What an extraordinary year in cinema 2019 has been. A year of climax and anticlimax. Immense cinematic universes collided at the box office, with Disney’s grip on the charts unfailing. Fortunately the independent scene is as vibrant as ever with highlights coming from all over the world.
It has been a year of outrage and debate. Marvel brought its enormous third phase to a dramatic close, as Martin Scorsese questioned their cinematic worth. The streaming debate continues as many of the films best films are distributed by Netflix and Amazon. Critics and fans once again find themselves on opposite sides concerning Star Wars. Undeniably cinema faces an important and exciting new decade.
So whilst I’ve still a few of the bigger films of the year to catch up with (notably Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Ema, Rocketman, 1917, and Bait) it is time to reflect on the year past and chose the very best films it had to offer.
Here are thirty wonderful films I would urge you all to experience!
Bizarre sci-fi thrills in Benson and Moorhead’s atmospheric mystery film. A pair of paramedics are called to a series of drug-related casualties and start noticing oddities and alarming behaviour that points towards the unbelievable truth behind this new designer drug; it quite literally takes you places. Benson and Moorhead and delivered another truly unpredictable and delightful genre thriller with a focus on compelling characters.
29. The Lego Movie 2
More surprisingly clever colourful fun as Emmett and the gang find themselves at war with the strange beings of the Sistar system. Building upon the ingenious narrative duality of the first part, The Lego Movie 2 tells a story of sibling relations and the importance of good communication almost entirely through subtext. It’s a bright and funny family adventure film that proves there is still some fun to be had with this franchise.
28. The Death of Dick Long
A note perfect black comedy that balances the absurd with the tragic with delightful effect. Dick Long has died under strange circumstances. His friends are racing to distance themselves from the incident which involves a secret that will tear their lives apart. It’s funny, it’s tense, it’s more than a little grotesque, this is one of the most unique films you’ll see this year.
27. Bad Education
Hugh Jackman and Allison Janey are caught in a tightening trap in this claustrophobic crime movie about school administrators stealing public money and the student journalists who uncover the scandal.
The Wicker Man in technicolor! Ari Aster delivers more sinister, character driven thrills as a traumatised young woman is taken in by a murderous cult.
A bleak but strikingly beautiful wartime drama in which the humanity of its characters is strained by tragedy and circumstance. A good natured but epileptic young woman is abused by her long suffering army friend. A powerful portrayal of lives scrambling to recover from war.
24. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Tarantino’s latest is a vivid love letter to the Hollywood of the 1960s. It’s hardly new territory for Tarantino and its unfortunate to see him sideline his female lead, but it’s an absorbing and passionate monument.
23. I Lost My Body
Animated French Fantasy in which a disembodied hand travels across a bustling city to find its body, encountering a hostile yet beautiful world along the way as well as recalling its storied past. A tender and profound mediation on young life.
22. Greener Grass
A truly unique surreal comedy about suburban comedy that feels complete fresh. It’s hilarious, insightful and even gorgeous in a horrible way.
21. Fanny Lye Deliver’d
Pastoral thrills as a young couple on the run in 17th century England take refuge with a puritan couple. It’s a tense showdown of ideologies and character that slowly builds to a thrilling climax.
20. The Two Popes
A tender character piece in which conservative Pope Benedict tries to convince his eventual successor to run for the hallowed position. Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce give masterful performances. Their complex relationship is as compelling as the premise is fascinating.
19. John Wick 3
Still at the top of the action game, John Wick blasts and grapples his way through another blistering edition of a franchise that prioritises real stunts, excellent choreography and a uniquely camp humour.
18. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Tom Hanks channels the gentle television giant in a film that is at once elegiac and very pressing in its relevance to modern discussions about mental health. It’s as charming and important as Mr Rogers himself.
17. Toy Story 4
The toys return in an endearing fourth entry that more than justifies it’s existence with a charming tale of life after kids and finding one’s purpose. It’s stirring, colourful and sweet just as you’d expect from a Toy Story.
16. Weathering With You
Characteristically spirited animation from Mikoto Shinkai, concerning a young runaway who meets a woman who can control the weather. A whimsically entertaining yet provocative Tokyo fairy tale.
Jordan Peele’s latest horror film is more ambitious and enigmatic than Get Out. It’s a bizarre work featuring doppelgangers, underground worlds and defunct 80s goodwill campaigns. Its thrilling, brutal and still darkly funny.
14. Avengers Endgame
Marvel draws it’s first three phases to a close with a film that actually feels climactic. It also takes it’s time more than Infinity War allowing greater emotional resonance with its twists and revelations. It’s a love letter to the legacy of Marvel and a hugely entertaining blockbuster.
13. The Souvenir
Director Joanna Hogg reflects on a destructive relationship in her early life. It’s a morose but very relatable film driven by strong performances and a feel for the natural rhythm of life.
Stunningly filmed voyage into the wilderness as a group of child soldiers try to grow up amidst the brutal but absurd realities of warfare. Mica Levi’s score perfectly emphasises the sense of innocence lost in the wilds.
11. The Personal History of David Copperfield
Armando Ianucci and his wonderful star-studded cast bring Dickens most endearing work to life with innovation, humour and style. The kind of film that makes you smile throughout and with an ever pertinent message about class and shared humanity.
10. Jojo Rabbit
A bittersweet dark comedy about childhood under fascism. Using a ridiculous concept and light-hearted tone, Taika Watiti is able to make a film about the Nazis that is both absurd and tragic. It’s a perfect satire and a very entertaining comedy drama.
An intense and intelligent drama about a young man pushed to breaking point by high expectations and a holistic look at violence and it’s consequences. It’s also a beautiful tale of forgiveness and it’s cost.
08. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s affectionate adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic book focusses on the compelling characters and the gorgeous but troubled world they inhabit. Remarkable performances throughout ensure this film is engrossing and thoroughly charming.
07. Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical rumination on memory, legacy and addiction is ambitious and deeply moving. Anthonio Bandaras is at his best as he navigates ex-lovers, drugs, old rivalries and painfully poignant memories of the beautiful heat-kissed land of his childhood.
A coming of age story that is clever, insightful and just a little sleazy. Absolutely defined by it’s two charismatic leads and their endearing chemistry, Booksmart is joyful and hilarious.
05. Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s marvellous whodunnit features an excellent cast of character actors entangled in a brilliantly paced plot which thrills but never neglects the emotional consequences of each twist.
04. The Lighthouse
Claustrophobic gothic terror from Robert Eggers. It’s a beautifully realised, tale of madness as two men are trapped in a lighthouse together. Haunting performances, a dark sense of humour and some of the most provocative imagery of the year make this an absolutely captivating watch.
03. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach returns to the subject of divorce in a soulful mediation on the process of separation, both practical and emotional. The opening montage alone distinguishes this as one of the best character studies of the year, with extraordinary performances throughout the cast but especially from Adam Driver and Scarlet Johanson.
Bong Joon Ho crafts a masterful drama that presents a literal class warfare that is poignant and captivating. It’s storytelling bravado as the audience is gradually pulled into a web of deceit and desperation to which there are no easy answers. An extraordinary satire and a brilliant thriller.
01. The Farewell
A morose comedy drama film that focusses on family and cultural difference. Exploring Chinese traditions and practices in a way that feels authentic and nuanced, The Farewell poses hard questions naturally and sensitively. With a hopefully star making turn from Awkwafina, it’s a genuinely funny film about family and a truly affecting film about compassion.