Forget the Oscars; you can trust us to tell you the best films of the year. True, we may not be up-to-date with the incremental advancements in de-ageing technology, or be able to recognise the intricacies of good narrative development, but you can bet your bottom dollar we know what brand of watch Jason Statham wore in Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. It’s a Rolex Submariner, we’ll have you know…
So who better placed to pass judgement on this year’s films than Gentleman’s Journal? We’ve wheedled out the seven most fashionable, thrilling and generally entertaining flicks to hit screens both small and big this year — complete with a smattering of past cover stars, genuinely good drama and some of the most ludicrous scene-stealing set-pieces ever put to celluloid. So crank up your projectors; here come the best films of 2019.
The out-and-out, blood-soaked winner: Knives Out
Let’s start strongly. This wise-cracking, throat-slitting, self-aware masterpiece is, without doubt, our film of the year. It just ticks all the murdery boxes. Starry Hollywood cast? Check. Bold, singular aesthetic? You betcha. Sprawling, double-crossing, unguessable plot? The thing’s practically swimming in red herrings. And, the Kentucky-fried cherry on top of this sugary sundae is Daniel Craig’s ludicrous southern drawl; as far from 007 as his vocal chords could stretch.
But the main reason this mystery tops our list is originality. In a year of yet more sequels and reboots, director-writer-producer Rian Johnson has slashed and stabbed the competition with his sheer, unerring ingenuity. Taking the classic Agatha Christie framework and dismantling it, he managed to rebuild an entire genre; he gave a whole generation of actors the chance to play against type and put that voice in Daniel Craig’s mouth. Did we mention the accent? We did? Well give it a second round of applause — it’s darn-tootin’ worth it.
The sun-soaked style-fest: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood
It was always going to make the list. Tarantino could’ve phoned in his ninth film and we’d still probably have loved it. But the writer-director gloriously (ingloriously?) subverted our expectations with this Leonardo DiCaprio-Brad Pitt double-hander — releasing a slow-burn Hollywood fairytale with more effortless style than any other film of the year. Turtlenecks! Leather jackets! Double denim! Hawaiian shirts! The list goes fashionably on.
But the real star of the film is male friendship. What this year’s female-focused films, such as Little Women, Charlie’s Angels and even Frozen II, did for platonic women’s relationships, Tarantino’s latest epic did for middle-aged men. Rarely do you see two male characters just living their lives, supporting each other over an undramatic beer and being good normal friends. That is, of course, until one incinerates a cult-worshipping murderess in their pool with a flame-thrower. But, you know…
The dark, dreary but entirely gripping one: Joker
Judging by the broken box office records, we’ve all seen Joker. And, if the silence in our auditorium was anything to go by, it knocked everyone for six — maybe even for seven. Who knew that the man behind The Hangover trilogy, Todd Phillips, could take a comic book character to such dramatic heights? This dark, dreary tale — unremittingly bleak in its stark depiction of murder and mental illness — did what many thought was impossible; matched Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning depiction of the character in terms of both pathos and creepiness.
Joaquin Phoenix, who will surely take home an Oscar for his role as the Clown Prince of Crime, shone — even from behind smearings of grease paint — but the real star here was the script. Also penned by Phillips, the Taxi Driver-inspired take on the source material was arguably more Scorsese than Scorsese’s actual release this year, The Irishman. Frequently disturbing, constantly unpredictable and scarily topical, it made real and relevant an 80-year old villain.
The surprise teen-drama hit: Booksmart
Don’t think you’ll enjoy a coming-of-age comedy about a pair of teenage girls? Neither did we. And yet here we are, with actress Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut making it onto the list of our favourite films of the year. Credit for this can be laid principally at the doors of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s younger sister), whose performances as childhood best friends realising they’ve missed out on the high school experience is equally melancholy and uproarious.
The supporting cast are just as good. Wilde’s real-life partner Jason Sudeikis plays the girls’ principal, who they later discover is moonlighting as a Lyft driver, and young actor Skyler Gisondo’s yacht-partying, people-pleasing, Pontiac Firebird-driving human cliché threatens to steal every scene he is in. In a film full of big, funny characters, that’s no mean feat.
The action-packed punch-a-minute: John Wick Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Run! Run Keanu! Run for your life! That’s the general gist of this third film in the steadily escalating, already-quite-ridiculous John Wick film franchise. Part neo-noir, part action thriller, part Keanu Reeves killing various nefarious New York City hitmen with guns/knives/dogs/horses/books (delete as gratuitously applicable), the film was directed by a former stuntman and spins progressively out of control until a denouement plays out like a demented, murdery Home Alone.
But there’s a knowing nod to how ludicrous it all is. Keanu’s no mug, and nor are Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane, who all pop up during the adrenaline-fuelled course of the film. They’re here for the legitimately insane set-pieces and jaws-on-the-floor action — and so are we. No, it’s not going to be remembered up there with Citizen Kane or Battleship Potemkin; but if you want to see an impeccably tailored Keanu head to the library to murder a seven-foot NBA basketball player with nothing but a hardback, this is the film for you.
The flamboyantly honest musical biopic: Rocketman
If your foot wasn’t tapping within the first five minutes, then you just don’t know how to have fun. The best musical biopic so far — well, perhaps it comes just behind Walk the Line — Taron Egerton’s take on Elton John brought the musician to the big screen in the most spectacular way. But wait: wasn’t multiple Oscar-nominee and director Dexter Fletcher’s previous effort, Bohemian Rhapsody, better, we hear you ask?
No, it wasn’t. We don’t care how many awards it scooped, we couldn’t give a Scaramouche or a Fandango about the Queen biopic; it’s all about Elton for us. Irreverently fun, and unashamedly over-the-top, this was entertainment at its most pure, but it still managed not to shy away from the more serious themes, such as the singer-songwriter’s dark periods of drug use, or the overt depictions of Elton’s same-sex relationships — things Bohemian Rhapsody ran a mile from.
The surreal, stormy wildcard: The Lighthouse
File this one under ‘complete and utter lunacy’. The second feature film from the critically acclaimed director of The Witch, The Lighthouse is one of several Willem Dafoe films that Gentleman’s Journal had a sneak peek of ahead of our cover interview with the prolific actor. Suffice to say, it’s the one that stuck with us. And, even though we can’t decide if we loved or loathed its nightmare-fuel, the film got us talking. And isn’t that what good cinema should do?
Shot not only in black-and-white, but also framed in a square format, it looks unlike any other film we’ve seen this year — and plays differently, too. Dafoe, on top form, plays a curmudgeonly lighthouse keeper tasked with showing an equally curmudgeonly Robert Pattinson the ropes. It first seems like a dose of monochromatic monotony, but soon descends into a writhing tale of stormy weather, vengeful seagulls and more bodily functions than an Adam Sandler Netflix effort. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well it is. Really weird. And that’s exactly why you should give it a watch.
Want more cinematic suggestions? We take a look through the Golden Globe nominees — and make our predictions…