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

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Film Index

Best of 2019 | #8 – Stath Lets Flats

stath lets flats jamie demetriou natasia ellie white al roberts kiell smith-bynoe channel 4 letting agent brexit

Last year, Stath Lets Flats didn’t make my top ten. I included it under honourable mentions – almost, but not quite, good enough for the list. This year, I think it might be one of the straightforwardly funniest shows I’ve seen all year.

Yesterday, I was talking about Derry Girls as being one of the most distinct comedies on television at the moment, comparing it to Fleabag and This Way Up. I almost said it was more distinct than Stath Lets Flats, too, before something gave me pause. Where Derry Girls is recognisably different from its contemporaries and easily distinguished from its predecessors, Stath Lets Flats is, well, unrecognisably different. It’s not hard to highlight influences on either – Derry Girls is a little bit like The Inbetweeners, and lots of people have pointed out that Stath Lets Flats is a bit like The Office or Alan Partridge. (I would contend that Stath himself is maybe not a million miles away from Mr Bean, actually.)

But where it’s relatively easy to explain what Derry Girls does distinctly – quite how specific its voice is – for the most part, its humour and its rhythms are pretty easily understood. Stath Lets Flats, on the other hand? It’s often quite difficult to articulate exactly how funny it is after fact: it isn’t so much that explaining the joke ruins it, but that it’s really hard to explain the joke in the first place.

Part of the appeal – the easiest bit to explain – is Jamie Demetriou. He’s front and centre in Stath Lets Flats – obviously he is, as creator, writer and star. One of the first things you notice about Demetriou is how tall he is; the next is how good he is at physical comedy. It’s not subtle, exactly, but it is a constant feature in the background – lanky and gangling, watch how he folds in and out of cars or fumbles his energy drink. In fact, the recurring energy drink joke that opens the second episode is probably the best example of what Stath Lets Flats is and what it’s good at. If you don’t enjoy that, you’re probably not going to enjoy the show full stop.

The other thing about Stath Lets Flats is the language. This is where it gets a bit more difficult to articulate exactly what’s going on with Stath, because just on a basic level, the way the title character talks is almost entirely like any other character on television. Sam Wolfson called it “almost his own language, a creole of north London slang, Greek idioms and the patois of ineptitude”, which is a neat way of putting it, but still doesn’t quite capture the almost lyrical nonsense of Stath Lets Flats. Sarah Manavis wrote probably the best piece of Stath’s dialogue I’ve seen so far: how the recognisable slang chafes against unexpected vocabulary, a tenuous, disjointed echo of something you’re faintly familiar with. It’s not, as Manavis points out, a million miles away from internet shitposting. Or, put another way? If The Good Place is the sort of programme that would try and fail to make a joke about 30-50 feral hogs, Stath Lets Flats is the sort of programme that would make a joke that taps into the same sense of humour – and make it work. It’s probably the only sitcom on television that could make that claim: a whole mode of comedy, otherwise completely untapped on screen. That’s something special, no matter how you try and sell it.

The eccentric, off-kilt lead is but one part of an eccentric, off-kilt ensemble of course. The obvious standouts are Natasia Demetriou and Al Roberts – their almost romance and sweet chemistry is one of the best parts of the show – but often it’s the less prominent supporting characters who really shine, like Kiell Smith-Bynoe as Dean, the closest thing to a straight-man the show can manage. My personal favourite, though, has to be Ellie White (Natasia Demetriou’s frequent collaborator and comedy partner) who, as Katya, is a perfect foil to Stath. Probably one of the most obvious improvements between the first and second series – other than the sense that all involved are now a lot more confident in what they’re doing – is the fact that Katya shows up more often in series 2.

There’s been an instinct, amongst some, to suggest that Stath Lets Flats is a parable for the Brexit age. It resonates, yes, and it’s not hard to see how or why – I’m fairly sure the cast and crew did a twitter thread about how each character voted a few weeks ago, though I can’t find it now.

But that’s almost missing the point. Stath Lets Flats doesn’t need to be “about” anything to be worthwhile – indeed, Jamie Demetriou said it’s about everything apart from Brexit. It’s valuable because it’s one of the most idiosyncratic, most original, and funniest shows of the year. No wonder it made this list.

Click here to find the rest of the Best of 2019 list – or, click here to filter by television shows and here to filter by television episodes

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Television Index