WeLoveCinema counts down our favourite movies, from bold sci-fi stories to a truly essential documentary...
Another year, another selection of boundary-pushing, nerve-shredding, genre-smashing movies. In order to celebrate this amazing thing we called cinema, WeLoveCinema asked both our in-house team and our regular contributors to name their favourite films of 2019. There was only one rule: chosen films had to have been granted a proper theatrical release in the UK in the year 2019 at some point (sorry, Parasite).
The resulting list is a fairly eclectic one, if we do say so ourselves – lots of expected picks (our number one choice seems like a no-brainer) rubbing shoulders with more obscure gems and a couple of real surprises (there's an M. Night Shyamalan film here). Of course, lots of great pictures didn't make the cut, and yet their absence speaks volumes for a year that has proven fascinating for filmmakers both iconic and up-and-coming. Without further ado, then, we present WeLoveCinema's 20 Best Films of 2019…
Following on from his superhero origin Unbreakable and horror yarn Split, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan caps his “East Rail Trilogy” with Glass. Set right after the events of Split, the film positions Bruce Willis' invincible hero, James McAvoy's monster with multiple personalities, and Samuel L. Jackson's brittle-boned supervillain for a final confrontation that is both shocking and subversive.
19 The Peanut Butter Falcon
Shia LaBeouf is brilliantly charismatic in this Mark Twain-inspired tale set in the Deep South.
What we said: “Nobody ever wants to admit out loud that they legitimately like a movie called The Peanut Butter Falcon, and yet it’s almost frightening how quickly this film – directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz in their feature debut – wins you over. The simple tale of two unlikely companions thrown into a series of amusing incidents is tried and tested, but here it’s working a different kind of magic that can’t be readily put into words (full review).”
Actor-turned-filmmaker Olivia Wilde makes her directorial debut with this hilarious teen comedy about two teenage girls who decide to let their hair down the night before graduation. Given its similar premise and the fact it stars Jonah Hill's sister, the Superbad comparisons were inevitable (honestly, try and mention Booksmart without somebody saying “it's like Superbad”). But this is very much its own thing: funny, relevant, and arguably better suited to stand the test of time.
17 Knives Out
Writer-director Rian Johnson takes a break from blockbusters for a giddy spin on the classic whodunnit.
What we said: “Immaculately shot and expertly edited, the narrative jumps back and forth in time as the filmmaker drip-feeds us a labyrinthian plot that’s always tightly controlled and delivers a script that’s never anything but playful and funny (full review).”
16 The Report
Scott Z. Burns makes his directorial debut with this dense and gripping takedown of the CIA's torture program.
What we said: “Free from unnecessary Hollywood subplots, there is an occasional sense that we’re watching a big screen adaptation of a Wikipedia article. It was essential, then, that Burns landed an actor who – even at their most restrained – demands we pay attention: Driver’s committed and generous performance is the key to The Report‘s success. It keeps us anchored to a dense script, and – like Jones – hungry for the truth (full review).”
Director Alexandre Aja is back on form with this alligator-heavy survival flick starring Kaya Scodelario.
What we said: “In this time of never-ending superhero films and unnecessary remakes, there’s a unique pleasure to be found in a movie like Crawl. Because Crawl – low-budget, unpretentious, and produced by none other than Evil Dead and Spider-Man maestro Sam Raimi – knows exactly what it is and executes its premise with a level of craft and self-awareness that makes it almost impossible not to enjoy (full review).”
14 The Farewell
Awkwafina gives her best performance yet in Lulu Wang's semi-autobiographical film about saying goodbye.
What we said: “Wang resists unnecessary subplots in favour of focusing on the family; every member gets a moment to express how the situation is affecting them. It all plays out with the air of a personal vision that’s totally free from compromise, studio notes, and meddling executives. These days, how often can you say that? (full review).”
This twisted take on Lord of the Flies is a descent into chaos and one of the year's strangest films.
What we said: “Why do we go to the movies, if not to experience the truly weird and the truly mad? Monos is both. It’s Lord of the Flies dialled up to eleven (or twelve, or thirteen…), a twisted spin on William Goldman’s classic novel based in some apocalyptic near-future in which Ralph, Jack, and Piggy – or should that be Rambo, Lady, and Swede? – wield semi-automatic rifles with careless abandon and spend their afternoons getting high on magic mushrooms (full review).”
12 Avengers: Endgame
No, it probably won't be the last film with the word Avengers in its title, but the culmination of the first 22 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe marks the end for many of the series' biggest actors, including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. An unashamed love letter to the franchise, Endgame is hilarious, affecting, and very meta. Best of all it stands as a cathartic treat for fans, but with a few neat surprises along the way. Take that, Game of Thrones.
Kantemir Balagov enters the big leagues with this bleak and beautiful look at two friends in post-war Leningrad.
What we said: “Rich production design, painterly compositions, and woozy camerawork come together to evoke a city lost in a post-war lethargy. Rendered with a level of detail that lends it a great sense of historical authenticity and a tone that makes it all seem so dream-like at the same time, Beanpole feels both fuzzy and crystal clear – a manifestation, perhaps, of the strangeness of returning to regular life after years of trauma (full review).”
Based on a short story by acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Burning begins as a slow-building romance about two misfits that eventually reveals itself as something far more sinister. Directed by South Korean master Lee Chang-dong (and featuring standout performances from lead actors Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo), it's a film about youth, class, and masculinity that reframes itself entirely around your own convictions.
Isabella Eklöf's brilliant debut feature subverts expectations with a complex portrait of a trophy girlfriend abroad.
What we said: “Isabella Eklöf, who co-wrote the recently acclaimed supernatural drama Border, makes her directorial debut with Holiday, a determinedly cold but ultimately sly thriller that plays at one type of story, then twists itself into something far more complex. As a tale of a woman taking control of her life in a compromised paradise, it’s the sort of film with a conclusion so stark and unexpected it upends the previous 90 minutes, forcing you to reevaluate all that came before (full review).”
8 The Nightingale
Jennifer Kent has followed The Babadook with a relentlessly brutal and brilliantly complex revenge flick.
What we said: “Writer-director Jennifer Kent, who stunned with the 2014 horror yarn The Babadook, has approached this story – and her characters – without mercy. But what begins as a seemingly traditional take on the well-worn rape-revenge fantasy genre slowly begins to reveal itself as something far more complex and interesting (full review).”
7 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino's latest feature is part hangout flick, part love letter to a bygone era.
What we said: “Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film is at once a slow and sun-drenched drama set in the dying days of Hollywood’s Golden Age and a meditation on cinema’s power to change the world – both literally and figuratively. It’s also perhaps the filmmaker’s strangest work to date, content to exist as a hodgepodge of loose, interlinking scenes shaped around a TV actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his sort-of stuntman partner (Brad Pitt) as they bash heads with the Manson clan in the days leading up to the infamous 1969 murders (full review).”
6 The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg's achingly sincere and autobiographical fourth film is a dreamy love story that echoes with truth.
What we said: “The Souvenir essentially sets out to chronicle the disappointments, regrets, and moments of fleeting happiness inherent to a person’s formative years. Hogg understands how these experiences – depicted here with an astonishing earnestness – have the power to shape the rest of your life (full review).”
5 The Irishman
The latest film from Martin Scorsese is a wistfully epic portrait of an aged mob hitman.
What we said: “Unravelling with the slow and melancholy air of an elegy, The Irishman is so much more than a self-referential homage to former glories, though. Scorsese, we know, is too good for that. Instead his film stands alone as a mature meditation on a genre he helped to shape and define. And so it had to be Robert De Niro, of course, Scorsese’s long-time friend and collaborator – his Johnny Boy, his Jimmy Conway, his Sam Rothstein – in the lead role of an aged mob hitman faced with a lifetime of bad decisions (full review).”
4 I Lost My Body
French director Jérémy Clapin's animated tale of a lost limb is a breathtaking work of originality.
What we said: “An almost Malickian longing to understand the strange inner workings of the universe drives this stunning and poignant animated film about a severed hand trying to reconnect with its owner. If that premise seem outlandish and – frankly – ridiculous in theory, it isn’t long before I Lost My Body puts your fears to rest. Within minutes, you’ll be rooting for the hand (full review).”
3 Marriage Story
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are electric as a feuding couple in the latest film from Noah Baumbach.
What we said: “Noah Baumbach’s new film might be called Marriage Story, but this is definitely a story of divorce. As the writer-director of comedy-dramas like The Squid and the Whale and The Meyerowitz Stories, two films also primarily concerned with the disillusion of family units, he has sifted through the experience of his own divorce with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh (how she feels about all this remains a mystery), along with anecdotes from friends and loved ones, to create a portrait of a relationship in the midst of its death rattle. It might be his best film yet (full review).”
2 Ad Astra
Director James Gray has made his best film yet with this fascinating, visually-stunning interstellar voyage.
What we said: “What Ad Astra lacks in originality it more than makes up for in execution. Both dense with philosophy and light with plot, every frame pulsates with a deep and cosmic brilliance, an inherent desire to understand more and go further. There are daddy issues abound, existential ruminations on the nature of father-son relationships, and – as in all good science-fiction – questions about what it means to be human. Ad Astra asks how far we’ll go to understand who we are. In Roy’s case, the answer is roughly 2.7 billion miles (full review).”
1 For Sama
Waad Al-Khateab's highly personal chronicle of war-torn Syria is an unmissable feat of documentary filmmaking.
What we said: “This remarkable, gripping, heart-pounding documentary – surely one of the most essential war films ever made? – was born out of filmmaker Waad Al-Khatea’s attempt to capture the slow death of her city from the initial 2011 uprising until it finally fell in 2016. A student when the war began, she started recording purely so such footage would exist and – convinced she would die in the process – had no intention of making a film. As Russian jets whizz overhead, dropping cluster bombs, it doesn’t take long to understand why (full review).”