(VERY Belated) Favourites of 2019

December 2020 note: Well… I didn’t this when I was supposed to. It was written mostly in February 2020… and everyone knows what happened after that, so completing the post just fell off my to do list.
I am currently compiling my 2020 list and I opened this draft and realised it was nearly completely written, so I decided to finish it off so I could post it in advance of the new list.
The only part that was unfinished was the text to describe the individual films. I have decided to keep this short so I can get on with the 2020 list, and also some of the films I haven’t seen for a while, but you should get the idea.
I hope you enjoy, especially my references to “the rest of 2020”, little did I know what was coming. I believe all the links and streaming services are currently accurate, apologies if not.

Hello again to my other People Friday… it’s been a while and I’m a bit late on this one, but here it is: my favourite films of 2019!

I spent so long umm-ing and ahh-ing about the order and all of that, but then so much was happening with the new year and work etc etc etc, it got put on the back burner and I never shared it. But FINALLY, here it is. However, on the plus side, the benefit of me posting this in February (December 2020 note: lol), you don’t have all those other lists to distract you, just The Definitive Person Friday Favourites to guide you into what to seek out next.

Though I have rejigged the list multiple times, of course no list will ever be able to capture the nuanced feelings I have about these films, and the way those feelings have evolved over time. This is also not a Best Of list. I feel pretty strongly that there are no objective “best” films of a year! I have missed out some films which many people regard highly, and I do too!! But for me, a favourites list is about the films which I loved, a feeling that is very hard to define or explain or form into some precisely structured list.

I also feel that the function of an end of year list should be to give you a list of things you might have missed to go back and catch up on, rather than to use my worldly knowledge and experience of film festivals etc to tell you what to look out for next. Of course, those lists can be useful too, but when I reflect on my year in film, I choose only to list films which had UK releases in this year (including on demand) even if they may have been on others previous lists. The only exception I make for this is films which do not have distribution as far as I know, so you can keep an eye out for these smaller films if and when they eventually pop up.

So here we go: 20 of the films I enjoyed the most in 2019 (plus some Special Mentions below). If you’d like to see my full list of the 77 new releases I managed to catch, check this list on Letterboxd (and if you really want you be negative you can see which films I liked the least).

  1. Woman at War dir. Benedikt Erlingsson – Iceland/Ukraine
    – A totally unique film – an Icelandic/Ukrainian comedy about an unexpected environmental activist – worth seeing for yourself.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  2. Under The Wire dir. Chris Martin – UK
    – Fascinating documentary about journalist Marie Colvin. Told in a straightforward manner, but with an important and interesting subject matter.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  3. The Farewell dir. Lulu Wang – USA
    – This comedy-drama about generations of a family separated by both distance and culture left me absolutely sobbing.
    Trailer
    – On Amazon Prime Video now.
  4. Ray & Liz dir. Richard Billingham – UK
    – Portrait of a dysfunctional family inspired by family photographs directed by Richard Billingham. Beautifully composed images, as you would expect from the photographer-cum-filmmaker.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  5. In Fabric dir. Peter Strickland – UK
    – A weird and wonderful film about a haunted dress – it is hard to explain beyond that!
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  6. Little Women dir. Greta Gerwig – USA
    – Another beautiful and moving adaptation of the classic novel, with Gerwig’s trademark humour, with a focus on the girls sisterhood and artistry.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  7. The Kindergarten Teacher dir. Sara Colangelo – USA
    – What begins as a simple drama about a teacher and a young poetry prodigy builds into a visceral, tense, and intriguing film.
    Trailer
    – Currently streaming on MUBI.
  8. Vox Lux dir. Brady Corbet – USA
    – A strange, chaotic, yet fascinating film about fame and violence… at least I think that’s what it is about?! Amazing soundtrack and shocking opening scene.
    Trailer
    – On Netflix UK now.
  9. Jawline dir. Liza Mandelup – USA
    – A pastel toned documentary on influencer culture, that could make a good pairing with Eighth Grade (see below)
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  10. Beats dir. Brian Welsh – UK
    – Evocative, black and white Scottish story of male friendship and rave culture.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  11. The Favourite dir. Yorgos Lanthimos – UK
    – Uniquely Lanthimos take on a royal period drama with a dry sense of humour. When I was working in a cinema, I loved catching older women’s thoughts on their way out of the screen. Usually: “well, the costumes were nice”.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  12. A Deal With The Universe dir. Jason Barker – UK
    – Touching and big-hearted documentary about the director – a trans man’s – pregnancy, told through his personal home videos.
    Trailer
    – On BFI Player now.
  13. Blinded By The Light dir. Gurinder Chadha – UK
    – Teen Angst: The Bruce Springsteen Musical – read my previous blog post.
    Trailer
    – On Amazon Prime Video now.
  14. Marriage Story dir. Noah Baumbach – USA
    – An honest, personal, and ultimately quite heartbreaking exploration of divorce and relationships that still manages to find light hearted moments within the pain.
    Trailer
    – On Netflix UK now.
  15. The Chambermaid dir. Lila Aviles – Mexico
    – Observational slice of the titular chambermaid’s life – read my previous blog post.
    Trailer
    – On BFI Player now.
  16. Happy as Lazzaro dir. Alice Rohrwacher – Italy
    – A beautiful, magical realist tale of a time travelling Italian farm worker.
    Trailer
    – Streaming on All4 until 18th December 2020, also on VOD.
  17. Eighth Grade dir. Bo Burnham – USA
    – Well observed 21st century coming of age film that manages to focus on social media and technology and their impact on adolescent minds without being condescending.
    Trailer
    – On VOD now.
  18. Madeline’s Madeline dir. Josephine Decker – USA
    – Distinctively experimental exploration of the psychological side of acting and performance, in life and on stage. Amazing debut by lead actor Helena Howard.
    Trailer
    – On MUBI UK library now.
  19. Minding The Gap dir. Bing Liu – USA
    – Starting as a documentary on the director and his friends skateboarding community, Minding the Gap opens up to explore modern American masculinity and working class life.
    Trailer
    – On BBC iPlayer now.
  20. Support The Girls dir. Andrew Bujalski – USA
    – A comedy about the daily life of workers in a sports bar. Not only is the film very funny and has all round wonderful performances, there is a sense of solidarity between the women and other workers on the roadside retail park that elevates the film to be something really meaningful as well as enjoyable.
    Trailer
    – On Netflix UK now.

I was struggling with juggling around these films with a handful of “family films” which felt like didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the list, but I also wanted to give special mention. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Toy Story 4 dir. Josh Cooley – USA
    – There’s not a lot to say about this; of course you’ve probably seen the others and if you have any young family members you have probably already seen this too. I mention it simply because it surpassed my expectations, and justified its existence by managing to meaningfully sustain the metaphor that Toy Story has alway had in its undercurrent. I enjoyed the new characters, especially Ducky and Bunny (pictured) – they had some of the best scenes and I also have to give a nod to their perfect “won-at-a-funfair” design. It was a shame some of the old favourites received less screen time, but overall I just want the skeptics out there to know that Toy Story 4 is definitely worth a watch if you are a fan of the rest of the series.
    Trailer
    – Out now on DVD/Blu Ray/VOD and Disney+
  • Missing Link dir. Chris Butler – USA
    – I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this family adventure, although I really should have expected nothing less from the iconic animation studio, Laika. A “Bigfoot” – also known as Susan – contacts an explorer for help in reaching their Yeti “cousins” on the other side of the world. This sets the wheels in motion for a potentially predictable but ridiculously sweet and charming journey for all ages.
    – Trailer
    – On Netflix UK now.
  • Dora and The Lost City of Gold dir. James Bobin – USA
    – I was as sceptical as anyone when this film was announced and first images of the teenage Dora were released. However, when word spread that this was a future cult classic comedy, I had to check it out. It’s an ironic take on the original Dora IP in the vein of The Brady Bunch Movie, where the familiar character is taken into a new, modern world. Jungle child Dora is transformed into a teenage nerd in an inner city high school, and has to face a whole new set of obstacles, that can’t be solved through the cartoons trademark puzzles. It’s very silly but a lot of fun, as you would expect from The Muppets and Flight of the Conchords director James Bobin.
    Trailer
    – Out now on DVD/Blu Ray/VOD
  • Fighting With My Family dir. Stephen Merchant – UK/USA
    – Florence Pugh continues as the breakout star of 2019 in this fun family film about being yourself and pursuing your dreams. Standard fare, sure, but it isn’t often you get live action family films these days that are really enjoyable for all ages. Positive messages, laughs, and tears are certain in this sweet story which is perfect for that transitional age between cartoons and teen films. Plus, it features The Rock.
    Trailer
    – On Netflix UK now.

My extra special festival pick is a film that may perhaps be one of my new all time favourites. Since I was lucky enough to see it at Cannes Film Festival I haven’t heard much about it from anyone else, or heard any word of it screening over here. I hope by giving it a little love on this little blog posts, the film gods might bring it to us on Mubi or something, and you can all enjoy:

  • Ghost Tropic dir. Bas Devos – Belgium
    – A gently magical realist exploration of nocturnal life in the city of Brussels. Ghost Tropic follows cleaner Khadija, who falls asleep on the last train home and wakes up on the wrong side of town. She is forced to walk home, meeting various characters along the way. Though we might imagine the city at night to be a potenitally dangerous place to explore, what Khadija finds on her quiet adventure is a welcome surprise.
    Trailer
    My friend Ben wrote a brilliant review of this for Sight & Sound.
    – Unsure when and where this film will be available 😦

So that’s it for 2019! It’s officially over and 2020 can start now (December 2020 note: lol again). I hope that you will be able to seek out some of the films I have mentioned above and you will enjoy them as much as I did. Do tweet me at @hispersonfriday if you do.

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