In 2019, I watched the least new releases I’ve seen in one year for a long time, probably ever (only 37). However, I can’t resist getting involved in the usual end-of-year list sharing. Plus, my loyal team of writers have been busy visiting the cinema even if I didn’t.
Due to my lack of new movie watching as well as Blueprint: Review’s content largely surrounding home entertainment releases, I’ve added lists of first-time-watches and my favourite Blu-ray packages of the year, as have another couple of writers.
If you’re interested in what I saw in 2019 and beyond, I try to keep tabs of everything I watch, new or otherwise, at Letterboxd. It’s a cool site if you’re not aware of it, offering a social network for film geeks and a place to track the films you’ve seen or want to see.
Below are the top 10’s and other lists of the year from a handful of our contributors. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to include your own lists.
Top 10 New Releases
10. Parasite – I was lucky enough to catch a special screening of Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or winner and found it hugely entertaining and sharply biting. I wasn’t 100% sold on some choices made in the final act, but on the whole it’s an excellent piece of work.
9. The Irishman – Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour crime epic sees him on top form. The first half, whilst well-made and engaging, felt a little like the director’s greatest hits, but as the film moves on it develops into something more reflective and nuanced than most of his similar gangster movies.
8. Capernaum – A perfectly balanced film that tells a brutally tragic tale but avoids being crushingly depressing or mawkishly sentimental. With a stunning child performance driving the film it deserves to be more widely seen.
7. November – To quote my review, “a wholly unique, beautiful, yet twisted fairy tale that’s kept on the straight and narrow by a simple but effective love story and a moral warning about greed and the value of the human soul. It’s utterly bewitching, funny and touching in equal measure, and finely crafted to boot. Simply stunning.”
6. Toy Story 4 – I was sceptical about continuing the Toy Story saga after part 3 ended its trilogy perfectly, but chapter 4 still blew me away. Finely crafted, touching and intelligent, like the rest of the series, it furthers the case for the Toy Story films being one of cinema’s greatest sagas/franchises. It’s certainly among the most consistently excellent.
5. Burning – Chang-dong Lee follows up the superb Poetry with another quiet masterpiece. It demands patience as its mystery very slowly develops over a hefty running time, but, if you stick with it, the film is incredibly rich and subtly gripping.
4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Another film I managed to catch before its forthcoming release in the UK, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is simply incredible. Beautifully shot with a painterly eye and superbly acted, it’s a film that crept up on me emotionally. As it approached its end I felt the film was impeccably well-made but emotionally distant. However, the masterful final shot destroyed me and I came out of the cinema red-eyed and devastated, so clearly I was wrong.
3. Marriage Story – I managed to squeeze a viewing of this in the day before I made this list and I’m glad I did as it was every bit as good as I’d heard. I’m a bit hit and miss with Noah Baumbach, but this saw the writer/director mining similar territory to The Squid and the Whale which I love. Marriage Story is a raw yet sensitive and balanced examination of a couple going through a divorce. It does a wonderful job of not allowing the audience to take sides, providing good reason behind the actions of both ex-husband and ex-wife. Anchoring everything are incredible performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s not without humour and remains emotionally powerful without getting melodramatic.
2. One Cut of the Dead – This is an absolutely wonderful Japanese comedy that works best when viewed totally fresh with no knowledge of what to expect. The first third seems like a slightly off-key horror movie relying on a technical gimmick but as things progress it becomes so much more. Hilarious, clever and surprisingly sweet at times, it’s a pure joy to behold.
1. The Favourite – I’d enjoyed what I’d seen of Yorgos Lanthimos’ work before The Favourite a great deal, but there was often something holding me back from truly loving it. His unusual quirks and stilted performance styles could be distancing, but here, in this period setting, where I wouldn’t have normally associated the director, everything works magnificently. Lanthimos’ pitch-black humour is here in abundance, but helping lift things up a notch was its emotional resonance. You’re first drawn to the vicious game of one-upmanship between Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone but in the final act you realise there’s more at stake than power and that Stone’s character is destroying a deep and meaningful relationship. Add some astonishing cinematography and sumptuous production design into the mix and you’re on to a winner.
Disappointments – Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Joker, The Lighthouse, Jojo Rabbit
Notable films missed or not released in the UK yet – Knives Out, Little Women, Booksmart, Midsommar, Uncut Gems, 1917, Dolemite is My Name, John Wick 3, The Souvenir, Apollo 11, If Beale Street Could Talk
Top 20 Older First Time Watches
* Click on the links to read full reviews when available
20. A Fistful of Dynamite
19. The Fate of Lee Khan
17. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort
16. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
15. The Heiress
14. Touchez Pas au Grisbi
13. Where is the Friend’s House?
12. Still Walking
11. A Blonde in Love
10. The Incident
8. Born Yesterday
7. Diamonds of the Night
6. After Life
5. Magnificent Warriors
3. For All Mankind
2. The Big Clock
1. A Face in the Crowd
Top 25 Blu-Rays of the Year
25. Used Cars – Eureka
24. Laura – Eureka
23. The Fifth Cord – Arrow Video
22. On the Waterfront – Criterion
21. Scum – Indicator
20. Diamonds of the Night – Second Run
19. Don’t Look Now – Studiocanal
18. Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte – Eureka
17. The Holy Mountain – Eureka
16. A Fistful of Dynamite – Eureka
15. High Noon – Eureka
14. The Last Movie – Indicator
13. For All Mankind – Criterion
12. Khrustalyov, My Car! – Arrow Academy
11. Evil Dead 2 – Studiocanal
10. Three Films With Sammo Hung – Eureka
9. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort – BFI
8. Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films, 1954-1975 – Criterion
7. Fuller at Fox, Five Films 1951-1957 – Eureka
6. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Criterion
5. Ugetsu – Criterion
4. The Koker Trilogy – Criterion
3. Apocalypse Now – Final Cut – Studiocanal
2. Of Flesh and Blood: The Cinema of Hirokazu Koreeda – BFI
1. Oldboy/Vengeance Trilogy – Arrow Video
This was a really tough call as there have been a lot of fantastic releases this year, but in terms of quality of films, picture/sound quality and sheer volume of features, the Oldboy/Vengeance Trilogy set from Arrow just nudged its way into the top spot.
Honourable mentions – The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (Eureka), The Incident (Eureka), The Grand Duel (Arrow Video), Kiss Me Deadly (Criterion), The Big Clock (Arrow Academy), Der Golem (Eureka), The Far Country (Arrow Academy), Eating Raoul (Criterion), My Name is Julia Ross (Arrow Academy), Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Eureka)
10. Fighting With My Family
9. Iron Fists And Kung Fu Kicks
8. Satanic Panic
7. Avengers: Endgame
6. Hail Satan?
5. Lords Of Chaos
4. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Top 10 New Releases
10. BOOKSMART – Olivia Wilde’s smart, funny and progressive high school comedy boasts two terrific lead performances from Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein and a winning, inventive script by four female screenwriters. Nevertheless, it was erroneously and consistently compared with the aggressively male Superbad, leading to it being downvoted by a defensively territorial male contingent. See it, love it and help shut these idiots down!
9. PADDLETON – Another indie gem from the prolific Duplass Brothers Productions, Alex Lehmann’s small-scale examination of big subject matter allows Ray Romano to build on the excellent dramatic work he did in 2017’s The Big Sick as a man reluctantly recruited to help his terminally ill best friend end his life. An intimate story told with incisive humour and deft observation, Paddleton is further reason to keep one eye on Netflix for more of this company’s unassuming little jewels.
8. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME – Arriving on UK screens in the early part of 2019, Marielle Heller’s second film as director was rightly celebrated for two gripping lead performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant (both Oscar-nominated) as amateur con artists Lee Israel and Jack Hock. Based on a true story and co-written by the excellent Nicole Holofcener (also Oscar-nominated), this small, sordid story was told with an agreeably grubby realism balanced by a seam of acid humour that, coupled with her excellent debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl, marked Heller out as a director to watch out for in future.
7. THE IRISHMAN – One of the major cinematic talking points of the year (along with the director’s controversial comments about Marvel movies), The Irishman saw Martin Scorsese once again working with his most iconic collaborators Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, and for the first time with Al Pacino (not to mention Ray Romano in another great dramatic turn). At an epic three and a half hours and with a narrative spanning decades there’s a lot to take in with The Irishman and I suspect it will go up in my estimations on subsequent watches. For now though, it comfortably sits as Scorsese’s best film of the 21st century and in amongst a terrific cast it is Pesci who stands out with a deeply subtle performance that plays like the flipside of his Oscar-winning turn in Goodfellas.
6. KNIVES OUT – Rian Johnson’s enormously entertaining murder mystery homage is that rare thing: a film in which the cast is clearly enjoying themselves but not at the expense of the audience’s own enjoyment. Painted with deliberately broad strokes (epitomised by Daniel Craig’s winningly unrestrained central turn as a sly Southern detective), Knives Out offers all the star-spotting exhilaration of Murder on the Orient Express while also managing to deliver a deliberately improbable but fiendishly clever mystery plot to keep audiences guessing even as they chuckle along with the witty, and wittily performed, dialogue.
5. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME – Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of biopics (last year’s tawdry Bohemian Rhapsody being a prime example) but done right, they can be terrific. Enter screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who over the last few decades have carved out a niche for themselves as purveyors of intelligent alternatives to the box-checking biopics that eat up the box office. From Ed Wood to Larry Flynt, Andy Kaufman to Margaret and Walter Keane, Alexander and Karaszewski’s films focus on controversial, marginalised, unconventional and sometimes problematic figures in an incisive, refreshingly non-judgmental way that delivers unpredictable narratives. Such is the case with Dolemite is my Name, one of the pair’s most consistently joyous scripts directed with winning verve by Craig Brewer. Relishing the chance to get his teeth into a good role, Eddie Murphy eats up the screen as struggling comedian Rudy Ray Moore who strikes gold when he creates a new character that takes off beyond expectations. Colourful, fast-paced, sympathetic and upbeat, Dolemite is my Name is a film I will revisit regularly.
4. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Barry Jenkins had his work cut out following up the exquisite Moonlight but with If Beale Street Could Talk he did so with a film every bit as dramatically engaging and even more visually ravishing. Told with a non-linear structure and without the narrative flourishes one might expect from a less assured director, If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of a young woman’s attempts to clear the name of her wrongly-imprisoned childhood friend and lover. Filled with moving, subtle and intimate scenes enhanced by a strong cast and an excellent score by Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk is a film to immerse yourself in completely.
3. RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR – Hungarian director Milorad Krstic’s animated crime thriller Ruben Brandt, Collector is an astonishing film overflowing with references to classic art as the titular psychotherapist enlists the help of his criminal patients to steal a list of famous artworks in order to stop their subjects from haunting his increasingly violent dreams. With its unusual premise and surrealist designs, Ruben Brandt, Collector is one of the most unique films of the year but proved a tad too esoteric for some. Nevertheless, fans of independent animation with even a passing awareness of art will eat it up and, for those less taken by the abstraction and symbolism, the film is also peppered with some of the most thrilling, extended chase scenes in recent memory.
2. BEING FRANK: THE CHRIS SIEVEY STORY – As a fan of comedian and musician Chris Sievey’s cult character Frank Sidebottom, I was somewhat disappointed when Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 film Frank appropriated his image for a film that was largely nothing to do with Sievey’s creation whatsoever. This disappointment was more than abated by the arrival of Steve Sullivan’s Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story. With access to an archive of astonishing artefacts stored in a damp cellar and which nearly got thrown out, Sullivan has beautifully pieced together a better representation of Sievey’s life and work than a potentially melodramatic dramatisation could have provided. The resulting film is very much in the spirit of Sievey’s patchwork, DIY approach to his art, imbuing the material with a far greater sense of artistry than a simple talking heads documentary. There will never be another Chris Sievey but projects like this keep the spirit of Frank alive. My review disc even came with a complimentary Frank Sidebottom pin badge. Nice touch!
1. MARRIAGE STORY – As a long-term fan of director Noah Baumbach it was heartening to see the ecstatic plaudits heaped on his latest film Marriage Story. While it’s tempting to wonder why it has taken so long for this level of acclaim to be pointed in Baumbach’s direction, the truth is that Marriage Story stands head and shoulders above even the most impressive films in his lengthy treasure trove of a catalogue. An examination of a protracted, long-distance divorce, Marriage Story’s exceptional script brings a distinctive and reassuringly adult flavour to subject matter that is too often played for flabby melodrama. The cast is superb, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson making a huge impact as the central couple while allowing the likes of Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta and Julie Hagerty to shine in supporting roles. The script makes room for unforced comedy, gut-wrenching drama, emotionally complex characters and situations and mesmerising monologues that feel natural rather than shoehorned in as showpieces. Marriage Story is the sort of film I dream of stumbling upon and I’m delighted to emphatically choose it as my clear pick for best film of 2019.
Notable films missed or not released in the UK yet – PARASITE, US, BOMBSHELL, A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD, LITTLE WOMEN, DARK WATERS, A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON, JOJO RABBIT, HUSTLERS, JOKER, LE MANS ‘66, UNCUT GEMS, WEATHERING WITH YOU, PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON, BAIT, THE SOUVENIR, THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, THE FAREWELL, HONEY BOY, BUNUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF TURTLES, DILILI IN PARIS
KLAUS – Two rare things rolled into one: a traditionally animated feature and a Christmas classic.
SUPPORT THE GIRLS – A spirited, funny and moving film from 21st-century indie icon Andrew Bujalski.
I LOST MY BODY – A unique French animation about a severed hand trying to get back to its owner.
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY – A genuine feelgood film based on a true story about a young Norwich woman’s unlikely rise to WWE stardom.
ROLLING THUNDER REVUE – The Scorsese film that didn’t make most people’s lists this year. An oddball premise of a semi-fictional documentary is punctuated by absolutely electrifying live footage of Bob Dylan’s 1975 tour.
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING – A terrific children’s adventure which takes the charm of the Children’s Film Foundation and adds a decent budget without losing that sense of homemade charm.
Top 5 Disappointments
5. AVENGERS: ENDGAME – This says more about me than the film itself but after over a decade of diligently watching Marvel films, this epic culmination was the moment I realised I had almost zero emotional engagement with the characters. I’m not going full Scorsese on this as I have loved some of the films and still enjoy many of them but having come to the realisation that the characters mean so little to me, it’s hard not to feel slightly wearied looking at the inevitable slate of more upcoming releases.
4. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD – Tarantino’s done it again, by which I mean made a frustrating film with a few brilliant moments lost amongst preposterous overlength, eye-rolling flourishes, weak plotting and questionable taste. It’s annoying because the performances and much of the direction are excellent and the characters and setting have promise. I don’t know why the Manson murders had to be a part of this at all. I think this would’ve been much better as just a story about the relationship between a fading actor and his stuntman and I can see elements of that much more satisfying film in there. He’s done the whole rewriting history bit before so this just feels like an unnecessary retread and an excuse to tack on his increasingly repetitive trademark violence to a film that didn’t need it.
3. THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART – I remember when the trailer for the first Lego Movie came out, I thought it looked silly, chaotic, awkward and filled with obvious jokes. Then I saw it and thought it was great, which just shows how misleading a bad trailer can be. With this in mind, I came to The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with higher hopes… and it was silly, chaotic, awkward and filled with obvious jokes. Sad to say but this is one franchise that has ironically failed to build on its initial success.
2. WINE COUNTRY – When this Netflix film was announced, I was excited to see a cast consisting of some of my favourite comedy actors of recent years. Amy Poehler (who also co-writes and directs), Maya Rudolph, Rachel Dratch, Tina Fey, Ana Gasteyer. What a cast. Then I saw the film and unfortunately the script was so dreary and the direction so pedestrian that it seemed to suck the comedy flair out of all but the ever-reliable Rudolph who battles on gallantly through a series of predictable friendship crises and terribly regressive jokes about millennials.
1. THE DEAD DON’T DIE – As a massive Jim Jarmusch fan, I was initially excited by The Dead Don’t Die’s excellent cast which included Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Tom Waits and Steve Buscemi. I was less enthused by the fact that it would be a zombie comedy, an idea that has become something of a comedic cliché. While for the most part The Dead Don’t Die isn’t dreadful, neither is it ever particularly inspired and the killer blow comes with Jarmusch’s bewildering decision to include fourth-wall-breaking jokes about songs on the radio being “the theme tune” and characters knowing what is going to happen next because they’ve “read the script”. How such a feeble device found its way into any draft of the screenplay I have no idea but this disastrous decision ensures that The Dead Don’t Die does die. Do not resuscitate.
10. Her Smell
9. Leaving Neverland
8. Marriage Story
7. Diego Maradona
6. Deadwood: The Movie
4. The Favourite
2. The Dead Don’t Die
1. Little Women
Honourable mentions: Midsommar, Knives Out, Us, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Films I haven’t seen that might have made the list: Rolling Thunder Revue, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Farewell
Top 10 New Releases
10. Velvet Buzzsaw
9. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
8. Captain Marvel
7. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker
6. Pokemon: Detective Pikachu
5. The Kid Who Would Be King
4. One Cut of the Dead
2. Spider-Man: Far From Home
1. Avengers: Endgame
Top 10 Older First Time Watches
10. Bumblebee (2018)
9. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
8. Upgrade (2018)
7. The Martian (2015)
6. Taste of Fear (1961)
5. BlackKklansman (2018)
4. King Kong (1933)
3. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
2. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
1. Hereditary (2018)
Top ten seen at the cinema
10. Cold Pursuit – Sadly overlooked due to star Liam Neeson’s bad press just prior to its release, this is still a very enjoyable black comedy thriller.
9. Zombieland: Double Tap – Another sequel that was much better than anticipated and, in some ways, is actually better than its funky predecessor.
8. Hellboy – Unfairly dismissed by idiot film critics on its release, this version of the comic book anti-hero is much closer to the original graphic novels than Del Toro’s admittedly still excellent versions. The whole Baba Yaga sequence is pure genius too.
7. Ready or Not – A great little horror-comedy that’s cleverly constructed and a lot of fun.
6. Spiderman – Far from Home – My expectations were low for this sequel to a reboot few thought we needed, but this was great fun from start to finish, featuring another great performance from Tom Holland.
5. John Wick 3: Parabellum – After a mildly disappointing John Wick 2, I really enjoyed this third instalment of this generally excellent series. Plus it was lovely to see Mark Dacascos back in the limelight, kicking ass.
4. Rambo: Last Blood – I wasn’t expecting this to be much cop, but it was a great mash-up of traditional Rambo movie flavoured with Taken relish.
3. Midsommar – As a fan of folk horror I really dug this wannabe Wicker Man; a warning to never trust people who wear flowers in their hair!
2. Rocketman – I didn’t expect to like this semi-musical, but the film surprised me with its brutal honesty, and Taron Egerton’s performance was mesmerising as Elton John.
1. Joker – This was probably my favourite film of the year, featuring a tour-de-force performance by Joaquin Phoenix. So good I even watched it twice!
Top ten films seen at home (in no particular order)
10. And Soon the Darkness – Disturbing slow-burn horror re-release from the 70s featuring the very lovely Michelle Dotrice.
9. Hurricane Heist – This was an unexpected treat and featured some great action sequences.
8. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse – Very daft, but great fun; one of the best zombie films I’ve seen in years.
7. The Hollow Point – A new sheriff of a small town, along the U.S. & Mexico border, investigates a drug cartel deal that went horribly wrong. This is a great twisted thriller.
6. Triple Threat – A great slice of martial arts action, which featured some of my favourite action stars including Michael Jai White and Tony Jaa.
5. Bird Box – A great ‘end-of-the-world’ style of horror film that was somewhat reminiscent of A Quiet Place.
4. Double Date – A surprisingly fun and gory British horror-comedy, with a very intense fight!
3. Lords of Chaos – Everything you need to know about ‘black metal’ – riveting stuff.
2. Leon – Here’s another of my favourites; it was great to see this re-release.
1. Night of the Demon – One of my favourite horror films; MR James was a pure genius.
I was also impressed by:
M Night Shayamalan’s Glass featuring a magnificent multi-personality performance by James McAvoy;
Death Wish – Bruce Willis again, but this time as a different sort of avenger; this was much better than you’ve probably heard;
Once Upon a time in Hollywood – A bit over-hyped, but still an interesting movie about Hollywood during the late Sixties;
Sleepless – A cool Jamie Fox action thriller;
The Windmill massacre – The less I say about this film the better – not what you think it will be like; much better!
Whirlpool – Jose Larraz lets rip Straw Dogs like; disturbing, but very good;
Happy Death Day 2U – A decent sequel to last year’s surprise horror hit, but this time with more of a sci-fi twist;
Crawl – A very cool survival horror (with lots of alligators) by the director of Switchblade Romance;
Upgrade – An unusual action sci-fi flick featuring its own kind of robot martial arts;
Anna – Luc Besson doing what Besson does best – action thrillers featuring strong female leads kicking ass…
(Calculated by placement, so 10 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd etc. In the event of equal points I’ve taken into account the number of lists they appear in)
10 – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – 13 points (2 lists)
8 – Knives Out/Spider-Man: Far From Home – joint 8th with 14 points (both in 2 lists)
6 – One Cut of the Dead/Midsommar – joint 6th with 16 points (both in 2 lists)
5 – Joker – 19 points (2 lists)
4 – Marriage Story – 21 points (3 lists)
3 – The Favourite – 23 points (3 lists)
2 – Avengers: Endgame – 24 points (3 lists)
1 – Rocketman – 25 points (3 lists)
Wow, Rocketman is the surprise overall winner of Blueprint: Review’s film of the year! I was a bit luke-warm on it myself, but hey ho.
So that’s it for another year. Keep visiting the site for our thoughts on the latest home entertainment releases (and the rare cinematic releases that we get around to). Let us know your thoughts about the best and worst of the year below.
Happy New Year!