When it comes to cinema, this year I’ve not watched nearly as much as I’d like. You’d think, working at a cinema, I’d see a lot of films.
But when you work at a cinema, going into work on your day off just seems, understandably, unappealing. Still, it is a waste not to take advantage of where I work, and next year I hope to make more of an effort.
Regardless, I have been privy to some fantastic bits of cinema, and so to round out the year I’m going to pick out five of my favourite films of 2019.
I missed some big ones that I was really keen to watch, like Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, The Lion King, Midsommar, Godzilla, Aladdin and Us, while perhaps one of my most anticipated movies of the year, Jojo Rabbit, hasn’t even made its way to the UK yet. But I still did manage to see twenty-five newly released films, namely the following:
21 Bridges, Always Be My Maybe, Annabelle Comes Home, Avengers: Endgame, Between Two Ferns, Captain Marvel, Child’s Play, Dark Phoenix, Detective Pikachu, Dolemite Is My Name, Fighting With My Family, Glass, Hobbs & Shaw, Isn’t It Romantic, IT Chapter Two, Joker, Knives Out, Marriage Story, Pet Semetary, Rambo: Last Blood, Shaft, Shazam!, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker & Terminator: Dark Fate
But which of those make up my top five? Read on to find out!
DIRECTED BY: Todd Phillips
GENRE: Psychological Thriller
STARRING: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy & Brett Cullen
While I do like Batman and the Joker, nothing from the trailers for this film really grabbed me. Still, the initial positive buzz (and the fact it’s a comic book adaptation of a sort) drove me to watch it, and I left the cinema very happy. While I can’t really buy this as an actual origin for the Joker, this is a fascinating film and one that everyone should watch.
Joker follows Arthur Fleck, a struggling comedian, as the stresses of the society around him begin to overwhelm him, leading him to become the future costumed archenemy of the Batman.
It provides a powerful message about mental health, with some excellent acting and a stronger focus on character than many contemporary comic book movies. It’s a long movie, but one that makes good use of its time in a way that it never feels boring. The Joker’s descent into villainy is really well written, and does something worrying, in that it makes you relate to this unhinged murderer. We’ve all experienced bad jobs and met bad people, and at times, this film reminds you that someone succumbing to those pressures and transforming themselves into a costumed criminal maybe isn’t as crazy as it first may seem.
4. KNIVES OUT
DIRECTED BY: Rian Johnson
GENRE: Murder Mystery
STARRING: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon & Don Johnson
Bouncing back from the backlash to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson returns with a film that, in terms of genre, couldn’t be much further removed from the space-opera.
Knives Out follows private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), as he is summoned to investigate the potential murder of esteemed writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who was surrounded by his greedy, manipulative family.
This film’s greatest strength is its script. While it does shine in other ways, the witty dialogue, subversive storytelling and fascinating character work make this a stand-out movie of the year. It’s delightfully funny, and each character gets a chance to shine in some way, in spite of its rather sizeable cast. Furthermore, it changes up the game in terms of murder mysteries in a way that will give this film great rewatchability, rather than just delivering your standard ‘whodunnit’.
I could listen to Daniel Craig spin that strange southern drawl all day. I sincerely hope this gets a follow-up.
3. FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY
DIRECTED BY: Stephen Merchant
GENRE: Biographical Comedy-Drama
STARRING: Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn & Dwayne Johnson
I’m not really interested in wrestling. I watched this film primarily because I like Stephen Merchant and was curious to see what he would do as a director. And it was through that that I found one of my new favourite films of the year.
Fighting With My Family is the story of professional wrestler Paige, her backgrounds, and how she became involved with the WWE.
What follows is a surprisingly poignant tale, full of laughs and heartfelt storytelling. All of the cast does a terrific job with that they’re given, as does Merchant and everyone else behind the camera. It’s not always a flashy film, but it always keeps you gripped to the lives of these real-life people who you may not have previously had any connection to.
In fact, this film was so good at tying you in to what the characters thought and felt that it made me start to understand people’s fascination with wrestling. Not enough to start watching it as of yet, but I think I understand it at the very least.
2. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
DIRECTED BY: Joe & Anthony Russo
STARRING: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo & Jeremy Renner
This film probably isn’t as strong a film as the others on this list. It’s not as rich in thematic messages, as boundary-pushing, or even as relatable as its peers. And yet, it still manages to be a firm favourite, due to how it successfully pays off over a decade worth of storytelling.
Endgame follows Earth’s Mightiest Heroes after their shocking defeat at the hands of Thanos, as they team up one more time to restore the half of the population that’s been wiped out.
To an outsider, this might seem like a confusing, unruly jumble of colours and explosions. Yet if you’ve stuck with this journey since Tony Stark first built his Iron Man armour in a cave, you’re rewarded in the best ways possible. This movie takes the Marvel Universe in new directions, pays off a wealth of set-up from prior movies, gives its monumental cast their respective moments in the spotlight and just gives so much emotional weight (particularly of the joyful variety) to the proceedings. It’s just unabashed fun, executed brilliantly, and is perhaps one of the best endpoints to a franchise I’ve ever seen (or would be, if the MCU didn’t keep chugging on).
To think that the nerdy focus of my childhood reading would transition to become the highest-grossing film franchise in the world still boggles the mind. I love it.
1. MARRIAGE STORY
DIRECTED BY: Noah Baumbach
STARRING: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda & Ray Liotta
Superheroic are all good, and I very much considered putting Endgame in the top spot. But having seen Marriage Story, the quality of filmmaking on display here tops my personal preference towards comic book antics.
Marriage Story tells the simple tale Nicole and Charlie Barber (Johansson & Driver) as they get a divorce, and struggle to keep hold of certain parts of their lives as things fall apart.
It may sound like a rather dour film to take the top spot, but there’s something beautiful about this film. Maybe its the way that it cuts out all of the flash of other 2019 movies, to just focus on a truly small-scale, down-to-Earth story. Maybe it’s the fact that it allows its leads to really show how phenomenal they are at acting (not to say they don’t get chances in other franchises, but this is steps above your Star Warses and your Avengings). Maybe it’s the flawless script that manages to be hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.
Or maybe it’s just because it’s something that we have all experienced in some form. Whether it’s us, our parents, our friends. It’s a story that can connect with anyone, and it’s one that’s told well.
I honestly cannot think of a fault in this film. It’s fantastic (and on Netflix, so easily accessible!)