Top Ten Films of 2019

I’ve been living in France since September, so I’ve seen both UK and France releases this year, which means that this list is properly dodgy, as there are films that would usually be in next year’s list (like Parasite, which doesn’t come out till February in the UK).  To not lose any in-between films, I’ve kept it to 2019 releases in either France or the United Kingdom.

Firstly, here is 20-11:

20. Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell)

19. Us (Jordan Peele)

18. The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)

17. Midsommar (Ari Aster)

16. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

15. The Edge (Barney Douglas)

14. Ad Astra (James Gray)

13. Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson)

12. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg)

11. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

  1. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)

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A skateboarding documentary, which like all the best documentaries it’s not really about the main subject matter.  The skateboarding acts as an aesthetic and a backdrop to stories on troubled youth, race, and toxic masculinity in places forgotten by the American establishment.  Where the film becomes something special is a gentle reveal of how much the director plays a part in the lives of the people on screen, and his own battles to get where he is now, thinking about the friends that made him.

  1. Parasite (Bong Joon Ho)

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This film is much higher on most people’s lists, and rightfully so, it is just about perfect.  I found love in other films from the year, however this is a masterful piece of work, even aside from the actual content of the movie.  It is a South Korean auteur picture that has managed to be marketed in the US, seen by huge audiences, which in itself is a hopeful thing.  The film is best seen without knowing a single thing about it, all you need to know is that you will be engrossed from start to finish.

  1. High Life (Claire Denis)

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Every year these lists are very personal, and the films that make it are usually ones that inspire me or shift my emotions in some way.  Claire Denis’ English language debut did both of those things, and it made me write THIS.

It is a space sex dungeon existential crisis orgasm and I fucking love it.

  1. A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick)

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The depth of this film is quite outstanding, telling the story of an Austrian farmer who refuses to fight in World War Two.  It asks questions about faith, resistance and protest without recognition, leading to a moving experience, and a mature ending.  Unsurprisingly it is ridiculously well shot, with wonderful Austrian countryside vistas, in a peaceful and mechanical setting.  Valerie Pachner as the left-behind wife Fani is one of my favourite performances of the year.

  1. Burning (Lee Chang – Dong)

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A transcendent work of fiction that works like a great novel does.  For a while it is a sort of love triangle movie, building to a stunning central scene, where the film changes completely to a noir-esque thriller.  You can take multiple interpretations from it, and I always enjoy it when an artform questions itself through technique, and metaphor, not being too concrete.  Steven Yeun’s performance as a massive smarmy bastard is great fun, amongst a film with endless meaning.

  1. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese)

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It is amazing that Scorsese even got this made, and it shows that he is still one of the greats, managing to pull a story this vast together.  Robert De Niro carries the film right through to the bitter end, the crushing phone call scene at the peak of it.  Joe Pesci’s performance is remarkable considering he’s hardly worked for twenty years, finding a character presentation in this film that is higher than being a simple gangster tough guy.   The film winds down to a profoundly sad ending, where Scorsese offers an idea about dying without epiphany – creating all this and it means nothing!

  1. Varda by Agnes (Agnes Varda)

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As a filmmaker and a human being Agnes Varda has given the world so much, and in this documentary, she reminds you of it all step by step.  She is giving lectures on her work, cutting to parts of her filmography, telling stories about her process.  The level of genius she has produced for the image and moving image is hard to comprehend, when you view the variety and sheer amount of work that she has done.  Every legendary artist should do this before they die.

  1. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach)

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Again, perhaps another perfect movie.  Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson disappear into these roles, moulding themselves around an excellent script that balances both sides of the argument in an honest way.  Johannson’s monologue on her initial meeting with divorce lawyer Laura Dern and Adam Driver singing ‘Being Alive’ are two of my favourite scenes of the year.

Full review HERE.

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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I’ve never quite a cinema experience like this, for a multitude of reasons, including my mental state and the person I was with.  Barry Jenkins is a sublime filmmaker, and this is a beautiful, heartbreaking adaptation of a James Baldwin novel that captures the essence of Baldwin’s writing.  The soundtrack from Nicholas Brittle is one of my favourites of all time, and I can’t listen to ‘agape’ without breaking down.  When the credits rolled, I was audibly blubbering.

One of the few things that I have written that isn’t actually bad HERE.

  1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

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This is a special film.  An entrancing rhythmic symphony of storytelling.  A tactile, physical, romantic, loving experience.  Meta, and intelligent in its nods to the original author of the book.  Gerwig imagines the story in a baseline gorgeous way, then adds subtilties that raise it to interesting high art.  I was falling off the Timothee Chalamet bandwagon slightly, but after this film, I am firmly back on it, some of the things he does with his face! And Saoirse Ronan as well is unbelievably adorable, and relatable in a role that she brings so much life to.  It is one of those films that I did not want to end, and I will be watching it continuously in the foreseeable future.

Wrote something about the film HERE.

Mid90s – Film Review

There are many reasons why smaller, independent movies are not marketed well, the two main ones being budget, and the obscurity of the film. This has not been a problem for Mid90s, all thanks to its writer and director Jonah Hill. The stardom of Hill has meant that he has been able to chat to the likes of Jimmy Fallon on late night American TV (and subsequent widespread YouTube audience) about his directorial debut, to really push the narrative of an actor learning from the masterful directors he has worked with. However this does not mean that his film isn’t a weird indie, it is, and it is actually quite mental.

The film stars Sunny Suljic as Stevie, a young teenager struggling to find his image under constant physical abuse from his older brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). He starts to hang out with a group of skaters, who are a small group of friends all with their own individual personalities, and issues. With these guys, Stevie gets a fast track through puberty, and he learns some truths about life.

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Jonah Hill is throwing everything in here, every kind of shot, cut, character motivation and music choice.  There is no single road that the film goes down, and it makes the film quite messy rather than artistic. For a majority of the runtime, it feels like a music video, and the soundtrack for the film must have forty tracks on it because the tune changes every scene.  It’s not a good music video either, I was expecting a rhythm between the action and the song choice, more connectivity with the beats and the skateboarding. After watching Minding the Gap a couple of weeks ago, where the skateboarding moments are stunning, Mid90s doesn’t come close to the melody that documentary has. It’s not all bad, some of the frantic cutting with the cycle of mixed songs works, particularly in a party scene where the edit is synchronised with the music. Most of it is jarring, and the biggest surprise of Mid90s is that it’s a scratchy independent movie, with rough edges and obvious signs that it is a first time director.  This is in complete contrast with Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut A Star is Born, which is a polished affair from a popular actor turned director, and honestly it’s difficult to decide which is the least obnoxious.  And that’s the thing, Mid90s is an unpleasant movie, without real drama or ideas to warrant its unpleasantness.

There are a few problematic moments in the film. We discover very early on that Stevie self-harms, in any way that he can, and this is where the film falls down.  There is no problem in having this is in cinema, but Hill is resting on it to guide the film and Stevie’s character, and it was too much after he had already established the abuse he receives from his brother.  A lot of the film is too much, where Hill is almost writing to one-up himself with each scene, putting his characters through pointless recurring pain. Another problematic moment is during an intimate scene between an older girl and Stevie, and it’s not because of the content but because of the choices Hill made.  He chose to cast a child who looks young for his age, and he chose to cast an attractive actress, and he chose to shoot a close-up of them kissing.  The ‘what if the roles were reversed’ argument is stupid, and there is a defence for Hill on that, because of the obvious sexual maturity differences in an older guy grooming a younger girl compared to an older girl grooming a younger guy.  It’s the idea of this stereotypically beautiful woman wanting to have sexual contact with a younger boy because he’s innocent that makes it uncomfortable, and it would have been acceptable if Hill hadn’t moulded the scene to be so overtly sexual.  The scene comes across as sleazy, and perverse, instead of the intended intention of showing a natural part of growing up.

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There is an interesting film in there somewhere – one of the skater’s Ray (Na-kel Smith) is a lovely character with something to say, but as soon as he says something Hill seems to forget about it and go back to his child getting drunk or being abused.  Much of the promotion in this film has included the bond between Hill and Suljic, but Hill sure does put him through some trauma.  Katherine Waterson as Stevie and Ian’s mother is the best part of the movie, and she is an extraordinary actor when used correctly.  Her character’s mystery of whether her kids’ problems are her fault is actually presented in a nuanced fashion, dissimilar to everything else in the film.  My instant reaction Mid90s was probably harsh because I’d much rather be in a world where filmmakers are making trickier things like this over safer efforts, there is just a lack of execution.  Hill has taken on the teachings of the great directors he’s worked for (Scorsese, Coen Brothers, Bennett Miller, etc), but perhaps he could have left out a few lessons.  The film is not funny, exciting, emotional or profound like it thinks it is, and although some of the coming of age stuff is fine, it’s not good enough to carry the other themes.  Mid90s is irritating, brash and unpoetic, which earns Hill respect for trying, but leads to a movie that is hard to enjoy.
Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?
No.  It’s rubbish.  I’m not even sure you can sell this to the skateboarder either, Hill sort of loses it as a motif about half-way through. Watch Minding the Gap instead, which is a far greater investigation into masculinity, race, abuse, and friendship with skateboarding at the centre.