The Five Best Films of 2019 (so far)
(All films in this list are included based on their 2019 UK release date)
Under the Silver Lake - A huge release screw-up by A24 saw David Robert Mitchell’s follow up to the phenomenal It Follows stuck in distribution hell, eventually being given a criminally un-publicised limited cinema run earlier this year. And its a damn shame because Under the Silver Lake is a deliciously fun and colourfully trippy tribute to the noir mystery genre that declares its Lynchian/Hitchcockian influences straight from the off and features the best crazy-musician-chucking-vinyl-at-Andrew-Garfield scene you’ll see all year.
Madeline’s Madeline - Experimental director Josephine Decker’s third feature film was an evocative and endlessly inventive look at what it means to act and what happens when the barriers between life and performance begin to crumble. With an outstanding central performance that should firmly establish Helena Howard as a future star, along with vital supporting roles from Miranda July and Molly Parker, Madeline’s Madeline takes a number of risks in bringing into focus Madeline’s (Howard) viewpoint on the world and it succeeds at every turn. An invigorating experience and one that blends choreography and cinematography beautifully.
5. Eighth Grade
A film that I really wish I had reviewed upon its release here in the UK, Eighth Grade was a sensitive but unflinching look at modern teenage life, part of a new flock of coming of age films that actually understand their subject matter and don’t feel like they’ve been written by a room of 40 year old men. And this accuracy in depicting millennial life was largely down to comedian Bo Burnham’s work as writer and director, whose spot-on depiction of the pressures and difficulties of social media can be traced back to his own usage of sites like YouTube and Vine to propel his comedy career to where it is today.
Elsie Fisher is phenomenal as Kayla, an anxious eighth grader looking to achieve validation online while struggling to make friends in the real world, with Josh Hamilton providing much of the film’s emotional heart as her supportive but slightly hopeless dad Mark. Where Burnham really excels is in creating both a unique and truly loveable character in Kayla while allowing us to project our own experiences onto her, taking the time to also inject a heart-warming dosage of comedy into the proceedings. And special mention for Anna Meredith’s soundtrack, that provides a pulsating EDM beat backing for several key sequences to wonderfully hilarious effect.
4. Apollo 11
The documentary that no-one can stop talking about (you’re probably tired of seeing it everywhere by now right?) and no wonder! Apollo 11 re-injects the historic moon landing of 50 years ago with the awesome wonder and jaw dropping beauty that it deserves, utilising unseen footage that is stunning in both its unmarked quality and incredible selection of shots (including one that is seemingly captured from beneath the Saturn V rocket as it takes off from the launch pad).
Best seen on the biggest possible screen, Todd Douglas Miller’s documentary is a pure, uninhibited celebration of man’s greatest achievement and will transport everyone back to being a wide-eyed, dumbstruck kid, basking in the glory of seeing new worlds like never before.
And you’re probably sick of hearing about this one too! The best horror film of the year so far (though some have convincingly argued it is more of a macabre drama), director Ari Aster followed up his excellent series of short films (The Strange Thing About The Johnsons is particularly effective and disturbing) and last year’s stunner Hereditary with this daylit romp through a Swedish pagan festival.
Packing stellar lead performances from Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Will Poulter, and William Jackson Harper, plus stunning cinematography from Pawel Pogorzelski (who also worked on Hereditary) and a haunting score by The Haxan Cloak, Midsommar is a brutally effective and surprisingly funny film that confirms Aster as being at the forefront of the recent horror resurgence. Here’s hoping that the director’s cut, premiering next month at the Scary Movies XII festival, receives a wide release soon!
On a side note, A24 just released a podcast with Aster and fellow modern horror figurehead Robert Eggers (The Witch + upcoming release The Lighthouse) which I would highly recommend checking out here: https://anchor.fm/a24/episodes/Deep-Cuts-with-Ari-Aster--Robert-Eggers-e4l6ne
Ignore anyone who reduces Booksmart to “Superbad with girls.” Actually, maybe politely ask them to shut up and stop boxing in Olivia Wilde’s hugely enjoyable debut directorial feature, which is so so much more than a simple coming of age buddy comedy rehash. Wilde lets the film ride almost completely on the strengths of its central pairing of Kaitlyn Dever as Amy and Beanie Feldstein as Molly, and they are a comedic match made in high-school heaven, delivering blistering banter and wisecracks with genuinely hilarious consistency.
Booksmart also marks out its important and distinctive position in the coming of age niche right from the off by subverting all the typical stereotypes that films of this ilk have long perpetuated, with the story arcs of side-characters like Hope and Jared turning the tables on what we would normally expect from this genre.
Frustratingly though, Booksmart underperformed majorly at the box office (Detective Pikachu is to be partially blamed for that, among many other issues) and has renewed the long-held fear about the demise of independent filmmaking. So for all the people who whinge and moan about a lack of creativity in Hollywood, why didn’t you go and see this film? Because it’s the best comedy of the year and a boldly modern, original take on a well worn out genre. Please keep an eye out for Booksmart when it hits your favourite web-based streaming service, God knows it deserves some financial success!
It will take something very very special to top High Life this year. A film set in space but not about space, extraordinary French director Claire Denis’ first English-language feature tackled some of the most profound questions surrounding humanity, sexuality and morality in stunning style. As the film’s star Robert Pattinson told Little White Lies, Denis has always been a sensory-based filmmaker (“you watch her movies and you can really feel what they feel like”) and this approach shined all the more here, immersing us in the various rooms of the prison spaceship that jump between the lush, vibrant greenery of the garden area and the cold, clinical rooms of the medical bay and sleeping area.
Speaking of Pattinson, he continued his hot streak of fantastic roles post-Twilight (the highlight being Good Time and I am excitedly awaiting his performance in The Lighthouse later this year) with his performance as Monte, a cold, calculated figure who tries to hide any hint of emotion from the other inhabitants of the ship, played by (among others) Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth and Andre Benjamin (a.k.a former Outkast member and hip hop king André 3000).
Stunning cinematography that (apologies for the basic bitch comparison) recalled 2001: A Space Odyssey in emphasising the crushing empty enormity of space (although, again, High Life is not about space) and combined with a phenomenal score by Denis’ long-time collaborator Stuart A. Staples (including the beautiful track Willow featuring vocals from Pattinson) to provide a powerful sense of gravity (excuse the pun) to the film’s exploration of the depravities and cruelties of the human soul.
A truly once-in-a-blue-moon piece of cinema that delivered one of the most visually and emotionally powerful final sequences in a long long time, High Life once again confirmed Denis’ genius and Pattinson’s talents as a leading man while presenting one of the most intense and sensorially exciting interrogations of the nature of humanity since (yep, I’m bringing it back) 2001.