My Favourite Films of 2019

Well there’s a lot we could talk about if we’re talking about 2019 — there’s a lot — but this is a film blog so let’s just stick to the cinema screens for now. Obviously there’s always gonna be some crossover, but those effects usually come a few years down the line, so I look forward to the bounty of social commentary (and ongoing environmental catastrophe) we’ll be getting in 2022, if the world survives. In the meantime, the big news chez Filmcentric is that for the first time since 2015, I saw more films at the cinema than I did at home (53% to 47%). The total number of films I saw did also decline from last year — it was my stated resolution to watch fewer, after all — but only by a little… I still saw 497 films of longer than half an hour (my threshold for what constitutes a ‘medium-length’ film). It’s also a year in which I made an effort to revive this blog, so for the last six months, I’ve been doing themed weeks and catching up on posting reviews. I shall try to continue doing so in 2020.

In the other metrics that I keep track of, I saw fewer films directed by people of colour (down to 41%, which is still far better than I managed before 2017) but more directed by women (44%, up from 39% last year). In real terms, I saw more films directed by women last year (218) than I’ve ever watched before in a single year, so at this stage I’m not particularly worried about my unconscious biases in what I watch. As such, films directed by white men were down to 31% of the total for 2019 (from a high of 77% in 2013, when I first started recording my statistics with any thoroughness).

In previous years I’ve had a resolution for the new year — and, given the paragraph above, this time it’s not going to be about watching more films directed by women (though I certainly don’t intend to avoid them of course). Instead, I want to get through my Criterion Collection viewing quicker. I’ve been doing them one-a-week for the last five years or so, the only constant feature on my blog in all the many months of neglect, but their release schedule seems to be outstripping my ability to watch them, and so I’m doubling it to two-a-week (still on Sundays, the anointed day). That way I can get through more classic cinema, and hopefully catch up with their release schedule within the next five years. It will of course inevitably mean I watch more old films directed by dead white male auteurs, but on the other hand there will probably be plenty of classic Japanese films too, which I’m really looking forward to (in the meantime, my Japanese language learning is continuing, though I’m hardly excelling).

There are of course many ‘best of’ lists that I could compile. I have one on Letterboxd which ranks my top 30 films that were actually released in the UK in 2019, a static list which will include films I had on my Favourite Films of 2018 list over here (films I saw at festivals for example, which weren’t given a UK release until 2019). I’ve also got a list of all the 2019 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2019 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing.

Therefore, the list below is my favourite new films that I saw in 2019, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. I said last year that 2018 was a really strong year for cinema, and I think that’s still the case. As with every year, perhaps I won’t see the best films of 2019 until next year, or maybe not for many years, given distribution patterns — and who only knows how Brexit will affect cinematic distribution in this country, but I hope it will be some time before the full effects are felt.

30 Knock Down the House


This Netflix documentary isn’t all about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but rather about four women all running for congressional election for the first time in 2018, and not all of them successful. That said, AOC is by far the stand-out screen presence, and her story remains the strongest and most uplifting, though in general this is a film that aims to redress some of the depressing political stories and suggest that maybe there’s some hope for the future. [Released direct to VoD]

29 La hija de un ladrón (A Thief’s Daughter)


A classic arty festival film, which slowly reveals details of its characters’ lives as it goes on, using point-of-view shots following a single character as she deals with her life and her family. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

28 The Last Black Man in San Francisco


A very mannered film, but a distinctive one nonetheless, if for its lead performers as for any other reason (I could take or leave the aesthetics in retrospect, but given my filmic loves it’s no surprise that they nevertheless had an effect on me).

27 What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (2018)


Another portrait of a community (a Southern US Black community in this case) by a white outsider, but one that gains greatly from its carefully-chosen subjects and the passion they all share for where they live. It looks gorgeous too.

26 Drift (2017)


This is a festival film from previous years that got a release on Mubi, which never feels like a ‘big’ kind of release, but sometimes it’s all some films can gain. As the title suggests it has a woozy, minimalist feel, being a sea-bound film with a tangible sense of spiritual movement. It’s closer at times to the kind of avant-garde minimalist cinema of James Benning than to traditional narratives, but it sums up a year of films pitched subtly between documentary and fiction. [Released direct to VoD]

25 Marriage Story


I mean, plenty has been said about this two-hander between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, but I enjoyed it.

24 سه رخ Se rokh (3 Faces, 2018)


A Jafar Panahi film, whose works always seem to just sort of slip out without great fanfare these days. Like the Baumbach film above (or those of Abbas Kiarostami, on whose work this clearly draws inspiration), his films still have that dialogic energy of conversation between two people as they take a journey.

23 Holiday (2018)


This is by turns a nasty, upsetting work and also something that feels really pointed in its dissection of bourgeois tropes.

22 John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch


The most fun I’ve had watching a Netflix special all year, released only a week ago so perhaps I’m overrating it. However, despite the format — the comedian does an old-school variety special with a bunch of kids that feels closer to Saturday Night Live skits crossed with Sesame Street social consciousness — it’s really rather charming. Plus David Byrne and Jake Gyllenhaal (amongst others) pop up for musical numbers which are both just delightful. [Released direct to VoD]

21 Transit (2018)


Another weighty arthouse film from established auteur Christian Petzold, the first of his films I’d seen, and really rather affecting in telling its WW2 story in a modern setting.

20 Eighth Grade (2018)


There were a number of American films about young women released this year, and most of them were really good (Booksmart missed out of my top films, but Little Women appears below). This one is closer to angst-ridden drama than brightly-lit comedy, but the way it handles its tone is probably the best thing about it, aside from Elsie Fisher’s excellent lead performance.

19 Her Smell (2018)


A divisive, at times uncomfortable film which, like a lot of Alex Ross Perry’s little psychodramas, is about a woman falling apart under various pressures. The setting is 90s alt-rock and it just zeroes in on Elisabeth Moss’s unhinged performance and sort of stays there for two hours. [Released direct to VoD]

18 Overseas


A studied documentary about Filipino service workers being trained for their careers overseas. It sticks with the women and their stories, becoming in the process not just a portrait of a particularly undervalued underclass in the world economy, but of an entire nation and its hopes and failings. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

17 Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé


Unlike Lemonade (2016), this isn’t an experimental narrative tone poem, but rather a fairly straightforward music documentary about the singer putting on a show for Coachella 2018. Mostly it’s just edited footage from her two performances, but she’s a better performer than most and her sets and stagework are superlative, such that it becomes as much about celebrating Southern Black culture as it is about the music itself. [Released direct to VoD]

16 Hustlers


There was a lot of critical talk about how much fun this heist film was when it came out, but in retrospect it’s not really all that fun, because it’s about people living quite harsh lives having to make difficult decisions, about American capitalism in short, and the choices that have to be made to survive.

15 소공녀 So-gong-nyeo (Microhabitat, 2017)


Another older film ‘released’ (such as these things ever are) on Mubi, but it’s a delightful South Korean character study about a youngish woman, perhaps a little older than she’d like to be given her lifestyle, just trying to get by in the world. [Released direct to VoD]

14 Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)


This is the kind of polished, well-written character-based drama that Hollywood needs to be putting out there, and not the stupid bloated Disney theme park rides they currently mostly do — I mean, each to their own and all that, and I’ve enjoyed quite a few of them myself, but… why am I going off on this tangent? Anyway, this is a drama albeit with comic elements (how can you avoid them with Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant?) with a strong undertone of melancholy and regret.

13 Minding the Gap (2018)


There have been a few films in recent years about skateboarders (I still think Skate Kitchen was my favourite), but this documentary is about a bunch of (mostly) guys and how they use the hobby as a distraction from their difficult lives.

12 地久天长 Di Jiu Tian Chang (So Long, My Son)


Chinese cinema has a great depth of talent in crafting multi-generation epics of families growing through turbulent social and political times, and this was 2019’s best one, in my opinion.

11 Amazing Grace (2018)


Really this is a film from 1972, but for various reasons only finally released this past year, and a glorious document of Aretha Franklin in her gospel prime.

10 The Irishman


Another Netflix-originated film that everyone has had an opinion about, and yes it deals once again with the familiar mafia guys of Scorsese’s career, but it puts a new spin on them. I won’t say it’s fresh, because in a sense it’s a film that’s about the staleness of a lifestyle and a career. It is as cinematic as it can be in trying to strip its characters of grace or glamour, leaving them these hulking shells of shattered human beings.

9 Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory)


Speaking of shells, albeit ones with somewhat more grace and glamour, Antonio Banderas plays a weary older film director trying to reconnect with his past a little bit. I didn’t expect to be loving a Pedro Almodóvar film so much, but it’s been years since I last saw one of his films and maybe both of us are growing up a bit.

8 Little Women


Every bit as delightful as everyone has said, and yes sure we should certainly be seeing more films about young women’s lives who aren’t white and (however they may be described in the novel) very much the privileged middle-class, which has sort of been another theme of these recent American coming of age films. However, for what it is, this is superlative, and Florence Pugh’s solid run of acting success only continues.

7 سيد المجهول Sayed el-Majhoul (The Unknown Saint)


Every London Film Festival, there’s a film from the MENA countries which I really love, and this year it was this Tunisian film, a sly comedy that has a consistently delightful tone and some lovely performances. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

6 და ჩვენ ვიცეკვეთ Da cven vicekvet (And Then We Danced)


I think this may end up being the word-of-mouth breakthrough film of the year, given how well it’s been doing at various film festivals. Whether that translates to commercial success is another matter, but if you only see one Georgian film about gay men falling in love over traditional dance, then make it this one. But it’s delightful and passionate whatever you look for in cinema. It just happens to have lots of great (and at times painful looking) dancing. [Festival screening; UK release set for March 2020]

5 If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)


Barry Jenkins’s follow-up film to Moonlight didn’t seem to catch people the same way, but it’s every bit as beautiful and evocative and may in the fullness of time be the greater film. It’s a gorgeous evocation of a period, though, and a film about pure emotion.

4 The Souvenir


As a portrait of the artist as a young woman learning her filmmaking craft and falling for a ne’er-do-well with a heroin habit in chichi West London, I certainly didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did, but there you go. Apparently there’s going to be a sequel.

3 Atlantique (Atlantics)


As ravishing as it is mysterious, Mati Diop has all the talent of her more famous uncle (Djibril Diop Mambéty), though it’s a slow-burn of a film that just sort of flares inside your mind for a bit, not as immediate as some other films, but one that will probably reward rewatching.

2 Lazzaro felice (Happy as Lazzaro, 2018)


I liked Alice Rohrwacher’s earlier films, but I loved this one. I don’t know what’s different about it, but it tells a story of a misfit over a number of years as a sort of fairy tale about modern life.

1 Portrait de la jeune fille en feu (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)


Gorgeous and swooning but also taut and unflinching, this feels as choreographed and as carefully designed as any others on my list, but it also has Adèle Haënel, truly one of the greatest stars of the last decade. [Festival screening; UK release set for February 2020]

My Favourite Films of 2018

2018 is now over, and there was lots about politics and lots of bad stuff happening in the world, but I was mostly in a cinema it seems. Compared to my 2017 list, I saw 94 more films in a cinema (237 compared to 143), though by percentage that’s just 46% of all the films I saw (compared to 42% last year). Because, thanks to my resolution to ‘watch a film that’s new to me every day’ (even if sometimes that was a short film), I ended up seeing 519 films longer than half an hour in length (that’s my cut-off for a short film).

After last year’s high of achieving 50:50 parity on films directed by women and films directed by people of colour, I’ve slipped a little on that (although I always expected to do that). I did see more films directed by women and PoC than ever before, but given how many I saw in total, the percentages are a little less impressive. I saw 202 films directed (or co-directed) by women, which represents 39% of the films I saw in 2018, while I watched 230 films directed by people of colour (a rather more impressive 44% of all the films I saw). Therefore white male directors were at 33% of the total, worse than last year, but still favourable compared to all my previous years of film-watching.

Given all that, if I must have a resolution for 2019, it’s probably going to be “watch fewer films”, maybe one new film per day on average (so no more than 365!), and probably try and get more diverse in terms of countries — though that said, I managed 270 non-English language films vs 249 in the English language in 2018.

As with every year there are multiple ‘best of’ lists that I could do. I have one on Letterboxd which ranks my top 25 of films that were actually released in the UK in 2018, so it includes films that were on my 2017 list here. I’ve also got a list of all the 2018 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2018 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing.

Therefore, the list below is my favourite new films that I saw in 2018, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. There are some that show up on some critics’ lists that I haven’t seen yet, so I will continue to look forward to some interesting 2018 films like the Claire Denis’ sci-fi film High Life or the skateboarding documentary Minding the Gap, amongst many others. Indeed, I think 2018 has been so strong for cinema that I’m doing a top 35, and even that omits some films I really enjoyed like The Old Man and the Gun, Ash Is Purest White, Dumplin’, Lady Bird, A Star Is Born, Yours in Sisterhood and many, many others.

35 To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before


One of the sweetest of romance films, which went direct to Netflix, and made quite a splash. Part of a renaissance of Asian-American representation in US cinema, and one worth cherishing. [Released direct to VoD]

34 Shirkers


Fascinating documentary excavation into one woman’s teenage years making films, and how her dreams got swindled by a strange outsider, a man whose existence she digs into as the film progresses.

33 A Simple Favor (aka A Simple Favour)


It got a lot of negative critical write-ups, but this is simply one of the most fun films of the year, a genre-warping exercise in style and wonder, with a chameleonic central performance from Blake Lively.

32 Las herederas (The Heiresses)


Another beautiful Latin American film about class, a familiar topic now in some of my favourite films, this one dealing with two older women, one of whom is jailed leaving the other to fend for herself.

31 Shakedown


A trip through queer feminist strip club sub-culture in LA, a fantastic documentary about identities outside the mainstream, shot over many years, a sort of time capsule into a strange alternate past.

30 Netemo Sametemo (Asako I & II)


Two men look alike and that’s the premise for this Japanese drama about love and commitment. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

29 Beoning (Burning)


A solid Korean drama about, well, I guess it’s about wanting to fit in, and not really being part of an in-crowd, with Steven Yeun fantastic as the seemingly perfect nouveau riche playboy. [Festival screening; scheduled for February 2019 release in UK]

28 Miriam miente (Miriam Lies)


I enjoy festivals for the random films they throw up. This is a beautiful story about a young woman approaching her Quinceanera in the Dominican Republic, and specifically deals with race and class amongst the ruling elites there. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

27 Îmi este indiferent dacă în istorie vom intra ca barbari (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians)


A film that challenges and confronts its audience but not in a cheap Haneke way, but in a very carefully thought-through unpacking of troubling currents in Romanian World War II history. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

26 Zimna wojna (Cold War)


You can’t deny Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film is beautiful. It’s a little slender, and I didn’t buy into the love story at its heart, but it’s gorgeous.

25 Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak (Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, 2017)


A sort-of-western movie set in Indonesia about a woman taking her revenge. I love the style, slow takes, with a slow-burning intensity.

24 A Fábrica de Nada (The Nothing Factory, 2017)


It’s almost three hours, but it sustains so many ideas, about class and politics, about working under capitalism, about avoiding exploitation. And then there’s a little musical sequence.

23 Dreamaway


Another festival surprise, this one a sort-of-documentary about young Egyptians working at a flashy resort complex, which both deals with their daily lives but also some of their hopes and expectations from life. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

22 Si Ling Hun (Dead Souls)


Every list has to have an eight hour Chinese film which bears comparisons with Shoah for its painstaking research into survivors of the re-education camps in late-1950s China, which also visits the sites and reveals a dark history that’s not often discussed.

21 Chemi Bednieri Ojakhi (My Happy Family, 2017)


This may have been put on Netflix technically in 2017, but things are all rather fluid in the VoD world, and I saw it in early 2018. A big family melodrama set in a Georgian home, this wouldn’t usually be my kind of thing, but it’s done very well. [Released direct to VoD]

20 Columbus (2017)


If you have to see one drama played out against a background of modernist architecture, then make it this one.

19 The Favourite


A typical Yorgos Lanthimos provocation, but this time it’s to the staid ideas of the period costume drama, a heritage drama about the royal family that neatly gender reverses the usual expectations, so the men are all foppish in wigs and makeup while the women strut around, shoot stuff and control the court.

18 Princess Cyd (2017)


A likeable suburban tale of a young woman in Chicago with the kind of fully-realised characters that made me happy to spend time with them. [Released direct to VoD]

17 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


I could probably have ranked this higher, if it weren’t for its general feeling of constant movement and action. It actually had a lot to say about being a young Afro-Latino kid in NYC, quite aside from the radioactive spiders, and the multiverses looping in on themselves in increasingly complicated ways.

16 Skate Kitchen


The empathetic depiction of ordinary people in otherwise familiar locations is sort of a theme of my favourite films, and this one is about skateboarding teens in NYC. It clearly loves its subjects, and it skirts a line between documentary and fiction narrative very competently. I just loved being around the characters.

15 Widows


It took me two screenings to properly appreciate what Steve McQueen was doing here, a genre-bound story of a heist that focuses more on the ways in which its leading ladies have been broken and are trying to pull themselves together, both individually and together, all of which just happens to play out over a heist plot.

14 Support the Girls


The setting of a Hooters-like Texan restaurant may not be the most enticing, but this is a film about alternative versions of family in a way almost as palpable as Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters — about what feels like a real lived American experience of work that you don’t often see on screen. Also, it’s warm and lovely. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

13 La camarista (The Chambermaid)


It’s almost so minimal in its form that I didn’t initially pick up on this one, but over the course of the film it worked its charm on me, depicting the life of a young native-born woman working in a hotel in a way that worked a lot better for me than the current critical darling Roma (although that was of course about plenty of other stuff besides). [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

12 Private Life


A small-scale family drama about a couple trying to have a baby as they enter their 40s, and it went straight to Netflix, but it has some excellent acting all round. [Released directed to VoD]

11 Sorry to Bother You


The year’s big satire on corporate capitalist America, on racial double-consciousness, the memeification of culture, and a bunch of other stuff besides. It has a strong pro-union organising message, and even if Tessa Thompson’s artist character could be a little shallow, the film itself had plenty of ideas, maybe too many.

10 Hale County This Morning, This Evening


A gorgeous lyrical poetic film about Black life in the southern US, which avoids the usual topics in favour of a sort of heightened banality of everyday life. [Preview screening; scheduled for Jan 2019 release in UK]

9 The Miseducation of Cameron Post


I don’t think Desiree Akhavan’s second film after Appropriate Behavior was really given the same reception, but I thought it was a really lovely story. It didn’t do the big loud stuff, but instead was a small-scale drama which had empathy to spare for everyone.

8 Tehran: City of Love


This was a film I saw at the London Film Festival, and it was certainly a surprise. Formally reminiscent of those multiple-strand storylines of 90s cinema, but with a direct, slightly heightened visual style. [Festival screening; no UK release date yet]

7 Manbiki Kazoku (Shoplifters)


At this point, nobody should be surprised at the humanity Hirokazu Koreeda finds in his unusual family groupings, and plenty of his recents films (Our Little Sister and Like Father, Like Son most recently) have been near the top of my end of year best of lists.

6 Western (2017)


It shares certain qualities with other films on my list, in being a story of people living out on the margins of society, refracted through one middle-aged man who feels set apart from his blokeish construction-worker colleagues.

5 Phantom Thread (2017)


It was on a lot of ‘best of’ lists last year, but got its UK release in 2018, and I was taken by its story of the fragile male artistic ego, though I never managed to motivate myself to go back and see it a second time. However, it’s fair to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is on a roll of good films since he achieved his best form (and yes I know he’s had plenty of critically-acclaimed films before that, but I didn’t like them) in Inherent Vice.

4 Leave No Trace


This is the kind of film I love, a story about ordinary people that takes familiar locations (Portland Oregon in this case) and just stretches them that little bit into the unusual. The same director did Winter’s Bone at the start of the decade, and there’s a familiar sense of lives lived outside the mainstream, but here the filmmaking is just that much more sustained.

3 Tarde para morir joven (Too Late to Die Young)


It’s a coming of age story — both of a group of people in early-90s Chile, but also of the country itself in a way — but it has a beautiful simplicity, a fluid and expressive camera, and a directness of vision that is matched by the excellent acting. [Festival screening; scheduled for May 2019 release in UK]

2 Black Panther


Sure, it’s a blockbuster, but I think it’s possibly the smartest one to come out this year, though the Into the Spider-Verse animation gives it some competition in the superhero stakes, another film about fantastic people which also intersects with real lived identities, and critiques a history of colonialist attitudes.

1 Madeline’s Madeline


I loved Josephine Decker’s previous films, so I was predisposed to liking this film, only helped by taking time off a holiday in LA to track it down in a cinema. Therefore, I wonder if rewatching it would give me the same thrill, because the filmmaking style is very different from the film it ranks above, being far more impressionistic and fluid, as it’s about the transference of power between members of an acting troupe in NYC, working as much on a psychological level as on a straightforward plot-driven one. [Festival screening; seen in US; no UK release date yet]

My Favourite Films of 2017

Another year, another favourite films post! I’ve done one on Letterboxd, but that’s just my top 25 of films that were actually released in the UK in 2017, so it includes films that were on my favourite 2016 films list. Over there I’ve also got a list of all the 2017 films I’ve seen, which are the ones with a 2017 production date, and that list will keep changing and growing. Below is a list of my favourite new films that I saw in 2017, including ones that don’t have a UK release yet. As ever, it means it’s missing some that only got festival screenings which I haven’t yet seen (most notably Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, which I’m very much looking forward to), so expect those next year.

But to the statistics, because I love the statistics! In total, I saw fewer films in 2017: 340 medium- or full-length feature films (almost a hundred fewer than in 2016), 143 of which were in the cinema (which at 42% is exactly the same percentage, though still represents a drop from a high of 62% of films seen in the cinema back in 2013).

However the big news is that I achieved my resolution to see 50% of films directed by women and 50% of films directed by people of colour. I saw exactly 170 women-directed films and 170 PoC-directed films, which particularly in the latter case represents a huge year-on-year increase (last year I saw 43% films directed by women, and 26% directed by non-white directors). In total, I saw exactly the same number of films directed by women of colour as by white men (95 films, i.e. 28% of my total). Now that I’ve hit that, I probably won’t try to achieve it again in 2018, as it did mean I actively avoided a lot of films, especially when it got to December, and I want to focus on filling in some film history gaps, which is going to mean more (old) films directed by white men, but I will certainly try to keep watching a diverse range of new filmmaking.

In terms of quality, there were lots of brilliant films, and plenty that I loved which I haven’t been able to include here… I mean, somewhere below the 25 listed there’s Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (flawed, yet sensitive, with a brilliant performance from Rebecca Hall, maybe my favourite acting performance of the year), On Body and Soul (a strange, odd Hungarian film), Félicité (an African film with another brilliant central performance), Angels Wear White, Jeune femme, The Death of Stalin, Step, I Am Not a Witch, Good Time (a critical favourite, and with an undeniably brilliant Robert Pattinson), not to mention 2016 films only released in the UK in 2017 like Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, Toni Erdmann, the list goes on… So yes, I’m a big fan of 2017.

25 Girls Trip

Girls Trip (2017)It’s not perfect but this comedy is great fun, not least for Tiffany Haddish’s great performance. It also makes a stark contrast to Rough Night, which would be my least favourite film this year if I made a list of those (but generally I avoid films that look terrible).

24 Lady Macbeth (2016)

Lady Macbeth (2016)British cinema (and television) is littered with dull, worthy, handsomely-mounted period films, but this one is very far from being either dull or worthy. It is, however, very beautiful, and Florence Pugh is brilliant in it (after impressing in a small role a few years ago in The Falling).

23 Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)

Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope, 2017)There have been plenty of films about refugees and immigrants over the last few years, for sadly obvious reasons, but this one from Kaurismäki has his usual glacial deadpan cinematic gaze but with a beautifully moving underlying empathy. Should probably have ranked it higher.

22 Human Flow

Human Flow (2017)Another film about refugees, and one with both grand, complex images of masses of desperate people, but also the filmmaker/artist (Ai Weiwei) moving among them. It’s not so much about their individual stories, as about the overall story, and it’s heartbreaking.

21 Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky (2017)Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking this year may have had all his usual hallmarks, but its story of poor people marginalised by capitalism yet desperate for something better has all the hallmarks of that classic American theme wrapped up in its heist plot mechanics.

20 All This Panic (2016)

All This Panic (2016)A coming-of-age documentary in NYC with stark characters, alternately awful and yet growing into themselves, framed by a beautiful aesthetic from director Jenny Gage and her DoP.

19 Colossal (2016)

Colossal (2016)Surely the oddest film of the year, a strange hybrid of monster movie and small-town allegory. It’s pretty wayward at times, but at its best, it’s brilliant, not so much about the destructiveness of alcoholism as (in a late film twist) about toxic masculinity.

18 Wo bu shi Pan Jinlian (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016)

Wo bu shi Pan Jinlian (I Am Not Madame Bovary, 2016)The title character is a well-known femme fatale figure of Chinese literature, and this film is about a woman shunned. It’s also, pretty easily, the most beautiful film of the year I’ve seen, and the distinctive cameo-like picture framing is used to great effect.

17 The Big Sick

Film Review The Big SickI think in many ways this romantic comedy is best viewed as a film about being an immigrant and fitting in (it somewhat sidelines its female lead for understandable based-on-real-life plot reasons), but it’s also about finding empathy and being a better person, so I rate it highly for that.

16 London Symphony

London Symphony (2017)I live in London and I helped with the Kickstarter for this project years ago, so it’s great to finally see it. What could be an arch and rather affected conceit (hommaging the silent ‘city symphony’ films of the 1920s) is actually beautifully achieved, and makes London look a lot more beautiful than on my grumpier days I sometimes feel it deserves, but it makes me happy to live here.

15 Fences (2016)

Fences (2016)It came out in the UK this year hence its inclusion in my 2017 list (ditto the other 2016 films here), but Viola Davis is easily the MVP in this acting line-up, though Denzel is of course no slouch. Filmed theatre can be a tough ask and won’t work for everyone, but I thought this film was beautifully rendered, and it’s truly elevated by the acting above all.

14 Personal Shopper (2016)

Personal Shopper (2016)It wouldn’t be an end-of-year best-of list without a standout Kristen Stewart performance, and though I found this film somewhat more wayward than Olivier Assayas’ previous collab with Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria), it’s still a wonderful piece channelling grief and longing via some peculiarly 21st century mediation.

13 You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here (2017)When I read the précis in the festival brochure, I expected to hate this (a sort of ripped-from-a-Daily-Mail-headline revenge type fantasy), but Lynne Ramsay manages to achieve something with her beautiful, elliptical editing: a profound sense of moral ambiguity. [festival screening]

12 Ava

Ava (2017)At times with a hint of the surreal, this coming-of-age is another fine film about people on the margins of society. [Festival screening; released direct to VoD in UK]

11 Ex Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)Something I too often take for granted, but libraries are great. Frederick Wiseman returns with another of his sensitive, multi-layered films about a public institution, this one showing the huge range of important things a library does for its community. [Festival screening]

10 The Beguiled

The Beguiled (2017)It received some pretty mixed feedback when released, but I loved Sofia Coppola’s latest film. Sure it’s very white in many ways, but it’s a film that seems to capture something about the traumas of adolescence as refracted via the Civil War. Also, it looks great.

9 The Fits (2015)

The Fits (2015)A film that took its time getting a UK release, and another film about adolescence, but it has a wonderfully understated atmosphere, a slow, quiet build, that completely hooked me.

8 Grave (Raw, 2016)

Grave (Raw, 2016)A pretty intense film, and yet another coming-of-age (of sorts), but it does what the best horror films do, which is to make literal something very primal.

7 The Florida Project

The Florida Project (2017)This could easily be an exploitative film about poor white people living on the edges of the American Dream, abandoned (if not screwed over) by capitalism. I mean, it is a film about that, but it’s not an exploitative one: the love between mother and daughter seems profound, and it has real empathy for its characters.

6 Pop Aye

Pop Aye - Still 3Like Colossal above, this is an unusual film, but at its heart it’s a road trip movie about lives lost in the acquisitive forward thrust of modern city-bound society. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first films I saw at the London Film Festival and I just really wanted to love something, but I think this film is great. [Festival screening]

5 Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993)

Estiu 1993 (Summer 1993, 2017)Films about the experiences of childhood aren’t always great, but this Spanish one really takes an extra effort to centre its narrative (and its empathy) on the child at the film’s heart and that pays off. [Festival screening]

4 God’s Own Country

God's Own Country (2017)As a London-based city-dweller, I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did (northern England, gay love story, set on a farm) but the interplay between the two lead characters is beautifully balanced by the cinematography and editing. It returns to the year’s favourite theme of being an immigrant, and it makes this outsider narrative compelling.

3 Wajib

Wajib (2017)The stand-out of this year’s film festival was this Palestinian film. It engages with the political situation there without being preachy, and in its story of a father and son hand delivering wedding invitations around their community, has something of the feel of an Abbas Kiarostami film. The best kind of humanist filmmaking in a conflicted world. [Festival screening]

2 Get Out

Get Out (2017)It’s fair to say this film has already been very widely discussed and lauded, but I just wanted to add my voice to that. The comic elements only underline the central — and very American — horror at its core.

1 Cameraperson (2016)

Cameraperson (2016)A film about the world we live in, and about the sometimes fractured and fractious ethics of documenting that world, it’s also a film about a person and a life and making a life within that world. It feels like a film about so many things, that could so easily fall apart, but instead it’s the strongest film I’ve seen this year.

My Favourite Films of 2016

I like to start these posts with statistics. Extending my 2015 New Year’s Resolution with the #52 Films By Women pledge that a number of people were doing online (here’s a link to my Letterboxd list of all the films I saw under that pledge, which amounted to far more than the required 52), I saw ever more films in 2016 than I did in 2015.

In total, I saw 436 medium- or full-length films (I consider a medium-length film one that’s between 30-60 minutes in length, though there’s no fixed standard for that), 183 of which were in the cinema — which means that, although I saw many more films, fewer of them were at the cinema than in 2015. I have an account on Letterboxd, where I’ve ranked all 2016’s films (this will continue to be updated as I see more of them into 2017) and another of my favourite films released in the UK in 2016 (which is slightly different as many of them were 2015 films). The list below is sort of a combination of these two.

While I’m on the stats, 43% of the films I saw were directed (or co-directed) by women, where I saw 37% in 2015 and 13% in 2014, which is a pretty clear result of my resolutions mentioned above. I also increased the number of films directed by people of colour (this seems to be the accepted online term at the moment). This year 26% of the films I saw were by POC, as opposed to 16% in 2015, and 13% in 2013. It also means the number of films I saw directed by white men finally dropped beneath 50% (from 53% last year to 45% this year). It’s likely that this will be more of a focus for my resolutions going forward.

In terms of quality, 2015 may not have been a brilliant year compared to 2014, but I thought there were plenty of fine films in 2016. It’s just that, as ever, many of my favourites haven’t actually been released in the UK and I even held off seeing some films at the London Film Festival because I was assured they’d be back, so I’ve yet to see many critical favourites (La La Land, Aquarius, Personal Shopper; there are plenty of others). I’m not going to do a least favourite films list, though, because as with last year any such list would be dominated by women filmmakers, which hardly seems fair to all the terrible dreck made by men, whose work I would have avoided.

I also caught up with one or two films which would assuredly have made my favourite 2015 films list last year, if I’d only seen them in time (but which I can’t in all good faith include below). I have another Letterboxd list here of my favourite new-to-me films I saw in 2016. Therefore honourable mentions go to Magic Mike XXL and Taxi, both definite top 10 contenders.

25 Lovesong

Lovesong (2016)
A tender love story between two women, which has a coyness to it, but also a lot of genuine feeling [festival screening].

24 Queen of Earth (2015)

Queen of Earth (2015)
Corruscating Bergmanesque drama which sort of does the opposite to the film above, as it’s about two friends tearing each other apart.

23 Speed Sisters (2015)

Speed Sisters (2015)
Enjoyable documentary about a Palestinian team of racing car drivers, with some socio-political context.

22 Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water (2016)
As good a modern western as any in recent years, it has a great sense of space and wistfulness.

21 The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

The Childhood of a Leader (2015)
Increasingly prophetic tale of a boy whose upbringing has gone awry, resulting in an origin story for a fascist dictator.

20 Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living)

Réparer les vivants (Heal the Living, 2016)
It never quite lives up to its brilliant pre-credits sequence, but it’s beautifully made and moving [festival screening].

19 Where You’re Meant to Be

Where You're Meant to Be (2016)
On the road with dour Scottish singer Aidan Moffat, but finds plenty of pathos in Scottish folk music.

18 Weiner

Weiner (2016)
Shouldn’t work, and subsequent revelations about its subject make sympathy ever more difficult, but this film attempts to do so; also very funny.

17 LoveTrue

LoveTrue (2016)
Tracking the lives of several people living in remote areas, finding and losing love, with a solid directorial style [festival screening].

16 La Permanence (On Call)

La Permanence (On Call, 2016)
A film about a hospital in Paris treating refugees, filled with empathy [festival screening].

15 American Honey

American Honey (2016)
Excessive in every sense, but somehow it all works.

14 The Edge of Seventeen

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Coming of age films can be bad, they can be very bad, but this one has genuine humour amongst a better-than-average engagement with teenage angst in a bourgie milieu.

13 Baden Baden

Baden Baden (2016)
A Belgian-French co-production which took me by surprise, for its deadpan humour and winning protagonist.

12 Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister, 2015)
I underrated this a lot when I first saw it, being the director’s familiar blend of sweetness and low-key storytelling about family relationships, but it’s only grown in my estimation since.

11 Mustang (2015)

Mustang (2015)
Another coming-of-age story, which tries to get at something of what it means to be a teenager and find oneself, via the device of setting it within an orthodox, repressive family.

10 Nie yin niang (The Assassin, 2015)

Nie yin niang (The Assassin, 2015)
Glorious and beautiful and confusing, I know only that I need to see this again on the big screen.

9 Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship (2016)
One of the year’s funniest films, a comedy of etiquette and misbehaviour.

8 L’Avenir (Things to Come)

L'Avenir (Things to Come, 2016)
It’s very difficult to encapsulate what I love about this sensitive film, but Huppert helps.

7 Paterson

Paterson (2016)
The way that Jarmusch goes big is at a conceptual level — Adam Driver plays a bus driver called Paterson in a town called Paterson in a film called Paterson — but it’s consistently sweet and amusing.

6 Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea, 2016)
Another documentary dealing with refugees, and again filled with empathy, always needed, especially now.

5 Creed (2015)

Creed (2015)
Critics in the US had this on their lists last year, but it only got a UK release earlier in 2016, and it is fantastic. I never expected to like a Rocky movie so much, or a boxing film, but there you go.

4 Moonlight

Moonlight (2016)
Not properly released here until 2017, but this is an exciting, beautiful, tonally-perfect story of black coming-of-age that subtly gets at a lot of the undertow of American society [one-off screening]

3 Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I know a lot of people that hated this film, but I did not; I laughed at it (never always out loud, but I was consistently amused), and I’d never have predicted five years ago I’d put the Coen Brothers so consistently in my top-10 lists.

2 Lemonade

Lemonade (2016)
Barely over an hour, and yes it’s not had any cinematic screenings (it deserves them), this is more than simply a collection of music videos (Beyoncé did that for her last few albums), but more of an avant-garde mood piece that examines American society, race relations, love in extremis, self-identity, and Black visual history [online release].

1 Certain Women

Certain Women (2016)
Easily tops this list. Loved it [festival screening].

My Favourite Films of 2015

I shall start, as I always do, with the statistics. Thanks in part to my New Year’s Resolution, I saw far more films in 2015. In total 358 films (I’m counting some compilations of short films as a single feature-length programme), 203 of which were in the cinema (including a number of repeat viewings), so a big increase on 2014. As ever, there are caveats to my list, and what’s on it is very much dependent on what was released in the UK, or what festival films I made it along to (and I do hope some of these make people’s lists next year!). So these are my favourite new films I saw for the first time in 2015. I have an account on Letterboxd, where I’ve ranked all 2015’s films (as well as 2014‘s and 2013‘s, as some films from those years were also new to me in 2015) from favourite to least favourite so you can see all of what I’ve watched.

I was reading someone moaning online (as people are wont to do) about how there were fewer good films in 2015, the aggrieved tone of which annoyed me instinctively, and yet I must concede looking over my previous years’ lists, there may be some truth to that. There were certainly some good films released to cinemas this year, but when you look at just what was made in 2015, my current top 10 is dominated by films I saw at the film festival or in limited one-off screenings, and I don’t think there’s quite the length of quality as in 2014, not so many films which really captured my imagination. Still, there are more than enough films for a list (there always are).

The Top Ten

Beyond the Lights (2014)

Continue reading “My Favourite Films of 2015”

My Favourite Films of 2014

First up, the stats: I saw 205 films in 2014, 125 of which were in the cinema (including about four repeat viewings), so a slight increase on 2013. Last year I did matched posts for my favourite and least favourite films, but I was less enthusiastic this year in trying to see everything, meaning I didn’t really *hate* any films I saw this past year.

In making such a list, I feel there should always be caveats, but I think we all understand this. Maybe a contender was omitted because it wasn’t properly released here in the UK; there are certainly films here that were in other peoples’ lists last year for the same reason. So these are my favourite new releases I saw for the first time in 2014. If you are concerned at something being omitted, check my A-Z of reviews page, because maybe I didn’t like it or didn’t see it…

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Overlooked and Favourite Films of 1997

It’s been almost two decades now that I’ve been regularly going to the cinema, attending film festivals and watching videos and DVDs, and I’ve seen a lot of films, some of which I’ve never even heard of since. Therefore, in the first of an irregular series (which, like the others I’ve tried, I’ll probably abandon fairly soon), I thought I’d try to recall various films that I liked at the time, but which it feels to me have disappeared off the cultural radar since. I’ll pick one of my first major years of cinemagoing, 1997, for my first instalment. And again, do be aware my tastes run to arthouse over exploitation… ;)

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My Favourite Films of 2013

I’ve covered my least favourites, so now for the matched post about my favourite films of 2013. Before I get into it, I’d just like to thank all my readers and commenters this year — of which I know I have at least five or six, more than I expected when I started this blog in March. I know I probably need to have more features and lists, rather than just reviews, and maybe that will be a project for 2014, when I move into my second full year of film blogging. But for now, I’m pleased to have made it this far.

At the start of my last review, I waffled on about the films I haven’t seen yet in 2013 (whether because they weren’t released over here in the UK during 2013, or only had limited festival screenings, or just because I didn’t make it to them), so all the usual caveats apply. I saw 116 films in the cinema, and 73 films at home during this past year. I’d mention which ones I haven’t seen, but as I’ve reviewed everything I’ve seen since about February, you can just check my A-Z of reviews page if you are concerned at something’s non-inclusion. Here then is a list of my favourite films of those officially released in the UK (though one or two are from festival screenings).

EDIT: I inexplicably left To the Wonder (2012) off the list, a film I saw in 2013, so in the list below, imagine it falls somewhere around equal with Blue Is the Warmest Colour.

Continue reading “My Favourite Films of 2013”