2019 – Films of the year

Beginning my end of year series of posts with my annual film round up for no real reason. I don’t feel it’s been a great year for movies, I struggled to find ten I really rated, but I must confess I missed quite a few at the cinema that coulda been contenders. In the end though there are some great films in this list. So in no particular order, here they are:

The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos’s delightfully sordid, sweary account of Queen Anne and her competing favourites was as if Kathy Acker wrote an episode of Downton Abbey. It was also a reminder that the idealised version of Heritage Britain is a myth. And with Brexit we see the danger of that myth. But mostly it was a lot of fun, with three amazing performances from Colman, Stone and Wiesz.

Joker – a Scorsese love-fest with very direct nods to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, the best thing about Joker was that it acted as a reminder that moral ambiguity can be part of mainstream cinema. The subversion of the comic book genre was the perfect vehicle to do this. And of course, Phoenix’s performance and the steps dance is already part of the cinematic lexicon.

I Lost My Body – it wasn’t a great year for animation, and the Disney live action remakes were mostly a disaster zone, but this charming French Netflix movie was a delight. Beautifully drawn it tells the combined tale of Naoufel’s fledgling relationship with Gabrielle, and the journey of a severed hand across Paris to be reunited with its owner. Definitely the best severed hand odyssey film you’ll see.

Crawl – apparently this was Tarantino’s favourite film of the year, but don’t let that put you off. Sometimes you just want to go to the cinema and see a tense movie, well constructed. In this creature feature, alligators are coming to town when a Category 5 hurricane hits. Haley, conveniently a competitive swimmer, is trying to rescue her father, trapped in his basement. There is no subtext, it’s just alligators trying to eat you, but it’s a blast. As trash horror actor Mary Woronov put it, “I knew what was art and what was shit. But sometimes the shit was more interesting.”

Avengers: Endgame – as Game of Thrones evidenced, bringing multiple storylines to a satisfactory conclusion is not easy. The culmination of years of those end credit teasers delivered for all. It was not quite up to the standard of Infinity War, but it was the only big summer film to deliver.

If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins follow up to Moonlight was moving, angry, and absorbing. A love story set against all manner of institutional racism it was politics and humanity in a rich mix with a luscious soundtrack. But we all know what film won the Oscar. As someone put it on Twitter, If Beale Street Could Talk, Green Book would interrupt it.

Border – there was a decent clutch of films your accountant might classify as a “bit too weird for my tastes”: Under the Silver Lake and In Fabric are worth a watch. But my choice in this category is the Swedish tale of a customs agent who can smell emotions. She meets someone who shares her distinctive physical features and from this unrolls a modern take on Nordic fairy tales.

Booksmart – this film is perfect, from the moment we are dropped into the world of high school nerds Amy and Molly you immediately wonder why we haven’t seen characters like this before. Their cultural references, in-jokes and worldview are all authentic, and the film neatly plays with the high school movie cliches, veering towards them and taking just enough from them.

Midsommar – Ari Aster’s follow up to Hereditary was the best horror of the year, particularly when IT Chapter 2, and Pet Sematary disappointed. It slots effortlessly into that canon of movies about growing dread in perfect settings. What Aster manages so well is to ration the violence carefully so when it does occur in a graphic form, we feel the shock of the characters. Florence Pugh who was excellent in Lady Macbeth really cemented her position as one of the hottest talents around as the central character Dani, coping with family grief and a lousy boyfriend.

Knives Out – I love a murder mystery but they are almost impossible to realise without falling into absurd cliche. Rian Johnson’s smart movie embraces all the cliches, plays with them, flips some on their head, and still makes the overall conceit of a whodunnit work. The best fun I had at the cinema all year.

I may be getting old but I struggled to get through two films that have cropped up in a lot of end of year lists, namely Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and The Irishman. I get why people like them but I would prefer to see Crawl or Booksmart over either of these cinematic heavyweights. But as I mentioned, I don’t feel it’s been a great year for films. If 2019 was in my class I would be staring at it disapprovingly over my glasses and saying “I’m just disappointed”.

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