With Netflix’s The Irishman and Marriage Story dominating early awards season debate – and both featuring in our collective top ten – the streaming platforms have truly arrived as major contenders to the traditional studios. And it wasn’t just in the field of English-language filmmaking that Netflix made major gains. World cinema has also benefitted, from first-timers like Mati Diop (Atlantics) to innovative animations (Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body).

Still publically opposed to Netflix’s brief/non-existent theatrical windowing, this year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival crowned a true crowd-pleaser with its top award. From Korean master Bong Joon-ho, Parasite is already the highest-grossing Palme d’Or winner of all time, taking over $20 million in the US and an estimated $121 million worldwide. While UK audiences may have to wait until 7 February 2020 for their piece of the peach, all of our films featured in our best of round-up are eligible for inclusion if they have premiered at an international festival from 1 January-31 December 2019.

10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (dir. Céline Sciamma)

With her previous films Tomboy and Girlhood, French director Céline Sciamma mainly worked in social realism, creating incisive contemporary portraits of life. Already cruelly overlooked for next year’s Oscars her latest, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, represents a refreshing change in direction. Fittingly for a film about a painter (played by Noémie Merlant, opposite the always wonderful Adèle Haenel) the compositions are glorious: the use of a rich and diverse colour palette; the perfectly framed mise en scene and the feel for texture and material as well as the softness of skin and the body. John Bleasdale

9. Pain and Glory (dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Pain and Glory’s exquisite pacing, its discovery of sexuality, relationship with the creative spirit and reconciliation with the past are about as Almodóvar as Almodóvar gets. As a semi-autobiographical piece about a master European filmmaker reflecting on his career, comparisons have understandably been drawn with Fellini, the self-reflexive Italian director par excellence. But where 8 1/2 is about self-conscious creative doubt, Pain and Glory is a study of acceptance, revelation and reconciliation; it is about cinema’s relationship with the past and its power to reshape and cohere memory as a means of coming to terms with it. Christopher Machell

8. For Sama (dir. Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts)

From five years-worth of footage as Syria falls into catastrophic civil war, filmmaker Waad al-Kateab constructs a narrative of astonishing humanity, clarity and urgency, capturing a global outrage from the perspective of the human and individual. At its centre is optimism for the coming liberation, that gradually morphs into an understanding of the true cost of resistance. Yet her and the city’s resilience persists even in the face of defeat; she is never fully disabused of the optimism that drove her to resist in the beginning. CM

7. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a kind of ghost story: a questioning “What if?”; a movie both haunting and haunted. Tarantino’s latest could be counted as a piece of Hollywood gothic, even. It isn’t nostalgic for the past – instead, it investigates cultural memory, cinema as a memorial and as a form of afterlife. As we watch anybody who has passed away in real-life up there on the big screen, they become a ghost, a phantom image on a loop, set to repeat. With his latest, Tarantino hasn’t rewritten the past to make us feel better – he has honoured and paid tribute to star mythology. Martyn Conterio

6. A Hidden Life (dir. Terrence Malick)

Authentic being, leaps of faith and mortality haunt every frame of Terrence Malick’s latest opus, A Hidden Life (formerly known as Radegund). Basing his new film on the life and death of Second World War conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter (played here by August Diehl), the reclusive American auteur is unlikely to win over detractors, but true believers will swoon. MC

p070ns0k

5. The Souvenir (dir. Joanna Hogg)

Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical feature The Souvenir introduced Honor Swinton Byrne (daughter of Tilda) in a tour de force performance. It’s a stunning evocation of a young woman’s rite of passage in 1980s London, as well as a poignant exploration of an artist’s early foray into film. Hogg captures to perfection the milieu of early 1980s London, destructive first love and artistic awakening, and we can’t wait for The Souvenir: Part II in 2020 (release date TBC). Lucy Popescu

4. The Irishman (dir. Martin Scorsese)

With The Irishman, Martin Scorsese offers us his first truly autumnal film – a picture about age’s slow, inevitable decline. There are the signature dolly shots, the period pop music, the bursts of brutality, but there is also a frail melancholy we have rarely glimpsed in even his statelier films. Anchored by a rarely-better Robert De Niro – with ample support from Joe Pesci, Stephen Graham and an exceptional Al Pacino as union head Jimmy Hoffa – this is a late-era masterpiece from the man they call “Marty”. CM

3. Ad Astra (dir. James Gray)

From the thin blue line that divides the brothers of We Own the Night to the disrupted family units of Little Odessa and The Lost City of Z, it’s the external forces that pull us apart rather than the ties that bind us that’s of most interest to American filmmaker James Gray. Gray once again returns to such preoccupations with his most ambitious – and costly at $80m+ – work to date. This could well be the first and last time Gray is handed the keys to the movie-making sandpit – but what a ride it was. Daniel Green

2. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story contains one of the all-time great on-screen arguments between a couple. Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johanssen) tear chunks out of each other, shouting, interrupting and needling one another’s insecurities with remarkable brutality. They go toe-to-toe throughout, each getting a Halloween night with their son, each getting an ‘asshole’ lawyer, each getting an irrepressibly viral-worthy rendition of a song from Sondheim’s Company. But they also weep, remember themselves and, by the film’s end, make sure to care for one another. This is Baumbach at his least self-conscious, arriving at a raw honesty which goes straight for the tear-ducts but keeps us smiling. Tom Duggins

1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)

There is so much to say about Parasite, it’s difficult to know where to start. Much like the Kim family desperately holding aloft their smartphones in search of free wi-fi, we hope to explore every nook and cranny of this strange, hilarious story, as they try to unpack its astonishing allegory. What begins as a domestic heist movie, the Kim family’s cuckoo’s nest ploy turns stranger and stranger as the film progresses. Ambition, duplicity, social mobility, the eco-system of economics – the film covers so much ground without being simplistic or losing any of its richness to sentimentality or moralistic overtures. The finest compliment you can give to a film is called for here: it simply has to be seen. TD

Honourable Mentions
American Factory
Apollo 11
Bait
Balloon
Diego Maradona
Ema
Everybody in The Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992
Heimat is a Space in Time
Honeyland
Jallikattu
The Lighthouse
Little Women
Saturday Fiction
So Long, My Son
Sorry We Missed You
Uncut Gems
Varda by Agnès
Vitalina Varela
Waves
Zombi Child

Daniel Green

Advertisements