As the decade comes to a close, so do many major film franchises that have ignited ten good years of fanfare and keyboard wars. Between the epic Endgame and divisive Rise of Skywalker, Glass ended the twenty-year wait for cinephiles who loved Unbreakable, while Dark Phoenix managed to disappoint legions of mutant fans.
Several original studio productions have rightfully shone in their own light, too, and it is on these that this list is based on. In order of personal preference, here are ten of my favourite movies that I have seen and enjoyed in 2019. Until I get to see the late releases, including Monos and Jojo Rabbit. Damn you, licensing agreements!
10. Mirage / Durante la tormenta (dir. Oriol Paulo)
When Vera finds a way to save a young child in the past, she never imagined that she would have to lose her own in the present. Made to doubt her own sanity, all she can do is hold onto her memories as she tries to find her way back into the life that she knew before.
This is the story of Mirage, a time-bending mystery that thrills with its every turn. Though not entirely unpredictable, the emotional core is what does cement director Oriol Paulo as one of the best genre writers today. (review)
9. See You Yesterday (dir. Stefon Bristol)
Trying to stop her brother’s wrongful death at the hands of the police, young C.J. Walker struggles to understand what exactly had gone wrong each time. Her helplessness is sadly very real, as palpable as seen in the real world today.
Even as the time loop device becomes a tiresome trope, See You Yesterday finds its fresh angle with the contemporary issue of racial profiling. The genre concept may be distracting in its gaudy brightness but the message is not lost, especially with its incisive final act.
8. The Photographer of Mauthausen (dir. Mar Targarona)
Photographs can become weapons in times of war. During World War II, photographer Francesc Boix and other Spaniard heroes worked together to save over 3,000 pictures from destruction, proving the Nazis atrocities and indicting the vile war criminals.
Their brave rebellion did not happen without suffering and sacrifice. The Photographer of Mauthausen relates this poignant chapter of history, bringing to light forgotten names once more. (review)
7. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Tarantino’s latest is a hard one to love. For one, he is rewriting the past for the controversial subject of the Manson cult murders. He has also somehow involved fictional iterations of well-loved actors Sharon Tate and Bruce Lee, much to the discomfort of their surviving families.
The result is however less exploitative and more tasteful than it sounds. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood demonstrates the power of film and fiction through a fascinating homage to the people he portrays, showing how circumstances can redefine history. Depending on viewer, the unconventional experience may do well to evoke thought or simply, rightful bewilderment. (review)
6. Us (dir. Jordan Peele)
All over the world, doppelgangers are rising above ground and acting upon their rage at being unseen for years. Fear strikes when the Wilson family discover their own mirror images at their doorstep, fully armed for a night of brutal violence.
In retrospect, Us deserves better praise for its inventive narrative that sees all of humanity haunted by our own shadows. Logic gaps may have been the common gripe during its release, but the thought-provoking commentary matters much more in the grand scheme of things, urging introspection into what it truly means to be us. (review)
5. Rocketman (dir. Dexter Fletcher)
At long last, the lovely Sir Elton John gets a grandiose tribute that befits his bright and brilliant personality. In Rocketman, the ever-talented Taron Egerton brings our beloved singer to screen, performing his heart out with an uncanny likeness in his voice and demeanour.
Weaving between impassioned numbers and heartfelt ballads, the flamboyant musical fixes on the perfect song choices for tender moments and uplifting scenes alike. Music aside, Elton’s heartfelt friendship with Bernie Taupin shines the most in his dramatised life story, every bit beautiful to watch. (review)
4. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)
Marriage Story is not the first to tell a love story through the lens of a break-up. But even alongside heartrending romances in the likes of Blue Valentine and Once, this remains one of the most powerfully written and genuine films to date.
Inspired by real experiences, Noah Baumbach’s brilliant screenplay shows his grasp on the complex emotions of coming to terms with the right reasons to let go. Led by intensely evocative performances, it plays out like a compelling theatre play without the potential artifice of one. (review)
3. Ad Astra (dir. James Gray)
Embarking on a mission in space, astronaut Roy McBride leaves his family behind and seeks answers to his father’s disappearance sixteen years ago. What he finds is instead an aching understanding of what his father had done, and how he had ruefully and unknowingly followed in his footsteps.
But it is never too late, as the optimistic note of hope shows in the end. It is a powerful message that Ad Astra sends, to never forget the beauty of our here and now, while looking to the stars. (review)
2. Midsommar (dir. Ari Aster)
Sound the alarm for Ari Aster’s well being. First, he renders everyone disturbed with the on-screen family tragedy in Hereditary. Now, he is back to induce travel fears with another terrifying nightmare, this time in the realms of Scandinavian folklore.
Finding darkness where light shines, Midsommar takes us on a surreal head trip that brings about constant uneasiness and a nagging sense of alienation. The violent traditions of the pagan cult may be the blatant source of terror, but it is their victims’ self-discovery that truly unsettles. (review)
1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
The most frightening horrors lie in humanity, as seen in Bong Joon-ho’s latest scathing critique on modern capitalistic greed. It is no surprise that he has managed to transcend borders yet again with a distinctively Korean film that resonates with its global themes.
His deceptively simple set-up takes unpredictable turns, defying genre and narrative expectations. There is just no describing it without ruining the experience. Striking a balance between thoughtful commentary and suspenseful thrills, Parasite proves to be a pitch-perfect masterwork. (review)
There’s that for the year, and thank you for reading! Recommendations are welcome, as always. Here’s to getting started on the big music round-up before 2019 officially ends. Meanwhile, merry holidays and the hap-hap-happiest of Christmases to all. x