The best and worst films of 2019

Our resident film critic TEODOR RELJIC sifts through a year’s worth of film reviews to pick the worst and best of the bunch

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

BEST

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

The past is certainly a foreign country and they doubtlessly do things differently there. But that doesn’t mean that same-sex desire was nonexistent or exclusively doomed to historionic tragedy in 18th century France, as Céline Sciamma’s crystalline drama shows. Its very existence registers like an unexpected miracle, so subtle but precise are its grace notes, so razor-sharp its psychological observations.

2. Knives Out

Rian Johnson was too good for the toxic Star Wars fanbase that shunned him after The Last Jedi blasted into international theatres at the tail end of 2017, so it’s good that we have him back with us making clever genre films on his own terms. With Knives Out, he expertly commandeers a stellar ensemble cast who gamely follow him into an Agatha Christie pastiche that will be talked about with glee for years to come owing to its airtight script and entirely on-point humour.

3. Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature continues a latter-day tradition for the indie film wunderkind done good: a meandering and propulsive genre film whose period trappings are so sumptuously reproduced, the film almost unspools as a pure fetish object. But it is animated into rough and ragged life by two gloriously on-point performances by Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt, respectively taking on the roles of a Hollywood has-been and his stunt double, whose paths digressively meander in the cross-hairs of the Manson family, with unforgettable and entirely unexpected results.

4. Happy As Lazzaro

Written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher and arriving to us a bit late in the day after building good buzz in Cannes back in May 2018, this fable-like meditation on friendship and the oft-forgotten communal obligations that should supposedly bind us but are rarely respected is heartbreaking but irresistible, with an indignant screed against capitalism right at its centre.

5. The Souvenir

Joanna Hogg’s autobiographical portrait of the filmmaker as a young woman is a tender and quietly immersive experience which tightrope-walks across nostalgia and devastation, where both budding filmmaking and terrible romantic choices collude to depict a crucial set of years for one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary auteurs.

 

WORST

1. IT: Chapter 2

The first chapter was an effectively realised reset of the Stephen King killer clown coming-of-age saga, but it success is the greatest undoing of Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of the latter half of King’s doorstopper novel. Animated by a repetitive yet somehow still barely comprehensible ‘treasure hunt’ plot engine and coasting on an inflated special effects budget, this is horror cinema as haunted house ride in the worst way imaginable.

2. The King

Doing Shakespeare’s history plays by removing the Shakespeariness out of them and scrunching them up into a single ‘epic’ historical drama that is largely made up of Timothée Chalamet pouting in overly-darkened medieval sets unsurprisingly yields consistently dour results.

3. In the Shadow of the Moon

A time-travelling police procedural that does embrace its lurid side, but ends up giving us something of a soupy and disappointing concoction that fails to live up to its inherent potential. A bland experience whose title – revealed only at the end – belies the dullness of the whole thing.

4. Velvet Buzzsaw

So begins the cavalcade of Netflix disappointments… With a great cast and a promising director in Tony Gilroy (whose Nightcrawler was one of the true dark horse releases in recent memory), this art-world satire ends up registering as facile and cheap, never having the decency of leaning into its pulpier roots and languishing in smugness instead

5. Greta

The return of Irish director Neil Jordan to the directorial seat should be a cause for celebration, so it’s crushing to see that he opted for this overripe melodrama as his erstwhile comeback, even if Isabelle Huppert does her damndest to gift him with a conniving femme fatale for the ages.

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