2019 has been one of my favourite years for film since I’ve been writing here on Shuggie Says. There have been so many films that I’ve loved, including a good number that didn’t make it onto this Top list that would have most years. But as not only a new year, but a new decade looms I’m going to be running down my 25 favourites. Be warned, there are some spoilers ahead.
25) Ad Astra – We kick off my top 25 of 2019 list with Ad Astra, James Gray’s beautiful meditative science fiction adventure film about Brad Pitt’s astronaut Roy McBride searching for his father near Neptune. The scale of the film is epic in terms of the depiction of space travel, and the stunning visuals, but it is grounded in this incredibly small scale and intimate story of a dysfunctional father and son relationship.
24) Aladdin – I have a lot of problems with 1992’s Aladdin, most around the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine, but with Guy Ritchie’s live action adaptation a lot of those issues are improved, making me enjoy this remake a lot more. Aladdin feels a lot less unlikeable, and Mena Massoud is great, whilst Jasmine feels like a well rounded character who is worthy of leading Agrabah. And they also avoided the trap of trying to replicate Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie, instead going a different direction, and Will Smith did a fantastic job.
23) The Irishman – Martin Scorsese’s crime epic might be a little too long, coming in at just under 3 and a half hours, but seeing three actors of the calibre of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci all working together and acting opposite one another is something truly magnificent. Given that in recent years De Niro and Pacino have been making films like Dirty Grandpa and Jack and Jill, seeing them back on top, working with a master like Scorsese, this is a must see, although I’m sad most people won’t be watching it at the cinema.
22) Animals – Sophie Hyde and Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals was a film that put female friendships front and centre in a very real way that doesn’t get shown too often. The story of hard partying best friends Laura and Tyler who find their friendship beginning to change as they grow older. The two women are played by Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat. Shawkat is always fantastic, and most people have known that since she starred in Arrested Development, but it was Grainger’s performance that blew me away and I hope she gets propelled to even bigger things.
21) The Last Black Man In San Francisco – Jimmie Fails and his best friend Joe Talbot crafted The Last Black Man In San Francisco based on Fails own experiences. The film has a powerful message about gentrification, particularly in cities like San Francisco, and that hits hard. But what makes The Last Black Man In San Francisco so special is the stunning direction from Joe Talbot, the cinematography of Adam Newport-Berra, and the Music by Emile Mosseri. All of this came together to create something truly beautiful.
20) Little Women – I came out of Little Women positive on the film, but not overwhelmingly, however in the couple of weeks since then I’ve thought back on it far more fondly. There are plenty of films you love at first but quickly forget, this was the opposite. The lead performances are great, both Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh particularly stand out as outstanding. And Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the material keep me interested in the kind of period drama I don’t usual love. This is one I’m going to have to revisit, I may love it even more.
19) Klaus – The latest entry on this list is Netflix’s animated Christmas movie Klaus. I’d heard positive things, but the trailer hadn’t really stood out to me, but when I settled in to watch it on Christmas Eve I was blown away. As a reinvention of the origins of Santa’s mythology it is great, but it is the lovely and heartwarming message at the core of the film and the way Sergio Pablos tells the story that made Klaus so much more than your generic animated adventure or christmas story.
18) Good Boys – I feel a little bad for Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg’s Good Boys. If this was any other year I feel their raunchy coming of age comedy about some friends trying to get to a party would be more talked about, but Good Boys came out a couple of months after Booksmart. Despite this it is still a much better film than the ‘kids but they’re swearing’ premise the trailer made it out to be, with real heart to the central trio’s friendship and a lot of great comedic moments.
17) Us – I remember seeing the trailer for Us on Christmas Day in 2018, and boy was it creepy. Whilst I may prefer Get Out if you’re looking for something scary then Us has some incredibly tense and scary scenes. At its heart is the dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o, although the entire cast is fantastic in their dual role. Jordan Peele proved once again that he’s one of the most exciting voices working in genre film right now, and I cannot wait for his next project.
16) The Favourite – The Favourite was the first film I saw in 2019, and it remained up there as one of my absolute favourites. The film isn’t a typical Yorgos Lanthimos project, given that he didn’t write it, and so it feels more accessible to the mainstream than something like The Lobster. Lanthimos is still a master of dark comedy, but this time it is well matched with an intriguing period of English political history based around three women vying for political advantage. The three lead acting roles are all spectacular, and I’m delighted that Olivia Colman ended up taking home an Oscar last year.
15) Wild Rose – A beautiful and raw love letter to Glasgow told through the story of a recently released felon, Rose-Lynn, who aspires to be a country musician. The lead performance from Jessie Buckley is absolutely sensational, and just adds another feather to her bow as she performs all the music herself. Julie Walters is exceptional alongside her as Rose-Lynn’s mother. This wasn’t one of the big flash titles, but it was a beautiful story, fantastically told.
14) Toy Story 4 – No one needed or asked for a Toy Story 4 (except maybe Disney) and yer Pixar still delivered something fantastic despite the huge pressure on them. This was really Woody’s story, and they managed to think of a new and interesting direction to take that. Toy Story 4 is so funny, heartfelt, and beautiful, and again offers a wonderful resolution to Woody’s story. If they were to stop here I would be delighted, but I’m never going to write the Toy Story franchise off again.
13) How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World – The final part of the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy was a fitting end to one of the best franchises of the decade. The tears were flowing freely in our screening as Hiccup has to come to the realisation that he needs to allow Toothless to go off and live his own life apart. I loved that the big finale wasn’t some action spectacle but instead this moment between the two central characters, and focused in this relationship we’ve all grown to love over the past 9 years.
12) Le Mans 66’ – James Mangold’s dramatisation of of Shelby Motor’s creation of the classic Ford GT40 car that ended Ferrari’s dominance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Focused on the small team who worked against the corporate monolith of Ford, and succeeded in spite of the pressure to conform to Ford’s image. Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Caitriona Balfe are all exceptional in bringing Carol Shelby, Ken Miles, and Mollie Miles to the big screen.
11) If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins’ stunning follow up to Moonlight is an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel about a young couple who must fight false accusations brought against them. Jenkins spends a great deal of time making sure that you care about Tish and Fonny so you’re truly invested in their story. Whilst the main actors are fantastic arguably even better is the supporting performances from Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry. Jenkins doesn’t do big or bombastic, instead focusing on these small personal stories and making them special.
10) Eighth Grade – I don’t know why it took nearly a year for Eighth Grade to make it over to the UK, but boy was it worth the wait. This was a coming of age film about a young eighth grade girl who struggles with social anxiety. This was a story that was incredibly relatable for me, which could make it a hard watch. But given that the film was written and directed by comedian Bo Burnham this was perfectly balanced with comedy as well.
9) John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum – Nobody does action as well as the John Wick franchise, and Parabellum continues to push that throughout with some of the best and most beautifully shot action scenes I’ve ever seen. The film also dives even deeper into the lore, and that will really determine whether or not you’re on board with the franchise going forward. There are plans for further films in the franchise, and I can’t wait to see what Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves do next with it.
8) Ready or Not – I don’t think there have been too many more fun times at the cinema this year than Ready or Not. A genuinely brilliant and unique concept for a horror film Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett do a lot with such a simple premise, and keeps the film exciting and thrilling throughout. This was also the film where Samara Weaving really announced herself, she leads the film fantastically, and is so charismatic and likeable throughout that you cannot help but root for her.
7) Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino’s 10th film was something very different. Instead of being dialogue or plot heavy this was focused on the two lead character’s, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, their relationship, and their different ways of coping with being towards the tail end of their careers. Tarantino does an exceptional job in recapturing the feeling of the late 60s, and that old Hollywood feeling. But for those who’d miss it, there is also a healthy dose of classic Tarantino over the top violence as well.
6) Avengers: Endgame – For a cinematic experience this year, or maybe any year, nothing tops Endgame. This was how to end a huge multi film narrative in a perfect fashion. Instead of the epic and action packed story telling of Infinity War the Russo Brothers took Endgame in a different direction, choosing to make this a more intimate and character based film. And it worked, whilst Endgame could be emotionally draining, it gave the major characters a fitting send off.
5) The Lighthouse – There is no one out there working like Robert Eggers. The Witch was a brilliant debut, but to follow that up with something like The Lighthouse is incredible. A small scale horror following Robert Patterson and Willem Dafoe’s lighthouse keepers as they descend into madness, I can say you’ll have seen nothing like this before. The directorial choices that Eggers makes are all so bold, but every one pays off and makes The Lighthouse a modern horror masterpiece.
4) Marriage Story – I think Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is probably the best film of the year. The film is absolutely heartbreaking at times, and also incredibly uplifting, heartfelt, and often funny. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are exceptional, whilst the entire supporting cast is bursting with talent. Alongside all of this Randy Newman’s score is beautiful and is a perfect encapsulation of the film as a whole.
3) Portrait of A Lady on Fire – Céline Sciamma’s tale of two women who fall in love as one paints the other in preparation for her marriage to a nobleman in Milan. Sciamma’s direction is absolutely stunning, taking her time throughout, not feeling the need to rush through, but instead allowing Claire Mathon’s brilliant cinematography and the performances from the actresses, particularly Adèle Haenel, to speak for themselves.
2) Booksmart – For a long time my favourite film of the year was the beautiful, hilarious, and moving comedy Booksmart. We all knew that Olivia Wilde was a fantastic actress, but she may be an even better director as she absolutely smashed it with the feature film debut. She also managed to wrangle a cast of mainly unknowns into giving so many fantastic performances and creating iconic characters. If you haven’t seen Booksmart do yourself a favour and rectify that as soon as possible.
1) Knives Out – But piping Booksmart right at the death was Rian Johnson’s brilliant Knives Out. this was one of the most tightly scripted, entertaining, and memorable films of the year. I love a film that demands to be seen more than once, and that is something that can be rare for a murder mystery like Knives Out. But because everything in the film is so important you need to see it twice to appreciate all the little details. On top of that, the film is packed with excellent performances from an all star cast, led by Daniel Craig having an absolute blast as Benoit Blanc.