List compiled by Eddie on 24/12/2019
And just like that another year ticks by.
2019 has provided cinema fans with a little bit of everything, with a range of disappointments, winners and surprises littering the landscape across the last 12 months.
Collating a list of the finest of the fine and the worst of the worst is always tricky business but below are a few highlights and low-lights I trust summarizes the year that’s been in a relatable manner.
As is always the case being a lucky Australian cinema fan, there are a number of films on this list I was unable to check out before writing.
Films such as Peanut Butter Falcon, Waves, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Jojo Rabbit, 1917, A Hidden Life and Uncut Gems all have yet to screen locally (with Parasite also sadly a film I was unable to catch in a limited cinema run) while a number of films on this below list may’ve appeared last year in other territories but were released either in cinemas or on disc/streaming services in Australia this year.
Overall the years movie highs have outweighed the movie lows and I look forward to a jam-packed summer period of content that looks set to one of the best in years.
Happy reading and happy watching.
10 Best Films of 2019
10. Ad Astra & John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
A more ponderous sci-fi experience than some were perhaps expecting or wanting, James Gray’s intimate yet grand Sci-Fi event features one of Brad Pitt’s very best lead turns and also gives us a unique space exploration film more concerned with the human side of things than pure spectacle.
One of the most impressive action films of the decade, Parabellum further establishes the Keanu Reeves franchise as the action film series to beat. With an abundance of incredibly staged fight scenes and set pieces that put most of its counterparts to shame, here’s hoping there’s a lot more Jonathan Wick action coming our way in the future.
9. Free Solo
You may know the outcome of Free Solo’s main event but it doesn’t make the plight of rock climber Alex Honnold’s venture up the face of the El Capitan mountain any less thrilling, as documentary filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi place us viewers alongside Honnold as his death defying escapade is undertaken. White knuckle movie-making at its finest.
Nadine Labaki’s Oscar nominated Lebanon set drama is heartbreaking stuff and features an incredible lead turn from its young star Zain Al Rafeea. Heavy in subject matter and emotional plays, Capharnaum isn’t always easy viewing but it’s essential viewing for any true fan of film or world cinema.
7. Marriage Story
Noah Baumbach’s crowning achievement, Marriage Story is a brilliantly realized study of a relationship breakdown that is played out wonderfully by Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson, in what are both awards worthy turns.
6. Apollo 11
Collating a vast array of stock footage, audio recordings and previously unseen NASA documentation, Apollo 11 enlivens the fabled moon landing of 50 years ago in stunning fashion. Todd Douglas Miller’s editing and direction ensures that we are transfixed from start to finish as we are taken on an emotional roller-coaster of space travel and generation defining achievement.
5. The Nightingale
Director Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook follow-up is the Australian film of the year, even if it’s highly likely not all can stomach its tough subject matter and confronting violence. A film with heart, soul and some home truths about Australia’s past and present, The Nightingale is an incendiary experience not soon forgotten.
4. Ford v Ferrari
It may follow a well-driven formula but Ford v Ferrari is assured and crowd pleasing film-making at its finest. Anchored by two great headlining turns from Matt Damon and Christian Bale, James Mangold’s true life biopic is one of the year’s most purely enjoyable event films for those of all ages.
3. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Always judged to a lofty standard, Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film didn’t appeal to everyone but Hollywood is original big-budget film-making at its very best, as Tarantino takes us on a wild ride to the late 60’s as his leading men Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt shine as industry players Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. The most sentimental and quietly paced film of his career, Hollywood is likely to become one of Tarantino’s crowning achievements.
2. The Irishman
After what felt like years of setbacks, The Irishman finally found its way into our cinema screens and home theaters and thankfully the wait was most definitely worth it. One of the most contemplative mob film’s ever made and a bitingly powerful epic, Martin Scorsese’s most audacious film yet is sure to be one of the biggest players at the upcoming awards season.
Not even the most optimistic of pundits could’ve predicted the billion dollar success of Joker, but it’s a film that deserves all the praise it’s received. Featuring a genuinely unforgettable Joaquin Phoenix performance as failed comedian Arthur Fleck, that’s backed up by some haunting musical accompaniments and eye capturing cinematography, Todd Phillip’s film is an instant masterpiece and a complete refinement of the comic book film.
10 Worst Films of 2019
10. Gemini Man
We may get two Will Smith’s for the price of one but Ang Lee’s big-budgeted sci-fi extravaganza is a total flop. Devoid of any energy or enthusiasm, Gemini Man should never have seen the light of day.
It hurts me a little that Hustlers has been praised by so many, as Lorene Scafaria’s grimy and grungy stripper-filled tale is a nasty experience that tells a detestable tale that is supposed to be fun because you know, J Lo. One of the years most unworthily praised films.
This Netflix released thriller is about as thrilling as a trip to hospital as we follow Sam Worthington’s concerned and clearly under duress father/husband wandering around waiting rooms and emergency rooms as he tries to find his family. A dud of a feature that Netflix marketed as some type of modern day Hitchcock mystery, this film isn’t fooling anyone but the most easy to please viewers.
7. High Life
A sci-fi oddity that’s incomparable to anything I’ve ever seen before, Claire Denis’s low-budget character study keeps finding itself as a critical darling featuring in best of year lists and even best of the decade lists which is a very sad thing indeed. It may want to appear to be saying a lot, in a meaningful way, but Denis’s film gets lost in itself as it squanders a neat set-up to become a bizarre and incoherent mess.
6. The Red Sea Diving Resort
Another Netflix clunker, Gideon Raff’s dull true life thriller squanders a great cast that includes Chris Evans, Haley Bennett and Michael Kenneth Williams on some seriously lacking material. This is the type of film that does a horrible injustice to its subject matter and characters.
5. Annabelle Comes Home
The Annabelle series has never been high-class cinema but Annabelle Comes Home makes previous entries look like genuine masterpieces thanks to its tiresome gimmicks and jump scare obsession. Directed without an ounce of creativity or verve, Annabelle Comes Home is hopefully the last time we see the creepy porcelain doll on the big screen.
4. King of Thieves
I have no idea how King of Thieves ended up being as bad as it did but by golly is James Marsh’s horrible geriatric thriller a non-event. Getting Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon and many others should’ve been a recipe for a great time in the heist genre but King of Thieves is too busy robbing viewers of their time to work.
3. X-Men: Dark Phoenix
The death knell to the current X-Men cinematic universe, Dark Phoenix is a genuinely atrocious blockbuster event and one that has zero redeeming features. So bad you feel for everyone that’s involved in this lifeless creation.
2. The Curse of the Weeping Woman
Taking the mantle of the worst film yet in the Conjuring cinematic universe, Curse of the Weeping Woman is a laughably bad attempt at being horror film, as we follow an unlikeable family through their house being haunted by a wedding dress wearing nasty. When the scariest thing in your film is some haunted eggs, you know you have a big problem.
1. Velvet Buzzsaw
I’ll readily admit to being excited for Velvet Buzzsaw, directed by Nightcrawler filmmaker Dan Gilroy and featuring a cast lead by Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, this Netflix realised horror/thriller appeared set to be one of the year’s most unique and enjoyable romps. Set in the LA art scene, Buzzsaw is instead an almost incomprehensible mess that fails in all aspects. A huge disappointment and a downright bad feature, it would be wise that we all just forget this film even exists.
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Road Trip, Old School, School for Scoundrels and Starsky and Hutch, they’re just some of the films that comedic focused director Todd Phillips has become known for so it came as a genuinely awesome surprise that the filmmaker came of age in such a stunning way with Joker. Impeccably crafted and delivered, it’s exciting to think of where Phillips career behind the camera will go next.
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Without being over the top, I personally feel as though Phoenix’s turn as budding comedian, mentally unwell and well-meaning Arthur Fleck/Joker is one of the singular greatest performances of the modern era, and quite possibly of all time. A frighteningly good molding of actor and material, Phoenix remains front and centre throughout Joker’s run-time and commands every single second of his screen-time.
Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
Playing duel roles in Jordan Peele’s horror hit as Adelaide Wilson/Red, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o delivers one of the year’s best performances. Watching Nyong’o inhabit the nefarious and plotting Red is a joy to behold while her heartfelt portrayal of protagonist Adelaide Wilson is just as effective in a more quiet way.
Ang Lee (Gemini Man)
Ang Lee will always be one of the great enigmas of the modern era with his ability to deliver awards worthy films such as Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon then films like Hulk, Taking Woodstock or newest failure Gemini Man. A film obsessed with technical aspects and nothing else, including make a fun film or creating a decent script, Ang Lee should’ve known better than to produce a film this bad.
Will Smith (Gemini Man)
He may have redeemed some very poor years with the box-office success of Aladdin but Will Smith very quickly ensured that all good will disappeared just as quickly as it came with his two-pronged Gemini Man performance. It’s hard to imagine that Smith would’ve read the Gemini Man script and thought it would be a good film, but I guess money does indeed talk.
Dianne Wiest (The Mule)
How Dianne Wiest’s over the top and downright embarrassing performance as Mary in Clint Eastwood’s film made it into the final cut is beyond me but whoever is responsible for allowing it through to the keeper should be ashamed. Witnessing Wiest perform one of the worst on screen death’s I’ve ever seen is a sight that needs to be seen to be believed, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
3 Underrated Films
3. The Hate U Give
Bypassing cinemas locally, The Hate U Give is a powerful and incendiary tale of race and growing up and deserves to be seen by a much larger audience than it was afforded this year. Should be mandatory viewing for teenagers of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
2. Under the Silver Lake
I won’t pretend to try and act like I understand what on earth Under the Silver Lake is about but director David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to his beloved horror debut It Follows is a journey unlike any other. Flawed no doubt, this bizarre trip through a sun-soaked LA is destined for a long-standing cult status.
1. An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn
Jim Hosking gave the world the extremely odd The Greasy Strangler and he keeps the strange times coming with oddball comedy delight An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. Undoubtedly not for everyone, Luff Linn is comedy at its most bizarre but with an on-song cast led by Aubrey Plaza and Jermaine Clement, Hosking’s film is full of belly laughs and some hidden heart and soul to boot.
3 Overrated Films
3. High Life
Lauded with high praise from across the globe, High Life has somehow managed to sneak its way into countless best films of the year lists and also horrifyingly best films of the decade lists but Claire Denis’s grungy little sci-fi character study is an unlikeable offering that loses itself within its convoluted storyline very early on.
A surprise box office hit and critical darling, Hustlers has found its fair share of fans (and likely some Oscar attention in the coming months) but I sense as the years go on, many will look back on this based on a true story as one of the year’s most curiously praised offerings that has very little substance or likability once you scratch the surface.
There’s some slight fun to be had with DC comic adaptation Shazam! but it’s odd so many praised this try-hard Marvel wannabe as some type of massive win for the struggling DC comic book universe. Outside of some energetic performances and a few fun gags, Shazam! is a highly forgettable outing that will be forgotten about in the years to come.
Australian Film of the Year
A tough watch, The Nightingale makes for difficult but essential viewing and further establishes The Babadook director Jennifer Kent as one of the most visionary directors working in the Australian film industry.
What if boy Clark Kent/Superman turned out to be evil? It’s the question Brightburn attempts to unravel in its horror based narrative but director David Yarovesky fails to make much of a great premise as his genre mash-up fails to explore its core concept in any significant way.
The talent behind Joker suggested it was destined to be a decent offering but the end results surprised all. A magnificent character study and examination of mental illness/the society we help create, Joker became the year’s best film and a deserving box office smash.
Simple but effective, Us portrayed its core concept in a startling image that ensured we were on board before we even saw the slightest bit of footage.
Want to see two Will Smith’s going head to head? No didn’t think so but clearly the marketing team behind Gemini Man thought that is what would sell this box office dud to audiences from around the globe.
I’ve deliberately been keeping away from finding out what The Lighthouse is all about and this mysterious and perfectly edited trailer ensured that I was only more excited to see director Robert Eggers The Witch follow up after seeing it.
The Lion King
Doing nothing but remind you how good the original Lion King animation was by virtually showcasing shot by shot recreations of that films most iconic scenes, The Lion King trailer relied far too heavily on nostalgia to suggest this film was going to be anything but a tolerable cash-grab.
Top 3 Scenes of 2019 (Spoilers)
3. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum – The Opening 20 minutes
Want to get a lesson on how you waste zero time throwing your audience straight into the thick of it? Then look no further than the opening stand of Parabellum! Featuring horse rides, knife throwing and death by library book, the breathtaking pace of Parabellum’s start helped ensure that this latest adventure in the Wick universe was its best yet.
2. Joker – Gary & Randall visit Arthur’s Apartment
Full of tension, shock and pitch black humor, ex-colleagues Gary and Randall pay their acquaintance Arthur Fleck an unplanned visit that I am sure they regretted almost instantly.
1. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – The Flamethrower Gets Activated
Spoiler Alert – as soon as we first see Rick Dalton’s flamethrower casually placed in his poolside shed we know there’s more flaming to come and Quentin Tarantino brilliantly brings the instrument of destruction out in his films final legs, in what’s become one of the years most talked about and unforgettable moments that had audiences in fits of laughter and shocks of unbelief.
Honorable Mention –
Avengers: Endgame – Introduction of Thor Lebowski
We’ve seen the God of Thunder in many different situations but never more memorably than when we first lay eyes on the usually chiseled figure five years on from the events of Infinity War. Gloriously hammed up by Chris Hemsworth, the new look Thor made for the year’s most unforgettable cinematic entrance.
What films made a mark on your 2019? I’d love to hear what you loved and hated about the year gone by in film in the comments below!
With 2019 rapidly drawing to a close, I will be taking a break from blogging for some time over the holiday period. Thanks to all readers of the blog who make this such a fun hobby to do and I look forward to sharing more movie themed goodness with you all in 2020!