Dec 21, 2019
My 5 favourite films of 2019 (in alphabetical order)
Cinema trips are always difficult. I need space for my three buckets of popcorn and a mop for when I fill my supersize Pepsi with nachos. And there's never anywhere to put my portable foot spa.
Despite this, I did get to see some films this year. So here are five films, or "movies" if you are modern, that I especially enjoyed in 2019. Incidentally, the final film here was released in 2018 in the States, but 2019 here, so if you are American, please close your eyes when you get to that bit. Thanks.
Oh and this will annoy the purists. This is not a top five: I love them all equally. I wanted to rank them, but I chickened out. Does that upset you? What are you going to do about it? Report me to the list police? Huh? HUH?
So in alphabetical order...
This Olivia Wilde comedy indulged in some pretty basic high school jinks, hence comparisons to Superbad. But thanks to great leads and some heavily-laced strawberries, it felt truly original. The chemistry between Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever was sparkier than the band Sparks playing with sparklers: and indeed, the film was at its best when they were just being friends together.
I loved Billie Lourd's performance as Gigi, the drug-crazed non-friend who often went from nought to sixty in the blink of an eye. This goes for her script too, such as the line: "I lost my virginity in what I thought was a park but it turned out to be a graveyard, and now the ghost spirits live inside my eggs waiting to be reborn."
Everyone seems to think Rian Johnson is a poop-head (technical film term) for The Last Jedi. Blah blah Star Wars whatever. He knocked it out of the park with Knives Out, with Daniel Craig sounding like Foghorn Leghorn on mushrooms. An ensemble piece full of brilliant anti-chemistry, best summed up by the ice and fire interactions of Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette.
Like Booksmart, this took a familiar trope and did something new. Pure Miss Marple: murder, poison, knives, motive, means, opportunity. They even went with the final "nobody leave this room" detective explanation. A delight throughout led by the perfectly-cast vomiting nurse Ana de Armas, and with one of the funniest character introductions I've seen on film. *plays a single note on the piano*
I realise, by the way, I am saying nothing particular new and enlightening about any of these films. All of these opinions are available elsewhere on better-read websites. And so, yes, I'm going to refer to Ari Aster's Midsommar as a horror film that takes the usual (literal) darkness and fills it with blazing daylight, and is no less horrific for it.
We're in obvious Wicker Man territory here, with its Scandi wonkiness providing a beautifully twisted core. And oh boy, it's nasty. At its heart though is a relationship statement grounded in the brilliantly human Florence Pugh (pictured, top), and a narrative arc as satisfying as the best short story. I don't know about you, but it proper put me off joining a cult.
Pain & Glory
Critics love films about people making films, but while the surname of Cinema Paradiso's protagonist Salvatore Di Vita suggests life, the name of Pain & Glory's fictional filmmaker Salvador Mallo suggests something more negative. The physicality in Antonio Banderas's performance is key, with his only true freedom from pain coming from swimming or, well, that would be a spoiler.
The film plays with time to such an extent, you begin to question what's real. It looks incredible, is carefully paced, but never loses a raised eyebrow: there's a wall-decoration moment in a waiting room which was as silly as anything in Airplane! Pure Pedro Almodóvar and then some.
I watched a period drama and loved it: this is a rare thing indeed. Below is a YouTube clip of the film's opening few minutes. Everything that's wonderful and strange about the film is here:
The luxurious sets masking the grubby reality of humanity. The isolation and longing, often separated by mere moments. The "macabre" rabbits representing so much about Queen Anne. The fish-eye camera angles distancing us from the drama. The awkward title cards doing much the same thing. The saturated light casting main characters into shadow and reminding us there's another world outside. The horrible, horrible men. Olivia Coleman. Olivia flipping Coleman.
The Favourite was constantly surprising and I want everything to look this odd from now on.