This last year bought with it a number of spectacular films across a range of genres from massive blockbuster sequels to smaller indie dramas. It’s a year that saw the culmination of a 23-film saga, the end of a 42 year space adventure and the use of de-ageing technology to take three iconic actors back to their prime. Many films deserve to be recognised on this list but unfortunately it can only hold ten, so here goes.
As this list is limited to ten, there are a number of films that unfortunately do have to miss out, but they still deserve an honourable mention for the impact they had in 2019. Firstly, Jordan Peele’s Us made a strong impact when it dropped earlier in the year, delivering thrilling horror spectacle that goes deep with multiple layers. Frozen II had a big task in living up to its predecessor but it managed to deliver an enchanting adventure that captured the same magic and heart. Annabelle Comes Home turned out to be a stellar modern horror film with strong performances and effective scares around every corner. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out put an inventive spin on the murder mystery genre, making it a fun ride led by an all-star cast. Last, but not least, is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a fitting end to the Skywalker saga. It’s a solid film with issues centred around not working as part of a trilogy, so unfortunately it just misses out on a spot in here.
#10 – Glass
Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s epic conclusion to his 19 year-long ‘Unbreakable‘ trilogy dropped right at the beginning of 2019 and delivered a thrilling finale that subverted the expectations of almost everyone who watched it, including me. The story holds shocks and surprises the whole way through and never gets to the point of being ridiculous. It’s helmed by two fantastic performances from Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson and one undeniably phenomenal performance from James McAvoy. The direction taken by Shyamalan isn’t one everyone will love but it’s creative and one of Shyamalan’s best works.
#9 – 1917
In 1917, Sam Mendes manages to expertly craft an astounding war film that very cleverly tells a small scale story with the suspense and intensity of a large scale war epic. Filmed in such a way to appear as one shot, Mendes draws you into the story early and continuously builds more and more tension as time goes on, leading towards an explosive finale. Save for one jarring moment that shifts tension going into the third act, this is an edge-of-seat experience that effectively captures the harrowing nature of war. Other than George MacKay’s transfixing performance, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is the shining light of this film, turning every shot into a glorious artwork.
#8 – Hustlers
Take what could have been a distinctly average heist thriller then throw in an intelligent story and incredible ensemble and you get the best heist thriller of the year; Hustlers. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, this film boast incredibly intelligent writing and a gripping story that is fast paced and layered in terms of its multiple arcs and major story changes. In a rather unusual tactic, the core focus of the story shifts and the cast rotates with each act, and it results in a story that keeps on moving and keeps things fresh for the entire time. There’s not a dull moment when you’re watching the thrilling performances of Constance Wu and the scene-stealing Jennifer Lopez. The two of them share a chemistry that is electric throughout the entire film and brings untarnished entertainment to every single scene.
#7 – The Irishman
Martin Scorsese. Robert De Niro. Joe Pesci. Al Pacino. Those four names involved in one gangster movie is the only incentive you need to see The Irishman. A three-hour gangster epic with phenomenal performances, a well-paced story and a web of interweaving character arcs, The Irishman is a modern spectacle not to be missed. Scorsese hasn’t lost his deft touch when it comes to crafting deeply engaging gangster films, despite having been a while since the releases of Casino and Goodfellas. The riveting performances from De Niro, Pesci and Pacino are one thing, but the de-ageing tech used to send them back to their prime is the best that has ever been seen. If you somehow did not know how these actors looked today, you’d be none the wiser that any CGI had been used. It’s a gangster masterpiece in an age where these films are criminally rare, which is an achievement in its own right.
#6 – Marriage Story
Heart wrenching, charming and deeply engaging, Marriage Story is an emotional rollercoaster and phenomenal work of art. Writer/director Noah Baumbach manages to tell a story centred around divorce with a deft touch of sensitivity and a sense or realism that enhances the emotional engagement in the film. The dialogue across the board is riveting and the delivery of this dialogue is impeccable from both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Each time either one of them was on screen I was completely hooked, then when they both appear on screen together it takes things to a whole new level. It’s a strikingly intimate story and quite possibly the most important film to watch of 2019, despite not being the most uplifting.
#5 – Little Women
The story of four young women determined to make their own way through life, Little Women is a thoughtful and emotional story full of heart, strength and humour. Writer/director Greta Gerwig manages to expertly tell the stories of all these women without one overpowering the other, fleshing out every character so there’s not a dull moment in the plot. Endlessly enthralling from beginning to end, the film would not be complete without the incredible performances from Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson and Florence Pugh. These three share bounds of chemistry throughout every scene and lead a slew of captivating performances including Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet.
#4 – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Boasting non-stop thrills from beginning to end, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is an action-packed ride with impeccable fight choreography, a strong enough story and an ass-kicking performance from Keanu Reeves. As the third film in this thrilling action franchise, Chad Stahelski still manages to create innovative ways for John Wick to wipe out his attackers with beautiful choreography. Beyond just the action sequences, the world building in this franchise is spectacular, creating the desire for more films and TV series’ in this world. This modern action masterpiece is not to be missed by anyone who is a fan of the genre.
#3 – Avengers: Endgame
23 Films and 11 years later, one of the greatest sagas to ever grace the big screen came to an end this year in epic fashion, with the much anticipated release of Avengers: Endgame. Is this a perfect film? No. Are there films on this list I’d watch over this? Yes. But there’s no question that the fact this film was able to satisfyingly end a story that has been building for 23 films and do so in 3 hours is unbelievably impressive. Enormous in scope and ambitious in scale, this film gives all of the main cast a balanced amount of screen time and runs at a quick enough pace to squeeze everything in and still follow all of the moving pieces. It holds surprises, it’s action packed and the performances across the board are as on-point as they’ve ever been. Regardless of whether you are a fan of the MCU films or not, there’s no question that this will go down in history as one of the greatest spectacles in cinema history.
#2 – Joker
Immaculate from beginning to end, Joker is a masterpiece of the comic book genre while also being one of the furthest things from a standard comic book film. There is a lot to take in when watching Joker. It’s dark, gritty and not the most uplifting film you’ll watch, but at the same time, you can’t look away from the utter carnage unfolding on screen. Depicting the descent into insanity of the character once known as Arthur Fleck, the story is riveting from beginning to end, putting you in the shoes of this man and allowing you to see exactly how he views the world and why it drove him mad. Joaquin Phoenix is exactly why you go see this film, his performance as Joker is one of the best ever put to screen as he completely disappears into the role. The guy practically has the Oscar in his hands already and it’s very well deserved. As near flawless as this film is, it just misses out on the top spot as the following film is a whole different type of perfection.
#1 – Doctor Sleep
It may not have received a perfect 10 on my initial scoring but Doctor Sleep is by far my favourite film of the year and so it secures the top spot on this list. It really is a masterpiece of modern horror, returning to the world of Stanley Kubrick (and Stephen King’s) The Shining with a modern spin supplied by the immensely talented Mike Flanagan. Right from the outset, this story is thrilling as Flanagan expertly sets up characters we know and characters we don’t in a way that has you rooting for or against them within minutes. It’s a brutally intense and shockingly unpredictable film, conveying the horror and sense of terror in a way only Flanagan could. When it comes to modern atmospheric horror with a psychological spin, no one could have done it better here than Mike Flanagan. The respect he has for the original film and novel is clear, especially in how he handles the third act which is mind-blowing the whole way through. Ewan McGregor carries the film very well and delivers a captivating performance as a grown up Danny Torrance alongside the young Kyliegh Curran who plays Abra.
I loved every second of this film and it deserves no less than this top spot. Now to watch the 3-hour director’s cut for even more awesomeness.