Film is the great liberator. It frees us from our physical state of embodied inertia. It is the emancipation of consciousness. And, as En Vogue so rightly concluded, once you have achieved this conscious freedom, the rest will follow.
We asked our cinema-going cast of contributors to free their minds and list their favourite films of the year – not necessarily the best, if there is such a thing – more so what rocked their boat in 2019.
Dragged Across Concrete
Despite the lengthy running time and the drawn-out scenes, this is a tense and gripping crime film with Mel Gibson reminding us why he was once such a sought after leading man. He’s well supported by a strong ensemble cast, particularly Vince Vaughn and Tory Kittles. There’s a contradictory nature and tone to this film that ends up working in its favour. Dragged Across Concrete feels like a throwback to the kind of gritty films you see less of nowadays yet in breaking some classic screenwriting rules, writer/director Craig Zahler has created something fresh and is definitely a talent to keep an eye on.
This is a great little sleeper film, which boasts an inspiring performance from young Elsie Fisher. She plays an anxiety-ridden teenager trying to survive her last week of eighth grade before leaving for high school. Most people will be able to relate to her plight in some way. Fisher really deserved an Oscar nod for this and Josh Hamilton is also great as her bewildering but well-meaning father.
Sorry We Missed You
Sorry We Missed You and I, Daniel Blake would make a great double bill for all the family to gather round the fire and enjoy after dinner on Christmas day…said no one ever! In all seriousness, this is an important film that works very much on its own terms with Ken Loach shining a light on the evil of zero hour working contracts. If you watch the film, evil will not seem like an overdramatic description either. The antagonist here makes most Marvel villains look like non-entities. Sorry We Missed You is Ken Loach at his best and we should treasure him while we have him.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Praised by many and rejected by many others for not being the film they wanted to see, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, in my view, works very well for what it is. Featuring two great performances, it’s entertaining throughout and also surprisingly touching in certain ways. Tarantino is one of the few directors left who has the freedom to make the exact film he wants and he certainly makes the most of that chance.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Although it was criminally under-released in this country, only the most cynical will fail to enjoy and be moved by this buddy movie. Zack Gottsagen plays a young man with Down syndrome, who flees a residential care centre to follow his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. It’s not long before he’s hooked up with an on the lam, Shia LaBeouf. Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church and Dakota Johnson provide great support but the film belongs to the leading duo. Gottsagen’s performance is touching and memorable while LaBeouf reminds viewers that he’s capable of being known as more than just the star of the Transformers movies or for wearing a bag over his head at film premieres. He’s terrific. Try not to enjoy The Peanut Butter Falcon. I dare you.
Essentially a road-trip movie with a slight twist.The reason this film made it into my top five was entirely due to Viggo Mortensen who played the role of Tony Lip with commitment and total authenticity.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Not one footfall or stolen glance is out of place in this utterly mesmerising film. It proceeds slowly and effortlessly in tempo with a beating heart, yielding to an unmovable force of desire. Exquisite and hypnotic.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Absolutely stunning all the way. The attention to detail was staggering and the visual experience was one of total immersion in the narrative. Pitt and DiCaprio gave stellar performances – quite possibly a career best for both. Margot Robbie as the trusting and ethereal Sharon Tate was outstanding. Downside? Practically none except for the fact that Tarantino should know when to quit. The running time was too long and it showed.
Mendes has outdone himself with one of the best war movies I have ever seen. He made great usage of shots in the trenches by combining their seeming maze-like twists and turns with skilful lengthy takes – no easy feat but one which resonates when accomplished with such expertise. Not since Russian Ark, (2002, Dir. Alexander Sokurov) has such artful choreography been combined with the difficult-to-pull-off continuous take. Mendes accomplishes this with insouciant mastery.
In my humble opinion, the best film Martin Scorsese has ever made and should be counted as one of the most remarkable movies of all time.
A massive turkey award along with free giblets (I preferred the giblets!)
The Good Liar
So bad, I’ve applied to be reincarnated as a turkey that insists on celebrating Christmas every single month of the year. At least I’ll have less time to hang around before being put out of my misery. I guessed the plot within five minutes of the opening credits and it all went horribly partridge-in-a-pear-shaped-tree after that. Mirren simpered. McKellen leered. Both activities reeked of insincerity. The chemistry between the two was akin to witnessing someone vomit beside you on the last DART home. The only reason I didn’t leave was because I’d paid for the darn ticket but still, lancing my own boils would have been preferable to watching this drivel. Absolutely awful. My eyes have been on bedrest since and I only broke out to write this review.
The best depiction of being a teenager, ever. Bold, beautiful, brutal and bombastic it signals bright, long-lasting careers for writer-director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fisher. A warm, gorgeous film that bowled me over with its empathy and compassion. See it.
A social drama Ken Loach would be proud of. A thriller Hitchcock would praise to the heavens. Burning is a compelling film that never lets up in its unease and uncertainty. Steven Yeun’s performance still gives me chills. I’ll never think about yawns, greenhouses or wells the same way again. A Korean masterpiece.
John Wick 3: Parabellum
Impeccable. Action filmmaking of the highest calibre that treats itself with all of the necessary self-seriousness until it decides to wink at just the right moment. Employing every kind of action set-piece known to man and dialling them up to 11 director Chad Stahelski puts Keanu Reeves’ Wick through his paces all while genuflecting to his wide variety of influences.
Dragged Across Concrete
Viciously mean but never unsentimental with complicated performances and a script that never cheapens its characters even for the sake of a good splatter kill. S. Craig Zahler is the Guinness of genre filmmaking: beloved by the wise, hated by fools.
Easily the funniest movie this year. Crass in all the right ways without ever punching down. A celebration of friendship and sisterhood while finding time to explore just how much the American high-school comedy has changed. Booksmart is perfectly cast but Billie Lourd as an effervescent party fairy is the best supporting turn this year.
A film that shows what Michael Bay can do without studio notes. He shoots action with a wrecking ball and cuts it with a rusty saw. The politics, story and morality are as deplorable as Bush era propaganda. A truly dreadful piece of work with scarcely any redeeming qualities beyond its colour correction and two above the board action sequences.
I have always had a big issue with the “nice guy best friend” trope in horror films. Exemplified most disturbingly in David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 It Follows, Rob Grant’s quirky black comedy Harpoon is a laceration on the nice guy trope exposing him as a creepy little miscreant who lurks in the shadows and peaks in windows rubbing his grubby little hands together until the jock screws up one to many times and forces his beloved into the waiting arms of her stalker. Employing one of my favourite narrative devices, the beautifully acerbic voice of God narrator, Harpoon tells the story of three late teen/twenty something stock characters: the rich jock, the dweeb best friend and the daisy jukes wearing girlfriend of the Jock. Embroiled in a toxic ménage trois, they all decide the best way to settle the growing animosity between them is to take a day trip on the jock’s family yacht. Supported by some extremely interesting and unexpected character arcs, things quickly turn south for Jonah (Munro Chambers), Richard (Christopher Gray) and Sasha (Emily Tyra) on the pleasure cruise as pitch black humour book ends what is ultimately a horrific lost at sea tale peppered with sexual violence, dark secrets and psychosis. And of course, it wouldn’t be a lost at sea tale without a good dose of cannibalism.
Ready or Not
As 2019 comes to a close, there may be light at the end of the tunnel with American politics as impeachment looms. Yet, the unnerving feeling that such political pageantry is simply window dressing as America’s richest families will continue to rule behind the scenes as their power and entitlement grows. Its these very issues which are tackled head-on in Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett invigorating and fresh slasher Ready or Not, as the rot at the heart of America’s 1% is slashed wide open exposing copious amounts of blood and gore. Featuring Samara Weaving as the reluctant “final bride,” she rips, tears and slays her way out of her ill-advised and rushed marriage to “poor little rich boy” and “nice guy” Alex (Mark O’Brien) estranged son of the Domas dynasty. Though highly comical in parts, Ready or Not is an extremely intelligent slasher in which Adam Wingard’s You’re Next meets the Illuminati attending a wedding hosted by Mar-de-lago.
While the original saw an insatiable Marylin Chambers on a sex and blood fuelled rampage of Montreal, in the 2019 version a once struggling plain Jane neophyte is reborn as the dazzling fashion ingénue in an industry that extols beauty above all else. Following a horrific bike crash which leaves her facially disfigured, Rose (Laura Vandervoort) is reborn after a course of experimental stem cell procedures. Quickly Rose realises that to maintain her beauty and new found success she must give in to her cravings and seek out human blood. Though a bold move to remake one of Cronenberg’s most beloved cult classics, by definition directors Jen & Sylvia Soska (American Mary) are that – bold. And it’s this ballsey courage of conviction tempered with a scathing wit and genuine pathos which makes the twin duo’s remake of Rabid so intriguing especially for a new horde of body horror fans, making it their own while slashing faces of the selfie generation.
Once upon a Time in America
Shock horror – not a horror! Next on my list is as much a surprise to me as anybody. Quentin Tarantino’s tale of a fading Hollywood star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trailer-park sidekick and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is anything but original. Trading in Tarantino-esque absolutes, Rick is a hapless and charming alcoholic while Cliff a seedy rough diamond with heart of gold and a shadowy past. Blending fantasy and true life, Tarantino contextualises this bromance within the summer of ’69 as running parallel to Rich and Cliff’s antics are the heart-warming activities of Hollywood’s brightest young thing- Sharon Tate (Margot Robe.) Brimming with sunshine lollipops and rainbow, the audience rather nervously follows Sharon as the film edges closer to that doomed night of helter skelter on 8th August 1969. Deliberately provocative, darkly comic and teaming with unrestrained vice and viciousness, in his own unique style Tarantino portrays the demise of Flower Power in this darkly comic yet surprisingly touching re-imagining.
Ireland and its people have a very unique relationship with death and grieving. In the saddest moments respecting our late family and friends, we find laughter and genuine humour. We also are very comfortable with sending ourselves up, often as a means of cultural therapy and repair, We seek out the saddest and most poignant aspects of our lives and deplete the pain with laughter. In Extra Ordinary, grief, rural isolation and unrequited love are repackaged through the “medium” of Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) and presented to audiences as opportunities to laugh out loud at ourselves.
Following the lonely and prodigiously single Rose, whose fledgling driving instructor businesses hasn’t quite yet found its wings, through an extraordinary encounter about dead wives, she meets the love of her life and embarks upon an hilarious and rather viscous adventure to rescue young maidens from dark forces. To say nothing of the sheer joy brought to the screen by Higgins and her love interest widower Martin Martin played charmingly by Barry Ward, the belly laughs offered by this film will leave you chuckling for days every time you see a wheelie bin.
Hole in the Ground
Jordan Peele’s sophomore outing still had me debating whether it’s as good – or perhaps even better – than 2017’s chart-topping Get Out. Regardless, there’s plenty to chew on in relation to this chilling and thought-provoking doppelgänger horror-comedy that proved to be remarkably prescient for the United States in 2019.
Woman at War
What will film look like in the face of climate change? Benedikt Erlingsson’s comedy-drama gestures towards the possibilities – or perhaps necessities – that such a future will bring. Beginning as an exploration of its protagonist Halla’s (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) conflicting roles as mother or climate activist, Woman at War is a brave step towards collapsing the dichotomy between the two.
Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama follows the exploits of Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a film student struggling with a relationship while trying to find her voice in a masculine-dominated field. I was begging for the film to be over long before it was and I mean that as a compliment: devastating as it is understated, it is impossible not to feel Julie’s pain throughout.
Oh dear, another bleak entry! But the bleakness of William McGregor’s Gwen feels decidedly earned, powerfully demonstrating how poverty is compounded in the face of unrelenting greed. Following the hardship of a Welsh girl from a farming family in the mid-nineteenth century, the austere and unforgiving cinematography reflects the cruelties enacted in the name of the industrial revolution.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Xavier Neal-Burgin’s innovative documentary charts the history and influence of Black horror from Birth of the Nation to the present day via Night of the Living Dead and Blacula. Replete with fascinating interviews from directors, actors and academics, Horror Noire demonstrates how the history of horror in America is really the history of Black horror.
2019 was quite the year for sophomore features in many ways. While by no means the worst film of the year, Ari Astor’s M.O. of using mental illness as a vehicle to gross out his audience out doesn’t sit well with me. Turkey it is!
The Last Right
A road movie with generous side portions of both bromance and romantic comedy, and a light garnish of classic, eighties-style farce.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Ordinary Love is not a weighty morose film; it’s equal parts, happy, sad, beautiful, celebratory, miserable, joyous and well worth a watch.
Float Like a Butterfly
Float like a Butterfly is a gorgeous, warm, coming-of-age film set in the rural landscape of ‘70s West Cork.
The Hole in the Ground
A well-executed horror, elevated by the excellent performance of Seána Kerslake.
A fun, silly coming of age comedy that delivers crudeness and hilarity in equal measures.
Ciara Nora Creedon
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Defining a piece of creative work as a ‘masterpiece’ is becoming an increasingly common, and as such less meaningful, practise these days. But it is a label which is totally befitting of, and damn-close to demanded by, Robert Eggers’ long-awaited sophomore feature The Lighthouse. A terrific two-hander featuring titanic starring turns from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, this film is nothing short of extraordinary.
Like his good friend Eggers, Ari Aster followed up his critically acclaimed debut horror with something decidedly different. Equal parts disturbing and darkly funny, watching this on opening night in the Lighthouse Cinema was an electric experience.
I was lucky enough to watch The Nightingale when it premiered at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and the memory of the screening remains so vivid in my mind. I loved Jennifer Kent’s first film The Babadook (an excellent hangover cure, I might add), but didn’t know what to expect from her follow-up. Brutal, divisive and heart-wrenching, Ireland’s own Aisling Franciosi is magnetic in this highly powerful vengeance story.
I Lost My Body
Jérémy Clapin’s beautiful animated feature is one of the year’s sweetest releases. Following a severed hand’s dangerous quest through Paris in search of its owner, I Lost My Body is a profound and emotional story about growing up which could only be achieved through the medium of animation. Available to watch now on Netflix and would make for perfect Christmas viewing.
Rian Johnson’s latest is a riotous, Agatha Christie-inspired whodunnit which packs an all-star cast and a cracking screenplay loaded with twists. While this is by definition an ensemble piece, full of strong performances, Daniel Craig steals the show as the hilarious Southern detective Benoit Blanc. Comfortably the most fun I had in a cinema this year.
Christmas Turkey: Good Boys
In no particular order
A nightmarish slice of surreal fetishism. Peter Strickland’s film is able to lull you into a hypnotic state while at any minute threatening to bludgeon your brain with electric shocks. Impishly malevolent and bloody hilarious.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A dreamy tale of gaze-fuelled obsession. Lusciously composed and smouldering with aching desire, Céline Sciamma’s film beautifully captures a sense of mirrored pleasure.
Hole in the Ground
Tapping into every parent’s unconscious fears, Hole in the Ground scratches at your skin with its atmosphere and its hovering dread. Lee Cronin’s film benefits from its tight writing from himself and Stephen Shields, beautiful photography from Tom Comerford and whip-cracking editing from Colin Campbell – all anchored by Seana Kerslake’s pitch-perfect, paranoid performance.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
A stunning journey into the very soul of cinema itself. Bi Gan’s tale of a search for lost love is sensuously wrapped up in flickers of dreams and endless desires ever swooning between what is real and what is not.
Knife + Heart
A beautifully bonkers tale of murder, gimp masks and knife-studded dildos. This French psychotic thriller revels in subverting its kitsch, giallo-inspired sleazy tale of exploitation. Drenched in beautiful colours and a pulsating score, Yann Gonzalez’s second feature is a film to die for.
Middle-aged hipster wunderkid Baumbach shows his finest touch and sharpest edge in a film that will eventually be mischaracterised as Oscar-bait.
Its status as an event film is misleading; this is a film of emptiness, lives lived for naught. For all those reasons it may be a masterpiece.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
History rewritten as a playful fairy tale. The fantasy at play is ultimately impotent and shallow, but the film knows this and operates with a melancholy and self-awareness previously unknown to Tarantino.
The Last Man in San Francisco
Deeply poetic and painful exploration of identity. The quest to belong can often be one misled by preconceptions and fears. And paved by lies.
Pain & Glory
Almodóvar style is televisual as ever – dryly lit with little action – but it fits the meditative and quotidian subject matter.
A gorgeous, understated ode to family (try not to read that word in Vin Diesel’s voice). Awkwafina captures the conflicted nature of somebody forced to lie to a loved one with a subtle grace that few could have pulled off. The brilliant family dynamic is brought to life by a fantastic ensemble, with Zhao Shuzhen stealing the show as Nai Nai.
If Beale Street Could Talk
If Moonlight was the film that got everybody talking about Barry Jenkins then If Beale Street Could Talk is what will cement him as a modern great. The most gorgeously shot film of the year also features a sublime musical score. Too often we take for granted the power of a great love story and this could be the front-runner for strongest romance of the decade.
Burning may be the most ambiguous film of the year, delighting in obfuscating the truth behind its many mysteries. Walking Dead alumni plays the most compelling villain(?) of the year, utterly electrifying as a psychotically bored playboy, playing mind games with protagonist Jongsu. Bleak, beautiful and the Miles Davis needle-drop is unforgettable.
Rad, sad astro-dad film Ad Astra is a true trip into the strangest unknown – the depressing world of machismo. Brad Pitt has never been better as his understated performance gives his odyssey to retrieve former space cowboy Tommy Lee Jones serious weight. James Gray has been consistently great for many years and hopefully this picture introduces more to his work.
Claire Denis’ ultra-horny film is a testimony to her directing skills and the acting chops of Robert Pattinson. Combined they are an unstoppable team that not even the cold abyss of outer space can cool down. Juliette Binoche as a mad scientist is the cherry on top in this gorgeous take on Solaris-esque science fiction.
Those are my top five but it’s been a terrific year for film. For more of my favourites check out https://letterboxd.com/nyle_glin/list/2019/.
In a year of pointless live-action remakes of animated classics, absurd desperate franchise extensions and two terrible clown films (all I have are negative thoughts) there are no shortages of worst of the year to choose from. However in the spirit of the season I say ignore the bad ones! Focus on the good and enjoy your holidays.
The Sound of Silence
Michael Tyburski’s directorial debut offers a fresh perspective on New York City, finding a certain harmony and tranquillity in the loud, bustling “city that never sleeps”. The film follows Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) as he “tunes” people’s houses and builds a sonic map of the city. By calibrating the often overlooked sounds emitted by appliances and electronics in their homes, Peter resolves sleeplessness, anxiety and a myriad of other issues for his clients. A contemplative and unique character study (of both the individual and the city), accompanied by a beautiful score, The Sound of Silence is a real gem.
While writer-director Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale can be described as a revenge-thriller, but it is also so much more. Set in Australia in 1825, the film follows Clare (Aisling Franciosi), an Irish convict, as she teams up with Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), an Aboriginal tracker, to chase a group of British officers across the Tasmanian wilderness, seeking revenge for the atrocities committed against her. This journey reveals several layers to the characters and the film itself—particularly regarding colonisation and the barriers of prejudices—and allows for the development of a poignant friendship between Clare and Billy as they discover what they have in common under different forms of oppression. While the film can be difficult to watch at times as the audience is confronted by the violence and injustice of the colonisers, it offers very strong performances from the cast, excellent cinematography, and a depth, complexity and range of emotion.
Cold Case Hammarskjöld
Puzzling, humorous and thought-provoking, this documentary sees Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Björkdahl embark on a mission to investigate the suspicious death of the Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, in a plane crash in Zambia in 1961. As this investigation takes crazy twists and turns, however, a much larger and more shocking crime is unearthed. At times the humour may detract from the seriousness of what is revealed, but Brügger’s film is very well-crafted and engaging, and will leave you thinking and asking questions long after you’ve seen it.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
A film about a female painter who must produce a wedding portrait of a young woman unhappy with the arrangement of her marriage, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautifully shot and carefully crafted film that takes on a painterly quality itself. Writer-director Céline Sciamma’s film is a moving, beautiful celebration of women’s perspectives, bonds, strengths, love and independence that is at once romantic and realistic. The cast, cinematography and sound design are all excellent, and the slow quality of the film allows the viewer to absorb and study every detail, appreciating it for the art that it is.
Sink or Swim
An underdog tale with layers, Gilles Lellouche’s Sink or Swim follows a depressed middle-aged man, Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric), as he joins a male synchronised swim team and begins to once more find purpose in his life. The team is mediocre and full of misfits with their own collection of problems, but becomes a place of collective support and offers a sense of victory for the rag-tag group as they work together to represent France at the Men’s Synchronised Swimming World Championship. Sweet, humorous, moving, and ultimately uplifting, this film offers an honest reflection of the crises men face in everyday life.
Olivia Wilde followed a genre template with her own added spin to create a hilarious and very smart piece of cinema. It has a diversity that is a non-issue within the film which is important and relevant for cinema and modern society. Billie Lourd as the scene-stealing Gigi is also ingenious casting!
Elsie Fisher is terrific as Kayla – a young teenager embarking upon a journey of external validation to ultimately focus on self-acceptance in a social media-obsessed society. There’s so much to admire here from Bo Burnham’s writing/direction to Anna Meredith’s beautifully-bombastic score and it’s a very relevant film for the character’s generation.
Whilst essentially being ‘Brad Pitt in Space’, I found the minimalism of this film very impressive. With some minor action sequences, the focus here is on human performance and interaction and it revels in its subtle and quiet nature. Pitt exceptionally drives another emotionally-charged feat of cinema by James Gray.
The Hole in the Ground
Sharing narrative similarities to Us, and released a few weeks prior, The Hole in the Ground was a gripping film that transported you to its world and made you uncomfortable being there. With its eerie cinematography and another remarkable Seána Kerslake performance, I firmly believe Lee Cronin’s film is better than Jordan Peele’s.
Simon Amstell’s directorial debut is an awkwardly-hilarious gem. Colin Morgan is stellar as the fumbling mess that is Benjamin – a tortured-artist type who uses his failed relationships as sources of inspiration for his own films. It’s queer cinema with universality; especially with its awkward dialogue that we’ve all either been unfortunate to say ourselves or wince when it’s been said to us.
Honourable Mentions: The Souvenir, Midsommar, Marriage Story, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Blinded By The Light, Terminator: Dark Fate, Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Long-awaited and highly anticipated, Avengers: Endgame met and exceeded the considerable expectations placed upon it. The film shattered box office records and garnered multiple awards, and it serves as a triumphant coda to the myriad of interwoven plotlines, developments, and beloved characters which preceded and informed it. More than a full stop, however, Endgame has also opened the door for the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where there is much more yet to come.
The Dead Don’t Die
Jim Jarmusch’s horror comedy is a meta triumph with a brilliant and impressive cast list, including Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Danny Glover, and Steve Buscemi to name just a few. The film uses slow pacing and dry humor to its utmost advantage, paying homage to the zombie movie genre while simultaneously sending it up, resulting in an unapologetically tongue-in-cheek, clever and refreshing piece of cinema.
Captain Marvel warranted multiple viewings for sheer entertainment, striking visuals, and winning performances particularly from the film’s lead, the incomparable Brie Larson. Another Marvel success, the film’s commanding female lead and message of unapologetic self-worth was a refreshing break from the male-dominated heroics of the superhero genre. Fast-paced and exciting, there was also no shortage of action and comedic dialogue from the winning cast.
Another musical biopic, Rocketman is far from a copycat of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Arguably, Rocketman made even better use of its musical tribute, blending songs and story in ways that were both heartbreaking and inspiring. Featuring an incredibly compelling performance by the multi-talented Taron Egerton, Rocketman is an insightful, entertaining, and wild look into the life and legend of Sir Elton John.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Following on Endgame’s heels, it’s fitting that the themes of filling larger shoes and meeting expectations play heavily in this second installment of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Perhaps somewhat ironically, Far From Home doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor Spider-Man: Homecoming and its plot is slightly predictable, but the film is saved by entertaining performances from its cast as well as its use of humor and striking visual effects.
1. The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe both give career defining performances. The cinematography is claustrophobic, with everything in frame being squeezed into the 1.19:1 aspect ratio. It is evident that the director gave huge attention to detail when trying to capture the setting of the film: the set design, costume design and even the dialogue are all fine-tuned to give an authentic feel. This is a movie where everyone working on it did their best, and it shows, creating a film that perfectly evokes feelings of terror, dread, confusion, paranoia and even comedy.
2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino gives an homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play two incredibly charismatic and entertaining characters to the best of their abilities. It is carefully and strategically paced, by the end of the 160 minute run time, it feels as if only an hour had passed. The final 15 minutes gives one of the most satisfying and entertaining experiences I’ve had in a cinema.
3. The Souvenir
This film can be off putting to some, but I feel that it deserves more recognition. Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne both have great onscreen presence. The story is told in an unconventional manner, with each scene jumping several days forward, making it feel like the story is a series of vignettes. There is always a sense of mistrust when watching the film, executed by the unravelling mystery at the start of the film. As it progresses, the film becomes more complex and layered, giving the viewer a lot to think about when it finishes.
An unconventional horror film, being that there are no jump-scares and the entire story takes place in the daylight. There are loads of subtleties in this film – that alone warrants multiple re-watches. Watching this movie is like trying to solve a puzzle that is nowhere near completion once the end credits start. There is a constant feeling that something sinister is about to happen, which the movie constantly subverts, but it never relieves that feeling of uncertainty.
This was filmed on a wind up bolex, a camera from nearly 100 years ago. It could not record sound, so no sound was recorded on set, while the camera was hand-cranked. Every sound effect was later dubbed over in post-production. This gives the film a very unique look and feel. It has the qualities of film lost to time, but makes reference to modern commodities, such as smartphones and the internet. Mark Jenkin, the director, took many creative liberties with the post-synced sound, mixing in unusual sound effects: footsteps make thunderous booms, when a boat starts, the engine sound is overwhelming and looping. While also giving the film a unique voice, the unorthodox filming techniques is reflective of the themes of the film, with the story being about gentrification. This is easily one of the most creative movies of the decade.
Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a beautiful fever dream in celluloid and is proof that Eggers’ previous masterpiece, The Witch, was not a fluke. It is a portrait of a fascinating, often hateful relationship and is as visceral an experience of depressed isolation and dangerous, manic connection as you could ever want.
The Sunny Side Up
This short documentary depicts another fascinating relationship (though much healthier than the one in my last entry). Focusing on a husband and wife who have each previously been on death row, the film insightfully examines the necessity of being understood by another and the beauty that can come from such an intimate connection.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Céline Sciamma’s film depicts yet another layered relationship, this time providing a positive vision of what connections can be made possible when the most harmful, most stratified of our social structures are taken away. It’s utopic vision is painfully beautiful – never losing sight of the tragedy that such a vision can, for now, only be temporary, but also never downplaying how vital and powerfully transgressive such utopic imaginings can be.
Here we are again: another film that centres itself on a fraught relationship – this time between a transported Irishwoman and an Aboriginal man. This film is brutal in its depiction of the colonial project and what it takes from these two characters, but also beautiful in revealing what their growing friendship allows them to reclaim.
Us is insightful in its kaleidoscopic social critique, often disturbing in its implications, and also, somehow, one of the most bizarrely enjoyable films of the year (and helpfully breaks the singular, relationship-focused trend of the rest of this list). Jordan Peele pulls off this balance between horror and fun expertly, delivering a film where these two reactions enhance one another.
- Varda By Agnès
Varda takes on a narrative role in this documentary giving fans an insight into some of her most memorable films, such as Vagabond and Cléo from 5 to 7. Unfortunately, after presenting this documentary at the Berlin Film Festival, Varda passed away at the age of 90. However, the film acts as a eulogy of sorts to Varda’s career and life-and in true Varda style is directed by herself! After seeing this film for the first time at Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff), it was as if Varda was in the room with you, chatting away to you. A room full of fans laughed along that day and reminded me that she will truly be missed but that her films and work will live on and inspire the next generations to come. A true icon.
If you have not seen this film yet you absolutely must! Described as a tragicomedy thriller, this film will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, from laughing one minute to gripping your chair in suspense the next! From an amazing script and storyline to the incredible acting, the audience goes on a complete journey with the characters in this film. Making its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival, it won the converted Palme d’Or-making it the first Korean film to do so. I think the most enjoyable thing about the film is that it leaves the audience to interpret the questions of morality it poses. Definitely a film that requires hours of conversation afterwards.
3. Pain and Glory
Drawing on his own life, Almodóvar latest film Pain and Glory reunites himself and Antonio Banderas. Banderas plays a character moulded around Almodóvar himself, which results in a beautifully well-crafted film. Banderas credits Almodóvar in launching his career and it is fitting that he plays him on the big screen. This film is a masterpiece, with a not surprising supporting role by another of Almodóvar’s muses, Penelope Cruz, who gives an outstanding performance as Salvador’s mother. This film is a mature film that highlights that Almodóvar is a true professional, who still manages to inject his style and auteurship into all his projects in a unique and fresh way. (Also huge academy award buzz for this one!)
Chicuarotes is the second film that sees Gael Garcia Bernal turning away from the big screen and jumping into the director’s chair. Chicuarotes is an outstanding film that focuses on the friendship of Cagalera and Planchado as they navigate life in their small village. Chicuarote is a colloquial term that refers to a resident of San Gregorio Atlapulco, a low income neighbour hood where crime is looked down on as the villagers try to make a better life for everyone. It is no surprise that the acting is focused on throughout the film. The film breaths a passion project with a lot of love and soul injected into it. Hopefully we see more of Bernal in front of the camera but also in the director’s chair.
Rafiki tells the story of two young women, Kena and Ziki, as they fall in love in a country that bans homosexuality. The two try to hide their relationship amidst family and political pressure in Kenya. It was later banned by the Kenyan Film Classification Board “due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to law”. In Kenya, same-sex relationships are punishable by law with a 14-year jail sentence. It was then that the director was asked to change the ending of the film as it was deemed to be too hopeful. The director quite rightly refused and although the film was banned in Kenya it was released and embraced worldwide in 2019. Regardless of the politics surrounding this film, it is at the end of the day a beautiful film about two people falling in love and the issues they face. Outstanding performances by both leading actresses and an amazing soundtrack, the film highlights the vibrancy of Kenya on screen. This film also depicts the unchanged and changing attitudes people and society has towards homosexuality and same sex relationships.
5) Support the Girls
I’m here to support the small films and none came smaller and more perfectly formed than this slice of life set in a sports bar over one eventful day. Regina Hall exudes Oscar worthy warmth as the bar manager looking out for her dysfunctional adopted family of misfits.
4) The Day Shall Come
Another film that passed through cinemas with a release resembling a contractual afterthought. Inspired by the very real machinations of American intelligence agencies to encourage fringe protest groups to segue into terrorism, this Chris Morris film is literally a riot filled with wit, insight and ultimately tragedy. The massively impressive newcomer Marchant Davis is railroaded towards breaking the law due mainly to his highly arrestable profile. The scene where he shows up with puppy like enthusiasm to inform on the exact undercover FBI agent coaxing him towards breaking the law is both hilarious and heartbreaking. A far superior film than ‘Four Lions’ since it is funny from the get go.
3) Wild Rose
An imperfect film about an imperfect character but reality meets fiction as we watch Jesse Buckley become a star before our eyes. Judging by the perfectly curated selection of country covers and the sprinkling of original songs, both Hollywood and Nashville are conquered simultaneously.
2) I Lost My Body
Mainstream animation offered slick efforts for the masses this year but heart and soul were in short supply. Into that breach arrives this little handful. Though not half as ghoulish as it sounds, it does follow a disembodied hand on its’ nail biting trip across Paris. What might be absent in any summary is how charming, heartfelt and romantic the darn thing is.
You don’t need to hit the books too hard to find this feisty firecracker at the top of the pile. Olivia Wilde crafted a feel-good winner that never scarified its’ spirit or warmth on cheap laughs. Everything felt earned but had an ease and confidence that was beguiling.
Films that I hear might have troubled my top five include Apollo 11, The Farewell, Pain & Glory and The Last Black Man in San Francisco.
Nearly But Not Quite
When some films miss by an inch, it ends up looking like they were off by a million miles. For long stretches Doctor Sleep was close to something but didn’t congeal. ‘Mid 90s’ rewarded after an opening act that did it no favours.
I Love Film and all but there’s other stuff I have on today
Fed up of going into the cinema one day and emerging on a whole other day? I know I am. Critical fave Midsommar was the definition of a bright idea but that sliver of a story does not require 147 minutes for its telling. Let alone another vital half hour apparently being added back in by the director for its’ digital release.
This year’s cinematic offerings by Marty and Quentin seem above criticism such has been their rapturous reception. Yet the very fine qualities they do possess would surely be intensified and improved if tightened even a little bit. Do we really need Leo doing multiple takes on a fictional TV show? And mafia movies would be considerably shorter if everyone just heard each other properly the first time.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year
The interminable wait for Parasite to get a proper release.
Turkey of Year
While I feel like I missed nothing by missing The Hustle, Dark Phoenix and What Men Want , I will actively seek out ‘Serenity’. I mean the temerity to even use that title. I did get Glass in my eyes and wish I could unsee Unicorn Store but hell – let’s pile in on Hellboy – a reboot that proves we still need physical sets to weigh down these CGI whirlwinds.
Best Film of 2020
If there’s a better film than the one that opens on New Year’s Day we will be in for a good year at the movie houses. Jo Jo Rabbit is risky, goofy, brave and devastating.
Evoking Apocalypse Now and Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Monos feels like co-writer and director Alejandro Landes trekked into a Columbian mountain range, stumbled upon some child soldiers and together with them improvised a movie. It’s disturbing, raw and visceral – plunging viewers into the lives of teenagers dealing with all the drama that comes with growing up, along with having to mind an American prisoner of war (the incredible Julianne Nicholson). Yet, Monos also boasts dreamy powerful imagery, a twisty screenplay, a hypnotic score/soundscape from Mica Levi and an all-round phenomenal young cast (led by former Disney star Moisés Arias) – elements which imply a more planned precise production. Either way, by blending social realist drama with a Lord of the Flies style thriller, Landes has cemented himself as a new giant of world cinema.
Just when you thought no more could be done with the ghost story, debut-director Mati Diop uses the concept of phantoms to tell a deceptively simple and surprisingly romantic tale. Set in a coastal suburb of Dakar, Senegal, Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) is to be married to a wealthy man, but she’s really in love with Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré). When he goes missing – believed to have emigrated by boat – strange occurrences start happening in the place he left behind. Exploring gender and wealth inequality, the plight of migrants and what happens to those left behind when the latter leave in search of a better life, Atlantics is a heady cocktail of contemporary themes. However, one could watch it and just let cinematographer Claire Mathon’s intoxicating woozy imagery soak over them like Atlantic Ocean mist or simply be taken by the simultaneously unpredictable yet easily understood story.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver career best turns as a theatre director and actress couple who begin divorce proceedings. Perhaps writer-director Noah Baumbach’s finest work to date, Marriage Story sees the writer-director balancing the spiky edge of his early work such as The Squid and the Whale with the compassion of his later movies like The Meyerowitz Stories. The characters of his latest may do nasty things. But no one is a villain. They are just people caught up in an unfortunate situation, struggling to find the right way out. While Marriage Story is 136 minutes long and extremely script heavy, it just glides by – never lagging in pace. Baumbach manages to shoot long scenes (Johansson has a monologue which must go on for over 6 minutes) in such a dynamic manner that they never become boring. Plus, the dialogue itself is thrilling, balancing comedy and drama on a razor’s edge, one never overwhelming the other.
The Irishman ends what Mean Streets began. It’s the logical final point to Scorsese’s decades long portrayal of gangsterdom. The first three hours are the filmmaker playing the Casino/Goodfellas hits – sweeping camera moves, crackling dialogue, De Niro and Pesci as good as they’ve ever been – except with the spectre of death looming larger over proceedings than before. In the final thirty minutes, it becomes about the latter and how in life – especially a life of crime – no one makes it out alive. It’s here The Irishman becomes truly something special.
For all this Aussie Western’s intense violence and dirt under the nail grit, it’s one of the most human revenge movies ever. The bond that develops between the Irish convict (Aisling Franciosi) and aboriginal tracker (Baykali Ganambarr) living in Tasmania, Australia 1825 – a time where if you weren’t a white Australian or British person you had a target on your back – is beautiful. While antagonistic at first, they come to understand one another’s perspective and how they’ve been manipulated into hating each other by a common imperialistic enemy, represented in the film by Sam Claflin’s murderous British lieutenant. Their teaming up to take their oppressor down brings heart to this otherwise brutal thriller about how the world can be a cruel miserable place.
5. Apollo 11
4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
3. Deadwood: The Movie
2. The Irishman
1. In Fabric
Favourite Irish film : Breaking Out
An Elephant Sitting Still
Bo Hu’s single monumental feature (he died by suicide at the age of 29, before its release) was passed over for cinema release in this part of the world. Following a single day in the lives of four put-upon people navigating a contemporary Chinese city, the film is certainly ‘difficult’ – running close to four hours, a sizeable proportion of which is spent observing the characters from behind – but it’s also vital and profound. It’s a direct communication from a physical and psychological state that concerns us all but that few have the courage to confront. Bo Hu went there, perhaps so that we don’t have to, and his work deserves to be widely seen.
Regardless of the degree to which its story is ‘autobiographical’, Joanna Hogg’s story of a young woman attempting to find her voice as a filmmaker while negotiating a poisonous relationship with an addict feels lived-in and wholly objective at the same time. Cool to the touch but with occasional touches of a strange, tamped-down eroticism, the film is authentically haunting.
Pain and Glory
In his best film since Live Flesh (1997), Almodóvar performs the minor miracle of making the late-mid-life crisis of a pampered filmmaker into something profoundly moving. The film is formally brilliant – including a play within a film and at least one film within a film – as well as a generous, sincere and tender-hearted confrontation with mortality, regret and loss.
Chang-dong Lee’s implacable provocation derives its power from the way in which the inscrutability of its mystery plot co-exists with the absolute clarity of its class commentary. Adapted from Haruki Murakami’s short story ‘Barn Burning’, the film turns on three brilliant performances – from Steven Yuen, Jong-seo Jun and, particularly, Ah-in Yoo – and from the exquisite composure of its construction.
Knife + Heart
Another year, another giallo pastiche – but Yann Gonzalez’ follow-up to the equally feverish You and the Night is something different. A lurid swirl of amour fou, hallucinatory symbolism, sly humour and hair-raising gore, Knife + Heart takes place in a late-1970s dreamscape without a single heterosexual character. It invents a seemingly paradoxical new genre: the Utopian horror film.
Monos; Sunset; Ash is Purest White; Ray & Liz; Hustlers; Birds of Passage
with a VERY special mention for Extra Ordinary!
An incredible cinematographic achievement.