As 2019 winds to a close Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back at his top ten films of the year in a list that covers everything from heroes to anti-heroes and all stops in between
If 2018 was the year that that saw the effects of #Metoo unfurl in Hollywood and found The Favourite, Roma and If Beale Street Could Talk storming the Oscars with a slew of outstanding female roles, then 2019 was the year of the biopics.
Elton John, Jimmy Hoffa, Laurel and Hardy, Rudi Ray Moore, Mr Rogers, Ted Bundy and Tolkien all got the big-screen treatment and they weren’t the only ones.
Starting from scratch with superhero reboots, winding down sagas in the worlds of Marvel and Star Wars and major players turning to Netflix to find new audiences and possibly alienate their die-hards made the year far from a snoozefest.
It was without a doubt the year of the Joker, the supervillain retelling that took even the most anti comic book audiences by surprise and lay to waste the much-anticipated Endgame, proving to be the most astounding comic character dissection to date.
It was an unusually prolific year for horror with stalwart Stephen King’s second It instalment and Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep proving to be as exhilarating as Jordan Peele’s Get Out follow up Us.
The Wicker Man-esque Midsommar and the Sam Raimi produced Crawl gave us something new to hide our eyes from but perhaps the most surprising and satisfying horror flick of the year may have been The Banana Splits Movie that saw the loveable psychedelic Hanna Barbera animal band resort to homicidal axe-wielding maniacs in a gorefest that would make Herschell Gordon Lewis proud.
Despite major criticisms for their bid for world domination, Disney have shown little sign of flagging with their non- Marvel / Star Wars output, busting the box office with the return of Woody, Simba, Aladdin, Dumbo and Olaf the snowman.
Tried and tested but ultimately uninspiring.
And so to the Top Ten, guaranteed to cause major kickoffs across the land but for what it’s worth its just opinion and half the magic of cinema is how it divides us.
So, to infinity and beyond…
10. Spiderman: Far From Home
In a year that found Marvel becoming darker than ever with the frankly dour Endgame and courting somewhat obvious controversy with Captain Marvel, it was something of a relief to find a film that reminded us of why we love these characters after all.
Spiderman: Far from Home is perhaps the most solidly entertaining outing for the web-slinger since Sam Raimi’s first Spidey outing back in 2002. Tom Holland has already nestled into our collective hearts as the most Peter like Parker yet and this excursion to Europe takes us as far away from the heavy story arc of the MCU as we can get. It’s exciting, spectacular, funny and builds Petey’s relationships with his genuinely likeable ensemble classmates.
Gimmicky outfits can’t take away the joy of seeing Spidey swinging his way across Europe protecting his extended neighbourhood. It’s as light as the old Spiderman cartoon series and right now that’s what we need.
Following the success of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Dexter Fletchers Elton John biopic divided audiences but in turn, reminded audiences that for every sacrifice or Circle of Life there was a Daniel or a Your Song.
Elton is portrayed as a recovering alcoholic, brilliantly played by Kingsman’s Taron Egerton, looking back on his life via a series of Ken Russell style set pieces, more a musical than a biopic to be fair.
The similarities to Russell’s equally dividing Who project Tommy are unavoidable, particularly as Elton himself appeared in the former via the iconic Pinball Wizard sequence. As Bohemian Rhapsody before, Rocketman taps into the hidden fan within that we may have suppressed for many a year.
This current trend for hagiology of big hitters of yesteryear brings a refreshing sense of uncool that is unavoidably appealing and in the case of Rocketman adds an extra £30 to your Asda big shop by way of impulse buying of compilation CDs and autobiographies.
Guilty pleasures were never so much fun.
8. Stan and Ollie
Another biopic, but a much gentler example of nostalgic storytelling.
The big surprise here was Jon S Baird’s decision to focus on Laurel and Hardy’s later years as they tour half-empty British theatres, still hugely shocking considering their impeccable cinematic output of previous years.
Whilst the appeal here is the eerily accurate portrayal by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, perhaps the most satisfying aspect that remains long after viewing is the revelation of Stan as the driving force behind the success of the duo. The bittersweet emotional rollercoaster sees a resurgence of popularity as audiences grow, played against the tragedy of Ollie’s failing health and inevitable retirement.
Behind all the predictable bickering surfaces a story of love and respect which ultimately was the secret of their success. Bring tissues.
7. Doctor Sleep
Hot on the heels of the incredible Stanley Kubrick exhibition at London’s Design Museum comes possibly the ultimate Kubrick cinema tribute. Watching The Shining again only cements the fact that despite Stephen King’s dismissal of Kubrick’s vision, it remains one of the greatest horror pics of all time.
Strangely, despite the author’s protestations, Mike Flanagan has succeeded where Kubrick failed, to impress King, whilst providing an identikit homage to the original movie rather than King’s own inferior remake.
Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of the grown-up Danny Torrance works, despite looking nothing like him. Finding himself in a grown-up world of fellow Shiners and the fiendish True Knot, (grown-up death eaters), what follows is an uneven mix of two very different films.
A mix of 1990s X Files and a Best of The Shining somehow manages to work an absolute treat, and even if the climax is nothing short of stoopid, it ultimately satisfies. Having seen The Shining lovingly recreated in both Passengers and Ready Player One, this really is the real deal.
Not perfect but close enough for repeated viewings.
6. Dolemite is my Name
With Netflix hosting such legends as Scorsese and the Coen’s recently, it was no surprise to see Eddie Murphy relaunching his career here. Considering the best thing he’s done in the last 20 years was voicing Donkey in the Shrek movies, a comeback at 58 was always going to be a gamble but its paid off majorly.
A comic retelling of the unlikely rise to success of Rudy Ray Moore will have Murphy fans searching for clips of Moore’s most famous creation, Dolemite, surely an influence on Murphy’s own early stand-up.
The journey from struggling stand-up, pioneering comedy rapper and exploitation film star makes for an interesting and hilarious ride and Craig Brewer’s attention to detail in set, costume and soundtrack makes for a beautiful tribute to the Blaxploitation genre.
Comparisons with Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss!, the story of his father Melvin’s experiences in making Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song are often painfully close, particularly when Dolemite the movie struggles to find an audience, but this is a much lighter movie that never takes itself too seriously. It still manages to pull at the heartstrings however and is one of the most unlikely success stories of the year.
5. Sometimes Always Never
Home-grown cinema doesn’t come any more charming than Carl Hunter’s comedy-drama, filmed largely around Crosby and Formby and starring Bill Nighy, in one of his warmest roles yet. An unexpected treat, filmed stylistically with surreal interiors and unconvincing back projections, the film still manages to retain a level of realism to enable you to connect with the characters.
The story revolves around a scrabble enthusiast’s mission to track down his missing grandson. Nighy’s character is also a tailor, specialising in Modish three-button jackets which give the film its quirky title. Collaborating once more with his North Liverpool neighbour Frank Cottrell Boyce, his co-writer on 2007’s brilliant Liverpool comedy Grow Your Own, the Farm’s bassist has created an almost theatrical screenplay that sits perfectly with the off-kilter imagery and immediately recalls the work of Terence Davies, something of an accolade there.
With a cast that includes Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnery, Sam Riley and Alexei Sayle it’s definitely a gem of a film worth seeking out and sharing. Very smart.
Jordan Peele is on the cusp of becoming one of the major players in American cinema right now.
His collaboration with Spike Lee on Blackklansman felt very much like an exercise in baton passing, but unlike Lee’s recent uneven cinematic output, Peele is hitting the mark every time and creating a new Black Cinema to be reckoned with. 2017’s Get Out was voted Sight and Sound’s film of the year and deservedly so, Us follows a similar path with a predominantly black cast in a Twilight Zone plot, pleasing both the unknowing horror crowds and those looking for a film with a conscience.
Issues of identity and slavery once more come to the fore as a nuclear family come face to face with themselves on holiday and for one member of the family, the past comes back with a mighty bite. Some genuine scares satisfy on many levels but it is the tight script, the exhilarating editing and the central performances, particularly Lupita Nyong’o as the tormented Mother that stand out and make Us special.
Peele is fast becoming the director who we will be eagerly awaiting every next move, despite mixed reactions to his actual Twilight Zone reboot.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Following the hugely disappointing and frankly yawnsome Hateful Eight, Tarantino hit back this year with perhaps his best film since Pulp Fiction. Yes the unnecessarily long passages of dialogue remain, the less than celebratory portrayal of female characters and lingering tootsie shots, but we do get a decent plot, a killer soundtrack the likes of which we’ve not heard from in a QT film in 20 years and above all a great looking movie.
He embraces the California hippy scene with a passion, everybody looks beautiful and Pitt and DiCaprio shine as a brilliant double act. The tale of an actor, a stuntman and Charles Manson works to almost perfection despite a bizarre twist that echoes the climax of Inglorious Basterds and provides the only real instance of trademark violence in the entire film.
Margot Robbie as an almost silent Sharon Tate possibly steals the show and the fact that Tarantino could be nearing the end of his career feels all the more saddening as he finds his mojo once more. Tarantino has proved that he is not ready for pasture yet and there is more fun than thrills to be had in this bonafide return to form.
2. The Irishman
An end of year event movie to rival the final Star Wars chapter but one that may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Scorsese has had his dealings with Netflix before via his exhaustive music docs, but this is the Scorsese movie we’ve all been waiting for since Casino and the double whammy of cinema and Netflix release has guaranteed maximum exposure.
The only trouble being that his ensemble cast have aged a fair whack since 1995 and making DeNiro, Pesci, Keitel and Pacino look like Youngfellas doesn’t quite fit. Where the faces just about cut the mustard, the bodies don’t follow. If you can look past this irritating factor you might have the most exciting Scorsese pic in years.
Following the true story of New York Union man Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) during the build-up to his assassination, we get the usual disjointed narrative, Italian American grace and a soundtrack to die for, DeNiro delivers by the truckload (literally) and the 210 min running time kind of flies by.
Is it the Goodfellas for the Netflix generation? Probably not, but it’s highly likely the last time this bunch of heroes will grace our screens together so for that reason alone it’s a need to celebrate. Scorsese’s Endgame.
It’s the obvious choice but it’s also the only real game-changer this year. Brightburn paved the way for the DC Dark Universe and was hugely satisfying for many, but where that film offered an alternative route for Superman, Joker just a well-trod story more realistically with a killer punch.
Joaquin Phoenix obviously stands out in the performance of his career but it’s the poetic direction of Todd Phillips that allows Batman’s greatest foe to flourish. Taking inspiration from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, both solid slow burners and presenting the film as a rare supervillain period piece, complete with retro Warners logo is inspired.
It’s more a story of mental illness and social neglect as a comic book caper, which is why the movie rose way above any other adaption this year. We certainly more readily accept the demise of a neglected man leading to his rise to power than the same figure falling into a vat of acid, and it is this socio-realistic approach that makes this film a game-changer. For once, it could happen.
It’s also a movie for the troubled times we live in, if it inspires us to fly in the face of our oppressors and God knows they exist right now, well the film has succeeded. What remains is the question, is the Joker a villain or an anti-hero?