There were many films/documentaries released in 2019, where each of these, could’ve been the best of the year but ultimately lost out to the deserving winners. We, at The Cinemawala, bring you 15 such gems. Enjoy!
Les Miserables – Directed by Ladj Ly
A stunning French film, nothing to do with Hugo, well, sort of exploring crime in the great city of Paris. Electrifying. Directed by Ladj Ly, it is inspired from the 2005 Paris riots. Exploring the relationship of the criminal underworld of France with the system that consistently feeds on societal inequality.
Booksmart – Directed by Olivia Wilde
Two high school friends realize their quest to get into great colleges has robbed them of the youth their friends and enemies had, and they too got into great colleges and six-figure jobs. Superbly directed by Olivia Wilde, this coming-of-the-age movie stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever in the leading characters of Molly and Amy, who go on a night of mayhem to celebrate everything they have missed out in high school.
Ad Astra – Directed by James Gray
Brad Pitt’s other great performance as an astronaut who goes to find his father in deep space. Directed by James Gray, the film is demanding, but rewarding. Beautifully acted by the cast. Gray remains utterly fearless.
A Hidden Life – Directed by Terrence Malick
It is a beautifully crafted film from the constant creator of works of shameless self-indulgence and artistic masturbation, Terrence Malick. This represents a fine return to form in the telling of the true story of a peaceful Austrian farmer, portrayed by August Diehl who refuses to sign allegiance to Hitler and the Nazi party, drawing unwanted attention to his family, earning the scorn of his village. Crafted with care, the film beautifully explores the connection to the land of the villagers, who plant, harvest and live off their crops and cannot imagine the Nazis in the midst like a plague of locusts.
Dolemite is My Name – Directed by Craig Brewer
Eddie Murphy gives one of the years very best performances as a real life blaxploitation pioneer who believed there was an audience for films about black Americans, starring black Americans, about black Americans. Murphy is brilliant, truly, doing his greatest onscreen work since ‘Dreamgirls’ (2006) for which he was absolutely robbed of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Very funny, but honest in its depiction of the rise of African Americans in film.
Midsommar – Directed by Ari Aster
Ari Aster lays claim to new great horror Director with this bizarre film anchored by an absolutely astounding performance from Florence Pugh. She is Dani, mired in grief after the deaths of her entire family. Taken to Sweden by her boyfriend, the group enter a strange world of tradition and cult-like behaviour. Made more frightening by the fact the sun never goes down, there is literally no escape, nor anywhere to hide.
Apollo 11 – Directed by Todd Douglas Miller
If possible see this on an IMAX screen. Using recently recovered footage, this movie traces the launch that climaxed with Armstrong walking on the moon. First Man (2018) did a brilliant job capturing the emotion of the event, this film captures the facts, but uses them in such a way to create a thrilling, informative work.
Yesterday – Directed by Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle directed this gentle fable about a young East Indian Brit musician who after a sudden power blackout and bumping his head, awakens to a world where no one knows of the rock band The Beatles. In this new world, John, Paul, George and Ringo exist but were never the Fab Four from Liverpool. Our hero then starts singing their songs and passing himself as the writer. Overnight he is hailed the greatest songwriter in music. Represented by a blood-sucking hellion he comes to realize he does not want the fame, but to live in a world where the Beatles do not Exist? That is unimaginable.
The Lighthouse – Directed by Robert Eggers
Robert Eggers directed this haunting film that might be a ghost story, might explore creatures from the sea of could just be a descent into madness brought on by loneliness and isolation. Robert Pattinson is superb as the young man escaping a past hoping the lighthouse provides him escape. As the crusty old sea dog who is his superior, Willem Dafoe is equally fine, cackling out his performance in a curious Melville-esquire speak. Stunningly photographed in crisp black and white, the sights and sounds become secondary characters.
Blinded By the Light – Directed by Gurinder Chadha
When a teenaged Pakistan Brit listens to Bruce Springsteen for the first time he feels the blue-collar rocker is speaking directly to him. Seeking something better, though he does not necessarily know what, the look on his face as Springsteen’s tunes enter his mind, the lyrics whirling about on the screen, he finds his own voice. The terrific little film that brings about greater understanding of the profound music of The Boss.
Just Mercy – Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Rock-solid courtroom drama based on a true story featuring stellar performances from Michael B. Jordan, an extraordinary Jamie Foxx and in a supporting role which fits her like a well worn glove, Brie Larson. Jordan is an idealistic Harvard grad who, rather then go for big money in cities, gets a government grant to defend those who cannot afford good legal presentation. Foxx is alarmingly good portraying an innocent man on death row, living in a southern town predominantly white, meaning hevstands no chance. A biting indictment of racism and a fine exploration of humanity.
Richard Jewell – Directed by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood directed this solid, powerful film of a man very nearly destroyed by the FBI and media. Jewell, portrayed beautifully by Paul Walter Hauser became the prime suspect of planting a bag which exploded during the Olympics after reporting finding it. The media went to work on ruining him, until a cocky lawyer, superbly acted by Sam Rockwell gets involved. Kathy Bates is sublime as the mother of the accused man. Not the greatest of Eastwood’s career, but very good.
Rocketman – Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Taron Edgerton is electrifying as pop star Elton John in this sort of biography that uses the music of John like a juke box musical, commenting throughout on his life. The film explores his long relationship with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) who wrote the lyrics to his early work, that triumphant debut in LA at the Troubador, his rise to fame in wild costumes and ever changing and more flamboyant sun glasses, addictions and his suicide attempt. Edgerton is stunning as Elton, doing his own singing, which last year’s Oscar winner, as Freddie Mercury did not do. Deserving of at least a nomination for Best Actor, it would be tragic if he were left out just because an inferior performance won last year portraying a rock star.
Motherless Brooklyn – Directed by Edward Norton
A sprawling film noir, not perfect, nicely acted, directed and written by Edward Norton. His performance as a young investigator with Tourette’s syndrome is among the finest work of his career, a jittery, verbal explosion of sounds and tics he cannot control. Seeking answers to the murder of his boss and friend takes him high into the corrupt world of fifties New York City. Alec Baldwin is a force of nature as a potential villain, but the film belongs to Norton truly one of the greatest actors in movies. I saw the film at TIFF and a few cuts were necessary, but over all I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Western Stars – Directed by Bruce Springsteen
A lovely, thoughtful documentary about Bruce Springsteen and his latest album, Western Stars. The Boss co-directed the film, which explores where the songs come from, his past, America, life, love as Springsteen sees it, writes about it and sings it. Brutally honest about his lifelong bout with depression, he frankly opens up about his own self destructive nature, finding a degree of peace with his wife, longtime band member Patti. Singing for family and friends in a century year old barn, renovated as a studio, his songs are about us, for us and they celebrate blue collar roots, thatbsense of yearning for more, as he did. Outstanding.
That was the list of 15 movies of the year 2019, that could’ve been the best of the year. Please do let us know about your favourites, dislikes etc… in the comments section. Until then, see you at the movies!
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