FYI: I like what I like, I very much call this “my favourite” not “the best.” Art is of course subjective.
Honestly I did not put the work in this year, I saw 71 new releases which was a big fall from the 102 I saw in 2018. There are also some big absences I wasn’t able to squeeze in before the end of the year like Pain and Glory, Honey Boy and of course, Uncut Gems (if it wasn’t coming out in January, I guarantee you it would be making my top 10). So because of that, this list isn’t as strong as some previous ones, but overall I think it was a pretty strong year.
But first just for fun, here’s 5 appallingly awful films that deserve everyone’s disdain. I didn’t walk out of anything this year and actually I’d say 2 of these films are kind of entertainingly awful.
5 WORST FILMS I SAW THIS YEAR:
STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER - a film that crams so much plot into a two-hour run time in service of absolutely nothing. Just a waste of time.
THE SOUVENIR - a two-hour student film that reeks of privilege. I still have no idea how the film has been so acclaimed.
CATS - I don’t need to say anything more, everyone knows why it’s on this list. But I will say, I had a pretty good time having my mind blown by its unique terribleness.
SERENITY - Much like Cats, it kind of has to be seen to be believed. The first hour is just bad and then the twist comes and you spend the next hour watching through your fingers thinking “I can’t believe they thought that was going to work.”
CHARLIE’S ANGLES - So dull. Just incompetent on so many levels. It would be quicker to list the things I liked: Kristen Stewart's haircut… that’s it.
NOW ONTO THE GOOD STUFF!!
30. HIGH FLYING BIRD
Soderbergh had two movies come out on Netflix this year. Neither got a huge amount of attention and the one that did was the disappointing film about the Panama Papers, The Laundromat. But this collaboration with Tarell Alvin McCraney, which came out all the way back in February, is one of the most truly interesting basketball movies I’ve seen, dealing exclusively with the politics of basketball and underlying racial issues that come with it.
Yeah, I’m not above a dumb “run from the killer gator” movie. And this one was very well done.
28. ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Just nice to see Robert Rodriguez trying again. And as corny as this film is, once the action scenes kicked in, it’s earnestness started to do a number on me and it just worked.
A film that for all its flaws had some truly wonderful musical sequences and was a real strong stab at livening up what has become the tedious repetitive genre of the music biopic.
A really pleasant surprise, a movie I thought was going to be stuffy and dull, but was lively and incredibly funny.
25. READY OR NOT
Thrills, chills, gore and laughs. I just wish the red-band trailer hadn’t ruined so many moments. But I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys do next.
The Jennifer Lopez comeback movie! It’s a fun breezy ride. It’s Goodfellas light, but manages to turn this strippers robbery ring movie into something a bit deeper and more interesting.
23. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Now the Eddie Murphy comeback movie! God this movie is fun. I knew nothing about Dolemite or Rudy Ray Moore before this movie, but the singer turned comedian turned actor and movie producer gets the Ed Wood treatment to incredibly entertaining effect. I can see myself rewatching this on many rainy days to come.
22. THE PERFECTION
It’s like a loving tribute to DePalma's most bonkers work. And as a big DePalma fan, I am very on board for that. It piles twist, upon twist as the narrative gets progressively more and more insane. Many will find it too ridiculous, I am not one of them.
21. THE SISTERS BROTHERS
Westerns are few and far between these days, so I have to cherish them. I would happily watch Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reily play brothers over and over again… preferably in westerns.
20. THE KING
Henry V sans Shakespeare, works a lot better than I was expecting. Really beautifully shot with some brilliant looking battle sequences. Robert Pattinson in 5 mins screen time runs away with the film.
19. WILD ROSE
Always nice to see a Scottish film I like this much. On paper, it sounds very generic but this story about a troubled young Glaswegian who wants to be a country singer is so impeccably made and well-acted it rises above its familiar plot.
18. THE IRISHMAN
A film that feels like a perfect swan song for so many of the people involved. It does for Scorcese, De Niro, Pacino and the gangster film, what Unforgiven did for Eastwood and the Western.
17. JOJO RABBIT
I love bold swings and this film is definitely that. A fascinating and strange film that hit me in an emotional way I was not expecting.
A slow creepy horror film shot in broad daylight. This is a film filled with gorgeous technique, weird images and great performances (seriously, Florence Pugh is having a year).
I did not laugh at a film more this year than I did at Booksmart. This film is smart, immaculately crafted and perfectly cast, it puts so many other overrated teen comedies to shame (I’m looking at you Blockers). Olivia Wilde is absolutely a directorial talent to watch.
14. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
A really pleasant surprise. Melissa McCarthy is fantastic taking a break from dumb comedies and the way the film creates the feel of a grimy 70s New York while still looking absolutely gorgeous is really something. Richard E Grant was robbed last year at the Oscars. He is truly wonderful.
13. THE ART OF SELF-DEFENSE
A film that feels like Wes Anderson making Fight Club. It is a truly weird little movie. I had no idea what I was in for. And yet it manages its tonal shifts and idiosyncrasies in such a confident way, I am so excited to see what the director does next.
12. THE REPORT
A film about the importance of transparency and the moral obligations of a government. It’s a film about research that manages to be pacy and engaging with a great central performance from Adam Driver, holding the whole thing together.
11. MARRIAGE STORY
Man Adam Driver killed it this year. A brilliantly realized drama about two people struggling through a divorce that keeps getting more and more heated. So much of the pleasure of the film is just two great actors, working with a truly great script.
10. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE
A Lesbian love story of such emotional longing and power, it creates an atmosphere of such intense romantic tension, punctuated by a finale that is beautiful and heartbreaking in so many ways.
9. AD ASTRA
IT’S HEART OF DARKNESS IN SPACE! There I said it. But it is great. It’s a moody, atmospheric, contemplative Sci-Fi film that still finds time to have laser fights on the moon and a baboon attack in zero gravity.
8. HER SMELL
A really interesting and devastating depiction of addiction with complex characters and exciting visuals (unlike some other overrated indie film from this year *cough* The Souvenir). Elizabeth Moss deserves an Oscar nomination for this because she is incredible in it.
7. THE NIGHTENGALE
A rape-revenge film that is also an entry in the small sub-genre I once wrote a paper about, the Australian Western. This is a movie that sugarcoats and romanticizes nothing, whether it’s the brutality of rape or the treatment of natives. As a result, it is a powerful and uncompromising piece of work.
6. DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
S. Craig Zahler creates truly fascinating and unique movies that exist in their own weird morally grey universes. The brutality and unflinching depictions of violence mean his films are not easy watches, but the characters and tension make them worth the visceral experience.
Bong-Joon Ho is always a brilliant visual filmmaker, and here applying his exciting style and crazy tonal shifts to this satirical class story creates a film that is at times almost farcical. But he brings it all together for a poignant finale.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Tarantino completes his historical revenge loose trilogy with a film that’s largely a hang out movie. Both the main characters played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are so well realised and entertaining to spend time with, and yet you never lose sight of the mood of dread hanging over a dreamland Hollywood where a brutal reality is on the horizon.
3. LITTLE WOMEN
An absolutely genius adaptation of a true classic. I was deeply skeptical as both a fan of the book and the 94 Gillan Armstrong adaptation, but what Greta Gerwig does is modernize the text while brilliantly honoring the original. It’s a mammoth feet she pulls off with ease and it deserves to be heavily rewarded.
2. FORD vs FERRARI
James Mangold just knows how to push my buttons. I don’t care at all about car racing, but what they do here is tap in brilliantly to the idea of artist and patron. The notion of what it takes to create and innovate and how that can butt-up against commerce and corporate power. Basically it’s about making movies lol. And it’s so much fun.
1. KNIVES OUT
Just a 100% flawless movie from frame one. Rian Johnson is a true filmmaking genius of the highest order. It’s a film that constantly manages to subvert expectations to both emotional and comical (the slowest car chase ever) effect. This film is a revelation for Ana de Armos who is fantastic as the covert lead. And just like any who-done-it, the film needs to stick the landing and Knives Out does it perfectly.
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