The top 50 films of 2019 - Part II, with trailers
By Mark Liversidge
The final part of our movie critic Mark Liversidge’s guide to the best films of 2019 counts down from No 25. Do you agree with his choice for movie of the year?
Check out Part I if you missed it.
Ari Aster’s follow-up to horror classic Hereditary stays mostly in daylight, but succeeds in creating a sinister, Wicker Man-esque vibe in its isolated village setting. Florence Pugh does more dramatic heavy lifting.
24. By the Grace of God
Genre-hopping director François Ozon takes a measured and defiant aim at the Catholic church as a group of men find the confidence to confront the abuse they received from a priest during their childhood.
23. Wild Rose
Jessie Buckley shows off both strong acting talent and singing skill as the troubled young mother looking to make it as a country singer, and Julie Walters wields an impressive Glaswegian accent as her disapproving mother.
A 12-year-old boy in the Beirut slums, having had enough of his parents, sues them for bringing him into the world. Nadine Labaki conjures a compelling drama from an unlikely premise.
21. 3 Faces
Iranian director Jafar Panahi has been finding innovative ways to defy a film making ban in his homeland for almost a decade, and his latest again blurs the line between narrative and documentary as a young girl looks to escape an oppressive home life.
20. The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot
The film’s poster suggests this might be all-out action clichés, but instead this is an elegiac, wistful drama about a man just doing what only he can and confronting his own mortality in the process. Aidan Turner and Sam Elliott play him at the various stages of his life.
19. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
Uncompromising, brutal Northern Ireland-set drama about a woman (Sarah Bolger) searching for her husband’s murderers while being forced to harbour a drug dealer, and from Bolger one of the year’s best performances.
18. Knives Out
Rian Johnson (Looper, The Last Jedi) turns his tricksy hand to the whodunnit and leaves you guessing from moment one. An all-star cast is fronted by Daniel Craig, once again having fun (as he did in Logan Lucky) with a ridiculous American accent.
17. Eighth Grade
One of the most suffocatingly accurate depictions of the adolescence put on screen in a long time, Bo Burnham’s film follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher) through her last week of middle school and confronts head on teenage depression and anxiety.
16. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I’m not crying. You’re crying. How can this trilogy closer, which takes themes of family and friendship running through the series to their natural conclusion, be so emotionally effective? A fine send-off for Hiccup, Toothless and the rest.
15. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese is back on familiar ground with heavyweights De Niro, Pacino and Pesci reuniting for the story of Jimmy Hoffa and the American Teamsters union. Neftlix-funded CGI de-aging costs a fortune but quickly becomes seamless.
14. Birds of Passage
A decade-spanning take on the drug war in Colombia as two families battle for control of the marijuana trade, it’s as compelling as any of the other many takes on this theme that we’ve seen, but layered thrillingly with imagery that emphasises the families’ cultural heritage.
13. One Cut of the Dead
A film of two halves, but what halves! The first 40 minutes are a single-take zombie movie, full of invention and knowing humour, before the second half reveals the secrets behind the film to hilarious effect. Think Shaun Of The Dead meets The Play That Goes Wrong.
12. For Sama
A documentary filmed over the course of five years in war-torn Aleppo by Waad Al-Kateab. She falls in love and gives birth in that time, and the film charts out daughter Sama’s early years and the devastation, death and hardship that the family encounters.
11. In Fabric
Peter Strickland is one of the most distinctive British directors of our times, and follows up Berberian Sound Studio (sound engineer has a breakdown) and The Duke of Burgundy (lesbians and lepidoptery) with a comedy horror about a haunted dress that torments Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Hayley Squires.
A novelist cat sits for a childhood friend who he encounters by chance, but while she’s away she meets and bonds with a mysterious stranger with an unusual hobby (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun). From there, Chang-dong Lee’s adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story creates a psychological thriller rich with ambiguities which will literally burn into your memory.
Jordan Peele moved from a comedy career into horror with his previous film Get Out, and proves he’s no one-trick pony in that regard. Us is an even more effective skin-crawler, as Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke play both members of a family on a beach-side holiday and the bizarre doppelgangers that arrive to torment them.
8. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg has given us the first part of a pair of films broadly inspired by her younger days. Tilda Swinton and her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne portray versions of Hogg and her mother in her film school days, as she falls under the spell of a dubious older man. A coming-of-age story that transcends class boundaries and manages to engage empathy for characters clearly making poor choices.
7. The Favourite
The undoubted highlight of the awards season last year was Olivia Colman almost apologetically walking off with the best actress Oscar for her role as Queen Mary. That shouldn’t devalue the contributions of Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, in Yorgos Lanthimos’ oddball period piece that subverts expectations and defies genre conventions.
6. Avengers: Endgame
Like a gymnast nailing a perfect dismount, Endgame absolutely sticks the landing, the culmination of almost two dozen Marvel films and bringing together characters, themes and story from almost every film in the series while somehow remaining coherent and satisfying. Only its slightly shabby treatment of its core female characters prevents this placing higher.
It’s a good year for films about girls at the end of their education: while Eighth Grade is tender and fragile, Booksmart is raucous and imaginative, probably the best John Hughes movie never made by the late, great man. Kaitlin Dever and Beanie Feldstein aim to party like it’s the last day of school, mainly because it is and they forgot to party any sooner. Nerds.
A prime example of how long it can take for films to get a proper release, Samuel Maoz’ film wowed the 2017 festival circuit but only received a proper release in March this year. Tackling everything from the pain of grief to the mundanity and futility of life, Maoz’ film runs the full gamut of emotions from joy to sorrow via a detour of ennui and features a blackly comic final shot that might just be the year’s best.
3. So Long, My Son
How much power does a film critic have? If I were to say to you, “watch this gently placed, three-hour Chinese film about two families over a 30- year period as they deal with grief and loss, set against the backdrop of raising a family under China’s one child policy”, how many of you reading this would that convince? What if I point out I think it’s better than Avengers: Endgame? (One of them made me cry, and it wasn’t Tony Stark and his mates, I can tell you.)
2. If Beale Street Could Talk
Moonlight, thanks to the Academy Awards mistake that saw it confused with La La Land, holds a significant place in the film history of the past decade; a shame, then, that Barry Jenkins’ follow up has been overlooked by comparison as it’s every bit as good. A black man is accused of rape and his pregnant girlfriend and her mother attempt to prove his innocence. As with Moonlight, there are moments of rare beauty among the searing drama and the devastating portrayal of racial injustice.
1. Marriage Story
I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Noah Baumbach’s films; while there are moments of truth and humanity in many of his earlier movies, including The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha and While We’re Young, too often his characters come across as jumped up East Coast caricatures that defy empathy and encourage irritation.
So I approached Marriage Story with a little trepidation, but it hooked me from the first scenes: in succinctly explaining why Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson love each other so much, it makes the inevitability of their marital breakdown all the more painful. While there are wonderful comedic turns from Alan Alda, Laura Dern and Ray Liotta as divorce lawyers, it’s Driver and Johansson who are equally magnetic at the film’s centre, avoiding the trite clichés of Baumbach’s and their tragic journey broke me, healed me and then broke me some more.
Inspired by the real-life marital breakdown Baumbach went through with Jennifer Jason Leigh, somehow that genuine pain has been translated into something equally genuine and captivating on screen, and it’s that authenticity which makes Marriage Story my film of the year.