As we close out 2019, it’s time to put together a few Top 10 lists based on my key entertainment passions – film, TV and film scores.
I’ve gone back and forth on decade lists but I suspect I’m just going to keep to 2019 releases on the blog, and maybe do something more with the decade on my Twitter or FB, so stay tuned in that regard.
Next up – movies! I’ve done quite well this year, managing to watch a good 50 movies from the calendar year, which is more than I sometimes manage. So I feel placed to at least come up with a reasonable Top 10, even though I know I have a few blind spots & certain films will probably push out the lower films on this list eventually. But that’s for the future, so here goes…
10. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME
Every decade or so, Eddie Murphy pops back up to remind you he’s always been a class act. 1999 had Bowfinger. 2008 had Dreamgirls. 2019 has Dolemite Is My Name.
The story of Rudy Ray Moore, creator of the Dolemite character in the 70’s, Murphy’s film is an incredibly charming & occasionally raucous telling of a key moment in the Blaxploitation era. It will just leave you smiling from ear to ear.
9. AVENGERS: ENDGAME
You can’t really have a list of the biggest cinematic achievements of the year without Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of the most ambitious ongoing franchise in cinema history.
The scale of Marvel’s project becomes apparent in the last act which brings together the entire 10 years of the saga to date for a bravura finish taking down the mighty villain Thanos. It may not be high art but blockbuster filmmaking doesn’t get bigger or indeed often more satisfying than this.
8. TOY STORY 4
Be honest, did you really think this would work? Even for Pixar, adding anything to the near flawless Toy Story trilogy was as tall an act as you could give them.
And yet, they’ve pulled it off with Toy Story 4, which focuses on Woody & Bo Beep’s relationship and pulls together old characters with some memorable new ones – Forky, I’m looking at you. It doesn’t have the innovation of the original or the emotional punch of the third, but it more than holds its own to stand on a par with the series as a whole.
7. FORD VS FERRARI aka LE MANS ’66
Depending on where you hail, you’ll know this as Ford v Ferrari or Le Mans’ 66 but either way you’ll get the gist: James Mangold’s film is a brawny, oily look at a key point in racing history.
As ever though in films about sport, it’s not *really* about the sport at all, and Mangold centres the picture mainly around Christian Bale’s Ken Miles, a brilliant British engineer and driver who becomes the channel for proving post-war American exceptionalism. There’s a lot going on behind the thrill of the track and it makes for a rush of an experience.
6. KNIVES OUT
After his experience with The Last Jedi, you’d forgive Rian Johnson for taking a long holiday from the arena of filmmaking but he comes right back with Knives Out to double down on what he’s best at.
Johnson made his name on intricate plotting and strong characterisation and here fuses that with mainstream, star-studded cinema to give us an Agatha Christie murder mystery for the liberal age, festooned with multiple generations of talented Hollywood stars. It also gives us a new detective in Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc I would happily see headline a dozen of these films.
5. AD ASTRA
Apocalypse Now in space, basically, Ad Astra is a beautiful, meditative communication between father and son across the cosmos from James Grey.
Brad Pitt is in season right now and is a compelling protagonist as the astronaut who travels across the solar system to reach his missing father, with battles on the Moon surface and tense encounters on Mars amongst the obstacles on the way. Backed by Max Richter’s stunning score, Gray’s film is just a sumptuous visual picture that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Probably the most talked about and controversial film of the year, Joker is also one of those pictures that largely lives up to the populist hype.
Todd Phillips might be no Martin Scorsese but he certainly does a decent xerox with this early 80’s, Gotham City set origin story for the Clown Prince of Crime, with Joaquin Phoenix giving an intense, psychological performance as a damaged individual who comes obsessed with fame. It’s The King of Comedy for the modern generation and it packs a serious wallop when it lands.
3. MARRIAGE STORY
Talking of packing a wallop, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story has to be the most real, most raw and emotional film of 2019.
Almost the crowning glory of a year in which Netflix have delivered some superb cinematic achievements, Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson are fantastic as a divorcing couple in the entertainment industry who analyse their own marriage while in the middle of a tough custody battle. A new Kramer vs Kramer but shot through with a lightness and hope, with one of the most incredible acting showcase scenes in recent cinema history.
2. THE IRISHMAN
One of the most anticipated films of the year, Martin Scorsese utterly delivers with his latest crime epic, The Irishman, which flies by despite a bum numbing 3 and a half hour running time.
This is Scorsese back on familiar territory firing on all cylinders as he tells the story of Frank Sheehan, played brilliantly by Robert De Niro – a hitman whose life spans multiple decades of social and political change in America. Flanked by Al Pacino in barnstorming form as Jimmy Hoffa and a wonderful screen return for Joe Pesci in a much quieter role than you’d expect, it’s a powerful, expansive and often breathtaking picture.
1. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Ever divisive, not everyone would plump for Quentin Tarantino’s relaxed epic Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as the year’s best film but I didn’t have a better time at the movies all year.
One of Tarantino’s most charming and accessible pictures, OUAITH is a couple of days in the life of Leonardo DiCaprio’s has been actor and Brad Pitt’s loyal stuntman, framed around the Manson Family horror of the summer of 1969. Never going quite where you expect, with a lightness of touch and a rocking soundtrack, OUAITH could be one of QT’s best movies. It certainly, I think, is my favourite.
Let me know your Top 10 movies in comments…