As with every year, there have been many highs and lows in 2019 in terms of films, and while my personal top 10 is to follow, here in the meantime is some of my personal highlights (and lowlights) of the year that has been 2019.
Warning: some of the below contains spoilers for the particular films that they refer to.
The film that hates films (and film fans): The Dead Don’t Die (review)
Jim Jarmusch must have been in an extremely bad mood when he wrote the script of The Dead Don’t Die, as it seems to be written with absolute contempt for anyone that may be watching it. There are many things disappointing about The Dead Don’t Die, as despite having a very tried and tested concept, it had a great cast and a very talented auteur at the helm (and admittedly, a good trailer) that were completely wasted. However, having all of these things wasted on an average film is one thing, but The Dead Don’t Die is a far worse film than that. While watching the film it feels quite clear that it is made with genuine hatred for its viewers; not only is the script and story lacking in any kind of effort, there is an unashamedly self-referential element to it in which Jarmusch is basically intentionally ignoring all genre conventions to not only frustrate the viewer, but quite blatantly insult them.
The guilty pleasure: Hobbs & Shaw (review)
Since Dwayne Johnson joined the Fast & Furious franchise and it has become the silly blockbuster franchise that it now is, and every film has tended to be my personal guilty pleasure of the year. Well, this spin off which focusses on Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham’s ‘frenemies’ being forced to work together may well be the silliest offering yet, but providing it is watched with the brain firmly switched to ‘off’, then it is tremendous fun.
The most tear-jerking moment: Huccup and Toothless say their farewells in How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World (review)
The How to Train your Dragon films have in my view always surpassed most of the plethora of animated films that are released, as they are not afraid to take on some more mature themes about life, death and friendship, and so emerge all the more engaging for it. The emotional lynchpin of the films has of course been the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, and at the end of the film when Hiccup lets Toothless be free to live with other dragons in the ‘hidden world’ there is surely not a dry eye in sight!
The sequel that defied the law of sequels: Angel has Fallen (review)
2013’s Olympus has Fallen was rubbish and 2016’s London has Fallen was absolutely terrible, but they must have made enough money to justify a third instalment. Expectations were certainly low, but miraculously, though it was certainly no masterpiece, Angel has Fallen managed to be by far the best film of the trilogy and be an enjoyable enough mindless action film.
The most overrated film of the year: Joker (review)
While films such as The Souvenir, Knives Out, John Wick: Chapter 3, The Farewell or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (that were predominantly the darling of many critics) are certainly contenders for the most overrated film of 2019, for me that unwanted accolade has to go to Todd Phillips’ Joker, simply because the extreme levels of high praise it did receive. Joker is certainly a decent film featuring an incredible performance from Joaquin Phoenix, it looks good and has a great musical score, but beneath all of this (admittedly well put together) surface is in my view a film with absolutely no substance. Not only does Joker fail to do anything memorable with its potentially very interesting concept by just resorting to lazy clichés, it also unashamedly takes ideas from other films. There is of course nothing wrong with drawing influences from other films, but watching Joker just serves as a reminder as to how much better these other films are.
The most underrated film of the year: The Wedding Guest (review)
While The Kid who Would be King and The Kindergarten Teacher were good films that were underrated in their own individual ways, at time of writing The Wedding Guest has 5.6 on imdb, 43% on rotten tomatoes and 57 on Metacritic, yet I gave it 8/10. Perhaps it was not marketed right? The Wedding Guest has the title of a rom-com but it certainly is not, and it was labelled as a thriller, and so perhaps people expected car chases and shootouts, but instead we get a much more sombre, low-key and realist film from veteran director Michael Winterbottom. Featuring an exceptional leading performance from Dev Patel, Winterbottom uses all the visual tools available to him (with an admittedly very low budget) to create genuine tension using more old-fashioned cinematic techniques that are perhaps just wasted on a 21st century audience.
The biggest disappointment: X: Men: The Dark Phoenix (review)
While 2019 certainly had its fair share of disappointments, such as the 3 hour snooze-fest that was It Chapter 2, Star Wars ending with a whimper or the dreadful and pointless reboots and sequels like Hellboy, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Men in Black International. However, though it is fair to say that the X-Men film franchise may have had a few forgettable entries, overall it has been a success, with 9 films in 20 years (not including the Deadpool films), and so surely it was going to get the swansong it deserved? Well, they picked a good story; even if it was used in the rather messy X-Men: The Last Stand, the story of Jean Grey is a potentially powerful one. However, thanks mainly to an abysmal script, the result is a terrible waste of a great story and cast, and a truly horrible way for the franchise to bow out before the characters join up with the MCU.
The Scene that showed contempt for cinema etiquette: Sharon Tate goes to the cinema in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (review)
In my view there were many things wrong with Tarantino’s Hollywood love letter (but admittedly some good things too), but surely the very worst part is the scene in which Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate goes to watch herself in a film. The scene is bad enough anyway due to its smug and self-indulgent nature, but then she breaks cinema etiquette completely by putting her bare feet on the seat in front! And apparently Tarantino likes cinema……
The Best of the Netflix originals: Marriage Story (review)
Ever since Roma won best picture Netflix have overall upped the quality (and budgets) of some of their own films. Though there are certainly a fair few forgettable clangers (Sextuplets, anyone?), we have also got a selection of quality films of various genres such as The King, Dolemite is my Name, The Irishman and Klaus, while Netflix also bought the distribution rights to the likes of Atlantics and I Lost my Body – two great films that featured prominently at the Cannes film festival. However, surely the best Netflix film (and also one of the best films of the year overall) has to be Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. A bittersweet tale of a divorce and custody battle that is stunningly acted and written, and will you laugh and cry in equal measure.
The reassuringly predictable heart warmer: Fisherman’s Friend
2019 produced two films set in Cornwall, and will Bait was a gritty and realist story (and apparently one of the best films of the year – I am still kicking myself for missing the one and only screening in my home town), the other was a shamelessly cheesy crowd-pleaser. Based on a true story about a local group of singing fishermen who sign a record deal, every single narrative development, character decision and line of dialogue can be predicted as the film diligently follows what is basically a spreadsheet. However, there can sometimes be a feeling of reassurance in extreme predictability, and if watched with the right level of expectations Fisherman’s Friend is an enjoyable watch.
The most satisfying closing shot: Capernaum
This stunning Lebanese drama about a 12 year old boy who runs away from home, ends up solely looking after an immigrant infant, commits a violent crime defending his sister’s honour and eventually tries to sue his parents for the fact he was born is an often gruelling and harrowing film – with the main protagonist experiencing a lot of bad things (to put it mildly). However, in the film’s closing scene, having been reunited with the young infant he solely looked after and the infant’s mother, he is asked to smile for his ID card, and for the first time in the film he manages to conjure up a smile, and it is the first time in the film’s 126 minutes that he has had a reason to.
The film straight from the textbook: Green Book
The Oscars are often accused of playing it safe and very rarely actually giving the best picture award to the best film, or even worse not giving it to the best film from the eventual shortlist of best picture nominees. Well, they certainly did that with Green Book, a film that was basically made by diligently following the ‘how to make an Oscar winning film’ manual, as literally every single narrative development can be predicted way before it happens. Green Book is by no means a bad film in my view, it is indeed a good film and is extremely watchable, but more importantly (with the exception of the excellent performances that obviously elevate the writing) it is merely a competent film that is made very well, but takes absolutely no risks whatsoever.
The biggest cinematic event of the year: Avengers: Endgame
Well, it just was, wasn’t it?
The worst accent of the year: Anne Hathaway in The Hustle
While Robert Pattinson’s outrageously over the top French accent in The King threatened to ruin the brooding atmosphere of the film, the worst accent of the films that I have seen this year has to go to Anne Hathaway’s ridiculously posh English accent in The Hustle – admittedly one of the many things wrong with this terrible film. At one point in the film Rebel Wilson’s character states to Hathaway’s “Julie Andrews called, she wants her accent back”, (it is indeed a terrible Mary Poppins impression) and this suggests that perhaps the accent is one of the many lame ‘hustles’ within the film, but it turns out it isn’t and that is her character’s ‘natural’ accent. Well, despite the American film industry thinking there are just two types of English accent (thick cockney or upper class posh), no one has actually had a ‘natural’ accent like that for centuries!
The most expensive B-Move: Godzilla: King of the Monsters
2014’s Godzilla had some decent moments, but this sequel is absolute tosh! The special effects may indeed look quite impressive, but every plot development and line of dialogue that is uttered by the mildly embarrassed cast who are simply there to pick up their cheques is of the standard that would be expected from the low budget films made by the Asylum or that can be found on the Syfy channel. However, at least those films are fun, but Godzilla: King of the Monsters is painfully dull. What also doesn’t help is that every 10 minutes or so a character has to remind the audience that Skull Island exists, hmmm I wonder why? I am sure there won’t be some kind of Godzilla Vs Kong film out in 2020………
The most regrettable reboot: Hellboy (review)
Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films in 2004 and 2008 were certainly no masterpieces, but I thought they were good fun. Perhaps that is too long to wait for a sequel (and the fact is that Ron Pearlman is not getting any younger), but I do not recall there being any huge demand for either a sequel or a reboot. The studios are desperate for money-making franchises, and so they thought to reboot Hellboy, but try to follow in the footsteps of Deadpool by making it more violent than your average blockbuster. For this they decided to hire British director Neil Marshall, who has made some very good films – but not for a while! While the casting of David Harbour proved to be a good choice, he is absolutely wasted in what is a horrific mess of a film that is unnecessarily violent with embarrassing attempts at humour that just fail to hit any kind of mark. Considering Hellboy’s poor box office return, expect no direct sequels and just a completely new reboot in another ten years!
The blockbuster with brains: Ad Astra (review)
Though it has to compromise a bit due to the fact it is a big budget blockbuster starring a Hollywood megastar like Brad Pitt, this excellent sci-fi film proved that it is not just films directed by Christopher Nolan that can have a big budget to deliver visual panache, but also have genuine substance. With a very mature and sensitive examination of mental health issues and masculinity at its narrative core (and therefore a vast improvement on Joker) Ad Astra is an immersive and deeply cerebral cinematic experience for all the senses.
The best bromance: Finn and Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Chapters 7 to 9 of one of the most famous cinematic sagas certainly has certainly had its issues, but for me one of the highlights has been the increasingly banter-based relationship between Jon Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron. They argue and bicker a lot in the way a married couple sometimes do, but there is definitely a mutual respect that they share as well, and both actors also share a good on-screen chemistry. Though they (like most characters) are underused in chapter 9, the scenes that they do share are for me some of the best of the film. Yes, I know the picture used is from a different film!
The most cringe-worthy scene: the female superheroes pose awkwardly together in Avengers: Endgame
The silly scene involving the meeting of the two queens in a barn filled with an inexplicable amount of hanging sheets in Mary, Queen of Scots was definitely a contender for one of the most pointless and cringe-worthy scenes of the year, but the most embarrassing one could be found in one of the biggest and most watched films of 2019. For those of us that watched Endgame at the cinema (so most of us then) there seemed to be one scene in particular that everyone remembered the most (and not in a good way!); Peter Parker hands the infinity gauntlet to Captain Marvel and notices all the bad guys charging their way and appropriately asks “how are you going to get through all of that?”, then suddenly all of the female characters from the franchise (that aren’t dead) turn up with Scarlet Witch saying “don’t worry…” and Okoye basically interrupting her by saying “…she’s got help.” I recall the entire cinema letting out a collective groan as the camera then pans to put all of the female characters (with Peter Parker conveniently behind one of the characters) into one money shot. Blockbuster films have been rightfully criticised for their lack of diversity, but this deeply cynical scene that is put together so cheaply surely just makes things worse. Also, someone with Captain Marvel’s power (who manages to split a spaceship in half with her own body) probably doesn’t actually need any help from anyone!
The ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ film: Cats (review)
From the moment the first trailer was released there seemed to be a competition to see who can say the most damning things about Cats and who can hate it the most, and this continued on the film’s release with its reviews. Now, Cats was admittedly terrible and one of the worst films of not only this year, but recent years, but surely to just state how bad it is misses one of the crucial points; it is impossible to see how any kind of big budget screen version of Cats could ever actually work, and so why the hell did those that agreed to fund the film’s big budget ever think it was a good idea? Possibly because they think film fans are stupid, but that is another discussion for another time……
The best film score of the year: How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World – John Powell
As a huge fan of film music I always listen out for a great film score, and there have been plenty in 2019; the scores for The King, The Wedding Guest, For Sama, Joker, Midsommar and Ad Astra were all wonderfully brooding and immersive scores that only served to complement the films they were used for, while Randy Newman’s wonderfully melancholic (and slightly Toy Story-esque) score for Marriage Story was one of the elements that made that film great and Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score for X-Men: The Dark Phoenix was the only good thing about that film. However, for me the best and most memorable score was John Powell’s sublime score for How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World. Powell’s powerful scores have been one of the crucial elements as to why these films have been so emotionally engaging and he continues that form for this third instalment. Using some of the familiar riffs and melodies from his scores for the previous two films, he has once again composed a rich score that is very much an epic roller-coaster of emotions as part of the film, or just listened to on its own.
The worst film of the year: Serenity
Like most amateur critics I can only see a certain amount of films, and because life is too short, I am less likely to see the films that are regarded by everyone as bad (or star Adam Sandler). So there are probably some god-awful films that I haven’t seen, but some of the worst that I have had the bitter misfortune of seeing in 2019 that I would advise all to avoid would be the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Hustle, Sextuplets, The Red Sea Diving Resort, The Laundromat, The Souvenir, The Dead Don’t Die, 6 Underground, Hellboy, anything starring Nicolas Cage and of course Cats. However, the one film that does seem to stick out in my mind is the absolute load of nonsensical drivel that is Serenity. Writer / director Steven Knight has proved himself to be a very capable writer / director, and assembled a good cast including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway (at least she is doing a normal accent this time) and Jason Clarke. So all the ingredients were in place for what should have been an enjoyable thriller, but the result is a film that tries to be very clever and go to some strange places, but it is actually laughable at just how miserably it fails in its attempts. Serenity really is a truly awful film!
The biggest waste of a good concept: Brightburn
Usually there is a superhero who faces against a supervillain, and they each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but what if it was just the supervillain with no one to stop them? Brightburn turned the superman story on its head, with an alien baby coming down to earth that is far more powerful than any other creature on this planet, but he is certainly no hero, and worse – there is not another similar being to stop him. This film could have gone in a number of interesting directions if all involved had been creative or taken some risks, but instead it sticks very firmly to the middle of the road. What a waste.
The best animated film of the year: I Lost my Body
2019 produced some great animated films; with How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World being a fitting finale to what has been a great trilogy, and the likes of Toy Story 4 and The Lego Movie 2 were half-decent (but not up there with the very best of the respective franchises). Sadly, I didn’t get to see Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie, but I have no doubt that it is fantastic. However, as much as the big animation studios tried to go for realism and detail, the best animated films (as usual) could be found away from the mainstream with films that went for their own unique style of animation, and two of the best of these could be found on Netflix; their own Klaus is a genuinely heart-warming festive film, while for me the best animated film of the year is the French film I Lost my Body (yes it is also available dubbed in English for you lazy buggers!). It is a dreamy and magical film with a dual narrative (one a simple love story, the other about a severed hand trying to return to its body) that is filled with enigmatic double meanings, and is a very rewarding and captivating experience that will haunt the viewer for days.
The migraine inducer: 6 Underground (review)
Netflix gave us some quality films in 2019, but they did still make some mistakes – the biggest of which was surely giving Michael Bay $150 million dollars to play with! This dreadful film about a motley crew of off-the-grid mercenaries led by Ryan Reynolds who try to save the world one mistake at a time truly is a painful assault on all of the senses! The shaky, hyperactive camerawork and manic editing mixed with Bay taking a genuinely disturbing amount of joy from showing us in great detail what bullets and explosions do to the human body is a genuinely unpleasant experience.