The new year is here, and so Top 10 season is upon us. The tradition is to rank media in a seemingly arbitrary fashion so here's my oh-so personal list of moves faves that came out 2019. What will be number 1? Read on to find out...
It's been an odd year for movies. Most of the films I really liked were not major releases, and few had the buzz that dominated discussion boards and YouTube comments. Netflix did well, but many of their releases suffered from the unrestrained freedom given to certain creatives. Meanwhile, the usually consistent Disney blundered critically if not financially, with only Marvel being as dependable as ever. As an unabashed Disneyphile, it's been quite disappointing to see their live-action remakes drop the ball in spectacular fashion.
Disney-adjacent movies have fared much better, with Marvel proving their mettle and storming the box-office with Endgame. As much as I enjoyed the satisfying conclusion to a storyline spanning 12 years, it remains a film I'm strangely not too keen to revisit, unlike the cast's solo efforts. Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker made a lot of money and I did really like it, but this is the first time a Star Wars movie won't appear on my Top 10.
I believe the issues with the series are the same as those found in the last season of Game of Thrones. The overall plot is fine and actually very decent, it was just a little rushed in its telling. Perhaps this backlash wore out the worst of the self-entitled fanboys as I have not seen the bile and vitriol aimed towards The Last Jedi given to Rise of Skywalker. While it's definitely there in the dregs of social media, it seemingly didn't come out in full force this time around. Or, they were distracted by the heated political 'debate' of the UK election (don't get me started).
Anyway, let's stay positive. The early months of January look jam-packed for UK cinema goers with interesting movies. JoJo Rabbit seems like the best kind of quirky and off-beat only Taika Waititi can conjure up, 1917 appears to be an epic war movie and The Lighthouse from Robert Eggers (The Witch) is all set to be my most anticipated movie of 2020, despite it officially being a 2019 movie if you live in the US.
Let's not ramble on any more and talk about why you're all here; my top 10 movies of 2019. How do I decide those on the list? Well, critical thoughts take second place to personal enjoyment. Add a need to big up the smaller movies with a healthy dose of contrarianism and you have your answer. Plus it's my list so there. (I'd still like to hear yours in the comments though). If you to want to see just how on the ball (or full of it) I am, click on the posters and links to buy or stream them (if available).
I ummed and erred over what to put in this slot. Would it be Star Wars? It was very good in my eyes, but it's not the best of the current trilogy. The astonishingly epic Avengers: Endgame came close, but I ultimately chose a big blockbuster that I'm sure to watch more often. The number 10 spot goes to Spider-Man: Far From Home, the most enjoyable franchise film of the year.
John Watt's teen comedy take on the superhero flick has as much warmth and humour as anything from the golden age of John Hughes, and I love it. Both of his films have a likeable cast, great action and compellingly machiavellian villains rooted in the real world. Mysterio's revenge fantasies after big-tech absorbs his invention to only then discard him rings just as true as Vulture's vengeance when that same fortune-500 company ruins his business (let's not forget, Tony Stark is top of the 1%. I wonder how much he pays in taxes). I'd gladly watch both films multiple times without hesitation. And I have.
I recently made the mistake of looking at movie forums to discuss this clever murder mystery directed by Rian Johnson. Some very loud anonymous commentators are citing Knives Out to be anti-white, pro-immigration propaganda. Of course, they're full of shit, perhaps still riled up by their misplaced hatred of the director's handling of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (I still stand by it). If anything, the movie is an indictment on the massive divide between the rich and the poor, which is the real cause of the current political divide in the west.
Putting politics aside - and there could be an entire essay about the (real) politics of this movie - Knives Out is a whodunit in the classic sense. Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has been murdered, and Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired to sort through the twists and turns the plot goes through in uncovering the truth. Once all the truths are out, it makes for a gratifying throwback to the likes of Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell. Highly recommended.
Netflix has done well again this year, enticing many a named director to their service. I do feel a lot of the tempted talent of any renown abuse their freedom and make either an unabashedly weird tale no other studio would touch (Dan Gilroy's Velvet Buzzsaw, Bong Joon-ho's Okja) or indulgently over-stuff an over-long narrative with unnecessary bloat (Steven Soderberg's The Laundromat, Martin Scorcese's The Irishman).
Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) falls into a third category. Marriage Story is concise and intensely personal in a way that Hollywood rarely makes anymore. Yet, the film feels very much like classic Hollywood of the 70s. The emotional tale of a strained marriage break may have been likened to the Oscar-winning Kramer vs Kramer, but the tiny moments ably performed by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson make this a very different, modern piece. Neither character is seen as the villain which wouldn't be the case for a lesser filmmaker, but Baumbach has proven himself time and again to be one of current cinema's oft-overlooked greats. I suspect some Oscars come awards season.
Here's one bizarre slow-burner of a movie that took me completely by surprise. Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) was once an American Assassin during WWII, a legend to those in the know. He's now been asked to come out of retirement and use his skills to hunt down a rabid bigfoot spreading the plague to the local populace. While on the hunt, he remembers his time in the war which is intermittently told in flashback. These sequences are a tense and thought-provoking revisionist take on the events of the last just war, with just enough absurdity and abstraction to leave you pondering the meaning.
In a move that may confuse some, I'd consider Robert D. Krzykowski's The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot to be a surrealist movie that I would happily put alongside Quentin Dupieux's Rubber, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors and Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England. The tone is played entirely seriously and the grindhouse machinations promised in the title are ultimately inconsequential in the grand themes of ageing and obsolescence. It may not be for everyone, but the ethereally cogent narrative on top of a bizarrely heartfelt underbelly was exactly what I wanted.
I bundled two movies together for my number 6 slot (my list, my rules) and it's all because I couldn't decide between two stellar roles from Lupita Nyong'o who's smashed it this year. She may be hidden behind a CGI costume in Star Wars, but her live-action turns in two of the years most arresting horror movies are what really make her shine. First cam Us from Jordan Peele, an intense fever dream of a horror that shifts from a home invasion movie to something even more unsettling. And it's Nyong'o dual role that makes it so affecting (I'll leave it at that in case you haven't seen - it's easily spoiled if you know too much).
Then, in November came a different kind of horror - the zom-rom-com. Nyong'o plays an American primary school teacher in Australia who is forced to protect her class after a field trip is interrupted by a zombie outbreak. Along for the ride is the developmentally arrested Dave who flirts and fails with his nephew teacher throughout the run time. Josh Gadd adds more cynical comic relief as a nihilistically vain children's entertainer but it's Nyong'o that elevates the entire movie. Without her effervescent charm counteracting the other characters, it wouldn't work. And she does it with a depth a lesser actress wouldn't attempt. Highly entertaining.
I wasn't so sure about Joker when I first saw it. The reviews were stellar and word on the street said it was a revelatory picture. I left the auditorium not thinking that in the slightest. Yet, since I've seen it I've continuously pondered on it. No, it's nowhere near the lofty heights of Taxi Driver which it takes heavy inspiration from. Nor is Joaquin Phoenix as entertainingly iconic as Heath Ledger's take on the character in The Dark Knight. Comic book iconography rarely exists, and what little there is, is little more than easter eggs. So, if I'm not as enamoured about Joker as others, why do I keep thinking about it?
I've come to realise that Warner Bros and DC didn't make a comic book movie, but a deconstruction of one like how the Dogme '95 rules deconstruct filmmaking as a whole. It stripped down all of the bulk, focussing on a character known for his abstruse history, demystifying him in the process. All throughout the first half of the film, we are dared to sympathise with someone we know to the most villainous of villains and when he does villainous things, we are repulsed by it like no other. It forces us to think about mass hysteria and the dangers of idol worship, of the culpability of mental health and that of the underfunded institutions designed to protect them and those around them. It is very prescient.
Unlike some of the hyperbolic stories some have been spewing (from both professional and personal voices), I don't think Joker incites violence. In many ways, it's similar to the talk surrounding Fight Club back in 1999 when cries of 'BAN THIS SICK FLICK' hailed from opportunist pundits like Daily Mail and its reactionary kind. Those who think the violent anarchy in either film is something to admire or replicate missed the point of either film. And that point is the reason I've come to really love the film.
Last year, I placed Hereditary as my number one film of the year. It was a dark and disturbing psychological horror with imagery that really sticks in the mind. This year, Ari Aster makes a light and disturbing psychological horror that morphs wildly in your mind the more you think about it. MidSommar is set in Sweden at a time of year when the sun doesn't set. Dani and Christian (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor) are on vacation and Christian, an anthropology student, convinces her to join some of his friends and spend it as guests of a remote pagan cult cut off from the modern world.
The couple's relationship is a fractured one, with the two only staying together after Dani suffers a heavy personal tragedy. It's strained to the point where you can sense that even the characters know a break up is imminent, perhaps overdue. The strange events and traditions that alienate and isolate the pair on their trip don't help matters either.
By the movie's end, you'll be pondering on what exactly went down and why. On my first watch, I had a visceral reaction to the events that unfolded. I left sympathising with Christian and angry at the passive nature of Dani (see it if you want to know the specifics). On my second viewing, I realised the reverse was very much true. On my third, I hated all of them and on my fourth, I felt all holidaymakers needed redemption. At once, any and all of these readings are valid, making it a complex horror that'll be revisited and re-deciphered for years to come.
I Lost My Body is Netflix doing great things again. At this year's Cannes, they bought the worldwide rights to this animated oddity from first-time French animation director Jérémy Clapin and it fits right into the 'weird' side of their oeuvre. Naoufel is a quiet orphan teen living in foster care in Paris, getting by as a pizza delivery boy. On one of his drops, he falls for a librarian girl named Gabrielle. His awkward attempts at wooing her throughout the film don't go too well and eventually lead to his hand getting cut off. How? Well, go and watch it to find out. The story is told in flashbacks from the point of view from the severed hand with PTSD flashbacks of the appendage appearing at a significant part of the story.
That's the premise of I Lost My Body; Thing from The Addams Family on an adventure to become whole again, both physically and psychologically. We see the hand scuttle across subway tracks, get attacked by rats and make a daring escape using an umbrella as a parachute all the wile imbibed with a personality that's empathetically human. This moving tale of the struggles in life rings truer than most live-action films. Well worth a watch.
By the sounds of it, James Grey's Ad Astra is a mish-mash of every significant space travel movie in cinematic history. Echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris scutter around the more direct comparisons to the survival disaster movies of Gravity or The Martian. The psychology of a man alone for years in space is very reminiscent of Moon and let's not forget the immense significance of space travel tinged with yearning personal stakes also found in Interstellar. Some critics have even found links to Event Horizon.
You can see bits of each of these movies and more throughout the run time of Ad Astra, yet it is never once derivative. In fact, it resonates with a profound understanding of human life and the conflict between personal connection and the task-driven pressure to suppress that. Good sci-fi always asks existential questions like this and Ad Astra sits up there with each of them.
I'd hazard a guess that not many of you have heard of my number-one pick. Directed by The Babadook's Jennifer Kent, The Nightingale was released in UK cinemas in November with little fanfare despite a barrage of great reviews. Set in Tasmania in 1825, where the Australian island was used as a penal colony for British convicts, it tells the tale of a young Irish woman named Clare (a spectacular Aisling Franciosi) fighting for her freedom after her time of servitude is up.
After a particularly brutal inciting incident, she hunts down a band corrupt officers lead by Lieutenant Hawkins (viscously played by Sam Claflin) with the reluctant help of an Aborigine tracker named Billy. Racial prejudices play a huge part in the story, which takes place smack bang in the middle of the genocidal 'Black War'. It's a nasty time and place, a perfect storm for the worst humanity has to offer that offers little in the way of hope for any character. A spectacularly told story of a time in history few outside of the movie's native lands will know about. More people should see it. More people should be talking about it. It is, in my opinion, the best film of the year.
If you include last October's forgettable Smallfoot, there were three yeti movies out this year. Abominable is passable DreamWorks fare that uses the same formula as How to Train Your Dragon, while Missing Link retains the excellence of stop-motion animation Laika is known for. The story is a little too slapstick for my liking, but if you've seen anything else the studio is known for, you won't be surprised with how good it is.
Moving into Japanese Animation, and Okko's Inn was the only one I got round to seeing this year. It was directed by ex-Ghibli animator Kitaro Kosaka and it shares a number of echoes with many of that studio's most celebrated features including Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro. After a car accident tragically takes away her parents, young Okko goes to live with her grandparents in the countryside. She helps them run the family inn as junior innkeeper but soon finds that their motto of 'anyone's welcome' means anyone, including ghosts, demons and other unexpected guests. As you can expect it's written, animated and directed in a beautiful, moving fashion.
There were a plethora of good-but-not-great animated features this year (of which I include passable movies like Secret Life of Pets 2, Angry Birds 2 and Spies in Disguise). These three releases marked the better end of the spectrum.
As you can guess from some previous posts, I have a soft spot for the off-kilter and The Addams Family as a franchise has been the purest embodiment of that for over 80 years. I would've liked this new animated movie (which was conceived to be stop-motion at one point) go to a little bit darker and a little less slapstick but it's nonetheless a decent time at the cinema. Just not as kooky, spooky or ooky as you want it to be.
How to Tain your Dragon 3 is a little more successful as a whole but is still not to the level of the first two films. I feel it regurgitates a lot of the same themes and story beats of what's come before resulting in character arcs that feel forced. I'm absolutely looking too much into this as what is there remains very much enjoyable, and no parent would bemoan taking their little ones to see it. It's just not at the same level.
What is at the same level is LEGO Movie 2. The addition of Duplo and the arrival of a sister in the Sistar system is a clever one, bringing about the same kind of feels that surprised us all with the first one.
Disney really bothered me with their live-action remakes this year. Aladdin is my absolute favourite Disney animated feature so it disappointed me greatly to see how they screwed up and misunderstood that film's perfect storytelling. It is too similar that makes you wonder why anyone would want to watch it, and yet everything they change is changed for the worse. And that includes Will Smith's replacement of Robin Williams' genie. I can get on board with Jasmine having a bigger role with more agency, but splicing her into Aladdin's opening number robs both characters of a meaningful introduction. Even the new song written for her feels like it's from a completely different movie. This is Aladdin, not The Greatest Showman!
While many others felt Dumbo was the worse movie of the two, I didn't think so. That's likely because it wasn't another shot-for-shot rehash of a movie we've already seen. Dumbo does go into some weird places, and the elephant himself often takes a backseat to some over-acting child performers but at least it's different enough to be worthy of its existence. It's the lesser, more corporate Tim Burton on display here (think Alice in Wonderland over Mis Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children), but it still have his unique style.
As for The Lion King, you'll have to read on to find out why I've not lumped it here.
Two movies boasting the heavy involvement of one James Cameron. Before Avatar was a thing, I remember Mr. Cameron musing in interviews that Alita: Battle Angel might be his next project. It wasn't, and Robert Rodriguez instead took the helm a decade later. He did a good of it too, in my humble opinion, making for a great sci-fi adventure film with enough imperfections to land it firmly in cult status. It flopped in America, but it appears the worldwide gross allowed for its budget to be earned back. I hope we get a sequel to resolve that cliffhanger ending.
On the other end of the spectrum is yet another film proving that The Terminator needs to die before any and all goodwill the first two has is lost forever. It's not as bad as Terminator: Genesis, but it does come close. Ignoring everything after T2, the plot kicks off with the death of a fan-favourite character. After the backlash following Alien 3's opening scenes, you'd have thought he would've known better. Dark Fate has none of that film's invention or thematic resonance to follow, making for a rather bland and uninspired cash-grab of an actioner.
Speaking of action, Anna and John Wick certainly provided some. I was a little surprised by the obviously rehearsed ballet performances they call fight scenes in Anna, especially considering it's directed by Luc Besson. Perhaps his budget was cut right down after the super expensive flop that was Valerian (I still like it), but Anna is a film that ultimately falls flat.
The only thing falling flat about John Wick 3: Parabellum is the faces as they hit the floor. Once again, the action here is top-notch but the plot is a little more contrived than the previous movies. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the big-budget grindhouse nature of it all proving the series will always be trusted to entertain.
Some may be surprised about Endgame not being in my top 10. It was indeed a spectacular movie with some emotional beats sprinkled with touches of genuine comedy, but the over-long final action sequence felt like a slog. Without the super-characters like Spider-Man (and his more heavily-featured mentors), it shares the same beats as the battle at Helm's Deep in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Replace resurrected supers with elves and it's surprisingly familiar. Even the multitude of endings draws comparisons to the Return of the King. Nevertheless, like that classic trilogy, the entire film works and works well. I just like Spider-Man more.
Captain Marvel wasn't quite the breath of fresh air I wanted it to be, but it still was a breezy action flick with a lot going for it. Carol Danvers herself still feels a little underdeveloped as a character which isn't helped by her deus-ex machina cameos in other MCU films. She's one-note throughout most of the film whose MVP is an alien cat. And Samual L. Jackson's de-ageing effects.
For those not in the know, Frank was an anarchic comedic character from the mind of an anarchic character of a comedian. With his paper mache head, Manchurian accent and pathological need to hide his true identity, Frank Sidebottom was an entertaining enigma. Until he died and the full tragedy of the man's real life became known. The excellent Frank (2014, Lenny Abrahamson) dramatised a fictional version of his life, but this documentary details the true story.
Only one of these three high-concept horrors are particularly memorable, but none are particularly terrible (I managed to bypass the truly terrible ones like The Curse of La Llorona). Brightburn poses an intriguing question for a horror; what is Superman was a bad guy? If he was, no one would care about him it seems. The usually good James Gunn directed this, but it has none of his sly, winking personality brought to his other offbeat superhero flicks like Super or Guardians of the Galaxy. I really wanted this to be better.
When it comes to Child's Play, I really wanted it to not exist. The Chucky franchise was a little unique in horror cinema in that the long-running series always followed on from one another and the constant involvement of original writer Don Mancini (and later director) kept it all together. This reboot morphed the tale from a toy possessed by a serial killer to an AI gone AWOL. It goes the technology-equals-bad route that's been done to death. That being said, it's not entirely devoid of good things, it's just a little unnecessary.
You could've said the same Happy Death Day 2U if it weren't a well-conceived follow up to the minor sleeper hit that was the original. Groundhog Day meets Halloween was the winning concept of the first film, but the sequel adds some Back to the Future in there skewing the genre more towards sci-fi than slasher. Still, it is immensely enjoyable with a winning lead showcasing her likeable comedic chops. Unlike those other two, this is well worth your time.
Just like last year, and every year before that, many of last year's Oscar-botherers didn't see the cinemas until the first few months of 2019. The buzz for these three has since died down, but there is still some merit to them.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? follows the struggles of a bitter forger navigate the weight of her financially driven choices. Underneath the caustic characters is a warmth ably performed by the oft misused Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Excellent.
From the director of Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk has a lot of pedigree behind it. Set in the 1960s, a young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock and her lover has been accused of a heinous crime he did not commit. Touching on what it means to be black in America and what keeping up appearances mean to a racially targeted minority, it's another heartfelt turn from Barry Jenkins.
Vice was last years de-facto political choice. Directed by Adam McKay, it shares the same light touches he gave to The Big Short a few years earlier. While the tone served the heavy talk about economy and banking well in that film, it doesn't quite fit when applied to Vice. On the basis of this film (as well as less dramatised historical accounts), Dick Cheney was a nasty man with a nefarious agenda hidden behind an unassuming, almost boring persona. Ably played by Christian Bale in makeup, it is a fascinating indictment of the character but I feel that the occasional injection of comedy undermines the overall point the movie is trying to make.
A well-acted thriller that goes to some unexpected places. Starring Liam Neeson as a regular Joe taking revenge on those who killed his troubled son. The snow-covered setting of the Rocky Mountains wasn't enough to separate it in the minds of audiences as another Taken clone.
Crawl was a creature feature that really surprised me. I saw it with a friend on a whim and after reading the two-star reviews I wasn't expecting to be wowed. Well, I wasn't wowed but I did have tons of fun watching this well-made B-movie ramp up in tension. A woman trying to save her father during a hurricane is trapped in the crawlspace of his home with killer crocodiles on the loose. If that synopsis piques your interest, you won't be disappointed.
The Godzilla sequel, on the other hand, had more beasties than it knew what to do with. And I suspect they didn't know even before that decision was made. While by no means a classic, I liked the sombre foreboding of Gareth Edwards 2014 attempt, but Michael Dougherty takes the King of the Monsters to some uninspired, boring places to the point where I remember very little about it. Except for the anger caused by one of silver screen's worst mothers ever.
Jim Jarmush has made some weird pictures in his time, but his current interest in bringing horror movie tropes to his unusual meta style seems like the movie gods heard my very niche prayers. Following on from the vampiric Only Lovers Left Alive, The Dead Don't Die takes on a zombie apocalypse with insane results.
Starring Billy Murray, Tilda Swinton and Adam Driver (who's having one heck of a year), I suspect many will be tempted to watch it thinking it to be something like Zombieland. I doubt these viewers will like the stoic, absurdist comedy on full display. I did and I loved it.
Talking about Zombieland, Double Tap is precisely the movie those cinemagoers will want to see. It retains the same breezy charm and infectious character of the original but does little to expand upon it. Still, it's a very fun time at the cinema.
Stephen King fever continues unabashed, but none of his big-screen adaptations was as good as what's come before. It'll take one hell of a visionary to follow up Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, and I don't think the author himself was entirely successful in book form. Doctor Sleep is not a haunted house movie, an allegorical masterpiece or a horror movie in general. It is a supernatural thriller. Director Mike Flanagan does an admiral job at the parts that err closest to something scary, but the dramatic moments are a little hampered. Ultimately, its biggest flaw is being the follow up to The Shining, something it could never possibly live up to.
It: Chapter 2 is a disappointing follow up to the first, but those who've read the book would likely understand why. The structure of the novel has both timelines cross with each other, so the back and forth has thematic relevance. They don't here, and most of the significant flashbacks were found in the first movie making this one feel more episodic and meandering. It may have been half my life ago since I read the book, but I vividly remember liking the adult chapters the least. I can confidently say that about the It movies too.
Pet Semetary was just pants. They altered the disturbing storyline of the novel and 1989 adaptation to change the villain of the piece from a zombie 5-year-old boy to a zombie 12-year-old girl. It is less surprising, less heartbreaking, less scary and far less original. How many spooky tweens have we seen in horror movies the last decade? Too many. Still, it ends on a suitably stark, if wildly different note.
Netflix again had a great year. Dolemite Is My Name successfully reminded us how good of a screen presence Eddie Murphy is in a hilarious ode to a larger than life blaxploitation actor. The Laundromat filled its screen time with big names and Oscar winners to subtly expose the callous deeds of money men around the time of the 2008 financial crisis.
Meanwhile, Velvet Buzzsaw makes for bizarre viewing. Ostensibly a horror film, it plays more like a satire on the disingenuous nature of the art world. Modern art paintings kill vapid people in visually eccentric ways. The best film of the three is worth a watch for its originality, but it's hard to recommend for anyone who doesn't share my weird mindset. 'Normal' folks would probably like the other two more anyway.
The Favourite was my choice to win Best Film of 2018 out of those nominated. Perhaps it was wishful thinking that viewing history in such a bizarre lens would win, but it was a film I rapturously enjoyed.
Green Book, which ultimately was the winner, was your standard Oscar-baiter. It was a soft and unsurprising take on racism in the Jim Crow south, and while not a terrible movie from an entertainment standpoint, these points do make it one of the worst winners since Crash.
There were some genuinely enjoyable out-and-out comedies this past year. Fighting with My Family is a very British underdog story and a true one at that. It follows wrestler Paige on her journey to WWE superstardom.
Late Night took a deep dive into the very American pastime of late-night talk shows, yet it stars a very British comedian in Emma Thomson. She plays a bitter long-time host of Late Night with Katherine Newbury but after a slump in the ratings, she hires an untested wannabe comedian in Mindy Kaling to shake things up. It's warm, well-acted and with a cup of cocoa in hand, makes for perfectly comfortable viewing.
Long Shot, on the other hand, is filled with pratfalls, sex jokes and a myriad of awkward moments as Charlize Theron's Catherine Field run for the highest office in the American presidential election. She hires an old school friend and comedy writer played by Seth Rogen to join her campaign and spice up her speeches but that's not all he's spicing up. Yes, this is a rom-com where both the rom and com work making it one of the best I've seen in a while.
Disney was on sequel duty this year with a couple of movies no one asked for or wanted until they actually saw them. Frozen II may have been greenlit as a cynical cash-grab to take advantage of the original's huge and long-lasting popularity, but it ended up being a sweet and mildly epic fairy tale.
Toy Story 4 casually ignored the natural conclusion of Andy's story arc in the third movie to make another affecting and inventive ode to childhood wonder. Toy Story 4 could've easily been the Cars 2 of the franchise, but there's still life in these plastic figures yet. I hope they quit while they're ahead.
Many were unimpressed with M. Night Shyamalan's Glass after its predecessor Split was hailed as his return to form. It doesn't deconstruct the superhero genre like Unbreakable and Split did before it, instead turning into the type of movie it always promised not to be - a superhero film. Reviews weren't particularly kind but liked it fine enough.
Compiling this list, I've come to realise it's been a very good year for weird, abstract movies and I'm loving it. In Fabric, directed by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, The Duke of Burgundy) is an anthology horror film that follows a cursed dress sold by the strangest saleswomen ever put on screen. To say any more would give away the movie's best bits so be sure to watch it.
Another anthology horror tat's worth your time is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Boasting the production credit of Guillermo del Toro, it's easy to overlook the accomplished Norwegian director André Øvredal is very much the reason why this piqued my interest (you must check out Troll Hunter and The Autopsy of Jane Doe is you haven't already).
A group of young teenagers (who actually look their age) get embroiled in a cursed book where anything written in it comes true. The team scramble about as new stories are being written in front of their very eyes. It's not often the case in such films, but the wraparound story is perhaps the best element of the film, but the individual tales are still just as effective.
What? No Scorsese or Tarantino in my top 10? Yep, you read that right. Both of these films may have had flashes of brilliance, genius even, but I just didn't like them as much as others did. The final cut for both films are bloated with unnecessary and indulgent scenes that kill the pace. There was no need for either film to be as long as they are and the only reason I can think for this is that their clout in the industry has made it harder for people in the editing booth to say 'no'.
Out of the two, I prefer Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, even though I feel it is it one of Tarantino's worst. I'm no fan of gangster movies at the best of times so The Irishman's almost 4-hour run time was always going to be a hard sell for me. You could easily take a third off the movie would still be coherent.
I also wasn't so impressed with the de-ageing effects like many others. For all the CGI enhancements smoothing over the crinkles or replacing faces wholesale, there's no getting over the fact that these characters still have the weary walks and hunched postures of old men completely breaking the effect. I am a little surprised by the unanimous love for it. It has more issues than Scorsese's other overlong and over-indulgence film of recent times, Silence, which didn't get half the buzz. Either way, expect both these to gather the bulk of awards nominations in a couple of months.
Children's fantasy was well served this year. The Kid Who Would Be King from director Joe Cornish (who, with Adam Buxton on the Adam & Joe Show was a British comedic staple back in the day) is the best dort of wish fulfilment any eleven-year-old could dream up. It threatens to be a bit Grange Hill at times, but once the King Arthur mythology kicks in, it's a rollicking good time
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil wasn't so much fun. Visually, it's often jaw-dropping but when it comes to plot, it really drops the ball. At the very least it teaches kids about the dangers of propaganda and groupthink. Apparently, the original tale of Sleeping Beauty was just that. Considering how he felt about his animated adaptation, I hope Walt doesn't see this film when he wakes up from his cryogenic sleep.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu took a well-known video game franchise to cinemas almost perfectly. By using the story-structure 3DS game as its basis, it didn't have to tack on exposition or backstory that may have been needed if the animal-fighting sport took centre stage (I find that to be the least interesting element of the games anyway). We have a new crown for the best videogame adaptation! Only time will tell if Sonic will surpass it.
The pulp is strong with this horror-comedy from a directing duo best known for one of the better segments from the first V/H/S movie. Ready or Not follows a bride spending the night of her wedding with her husband and his family at their huge mansion. Their tradition is to play a game when a new member joins the clan and this time around the game chosen is hide and seek... to the death! This so very nearly came into my top 10, and the more I think about it the more I feel it should be there. A great, entertaining feature that gets my highest seal of approval.
While director Dexter Fletcher did take the time to finish 2017's Bohemian Rhapsody, there's not a lot of comparison between the two biopics of musical icons. The story of Queen's talented frontman was more-or-less a straight drama, lessened slightly by sidelining his sexual orientation. Elton John's story, on the other hand, is flamboyant, loud and indulgently queer in the best possible way. It is more of a jukebox musical than a drama, with choice tracks from John's vast back catalogue sung by a variety of people important to the man's life. I feel it is all the better movie for it.
Shazam! was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year. It's a comedic superhero comedy from DC that's not just a ton of fun, but hilariously funny. It's easy to label this as Big meets Superman but the orphan subplot and foster family dynamic make this so much more than that.
On the other end of the spectrum is Dark Phoenix, which disappointed me greatly. After Apocalypse which was never more than OK, I thought the higher-ups in charge of the franchise would want to up their game to get back in line with the excellence that was First Class and Days of Future's Past. I also thought they'd want to learn from their mistakes the last time they botched the Phoenix storyline in Last Stand. Alas, they did not and the current X-Men franchise (now owned by Disney) goes out on a whimper.
In between the two, quality-wise is Men in Black: International. This is the biggest missed opportunity of the summer. The MiB franchise has had its ups and downs, and this isn't as bad as the second movie, but it proves that Universal simply don't know what they have. It should be a quirky detective story with a sci-fi setting, but they let the setting do all the groundwork for any offbeat humour and mystery when it should be the other way round. The leads continue their proven charisma and the final product isn't entirely without merit. It's simply average.
The contrarian in me really wanted to put this latest Star Wars movie in my top 10. I can pinpoint the moment when I became a fan. My mother had somehow got tickets to the opening of A New Hope: Special Edition at Leicester Square from her work. Not only was it a fantastic experience that cemented my love for movies as a whole, but it also coincided with Chinese New Year. With Chinatown being located right next door to Leicester Square, I naturally attended the celebrations and left with one of the best memories of my childhood. I, like many, fell out of love with the franchise a little after each prequel came out, but Disney's new foray reignited that feeling I had back in 1997. It made Star Wars special again.
Then came The Last Jedi - a movie I still stand by as a great movie. I enjoyed it immensely but the barrage of negativity surrounding it become more than just simple criticism. It became toxic. Any conversation about it became what it wasn't rather than what it was and it ultimately ruined what it means to be a Star Wars fan.
Rise of the Skywalker has a lot to like about it, perhaps even more so than the previous entry. It has some great scenes, a storyline that closed out the trilogy nicely and the electrifying dynamic between Kylo Ren and Rey confirm why they're this trilogy's protagonists. Yet, Rise of Skywalker is the only film in the current spate of space spats to not feature in my top 10 of the year.
The reason why is that it does have some problems I can't ignore, and most of them appear to be direct responses the vitriol over The Last Jedi. I felt that the producers took on too many of the fanboy complaints a little too keenly. Many scenes, often throwaway or unnecessary, seemed to be a response to them and not something that adds to character or story. This is more keenly felt in the first quarter where scenes go by so quickly, it gave me mental whiplash. Interesting plot points are given only a single visual image (Snope) or a single line of dialogue (Hux) and no more while the truth about Rey's lineage, while fascinating, is hastily uncovered.
In a way, it has the same problems as the last season of Game of Thrones (including an uncalled for backlash). It was not given enough time to develop both in terms of production and screen time. The overall plot is fine (I always thought Rey's lineage was never really answered in Last Jedi, only inferred from a cryptic hallucinatory visit to a cave), but it feels rushed and a little unfocussed. I've only had the time to see it once so my opinion may solidify on multiple viewing - and it will happily get multiple viewings - but how I feel now, this is the least of the Disney Star Wars films.
Still, it's a good, entertaining film, no matter what some people say.
David Robert Mitchell's second feature after the excellent It Follows got something of a short shrift. It never really got the backing of its distribution company, being dumped on streaming services relatively quickly with a cinematic run of very little fanfare. This smart film-noir for the smartphone era deserves much better.
Andrew Garfield stars as a slightly creepy loner with the voyeuristic hots for a woman who just moved into a flat nearby. When she disappears one day, he takes it upon himself to investigate, getting involved in a plot even shadier than him. Go watch it to find out where it goes.
WORST 5 MOVIES OF 2019
THE LION KINGWhat happens when you make a shot-for-shot remake of a classic movie where the only things it changes is for the worse. The Lion King, that's what. Erroneously labelled as 'live-action', the last of the Disney remakes to be released in 2019 made it into the top 10 highest grossest movies of all time, but I'd wager that impressive feat is off the back of the stunning original.
The realistic animals look odd when asked to perform in a way designed for a more expressionistic look. John Favreau should know this after toning down the vibrancy of The Jungle Book's party animals to great effect. Here, they look dead inside, awkward and uncomfortable. The jokes aren't as funny as the first, the emotion isn't as deep as the first and the film just isn't as spectacular either. I'd say it's best avoided, but the amount of money it's made proves no one wanted to anyway. I know was cautiously optimistic before I saw it. I regret it to this day.
THE QUEEN'S CORGIThere were some real stinkers of animated movies this year, including this British attempt at injecting political satire in an otherwise generic kids flick. One of the Queen's prized corgis has been selected to breed with President Trump's own pampered pooch and he's having none of it. Cue some posh-guy slumming it shenanigans and from that alone, you can accurately guess the entire plot of the movie. What you can't predict is the rather inappropriate humour that may go over kids heads, but certainly won't with their parent. There's a pussy-grabbing gag in here for Pete's sake!
HELLBOYI really wanted Hellboy to be good. Guillermo del Toro duology from the noughties were spectacular, inventive fun that cried out for the third entry. Alas, that was not in the cards and instead, we got this reboot from Neil Marshall of The Descent and Game of Thrones fame.
Marshall's done some good work in the past, but his career of late has mostly been a director for hire. Going by how the final film turned out, I can imagine he didn't give his all in this directing gig. This time the big bad is Merlin's wife forgettably played by Milla Jovovich. David Hayer does fit the part of the titular demon hero, but the makeup doesn't look right. There's a lot wrong with the picture, but the biggest downside is that it likely scuppered any future attempts to make a good movie in this universe. There's two of 'em out there already that proves it can be done.
UGLY DOLLSThe biggest marketing advert since The Emoji Movie. Ugly Dolls, based on the popular toy line I never knew existed, takes a generic plot, a myriad of named pop stars (who can't act) and a number of boring musical numbers to make a disconcertingly manipulative plea for mindless consumerism. There is a thin veneer of a moral, that being 'everyone is awesome', but another toy line turned movie made that point to a much better effect.
THE FANATICAfter seeing some hilariously seething reviews, I knew I had to see The Fantic. I knew it would likely be one of the worst movies of all time, and I was in the mood for something akin to the likes of Room or Troll 2; unintentionally funny. I wanted a movie so spectacularly misconceived that it comes around and becomes fascinating in a weird sort of way. I wanted the real-life version of Simple Jack from Tropic Thunder.
On the surface, The Fanatic looks like it could be just that. It stars John Travolta as a middle-aged man on the spectrum named Moose who's obsessed with a Hollywood action star named Hunter played by Devon Sawa. Moose, Hunter - the obvious symbolism makes for a good start. It was directed by Fed Durst of Limp Bizkit and sex-tape fame, which also bodes well. There's no way it can't be anything but the most glorious of train wrecks.
Travolta sports cinema's worst hairpiece, the reverse of a monk's tonsure - hilarious. His character wanders the street of Hollywood as a character meet-and-greet that's a nondescript, copyright-free British Bobby - ridiculous. Sawa has a scene where he gushes over the music of Limp Bizkit which has no bearing on the actual plot - the ego!
Sadly, The Fanatic ends up being the worst thing a bad movie can be; boring. It meanders from scene to scene with little agency, it's characters stumbling into situations in contrived, uninteresting ways. There isn't even much of a plot. By the time a little action arrives in the form of Sawa violently attacking an over-the-top portrayal of a mentally disabled person, you'll be so bored the badly-framed events on the screen will have little impact.
Ok, there's one glorious extended scene where Travolta breaks into Sawa's house and tries on his antlers ("here's moosey!") and a particularly cringe-worthy moment where he practices his British accent in a mirror ("poppycock!"). Most of these are easily found on YouTube and have the added bonus of containing none of the guff surrounding it.
I've not seen it yet, but if I ever want a fabulous failure of a film, I guess I'll have to go see Cats.
So that's a number of the movies I've seen from 2019. Stay tuned for my Top 10 Games...