Well, here we are at the end of yet another cinematic year and it’s time, once again, to finally reveal my best films of the year – an exciting time of year, to be sure. After getting so close to watching 100 new releases last year (ultimately logging 97 releases from 2018), I really hoped to pass that number and see at least 100 new films from this year – in an effort to be more like those “hardcore filmwatchers” who somehow manage to see them all, I guess – and I’m frankly amazed that in the end, I managed to watch 133 films that were released in the UK this year. True, a certain number of those were Netflix films, so maybe that’s like playing tennis with the net down, but still, I exceeded my target and I’m really happy about that.
And looking at this year’s crop of new releases, if I may begin a little negatively, I have to say that there weren’t as many truly amazing films as there have been in previous years (2017 and 2018 set the bar pretty high) and I saw my fair share of one/two star films (around 60% of them from Netflix, though) and only saw two films (with one being incredibly close) as being five star worthy, in my opinion – though maybe it would’ve been more if Parasite, The Lighthouse or Jojo Rabbit were released in the UK this year!
But nevertheless, 2019 did bring us some really great films and out of the 133 that I saw, these are the 20 that I deemed to be the best, so let’s celebrate them!
At this point, I’m also going to point out that like last year, I’m going to forgo doing a “worst of” list as some people look unfavourably upon those and although it would be fun to tear into the worst of the worst, I’ve opted to stay positive and only celebrate the best.
So here’s the top 20, all released in the UK this year:
20. Wild Rose
With an entertaining and emotionally affecting story about a cheeky, rambunctious and, yes, wild young lass from Scotland who dreams of hitting it big in Nashville, Wild Rose boasts some wonderful songs, a strong plot, and above all else, a magnificent central performance from Jessie Buckley, who has struck a chord with so many people with her feisty, fiery and spirited turn, singing the songs with so much natural talent and giving us a flawed character who we just can’t take our eyes or ears off. And Julie Walters is pretty great, too!
19. The Irishman
Currently the seventh longest film I’ve ever seen, the latest project from one of my favourite directors is certainly an epic saga as it tells the story of a former meat truck driver who moves into the inner circle of a crime family and goes on to become involved with the activities of Jimmy Hoffa; the story is patient, restrained and reflective – a far cry from typical Scorsese fare – the locations and production designs are gorgeous, there’s a typically great soundtrack, it’s edited proficiently, and the cast is outstanding – with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci on fine form while also treating us to equally outstanding performances from Ray Romano, Stephen Graham and Anna Paquin.
18. Dolemite is my Name
Despite never having previously heard of Rudy Ray Moore or his apparently influential film Blaxploitation film Dolemite, this Netflix original (which comfortably joins Paddleton and Klaus as the best that the streaming service has given us this year) was a very pleasant surprise because it’s incredibly entertaining, really funny, and so rude, crude and outrageous, telling an Ed Wood/The Disaster Artist type story about a passionate man who makes a film that aims to make black people feel represented on screen. It’s probably the film that made me laugh the most this year and Eddie Murphy is absolutely fantastic and electric in the central role.
17. Knives Out
Although I don’t agree with some that it “shakes up the whodunnit genre” or that it’s a masterpiece, writer/director Rian Johnson’s latest is nonetheless a creative, fun, entertaining and very colourful caper that includes a tight script, a compelling mystery with enough twists and turns, and a great cast – particularly the increasingly popular Ana de Armas, the gleeful Chris Evans, and an entertainingly southern Daniel Craig .
16. Captain Marvel
Ah yes, the film that must’ve really p***ed off those toxic manbaby trolls, this Marvel solo film is an entertaining and imaginative ride that takes us to even more new worlds and immerses us in the glorious decade that was the ’90s; it’s a colourful and fun adventure that shows off some of that incredible de-aging technology and more importantly, the film gives Brie Larson a chance to strut her stuff as she makes Carol Danvers an energetic, kick-butt character who we can all (barring the ridiculous manbabies) support and enjoy watching.
15. Le Mans ’66
James Mangold succeeds again with his latest – a sleek, enlightening and thrilling true-life underdog tale that achieves the impossible: making Formula One interesting! The story that looks at the rivalry between Ford and Ferrari is very interesting to learn about, Christian Bale, Matt Damon and Tracy Letts are great, and as for the all-important racing scenes, they are genuinely nail-biting, fully capable of getting audiences at the edge of their seats and they benefit greatly from Mangold’s capable direction, Phedon Papamichael’s superb cinematography, and some effective sound design and nifty editing.
14. Doctor Sleep
This Stephen King-approved adaptation demonstrates writer/director Mike Flanagan’s ongoing talent for horror/thriller projects as Doctor Sleep, rather than being a pointless, sub-par sequel to the mighty Shining as I feared it might be, has an excellent, exciting story that brilliantly expands the Shining universe and it’s full of genuine darkness and winning callbacks to the original Kubrick film; it has an ideal atmosphere that delivers on the creeps and scares (especially in a particularly brutal death scene) and the cast and characters are superb – especially fan favourite Rose the Hat, devilishly played by Rebecca Ferguson.
13. Green Book
Yes, Green Book. While it shouldn’t have won the Best Picture Oscar and takes the subject of racism and segregation straight out of a school textbook, this controversial film is still one of the best of the year as it is a fun and humorous road movie with an accessible story that includes two very watchable characters who are brought to life with wholehearted zeal by Viggo Mortensen and with quiet dignity by Mahershala Ali. It’s one of the more entertaining and engrossing films of the year and I had a really good time watching it. Twice.
12. John Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum
I was a little deflated when I found out that this wasn’t, as I had assumed, the epic conclusion to the highly acclaimed action saga, and maybe there isn’t too much here story-wise as it only moves the plot on by a small amount but as an action film, it’s absolutely first rate as it is thrilling, stylish and creative, Keanu Reeves is still killing it in the role, and the film displays plenty of truly enviable, visceral, and masterfully directed fight/action sequences – the highlight being the sequence in Morocco that features two amazing attack dogs. It’s one of 2019’s standout scenes.
11. Avengers: Endgame
Although it didn’t effortlessly soar to my #1 spot as I was sure it would, the concluding chapter of this era of Avengers films gives audiences what they came for (as well as a few surprises) as it hits hard emotionally when the team deals with a big loss and when major players start dying, and the “time heist” that goes back to many previous films is a bona fide, fangasmic load of fun, the whole thing culminating in an undeniably epic battle that finishes this chapter of the saga with a big bang – it’s more worthy a conclusion than Rise of Skywalker was, anyway!
10. Spider-Man: Far From Home
That’s right – the friendly neighbourhood webslinger beats the big record breaking moneymaker. The latest film featuring our favourite superhero proves to be a fun and entertaining globetrotting adventure that contains a generous amount of good humour, another endearing Tom Holland performance, a big chance for Zendaya to shine, and a uniquely fascinating villain in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck/Mysterio – a different kind of villain (though familiar in his grudge against Tony Stark) that allows the film to do something a little different with the genre as it pokes fun at those caped crusaders with a sad backstory and the film also gives us another big 2019 cinematic highlight in the magnificently trippy “What is Real?” sequence. Plus, the eventual, triumphant return of a particularly popular character, introduced right before the film ends, is a huge “punch-the-air moment”!
Despite not being an Elton John fan going in, Rocketman really impressed me and it proved to be one of the year’s most energetic, creative and entertaining films which really makes you marvel at just how many wonderful songs both Elton and Bernie Taupin made together; Taron Egerton is astounding in the title role (as are the supporting players) and the whole thing is staged and directed with so much flair and passion by Dexter Fletcher, who is clearly in his element with the material. It is a very worthy addition to the musical biopic genre as the wonderful songs are perfectly placed within the film, the songs being specifically chosen to advance the story and to tell the audience what’s going on in a very innovative way, and the whole film is just so bright, colourful, passionate and uplifting, perfectly capable of having you singing and dancing along as it did for me.
8. Instant Family
For me, this was the most surprising film of 2019 because I went in expecting a pretty decent, perhaps average, studio comedy with some obvious jokes and those big moments that were already shown in the trailers, but Instant Family really caught me off guard because the final product was far funnier than it had any right to be and, amazingly, it sneakily put some very emotional moments in there and they somehow made me well up – moreso than any other film that I saw this year. Marriage Story included. The film has a fun cast as Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are a wonderfully funny screen duo and Isabela Moner (now Merced) impresses greatly, and the story is so genuine, sweet and well intentioned as it strives to tell a story all about the kids that languish in the foster care system, something that you don’t see too often in mainstream cinema.
I’m not a fan of the ending though. Way too forced, unbelievable and cheesy.
7. Ad Astra
Though a little thin on story and perhaps a bit too Apocalypse Now-y, Brad Pitt shines in director James Gray’s sci-fi epic that sees an impossibly cool astronaut deal with his daddy issues and go off on a bleak adventure in order to find him and to prevent a global catastrophe; it’s a haunting and engrossing experience with a surprisingly downbeat message about our place in the universe that you don’t often see in this kind of film, Max Richter’s score is sublime, and the visual effects are an absolute triumph.
6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I’m not a fan of Melissa McCarthy’s brand of comedy but, following in the footsteps of other comedy actors who successfully tried their hand at drama, she is on incredible form here as the brash, ill-tempered, antisocial biographer who begins forging letters from famous people; McCarthy really is a revelation, as is Richard E. Grant who is equally as marvellous and flamboyant in his role, and the rest of the film benefits from one of the strongest, wittiest and emotionally affecting scripts of the year as well as some absolutely lovely production design and a great, era-specific soundtrack.
As the most divisive film of the year and then some, a certain percentage of the film blogging community have branded Todd Phillips’ comic book film as one of the worst of the year, but I really don’t understand why because Joker is a refreshingly dark entry in the popular genre and it looks at the origin story of Batman’s greatest nemesis (though I’m of the school of thought that believes that Arthur Fleck was the first Joker but not the Joker) in a grounded and realistic, quintessentially Scorsese-inspired, way and it is quite something to watch this character slowly descend into madness and villainy; it’s directed with imagination and innovation, the production design and cinematography is unique, it’s devilishly dark, swear-y and violent, and Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely mesmerising. And it gave us a new national landmark – The Joker Steps!
Another very impressive project from the mind of emerging horror maestro Jordan Peele, Us is more of a typical horror film than the beloved Get Out and it has a great original story that masterfully balances the scares with plenty of wonderfully hilarious dialogue and it also has an absolutely chilling score from Michael Abels, a palpable atmosphere of dread and unease, and a very talented cast that includes a sensationally unsettling dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o – one of the best of the year, in fact. And to top it all off, Us also has my favourite movie ending of 2019 that includes a perfect use of Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleur”.
3. The Favourite
I loved Dogtooth, was on the fence with The Lobster, and I really disliked The Killing of a Sacred Deer, so with the Lanthimosian scales perfectly balanced, I was incredibly curious to see how his latest venture would compare and, thankfully, I found The Favourite to be one of his better ones as, like Can You Ever Forgive Me?, it has one of the strongest scripts of the year (essentially proving that Lanthimos is a better director than he is a writer) and it shakes up the historical costume drama/period piece by giving it that surreal, Lanthimosian flavour that uses a fish eye lens to great effect and low angles to emphasise the grotesque nature of the characters; the music is absolutely splendid, the costumes (see the above image – magnificent), production design and hair/make-up are exemplary, and the cast is incredible: Emma Stone and Nicholas Hoult are a treat but shining even brighter, we have the Oscar winning national treasure Olivia Colman and the luminous Rachel Weisz, who should have won that Supporting Actress Oscar because she is simply perfect in this – definitely one of my FAVOURITE performances of the year.
And that particular film actually spent around 11 months in my #1 slot until two five star films came along in December and seized victory at the 11th hour . . .
2. Marriage Story
Most people out there on the ol’ blogosphere have been singing this movie’s praises for quite a while, proclaiming it to be one of this year’s finest and in this instance, I will definitely side with the masses because Marriage Story has an excellent and engaging story about a couple going through a divorce whose relationship just gets increasingly strained and nasty, both going through the emotional ringer as they are compelled to jump through various legal hoops and face off against each other and their cutthroat lawyers. It’s a plot that many will be able to relate to (so many have claimed to have been emotionally broken by the depicted events) and the whole film succeeds because of its excellent writing, appealing cinematography, clever direction and editing, fully formed and interesting characters, and the two exceptional performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.
The only film of 2019 that actually managed to leave me speechless by the end, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut, clocking in at only a hour and a half, is a thoroughly absorbing and atmospheric character study that follows a young boy who escapes his troubled home life and finds new friends in a group of older kids (being reminiscent of This is England, which I love); with its 4:3 aspect ratio, grainy cinematography and seamlessly woven in, decade-specific phenomena, it genuinely feels like this was a movie made in the ’90s and it manages to have such an impact thanks to its simple yet effective story, an absolutely beautiful score by the great Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, some clever direction, and endearing characters who are given life by a group of performers that include names such as Sunny Sijlic, Katherine Waterston and Lucas Hedges but also several very impressive first time performances.
* * *
Get my whole 2019 list HERE
So with that little gem winning my top spot and earning its place in my Victors’ Village, all that remains is for me to say thank you for visiting my site and reading what I have to say. Here’s to another year at Plain, Simple Tom Reviews, and I wish everyone a happy and a healthy 2020! New decade, y’all!!
Plain, Simple Tom
And I couldn’t resist – in lieu of a whole post dedicated to it, here are my bottom 10 films of 2019. 70% of which I didn’t have to leave the house for, thank the lord!
10. High Flying Bird
9. The Silence
7. Let it Snow
6. Black Christmas
5. Madeline’s Madeline
2. Secret Obsession