It is fitting in many ways, that as we reach the end of the decade, that a number of the franchises that have had a massive impact in the last ten years of cinema have been brought to a close. 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave a very satisfying pay off, the curtain closed on the Skywalker saga for the final time, and the less said about that Game of Thrones finale, the better. Meanwhile, Netflix continues to assert itself in the industry producing some stellar content, all while an exhaustive amount of discourses and debates on a variety of subjects relating to film have raged all year long. It was certainly an eventful year of cinema to close out the decade, and so the time has come for me to rank all that 2019 had to offer on the big screen, at least of the films I saw.
Due to staggered UK release dates, it can be extremely messy to determine what film belongs in what year. Therefore regarding the eligibility of films for this list, I always aim to include films that are listed as 2019 releases on IMDB. Also, some of the films listed here haven’t yet made their way into UK cinemas, but since I was fortunate to be able to catch some of these films at London Film Festival this year, they are eligible for inclusion. On the other hand, there’s a 2019 release that doesn’t get its UK wide release until February 2020, so that film will be deferred for my 2020’s list, and I am absolutely certain that will make an appearance.
Secondly, the grade a film receives does not necessarily determine its place on the list. Getting the perfect grade does not mean it will rank higher than a film that got a lower grade. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2019. Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list. First up…
Ad Astra [review] Many films have illustrated just how terrifying the eternal chasm that is space, and Brad Pitt’s enthralling turn as an astronaut who must venture deep into space in search of his long lost father is another example. It’s a slow burner, but well worth the investment.
Harriet [review] Harriet Tubman’s story is nothing short of inspirational, a woman born into slavery who escaped and then daringly made several missions to free people from this appalling institution. This biopic, while told in a very conventional manner, tells her story with sincerity, and boasts a magnificent performance from Cynthia Erivo, whose career as an actor is going from strength to strength.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood [review coming soon] Tom Hanks is simply put, one of the most charismatic answers in the business, and so the decision to cast him as the legendary TV children’s presenter Fred Rogers was an utter masterstroke. As you’d expect Hanks’s performance is wonderful and Marielle Heller’s direction is so charming, that it’s guaranteed to give you a warm feeling by the time the credits have begun to roll.
Hustlers [review] For women who work in a strip club, it can be a difficult situation to find themselves in. For one group of women however, it’s a situation they choose take full advantage of, by devising a scheme to get back at the wealthy patrons of the strip club that employs them. With an excellent group of actresses at its core, and a fascinating story, the entire show is stolen by an electric, awards worthy performance from Jennifer Lopez.
Toy Story 4 [review] After Toy Story 3 wrapped up one of the best animated trilogies ever, in beautiful and heart-wrenching fashion, many were left wondering, was there any need for another Toy Story? Fears that this would prove to be a cynical cash grab were soon dismissed as Pixar, as they so often do, delivered the goods with a fourth film that absolutely needed to be told. It doesn’t quite match the lofty standards set its predecessors, but it comes mighty close.
Captain Marvel [review] It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did, but 2019 marked the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a female led film, and it was certainly worth the wait. While the story was certainly a tad formulaic, it was extremely entertaining and flew its way to a billion dollars at the Worldwide Box Office, firmly shutting up those individuals that tried to derail the film prior to its release.
Little Women [review] Making yet another adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott seemed to be a tad unnecessary. However, in the wake of her stunning directorial debut. Greta Gerwig took this beloved novel and put her own take on it, and in so doing may have created the definitive big screen adaptation.
Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list, which due to the vast number of great films we have had this year I’ve made it into a top 15 list, and we begin with…
15. Official Secrets
Working for the government can put any employee in a difficult position, especially when they handle such confidential information. For one employee, deciding that a confidential memo demands to become public information, she bravely takes on her government by leaking the aforementioned memo to the Press.
The intrigue is maintained throughout thanks to some excellent writing and a sensational lead performance from Keira Knightley who carries the film on her shoulders magnificently. There’s a very important message at the centre of this gripping film that remains very relevant to the world we live in today, namely that governments need to be held to account when they try to sweep such damning information under the rug.
After terrifying audiences with his debut feature Hereditary, Ari Aster has reinforced his growing reputation as a horror maestro with his sophomore feature. Telling the story of a woman goes with her boyfriend to a Swedish Pagan festival, and some dark and disturbing events soon start to unfold.
With a magnificent, haunting, awards worthy lead performance from Florence Pugh, that captures raw grief and pain in such a powerful manner. One of the best directed films of the year, filled with some thought provoking themes and imagery, with plenty of scenes that I will certainly not be forgetting in a hurry.
13. Ford V Ferrari
The mark of a great film, especially one about a sporting event, is that you shouldn’t have to be the most devout follower of said sport to be thoroughly invested in it. The 24 Hour Race of Le Mans isn’t the most glamorous, or indeed the most iconic of sporting events, but that didn’t prevent James Mangold from crafting an extremely compelling film about it.
With a truly excellent cast full of excellent performances, the best work comes from Matt Damon, and especially Christian Bale. Mixing in the back and forth between company head honchos and the absorbing, immaculately crafted racing scenes ensures that makes for extremely compelling storytelling, that helps this film hit race past the finishing line in flying colours.
12. Marriage Story
The day the two people tie the knot is so often the happiest day of those people’s lives, but sometimes, that loving relationship can be soured, causing people to go their separate ways. The pain of the divorce process is captured so powerfully by director Noah Baumbach, as two people go through a problematic and painful divorce that will push both both parents to the limits, whilst trying to do what’s best for their son.
With awards worthy performances from just about everyone, though without any doubt, the spotlight shines brightest on Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The performances of these two are arguably the best performances of the year. To go from a funny moment, to a remorseful moment in a heartbeat is a skill, and it’s a testament to the strength of Baumbach’s screenplay that he combines these two contrasting emotions so strongly, without tainting the experience.
11. The Farewell
Family, an institution that can mean so much to so many of us. When such sorrowful news about a loved one’s declining health reaches our ears, it can be difficult news to take. Especially when, the traditions between generations and cultures can be such a stark contrast.
The film is such a surprise with how much humour it finds in this situation, but Lulu Wang expertly balances the delightful moments, with ones that are just raw with emotion. At the centre of all, Awkwafina gives the performance of her career as a woman who’s caught between two different customs and traditions. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ll connect with this film in some capacity.