With my summing up of the year done, I think it’s probably time I start my annual ranking. Before we get into it, there will be omissions due to me not having seen every film released this year. It should be pointed out that I am also very easily scared, so haven’t yet braved horror films like ‘It: Chapter 2’ and ‘Midsommer’.
The Worst of 2019
Starting with my WORST of the year, we find ‘Cats’, ‘Second Act’ and ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ (all awarded One Star) and ‘Men in Black: International’ and ‘The Lion King’ which were awarded two stars. These five defined everything bad about cinema today. ‘The Lion King’ cemented the idea that the Disney remakes are cold and emotionless; ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ cared too much about setting up sequels than its own bland, unfinished story; ‘MiB: International’ proved sequels don’t need to happen, and ‘Second Act’ was just a terribly made chick flick (though in fairness I’m probably not the target demographic). And ‘Cats’…well, ‘Cats’ was ‘Cats’.
Anyway, with that negativity out of the way, let’s get on with my rankings! First off, here are some great films that didn’t quite make my top ten of the year.
Stan and Ollie – A heart-warmingly funny biopic about Laurel and Hardy.
Spider-Man: Far From Home – Swapping big thrills for a smaller stage, it nicely closed off Phase 3 of the MCU while leaving Phase 4 open for anything.
Doctor Sleep – an amazingly tense return to the Overlook Hotel.
Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon – lovingly handcrafted by the clever folks at Aardman, it’s filled to the brim with baa-rmy puns.
Booksmart – an inclusive, acutely observed, and hilarious coming of age comedy from first-time director Olivia Wilde.
Little Women – a touching and heart-warming adaptation from Greta Gerwig.
Apollo 11 – an awe-inspiring documentary about humanity’s greatest achievement in 1969.
Le Man ’66 – Driving force at its best, ‘Le Mans ’66’ sported some of the most exciting racing scenes in years.
Toy Story 4 – a sweet addition to the Woody and Buzz saga, this is the only 2019 Disney sequel that didn’t suck.
Us – subversive and terrifying, ‘Us’ hid a dark political truth beneath layers of fun and thrills.
The Top 10 Best Films of 2019
With my honourable mentions out of the way, let’s get on with the countdown!
10. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (Dir. Chad Stahelski)
“If you want peace, prepare for war”
While other action films focus on grandeur, CGI spectacle and superheroes, the John Wick franchise stands alone. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of grey Michael Bay flicks, the third instalment promises that its supreme reign is far from over, delivering all the thrilling, over the top action that we have come to expect.
The cinematography has a gorgeous neon glow, the camera work is immaculately timed to the action, and the stunt work is the best on show this year. With countless practical fight scenes, some awe-inspiring action set pieces and Keanu Reeves still at the top of his game, ‘Parabellum’ promises the John Wick franchise still has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.
9. Knives Out (Dir. Rian Johnson)
‘Knives Out’ tells the story of a wealthy crime writer whose sudden suicide seems to be tainted with foul play, and though it begins as a classic Agatha Christie romp, Rian Johnson’s subversive mind soon begins to twist the genre in a new direction.
With a fantastic ensemble cast and an intriguing story full of twists and turns, ‘Knives Out’ is a thrilling and hilarious murder mystery. Brilliant production design, beautiful cinematography and a sharp cutting score all culminate in a deliriously good time.
8. Ad Astra (Dir. James Gray)
“I’m unsure of the future, but I’m not concerned. I will rely on those closest to me, and I will share their burdens, as they share mine. I will live and love.”
In 2019’s answer to the endless popularity of Space Exploration films, ‘Ad Astra’ presents a poetic narrative that wouldn’t be out of place in ‘2001’. Telling a story of hope, determination and fatherhood, ‘Ad Astra’ refuses to play by the blockbuster rules. Though it still delivers action and thrills, it is a very slow, poetic and ultimately optimistic space opera compared to most.
Tense but thoughtful, fast moving yet relaxed, the film manages to defy the conventions of modern popcorn cinema while still delivering all the excitement you’d want from a blockbuster. Accompanied by Brad Pitt’s outstanding performance and a beautiful score by Max Richter, it’s a stunningly optimistic film that, in these dark days, presents a gloriously positive look at our future.
7. Green Book (Dir. Peter Farrelly)
“You never win with violence, Tony. You only win when you maintain your dignity.”
‘Green Book’ tells the true-life story of African-American pianist Don Shirley, and Tony Vallelonga, his bodyguard and driver during a two-month tour of the deep south. A story of acceptance, understanding and love, the film uses a hilarious comic tone to underplay the important statement against racism, and is a triumph in both respects.
The film was directed by Peter Farrelly, one of the brothers responsible for ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and ‘There’s Something About Mary’, but here he takes a far more subtle approach. The film won the Oscar in this year’s ceremony (even though the UK release date was the 1st February) and was perfectly deserving of it. It’s a light hearted film that deals with major themes in a powerful way.
6. Eighth Grade (Dir. Bo Burnham)
“If you could see yourself as I see you, as you really are…I swear to God you wouldn’t be scared”
Featuring the best Dad speech since ‘Call Me by Your Name’, ‘Eighth Grade’ is a touching and all too relatable dramedy about teenagers going through school. Featuring an amazingly brave performance from 13-year-old Elsie Fisher, it highlights issues of mental health, mobile phone addiction and social anxiety.
The film is deeply tragic but also enormously uplifting, and is one of the best observed teen dramas I’ve ever seen. It’s Bo’s first film, but it surely won’t be his last.
5. Marriage Story (Dir. Noah Baumbach)
“I went along with his life because it felt so good to be alive”
With two of this year’s best performances, ‘Marriage Story’ draws on Baumbach’s own harsh experience of divorce to create a touching but heart-breaking portrayal of a married couple whose flame has gone out. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver career-best performances as the narrative follows their tricky divorce when one of them moves to LA while one stays in New York.
As funny as it is tragic, the film is acutely observed and moving, with an argument scene being the most breathtakingly powerful moment in cinema this year. Available to stream right now on Netflix, it’s a film that should be in everyone’s watch list
4. Vice (Dir. Adam McKay)
“I can feel your recriminations and your judgment, and I am fine with that. You want to be loved, go be a movie star.”
Adam McKay’s latest flick was a perfect balance of black comedy, sarcasm and horror that recounted the tale of how Dick Chaney climbed his way to power. The film, shot like a documentary, uses a narrator, handheld film cameras and fast zooms to show the true events in a believable way, and is an incredibly smart film that relies on the audience being in on the twisted joke. Provided you know everything happening on screen is utterly evil, you’re able to nervously laugh the entire way through.
With an incredible central performance from an overweight Christian Bale and an amazing editing style (that was robbed of the Oscar by Bohemian Rhapsody), ‘Vice’ is a stunning example of how original biopics can be, and how cutting a political filmmaker Adam McKay is.
3. Rocketman (Dir. Dexter Fletcher)
“Buy yourself some new clothes. Something flashy. Let them know who you are. Put on a grand f*cking show… And just don’t kill yourself with drugs.”
Now THIS is what a musical biopic SHOULD be! Starring Taron Edgerton as Elton John, ‘Rocketman’ takes us from when Elton was a young man all the way to his stint in rehab. By making the film an all-out musical, director Dexter Fletcher could dive into the mind of Elton. If he felt like he was flying during his first big performance, then sod it, he would actually fly, and so would the audience.
‘Rocketman’ was an exceptional film that was unfairly compared to 2018’s Queen biopic. For me, ‘Rocketman’ is a far superior film for one key reason. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ told the story of Freddie Mercury, but ‘Rocketman’ tells the FEELINGS of Elton John, and that is a far more powerful method of storytelling.
2. Avengers: Endgame (Dir. Joe and Anthony Russo)
‘Avengers: Endgame’ defined cinema this year, no matter what Martin Scorsese says. The wrapping up of Hollywood’s biggest franchise, ‘Endgame’ was the 22nd film in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the last to star Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man) and Chris Evans (Captain America) in major cinematic roles.
‘Endgame’ provided everything you’d want from a blockbuster. It was big, loud and filled with fist-pumping euphoria, but it also packed a hell of a lot of heart and emotion into the story. The final hour of the film is a fan-pleasing festival of excitement, and perfectly wrapped up a story that has become my equivalent of ‘Star Wars’.
1. Joker (Dir. Todd Philips)
“I used to think my life was a tragedy. But now I realise it’s a f*cking comedy”
Of course it was going to be ‘Joker’! I’m a sucker for a dark thriller, and none came blacker this year than ‘Joker’. A disturbing descent into madness, ‘Joker’ presented a brand-new origin story for Batman’s greatest villain. However, unlike other villain films like ‘Suicide Squad’, this film was less of a CGI filled comic book fest, and instead a tightly bound Scorsesian tale borrowing heavily from the likes of ‘The King of Comedy’ and ‘Taxi Driver’.
Director Todd Phillips is amazingly confident in his filmmaking, disproving anyone who doubted the maker of ‘The Hangover Trilogy’ could do dark. Joaquin Phoenix has never been better, and the tense brooding score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is among this year’s finest.
The film has already been showered with awards, but now it has the honour of receiving my pick for 2019’s film of the year. Todd, feel free to call me to arrange collection of your trophy.
Looking into 2020
So there we are, 2019 is done! In 2020, I’m looking forward to a whole variety including ‘1917’, ‘Jojo Rabbit’, ‘No Time To Die’, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘The King’s Man’. Most of all, I can’t wait for ‘Tenet’, Christopher Nolan’s new film, and ‘Last Night in Soho’, the return of my all-time favourite Edgar Wright.
Other films coming next year include ‘A Quiet Place: Part II’, ‘Black Widow’, ‘Wonder Woman 1984’, ‘Birds of Prey’, ‘Bill and Ted Face The Music’, ‘Ghost Busters: Afterlife’, and film adaptations of musicals ‘In The Heights’, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ and Spielberg’s version of ‘West Side Story’.
We’re also getting a big screen adaptation of ‘Clifford The Big Red Dog’, a Scooby Doo origin film (tragically titled ‘Scoob!’), and the release of delayed CGI disaster ‘Sonic The Hedgehog’.
Thanks for another great year of support for reel-to-real.com, and for helping me reach record viewing figures. Make sure you stay with me for 2020 where I’ll be reviewing all of the above films, plus plenty more!
Happy New Year!