The Bay Area’s Favorite Movie Critic Names The Top Movies of 2019


In anticipation of Oscar night, Jan Wahl (KCBS radio, KRON4 TV and S.F. Examiner) names some of her favorite movies of 2019.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Unexpected would be another title for this film. It is not the gentle story of Mr. Rogers, the man who brought empathy, intelligence and joy to children’s television. We see the cynical side of human nature through the eyes of a magazine writer determined to find the dark side of Rogers, who seems to be able to live in grace with the anger and emotional pain around him. This film rises to a level Mr. Rogers himself would appreciate.


Three bright, ambitious women (Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie) find themselves in the poisonous world of sexual harassment and exploitation at Fox News. The man in charge (John Lithgow) is the nightmare that resonates to this day. Powerful, unforgettable filmmaking by Jay Roach, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Theron.

Downton Abbey

Once in a while a movie gets points for being enjoyable, lush and a good time. Though many tried to find fault with it, and others refused to see it thinking they needed the backstory of the TV series, they missed out on the joy of kicking back and letting story, characters, sets and costumes sweep them away on a wave of high-quality production values and escape.

Gay Chorus Deep South

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus goes to Mississippi, Alabama and other parts of the Deep South. These states had recently passed legislation against the LBGTQ community, but that is not the theme of this fine documentary. Through singing and performing in churches, the choir and the Southern citizens find forgiveness, compassion and love. The sequence when chorus members walk across the famous Selma Bridge is just one of the moments that make this an important, touching film and a reminder of the healing power of music.


Harriet Tubman’s story is remarkable. The woman herself deserved this kind of film long ago. Cynthia Erivo stars as the slave who becomes a slave leader, rescuing hundreds and risking her own life daily. It is a strong narrative that goes along with Hitchcock’s belief that one doesn’t need to show gruesome details for the audience to feel them. The luminous Janelle MonЗe steals the scene every time she appears, deserving of a Supporting Actress win, but this year Margot Robbie in Bombshell and Cho Yeo-Jeong in Parasite will be hard to beat. I hope Harriet finds its way to schools after its run.

Jojo Rabbit

When this satire was released, I warned people that if they had an issue with “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers, this was not the movie for them. The rest of us are still talking about the tale of a young boy in Nazi Germany who has Hitler as his imaginary friend. Taika Waititi directs and stars as Hitler, with truly grand character actors adding texture as the Third Reich tries desperately to hold on. While there are very serious moments in the film, it is audacious and highly original filmmaking.

Little Women

Many women grew up thinking they were Jo March, the heroine of the wonderful novel by Louisa May Alcott. Jo has stayed with me always, and Greta Gerwig has directed a film worthy of her. Though made many times in the past, this Little Women is modern, hip, faithful to the book and never reduced to sentimental cliches. Saoirse Ronan leads the strong cast.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

In a year loaded with good documentaries, this one stands out as entertaining, informative — one of the few movies I never wanted to see end. From the early days of sound to Star Wars and Saving Private Ryan, you will never hear films the same way again.

The Peanut Butter Falcon

Zack Gottsagen is, on screen and off screen, a young man with Down syndrome. This is no trick casting. He beautifully portrays an orphan determined to not only flee the assisted living facility where he lives but to become a wrestler. His road trip is worth taking, full of enjoyable characters and challenging situations. Gottsagen should win Supporting Actor gold, but has to go up against Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), John Lithgow (Bombshell) and Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit). Still, a milestone performance and a heartfelt story.


Creativity stars in this imaginative movie about a young man who wakes up one day to find that nobody has ever heard of the Beatles. The world discovers the band’s music and lyrics by listening to this unknown musician, who brings the Beatles to life by becoming them. It sounds bizarre, but it’s told with charm and humor.

Some films just don’t make it to the Oscars no matter how great they are. Check out Jan’s article on Oscar misses here.

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Jan WahlJan Wahl is a lifelong movie buff as well as a producer, director, TV and radio broadcaster, and showbiz historian. She has won two Emmy Awards, is a longtime active member of The Directors Guild of America and reviews movies for KCBS All News Radio and KRON TV. Jan gives lectures on international cruises and throughout the Bay Area. She also teaches classes on Critical Thinking of the Mass Media as well as Hollywood History. A resident of Marin County, Jan lives with her husband and two dogs, Duke and Ella.