2019 End of Year Review – Part 4: The Top 20 Films of the Year (10-1)

We conclude our series of year end reviews of 2019 in cinema with our 10 favourite films of the year – let us know if you agree in the comments!

To see what we ranked between 20 and 11, and for all of our other year end reviews, you can find them HERE – click on the title links for the individual film reviews.

Thanks for reading and we’ll be back with more reviews in 2020!

20. Green Book
19. Fighting With My Family
18. Ad Astra
17. At Eternity’s Gate
16. Birds of Passage (Pajaros de verano)
15. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
14. Honey Boy
13. Blue Story
12. The Peanut Butter Falcon
11. The Irishman

10. Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)

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Compiling this list it struck me that a lot of the films I really liked this year have been reflective stories about people looking back on their life, and ‘Pain and Glory‘ is another film in this vein. It stars Antonio Banderas as an older film director currently in the midst of a creative crisis, when the 30th anniversary of his biggest film stirs up memories of his past. Banderas is superb, and director Pedro Almodovar is a master of the melodrama, and this is a richly rewarding piece of filmmaking.

9. Vice

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It feels like ages since ‘Vice‘ came out back in January with a lot happening since then both culturally and politically, but thinking back I remembered how much I liked it at the time. It’s not quite as controlled as ‘The Big Short‘ (my favourite film of 2016), but McKay’s style is perfect for taking on a character study of Dick Cheney and this is informative, infuriating and a little messy – all I’d hoped for from a McKay film.

8. Marriage Story

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Noah Baumbach has already proven himself one of the best in the business at dissecting the quirks of modern relationships and ‘Marriage Story’ is one of his finest films yet. It’s a domestic drama about Charlie and Nicole, two young parents who have recently separated and are trying to navigate the rocky terrain of maintaining a civil relationship whilst negotiating over custody of their child. It’s very much an actor’s film with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver both absolutely superb, and in Baumbach’s hands it also manages to inject enough humour alongside the tougher scenes between the warring couple.

7. Wild Rose

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The story of a Glaswegian pub singer who dreams of becoming a country star is well told in ‘Wild Rose‘, an excellent drama about chasing dreams and the sacrifices you need to make to get there. What makes it stand out is that the dream is not portrayed as the be all and end all, and ‘Wild Rose‘ makes clear the toll this can take on those around you. It’s a terrific film and Jessie Buckley is a star in the making.

6. A Private War

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A biopic about the late war journalist Marie Colvin, ‘A Private War‘ is an immersive drama about the lengths some journalists will go to in order to tell important stories to the rest of the world. It’s a film that balances the value of journalism on the frontline with the psychological toll it takes on people like Colvin who sacrifice a lot for their career. This film sadly went under the radar on release and deserves a wider audience, so if this wrap up helps even one more person see the film, I’ll consider it worthwhile!

5. Animals

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Animals‘ is one of the best films I’ve seen about two topics; female friendship and reaching an age in your life where you start to contemplate growing up. It centres on two friends living in Dublin who have spent much of their 20s partying and holding on to ambitions that will never likely be realised. ‘Animals‘ is about coming to terms with change and realising you’re a different person than you once were, and the smart, clever script from director and writer Sophie Hyde makes this a really compelling watch, not to mention the terrific performances from Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat.

4. Eighth Grade

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Following one young girl during her last week of classes before graduating to high school, ‘Eighth Grade’ is a charming coming-of-age film that encapsulates the challenges of growing up for kids today. Coming-of-age films are perhaps my favourite cinematic genre and ‘Eighth Grade’ is a really good entry into the genre, utilising keen insight and a sensitive approach to its material and characters to tell a story that manages to be funny, awkward and achingly real at all times.

3. Joker

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Easily the year’s most talked about films is also one of the year’s best, a unique and original take on a character who we’ve seen portrayed on screen many times before. Todd Phillips ‘Joker‘ is a character study of a man disillusioned with society and his life, which ultimately drives him to become the crazed villain we’re familiar with from Batman lore. It’s a movie based on a comic book character but it could have been about anyone (this is the least ‘comic book’ film out of any I’ve seen, with its influences coming more from Scorsese’s earlier New York set movies) and that’s what makes this so unsettling, effective and frightening.

2. Burning (Beoning)

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South Korea has been producing some of the best films in world cinema for some time now (I can’t wait to see ‘Parasite‘ next year), and ‘Burning‘ is another superb film from the country. It is an intense, slow burning psychological thriller about three young people who cross paths in the city of Paju, just outside Seoul. When one of them (Hae-mi) mysteriously goes missing, Jong-su suspects that the other (Ben) in this strange triangle may have something to do with her disappearance. This is an enigmatic and absorbing movie with a masterful sense of mood and tone, and its patient approach to delivering on the mysteries it sets up is a thrilling counterpoint to the approach of most mainstream movies. Well worth seeking out, but it’ll require your full concentration and attention!

1. Capernaum (Capharnaum)

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Following a young boy who runs away from his family home in Beirut, Lebanon, ‘Capernaum‘ is one of the great films about childhood and deserves to be recognised alongside other classics of this subgenre. It tells the story of Zain, a 12 year old boy who we first see in front of a judge, opposite his parents in the dock. The film then flashes back and tells the story of how we got to this point. The film covers themes such as child abuse, the life of an immigrant, and the struggle to survive in this part of Lebanese society, and director Nadine Labaki tells this story with intelligence and humanity. I can’t recommend this film highly enough and it was my favourite film of the year.

We’ll be back in 2020 with more reviews of the latest releases and some more classic reviews. Thanks for reading!

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