The top 50 movies of 2019 - Part I, with trailers
By Mark Liversidge
Once again the movie industry has created a huge array of films in the last year - some bringing to an end a long series of storylines, others that have unfairly struggled to get screen time.
After many viewing hours, Cambridge Independent film critic Mark Liversidge provides a breakdown of the best films of the year.
Part II is also now available and counts down to Mark’s choice for the best movie of the year.
I’ve heard it said that once something has been done three times, it becomes a tradition, so I present my traditional countdown of the year’s best. If you’ve seen the majority of these, you’ve done well (increasingly films getting online releases are bypassing local cinemas), but everything on this list is well worth a watch if you need some post-Christmas viewing suggestions and the majority are now available to rent or buy.
50. Instant Family
Normally the phrase ‘Mark Wahlberg comedy’ is enough to send me running for the hills, but Sean Anders’ film – loosely inspired by his own adoption of three Hispanic children – is bursting with heart as well as laughs.
49. Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino assembles another all star cast for his examination of late Sixties Tinseltown and overlaps fictional characters with the Manson family cult and their victims. A languid opening but some riveting set pieces later.
An Argentinian drama set in the Seventies teeming with menace, that starts with a confrontation in a restaurant and then sits back contentedly as political machinations and coincidences come in to play.
47. Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchell’s previous film was the superb horror It Follows; now he hops genres to an eccentric, meandering neo-noir with Andrew Garfield as an amateur sleuth investigating his neighbour’s disappearance.
46. Out of Blue
Carol Morley’s adaptation of the Martin Amis novel Night Train follows Patricia Clarkson’s detective as she investigates the murder of an astrophysicist that’s as much about the atmosphere and Morley’s cosmic imagery.
Based on a New Yorker article and a timely film for this age of austerity, Jennifer Lopez puts in one of her best performances in years as she leads a gang of strippers who fleece their clients and rely on the mens’ shame to avoid punishment.
44. Ordinary Love
Lesley Manville gives a typically fearless performance as a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, and then working through her treatment with husband Liam Neeson’s support. A simple story but also a deeply human one, simply and compassionately told.
Superior to last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody by virtue of a (slightly) more honest appraisal of its central character, Taron Egerton nails the spirit of Elton John and Dexter Fletcher spins Reg Dwight’s tunes into a satisfying musical.
42. Fighting with My Family
Florence Pugh has been one of the best actors on screen this year, and her portrayal of a wrestler trying to crack the WWE is full of vigour in Stephen Merchant’s well-judged sporting comedy drama. Dwayne Johnson pops up as himself.
41. Toy Story 4
I remain convinced that the first three films are the finest film trilogy ever made; while we didn’t need a fourth, and it’s not at the level of the others, there’s plenty of fun new characters and the animation reaches new heights.
40. Captain Marvel
It only took them 21 films, but finally the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave a woman the solo lead and produced a fun romp with a strong lead in Brie Larson and some immaculate CGI de-aging work on Samuel L Jackson.
39. Blinded by the Light
Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) is another story taking inspiration from real life, in this case a young British Pakistani Muslim teenager becoming a journalist and finding solace and inspiration in the songs of The Boss.
38. Stan & Ollie
Steve Coogan and John C.Reilly conjure up perfectly the essence of one of comedy’s most famous partnerships as they try to recapture their old magic on a tour of British music halls in the twilight of their careers.
37. The Farewell
Rapper and actress Awkwafina stars in Lulu Wang’s surprisingly funny film about a Chinese family who can’t face telling their elderly grandmother that she’s dying and instead organise a wedding to get them all together.
36. Woman at War
Choir master and part time eco-warrior Halla tries to bring down power lines while pursing an adoption application in her spare time. Pleasingly odd Icelandic film that avoids preaching and keeps you guessing.
The DC movies of the last few years have been pale imitations of their Marvel counterparts, but finally they’re not only learning how to have fun but also to tell a coherent story. Second only to Wonder Woman in the recent canon.
34. Honey Boy
Shia LaBeouf still has plenty of making up to do for all of those Transformers films, and makes a good start with this semi-autobiographical film split across two time-frames; he also plays the father to a young Noah Jupe, with Lucas Hedges his older self.
A peculiar, beguiling Scandinavian fairy tale where a female customs officer, blessed with a sense of smell so strong she can detect fear in smugglers, gradually comes to understand her own origins after meeting a man who’s physically similar.
A group of very young soldiers on a Colombian mountain with nicknames including Rambo and Smurf have been left to babysit a prisoner of war and a milk cow and do both very badly. Fantastic cinematography from Jasper Wolf and score from Mica Levi.
31. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Keanu Reeves is giving Tom Cruise some serious competition for the title of best action hero in his 50s/ of any age/of all time. The John Wick series also continues to benefit from stuntmen behind the cameras who shoot action with aplomb.
30. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
People of a certain age – mine – are rather partial to a bit of Richard E Grant, and he’s on fine form here as the foil to Melissa McCarthy’s author who becomes a forger to make ends meet in Marielle Heller’s take on Lee Israel’s confessional autobiography.
The Internet Movie Database’s search keywords include ‘Ireland’, ‘best friends’ and ‘hedonism’; that’s probably fair for Sophie Hyde’s film, based on Emma Jane Unsworth’s adaptation of her own novel with uninhibited performances from Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat.
28. The Peanut Butter Falcon
Shia LaBeouf again, this time in a road movie as a young man with Down syndrome (Zach Gottsagen) escapes his care home. A pleasing Twain-ish vibe and a solid supporting cast including Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern and John Hawkes.
27. The Sisters Brothers
Director and writer Jacques Audiard makes his English language debut with a distinctive paella Western (filmed in Spain). Joaquim Phoenix and John C. Reilly are the titular siblings, assassins chasing a gold prospector while doubting their chosen career.
26. Le Mans ‘66
Known as Ford vs Ferrari in America, that would be a reasonably summary of the battle to claim the famous 24-hour motor race for the American car maker. Christian Bale and Matt Damon team up to try to make it happen.