DOC’S TOP THIRTY FILMS OF 2019





So here we are again, following for the second year running in the footsteps of Juan’s top thirty which you can read here if you fancy some comparing. Very few films are shared, but we do have the same number one, which is odd seeing how often we argue about movies. It didn’t take me as long as usual to do my list once I’d caught up with most of the movies I’d missed, but it took me a while to work out what to do with two films regarding dates, and whether I felt they should be included in a 2019 list. I missed the 2018 theatrical release of the recently reviewed [by me] Anna And The Apocalypse and really wanted to include it, but in the end felt that it was still a 2018 film, even if its release was very limited. The Bastards’ Fig Tree was made in 2017 but didn’t get a release in cinemas at all, so its digital release this year counts for me as its first proper release. Several other movies in this list came out last year in other countries but 2019 here in the UK, so 2019 they are.

Anyway, despite what I think I said a few months ago, 2019 has been an okay final year of a decade that in my opinion hasn’t been too great for films overall, with a surprisingly large number of films I scored eight out of ten, if not many I felt were deserving of higher scores. No 9.5/10s or 10/10s. Some of my picks you’ll agree with, some you’ll either laugh at or shake your head.

 

 

30/ LE MANS ’66
This was hardly likely to top Rush in terms of motor racing movies, so one shouldn’t be disappointed that it failed to do so. There were times when it came close though, especially during some of the scenes between Matt Damon and Christian Bale [despite the latter’s sometimes iffy Northern accent] who had fantastic chemistry together, while the race sequences were thrilling and we were reminded of how corporate interference, by folk who care little about the ones doing the real work,  is often the real antagonist to beat in a film that managed to both celebrate and criticise the profession. 8/10

 

29/ OFFICIAL SECRETS
Keira Knightley usually looks too much like she’s acting, but here she gave a very natural performance as real-life British Intelligence whistle-blower Katharine Gun who, during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, leaked a memo exposing a joint US-UK illegal spying operation against members of the UN Security Council which proposed blackmailing undecided member states into voting for war. The British political thriller managed to be very edge of seat without needing to resort to chases, gunplay or fights, and reminded us how we shouldn’t believe what our governments tell us. 8/10

 

28/ BORDER
A film that took as its starting point the question, “what if trolls were alive today?“, then used it to tackle ideas of ‘them and us’, the cruelty of Western civilisation, and the difficulties of trying to choose one’s own identity – while also incorporating Nordic noir, romance, body horror along the way – should by rights have been a right old mess. But this Swedish gem managed to be consistently involving and adroitly balanced its sweet and dark elements, while Eva Melander’s heartfelt performance certainly showed through all those prosthetics that she was wearing. 8/10

 

27/ A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON
Well, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the first one, but that would have been an almost impossible task anyway as the 2015 film was so good. I could certainly have done with less movie gags in this variant on E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but I could also never stop admiring the way that it managed to tell a full story, including things like character arcs and backstories, without dialogue. And it was still full of laughs, admittedly mostly simple slapstick, but that kind of thing isn’t seen much in live action films these days, and was therefore more than welcome. 8/10

 

26/ CHILD’S PLAY
I’m probably the writer on here who moans about all these remakes most – and yet here, despite having a Chucky that looked like he was on steroids, was a remake that was not only a huge load of fun but one which slightly bettered its predecessor [even if parts two and four are still my favourites]. The change of origin was a smart choice [what’s the point of continually repeating what’s been done before?] and used well, the relationship between boy and doll gave the film its heart [you even felt sorry for Chucky at times], and there were plenty of tense set pieces and some delicious kills. 8/10

 

25/ SORRY WE MISSED YOU
Despite Ken Loach undoubtedly being in the twilight of his career, he and screenwriter Paul Laverty seemed to be showing a stronger urgency in their work with I, Daniel Blake, and this similarly Newcastle-set film, which came across as a companion piece to the former, was no different, also giving a voice to those who maybe aren’t heard. The story of a man who drives for a private parcels firm became a terribly sad depiction of how so many people are trapped by a job that will crush and tear families apart, culminating in a final scene that was properly upsetting. 8/10

 

24/ IN FABRIC
Peter Strickland doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he’s so far been unable to make a mainstream impact, seeing as he turned out his weirdest work yet – though it was also his funniest. Of course the premise of a killer dress is hardly one which you can take seriously, but what filmmaker would craft something that looks like early Dario Argento, yet which has actors who pretend that they’re in a Ken Loach film? The consumerist satire was truly spot on. Strickland is such a master stylist in control of the medium that who cares if he leaves us with a hell of a lot of loose ends. 8/10

 

23/ PAIN AND GLORY
I tend to blow hot or cold on Pedro Almodovar, but it was impossible for me to not to get caught up in this semi-autobiographical piece, starring a never-better Antonio Banderas as a movie director in decline recalling his life. It can be summed up almost perfectly in the main character’s line, “A great actor is not the one who cries, but the one who knows how to contain the tears”. Nostalgia, regret, sexuality, aging, the need to create, and most importantly overcoming the obstacles thrown in your way; it was all here, sensitively yet unsentimentally handled, and still with plenty of Almodovar’s wicked humour. 8/10

 

22/ A DOG’S JOURNEY
2017’s A Dog’s Purpose sounded ridiculous – a dog voiced by the usually highly irritating Josh Gad is reincarnated as different breeds belonging to various owners. But it turned out to be a real charmer, a beautiful and touching tale of the kind you don’t tend to get very often these days. This follow-up possibly concentrated a little too much on the humans for my liking, but it was still a both heartwarming and heartbreaking effort that depicted the unconditional love that canines can have for humans, and it concluded the overall story in a perfect fashion. 8/10

 

21/ WEREWOLF
The premise of escaped concentration camp children menaced by savage dogs could only result in an intense piece, and this Polish effort turned out to be a film which could certainly be enjoyed just as an edge of seat siege movie/creature feature with a bit of a difference if you weren’t in the mood for thinking much. But it also worked as a clever reverse of The Lord Of The Flies, an allegory of when the Russians took over Poland and were just as bad as the Germans, and a compassionate and positive look at overcoming trauma. The child acting, especially from Matylda Ignasiak, was stunning. 8/10

 

20/ WELCOME TO MARWEN
I honestly fail to see why this was so slated [except that we live in a stupid age where the male gaze is vilified], though I have a feeling that the reception would have been very different 20 years ago. Times are hard. Robert Zemeckis’s most heartfelt work in ages bravely brought you into the broken world of a flawed man who in real life really did lose his memory when brutally assaulted, and asked you to experience his recovery, warts and all. The many sequences involving his dolls achieved an almost surreal level rarely aimed for in movies of a commercially-intended sort. 8/10

 

19/ AD ASTRA
James Gray’s space adventure was a more contemplative, reflective follow-up to his The Lost City Of Z, examining the urge to find, and the urge to find out, and asking if these urges can ever be compatible with a ‘normal’ life, but this time concluding that home is where the heart is. And Gray brought the same haunting, yet majestic, atmosphere to space that he brought to the jungles of South America, even though the two environments are worlds apart in visual terms and many others. Brad Pitt’s quietly intense performance was one of his best – despite that damn voice-over. 8/10

 

18/ THE THIRD WIFE
Being sent discs to review that you didn’t ask for can be a bonus. I’m hadn’t even heard of this Vietnamese film set not that long ago when women were atrociously treated in a totally patriarchal society, but it turned out to be a hypnotic and highly contemplative, if still properly upsetting, experience with little need for dialogue as Ash Mayfair [with a little help from metaphorical nature footage] told her painfully tragic ‘circle of life’ story, aided immensely by the astonishingly interior [for a child actress] performance from Try May. More disturbing than most horrors this year. 8/10

 

17/ ROCKETMAN
The first of three pop music-based films released in 2019, and all three were good enough to be on this list. This one may be the least, but that’s not to put it down. I think many expected another Bohemian Rhapsody, but instead this was a musical in the truest sense, using Elton John’s songs to show his tribulations. In often being more figurative than historical, it was able to convey Elton’s life and struggles in a way that the viewer may understand on a personal level. Taron Egerton was simply superb, even performing the songs very well. And I don’t even like Elton much. 8/10

 

16/ STAN AND OLLIE
You’re usually asking for trouble when you’re doing Hollywood’s greatest comedy duo, but Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly somehow managed to convincingly portray the characters of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as well as enact some of their routines with amazing precision [and remind us how funny the really old comedy often is]. The voices, the exaggerated stage personalities, the body language, plus the warmth of an almost lifelong friendship – they nailed it all. This bittersweet look at their later years was a straight forward, even simple, but also poignant and heartfelt love letter. 8/10

 

15/  LITTLE WOMEN
Did we need yet another version of this oft-told tale? Turns out we did. This was a good example of how to put a modern, ‘progressive’ spin on something without falling into the man bashing that the likes of Sophie Takal and Elisabeth Banks feel is necessary, writer/director Greta Garwig adding a smart feminist viewpoint to a novel that, while forward thinking for its day, does seem dated in some respects now. The flashback structure added poignancy, many scenes had a gorgeous ‘lost summer’ feel, and can the equally superb Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh do any wrong? 8/10

 

14/ THE BASTARDS’ FIG TREE
This will probably be the film that most people won’t have heard of, but if you fancy something off the beaten track I recommend this droll yet inspiring Spanish work. The story of a murderous member of a Fascist death squad operating during the Spanish Civil War who spends more and more time by a fig tree [maybe paralleling the emergence of a country from soil fertilised by the dead bodies of so many people], it managed to powerfully present faith without religion, and redemption without sentimentality, what with the main character’s intriguing journey and the overall absurdist tone. 8/10

 

13/ THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING
I’ve tried to avoid moaning too much in the course of writing this article, but I can’t help but say this: the flopping of this film, a film that would have probably been a hit in days gone by, is terribly sad proof of the dominance of superhero fare and Disney these days. Full of charm, wit and a lovely childlike, Goonies-style sense of adventure, yet also pretty good in its plotting and with good chemistry between its cast members, this often wry modern spin on something I personally adore greatly, the legend of King Arthur [T.H.White would have loved it] was an ignored gem. Maybe one day it’ll get its due. 8/10

 

12/ JOKER
I can’t help but feel sad that we live in a time where a dark drama like this has to be comic book-related to receive loads of attention, and – let’s face it – Joaquin Phoenix has been here several times before, but you can’t deny that he’s terrific at this kind of character, and this savage indictment of how our supposedly progressive society ignores the mentally ill [and maybe a jab at today’s pathetic outrage culture] was a mesmerising watch, terribly sad yet with seriously funny moments, a true emotional rollercoaster – sometimes with multiple emotions popping up at the same time. 8/10

 

11/ YESTERDAY
Richard Curtis had already shown with About Time that he’s not concerned with logic when he attempts this kind of thing, so one expected a story by him about a man waking up in an alternate universe where the Beatles never existed to have some plot holes, but then you could also say the same about Avengers: Endgame, and if the end result was as genuinely warm and sweet as this then it really doesn’t matter. Funny, romantic, and one came out of the cinema with a greater appreciation of The Beatles, despite it being a fictional story that did not feature the Fab Four [well, not quite] at all. 8/10

 

10/ ALITA BATTLE ANGEL
Even though it’s still undecided as to whether we’re going to get that sequel [and for once here’s a film that needs one as the story stopped], this was easily the best of this year’s big effects-heavy actioners, and proof that Hollywood can get anime right if the right people are involved. The future world was the most interesting and detailed in some time, the plot was decent enough, the action scenes certainly delivered, and the vulnerable character Alita, played wonderfully by Rosa Salazar despite those initially off-putting big eyes, provided a surprisingly emotional centre for all the mayhem. 8.5/10

 

9/ GREEN BOOK
I detest the horribly limited and political Academy Awards, and this Best Picture winner was about as typical a winner as one could imagine, it almost felt crafted principally to win. And we’ve had plenty of road movies with the familiar ‘they-couldn’t-have-been-more-different’ premise.  But this real-life story about the beginning of a lifelong friendship between a Jamaican college-educated concert pianist and a streetwise but academically dim was a wonderfully warm experience that even managed to side step the expected messaging. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen clicked perfectly. 8.5/10

 

8/ BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
Another flop that even ten years ago may well have been a hit. Things really have changed – and not for the better. For once a quote on the poster was accurate, “the feel-good film of the year” – yet it was feel-good without soft pedaling its more serious issues such as tradition vs modernity, and racism. The premise of an Indian teenager in 1987 lifted up by the songs of Bruce Springsteen was first and foremost a lovely hymn to the beauty and power of music, how it can inspire and transform. Though modest, this had moments of sheer exhilaration of the kind I thought the cinema had almost forgotten to do. 8.5/10

 

7/ JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM
Despite my incessant whinging about modern trends that I just can’t stop, it was reassuring that action movies of the old school with minimal CGI can still sometimes be popular – and still be darn good. I don’t know if they knew John Wick would be this big when they first created it with no source material, but each film has expanded a fascinating universe while still keeping so much in mystery. But of course it was the breathless, diverse series of beautifully choreographed action set pieces that made this, probably the fastest paced 130 minutes ever made, so distinctive in its genre. 8.5/10

 

6/ THE IRISHMAN
The de-aging technology was mostly pretty good, though it couldn’t disguise the way old people walk. However, in the twilight of his life and career, Martin Scorsese was able to make a triumphant return to the gangster movie, full of much of his old verve, yet was also able to give us the most honest of gangster movies, its upsetting final half hour that Terry Gilliam among others didn’t like actually being the section of most importance, saying how murderous hoods die slowly inside as well as outside. The final scene between Robert De Niro and Anna Paquin was the most quietly devastating of the year. 8.5/10

 

5/ DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE
The kind of adult-aimed entertainment that’s being increasingly squeezed out due to the big guns having more and more dominance, and audiences changing what they want to go and spend their hard earned cash on, this was a terrific crime thriller that captured the fatalism of old film noir better than any other movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and also a film that nicely bucked some current trends. Mel Gibson and a surprisingly good Vince Vaughn were a great partnership, the considerable length was fine as it was all so riveting, and you really didn’t know where things were going. 8.5/10

 

4/ THE FAREWELL
By rights, the story of a grandmother who’s diagnosed with cancer but has this fact kept from her, and her extended family staging a wedding as  a final get together, should have been really depressing, but, while it certainly had its rightful sadness, it somehow managed to be a feelgood film [but without seeming tasteless] about a tough subject, eventually pulling off the trick of being both devastating and uplifting at the same time. It also commendably refused to take sides on its various issues – China vs America, tradition vs modernity etc. – and every member of the cast made an impact. 9/10

 

3/ ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino delivered his most heartfelt, personal piece, the culmination of over two decade’s worth of making movies which reference, pay tribute to, mimic, rework, you name it – other movies, doing nothing less than looking at himself and the stage both his career and life are in as well as providing a nostalgic love letter to a bygone Hollywood that in a way also served as an obituary, and subtly questioning our need for Hollywood fairy tales – the film is more complex the more you think about it. Was the scene when Rick chats with his eight-year-old co-star Trudi the best scene he’s ever written? 9/10

 

2/ HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD
A fine conclusion to a trilogy that deserves to be considered as one of the great screen fantasy epics as a whole, though won’t get its due because these are animated films not made by Pixar. There was less of the epic sweep of the last chapter, instead going for a more intimate approach, but that was really in keeping with the way this trilogy has allowed us to watch its characters grow, this episode being a bittersweet look at how adulthood means both meeting new horizons and having to leave things, and ways of thinking, behind – while also providing thrilling aerial battles and great laughs. 9/10

 

1/ MIDSOMMAR [director’s cut]
This was already damn impressive in its theatrical cut and would have still definitely appeared in my top ten in that version, but the director’s cut turned a very good film into something within shouting distance of masterpiece, adding a stronger human dimension to the proceedings, providing more character development and making you empathise with its heroine even more. Of course it was already pretty long, and the tale it told was simple on the surface, but had some layers to it and was full of odd little details, giving a sense of a fully thought through world even if much was being withheld from us. Ari Aster, managing to improve in every way on his already immensely impressive debut feature Hereditary, realised and was able to show something that remarkably few horror films show – how frightening things can be in the daylight where everything’s supposedly out in the open, while also examining our attitudes to cults throughout.

The slow burning, hypnotic chiller with its gorgeous cinematography and clever set design provided an off-centre, uncanny atmosphere that you could almost touch, and somehow allowed you to see what was going to happen, process it, feel the shock of what was going to happen, and then still shock you even more when it happened, with a nightmarish climax full of truly unsettling, yet also bizarrely beautiful, imagery. Florence Pugh provided a superbly strong centre to the film which essentially seemed to be about the positivity of sharing pain, and letting go of bad experiences and things and finding new ones. If Hereditary looked at inescapable fate, Midsommar tackled emotional dependency, with that naked honesty that the horror genre, because of its very nature, can do so well. Aster’s beautiful, horrifying trip of lovely flowers and expansive fields, blue skies and warming sunshine, bashed-in skulls, bloody entrails and purifying fire, was a stunner that almost merits being raised to 9.5/10.

 

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2901 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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