As the decade comes to a close it’s hard to not put forward a case for the final year being its best for cinema. With the last quarter particularly prosperous providing a huge array of quality content for all types of film lovers. Whether that be ‘uncut gems’ for the adrenaline drama/thriller/safdie-brother genre seekers, the romance lovers in the form of the ‘portrait of a lady on fire’ or those who just love an old school Scorsese crime film in ‘The Irishman’.
Fortunately this year i’ve been 10 minutes away from a £5 cinema and I also had the opportunity to attend the large majority of the films I wanted at London Film festival, although it took a combination of paying a pretty penny and preying on ticket touts on twitter to try and sneak a last minute “surprise film” ticket to my most wanted watch of the year, uncut gems. This has allowed me to really flesh out my list more so than usual. On the topic of London Film festival (without going too off-course from the purpose of this post) I would heavily recommend it if you get the opportunity. Tickets can be bought by anyone however the way I managed to get all the films I wanted (and in good seats too) is through being a member of the BFI which gives you priority access along with a wide variety of other discounts, all for £37 a year which imo is great value for money. The prices per ticket can vary anywhere from £12 – £28 however the higher priced tickets are dependent on whether you’re seeing a premier viewing (which will almost definitely have the cast walk the red carpet along with a q&a either before or after the film) or not. The experience itself is great, the screenings are always a level above and just being amongst a crowd of people that are all on the same wavelength as you definitely adds a new layer to just seeing it casually in your local cinema. However I do have to admit that my experience might be slightly positively skewed by the fact I at least enjoyed every film I saw, with four actually making my top 10…
Moving back onto my film rankings, there’s still a fair amount of films that i’m looking to get through before the year ends (waiting on the screener season to push through) so this is a 1st draft with there being the strong possibility that the likes of waves, the souvenir, monos and the last man in san fran can break in once i’ve watched! As with all rankings this is obviously opinion based and not a definitive list that should be adhered to as gospel, i’ll go through each film and give a summary justifying it’s position (some summaries might sound a bit sketchy where i’m trying to blag as to be honest i probably won’t remember the details of everything considering how many films i’ve seen this year!)
A genuine masterpiece of film making and an undoubted peak for Adam Sandler’s career. Topping the gritty, thrilling and pulsating Good time (the safdie’s brothers previous film) always seemed like a tough ask especially after seeing the film notes considering the niche topic of the film, however when the trailer was released all fears were laid to rest. The trailer itself was a trip, pulling you instantly into another world in the space of 30 seconds and not letting you go until the ‘you should watch’ options appear on your screen. My anxiety for the film was already high going in, having to source a London film festival ‘surprise screening’ ticket (the surprise was no more as the film had been screened the day before) whilst booking off a last minute a day from work. This anxiety was just the beginning to what scaled up to the brink of a full-blown panic attack. The whole way through the film it felt like a genuine roller-coaster, from the multi-layered dialogue which often had multiple conversations happening simultaneously to the incredible score by (x) which results in a level of smoothness to this panic allowing the plot of the film to progress without feeling like a mess which is credit again to the safide brothers vision. A further string to the many bows of this film is the way it’s shot, the combination of the realism behind it, allowing the everyday public to go amongst their day to day, and the shadow like presence whilst filming Howard results in a true sense of being within the film and only gets the viewer to feel the highs and lows of the protagonist oh so much more. The highs and lows mentioned aren’t only driven by the craftsmanship and plot of the film however, they’re massively as a result of arguably the performance of the year from Adam Sandler (I’ve always said he was a top 5 actor of all time (granted slightly ironically sometimes)). He makes you buy into everything he does, the good, the bad and the ugly. You will him to succeed even when you’ve got a scratch in the back of your mind asking yourself, why the whole time. He’ infectious, deliveries his lines and aura in the perfect manner and in a way I don’t think anyone else could have. This for me was the film of the year, not because it lived up to the insane heights I had set for it before it came out, but because it shattered them.
An incredibly humbling experience wrapped up in the form of an hour and a half biopic. As a big shia labeouf fan I was in a similar position to uncut gems in the sense I’d put this film on a pedestal before it had even released. This is a film that relies heavily on the characterisation, the acting capabilities of its cast and the pristine script rather than leaning on the way it was shot or the plot to take it to the level it is, albeit Shia’s life is incredibly interesting and some of the shots, particularly the scenes between otis and shy girl are beautiful. Throughout the film you’re immersed in the battle of wills between Otis (Noah Jupe) and his father (Shia) as Shia comes to terms with his son having more promise than his life ever has or ever will and how he now needs to live his dreams through him whilst managing his jealously and tightrope walk of relapsing. The result of this are some borderline tear-jerking scenes where you can see the amount of effort and dedication that went in to building up the chemistry between the actors beforehand (Noah and Shia said they spent weeks together playing cards, dungeon and dragons and juggling whilst opening up-to one another to get into a place where trust was second nature between them). A special mention has to go to Liam Hedges as well who continues his incredibly roll, providing an eery performance as a young adult Shia with again clear signs the prep and focus on the traits needed for the role, getting the voice down to a tee. Ultimately this film ranks so high in my list is down to the fact it tackles some really prevalent issues in relationships whilst being immersive, concise and having three performances from Noah, Shia and Lucas that could all put them in the running for actor of the year. When you layer on the context that this was written by Shia whilst in rehab on his legs (he was about to join the peace corps) and he plays his own father (link to an incredible anecdote here – ) then the film just rises another level.
A film that given its cultural relevancy still finding a place in my top three just highlights the magnitude of how good this film really is. Again combining a serious topic but sprinkling very dry humour throughout creates an infectious and relatable atmosphere that leaves you on the edge of tears by the end of the film. In a similar space to honey boy, possessing a pretty simple plot, it never feels slow or loses you at any point due to the gripping character interactions. Switching from English to Chinese in the blink of an eye means you have to play extra close attention whilst sub-consciously i think i made an increased effort to pay attention to try and engross myself in understanding their way of life as much as possible. The film which is based on a real life lie has a level of intensity to it where it revolves around one crux. As a result it heightens all the character interactions which means each conversation is placed under more scrutiny and this is where the film really comes into its own. The cast are incredible, relatable and feel completely genuine. The pinnacle of the cast being Awkwafina (Billi) who manages to flow between the two cultures dragging you into either or with ease as if you belong in both. This is a film that realistically won’t be lauded for it’s visual impact but for it’s cultural impact across cultures, its humour and its stellar performance by its cast.
Peanut Butter Falcon
This is a film that has earnt its position purely through the feel-good feeling I felt walking out the cinema, an experience heightened by the incredible Zack thanking everyone for coming at the end of the films Q&A. I have honestly never come out of a film, gig or festival as gleeful as I did with this, the whole film was infectious and had you buying into Zack’s dream as if you’ve woken up every day of your own life and willed it to happen. As we’ve seen with the previous films selected the casting is king in this film. Zack (which the film is based around), Shia and Dakota all push one another, giving each other a platform to what feels like bare their souls in what is a niche but effectively coming of age story all from different perspectives. That’s the best part of this film is that it comes at you from multiple directions. Whether it’s the classic follow your dreams perspective/never let your difficulties get in the way in the form of Zack, the fact you can change your life/people deserve second chances from Shia’s character or the drive to get up and leave the mundane life that you’re not finding fulfilling with Dakota’s storyline they all allow you to bite into a different perspective that means you will surely find some way to relate. This is definitely the most feel-good film of the year.
The follow up to Greta Gerwig’s brilliant ‘Ladybird’ comes the (7th) film-adaption of the book little women. The vibe is instantly in the same vein as ladybird, creating a wholesome feel and a desire to buy into the characters (more so Jo (Soairse Ronan) & Amy (Florence Pugh) who are both incredible in this, personifying exactly what the film stands for). Considering prior to seeing this I had seen a significant amount of opinions on twitter highlighting that men had been dismissing this as a credible film (especially for oscar season) due to it being outside their comfort zone I did feel slightly apprehensive in what i was getting myself in for having only seen the trailer once when it first came out. The film was brilliant though, adapting and treading the subject of women empowerment and value in a way that is fulfilling and relatable. Credit obviously has to be given to the source material but the specific lines that were kept and the way they were acted (the two that stand out are “I want to be great or nothing.” and “I’m angry almost every day of my life”) really enforce and personify the film in short snippets which is testimony to Greta and the cast. As aforementioned a further special mention has to go to Soairse and Florence who are both the standouts. Soairse again showing her all-round acting talent with a specific ability to garner every seed of empathy from you every time she speaks whilst Florence continues to impress after a stellar performance in Midsommar earlier in the year. At one point in this feel she has a monologue around the economic impact on a women’s decision around marriage which quite simply steals the show. This is another feel-good and inspiring film that is elevated by a brilliant up and coming director and cast
Portrait of a lady on fire
The first of two foreign films in the top 10 and they couldn’t be more bipolar. The portrait of a lady on fire is an emphatic love story where the intimate relationship between the two ladies goes deeper and deeper as the film progresses, peeling back the layers after every interaction to the point their true personalities shine through by the end of the film. The intimacy, enclosed setting and personal nature of the film (predominantly a two-hander, with the odd input from the maid and mother) results in you being wrapped up into the relationship and the difficulties behind it in that day and age. Seeing the relationship and dynamic develop between the two characters which blossoms from effectively employee/employer to lovers and the stages it progresses through, an extended glance, a prolonged hand holding and later on an intimate kiss whilst Héloïse is modelling (something which in itself was something that was unfathomable at the beginning of the film) is truly thrilling. The ending itself is gripping and only stabilises this as a top pick having the perfect nod to the peak of the relationship between the pair that leaves you more than satisfied as it draws to a close.
Pure madness, and that hardly scratches the surface of describing what this film is but it certainly gives you a jist of what you’re getting yourself into. It swallows you whole, making you feel nearly as drunk as the cast in what’s an incredible homage to both the mentally and physically nature of being a lighthouse keeper. Everything about this film visually is beautiful, shot in black and white and in a unique 1.19:1 aspect ratio it further feeds into the eery atmosphere oozed from the setting of the 1890’s mysterious island they find themselves on. The cast are brilliant, in a film that could quite have easily been lost on the audience with the intensity regularly driven by drunken maritime slurs, farts and battles with seagulls both William dafoe and Robert Pattison engulf their parts and are absolutely perfect, getting the dialogue down to a tee and consistently bouncing off each other as the animosity between the pair continues to grow. The performances alone are worth the watch, let alone when you take into account the intensity of the deeper meaning veiled plot alongside the visuals of the incredible setting of the film.
A clever film all-round. The plot although simple at first escalates and grips you throughout whilst maintaining and never losing site of the clear underlying class message. The humour is consistently great and isn’t watered down in translation at all. The enclosed setting that the film partakes in (predominantly set at the hosts house) results in the intensity levels rising and thus developing this into a film that has you on the edge of your seat when that in reality is actually not the idea of the film itself. A definite watch and hopefully there’s no messy remakes of this as this version itself is perfect.
This was everything that i wanted marriage story to be, a film that seemed genuinely realistic where i felt more attached to the characters and relationship at hand. The cast were brilliant, engaging at all points and oozed an air of authenticity when they had to play their emotional cards. With any romantic film it’s easy to get sidetracked when getting from A to B in the plot, so the landscape set for this film brought a sense of uniqueness. The story is set over 6 different events all varying in subject, context and emotion and as a result you see a fuller picture of the relationship and how it’s developed rather than purely a chronological set of events set over a week. A definite watch for any drama film lovers.
The last tree
A coming of age film that feels infectious as you become instantly attached to the main character (Femi) as you watch him progress from his childhood to his teenage years and his resultant troubles in the depths of London in a film that has hints of moonlight scattered throughout. The emotion displayed throughout by the cast is captivating, further heightened by the clever way the film is shot as it consistently driving in closer to the subjects building up a level of intensity and further highlighting the emotional capacity Femi (Sam Adewunmi) in particular is capable of. The settings are brilliant as well breaking up the film well and coinciding with Femi’s growth as a person, moving from the traditional British country side to the more brutalist setting in London and then seeing his peak as a human being in the film as he returns to his native home of Nigeria. An incredibly heart warming film that is a must watch.
Midsommar – Arguably the most insane film i’ve ever seen for reasons that i could list forever, however it was in a good way. Incredible entertaining yet thought provoking with an incredible performance from Florence Pugh . Another great film by X as he leads the new horror wave.
The Irishman – Very well scripted, a great plot and strong performances aplenty from the cast, however something for me just didn’t seem to click. I didn’t feel any attachment to the characters or the story and as a result struggled to really hold my interest at times.
Villains – A really fun watch, entertaining at every aspect. The plot was solid keeping you double guessing as to what was going to happen next at every opportunity whilst the eeriness of the performance from the couple (Jeffery Donovan & Kyra Sedgwick) paired with comedic humour is a great match.
Under the silver lake – It’s hard to cast my mind back to this one considering the fact i had watched it mid 2018 for it only to be released in early 2019. I was slightly disappointed, i expected this to be a shoe in for my top 5 with Andrew Garfield incredibly underrated as an actor and the plot seemingly mysteriously entertaining however it fell quite flat. Effectively one big conspiracy theory that struggles to really make anything substantial out of its plot other than a few peaks. However once again Andrew Garfield gives a strong performance in a tough role.
The King – After a slow start it recovers well in the second, maximising its budget to the max to look visually great. The battle scenes in particular are really strong, the realism of the final battle where the emphasis on the environment was a welcome change from the traditional war films. The issue with the film was that it felt like there was significant filler at the beginning where it spent too much time trying to build context behind Henry when it was pretty obvious within the first 10 minutes, detracting time away from where Timothee really thrived, later on in the film where he had the opportunity to really drive his acting range.
Saint Laurent – The Last collections – A documentary that moves away from the traditional films listed. An incredible insight into the life and house of Yves Saint Laurent, the only slight disappointment was the lack of interaction with the man himself.
Ford vs Ferrari – A film that exceeded my expectations, very well shot and remained entertaining throughout with the pacing of the film being ideal. As you’d expect Christian bale put in yet another strong performance as he always tends too, allowing this film to step up another level.
Once upon a time in Hollywood – A film that in my opinion suffered from the opposite of pacing praise i gave to Ford vs Ferrari, it felt extremely sluggish in parts with filler more than apparent in the middle. The scenes with Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) are pretty redundant and don’t do anything than try and help tie a bow around the ending. Once again in a similar sense to ford vs ferrari it’s elevated by a standout performance from Leo who is engaging in every scene whilst really is incredible during the cowboy acting scenes.
Good boys – An above funny watch, was expecting a solid film going in with seth rogen attached however this was great. Clearly rooted in inspiration from superbad the actors all give a good account of themselves with many quotables. Never going to win any awards but most definitely an easy watch that stands out in a comedy scene which was sparse at times this year.
US – The follow up to get out didn’t really hit the same. Layered more in cheap comedy whilst also feeling repetitive at times i started to lose interest in the middle. Granted the underlaying message was clever and the dual cast performances were great it lacked that cutting edge that kept me on the edge of my seat that get out had. Unfortunately as with any film that stood out previously from a director it’s tough not to compare it to that, meaning my thoughts are slightly skewed. As a film on it’s own it’s a good watch, just slightly disappointing given the context.
Ad Astra – An incredibly beautiful to watch film with the visuals bordering mentally stimulating at times, but again seemed slightly too long however the runtime was just the 2 hours. I think the film seemed to drag at points due to the emotionless of Brad Pitt’s character, which granted was a necessity for the plot but when watching does remove any attachment to the character and result places a huge weight to bare on plot which was ultimately pretty average.
Knives out – Considering the cast and the hype i had heard going into this at London film festival i was half expecting this to be my favourite coming out, this was far from the case. The way the film panned out wasn’t really in line with the murder mystery aesthetic i expected it to have whilst the performances seemed quite generic. The film felt unnecessarily padded at points and the humour was lackluster at times, with the pinnacle of the pair being a car chase at the end which was self described as ‘dumbest car chase of all time’. Ultimately with this cast i expected better.
Toy Story 4 – An improvement on three, but still miles off the classics that are one and two. Maybe that’s driven by nostalgia, but i think it’s more the fact some of the key characters we watered down in replacement for more childish gimmicks. The main example of this being buzz who was no more than a bit part this film and when he did get screen time came across as a shell of the charatcer he was in the first couple of films. However credit does have to be given to the way they wrapped it all up which was in my opinion the best they could have done.
Joker – A severely overrated film, the plot was incredibly basic and repetitive whilst aspects felt spoon fed at times. The performance of Joaquin was the only saving grace.
Marriage Story – After loving the Meyerowitz stories I came in knowing how much this was going to grounded in realism, however it just felt a bit too forced at times. The musical scores for example came across particularly cringey whilst some of the acting from Scarlett Johansen didn’t feel particularly convincing at points. The best aspects of the film were Driver’s parts who was very impressive yet again in this, with the scene with the knife a genuine hilarious moment.
Look Mom i can fly – A solid documentary which further highlighted the cult like figure that Travis Scott is. I didn’t really expect much going in so i was pretty content with what i got from it, however the potential for more behind the scenes footage of the creation of the album and in general would have been good.
Zombieland 2 – A decade after the first which is effectively a cult classic it had a lot on its shoulders and unfortunately didn’t really hit the heights. There were too many forced references to the first and the ‘rules’ whilst some of the jokes seemed a lot more tame and generic. The definition of a aeroplane watch and a cash grab.
Glass – Effectively a year since this came out my memory is quite jagged about what i actually thought about this, however the lack of desire to rewatch gives me the sense it wasn’t great.
The Report – A watch that was borderline tedious, interesting for someone that has a genuine attachment to the subject matter but as a casual watch that i partook in I don’t think i’d recommend.
Velvet Buzzsaw – I genuinely can’t remember if i actually watched this or not, i’m 90% i did but can’t confirm. This probably tells you all you need to know.
IT 2 – After the success of the first it was always going to be difficult to recreate the same results however this missed massively. The cast were perfect for the roles, however the kids were undoubtedly better and more relevant for the film itself. What really let the film down was the lack of innovation, the scares were incredibly lackluster whilst the CGI seemed considerably more obvious as well this time round. The main damning thing about this was the ending, tweaked from the book it was a serious cop-out and one that left a very discontented feeling when it had finished.
Star Wars the rise of the skywalker / Annabelle comes home – i’ve grouped these together as they were both cash grabs that were incredibly cringey in parts, whilst both actually reference quotes from the film multiple times throughout giving the feeling of groundhog day. Both terrible