The Best of 2019

The top ten

If Beale Street Could Talk
Us
Madeline’s Madeline
The Farewell
The Irishman/I Heard You Paint Houses

Eighth Grade
Monos
Burning
Support The Girls
Homecoming – A Film by Beyoncé


 

 

Film Of The Year
If Beale Street Could Talk

“In a very real sense If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the most ecstatic expressions of romance to have arrived in our cinemas in recent years.”

I recently showed If Beale Street Could Talk to a couple I know who have a young child. They found the film astonishingly sad. Sadness and anger are suffused into Beale Street, but so too – overwhelmingly so – is love. Jenkins’ Moonlight follow-up capitalises on that film’s third act promise. This director – unquestionably one of the best around right now – is a romantic at heart. Beale Street swells and swoons.



 Us

“Peele’s time has arrived. He’s here. We’re all very fortunate to be here for it. Now get Googling Jeremiah 11:11.”

Bettering Get Out – which grabbed the zeitgeist at the fearful start of 2017 – wasn’t going to be easy, but I’d argue that Jordan Peele managed it with Us. It’s a stranger film, to be sure, but it’s also more confident. Not that Get Out lacked in this regard, but with Us you can sense Peele growing comfortable in the director’s chair; taking risks, filling (or indeed emptying) his frame exactly as he chooses to.



Madeline’s Madeline

“Decker’s approach here is startling, and her vivid creativity with form is as interesting as the evolving dynamics within the story. Madeline’s Madeline has the feel, one supposes, of synaesthesia. You feel like you can smell colours. Taste sounds.”

A portrait and reflexive analysis of creative expression when crossing racial borders… an am-drama horror film… a musing on the exploitation of mental health issues… a breathtaking showcase for rising talent Helena Howard. Madeline’s Madeline is all of these and more. Decker’s auteur approach creates a heady mix for the senses. The film swirls around you, urging you to revisit; see more; see differently.




The Farewell

“Alan Ball’s exceptional HBO series Six Feet Under was rooted in the concept of secret lives shared by a close family unit. The Farewell exists in a similar space of pregnant pauses and furtive looks. But it also warmly observes the rituals that occur when we reconvene with those we’re related to.”

Lulu Wang’s understated and personal drama kindles hushed memories of 00’s comedy dramas from the indie scene, with its bittersweet ruefulness. At the centre is a quietly impressive performance from Awkwafina as Wang’s slouching foil. A story of particularly Eastern familial communication that feels no need to pander, confident in its ability to be understood regardless of heritage. The Farewell is just lovely.



The Irishman/I Heard You Paint Houses

” The gangster life is extremely high risk, yet each one of these men seems to think he’ll be the one to live forever. And each one knows he won’t. “

The Irishman nearly got caught up in the discourse that wouldn’t end this year; Martin vs the MCU. It is a testament to the veteran director’s abilities that the finished film – all 3 and a half hours of it – curtly ends that argument all by itself. An aching tale of inevitability. State of the art de-ageing technology is smartly used to enhance the scope of the project, and the gangster life has rarely seemed so futile.



Eighth Grade

“Here Burnham is able to hold up a mirror to his audience, inviting us to get nostalgic – regardless of gender – over a variety of universal truths, from feeling overtly body conscious to simply not knowing what to say.”

Eighth Grade acknowledges the huge influence of social media over our modern day youths, but doesn’t act as pure parental critic of this lifestyle. Burnham isn’t so heavy-handed. Indeed, in accompanying Kayla’s voyages online with Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”, Burnham succinctly captures the sense of escapism young people find online.



Monos 

“Stumbling out of the theatre, out into the real world (which feels disorientating and less real now), Monos keeps existing inside us. Landes gave us a window into a world that continues whether we’re looking at it or not.”

Colombian Alejandro Landes’ sophomore feature Monos is a mesmeric, utterly pulverising experience; an apocalyptic jungle nightmare depicting a militia of teenagers tasked with guarding an American hostage. Between the firebrand young performers, Mica Levi’s gargantuan score and he immediacy of Landes’ camera, no other film this year throttled the viewer so forcefully.



Burning

“Though it ends on a dramatic crescendo, even this leaves little in terms of resolution in the mind. Instead, it only makes the film’s ambiguities feel more pressing. The film ends, then gets up and follows you home. It sits behind you like a shadow.”

A Schrödinger’s Cat of a movie, Burning is a heady, sexual mystery piece as a young man named Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) grows enamoured with a girl from his past, Hae-mi (Jun Jong-Seo), then obsessed when she disappears. Key to all of this – potentially – is Steven Yeung’s wealthy lothario Ben. An eerie film (perfectly complimented by Mowg’s persistent, wandering score), Burning catches fire when Jong-Seo, caught in silhouette, performs a topless dance at dusk to the hazy sounds of Miles Davis.



 Support The Girls

“Patronising “girl power” fortune cookies are being chucked into most major blockbusters right now. Strong, resilient women aren’t a pit stop for Bujalski to tip his hat to before moving on; they are the film.”

Andrew Bujalski’s surreptitiously feminist working-class heroes of Support The Girls – led by a dynamite Regina Hall – took forever to make it over from the US, and sadly made little noise outside of the indie publications that were looking out for it. It’s a funny, compassionate look at life by the roadside, with ample – ahem – support from Haley Lu Richardson (lightning in a bottle) and Shayna McHayle (a great find). Find it, then shout from the rooftops about it.



Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé

“I wanted every person who has ever been dismissed because of the way they look to feel like they were on that stage, killing ’em, killing ’em.” – Beyoncé

Fucking yes, Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé. The concert film has been a long-standing tradition of modern documentary cinema, not to mention modern pop music. Beyoncé repackaged last year’s landmark Coachella performance as Homecoming; a Netflix film and a double live album. The show itself is spectacular, and the cutting between the two nights – colour-coded yellow and pink respectively – is, appropriately, flawless.







The best of the rest….

Little Women
The Mustang
Vox Lux
Booksmart
Midsommar
Minding The Gap
Her Smell
One Cut Of The Dead
24 Frames
Cats
Ad Astra
High Life
3 Faces
Atlantics
I Lost My Body

 

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