*Why eleven this year? The reason for this is simple; I had already selected these films and written and posted this piece but then I saw Little Women.
There were a number of films this year that were all but guaranteed to make it into my top ten (eleven) from the very second they were announced. I pretty much fell in love with cinema in at the age of four when a certain influential sci-fi movie came out, then extended my love of the medium with BBC2 reruns of old black and white comedies before discovering comic books and beginning to dream about what they could do if they ever brought the iconic characters together on film as the did on the page. Frankly with three movies in particular, all they had to do was not mess it up. The only question was which of these would win my greatest favour and perhaps the answer to that is no great revelation either.
Around this though are the movies that caught me off guard, the ones that arrived with little fanfare and grabbed me close or blew me away. I think 2019 has been a great year for movies of all kinds; big, small, funny, straight, historical and contemporary, so here then are the ones that I loved even more than all the rest.
11. The Kid Who Would Be King
This one is both historical and contemporary, taking Arthurian Legend and transposing it to a British high school. There are better crafted films just outside my top ten (eleven); Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood!, Eighth Grade, Capernaum, but if you want to be transported back to your childhood with a tremendously fun adventure then this is the film you need. If you don’t want that then frankly you need this film even more. It’s a lovely film and I didn’t want it pushed off the list when I realised there was another movie to insert.
10. The Favourite
Not my favourite but not far off. This movie, released on Jan 1st in the UK, set the bar high for the rest of the year and for a long time will remain an innovative, anarchic and brilliant challenge to not only historical dramas but cinema in general. Olivia Colman is playing a different monarch on streaming tv now but I can’t imagine there being any dialogue in The Crown that reflects even the least surprising moments in the script for this film.
9. Avengers: Endgame
Marvel Studios have been building slowly toward this for over ten years but let’s not lose sight of what an incredible achievement Endgame is. Recent films such as Cats and Knives Out have been spoken of in terms of their incredible ensemble casts but they have nothing on Endgame which features the biggest collection of A-Listers outside of Oscar night. We take it all for granted though, in some cases because these actors are only A-List because of their involvement with these films. Then there is what they do with these people; placing them in an exciting, gripping, moving, funny (and most impressively) coherent and satisfying movie.
Martin Scorsese couldn’t be more wrong. Avengers: Endgame may not be the most sophisticated film but it is the most spectacular example of pure cinema we will see for a long time.
8. Stan & Ollie
I love all types of films and genres but there are certain series and characters that I have been particularly fond of in my four decades of being a cinema geek. Before the MCU though, before Bond and before Back to the Future, there was Laurel & Hardy. I enjoyed a whole range of old movies when I was a kid; Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chan, George Formby and Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, but none of them as much as Laurel & Hardy. This new film, centring on the boys at the end of their career, is built sweetly around their friendship in exactly the way their own films were built sweetly around that same friendship. Unsurprisingly I found it a total and utter joy.
7. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Here’s a thought. Me watching Laurel & Hardy films as a ten year old in 1983 is about the same as my youngest daughter watching the original Star Wars now. Yep Star Wars, as stated above, is where it all began. My passion for movies started a long time ago at the precise time I looked up on that gigantic screen and first read the words ‘a long time ago’.
Is the new Star Wars movie better than Endgame? No. Did I enjoy it more? Absolutely. The critical objection seems to be that the film regrettably steered away from the bold direction that The Last Jedi had taken things in and aimed to appeal too much to the fans. I loved The Last Jedi but as someone who has been a Star Wars fan for almost his entire life, I am very happy with what this film gave me too.
Right, that’s the geeky stuff out of the way so now I have the chance to also present myself as a serious cineaste. Where better to start than with the superb Korean film Burning. On the surface the name of the movie refers to one of the character’s penchant for setting fire to empty storage facilities and the title of the story this is based on, Barn Burning, takes away any alternate reading. By removing that first word though the appellation could just as easily relate to the dangerous combination of jealousy, doubt and suspicion growing in the protagonist. It could also be describing the slow developing nature of the captivating plot.
5. The Farewell
Lots of films end with additional information about what happened to the characters written on the screen before the credits roll. In Rocketman this is where all the happy moments of Elton John’s life are included. Never before have I seen a film where the information given here completely changes everything that has come before and reframes how you think about the entire story though. This is just one of the many moments of tiny genius in The Farewell.
4. Little Women
Here it is then, a last minute contender straight in at number four. If The Favourite rewrote the rule book on costume dramas then so does this but in much more subtle, almost imperceptible ways. Greta Gerwig’s brilliant adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s important 19th Century novel feels totally modern without contemporising it yet it is hard to put your finger on how. It looks like a costume drama but it doesn’t feel like one because the events on screen manage to be so relatable. Little Women has always celebrated femininity and feminism and what Gerwig has done is shake the dust off the book to show how this is needed as much now as it was in 1860. That title has always been wry but with this director and this cast it is positively ironic.
I’ve got a degree in English Literature yet these days I very rarely read books (I think I finished three this year). Nonetheless I absolutely love it when I get the chance to really read a film (my degree actually include several modules in cinema studies). Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out is one you can really get into. Enjoy it just on the surface if you want but there is so so much hidden below. Making great movies that are open to interpretation like this is not easy either; the trippy Under the Silver Lake which attempted the same thing is my third worst film of the year. Us is the mirror of this though, it is brilliant.
I did start writing a potted history of teen movies with an analysis of why this is such an important example of the genre but scratch that. Booksmart is the funniest, best scripted, most heartwarming and most rewatchable film of the year (five times so far, once more than Endgame and three times more than Rise of Skywalker). This is all you need to know as to why you should see it and why it is very nearly my number one film of the year.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk
This year my favourite films have in turn been endearing, surprising, epic, comforting, fulfilling, intriguing, touching, beautiful. gripping and beguiling but the movie at number one just blew me away with its raw but restrained power. If Beale Street Could Talk is the most beautiful and tragic love story ever staged since some populist writer in the 1590s came across a little poem called ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’ and thought he could turn it into a nice crowd pleaser. It isn’t just the story though; the acting, the framing, the music and the direction are all equally breathtaking. This is a true work of art. It isn’t Shakespeare but it kind of is.