Sunday, 5 January 2020

Best Films of 2019

As is traditional in this (purely personal) annual selection, let's start with some movies which didn't quite make the cut...

Toy Story 4 was a surprise. Who would have thought there was still so much life in the old toys? 

This was quite lovely, with great characters, and some terrifically creepy ventriloquist’s dummies who take the franchise into horror movie territory. 

Speaking of horror, Happy Deathday 2U was an excellent sequel which cleverly exploits the possibilities of the original. 

Meanwhile Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle's Yesterday brought home to me, really for the first time, how good the Beatles’ songs were.

I thought Captain Marvel was terrific fun (though the cat shouldn’t have scratched out Nick Fury’s eye). Ben Mendelsohn manages to convey great emotion, despite being covered with a thick layer of latex.

The Mule, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood had a splendidly engrossing story about an old fart drug trafficker, and a superb support cast. It was good, but not quite as good as Eastwood's Gran Torino.  

Midway was an intelligent and often thrilling war movie which did an exemplary job of organising and dramatising historical fact.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker traded powerfully on the wonderful assets of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver as Rey and Kylo.

Continuing in a science fiction vein, Ad Astra was almost terrific and has some great moments. Like the moon base depicted as a shopping mall, or the tacky therapy room on Mars where they project beautiful scenes of wildlife from Earth. 

The story follows Brad Pitt as he goes after his Colonel Kurtz style dad who is out in the orbit of Neptune with a weapon which can menace the Earth. Cue a journey which is a series of set pieces. 

And some of these set pieces are utterly wonderful, like the moon buggy chase. But then there’s the stupid scene with the rogue monkeys...

The Favourite had striking visuals that evoke Vermeer's painting. There’s also hilarious and engaging — though slightly overdone — use of a fisheye lens. The C- word is also overused in the dialogue. Indeed the whole picture is overdone. 

The Favourite overstays its welcome. At first I thought it was masterpiece, then I thought it just narrowly missed being a masterpiece. 

Finally I thought it narrowly missed being a good movie, though a lot of that might have been to do with a nasty bit of rabbit squashing at the end. 

Speaking of cruelty to rabbits... Us was a superb follow up to Get Out. And since we're back on the subject of horror movies, Midsommar was a little too long, but otherwise quite fabulous.  

Them That Follow was bleak but tremendous. It's a taut, harrowing anecdote about fundamentalist religion in a remote US mountain community where you demonstrate your faith by handling venomous snakes. 
 
 Walton Goggins moves up to a new level of acting as the local preacher whose teenage daughter (the excellent Alice Englert) has got knocked up — and by an unbeliever, too. "It's time to get clean, girl," he says as he drapes the "serpent" around her shoulders...

We are now among my top movies of the year:

Le Mans 66, with a memorable performance from Christian Bale (Matt Damon is good, too)  was so nearly a great film. The contrived last minute unhappy ending somewhat scuppered it for me. But it still makes it onto this list.

Terminator Dark Fate performed the difficult trick of reviving a franchise that wandered off course over decades. The triumvirate of strong female leads and Mexican setting were both  refreshingly novel.

Ready or Not takes us back to horror movies with a dark and delightful nightmare which aims to do for rich people what Get Out did for white people — and damned near succeeds.

Martin Scorsese's The Irishman was an engrossing masterpiece. At nearly three and a half hours(without intermission) you'll need to take a thermos of coffee if you see it at the cinema. But at home on Netflix you can just savour it's violent, sprawling splendour.
 
Al Pacino is simply magnificent as Jimmy Hoffa, in his finest performance ever. He deserves an Oscar but won’t get one because of the Netflix thing. I was delighted to see, as the end credits rolled that this was written by the great Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Green Book, a comedy drama with enormous heart, was utterly superb and I recommend it to you highly. It almost blew my mind when I discovered it was based on a true story.   
 
But top honours must go to Qunetin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

As this movie counted down to the doomsday on Cielo Drive I had a sneaky, hopeful inkling that Tarantino would rewrite history again like he did in Inglorious Basterds. Thank heavens he did. Fabulous. 
 
(Image credits: All the posters are from Imp Awards.)

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