The votes have been cast. The results are in. 2019 was an incredible year for movies, and here at The Edge our writers have put together a list of their very favourites. There are a few big superhero movies, epic dramas from legendary directors, and some modern horror classics. Without further ado, here’s our picks…
10=. Us, dir. Jordan Peele
We kick off the list with one of the year’s standout horror movies. Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out may not have made as much of a cultural splash, but it was still a huge critical and commercial success. This deliciously creepy tale follows Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) as she returns to the location where she holidayed as a child – the place where she was confronted by an exact lookalike in a sinister hall of mirrors. Now with family in tow, Adelaide’s anxieties become reality when a group of doppelgängers show up and start causing chaos. Us is brutal and bloody, with its social commentary perhaps more sophisticated and challenging than Peele’s previous horror effort. His background in comedy shows again, with Black Panther star Winston Duke providing the comic relief this time. Nyong’o, as both Adelaide and her double Red, is exceptional. Her dual performance is the sort that should get major awards attention but, as with Toni Collette in Hereditary last year, the Oscars usually turn their nose up at great performances in horror movies. Maybe this will be the year they change their tune. Nyong’o really is that good. Peele’s next work as director is currently TBC, but he’s a writer and producer on the Candyman reboot coming out later this year. Slowly but surely, he’s emerging as a master of horror.
10=. Under the Silver Lake, dir. David Robert Mitchell
David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to his uniquely unsettling 2014 horror film It Follows is a beguiling, sprawling neo-noir odyssey, a disarming and baffling satire that transforms Los Angeles into a meandering maze full of cryptic leads and frustrating dead ends. In the same vein as The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, Under the Silver Lake features a lazy, paranoid stoner-type who finds himself wrapped up in a perplexing, convoluted mystery involving several possibly connected sub-plots and strange occurrences. A career-best turn sees Andrew Garfield sulking around the furthest reaches of the city, desperately searching for a girl he has met only once and has moved out of her apartment without telling him where she’s going. The film’s real joy is in the unpredictable and increasingly absurd nature of its rabbit-hole narrative, in which Garfield’s Sam keeps digging deeper and deeper but only ever seems to get more confused as new information arises. His sleazy, deeply unlikable character operates as a scathing criticism of the casual sexism that goes hand-in-hand with Hollywood, the entitlement of some middle-class white men, and the eruptive violence of suppressed emotion and toxic masculinity.
– Ethan Kruger
10=. The Irishman, dir. Martin Scorsese
Famous for gangster classics such as Goodfellas and The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Irishman very much fits this Mafia mould. The film follows the story of gangster Frank Sheeran, starting in 1950s America, working as the only Irishman in the Italian Bufalino crime family. At least in part, The Irishman is an intriguing work of dramatised non-fiction about US history. The film covers three different periods of Sheeran’s life, moving back and forth from the 1950s to the early 2000s. The story itself is based on the book about Sheeran by Charles Brandt titled I Heard You Paint Houses. Robert De Niro partners with Scorsese once again as the lead, with de-aging technology used throughout. For the most part this CGI is extremely convincing, especially considering how hit-or-miss these effects can be. It’s an excellent drama, with interesting exploration of American history featuring icons such as Jimmy Hoffa and Robert Kennedy. Sheeran mostly operates in the background of several historical events involving these figures. His story isn’t one that is particularly uplifting, but this lengthy tale (the film is over three hours long) is a moving character introspection.
9. Bait, dir. Mark Jenkin
On the surface, Bait looks like a quirky, experimental black-and-white film about a bearded fisherman who lives in Cornwall. You would be off the mark with this assessment: writer-director Mark Jenkin has not only hand-crafted a film that feels as tactile as the twitchy grain within the image, but also a deeply personal story about the tensions between locals and tourists that bubble underneath a community slowly being pulled apart by gentrification. Bait follows Cornish fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe) as he saves up money for a new boat, because his brother Steven has repurposed their father’s vessel as a tourist tripper – sparking conflict between the siblings. Meanwhile, the out-of-town Leigh family have bought the brothers’ childhood home (‘Skipper’s Cottage’), using it as a holiday home and for short-term rental business, which Martin struggles with as he tries to cling onto the old traditions of his village.
The filmmaking process is as fascinating as Bait‘s themes: shot on a 16mm clockwork Bolex camera, using 100ft rolls of monochrome film hand-processed in Jenkin’s studio, it feels alive and steeped in the traditions of early cinema. Furthermore, the film was shot without sound with all of the audio added in post-production. The aural soundscape produced is so transportive; you can actually smell the sea salt of the harbour from your seat. Even though the dialogue feels disconnected, it’s a deliberate choice for a story about disagreements between people struggling to resolve their own problems. Timely but also timeless, Bait is an important film about communities slowly being eroded by recent developments, one that harks back to the foundations of cinema. It will reinvigorate your passion for film yet, as the tagline says, ‘the view may be beautiful, but you can’t eat it’.
8. Joker, dir. Todd Phillips
If one movie this year truly showed that we live in a society, it was Joker. You can’t really untangle Todd Phillips’ film from the memes, with the images of Joaquin Phoenix’ Arthur Fleck dancing jubilantly on those stairs in The Bronx taking the internet by storm prior to release. Then the movie came out. Critics were polarised, but Joker has been a huge audience success. Grossing over $1 billion on an estimated $70 million production budget, a sequel seems inevitable at this point. It would be a shame as it was always touted as a standalone feature, not part of DC’s plans for a wider universe, and the ending didn’t leave much room for more story. Still, a sequel wouldn’t detract from this film’s strengths. Joker is a dark character study with a powerful performance from Phoenix, trauma mapped onto his skeletal body with remarkable veracity. Heavily influenced by Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, Phillips grimy, rat-infested Gotham City is the perfect setting to track his gradual corruption. Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score makes the whole thing tick, even though it was the inclusion of sex offender Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock and Roll Part 2’ that grabbed all the headlines. It was a problematic choice, but the song fits the moment. Probably the year’s most controversial release, Joker will linger long in the memory.
7. Midsommar, dir. Ari Aster
Ari Aster’s Midsommar is a new breed of horror film: shot in broad, constant daylight and a tranquil environment, you will find very few movies like it. Travelling to a traditional pagan festival in northern Sweden, the naive American protagonists are dropped into a Euro-centric world full of rolling fields, folklore and psychedelic tea. Aster’s dedication to his craft shines through: with almost the whole film shot in daylight, there’s no hiding away and the worst of humanity is on brutal display. The grisly effects are on par with the cinematography. Hallucinatory aspects depict the questionable actions as being both numbed and enhanced to the point of being unbearable. Tireless dancing, infidelity-riddled lust and insatiable glutton send the characters into a frenzy that transcends space and time. The casting is impeccable, with Florence Pugh as the grieving Dani whose emotionally volatility transfers viscerally into scenes of chorused screaming and weeping. Jack Reynor plays the gormless boyfriend Christian, stuck in a co-dependent relationship. Each character serves as a clear motif leading up to the slow-building climax, leaving plenty of room for conspiracy. This is a film for even the non-horror lovers. A beautiful setting, the absence of jump-scares and an interest in anthropology make for a sun and shroom-soaked folk horror indulgence.
6. Avengers: Endgame, dir. Anthony & Joe Russo
Perhaps THE cinematic event of the year, Avengers: Endgame continues where the adventure left off after Infinity War, dealing with the aftermath of Thanos’ universe-altering snap. For the first time, we deal with having our heroes lose and facing up to how far they’ll go to make it right. How does each character react to their grief? Are they willing to do “whatever it takes” to return half of the universe’s population? Endgame answers questions fans have had since Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while throwing some big curveballs into the world of our long-time favourites, including time travel, growing families, and the loss of key figures among the Avengers. It’s been a while since a Marvel film had me in tears, but Endgame had me bawling at times: from joy, sorrow, sheer relief, and everything in between.
There is something ultimately final about this instalment. When Phase 4 begins in 2020 with Black Widow, there will be something fundamentally different about this franchise. The deaths of major characters, combined with the use of time travel to revisit key locations in the universe, make it feel like Marvel’s last hurrah to the original Avengers – and to the man who started it all. Endgame includes Stan Lee’s final cameo, shot before his death in November 2018. Alan Silvestri’s score is a highlight, with personal favourite tracks including ‘One Shot’, ‘The Real Hero’ and, accompanying perhaps the most powerful moment in the entire film, ‘Portals’. And the numbers completely agree! The film dethroned James Cameron’s Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time, and the shortlist for the 2020 Academy Awards sees Endgame available for nomination in two categories: Original Score and Visual Effects. As the culmination of over ten years of Marvel history and the end to the ‘Infinity Saga’, Avengers: Endgame has cemented its place in movie history with sheer style and emotional weight.
5. Eighth Grade, dir. Bo Burnham
At face value, Eighth Grade appears to be a film we’ve seen many times before: the conventional high-school dramedy, with an awkward misfit teen who struggles to fit in with her peers and, in attempting to do so, supplies cringe-inducing humour. Only here, the embarrassing rejections and awkward encounters eighth-grader Kayla (played by astounding newcomer Elsie Fisher) experiences range from truly heartbreaking to downright disturbing. Having launched his comedy career through YouTube, first-time director Bo Burnham completely understands the intricacies of internet culture and the ever-changing colloquialisms of teenagers, with accurate depictions of social media and relevant meme references that make the film very much of its time. His often morbid and risky comedic sensibilities show here, with the script weaving between the hysterically funny, the emotionally devastating, and the profoundly discomforting – all with the mastery of a veteran filmmaker. Two scenes particularly stick out from the rest, perfectly indicating the deft tonal shifts that occur in Eighth Grade: the first, a horribly tense and claustrophobic sequence in which Kayla is put in genuine danger; the second, a hugely satisfying moment of minor personal achievement that feels like a colossal triumph, serving as a reminder that self-acceptance is more important than the approval of others.
– Ethan Kruger
4. If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins
Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk is a strong contender for best of the year. Equal parts romantic, melancholic and triumphant, Britell’s work captures the longing and love at the heart of Barry Jenkins’ brilliant follow-up to Moonlight. It tells the story of African-American couple Tish and Fonny in ’70s New York, split apart by a rape allegation that sees Fonny imprisoned as Tish finds out she’s pregnant with his child. He is the victim of systematic racism, but If Beale Street Could Talk is an essentially compassionate movie. Fonny has been wrongly convicted, yet his accuser isn’t treated like dirt. They are both victims of structures that are set up to oppress people of colour. Love shines through the film, shot through with the same tender humanity by Moonlight DP James Laxton. The chemistry between newcomers KiKi Layne and Stephan James is tangible, whilst Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Widows) is heartbreaking in a brief appearance as Fonny’s old friend Danny. Regina King deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress back in February. The reality is, If Beale Street Could Talk should have won so much more.
3. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, dir. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino has been directing critically-acclaimed, money-making masterpieces for so long now that studios seem to give him free rein. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the happy result of this. The cast reads like a BuzzFeed list of the most influential actors alive (Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino), many of whom are playing celebrities from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The director’s fascination with the 1960s setting seeps through the screen in a story which is thick with classic era references and loving homages to the glitzy Hollywood lifestyle. Although definitely more artsy than some of his previous work, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood still delivers on the hair-raising tension and violence which gained Tarantino his notoriety. In particular, an extended sequence where Cliff Booth (Pitt) unwittingly visits the sinister Manson Family’s ranch will have you peering through your fingers. Nor does the film avoid Tarantino’s trademark stylised violence, but here it is used to provide moments of comedy which will make you laugh and cringe at the same time. In short, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a brilliant look at one of the most interesting moments in Hollywood history, led by a director and cast at the top of their game.
2. Pokémon Detective Pikachu, dir. Rob Letterman
Pokémon as a media franchise has been trying to branch out from console games in recent years, creating Pokémon Go in order to attract a wider fanbase. This was wonderfully successful but only for a very brief period, so it was a bit of a surprise to see a move onto the silver screen – with new employment for its well-loved star. Pokémon Detective Pikachu was a smash hit, an enjoyable adventure whether or not viewers had any prior knowledge of the world in which it is set. Bringing to life an entire ecosystem that previously could only have been dreamt of in blocky graphics, audiences were treated to a fanciful affair of a world in which Pokémon creatures and humans coexist, with hilarious, spooky, and frankly adorable results. The somewhat complex and twisty narrative keeps you consistently engaged, never bored, and hard-core fans were given something they hadn’t experienced before. The acting is superb, from youthful newcomers Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton to seasoned actors like Ryan Reynolds (as the voice of Pikachu) and Bill Nighy. Pokémon Detective Pikachu completely exceeded all expectations, providing an exciting plot, endearing characters, and a fantasy wonderland that means it earns a rightful place in the heights of our top 10.
1. Knives Out, dir. Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson’s twisty-turny murder mystery is a genuine crowd-pleaser, which might explain best why it takes its place at the top of our list. Smart, funny, whimsical, Knives Out manages to be both original and wildly entertaining. The film has one of the best ensemble casts in recent years. Harlan (Christopher Plummer) is the wealthy patriarch of the Thrombey clan, famed for his mystery novels, who ends up dead after a tumultuous family gathering. His progeny includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Toni Collette, all spending most of Knives Out‘s runtime taking verbal chunks out of one another and having a great time doing it. The real stars of the show, though, are Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. Armas plays the charming Marta, Harlan’s nurse and close friend (their relationship is very sweet), whilst Craig is master detective Benoit Blanc – the Southern PI giving Poirot a run for his money, with a notable interest in applying the logic of donuts to solving cases. Social commentary on contemporary America is deftly layered into the fabric of the mystery narrative, with the bourgeois lives of these privileged characters given a proper inspection. It’s this underlying critique which elevates Knives Out above the average thriller, but its politics do not overwhelm how fun and playful this film is. It’s a blast.