In a year of outstanding cinema, the act of choosing between films and ranking them is always hard. It is like splitting hairs; 2019’s films offered some of the most subtly profound stories and some of the most ambitious concepts. From the swivelling kinetic energy of Waves which paints a refreshing take on the tragedies of Black excellence to the steady flames of desire in Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, 2019’s best films dazzle in their own unique rapture. 2019’s most powerful films brought about a perceptive quality on our discordant state in an even more fractured world, What else can we do for want of a better life? In 2019’s most subversive animated film, I Lost My Body, the metamorphosis of body and identity leads one to profound realization; In Honey Boy, trauma never leaves but it does offer passage for healing. Central to the theme of identity is the fact that inequality pervades institution, where so many of us feel trapped in the machinery of class and power. Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite and Jordan Peele’s Us create films that are emblematic of our times; These are visceral and explicit realizations of metaphors…class disparity is a literal separation of space…basements and undergrounds house those who we systemically ignore and leave behind. The intrinsic violence in class structure and disparity has rarely been so shockingly portrayed.
Without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2019.
Dolemite Is My Name, Joker, Monos, Atlantics, The Lighthouse, High Flying Bird,
10. Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s follow-up to an emotionally resonant debut in Lady Bird is a refreshing take on a classic novel. The ingenious melding of past and present emphasizes the ever-present struggles of women throughout the years. Shattering the dichotomy of siding with any of the sisters, Little Women’s empathetic portrayals are a testament to all women, their shared joys, struggles and aspirations. Little Women’s feel-good yet realistic juxtapositions of a woman’s negotiations between life and love, career and family are powerfully depicted and extremely moving.
Never has a film been so explicit about the inherent violence and damage present in class disparity than Jordan Peele’s extremely provocative horror satire, Us. I’d contend that people either fail to understand the metaphors or are well aware of it but are too afraid to probe for further contemplation. What’s so great is how Jordan Peele presents the ignorance and damage that has shaped society since its inception where we are afraid to confront our own complicity in the deprivation of others. The damage this has done to deprived communities lacking access is never so powerfully and hauntingly portrayed on screen. ‘Who are you?’.
Doppelganger family: ‘We are Americans.’
8. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
A slow-burn of repressed desire gives way to the intense fires of passion. In Celine Sciamma’s heart-wrenching depiction of an artist being commissioned to paint a young women who recently left the convent and is about to be married off, this is an exquisite foray into identity, security and affection. There is an unshakable foreshadowing of life’s eventual paths for these two women. And despite this, their relationship is a tribute to love’s eternal nature where even the transience of connection and warmth is everlasting and worth fighting for.
7. Honey Boy
Alma Ha’rel and Shia LaBeouf’s intensely auto-biographical story of Shia’s personal childhood is fraught with trauma. Playing his father, Shia LaBeouf adds new vicarious meaning for both the audience and for himself, as he admits that this is a form of therapy for him. In one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, Honey Boy is dazzling, transcendent and so personal. In projecting his pain for us on screen, we relive and confront our own demons. The trauma is past and the trauma is now. But hopefully, like Honey Boy’s suggests, the ever-presence of life grants us the difficult but liberating act of letting it go.
In what is dubbed by some to be the ‘Moonlight’ of 2019, I find it to be a serious mis-characterization that does both films no justice. Far from any film of its kind, Waves is a groundbreaking film that portrays a successful Black American family in crises. Going against the grain of portraying Black Americans struggling in deprivation, this is a perceptive study of Black excellence and its struggle, in and of itself, in modern day society. From over-bearing fathers to the stigma of male fragility, Waves is a stunning and heart-breaking film about how the accumulation of small cracks can pave the way for devastating consequences. Lush, visceral, experimental and plot-defying, Waves is as unconventional in style and substance. But what it leaves you with is the very reality of life itself, and the grace that we so desperately need when everything falls apart. Not a day goes by without thinking about this film.
5. Uncut Gems
In the Safdie Brothers, we see film-makers who push the boundaries of story-telling. Their follow-up to Good Time is an even more adrenaline-fueled depiction of their protagonist in flux. Adam Sandler plays Howard, a Jeweller in New York’s diamond district where he places riskier bets in a series of self-inflicted predicaments. With a backdrop of flickering synths, the frenzy of frenetic energy and the mania within Howard’s rapid economy of risk and reward, Uncut Gems portrays a man whose sole game is equally his own undoing as it is indelibly linked to the Jewish lineage with the diamond industry. In this extremely tense and anxious-inducing film, the Safdie Brothers give voice to each and every character, roping in first-time actors (as is their style) and celebrities (The Weeknd and Basketball legend Kevin Garnett) that pervades the film with an unmistakable sense of reality. With immaculate performances from the supporting cast and a singular showcase from Adam Sandler (whose performance shatters traditionally passive depictions of the Jewish protagonist and marks him as an icon of new-age noir), Uncut Gems is one of the most tense and devastating films I’ve ever seen.
4. I Lost My Body
This quirky little French animated film speaks volumes in what it leaves unsaid. It does not infantilize its audience. It allows us to dwell in lingering images and unspoken emotions. With an amusing and exhilarating side-story of a seemingly self-aware severed-hand, I Lost My Body uses a magical sense of intrigue to contrast the hard-hitting depictions of its main story. A collision of seemingly disparate images and plots emphasize the conflict between past and present, and the intensely personal struggle of fate and personal will. It is an eclectic story of friendship, alienation, self-determination. But most of all, it is so very moving.
Bong Joon-Ho’s mind-boggling deconstruction of space and reconstruction of class co-existence results in a tense microcosm of society within a single house. It is a piercing tragicomedy on the social class divide; A painful and exacting portrait of the inherent inequalities of our world and how we’re both victims and perpetrators in this irreconcilable divide.
2. So Long, My Son
To say I was blown away is an understatement. Spanning three generations of family and the tumultuous shifts of history from The Cultural Revolution to the One-child policy to the rapid economic expansion of modern China, this is a staggering film that is at once intensely personal and tremendously steeped in the wider socio-economic forces at play. At every step of the way, the film accurately captures the brutality of bureaucracy on Chinese lives, the dehumanization of community over three generations and the turmoil of internal rebellion. The devastation of China’s One-child policy permeates this intimate portrait of family and guilt, where individual agency and personhood are excruciatingly connected to and shattered by the brutal hegemony of public interest. So Long My Son is so heart-wrenching; A truly staggering film.
1. The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open
The most astonishing film from 2019. In the span of an afternoon, a chance encounter between two Indigenous women begin with apprehensive embrace and end with lingering uncertainty. The only constant in this depiction of womanhood in flux is the transient bond of friendship and empathy. In heartbreaking fashion, the film characterizes the insistence of female strength as the only constant in the discordant and dangerous unknown of our world. It is at once so minimalist yet so powerful. Depicting these two women in raw and uncompromising light, it is steeped in the untenable realities of institutional injustices that has continued to affect Indigenous women the most, this searing film finds empowerment and agency in giving voice to the marginalized. Directed and acted by (Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn and Violet Nelson), this is one of the most refreshing and powerful films I’ve ever seen and it absolutely tore me apart.
- The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open
- So Long, My Son
- I Lost My Body
- Uncut Gems
- Honey Boy
- Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
- Little Women
What are your favourite movies of 2019? Let me know in the comments!