conning their way into jobs working for a wealthy family, who have no clue that the domestic servants they’ve hired are related. If it were just about the dynamics and unbridgeable gulf between the wealthy Park family and the desperate, ambitious Kim family, that would be enough. But then, halfway through, Bong pulls a master sleight of hand and suddenly the story we thought we were watching goes one level deeper, becoming a literal representation of Jesus’ pronouncement that “you will always have the poor among you.” The Parks’ obliviousness at the life of ease they take for granted and the Kims’ desires for the trappings of wealth show capitalism as an idol built on a rotting foundation. Parasite reminds us that as long as society is based on ownership over generosity of spirit, there will always be “haves” and “have nots.” (Abby Olcese)


Old Testament prophets held a mirror to society, reflecting the ways God’s people had strayed from the path. In Us, the prophets are doppelgangers—mirror images of the people they’re calling to righteousness. An affluent family of four settles in at their vacation home for a few days of leisure, only to be interrupted by a nighttime visit from another family of four wearing red jumpsuits, but otherwise looking eerily the same. “It’s us,” the boy in the first family gasps. What follows is a deranged and violent social thriller from the mind of writer-director Jordan Peele (Get Out). Us left some audiences befuddled, but if you follow the clues related to consumerism and keep in mind the frequent references to Jeremiah 11:11, you’ll recognize a call to turn from a life of material luxury that comes at the cost of others. (Josh Larsen)

Topics: Movies