Just as the sun continues to rise and fall, critics will continue to list their best films of the year…
Yes, here we are again, another year older but not a bit wiser, and I have the task of picking my top 10 favourite films of the year.
I’ve seen more films than ever this year, giving me a wider spread of the good, the bad and the ugly, and there’s been some VERY ugly, but we’re not here for that, this is about celebrating the good of 2019 cinema.
The same rules apply as the last few years: only films I’ve seen qualify, and they need to have been released in 2019 IN THE UK. There might be an entry or two that were released earlier in Stateside, but as long as they landed in Britain within 2019, they qualify, so let’s begin.
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story – Directed by Steve Sullivan
I think this may well be the first documentary I’ve included on these lists, and it very nearly made my Top 10 for its engrossing and loving portrait of an artist who perhaps wasn’t always appreciated. It’s a film with a big heart and more than a few gut punches along the way, Being Frank is simply (imagine a nasally voice) ‘Fantastic!’.
Little Women – Directed by Greta Gerwig
A late entry for the year, Little Women is a really special film celebrating life and love and the bonds of sisterhood.
Visually arresting as well as possessing an absorbing narrative and characters, Gerwig continues to be a much-sought after talent after back to back critical hits, we can only guess that this is the start of a truly special career.
Rocketman – Directed by Dexter Fletcher
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t ‘get’ Rocketman at first, go back and read my review if you don’t believe me, but it’s proved itself to be a rare film that I love more and more with each viewing. To this day, it’s the only film I’ve ever reappraised, and I did that within a week of seeing it, and a second viewing.
The truth is, I didn’t understand what Fletcher was trying to do on first viewing, didn’t appreciate it for what it was, but it all starts to make more sense the more I watch. I’ve since re-watched it again and that was what convinced me that it deserves to be here, for trying and succeeding in doing something different.
10. Sorry We Missed You – Directed by Ken Loach
It is a great regret of mine that I didn’t catch I, Daniel Blake when it was out in cinemas, in fact, I still haven’t watched it, to my shame, but I made a concerted effort to see this film upon release and I was so glad I did.
I think the best way I could describe SIMY is ‘harrowing’ in all the best ways possible. It builds a believable family unit and rips at your heart with each passing misfortune.
It might not have been a sweeping cinematic epic, but it has more emotion and heart than most films with ten times its budget, what Paul Lafferty and Ken Loach can do with the most dire of circumstances is magical, it doesn’t take advantage, it simply shows us what is going on day-to-day right under our noses and it’s deeply, deeply affecting.
9. Toy Story 4 – Directed by Josh Cooley
Jeez, talk about different ends of the spectrum. Yes, from the heart-wrenching to the heart-lifting (and honestly, still a little heartbreaking) we move onto Toy Story 4.
It’s forgivable to be wary of sequels to beloved franchises, especially ones past the natural being of a trilogy, so a fourth Toy Story sounded on the surface about as sound an idea as Pier Morgan’s mum coming off the Pill, but good God, why do we ever doubt Pixar?
You’d have thought we’d have learned our lesson, but apparently we had to learn it at least one more time, as Toy Story once again stole my heart.
I didn’t think we’d get close to the third, I was even questioning the necessity of a fourth, but now I have it I can’t imagine the franchise without it. It fully closes the circle, and answers the biggest lingering question of the franchise, job well done again Pixar, please stop making films that make me cry now.
8. Judy – Directed by Rupert Goold
In the realm of ‘films that really surprise you’, I don’t think any surprised me as thoroughly as Judy this year.
A film with surprising emotional depth, led by a powerhouse performance from a returning-to–form Renee Zellweger; it’s a portrayal of someone who has been ravaged by an uncaring system, yet continues to put on a brave face for her fans, to try and uphold the facade of glamour, until it can’t stand any longer.
I didn’t think this film would affect me the way it did, but it really does pack quite the punch.
7. Booksmart – Directed by Olivia Wilde
2019 was a bit of a mixed bag in many ways, no more so than in terms of comedy films, but there’s always one that stands above the rest, and this year it was Booksmart.
Whip-sharp and painfully accurate to its subject matter, this is a film that deserved a much bigger audience, it wowed critics upon arrival but struggled to find a foothold at the box office.
But those who missed out really missed something special; an experience that will ring extremely true to life for anyone who has experienced high school in the past ten years or so.
It really excels where a lot of comedies fail, focusing on its characters and their struggles, along with a killer script, it’s a real shame this film didn’t do better at the cinemas, but I have a feeling that it will gain a new life as a cult classic in a few years.
6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Directed by Quentin Tarantino
There are a few films in this list that a few of my regular readers should have seen coming from a mile away, and those who know of my long-standing admiration of QT also shouldn’t be surprised to find his latest offering here.
Not that I’ve included it for the sake of showing its director some love, no sir, OUATIH earns its place in this list on its own merits.
A sprawling, lovingly crafted love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood, there’s very little QT gets wrong in this film, from the call backs to long forgotten TV series (even going as far as editing Leo DiCaprio into footage of real life films and TV series) to its performances and pitch-perfect cinematography, all tied together with a final sequence that ranks up there with some of the best Tarantino has done.
As I said in my review, it isn’t Quentin’s best, but it’s still fantastic; a real lesson on how nostalgia is done, by mixing up the formula and bringing your own spin to it; especially when it’s so blatantly clear that the film was a labour of love, another rarity in the bottom-line focused industry.
The world of Hollywood will be a slightly bleaker place when he retires, that’s for sure.
5. Le Mans ’66 – Directed by James Mangold
I never really believed that I would enjoy a film about cars and racing as much as I enjoyed this one.
Even though I do drive, and I love driving, I’ve never really had an affinity for cars. As long as it has a working engine, four wheels and a CD player, it’s fine by me, but I’ll be damned if Le Mans ’66 didn’t make me care about its car.
Well, to be fair, I was more interested in its characters than its car, as well as it’s well-crafted narrative, but its main draw for me was the characters and how they were portrayed. We know full well the calibre of talent that Matt Damon and Christian Bale are, with Bale in particular stealing this film for me, but they showed once again here why they’re still as in demand as ever.
Couple that with some truly incredible cinematography and direction, especially in the tightly executed race scenes, and you have perhaps one of the best films about cars, and racing, ever.
4. Avengers: Endgame – Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
Well, I don’t think this will surprised anyone. In fact, my top four were fairly cut and dry from the off, it’s the previous six I struggled to get into a satisfying order.
Now officially the biggest film of all time, Endgame really needs no introduction or reasoning. It’s a behemoth, but it’s also a staggering achievement.
Following up Infinity War must have been no easy task, juggling with many possibilities and delivering a film which didn’t feel like a cop out after the previous films ending.
Its a three-hour film with the breezy feel of one an hour shorter, such is its ability to engage and keep a steady pace. It includes some of the greatest moments in the entire franchise, I can’t hear the word ‘portals’ without getting a shiver down my spine to this day, such is the effectiveness of its final act.
A brilliant signing off point for the franchise as a whole, it managed to wrap up the grand story that had been told for the past 11 years, while leaving the door open for other stories to continue, the MCU gravy train keeps on rolling, but I fear this might have been its peak.
3. Eighth Grade – Directed by Bo Burnham
For most of the year, this film held firm to my top spot for the year. Only to be derailed twice in quick succession later in the year.
A film that was released stateside last year, I was anticipating its UK release greatly, it being the directorial debut of Bo Burnham, one of this generations finest comedic minds, and even though it was released almost a year later here, it was well worth the wait in every way.
Burnham manages to capture what life is like for the youth of today, without ever patronising them, showing the struggles of their life that is unique to their generation, mostly in the way it shows their relationship with the internet.
Most films of this day and age don’t tend to know what to do about portraying the youths connection with the greater online world, but as a child of the first wave of internet kids, Burnham is well prepared, using the tool that once made him famous, YouTube, better than anyone has before him.
It’s not just about life online however, but the struggles of an anxious teenager, one that may well hit home with many, you get the feeling that its written from experience too, like Burnham is projecting his own struggles into this young girls life, hardly an easy thing to do when trying to also show the struggles of the opposite sex as well.
A human struggle is usually universal however, and that is the case here. Burnham makes a strong debut and gave me the first film of the year that I truly loved, and one that, like Booksmart before it, deserves a much bigger audience.
2. The Irishman – Directed by Martin Scorsese
I’ll be honest, choosing between the top two films was like choosing a favourite child; I love both of them so much. It could be argued that my number one pick (no prizes for guessing what it is) wouldn’t exist without the legacy of this films director, but a decision had to be made.
The Irishman is astounding, a real gem of cinema that shows the flame has not died out in Scorsese yet.
It’s not just the accomplishments of the director that catch the eye however, the de-ageing technology might be the best ever seen in a film, without the use of intrusive MoCap, all of the de-ageing was done by technical wizardry post-production, and it’s just like seeing the actors in their prime once again, such is the detail in the job.
The film is also tremendously acted, with three of Marty’s past collaborators returning to work with him, all three deliver fantastic performances. DeNiro is the titular Irishman, a cold Mafia-aligned killer, Joe Pesci comes out of retirement to deliver a barnstorming turn as Russell Bufalino, and AL Pacino rounds out the trinity with his show-stealing performance as Jimmy Hoffa, all three roll back the years to show us that there’s still life in them yet.
1. Joker – Directed by Todd Phillips
So, I’ll give Joker my ‘Film of the Year’ award and myself the ‘Most Obvious Choice’ award for picking it.
Only just narrowly edging out The Irishman to the title of my number one, Joker is a film that I feel will stick with me for many years to come.
I came out of it with the exact same feeling that I left Three Billboards last year, a feeling that I had seen something truly special, and wanting to watch it again and again. I saw it twice in the cinema, taking someone with me the second time around by way of an excuse of seeing it again, not that I needed one.
If you’d have told me five years ago that the guy who directed The Hangover trilogy would direct one of the most groundbreaking comic book films ever, I would have laughed in your face, but Joker really is that good, something that defies its label as ‘comic book movie’ and goes beyond that, into the realms of crime drama, tragedy and black comedy.
I said in the last entry that this film probably wouldn’t exist without Scorsese’s legacy, because it feels like the kind of film that he would have made in his prime, like some rabid mix of Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, somehow managing to capture the best of both films.
It received a lot of praise upon release from fans and critics alike, and it deserved every inch of it. Everything about it is perfect, from the grimy big city feel ripped straight from Taxi Driver, to the career-best performance by Joaquin Phoenix, a sure fire winner come awards season, and undisputed masterpiece of 2019, Joker is truly, truly special.