Staff Picks: Favorite Films of 2019 at AFS Cinema

(Still from CHAN IS MISSING) 

It’s been an incredible year for film and as 2019 comes to a close, we wanted to look back at some of the favorite films that screened at the AFS Cinema during the past twelve months. We showed over 400 films this year—ranging from new to newly restored, cult to classic—so there is plenty to choose from. For our end of year wrap up, we asked the AFS staff about which films struck them the most this past year and why.


Ellie Kotapish, Development Manager


A movie I saw really early in the year, and I am still eating way too many noodles since watching this at AFS Cinema. Such an emotional movie with outstanding performances.


This was a community experience. The whole theater was laughing, and the Q&A after with Lulu Wang was such a treat!


Such an honor to have Agnieszka Holland visit us at AFS and present this spectacular film. So funny despite the backdrop of an infamous time in European history.


Cassie Craig, Austin Studios Coordinator


This moving film was the perfect mixture of heart-warming and funny. A touching story with excellent writing and acting. You leave this movie feeling warm and fuzzy. Shia Labeouf and Zack Gottsagen are an awesome pair. 


Probably my favorite movie I saw all year long. HILARIOUS and SHOCKING. You really don’t know what is coming next in this movie. Every twist and turn is funnier than the last. The first documentary I have ever seen structured like this – when it begins, you really have no idea where it will end up going.


Yolanda Gamble, Youth Media Specialist


Jewels in the Wasteland continues to be one of my favorite AFS series. It’s always full of gems and this year I watched CHAN IS MISSING. I first heard about it on a podcast and was searching for this film, it’s known to be difficult to come by and I was thrilled to discover that Richard Linklater selected it for this series. It’s filled with great characters and I was smiling ear to ear while watching it! 


The film was mesmerizing and learning about the indigenous Wayuu culture in Colombia framed around one family’s story was compelling. The costuming and setting are a total feast for the eyes. 


This. Film. Director Bong Joon-ho continues to captivate through his layered storytelling that speaks volumes to modern culture and elitism. He does it with humor, love, fear, and every other human emotion and it took me on a crazy ride! 

HAUSU (1977)

I still can’t believe I had never seen this movie before! I heard about the wackiness of this film, but it was definitely something I needed to see for myself! I’m glad I did. 


Lisa Dreyer, Programming Coordinator

THE QUEEN (1968)

This beautiful restoration of the rare documentary covering the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant was such a highlight of my year in film. An amazing snapshot of early drag culture in NYC, with a scene-stealing Crystal LaBeija (who later starred in PARIS IS BURNING) showing us she was already ICONIC in the 60s. Live performances by local drag legends Mandy Quinn and Colleen DeForest before the film made this a night to remember at AFS. 

FLAMING CREATURES with Contrast Fest (1963)

Guest programmers for our monthly Homo Arigato series, Tish Sparks and Jeremy Stilb have brought Contrast Fest, their festival featuring boundary-pushing film to AFS Cinema for two years now. Their screening of the previously banned and rarely screened FLAMING CREATURES, paired with a live score from Austin’s own Thor & Friends was transcendent. 


Great example of a film that must be seen on the big screen to fully appreciate—a burning palm tree makes a lot more impact at 10 feet tall rather than 10 inches. Director Nina Menkes makes real ART that is beautiful and boundary-breaking, and her calling in after the screening to share her filmmaking philosophy with the AFS audience was illuminating and inspiring.


Martin Jones, Austin Studios Director


A glorious exploration into the amazing world that helps sustain our very existence. We trample upon these amazing bionetworks, and we eat its delicious fruit—MUSHROOMS. The amazing contribution fungi make to our daily lives, the mysteries and healing deeply embedded are revealed in this glorious film. I have never cried tears of joy watching a science documentary until now. This is a delightful must-see film!


Taylor Whritner, Executive Assistant


My first (and favorite) film of the year. Yet another gift from Kore-eda that left me equal parts hopeful and devastated.

PAHOKEE (2018)

An absolute masterpiece of observational documentary filmmaking! See it as soon as you have the chance.


Not a new one for me, but it was a treat to see it in a theater (and to learn what moments make an audience uncomfortably laugh)!

And of course, PARASITE (2019) and THE FAREWELL (2019), because they are perfect.


Chris Engberg, Austin Studios Manager


A bit of a “grail” for me personally to view in a theater, or really at all. Incredibly hard to find, especially in quality, this bizarre made-for-British-TV avant-garde dance troupe “biopic” features music and a brief appearance from Mark E. Smith, the leader my favorite band of all time: THE FALL (not to mention Glenn Branca, Bruce Gilbert, and more). Everyone called me nuts for going both nights and I get it. It’s not for everyone but it IS for me. Thank you, Lates!


From Richard Linklater’s series, this one is truly living up to the “Jewels In The Wasteland” moniker. I’d never heard of it before walking in and witnessing a criminally underseen, hard to find “jewel” of indie film. Track it down like it owes you $4000.


Hitting you over the head with commentary on the EU and fascism but still somehow knee-slappingly hilarious and inventive. This is my Forrest Gump.


Conner Smith, Development Coordinator

COLD WAR (2018)

One of my favorite films of the past few years. The music, the drama, the longing, and that ending! And all of that beauty in only an hour and a half. Such a masterpiece!

VAGABOND (1985) 

I had the chance to experience this treasure by Agnès Varda at the cinema as part of Richard Linklater’s Jewels in the Wasteland series. It was incredibly special to watch it by myself but then get to hear other peoples’ perspectives on the film in the discussion that followed.


The Homo Arigato series is one of my favorite at AFS, and I loved watching another beautiful screening on 35mm.  

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