And so we’ve come to the end of another fine year of movies. And when I say “fine” I mean “fine”. It hasn’t been the best by any measure. And while thankfully we have the exciting triple header of Little Women, Uncut Gems and… uhh… Cats coming before the year is out, this Best Films of the Year list is our briefest ever. Rather than the usual full ranking of every film I saw, I’ve opted just to list the top 10, with a few honourable mentions.
If you’re interested in my full 2019 ranking I direct you over to my Letterboxd. And obviously that list will be updated once I’ve seen everything this season has had to offer. But, for now, enjoy.
Best musical: Yesterday (Dir: Danny Boyle)
Best movie for dads: The Irishman (Dir: Martin Scorsese)
Best movie for moms: The Souvenir (Dir: Joanna Hogg)
Best horror: Us (Dir: Jordan Peele)
Best animated film: Toy Story 4 (Dir: Josh Cooley)
Best blockbuster: Avengers: Endgame (Dir: Joe and Anthony Russo)
Worst film: Good Boys (Dir: Gene Stupnitsky)
Sometimes a great premise and a great pair of actors just click. It happens less than it used to, but a hard-to-fault studio comedy like Long Shot comes along once every few years and charms every lucky soul who watches it. Charlize Theron plays a potential progressive first female president, Seth Rogen is her childhood admirer turned speechwriter. They’re hardly an obvious match. But like the movie itself, some things just click.
Given that most films are made by men, it’s surprising there aren’t more really good films about close male friendship that isn’t based around cars, drinking or casual misogyny. Paddleton introduces us to two lovely but lonely neighbours in Mark Duplass and Ray Romano who bond over paddle and classic VHS kung-fu movies. Then terminal illness strikes and friendship becomes brotherhood. An outrageously moving grown-up drama with two of our finest quiet actors.
Ken Loach and Paul Laverty continue the political quest of I, Daniel Blake with another bleak vision of modern Britain. A delivery driver struggles to put food on the table dealing with a crowded work schedule and a lack of employee rights, while his wife buses around the city as a home visit nurse. There are, in Loach’s peerless style, moments of deeply rooted hope and humour. Yet ultimately this is a call to arms for the political left and the working classes, made all the more tragic after the results of last week’s General Election.
Dunkirk walked so 1917 could, literally, run. Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins mount an extraordinary technical experiment: a single-take World War 1 movie that sprints with two young soldiers through the trenches, across the battlefields, under showers of bullets and over heaps of corpses. Visceral doesn’t begin to describe it; it’s a stressful, nerve-rupturing watch, enhanced by a fantastic Thomas Newman score and a lead performance by George MacKay that has been under-praised.
Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with this lightning-in-a-bottle high school comedy powered on feminism and kindness. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever star as two unsociable seniors who decide to drop their study for one night and experience the party life. Hijinks ensue, they learn some valuable lessons about valuing themselves and yet it’s never even a tiny bit as sanctimonious as the premise sounds. The Superbad style teen empowerment movie a generation of girls deserved.
Bong Joon-Ho blends class warfare comedy with a Hitchcockian thriller to results Jordan Peele could only dream of. A working class family take a variety of jobs in a wealthy home and when they become a bit too comfortable, things start to get crazy. Raw and cerebral but meticulously crafted in a way American films struggle to ever be, it’s intensely commercial while maintaining the intelligence of a much more niche film. The entire cast are outstanding, but it’s Bong’s star that truly shines.
Joe Talbot’s drama is a haunting tribute to a city, to the faces that inhabit it and to the power of architecture to help us shape the stories of ourselves. Two young men essentially squat a beautiful Victorian house they grew up in, and fill it with love for San Francisco and admiration for black history. Their assumptions are challenged from different angles, as are the audience’s as we watch the friends (Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors) enter a cycle of creation and destruction. Minor in execution but colossal in impact.
There should be a movie like Knives Out every month of the year, and they should all gross $165m. It’s a lavish, heavily marketed, original studio movie so entertaining it’s hard to find anything to compare it to, but I suppose you could say it’s Get Out meets How To Get Away With Murder: a sharp, sassy, painfully current and stunningly opinionated genre exercise featuring some of the most charismatic actors alive at the top of their game. Rian Johnson has proven he knows how to play within the system but make stuff that works for all of us. Let’s put our trust in him for a few years.
I’m the last person who thought we needed another moody astronaut drama, but Ad Astra — a significant last-gasp 20th Century Fox release from director James Gray — somehow finds a new angle on the most overused environment in modern cinema: the great beyond. Brad Pitt plays an astronaut recruited to find his father, ‘space terrorist’ Tommy Lee Jones, galaxies away, but finds lessons about masculinity, fatherhood and human greed along the way. Gripping but poetic, this is where Terrence Malick and Alfonso Cuaron’s styles meet and become liveable.
The movies are great at telling a compelling love story: two people pulled together by a force that can be powerfully captured on film. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story tells the tale of a couple pushed apart. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as the Broadway-based parents of a young son who enter the nightmare realm of divorce law while desperately clinging onto the last shreds of warmth they still feel for each other. It’s a shockingly uplifting film; tapping into a strange and unspoken comfort that comes from the finality of divorce while highlighting the heartbreak of a destructing relationship. Driver bellows “Being Alive” and rips up the screen. Johansson inhabits a charge of independence she’s never exhibited before. Baumbach works from experience in a way that’s biased but never self-mythologising: Marriage Story isn’t his sad little divorce script; it’s a near-definitive depiction of how some partnerships just refuse to work.