Best Movies of 2019

In what seems like barely any time at all, the year (and the decade) has come to a close once again. Though film content has been a little absent from my blog in 2019, my perusing has remained nonetheless ample, and my year wouldn’t be complete without a rudimentary list, which has been unwavering for six years now.

As before, all the films you’ll find below are chosen entirely by me, and represent my opinions alone. I’ve tried to watch a great deal of the years most celebrated, but no doubt some may have passed me by (Honey Boy, Ford v Ferrari, Sorry We Missed You). I choose films typically by U.K. release date, though this year I have been fortunate to view some features before their formal distribution in my country.

I hope you’ll enjoy my picks — please don’t get too wound up if not! I’d love to see yours (and any recommendations) in the comments here or on any variety of social platforms. Outside of my blog, you can follow my film activity and reviews on Letterboxd.

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.


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Special Mention goes to Swing Kids (dir. Kang Hyoung-chul)

Each year I like to give a ‘special mention’ to a film that is of high merit, but is absent from the list due to some technicality. In the case of South Korean film Swing Kids, it was released in it’s home country in late December 2018, with international releases following in 2019, but it was never formally released in my country, so I’m not sure where to place it. Nonetheless, it’s an absorbing ensemble piece that deserves a mention.

It’s a deceptively fanciful musical set during the Korean war, in which a wayward North Korean solider falls in love with tap dancing. He forms a troupe with some outlandish South Korean’s, led by an American officer. It’s imaginative and wonderful, with many enduring set-pieces, but steadily forms an unsparing tone the more it progresses, building toward a dazzlingly tempestuous final act.

Leading actor Do Kyung-soo (of Exo fame) has been on my radar ever since his breakout performance in 2016’s Unforgettable. His role in Swing Kids seems meant for him, melding his acting talent with his musical and dancing prowess. The plot is a little uneven and the tone may be too jarring for some but, for me, the final act cemented Swing Kids as one of the years most evocative films.


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#10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

In this French period piece, a portrait painter named Marianne is commissioned to paint aristocrat Héloïse, so the image can be sent off to her suitor. Héloïse, less than enthusiastic about being married, refuses to pose, so Marianne subtly observes the noblewoman as the two go on walks, and paints in secret. Slowly and tenderly, the pair develop a passionate bond.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a ravishing film, filled with enchanting composition. Some of the most alluring sequences are when the camera seldom moves, with each shot stunningly vibrant and prepossessing. The steady camera, combined with the exquisite use of colour and positioning, create a sense of intimacy mixed with action, melding a film that is tenderly framed and completely arresting. The location, too, is both gorgeous and understated, captured in a wholly organic sentiment.

The plot and pace are finely assembled — you get the sense that no second is wasted — and the central cast are extraordinary, deftly revealing two spirited woman at pivotal moments in their lives. Director Céline Sciamma exhibits such a memorable vision, simmering with a quiet tension.


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#09. The Farewell (dir. Lulu Wang)

Awkwafina stars in this drama about a Chinese family who decide to keep their grandmother in the dark regarding her cancer diagnosis, insisting: “It’s not the cancer that kills them, it’s the fear.” In an effort to gather as a family and see their grandmother one last time, the extended ménage organise an impromptu wedding.

The Farewell is such a warm-hearted film despite skirting around topics such as demise and dishonestly. It shapes this multifaceted story similar in ways to last years Crazy Rich Asians in its cultural and generational examinations. Awkwafina’s character Billi, a Chinese-American who resides in New York City, is against keeping her grandmother’s illness a secret. Yet writer-director Lulu Wang does a fine job of exploring the family’s dynamic at large, which leads to some hilarious exchanges and sequences.

It’s a charming film that manages to work many laughs into a story that is nonetheless emotive and introspective. Awkwafina is an endearing talent here, persuasively grappling between her heart and her head, in a nuanced tale that feels both personal and universal.


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#08. The Peanut Butter Falcon (dir. Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz)

Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz wrote The Peanut Butter Falcon for their friend, Zack Gottsagen. Starting at nothing, they shot a trailer to pitch with, and reached out to numerous insiders, eventually finding success and landing an all-star cast.

It’s an endearing road trip movie about a young man with down syndrome (played by Gottsagen), who dreams of joining a famous wrestling academy. By chance, he buddies up with Shia LaBeouf’s character, a troubled fisherman on the run after a confrontation with some rivals. As the two slowly begin to open up to one another, they form an unshakable bond, establishing an inimitable camaraderie.

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a film that feels at once familiar and inventive. On paper, the plot doesn’t differ so much from movies of a similar vein, yet what sells it absolutely are the performances. Road trip and unlikely companion stories are well trodden ground, but the film benefits immeasurably from the writing and acting of its cast. Nilson and Schwartz, as friends of Gottsagen, clearly understand what makes him so compelling and fun to watch, with LaBeouf making for a brilliant comrade, whose flaws and at times questionable actions form a character who is attentively layered.


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#07. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play lighthouse keepers in this claustrophobic horror set in the 1890s. Pattison plays the novice to Dafoe’s seasoned wickie, though nothing is quite as expected as the two descend into madness, seemingly bewitched by the lighthouse’s aura.

I loved the ambiance of The Witch, and whilst The Lighthouse is very much a different film, Robert Eggers manages to conjure a similar tone, where much of the unnerve and terror is derived from the mood. Shot in black and white with a narrow aspect ratio, the film exudes its antique time period, plunging viewers into a hypnotic tale that does not once lose its fascination.

Pattinson and Dafoe are stunning, their descent into mania rife with a fallacious clarity, steadily building an intoxicating ambivalence that keeps viewers guessing. Despite its distressing quality, The Lighthouse is also darkly hilarious. Some scenes made me laugh out loud whilst I was also on the edge of my seat. Lastly, there are a number of monologues from Dafoe which are, in the most candid sense of the word, extraordinary.


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#06. Ad Astra (dir. James Gray)

James Gray directs Brad Pitt in this brooding sci-fi about a stoic astronaut called upon to make an emotional plea to his father, a revered spaceman holed up on Neptune with delusions of grandeur. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure whether Ad Astra would make it onto my list right after I saw it, but my synopsis (and probably any single paragraph description) is terribly bare bones. It’s a slow burn without much explicit dialogue, but the longer it lingers, the clearer the brilliance.

It’s a profound tale of humanity, in which the pioneers are trained to restrain what makes them human in order to advance humankind. There are masterful juxtapositions and contrasts to this effect, and a terrific mirror image in the father and son characters. The entire film is hinged on one single person, yet the exploration of his psyche is sprawling, scrambling between the emotional and the logical, the primitive and the modern.

The film is gorgeous, yet perhaps more impressive than its effects alone are the degree to which they are utilised. Ad Astra is an epic film, but it is no typical ‘space opera,’ opting to avoid sensational imagery and instead ensuring it remains a solitary portrait, grounded in its plot and central conflict concerning the inner struggles of a sullen man.

The visuals are wonderful, but rarely are they glimpsed from glorious angles or lingered upon. Earth sports a colossal space antennae, the moon has been colonised, there are galactic wars, but the film does not manifest these details to any profound extent. There’s a brilliant contrast between the imposing setting and Brad Pitt’s restrained voyage, with the cinematography and mise-en-scene striking an expert balance between the two, composing a genuine and rooted vision over something which could have very easily been spectacular but vain. It’s a tightly knit, introspective film that I warm to a little more with every thought.


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#05. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Olivia Colman plays Queen Anne in this black comedy about two cousins — Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, and Abigail, played by Emma Stone — vying for her attention. The film was released in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S.A. at the end of 2018, but didn’t reach most regions (including the U.K.) until January and February of 2019.

I never felt much for The Lobster, but a lot of the same deadpan delivery and dry wit on display in The Favourite is suddenly riotous. There’s much to be said about the setting and production design — all the extravagance and pomp, the grandeur and majesty, make for a hilarious contrast to characters who are often stunningly direct and unfiltered.

It’s cast to a tee, with renowned faces who seamlessly meld into their roles. The dialogue, in all its piquant awe, reminded me of The Death of Stalin. It has the same sort of heavy subject whilst also being playful and deadly funny. Among the satire and cunning, there are some more gentle and moving moments involving Colman’s Queen Anne, with the actress bringing an incredible dynamic to the role, skillfully portraying tyrannical and sensitive sides.


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#04. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Set in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s supposed penultimate work sees Leonardo DiCaprio play an actor struggling to stay relevant in a changing film industry. Brad Pitt plays his stuntman and rock of sorts, who finds himself on a series of escapades between work. They are joined by an ensemble cast in what largely amounts to a love letter to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Much of the cast play characters based on or inspired by real-life people, but Tarantino deftly reimagines history, crafting a sprawling chronicle that is as funny as it is tense and lovely. It’s an epic work with a lot of spirit, tended to with clear passion. Tarantino involves many of his long-standing signifiers, yet Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is in the same instance more sober and wistful than some of his other recent work.

DiCaprio is on fine form, delivering a poignant performance that will be anchored and remembered for a number of stand-out scenes. The film’s characters are the draw more so than the plot, but Tarantino’s strenuous planning ensures it is no less engaging. Though DiCaprio is the stand-out, even those in much smaller roles are memorable compelling. More than any other Tarantino film, I get the sense that Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is his most spirited and well directed work. Every aspect seems in tune with his vision.


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#03. Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)

I chose Gerwig’s Lady Bird as my number four pick in 2017. I’m exceedingly glad her and Saoirse Ronan are back this year in an adaptation of the classic novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which explores the dynamics and attitudes of four sisters (and the society of the time) in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

I am familiar with Little Women by name only. I haven’t read the novel, nor seen any of the other adaptations, so I can’t comment on its fluency as an adapted film, or compare it with any other version. Yet I get the sense that it is a wonderfully epitomised account, or at the very least, a highly accomplished rendition, judging by the critical response. The narrative is kneaded with care, and though Saoirse Ronan’s character Jo seems the clear lead, all four of the sisters have a distinct essence.

I loved the structure — exploring past and present in tandem. Rather than an inconsequential ‘Oh, they’re doing it this way’ sort of reaction, I felt it helped expound the narrative in an interesting and slightly ambiguous way. Further, Jo’s conflict as a headstrong woman unwillingly to diminish her liberty through marriage, who must navigate societal constraints and confront loneliness, is expertly divulged, with Ronan such a commanding and yet tender presence.

Florence Pugh’s Amy is another stand-out as a sort of counter-image to Jo, who accepts that in order to prosper in a restrictive climate, she must forego some autonomy. The film casts a brilliant dynamic here between sisters who are all, in some way, confounded by an unjust union, but tackle their liberation and happiness in distinct ways. It’s brilliantly cast and gorgeous to look at  — the locations and costumes are enchanting — with superb dialogue, particularly from Ronan and Pugh. The timelessness of the book seems captured and skillfully bestowed; it’s a film with true spirit and one with the aura of a warm embrace, that I am sure will echo and abide for time to come.


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#02. Uncut Gems (dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie)

In this immaculately packaged follow-up to Good Time, the Safdie’s present a fabulously unnerving snapshot of an audacious jeweller looking to score big money on a rare mineraloid. Pursued by creditors, balancing his business, and in the midst of a familial breakdown, leading actor Adam Sandler seems as though he will stop at nothing to satisfy his desires.

What I love about Uncut Gems, and from what I’ve seen of the Safdie’s work thus far, is the sheer dynamism, recklessness, and total ingenuity of the central character. Sandler’s character Howard Ratner is somebody almost completely void of empathy — he’s rash, self-absorbed, almost maniacal — and yet you root for him all the same. There’s something wholly infectious about his obsessive, adrenaline-filled pursuit. The Safdie’s successfully plunge audiences into Howard’s world through an exhaustive combination of image and sound.

Even during relatively idle scenes, there is this imposing, compelling dread. Though the Safdie’s are working with a different cinematographer here, there’s a similar energy and vibe to Good Time — an almost blazing grittiness; ethereal tinged reality. This is helped in no small part due to the score, from regular Safdie collaborator Daniel Lopatin. The hypnotic visuals are augmented by a bewitching electronic soundscape, saturated with paranoia and wonder.

And just when it appears as though the film has reached boiling point, the director’s reveal another gauge during the final act, dialing up the tension and excitement to heights only the most immersive and moving films can. For me, the final sequence is on par with the ending of my number one pick as one of the decades finest. It’s an all-around triumph with an enduring, exceptional performance from Sandler.


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#01. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Bong Joon-ho’s seventh feature follows a penniless family who live in a half-basement apartment, barely a part of society’s gaze. The son lands a job as an English teacher for the youngest child of a well-off household, and hatches a plan to infiltrate the prestigious family, crafting false personas for his own kin to slot into well-paying work unwittingly offered by the rich ménage.

Parasite is an ingenious and all-around entrancing work. It’s difficult to pin down one single aspect that ‘works’ above all else or which makes the film great, but that’s the brilliance of Bong Joon-ho. His films are harmonious in the way they blend genre and twist presumption, in how they’re both imposing and intimate, both sober and manic. Contrasts co-habit and converse with master precision. He weaves together these ensemble pieces from fragments here and there, saying and showing so much in a package that is impeccably wrapped, layer upon layer.

The same film that will have you gasping in horror will have you laughing riotously, with a stupid grin from ear to ear, beaming because you wonder just how on earth he does it so well. Bong Joon-ho’s films are like modern day fairy tales, each brandishing a hypnotic many-faced mask — they are equal sides twisted and pleasing, sometimes both at the same time. You never quite know what he’ll come out with next, and it’s this sort of boundless classification that shows his aptitude lies, not only as a director, but also as an expert writer and story-teller.

To say too much about Parasite would spoil the fun, but it’s a riotous, indelible tour-de-force of a thriller, with twists and turns that are at once outlandish and yet persuasively developed. Bong Joon-ho further instills his trademark societal critiques, attentively working meditative examinations into the film’s bone marrow.  It’s a smart, hilarious, and haunting film that, I believe, will abide in the memory of audiences for a long time.


Thank you for reading. Film in 2019 seemed a little underwhelming until the latter months, but come the end it wasn’t difficult to choose ten pictures that I really loved. Since it’s the end of a decade, I think I’ll conclude with some of the best films I have enjoyed these past ten years. On a different day, this list may well change ever so slightly, but here are twenty films from the 2010s that I adore.

My Top 20 of the Decade (in no particular order)
• Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019)
• Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018)
• Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
• Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, 2013)
• 0.5mm (Momoko Ando, 2014)
• Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
• 20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)
• The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)
• Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton, 2013)
• Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (David Zellner, 2014)
• Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
• A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Shunji Iwai, 2016)
• Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie, 2019)
• Gone Girl (David Fincher, 2014)
• Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima. 2010)
• Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, 2016)
• Brooklyn (John Crowley, 2015)
• The Meyerowitz Stories (Noah Baumbach, 2017)
• A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)
• Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

Until next time!

Best Movies of 2018

As another year comes to a close, another assemblage of lists, summaries, and rundowns begin to emerge. It has been half a decade since I began chronicling my favourites on this blog. Like most years, I wasn’t sure what to make of 2018 at first, but come the end, there are a number of films which I am confident will stay with me hereafter.

As usual, I typically go by U.K. release date for my top ten, in order to ensure continuity and inclusivity. If I were to include films based only on their initial release date, that would outright exclude a portion of popular late year U.S. releases, such as The Favourite, Green Book, and Vice, which don’t reach Britain until next year, and thus I have no actual way of viewing. Comparably, I have seen The Death of Stalin on a number of other lists, which was released in many territories this year, but is rather a 2017 film in the U.K. I do make exceptions for films that are widely available online before their British release.

Furthermore, whilst I make every effort to see as many films as possible in a given year, there are inevitably some which I miss. Thus, this is by no means a completely exhaustive list. Like all personal top tens, it is largely subjective and individual.

Previous: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.


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Special Mention goes to They Shall Not Grow Old (dir. Peter Jackson)

My special mention this year goes to Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking World War I documentary film They Shall Not Grow Old. I know people who will simply not watch black and white films. I have always found this attitude frustrating, but Jackson’s astonishing documentary demonstrated to me not only the substance of colour in film, but also the prowess of modern frame rate and sound mixing techniques.

Many will have heard about the methods on display here, but words do little justice to the reality Peter Jackson and team have managed to uncover from the grainy archives. The film begins conventionally enough, with silent black and white footage, aided by a voice over. Part way through, however, the screen transforms. Colour, movement, and sound truly revitalises the aged footage, bestowing it an immediacy the dated annals seldom provide. It is utterly illuminating and unforgettable.


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#10. First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle)

Most will know of the first moon landing, but knowledge of the Apollo 11 astronauts doesn’t seem to spread much beyond their names and nationality. Even the preceding Apollo programs, which led to the required capabilities, is seldom related, at least not in Britain. Damien Chazelle recounts these events expertly, avoiding melodrama and obvious structure by instead narrating a staunchly personal account of Neil Armstrong.

The film charts Armstrong’s professional career, beginning with his time as a test pilot, where he would experience some high altitudes flights which enabled him to observe the atmosphere. We follow his later vocation with NASA, up until the moon landing itself. In just as much focus, however, is his home life and personal time with his wife Janet.

Some liberties seem to have been taken in telling Neil Armstrong’s story, but the film still appears a stunningly deep account. Ryan Gosling is wholly convincing, and captures the temperament of a man facing a perilous mission into the unknown down to minute detail. I am glad the film avoided a typical heroism angle, and is instead quite a slow and psychological tale about a seemingly traumatised man who quells his anguish by obsessively striving toward an unsullied expanse. Like Gattaca, much of the film is grounded and sober (yet still undeniably well shot), until the final sequence, which is all the more gorgeous and breathtaking.


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#9. Searching (dir. Aneesh Chaganty)

Technology (and particularly social media) has had a discordant representation on screen. Corners are often cut to allow for exposition or plot conveniences, and what is so familiar to most becomes glaringly counterfeit. Searching has been touted as a film that does it right and, for the most part, it really does.

In this mystery thriller told almost exclusively from a computer screen, David Kim’s daughter, Margot, goes missing. He quickly informs the police and is assigned a detective, but finds he can do just as much diagnosis himself, by tracing his daughters whereabouts via her social media, which leaves a very distinct digital footprint.

Tech savvy viewers will have a couple of complaints, but Searching does a commendable job in forming a social age mystery. The cinematography (if you can still call it that) is ingenious; a monitor has never felt so unconfined. For a film shot in just two weeks, but which spent a year and a half in post-production, the vigorous attention to detail shows, with numerous Easter eggs and important plot components hidden away in the background, ensuring audiences — should they desire — are able to engage with the film to a profound degree. Coupled with an arresting performance from John Cho (who also had a stand-out last year in Columbus), this is surely one of the year’s best thrillers.


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#8. Liz and the Blue Bird (dir. Naoko Yamada)

Naoko Yamada is emerging as one of the top animation directors in Japan. Her adaptation of A Silent Voice in 2016 was a gorgeous and deeply affecting piece, so tightly knit and competently plotted, that I enjoyed it even more so than the manga. Her follow-up, Liz and the Blue Bird, is another distinct and striking entry.

The film — a tale of two friends in a high school music club, who must come to terms with their encroaching graduation — is a sort of side-story to the popular Sound! Euphonium anime series, itself based on a procession of novels, though any prior knowledge of these media isn’t required before you see Liz and the Blue Bird.

The film is quite brilliant in its in-between moments. The first sequence is largely without dialogue, as we observe one of the characters, Mizore, simply waiting for her friend Nozomi at the school gates. There’s a large emphasis on emotion and body language, which aren’t typically given such intricate but subtle attention in anime.

The plot could be easily retold in typical anime episode length, but the feature runtime here affords it a meditative quality, allowing emotions to teeter, stir, and linger to a greater degree. It’s a conventional story explored through an atypical, largely observational method unusual for the medium; the director and crew allow the characters room to simply be, and the film benefits from it immeasurably.


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#7. One Cut of the Dead (dir. Shinichiro Ueda)

Initially released in Japan late in 2017, One Cut of the Dead had a run of mere days in two small art theatres in Tokyo. After gaining popularity following positive word of mouth and triumphant appearances at film festivals, it was re-released in 2018 to over 200 screens, and has since travelled the world, becoming a runaway sensation. Filmed in just eight days, it has now remarkably grossed over one thousand times its budget.

The film follows an eccentric director and his crew who are recording a one-take zombie movie, but they find themselves embroiled in a seemingly real-life doomsday scenario, when members of the team become zombies for real. It sounds familiar, but to say any more would spoil the fun. There hasn’t been a zombie feature quite like this.

The first half of One Cut of the Dead is riotous fun, but it’s in the second half where it begins to display its true genius. There are so many layers, details, and nuances which may at first seem rather mundane or senseless, but these small features slowly reveal a wonderfully inventive plot which utilises the cinematic form and the very construction of film to such a masterful degree.

It’s difficult to elucidate the sheer brilliance of One Cut of the Dead whilst skirting around spoilers, but it is certainly one of the most fun and creatively self-reflexive films I have ever seen. It reminded me of my old college movies, and whilst I would recommend it to anybody, I feel those with a particular interest in film will love it all the more.


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#6. Journeyman (dir. Paddy Considine)

Paddy Considine is an inestimable talent. No matter the role, he can be counted on to deliver an esteemed performance. While his role in The Death of Stalin will deservedly find much attention this year, is was Journeyman — which he wrote, directed, and starred in — that left the most tremendous impression upon me.

The film is a character piece of sorts, which follows Considine’s part as Matty Burton, a middleweight boxing champion whose life is drastically changed after a devastating injury. It has less a plot than films of a similar ilk, such as Bleed for This, and rather focuses on snapshots of Burton’s trauma and newfound affliction, charting his changed reality.

I have seen Journeyman touted as a ‘boxing film,’ but it is much rather a studious drama. There is only one boxing sequence and it is far from ostentatious. Even Burton’s injury, the major event which dictates the matter of the film, occurs as a delayed incident outside the ring. The film is deeply affecting in this way — there’s nothing showy about Burton’s injury. Considine’s bedeviled character, and his friend’s and family’s reaction to his altered state, is devastating precisely because it feels so authentic and so close to home.

Almost the entire film is spent with Burton, who Considine captures with remarkable credibility. After his injury, which the audience can only tell is something to do with the head, there is barely a hospital scene, and certainly no doctor’s explanation or timely exposition. Burton returns home only a few cuts later, and it isn’t immediately obvious how changed he is. Though it treads familiar territory, Journeyman’s understated technique and exceptional performances solidify it as a haunting and indelible film that may demolish even the most stony of hearts.


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#5. Crazy Rich Asians (dir. Jon M. Chu)

The romantic comedy isn’t typically the most inventive of genres, and I have seen many audiences deride Crazy Rich Asians as too predictable, but it honestly surprised me. Not so much through its characters or plot (there are certainly tropes there), but through just how captivating and charming it is.

Rachel and Nick are a couple of Asian heritage who live in New York City. Rachel is elated to accompany Nick to his best friends wedding at his family home in Singapore, where she discovers his ménage are exceedingly wealthy. As extended family and friends gather for the wedding, Rachel feels very much a fish out of water, due in large part to the repellent attitude of Nick’s mother, who feels Rachel isn’t good enough for her son.

Like Liz and the Blue Bird, the content here isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is absorbing. Crazy Rich Asians is expert escapist filmmaking — a feature that plays with tropes, rather than into tropes. It possess a layered framework, blending both East and West, past and present, tradition and modernity, in a story that is as funny as it is moving. This quality is accentuated by ravishing cinematography befitting of the luxury setting, and a formidable cast who offer even the less developed characters a lasting presence.


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#4. A Star is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)

Whilst I haven’t seen any of the other versions to offer a comparison, this modern retelling of the classic story is an outstanding debut from Bradley Cooper. What abides most in A Star is Born, other than the music, are the characters. Cooper and his co-star Lady Gaga feel not an ounce manufactured; their characters embody such visceral and unrefined emotion; at once soothing and plummeting audiences into their world.

Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a successful musician with a reliance on alcohol. He discovers and falls in love with Ally, a female singer played by Lady Gaga. Maine convinces her to sing at one of his shows and she becomes an overnight sensation. Thrust steadfast into the music industry and into a relationship with a destructive drinker, Ally finds herself both perturbed and delighted with her new life. Maine attempts to sedate his habits, but finds his demons difficult to quell.

Lady Gaga’s casting was a stroke of genius; she and Cooper play off one another masterfully, not only on screen, but also as vocalists and musicians. The title track, ‘Shallow,’ is every bit as lovely and heart-rending as the couple themselves. Sam Elliot, in what is only a small (but pivotal) role, all things considered, also left a substantial impression as Cooper’s on screen brother. He and Maine share what seems a very cumbersome relationship, the history of which we feel without really having to know. Later in the film, they share a scene that is so well composed it left me in such awe.


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#3. Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong)

Haruki Murakami is my favourite author. His prose is gorgeous and his themes alluring. His wordsmanship is such that even the mundane takes on an ethereal quality. Yet many, if not all, of his live-action interpretations thus far have proven divisive. Murakami works heavily in metaphor and his plots are seldom conspicuous — they don’t lend themselves well to a direct adaptation. Lee Chang-dong understands this well and has brought along much of his own flair for his first adapted screenplay.

Burning chronicles the simmering love triangle between Jong-su, Hae-mi, and the enigmatic Ben, a playboy of sorts whom Hae-mi meets whilst travelling. The three share a vague bond, made all the stranger when Ben reveals to Jong-su his compulsion to burn down green houses, which begins to take on another meaning to the sceptical Jong-su.

Ok Gwang-hee, producer for the film, claimed they had only purchased the motif of the original story, and yet it feels a bona fide adaptation nonetheless, with many of Murakami’s signifiers, such as elusive cats, dried up wells, mysterious phone calls, and even a little jazz. However, Lee Chang-dong is too much the auteur, with his own voice staunchly present. He takes the central themes and ideas, the bare bones of the original story, and kneads them together with greater detail, to form what is arguably a more enriching narrative than Murakami’s own work.

It is certainly the best cinematic interpretation of Murakami thus far; mesmeric in both content and form, with enchanting imagery abundant with terrific vistas. The plot balances a fine line between ambiguity and lucidity, which is one of the film’s most appealing aspects. It is an enrapturing slow-burn where nothing is absolute, and it is in this ambivalence that Burning is so fulfilling. It is the first film in a long time where I wanted to watch it again almost immediately after it ended.


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#2. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)

Those who read my top ten last year will know Annihilation has been on my radar for some time. I love Garland’s screenplays for both Sunshine and Never Let Me Go, and Ex Machina, his directorial debut in 2014, showed he possessed just as much talent behind the camera. Nonetheless, Annihilation had a perturbed released in Britain, where it was absent from cinemas, supposedly for being too radical for the typical audience. Garland refused to make changes and it eventually debuted on Netflix.

The film follows an all-female expedition into the shimmer — a glossy rainbow coated area that forms following an impact event on the southern coast of the U.S. Inside, the crew attempt to locate others who had ventured in before them, but find vegetation and animals, and even perceived reality itself, mutated and warped beyond comprehension.

Annihilation is utterly creative and remarkable in so many ways, from the narrative, to the set dressing, sound design, visual effects, and beyond. Barrow and Salisbury’s score is of particular note. It is ever present and atmospheric from the onset, but swells into an ethereal haze, dense with synthesised sounds, as the film progresses, fashioning an exceptional nebulous soundscape which is truly befitting of the otherworldly imagery.

Film critic Devindra Hardawar said you will “miss out on the film’s epic scope and rich sound design” if you watch it on a TV or laptop, though he seems to disregard advancements in hardware. Whilst Annihilation was clearly made for the big screen, I don’t believe it is such a lost cause when viewed at home.

On the contrary, the film is perhaps best watched in utter seclusion, absorbed with some exemplary headphones that will safeguard you from any disturbances. Though it would have been a treat on the cinema screen, a closed environment may rather work to its benefit. In the stillness of my apartment, I found Annihilation utterly enthralling and, even on my laptop, it was likely one of the most immersive film experiences of my life. I have returned to watch the final act more times than I care to count, which I believe is testament to its artistry.


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#1. Shoplifters (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)

I was initially ambivalent toward Koreeda. Nobody Knows didn’t intrigue me as much as his reputation had led me to expect. Yet I watched Air Doll thereafter and fell so in love with it. This year I had the pleasure of seeing Shoplifters and now feel the director has perhaps a most wondrous filmography, of which I have barely scratched the surface.

Shoplifters — known as ‘Shoplifting Family’ in Japan — follows a family on the margins. They’re a ragtag group whose relationships to one another are vague and indirect, but they nonetheless form a unit. They live in an unassuming household far too small for them all, and support themselves day-to-day through shoplifting and part time work.

I am beginning to see Koreeda as a master of observation. His camera seldom intervenes; it rather lingers on the edges, framing delicate portraits, both hyperaware and understated. Shoplifters isn’t a flashy film in the typical sense, but it is profoundly intricate in how it is woven together, and in how Koreeda enables audiences to both empathise with and criticise the ensemble cast, who are attentively developed.

Though the characters are essentially criminals, Koreeda unravels their flawed complexions to such a fine degree that the film is stunningly layered. There is no right or wrong, or good or evil, here there are only people. The film speaks volumes on topics such as poverty, parenthood, and family, but Koreeda does not strive to provide an ‘answer,’ so to speak. It’s a beautifully told feature, plotted and staged so competently that it appears utterly spontaneous and natural, and even poetic in some instances.

The cast proffer their roles an enduring reality, ensuring the characters linger far beyond the runtime. Cate Blanchett spoke of how “intermeshed the performances were with the directorial vision” at the Cannes film festival, which I think is an eloquent way to put it. A stand-out for me was Sakura Ando, in a role as mesmeric as her performance in 2014’s tour de force 0.5mm. Her character’s first dialogue is spoken whilst she isn’t even in shot, but in one of her final appearances, she essentially addresses the camera. This is the most overt example of the sheer magnitude in which these characters flourish as the film progresses. The latter scene is my most favourite in the entire film, and the moment I knew Shoplifters was my favourite feature of 2018. Sakura Ando here, in what is largely one take, is brilliant beyond measure. I cannot wait to watch Shoplifters again.


As ever, thank you dearly for stopping by. Unfortunately, I missed WildlifeWidows, and Roma, but I hope you found my choices compelling. These past twelve months shaped up to form an engaging year for film. I feel as though I’ve been saying this for the past two years, but soon we’ll finally see the release of Alita: Battle Angel — my most anticipated film for some time. I’ll be posting an in depth review when the time comes, and will continue to share many more film-related matters, so please swing by again, some time.

Happy New Year!

Best Movies of 2015

It’s that time of the year again — list season! This post is going to be all about my favourite movies of 2015 and my have there been some fascinating contenders. Last year I did my top five, but this time I’m going a slightly different route with my top ten, because this year there are more than five films I have fallen in love with.


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Special Mention: The Danish Girl (Dir. Tom Hooper)

First off, we have a special mention, which goes to The Danish Girl. Initially, I was interested in this film due to the involvement of Eddie Redmayne, but it was Alicia Vikander who stole the show. I didn’t enjoy The Danish Girl as much as I thought I would—though it’s still a wonderful film charting the lives of two very enchanting individuals, through pleasure and pain—but Alicia Vikander was the film’s pillar and offered up much of its emotional weight. Her performance was incredibly nuanced and though Redmayne’s character was the one undergoing a transformation, Vikander was able to display a tremendous amount of inner conflict; portraying suffering and love from multiple angles. Her performance was absolutely one of my favourites of the year.


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#10. Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)

At number ten is Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom are delightful and riveting. Blanchett plays a motherly figure in an indefinite slump, after she has fallen out of love with her husband and is forced to fight for the custody of their daughter. Meanwhile, Mara is a lovable but lost young woman, who has her passions but quietly floats through life without leaving a footstep. The two meet by chance and gradually find their voids filled as romance ensues. It’s beautifully shot, with some tremendous and very subtle acting, where Blanchett and Mara communicate wonderfully with just their facial expressions. Plus the score is terrific, with a dreamy principal theme.


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#9. The Martian (Dir. Ridley Scott)

At number nine is Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, which was only released four years prior to the movie. I’m not the biggest fan of Matt Damon, but I’m beginning to ask myself why, because he’s completely absorbing in The Martian, in which he plays a wonderfully witty character. Much of the film is Damon talking to himself, but the dialogue was compelling and often funny, with Damon’s performance very emotive and powerful at times. Both the cinematography and set design are stunning and though a Martian dust storm would actually be more like a slight breeze, the planet’s surface was wholly convincing and provided some wonderful scenery.


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#8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

At number eight is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars has a very firmly established universe, so it was easy to worry about a return to the franchise. The prequels disappointed many and fans didn’t want anything that would dislodge the continuity or take the original cast in unwanted directions. However, people seemed to warm to the idea once J.J. Abrams jumped aboard, with The Force Awakens ultimately becoming a welcome addition to many. The returning cast were honored well and the new characters filled the youthful void wonderfully so. The effects were impressive and the plot was engrossing, despite parallels with A New Hope. I was tempted to place The Force Awakens higher, but know that’s nostalgia talking and do recognise the film is not without its flaws, so it remains at number eight, but is nevertheless a strong and exciting return to the franchise.


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#7. The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I’m not the most significant of Tarantino fans, but at number seven is The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s writing is by far his biggest strength and his dialogue is completely on point here. The theatrical, stage play-like presentation took me pleasantly by surprise and the script is both funny and intelligent. Prior to The Hateful Eight, I can’t remember the last time I saw a decent ‘whodunnit’ on film. The characters were gripping and brilliantly brought to life by the actors and while I thought the music was lacking in areas, the movie ultimately came together as a tremendous piece of filmmaking.


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#6. Ex Machina (Dir. Alex Garland)

Just outside of the top five we have screenwriter-turned-director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. This is a film that had an interesting marketing campaign—including an AI controlled Tinder profile—but went largely under my radar until just a few days before its release. It’s a film with dazzling intrigue, with Garland effortlessly keeping audiences on edge throughout. The tiny cast excel massively and are all terrifically memorable and convincing. Oscar Isaac in particularly was eerily compelling as tech genius Nathan. I’ve always enjoyed Garland’s screenplays and very much look forward to more of his directorial work, which will be Annihilation in 2017.


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#5. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller)

At number five is Mad Max: Fury Road. I must confess, before George Miller’s latest, I had never seen a Mad Max movie. Unlike with Star Wars, I had no idea what Mad Max was all about and went in with a fresh mind. I’m glad to report that I loved it. It’s a no-holds-barred action romp, with a rather linear and uncomplicated plot that still manages to be tremendously engrossing, complimented by fascinating characters and superb cinematography and set pieces. Tom Hardy is captivating as he grunts his way through the film, but Charlize Theron is the driving force as Furiosa; a sublimely tough character tackled brilliantly. Fury Road is definitely the best action movie of the year.


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#4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

At number four we have Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which seemed to come completely out of nowhere to me. I hadn’t heard anything about it, never watched a trailer, but saw it on a whim one day and loved it. It felt largely unconventional and is—as the title would lead you to believe—less about a girl diagnosed with leukemia than it is about film fanatic Greg, who appears in every single scene. The first half was a little slow, but it really comes into its own during the second half and is the only film this year to have made me cry. I’m a sentimental little baby, but I’m sure the final act tugged at the heartstrings of many.


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#3. Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

Moving into the top three, we have Whiplash, which is one of those awkward films that half of the world saw in 2014 and the other half saw in 2015. Since it wasn’t released in my location until January and I reviewed it at the beginning of the year as my first movie of 2015, I feel it’s warranted on this list. It’s a staggeringly intense film, with both J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller providing marvelously physical performances. The editing is reminiscent of jazz and the sepia-toned cinematography is beautiful. It’s one of those rare films that comes together on every level; a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking.


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#2. The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

At number two is The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Following the release of the first trailer, The Revenant became one of my most anticipated films of the year. It looked tense, emotional and raw — and that’s exactly what it was. Shot on location and only in natural light, the film has a genuine physicality to it that has been unmatched this year. The score is unconventional; no melodies, no central theme, but rather layered pieces which evoke the harshness of the film and its locations. It’s advertised as an action revenge piece, but touches upon so much more and DiCaprio commits himself so entirely to the role—even eating raw meat as a vegetarian—that I’ll be shocked if another Oscar nomination isn’t heading his way.


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#1. Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley)

At number one is the delightful Brooklyn. It has an undemanding plot (in that audiences will be able to follow it with ease), but it’s so fluently constructed and beautifully written, with many universal themes and drama with real weight and authenticity to it that I feel so entirely in love. Saoirse Ronan is marvellous as Eilis, a young woman uprooted from her dreary Irish hometown to the dreamy streets of Brooklyn. Infatuating audiences worldwide, she delivers—without a doubt—my favourite performance of the year.

Complimenting Ronan’s performance is some incredible set design, with the film eloquently exhibiting 1950s Brooklyn despite being shot in Canada. It also features a gorgeous score and alluring cinematography which evolves with Eilis’ character. Brooklyn is a soul-stirring film that grabbed my emotions and gave them a darn good shake, much thanks to the wonderful work of Saoirse Ronan and the fluent directing of John Crowley.


There we have it. For the majority of the year, I didn’t rate 2015 anywhere near as highly as 2014, but things really began to pick up in the latter half and some tremendous films have now come and gone. Looking ahead, I’m eagerly anticipating Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Silence, as I’m a massive fan of both the novel and Andrew Garfield (who I enjoyed this year in 99 Homes). Kubo and the Two Strings and Hail, Caesar! both look brilliant, too. Then we’ve got a horde of comic book movies, new films in the Harry Potter and Star Wars universes, along with two huge video game adaptations in the form of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. If those are anything to go by, 2016 looks exciting!

What do you think of my picks? Do we share similar tastes? If not, what else should I be watching? Let me know and I’ll see you next year!