Obligatory countdown incoming…because I probably shouldn’t just list Endgame ten times.
2020 is in the house! A new year, new decade and a whole raft of upcoming films to look forward to. But as is tradition, with the turning of the calendar from December to January comes an opportunity to look back and reflect. I mean, not too deeply, lest I begin to wallow in self-pity over time misspent, but the past years’ cinema seems like safe enough territory to dig into. You might think it the perfect chance to cobble together a top 10 of the past decade, but a) choosing just a handful of films from an entire decades’ worth of cinema is daunting, b) effort, and c) I can just tell you that it didn’t get any better than Mad Max: Fury Road. So instead, I’ll focus in on 2019 alone, and as ever I’m working on UK release dates only, so no The Lighthouse, no Uncut Gems, no Parasite, and no Jojo Rabbit to be found here, to name but a few of the missing big hitters.
Instead, expect to see the type of films I’m a sucker for; introspective character studies (double points if they’re set in space), coming of age stories, a one-two punch of new Tarantino and Scorsese and, of course, a good old spot of Marvel. Infinity War was my favourite of 2018, so it tracks that Endgame should take the throne in 2019 (spoilers). Some people move on from Avengers…but not me.
So here we go, let’s crack on with my own personal top 10 of 2019!
10) System Crasher
Germany’s 2020 Academy Award entry System Crasher is a moving, often brutal tale of a young girl (played outstandingly by Helena Zengel) failed by the foster system. Beautiful, unflinching and with a central performance that will stick with you long after the end credits have rolled. Track it down!
Keanu Reeves kills a dude with a book. What more do you need?!
It’s entry number one for Mr. Brad Pitt in what was a most excellent year for him. Here he teams up with fellow Tarantino veteran Leonardo DiCaprio, together forming 2019’s most memorable duo: Cliff Booth and Rick Fucking Dalton. A hangout movie with charisma to burn, punctuated by two sequences of unrelenting dramatic tension, OUATIH is Tarantino’s best offering of the decade.
7) Dolemite is My Name
Eddie Murphy is back with a swagger, and honestly, it’s been too long. Shedding the fat suits and gimmickry that plagued much of his late nineties and noughties output, here he embodies the bold and brilliant musician turned actor/director, Rudy Ray Moore, aka Dolemite. Dolemite is his name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is his game! A real-life underdog story in the vein of The Disaster Artist, Dolemite is a vibrant blast from the get-go. And not only does it see Murphy back on form, but it also has the Wesley Snipes performance to end all Wesley Snipes performances, and the world is a better place for it.
Olivia Wilde enters the directorial ring with aplomb. A warm, heartfelt, increasingly bonkers and consistently hilarious take on female friendship and growing up that sidesteps expectations without fail, Booksmart is as clever as its two protagonists Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). Extra marks for the best of compliment-offs and everything that Billie Lourd does.
5) Knives Out
An intricately designed and executed murder mystery featuring cinema’s greatest detective this side of Poirot, Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. Writer/director Rian Johnson crafts a whodunnit that keeps you guessing right to the close, packing the film with a series of magnificent bastards, any of whom could be at the centre of the film’s big crime. And as for the cast that brings the characters to life – really, it’s an embarrassment of riches.
4) Ad Astra
It’s Brad Pitt round two, and this time he’s even better. It’s a stoic turn, emotionally restrained with an increasing inner psychological turmoil that’s central to Ad Astra’s existential character study. Isolation, claustrophobia, exploration of the unknown; it’s these ideas that were the foundation of director James Gray’s prior film, The Lost City of Z, and they’re all present here, built upon and scaled up to terrific effect. For a fascinating view of the future, incredible production design and special effects, you needn’t look any further.
Just give Lupita Nyong’o all the awards, her dual-role performance is about as good as it gets. Horror with smarts and scares in equal measure, playfully twisted and with a belting score, Us cements Jordan Peele’s position as one of Hollywood’s most exciting talents.
2) The Irishman
It’s Martin Scorsese, doing a crime epic, starring De Niro, Pacino and Pesci. Was its success ever in doubt? Yet, this isn’t a mobster movie quite like we’ve seen Marty do them before; there’s as much of Silence in this as there is Goodfellas. The Irishman shows the criminal underworld stripped of its perceived glamour, chronicling the life of hitman Frank Sheeran and the tragic effects of his career on him and those he loves. Its runtime might seem intimidating, but it’s an impactful journey worth investing in.
Avengers…assemble. The Infinity Saga curtain closer, a juggling act impeccably pulled off, and a fitting end for some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most beloved characters. There’s just no getting through the Portals scene with entirely dry eyes; hard-earned emotional payoff for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Let me know your favourites of 2019 in the comments below, and may 2020 bring a feast of cinematic goodness to you and yours!