Best of 2019 | Ranking the not-very-many films I saw this year

2019 films top ten best of nightingale motherless brooklyn two popes knives out brexit mary queen of scots star wars

Films!

So, I watched twenty-six films this year, according to my Letterboxd. This isn’t so much a list of the best films of 2019 – I have very little doubt that, whatever that film was, I didn’t get around to actually watching it – but rather just a ranking of the various 2019 releases I saw this go around. Which, admittedly, wasn’t very many; after all, television has always been and still remains my first love, a lot moreso than cinema. (Not that I actually watched a lot of television this year either, I suppose, but still.) As ever, I’m going to try and be a bit more on top of things across 2020 – I’m already planning on working my way through some of the more recent Netflix releases, like Marriage Story and The Irishman, in January – but I suppose I say that every year.

First of all, a quick reminder of my favourites of 2018 and 2017. I didn’t really put together proper lists – largely because I watched even fewer films then; or, at least, didn’t take track quite as well – but in 2017 my favourite films were Miss Sloane, Bar Bahar/In Between, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and in 2018 my favourites were Lady Bird, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Brooklyn. Also quite enjoyed Into the Spiderverse and A Star is Born, too.

A fair few of those twenty-six films were films I’d seen before, or films that didn’t come out in 2019, so I’ve left them off the list. Of the non-2019 releases, probably A Clockwork Orange is most noteworthy; hard to say I enjoyed it as such, but I’m glad to have finally got around to it in the end anyway.

Anyway. Films!

15) Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Not the worst film I saw all year exactly, but certainly the most aggravating, and the one I think I resent the most. Everything else had something to say, even when I was inclined to be critical of what the film was saying; this was an anodyne, empty film, written by committee and making concessions to entirely awful people. Worse still, it’s hard not to get the sense that the long arc of history is bending towards cinema like this. Very, very dispiriting.

What I wrote about it: A full review, just a few days ago, which you can find here.

14) Green Book

Extremely yikes! This really only nominally counts because of the vagaries of UK release dates – should’ve left it in 2018, really – but I went to see this a few weeks after it won the Oscar. Probably one of the more uncomfortable cinema experiences of the year, that: lot of the audience really, really enjoyed it. There was a group a few rows behind me properly just cackling away.

13) Beautiful Boy

beautiful boy steve carrell timothee chalamet david sheff nic sheff tweak luke davies felix van groeningen

Ultimately quite a hollow film, with very little going on beneath the surface; I’m not actually particularly convinced either Steve Carrell or Timmy give especially impressive performances either. Mawkish and manipulative.

What I wrote about it: Probably one of the best interviews I’ve ever done, this – a conversation with the writer, Luke Davies, about the female characters in the film, his own history of addiction, and more.

11) Five Feet Apart / Tall Girl

These basically occupied the same sort of space, so I’m inclined to put them together (although I suppose if I were being honest with myself, I should probably admit I enjoyed Tall Girl a lot more than some of the other films I ranked higher on the list). Absolutely trash, both of them, but enjoyably so.

10) Judy

As the credits started to roll, my friend turned around and said “so, was that Judi Dench?”

I enjoyed that more than the actual film, to be honest.

9) Last Christmas

last christmas emilia clarke eyebrows henry golding paul feig rolling stone wham george michael

Why must a movie be “good”? Isn’t it enough to sit somewhere dark and see Emilia Clarke’s eyebrows, huge?

8) Brexit: The Uncivil War

It’s a testament to quite how long this god-awful year has been to realise that I watched this nonsense in 2019. Twelve months on, with a new prime minister in place, and Brexit finally about to “get done” – ha ha ha ha – it’s hard to imagine this has aged particularly well. You’ve gotta hope, on some level at least, that James Graham and Benedict Cumberbatch regret it, at least a little bit.

What I wrote about it: Here’s my review of the film, which is quite critical. I did not especially like this film.

7) On the Basis of Sex

It’s an obviously fairly derivative biopic; in more ways than one it’s quite a small-c-conservative film, and there’s just generally something quite uncomfortable about that particular strain of American liberalism and the way it’s created this hagiography of an actually very fallible woman deserving of much more criticism than she got here.

That said, though: it’s still basically an entertaining way to spend a few hours. Armie Hammer is pretty good, and I always have a lot of time for Felicity Jones. Plus, someone unironically said “no way José”, which I very much enjoyed.

6) Captain Marvel

The usual Marvel stuff, this time starring Brie Larson… but I quite like Brie Larson, so this was good fun. At time of writing, I actually haven’t see Avengers: Endgame yet – I know, I know, but I was busy that week – but I figure it’ll end up basically in this slot.

5) Mary Queen of Scots

mary queen of scots queen elizabeth saoirse ronan margot robbie josie rourke gemma chan adrian lester

It doesn’t really reinvent the wheel or anything, but there’s a lot of interesting little choices across the film that make it engaging enough. I’d have liked to interview the director Josie Rourke, actually. I imagine that would’ve made for quite an interesting conversation.

4) The Nightingale

Quite an uncomfortable watch, this – albeit obviously deliberately so, and it wouldn’t work anywhere near as well as it does if it didn’t make you uncomfortable. Not a film I like, not exactly – and, in fact, when I first watched it I actually quite disliked it – but the more I think on it, the more impressed by it I am. I suspect of all the films I watched this year, The Nightingale is the one I’ll find myself thinking about longest.

What I wrote about it: I reviewed this film for Flickering Myth, and you can find that piece here. I also interviewed stars Aisling Francoisi and Sam Claflin about the film, which was very exciting, and you can find that here.

3) The Two Popes

I liked this a lot – quite a lot more, I think, than most other people did. Not a lot more to add beyond what I’ve already said, though. I would recommend it! It’s worth a watch, I reckon.

What I wrote about it: I reviewed this film for Flickering Myth too, and you can find that piece here.

2) Knives Out

Such a well-crafted film, made all the more enjoyable by the sheer amount of fun all involved are so clearly having. Hopefully, Rian Johnson will make quite a few more of these in the years to come – a new Benoit Blanc mystery every couple of Christmasses would be a nice new tradition to develop.

1) Motherless Brooklyn

motherless brooklyn edward norton gugu mbatha raw interview cynicism alex moreland flickering myth

My favourite of the year. It’s a shame that this doesn’t seem to have found much of an audience, though it was probably the wrong time of year to release it anyway; I suppose it was probably meant to act as an alternative to some of the bigger movies of the month, but evidently that didn’t work out. A shame, that. I think this’ll probably have a new life on Netflix or something similar in a few years’ time – it’s quite a good film, and really deserves some sort of an audience.

What I wrote about it: I reviewed this one for Flickering Myth, and you can find that here. As well as that! I also interviewed Edward Norton and Gugu Mbatha-Raw about the film, which was very exciting.

So! That’s another year done. What I am extremely conscious of is quite how narrow this set of films is, definitely that’s something I need to get better at. Granted I’m a bit limited by what actually plays at my local cinema, but still, something to try and work on. Think I might try and go to LFF in 2020, actually. That’d probably be a good thing.

What am I looking forward to next year? Heard a lot of good things about Clemency, although god knows when that’ll pick up a UK release date. Artemis Fowl I’m actually kinda cautiously curious about, if only because I used to really love the books. Little Women, too, I’m looking forward to, although I suppose really that’s a 2019 release I just won’t get around to until next year. Not unlike a lot of the films I’ll end up watching in 2020, I suspect.

Related:

The best television of 2019

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The End of Time Part One

doctor who the end of time review russell t davies david tennant tenth doctor regeneration

Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.

What I’ve been trying to work out is if I would’ve known the Time Lords were coming back or not. It leaked ahead of time, I know that – a screenshot from the wrap video leaked to the tabloids – and I remember seeing that screenshot online somewhere… but I’m also fairly sure, watching it at my grandparents’ house, that I was quite surprised by the actual return of the Time Lords.

Here, in any case, we’ve almost squared the circle. It was around this time I would’ve first started getting into something resembling a wider Doctor Who fandom – reading forum posts, if not writing them; someone definitely tried to get me to sign a petition to recast Matt Smith, although that was in real life. It wasn’t until Asylum of the Daleks, or thereabouts, that I started to actually try and write Doctor Who reviews (before the blog even existed!), and it was a little while later that I started the Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor series… which is now, more or less, coming to an end with the conclusion of the Tenth Doctor era. I’ve little doubt I’ll have more to say about that next week – this is more or less it for these reviews, because I’m not gonna pick it up again until Eleven Years of the Eleventh Doctor – but, the point, anyway, is that this is all reaching its endpoint.

Much like the series itself! Huge, big ending point here – which is easy to forget, in hindsight. Yes, the revived series had already gone through one regeneration, but that was just the last of several flourishes from a show still establishing itself; the departure of David Tennant, after four years in the role, was something else entirely. Obviously it’s hard to know for sure, but I do sometimes wonder if the show would’ve continued as long as it has if Christopher Eccleston had stayed on another few years. Not because it wouldn’t have been popular – almost the opposite really. If the idea of a changing lead hadn’t been re-established, would it have been too late to introduce it in, say, 2008, after three full series and a few specials featuring Christopher Eccleston? Maybe.

It was something I had in mind, at least, while I was watching this: just how much of a big, cultural event it was. A decade on, the Davies/Moffat handover was probably more meaningful than the Tennant/Smith one, sure – but in 2009, without the lens of history to contextualise it, this might as well have been the end of the show. (Sometimes I do think of it that way, actually – it’s not so much that I like Doctor Who, per se, but that there’s a handful of related shows, all of which are called Doctor Who, each of which I like, some more than others.)

doctor who the end of time review david tennant tenth doctor regeneration wilf mott bernard cribbins cafe

Like a lot of these episodes, there was a lot I didn’t quite recall – basically anything after the end of series 3 I’ve not really rewatched particularly since it was first on. I’d guess this was maybe only the third or fourth time I would’ve seen The End of Time Part One? Something like that. Really, this exists more in my head from what I’ve read about it in The Writer’s Tale: I was a little thrown by the opening scene because I was expecting something else… which I realised a while later was actually a cut section from an earlier draft that RTD mentioned ditching in the book.

I’m also not entirely sure what the general perception of this one is, actually. Do people like it particularly? The only thing I really remember is a lot of old tumblr nonsense about how the Doctor here being worried about regenerating is an unforgivable departure from the way it was treated in the classic series. Admittedly a departure, yeah, but it’s hard for me to feel like it was anything other than the right choice – given, as we’ve established, quite how big an event it was. More to the point, though, the show shouldn’t ever really be beholden to anything that came before it if they’ve come up with a sufficiently good idea for something. Which, more or less, I reckon this was. Of course regeneration is going to be a big deal! It’d be a mistake to treat it otherwise.

Although admittedly the execution was a bit off in a few places, wasn’t it? There’s a lot of it that’s kinda naff. The Master with his electric glowing hands? More than a little bit silly – especially when he used those glowing hands to fly. The cactus that looks like Rory Stewart? Actually, I found it quite entertaining that he looked like Rory Stewart, but probably wouldn’t have done a decade ago. Murray Gold’s music? It’s a great score, as ever, but the arrangement itself is bordering on oppressive – the sound mix is way, way overdone. Even the scene with the Doctor and Wilf in the café, in effect the dramatic heart of the episode, doesn’t actually play anywhere near as well as I remember it doing.

So, this is one of the biggest Doctor Who episodes ever – and I think you can reasonably argue that it is – but it doesn’t sound like any of it is actually any good. Then what? Well, that kinda brings us back around to the question that’s been underlying this ongoing series of reviews since the start, doesn’t it? I like this thing so much, this Doctor Who thing, but how much of that have I been staking on personal nostalgia? Is this show actually any good?

doctor who the end of time review david tennant the master john simm regeneration time lords

But, actually, silly question, because I don’t care. I know, I know, we’ve gone over this once or twice before – but, hey, this is one of the last times I’ll ever actually do this, so why not, right?

Historically, anyway, I’d turn around and point out all the fun little details that I do actually quite like. David Tennant, usually a big one. Little aspects of the design or directing. A joke. (I actually quite like the car fob bit with the TARDIS, but hey.) Maybe a guest star – it’s kinda fun that the High Priest Ood is played by Logan Roy, isn’t it? Imagine an Ood doing Logan Roy dialogue. Fun image. (“Everybody wants a kiss from that Ood”. No?) Or, perhaps, there’s something slightly deeper going on: in this one, for example, there’s some neat background stuff going on with the references to the recession etc, the Master’s victims are homeless people, all that. It’s not a lot, but you know, it’s something.

But, this time, since it’s the last time I’m mounting this admittedly probably unnecessary defence, different track. Because I’m starting to think that’s just conceding the premise a little bit. I’m reminded of something Steven Moffat said in an interview once – that his love of Doctor Who never really translated into it being a particularly good programme. Which is often true! And that’s something I have been conscious of a lot recently, and will no doubt be conscious of again in… a week exactly, actually. (Well, we’ll see. I still live in hope.)

Thing is, though, I still love it anyway. Because rubbish though bits of it were, it’s fun! And that’s enough! Especially at Christmas, but really just generally too. I think if, a decade on, I’m still finding it fun, that’s a pretty good thing.

You know, I’m pretty sure that cliffhanger was a surprise, actually. And I’m pretty sure it gave me chills a decade ago… just like it did this time.

8/10

Related:

Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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