My Top 10 Films of 2019
It's crazy to think that we're at the end of another year, and even crazier to think we're at the end of another decade. And with the end of every year comes that age-old question all us movie buffs seem to ponder every single year. And this year seems to stand out as a year with a pretty impressive set of movies. I started writing this list at the start of December and since then it's reshuffled almost every day, I've really struggled to pinpoint a conclusive top 10, but I think I've finally got there. So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2019.
10. A Hidden Life
Terrance Malick is a director who hasn't really made a film that's struck a chord with me since 2011's "The Tree of Life", everything he's made since then has been fairly okay and pretty forgettable with the exception of this film. "A Hidden Life" sees a return to great form for Mallick with possibly the most touching a heartfelt film of his entire filmography.
"A Hidden Life" tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter a peasant Austrian farmer who is faced with charges of treason for refusing to fight for the Nazis in the second world war.
Malick's direction paired with Jörg Widmer's cinematography and music by James Newton Howard makes for a depiction of wartime Austria feel like a dream or a faded memory. An utterly jaw-dropping experience that needs to be witnessed on the big screen to be fully appreciated.
With her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde has turned in a hilarious and poignant end-of-high-school caper that deserves its place in the teen movie Hall of Fame. Wilde takes bold risks throughout that succeed in making this a true comedy masterpiece, embracing those last moments before life changes and you’re thrust into the real world that not even high-achievers Molly and Amy are prepared for.
Starring Beanie Feldstein (aka Jonah Hill’s little sister) as Molly and relative newcomer Kaitlyn Dever as Amy, the pair are on a mission to live it up before they graduate high school because it turns out they spent so much time studying that they forgot to be teenagers.
In short, Booksmart’s female-driven, celebratory narrative gives it a sensibility that feels all too familiar and the addition of such a diverse array of characters shows how the film industry really is evolving in the ways in which we depict diverse identities. It fits in well with Eighth Grade and Ladybird, which both point towards a new direction for the coming-of-age film, but Booksmart is queerer and richer in diversity and female-centredness than anything in recent years and I dig it.
8. Pain and Glory
Making an autobiographical film about your own life can be a tricky task. Get it wrong and it comes across as a self-absorbed exercise in navel-gazing. But get it right and you have something wonderful, like Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory.
Set in Spain, this film centers on the "fictional" life of Salvador Mello. Through a series of flashbacks, Almodovar (for whom this film operates as a thinly veiled semi-autobiographical drama) fleshes out Salvador's formative years at the hands of his impoverished mother (played by Penelope Cruz), his absent father, and the sexual awakenings of the house help.
Fast forward to the present and Salvador is now a successful but creatively stifled film-maker, who suffers from numerous ailments and is struggling to unite his past with the present. But through a series of coincidental reconnections, his past is thrust upon him.
There is a hint of Fellini's 8 1/2 or even Cuaron's more recent Roma in the self-confessional nature of Almodovar's sideways glance at his own life and the people who influenced him.
Almodovar collaborator Antonio Banderas gives an exceptionally soul-searching performance as Salvador, one of intensely focused restraint as an internalized individual who ruminates on his past life like a long lost memory.
Pain and Glory is still a visually compelling work with a rich color palette and some subtle formal flourishes that are jawdroppingly beautiful. Certainly, Pain and Glory's thought-provoking final shot will have your post-viewing tongues wagging while you sip on your Tempranillo.
7. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Right up there with Tarantino’s finest work. "Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" is a heartfelt celebration of everything that’s magical about the movies as well as a brutal unearthing of everything disturbing concealed just beneath the surface of Tinseltown.
Set in Los Angeles over a couple of days in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a wild cinematic commentary of a moment in pop culture when everything changed and nothing changed at all. In the same way "Inglourious Basterds" deploys a twisted fairy tale structure to serve up an alternate version of historical events where the victims come out on top as the victors.
The movie has an elegiac quality, it’s filled with passionate feeling about the fleeting nature of life and accepting your time at the top doesn't last forever. If Tarantino really does plan to retire after his next film. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is one hell of a way to kick off his farewell tour.
6. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is an exquisite period piece about love between headstrong women in 18th century France, the relatively free life that artist Marianne enjoys sets her apart from other women. She is beholden to no man, unlike her latest subject, Héloïse, Marianne is hired to paint her so her betrothed can check out his wife-to-be before they tie the knot in Italy. Héloïse, however, does not want to be painted because she does not want to be married. This may have something to do with the fact that her sister had once been engaged to the same man, but before they could finalize their marriage, she died under mysterious circumstances.
The relationship between artist and subject becomes a wonderfully insular female world, with the majority of the movie spent rattling around in an old castle and on rocky cliffs. Writer/director Céline Sciamma’s screenplay relies on great swaths of silence, while her expert eye creates a striking contrast between the intimacy of wild beaches and firelit nights alongside perfectly framed shots presented like paintings. Ultimately, this gorgeous, unforgettable film is about what happens when we’re brave enough to gaze at love, and it gazes back.
Inspired by stories told to him by his grandfather, who fought in World War I, director Sam Mendes takes the hugely ambitious task of designing the movie so it feels as if it consists of just two continuous shots.
Clearly a personal project for Mendes, who has a screenwriting credit for the first time in his career (co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairns), "1917" stands out in the war-story genre for its pristine execution from all departments: production design, costume, visual effects, score, and especially photography.
Shot by the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, marking his fourth time collaborating with Mendes, the movie has all the makings of becoming one that will define Deakins' storied career (and will most likely earn him a second Oscar to go with one for "Blade Runner 2049")
I can't stress enough that you should see this movie on the big screen. There is so much going on in the frame all the time that you want to feel fully immersed in it.
4. The Irishsman
In ”The Irishman”, Scorsese emphatically closes the door on the mob movie genre he redefined and more or less perfected. Returning to the working class perspective he favored in Mean Streets, the film offers a grittier take of life in the rackets than his more recent efforts, but all the themes are still there: loyalty, brotherhood, guilt, and the how much harder it is to rationalize our actions as we get older. It’s a grinding realization that whatever your deeds or intentions, death comes for all of us.
Even though “The Irishman” isn't Scorsese's last movie, it feels like a great swan song, and it would be both a fitting end to a decades-long cycle of gangster movies, and quite a high note on which to end a masterful career. Methodical, lyrical, and powerful, and to me it deserves every minute of its three-and-a-half hour running time.
3. The Lighthouse
It’s been almost four years since I first saw “The Witch“, writer/director Robert Eggers’ feature debut, and in that time I haven’t stopped thinking about it. It remains one of the most stunning and affecting cinematic debuts in decades and still to this day represents a new high point for the horror genre. It was so good, in fact, that following it up felt like too impossible a task.
Somehow, Eggers managed it with his sophomore effort, “The Lighthouse”. Quite simply one of the finest films I’ve seen this decade, Eggers has proven himself a filmmaker of singular vision, astounding focus, and superb instincts. “The Lighthouse” proves that Eggers is indeed one of the greatest auters working today.
There’s nothing that can prepare you for the crazy psychological journey Eggers leads you down and, quite frankly, nothing should. The less you know about “The Lighthouse” going into it the better. The twists, turns, shocks, and frights are truly more effective without any pre-context. Even after, you’ll find yourself unable to turn your back completely from the horrific truth, which will burrow its way deep into your subconscious and make itself at home.
2. Uncut Gems
Putting aside his cheap comedies, most cinephiles know that, if given the chance with a decent script, Sandler sits quite comfortably up there with the best actors working today. He proved it in Paul Thomas Anderson’s indisputably great “Punch-Drunk Love,” and again in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories.” But you better get ready for his performance in The Safdie Brothers’ “Uncut Gems.” This is Sandler at, not only his best, but his rawest. He’s a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.
Sandler’s Howard Ratner, a loud wheeler-dealer in New York’s diamond district who also happens to be a compulsive gambler and cheat.
Deep in debt and being threatened on a daily basis, Howard has acquired a precious rock dug up in Ethiopia. It’s a sight to see, thousands of carats and worth close to a million dollars. His plan is to auction it off and use the money to pay off his gambling debt. However, against his better instincts, Howard decides to lend the gem to basketball star Kevin Garnett, who perceives it as a good luck charm. Ratner gets Garnette’s championship ring as collateral, but this misjudgment sets in motion no end of crises and misfortune for Howard.
Here the Safdies have managed to create a fascinating, lived-in world etched in varied backgrounds. Paired with Darius Khondji’s incredible cinema-verité cinematography. The grimy poetry of their 2017 thriller “Good Time” is again on display, but the adrenaline is cranked up to maximum. Their gift for creating atmospheric tension, not to mention a crime world that feels all-too-realistic, is enhanced ten-fold with this latest endeavour on the mean streets of New York City.
It’s not often that a film outside of the English language attracts serious Oscar buzz. Recent years have seen the likes of “Amour” and “Roma” catch the eye of the Academy, but neither felt as immediately incendiary as “Parasite”, the latest film from Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho.
“Parasite” is a far cry from the traditional drama of those other films and sits as a bizarre, uncategorisable genre hybrid. There’s class war comedy, psychological horror and elements of nail-biting crime thriller before the credits roll, and the result is a bouillabaisse of tones which come together to form something delightfully odd.
With films like “Memories of Murder”, “Mother” and “Snowpiercer” under his belt, Bong Joon-Ho has shown himself to be a master of creating art in the world of genre. Parasite is the latest example of that deft touch and it’s one made with consummate style and a series of unforgettable images. Its horror lingers in the memory, for sure, but it’s the intricately crafted and universal social commentary that truly resonates in our modern times.
I hope you enjoyed reading my full list of top 10 films of 2019! If you liked the content and want to see more stuff like this then consider picking up some merch from my store, it goes a long way towards supporting this page and really encourages me to make more content like this. Thank you!