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Our favourite films of 2019

Avengers: Endgame

Feature by Rob Carnevale

2019 proved to be a good year for movies, with both the blockbusters and the awards contenders offering up plenty to get excited and impressed by.

On the awards front, the year began with the likes of Green Book, The Favourite (which we missed!) and Vice and drew to a close with the likes of Todd Phillips’ Joker and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (which we are still looking forward to seeing).

The blockbusters, meanwhile, saw Marvel go from strength to strength with the likes of Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel, Disney set records for box office takings (courtesy of Marvel, Toy Story 4 and its live-action remakes), and Quentin Tarantino make a critically-acclaimed comeback with Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood (another we missed).

But which, if any, made our favourite films of the year?



The Mule

12) The Mule

What’s the story? Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is in a tough financial situation in his old age and facing a mountain of debt. He decides to overcome this by becoming a carrier of drugs for a cartel, which brings him closer to his estranged family – but at a cost.

Why so good?: Any return to the screen by Eastwood is worth getting excited about and while The Mule doesn’t rate as highly as, say, Gran Torino, it’s still a richly rewarding character study that has plenty to say about the nature of masculinity, family and atoning for past [and present] sins. Eastwood is superb as the not always likeable Earl, whose slow immersion into the cartel initially brings wealth and happiness, but quickly turns to danger. And the screen icon is beautifully supported by a star-studded ensemble, including Bradley Cooper as the lawman on his trail, Dianne Wiest as his estranged wife, Ignacio Serricchio as a sympathetic cartel member and Eugene Cordero as an informant.



Spider-Man: Far From Home

11) Spider-Man: Far From Home

What’s the story? Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is still coming to terms with the loss of his mentor [Iron Man], as well as his new place in the Avengers, and opts for a class trip to Europe, where instead he can be a kid again and tell MJ (Zendaya) how he feels about her. But Earth is soon facing a new threat from the Elementals, who wreak death and destruction wherever they surface, and who – according to Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), the superhero who has followed them – could bring about another catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions.

Why so good: Much like one of its central characters, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a film that deceives on many levels – and is all the more enjoyable for it. For while, on the surface, this would appear to be a breezy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the wake of the far heavier, more epic Avengers: Endgame, there’s actually a lot going on: emotionally, thematically and furthering the bigger picture… It’s only really when reflecting on Far From Home from a distance that you appreciate just how much… as well as how much of a barnstorming time you’ve had taking the journey.

Read the review



Captain Marvel

10) Captain Marvel

What’s the story? The rise of the MCU’s most powerful female character takes the form of a mystery wrapped in an origins story, as Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) attempts to discover who she is and understand her powers in the process.

Why so good? Captain Marvel is another winning entry into the MCU, with Larson emerging as a highly appealing kick-ass heroine with brains to match her brawn. She’s witty, she’s passionate, she’s resolute and – crucially – she boasts a tremendous humanity over and above her special powers. The writer-director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have crafted a superhero entry that’s by turns proudly feminist, joyfully retro and equal parts character study and big event movie. There’s even the odd neatly executed twist, as well as a kick-ass soundtrack (which also places female fronted bands to the fore). If anything, Captain Marvel gets better the more times you see it, to fully appreciate what’s going on.

Read our review



John Wick 3

9) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

What’s the story? Picking up mere seconds from where the second film left off, Parabellum finds Keanu Reeves’ hero in a rain-swept New York, looking to patch himself up and searching for unlikely allies – or unpaid markers. Yet having been rendered ‘ex-communicado’ by Ian McShane’s hotel manager Winston, for gunning down a member of the High Table, help is in short supply. And when it comes, it comes with a price…

Why so good? The third instalment in the John Wick franchise is a wildly entertaining action epic that embraces its own ridiculousness to rip-roaring effect. Breathless, relentless, punishing, yet stylish, Chad Stahelski’s third entry hits the ground literally running and barely allows you to stop to catch breath. And yet, it also manages to expand the world that its central character inhabits, while bringing in a new set of fascinating players.

Read our review



Vice

8) Vice

What’s the story? The rise and rise of former US Vice President Dick Cheney, the real power behind the throne of the George W Bush administration.

Why so good? Adam McKay, of Anchorman and The Big Short fame, takes aim at former US Vice President Dick Cheney with spectacularly vitriolic results in Vice, a no holds barred take down anchored by a mesmerising central performance from Christian Bale. Eschewing the conventions of a more traditional, even balanced, biopic, McKay’s satire instead opts to go for the jugular of its subject, with hilariously grisly and yet damningly tragic results… Vice won’t appeal to all (some will brand it nothing less than liberal propaganda). But it’s fearless in exposing a dark chapter in US history that continues to have widespread, even chilling repercussions for the world as we know it today. As much as you may find yourself laughing, there’s something haunting in the film’s legacy too.

Read our review



Toy Story 4

7) Toy Story 4

What’s the story? Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang embark on a road trip with Bonnie and a new toy named Forky. The adventurous journey turns into an unexpected reunion as Woody’s slight detour leads him to his long-lost friend Bo Peep. But as Woody and Bo discuss the old days, they soon start to realize that they’re worlds apart when it comes to what they want from life as a toy.

Why so good? Taken at face value, Toy Story 4 might seem like an unnecessary addition to the beloved Pixar franchise that is simply content to retread old ground. But that would be to grossly underestimate the many themes at play. As well as the usual separation anxiety and ruminations on the value of toys, there’s also a newfound sense of what it is to grow up (for the toys as much as the adults) and to take life into your own hands. As such, it’s existential, while also nodding to the difficulty of parenting in the modern era. It’s still fun, of course, and wildly inventive. While the characters are a blast: whether old or new. But when combining all of the elements that make it so successful, director Josh Cooley ensures that a really good fourth entry into the Toy Story franchise can – like its predecessors – truly be regarded as great.

Read our review



Booksmart

6) Booksmart

What’s the story? Molly (Beanie Feldstein, younger sister of Jonah Hill) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) are two high school best friends and nerds, who are about to graduate and are proud of the fact they’ve worked harder to do so than any of their classmates, at the expense of going out and partying. But following a moment of revelation, in which it is cruelly revealed that their fellow students have indeed had a great time while also getting into Yale and Stanford, Molly and Amy resolve that they need to make up for lost time and seek out the ultimate night of partying.

Why so good? It would be easy to describe, or even dismiss, coming-of-age comedy Booksmart as a female version of Superbad. But that would be doing Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut a huge disservice. Rather, the film takes some familiar genre elements and mixes them up a little, delivering something that feels fresh, occasionally subversive yet – at times – as moving as it is outrageous. It’s a comedy with plenty of smarts that boasts terrific performances from its two leading ladies. Wilde also marks herself out as a female filmmaker to watch.

Read our review



Stan & Ollie

5) Stan and Ollie

What’s the story? Comedy greats Laurel and Hardy (Steve Coogan and John C Reilly) face an uncertain future as their golden era of Hollywood films remain long behind them. Diminished by age, the duo set out to reconnect with their adoring fans by touring variety halls in Britain in 1953. The shows become an instant hit, but the duo can’t quite shake the past as long-buried tensions and Hardy’s failing health start to threaten their partnership.

Why so good? Jon S Baird’s affectionate tribute to the genius of Laurel & Hardy is as heart-warming as it is tear-jerking – and a film that successfully ensures their legend will live on. It’s also marked out by two outstanding performances from Coogan and Reilly, whose portrayal of the comedic duo is spot-on. Avoiding the pitfalls of a more traditional biopic, Baird’s film opts to focus on the twilight of their career, when the triumphs were harder earned and the success story was far more bittersweet. But while tragic in places, his film deftly combines some of their classic humour with a genuinely involving human story that dares to peak below the bowler hats and take a look at the real men who wore them.

Read our review



Green Book

4) Green Book

What’s the story? The story takes its inspiration from the true story of two polar opposites: Tony Lip and Donald Shirley (played, respectively, by Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali). The former is an Italian-American muscle man, the latter a renowned pianist. Both live in New York. When Shirley decides to undertake a tour in America’s deep south towards the end of 1962, he hires Lip to be his chauffeur and guide. Yet while initially mindful of each other’s differences, a begrudging respect slowly begins to develop that eventually blossoms into a friendship.

Why so good? For all of the criticisms surrounding it (over-simplification of race issues, inaccuracy complaints from Shirley’s family), this year’s Oscar winner for Best Film, Green Book, is the type of movie that has the potential to begin to repair a broken world, just by acknowledging its frailties and offering some kind of hope for change. Mortensen and Ali are immense. Neither men are afraid to present themselves as unlikeable, at times. Yet they are given the space to explore their complexities and to grow… Green Book therefore remains one of the must-see movies of the year, driven by two of the finest actors working in America today.

Read our review



Joker

3) Joker

What’s the story? Failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

Why so good? Todd Phillips delivers another hangover of a movie in Joker, albeit one where the laughs are few and far between and the messages fly thick, fast and in grim, disturbing fashion. Much less a comic book movie and more a sly, insightful piece of social commentary, this pulls off an incredibly neat trick by framing a cautionary tale about mental health within the single most watched film genre of the moment. That’s not to say that it turns its back on the universe in which it exists, feeding into Batman folklore in masterful fashion. But in a move worthy of the Joker’s own ability to toy with people’s psychology, this film confronts difficult subject matter, challenges contemporary morality and ethics and leaves you with a head-spinning conundrum… Hence, Joker is a film to admire more than like. But it shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a massively impressive, highly intelligent, openly provocative and ferociously performed masterpiece.

Read our full review



Avengers: Endgame

1) Avengers: Endgame

What’s the story? The story picks up in the wake of the devastating Thanos finger click that ended Infinity War, as the surviving Avengers – led by series stalwarts Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) – regroup, lick their wounds and try and find a way of undoing that tragedy and bringing back their fallen friends. Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned and there’s much playing around to be had in the quantum realm, most of which involves time travel.

Why so good? Whether or not you’ve seen any of the preceding 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is one undeniable fact. Avengers: Endgame is a cinematic achievement unlike any other. And it is a gift… a thank you to those fans who have taken the journey. And for every single one of its 181 minutes (or three hours, plus a minute), it engages: whether exhilarating when it needs to, adopting a more sombre tone than Marvel is more commonly associated with, revisiting past hits, or tugging at the tear-ducts. It has a little bit of everything. The film has rightly become the highest-grossing movie of all time (finally beating Avatar‘s record) and, in my humble opinion, provides proof of why this Marvel cinematic universe offers more than just ‘theme’ park cinema [as begrudgingly written off by a certain Martin Scorsese].

Read our review



Knives Out

1) Knives Out

What’s the story? A renowned sleuth named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously hired to attend the New England mansion of world-famous crime writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), whose 85th birthday party ended with his apparent suicide. Convinced there has been foul play, Blanc spends the next few days in the company of his family, observing and questioning all present to try and establish a suspect from amid the myriad of motives.

Why so good? Rian Johnson is a masterful writer-director and his latest, Knives Out, provides plenty of evidence to support this. An homage to the classic whodunit crime writing of Agatha Christie, this also subverts expectation at every opportunity, drops in some wry social commentary and allows a star-studded ensemble cast to revel in the type of role they’re not usually associated with. In short, Knives Out is a sharp romp of a film that delights from first frame to last.

Read our review

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