We’re halfway through the year, and what a whirlwind of stress and emotion it has been. From Game of Thrones to Avengers: Endgame and this week’s Dark Phoenix, 2019 is about the endings. All the speculation of new beginnings and the crushing drama of seeing character arcs end are emotionally exhausting.

However, the majority of the best movies thus far didn’t rest on the shoulders of what’s come before. They were fresh, unique and offered a lot of food for thought. Here are the best films 2019 has delivered thus far:


Kaitlyn Dever, left, and Beanie Feldstein play a pair of high school friends who are about to graduate in “Booksmart.”

1. Booksmart — Olivia Wilde’s teen comedy Booksmart is just too cool for school. It shows up on the film scene like the Fonz riding in on a Harley. It just revs that engine and you can’t help but pay attention. It’s a new classic in my book. Following a pair of high school students (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) on their last night before graduation, the film reconnects you with your youth and makes you fall in love with its fun characters. I laughed my butt off at all its jokes and truth. No film had me rewatching it more in my head than this one. The rest of the year has some fierce competition.


Keanu Reeves is back as John Wick in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.”

2. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum — The John Wick franchise achieves the impossible and finds ways to up the ante. It goes big without selling out or repeating what was done before. The action continues to impress. I don’t think anyone will forget the knife fight from the film. Keanu Reeves has truly reinvented himself and has me eager to see whatever he does next. He’s one of Hollywood’s ultimate badasses, and the John Wick movies are three of the best action movies ever.


Mads Mikkelsen stars as a pilot who is stranded when his plane crashes in "Arctic." 

3. Arctic — I am a sucker for survival films. I fantasize about the challenge quite often but never want to actually put myself through such a situation in real life, especially Arctic‘s. Starring Mads Mikkelsen in an incredibly nuanced performance, Arctic is a no-frills survival movie. It follows a super clever man who carefully thinks through his every decision. His routine and methods are fascinating to no end, and how the film chooses to reveal specific details about him is even more compelling. It’s a film that trusts its audience and allows them to pick up on the subtleties. It’s an interactive experience that’s one of the more human movies to have come out recently.


Mel Gibson in "Dragged Across Concrete."


Mel Gibson and Vince Vaugh in "Dragged Across Concrete." 

4. Dragged Across Concrete — Director S. Craig Zahler’s third feature film is absolutely brutal. His movies are not about putting a smile on your face. While they may make you laugh (Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn make a dynamite pairing as two suspended cops getting their hands dirty), the blood runs mighty thick. Zahler is all about getting a rise out of you. There are scenes that straight up drive you mad, but it’s a cinematic language unlike anything. It’s powerful stuff.


"Climax" centers on the members of a French dance troupe who drink LSD-spiked sangria. 

5. Climax — Gaspar Noe’s Climax is also pretty rough. It’s a hell-fueled, polarizing dance film about a bad drug trip. It hits all the different emotions, but above all, it leaves your mouth agape. It’s structured in a fashion that keeps you curious, and it pops with style. The camera work, the dance choreography and frightening imagery are mesmerizing.

Film Review - The Souvenir

This image released by A24 shows Tom Burke, right, and Honor Swinton Byrne in a scene from "The Souvenir."

6. The SouvenirThe Souvenir reads like a classic piece of literature. Anchored by exceptional performances from Honor Swinton Byrne and Tom Burke, this film is littered with intrigue. Its story seems so basic by focusing on a deteriorating relationship, but there’s enough subtext to keep you busy for days. Director Joanna Hogg uses all the tools of storytelling to a grand effect. When you see it, it doesn’t leave you.

7. High Life — Indie distributor A24 is killing it. Its films are not safe one bit, and High Life is the wildest film of 2019. In no other movie will you see the likes of Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche strapped to a multifunctional sex chair capable of things even Christian Grey would have nightmares about. It’s one of the most evocative, insane images you’ll ever see, and that’s not the foulest the film gets. If you can stomach it, it’s a religious experience to absorb.

8. Fast Color — Subtlety is the star of 2019. The best movies believe in it. Fast Color is a low-key sci-fi with ideas as big as any superhero movie, but it doesn’t depend on a $100 million budget to earn your keep. It presents wonderfully wrought characters and a lush world that beams with sincerity. It’s the superhero movie that fell under the radar. Seek it out straight away.

Honorable mentions: Avengers: Endgame, The Perfection, Pet Sematary, Long Shot and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on FreshFiction.tv and on RottenTomatoes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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