This is the second part of my Best Films of 2019 feature detailing my Top Ten films. Click here to read numbers 20 to 11 and the Honourable Mentions.
Without further ado, here are my Top Ten films of 2019:
10) Green Book
Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into America’s prejudice culture and racism of the time. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced. Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book. (Full review here)
9) Boy Erased
Boy Erased is the sophomore effort from actor-now-director Joel Edgerton whose debut The Gift was a masterpiece. Boy Erased is a completely different film and is a drama about a teenager who is forced to undergo homosexual conversion therapy program. The cast are all excellent, Lucas Hedges gives a nuanced performance as the conflicted main character and Russell Crowe is a standout as his authoritarian and religious father. Joel Edgerton casts himself as the head of the program and he is a particularly sinister and nasty piece of work. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is fantastic and the film is visually dark and gloomy. Boy Erased is another success from Edgerton and it will be interesting to see where he goes next.
8) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Joe Berlinger’s feature film on Ted Bundy is the perfect companion to his Netflix docu-series on the notorious serial killer. The entirety of the cast are on top form here, Zac Efron continuing to prove his versatility in the lead role as the deranged murderer, as he continues to shake off the High School Musical stigma. Berlinger skilfully encapsulates the key facts in this biography into a feature film run time and all of the characters are developed well. By the time the film gets into its final act, the stakes are really well set. The critical reception to this film has been rather mixed with many arguing it is a watered-down version of the Netflix series, but for me the film does more than enough to act as a companion piece.
7) Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino’s latest is a multi-layered and a more mature effort compared to his previous back catalogue. For the most part, this film lacks the trademark ultraviolence and shocks and is a contemplative study of Hollywood in its golden age. On a first watch, the first two thirds do meander somewhat but it is all for a purpose and the final third really pays off. On subsequent rewatches, there is a lot more to appreciate. The performances across the board are top-notch here, Brad Pitt in particular a standout. That said, this is not Tarantino’s best work and he is being recognised for the wrong film in this year’s Oscar Awards but this is still a total blast from start to finish.
6) Triple Frontier
Triple Frontier is the latest from director J. C. Chandor, who previously made A Most Violent Year which I really liked when it first came out and upon further viewing, I now deem to be a masterpiece as it is a film rich with layers, a terrific narrative and conflicted characters. My expectations were very high for this film, a crime heist thriller with Ben Affleck and Chandor reuniting with Oscar Isaac. This is another excellent film by Chandor and it successfully takes what can be a rather conventional genre into a new direction in the way it explores certain themes and the repercussions the heist has on the group. The score by Disasterpeace is intense and the film looks visually sharp. I was engrossed by the film throughout and Chandor manages to sustain the tension throughout.
5) The Mule
The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Clint Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story. The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing. (Full review here)
Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerising as the titular character and is strangely sympathetic as an individual who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end. What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem. The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully, doing a lot of heavy lifting in places. It’s one of the best scores of the year. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation.
The film isn’t quite perfect though. As is clear in all of director Todd Phillips’ career, he’s not the most subtle director and there are a few instances in which Phillips chooses to explain certain choices which were pretty self-evident. I’m also a little unsure of the film’s final scene tonally and thought the film could have ended a scene earlier but based on some critical readings that have been put forward, it is admittedly necessary. There are so many standout scenes in this film that are just stunning to behold and you have to admire the ambition. Joker is fully deserving of the praise it has received and is one of the best films of the year. (My review here)
Now into the top #3…
Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents M. Night Shyamalan at his best – it is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these. As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson standing out. Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at. I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved. (Full review here)
2) Doctor Sleep
To my dismay and against all the odds stacking against it, Doctor Sleep is an enthralling sequel to The Shining that is refreshingly different from its predecessor but still has some spiritual connections. It is frequently mesmerising and has a fascinating narrative at its core. The characters are well-developed and Flanagan establishes some emotional narrative stakes. Of course, there does not need to be some connection to what has come before it and the third act returns to The Overlook Hotel. The film does dip a little into fan service here but not enough to derail the entire film. But it is the first 2 hours are so that are really, really strong. Speaking of the 152 minute run time, this is a film that earns its length. There are so many standout scenes here and Flanagan does an excellent job of conjuring dread. A scene with Rebecca Ferguson astral-projecting mid-way through is just stunning and a shootout at the end of the second act are the highlights. Overall, Doctor Sleep is a surprisingly great sequel that holds it own with Kubrick’s original.
So the best film of the year is…
1) Dragged Across Concrete
S. Craig Zahler does it again. His first film, Bone Tomahawk reached very highly in my 2016 list and his second, Brawl In Cell Block 99 took top honours in 2017. Dragged Across Concreteis another wonder from this top director. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are both brilliant as two policemen who are suspended after brutally treating a suspect and take matters into their own hands. Tory Kittles is also great as a recently released man who reunites with his family and finds himself intertwined in this case. There are also small roles from Zahler-regulars Fred Melamed, Udo Kier and Don Johnson. The script is once again fantastic and the film deals with the themes of wealth and righteousness very assuredly. Dragged Across Concrete foregoes some of Zahler’s usual ultraviolence and there is nothing here that rivals the violence in his first two films – bear in mind though the film still has an 18 certificate. But instead, this is an equally well-developed narrative that is fascinating throughout and the third act is well-worth the interesting build-up. I think Brawl In Cell Block 99 remains Zahler’s best film but this is another winner and it will take quite a lot for something to top this.
So there we go, these films were in my opinion the best of 2019. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister