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Top 20 Films of 2019

January 9, 2020

2019 wasn’t my greatest year for keeping up with latest releases. But there’s a convention to maintain in this blog, so here are my top 20 films of the year. The bottom 4-5 are there more by default than through any especial strength. In reverse order…

20. Joker (2019) dir: Todd Phillips

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I didn’t hate it, but I thought it was slightly disingenuous: co-opting golden era-Scorsese for a faux portrayal of mental illness, while, ultimately, always being an exercise in ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ fanboy service for the superhero franchise devotees.

Full review:

19. Bird Box (2019) dir: Susanne Bier

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Workmanlike sensory horror film, coming off the back of last year’s ‘sound’ sensation, A Quiet Place. Pretty generic, hokum stuff, but John Malkovich vampishly coasting through this sort of material always earns a chuckle.

Full review:

18. Yesterday (2019) dir: Danny Boyle

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Fairly anomalous piece of crowd-pleasing rom-com tosh capitalising on the cultural cachet of anything Beatles related.

Full review:

17. Mary Queen of Scots (2019) dir: Josie Rourke

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Perfunctory period romp that squanders the two key aspects of its raw materials: a ripe piece of British history, and two excellent actors in Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie.

Full review:

16. Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019) dir: Jon Watts

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Not as good as the surprisingly decent Homecoming from a couple of years’ previous. Falls into the trap of overly gorging on special effects and a crap virtual reality macguffin.

Full review:

15. The Favourite (2018) dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

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A perfectly entertaining riff on the period genre, but substantially overestimated in terms of its awards success and its featuring on many critics’ top films of the year lists.

Full review:

14. Non-Fiction (2019) dir: Olivier Assayas

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Assayas couldn’t quite maintain the high level of his two previous films – Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper – as he shifted his focus to the modern day publishing world.

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13. Knives Out (2019) dir: Rian Johnson

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Ditto what I said about The Favourite. An enjoyable whodunnit – no more, no less.

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12. Rafiki (2018) dir: Wanuru Kahiu

AW14F 2018 Review: Rafiki | Berlin Film Journal

Sophomoric, but incredibly important, feature that came out of Kenya dramatising a same-sex relationship.

Full review:

11. Transit (2019) dir: Christian Petzold

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A playful, literary thriller that has hallucinatory moments, but also becomes emotionally remote and neutered by its own obfuscations.

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10. Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) dir: Dan Gilroy

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Really enjoyed this! Critics bemoaned its supposedly dissatisfying hybrid of horror and comedy, but I thought it owned the essential absurdity of that blend. Delightfully silly send-up of the pretensions of the art world.

Full review:

9. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019) dir: Quentin Tarantino

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A very difficult experience to quantify. At its best, it swaggers, it captures a raw love of the movies, and has great pathos for its characters; at its worst, it’s baggy, and has – to my mind – an incredibly misjudged and juvenile violent ending.

Full review:

8. Marriage Story (2019) dir: Noah Baumbach

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Flits between registers both compellingly dramatic and conceitedly affected. Generally, when Baumbach plays it straighter, he’s rewarded with the better moments of the film.

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7. Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno (2018) dir: Abdellatif Kechiche

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Kechiche is a cinematic sensualist – a master of time and the senses. Canto Uno sees him fall a touch from the perch he made with Blue is the Warmest Colour, but it’s still a largely exhilarating experience.

Full review:

6. The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018) dir: Mark Cousins

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A typically loving and curious documentary by Mark Cousins. It features a familiar cinematic maestro – Orson Welles – but Cousins finds a novel way into his films: Welles’ own prodigious drawing and art hobby that informed his filmic imagination.

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5. Pain and Glory (2019) dir: Pedro Almodóvar

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An august riff on an otherwise typical Almodóvar brew: the artist taking a look back at his life by deconstructing his past and his work.

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4. Rolling Thunder Revue (2019) dir: Martin Scorsese

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Scorsese’s ‘other’ Netflix film of the year: a stellar and intuitively playful look back at Bob Dylan’s seminal mid-seventies lo-fi run of gigs in New England and Canada.

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3. The Irishman (2019) dir: Martin Scorsese

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Distracting and unconvincing de-ageing conceit aside, this is an inherently wise and gorgeously lugubrious film. The suitably wintry reckoning to his more narcotic gangster pics of Goodfellas and Casino.

Full review:

2. High Flying Bird (2019) dir: Steven Soderbergh

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Came and passed by with barely a ripple on Netflix at the beginning of the year, but this is Soderbergh at his cutting edge, instinctive best. It’s a brilliantly clever and vibrant look at the corporatisation of the NBA, and, namely, how black bodies and the purity of love of the game become monetised and sullied on the way.

Full review:

1. Ad Astra (2019) dir: James Gray

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Structurally perfect, aesthetically majestic and immensely graceful. In a decade where many big-name directors tried to make a statement with the sci-fi/space genre, James Gray stepped into the big league of contemporary auteurs with perhaps the best of that batch.

Full review:

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