Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Best Films of 2019

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 2018.  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.

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.

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.

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.

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

review

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.

14. 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.

While the majority of the old gang, such as Buzz, are very much sidelined throughout, there is a triumphant return to the franchise for Bo Peep and a bunch of likeable new characters were introduced into the mix. Matching the lofty standards set by the previous three films was always going to be a tall order, but it comes mighty close to recapturing that heart-breaking emotion, best captured by the most unlikeliest of sources: a plastic spork named Forky.

13. Midsommar

review

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.

12. Ford V Ferrari

review

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.

11. Marriage Story

review

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.

Now for the top 10…

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Booksmart (2019)

Image is property of Annapurna Pictures and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Booksmart – Film Review

Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jessica Williams, Billie Lourd, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Jason Sudeikis

Director: Olivia Wilde

Synopsis: Two high school students who’ve shone academically realise they have have missed out on some major high school/teenager shenanigans. On the last night before graduation, they decide to go out of high school with a bang…

Review: In many ways, high school/secondary school is the place where we really start to grow up, the place where we slowly start to make that steady transition from childhood to adulthood. We undertake some important exams that can potentially shape the rest of our lives. Whilst simultaneously, it’s a time when we usually start going out, partying and with any luck, making long lasting friendships and relationships. Some may choose to party too hard, some may get the balance right, and some may work too hard and not party enough.

Best friends Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) are most definitely the latter. They have spent their time very much concentrated on the academic side of high school with the focus of attaining a place in a top class college. However, as they prepare to graduate, it dawns on them that their focus on their academic work has been so razor sharp, that they have missed out on several years worth of partying and letting their hair down. Desperate to rectify this mistake, they realise that they must use the last night before graduation as their chance to cram as much partying and raucous behaviour into one night as they possibly can.

Look at these pesky up-to-no-good troublemakers….

Putting a refreshing and wholly unique take on the high school sex comedy/drama, is by no means an easy challenge. However, for her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde does exactly that. Having women front and centre, both in front of and behind the camera, definitely plays a massive part in ensuring this film stands out from the crowd. As the leading ladies, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever both give terrific lead performances. These two bounce off each others’ personalities to wonderful and hilarious effect. Their interaction and chemistry on screen is so warm and fuzzy, that they feel like fully fleshed out people. Right from the moment you meet them, they genuinely feel as though they have been friends for years.

Feldstein, who arguably stole the show with a wonderful comedic performance in Lady Bird, maintains that wonderful level of humour in a role that really gives her the chance to shine. She comes across as a bit aloof and snobby to the other students, but there is a warmth and sincerity to her, as well as a brilliant sense of humour.  By contrast, Dever as Amy is a much more withdrawn individual. She carefully chooses the right moments, when she is not with Molly, to come out of her shell.  Both have rich layers to them, so much so that there will almost certainly be people out there who will relate to them in some capacity, whether it be the desire to place emphasis on those hours of studying or being slightly withdrawn when it comes to social interaction, or perhaps even both.

Alongside Wilde in the directors chair, the film’s female team of writers (Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel & Katie Silberman) pen a fantastically witty script full of some truly brilliant jokes that are downright hilarious. There are one or two jokes don’t quite hit their mark, but the rest are just fantastic and extremely unique in terms of the delivery and the punchlines. Try as we might, those high school years are not a constant barrel of laughs, there will be times when some drama unfolds. Wilde’s excellent direction and the sincere performances from every member of this cast, ensure that this is captured in such an honest and authentic manner. It just goes to show that when you do your homework, as the cast and crew most certainly did, that it will pay tremendous dividends. Top marks all around.

Hilarious and heartfelt, with very sincere and genuine performances, a wonderfully refreshing take on the teen drama/coming-of-age comedy.