The best films of 2019 that you can’t afford to miss
PUBLISHED: 14:49 08 January 2020
It’s easy to miss great films at the cinema when they come and go so quickly. Here’s our selection of great movies from 2019 that you should really catch-up with at home
Everyone knows about the major Oscar contenders like Roma, The Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born or the big blockbusters like Black Panther, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story 4 and the live action Lion King.
But, away from the blockbusters, each year there are quieter, quirkier films with heartwarming stories and characters who are more relatable than super-powered action heroes.
We all enjoy the escapist buzz that James Bond film or the latest Star wars adventure brings but equally, there are times when we are just in the mood for something charming, funny or just off-the-wall.
Here is a selection of those smaller movies with big hearts that just may sneak their way into your 2019 list of personal favourites.
Old Man and the Gun; Director: David Lowery; Stars: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek
Robert Redford's last outing as an actor and it's a brilliant swan-song. Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70, it follows Tucker as he stages an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.
Collette; Director: Wash Westmoreland; Stars: Keira Knightley, Fiona Shaw, Dominic West
Dazzling bio-pic about the timeless writer who had to struggle to be recognised in her own right. It's beautifully written, directed and performed which makes it so much more than a standard historical bio-pic.
This inventive film digs beneath the surface of its characters to offer both a refreshing angle on history and a thoughtful comment on the #MeToo world.
Soon after her marriage to successful Parisian writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, known commonly as "Willy" (Dominic West), Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) is persuaded to ghostwrite a racy, semi-autobiographical novel for her new husband. When it becomes a huge success Colette begins a fight to be recognised as the author and in the process redefines the role of women in Paris society.
Pain & Glory; Director: Pedro Almodóvar; Stars: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penélope Cruz
The great Spanish director is re-teamed with his twin muses Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz for this intimate, auto-biographical tale of a film director who is forced to reflect on the choices he's made in the past as his world is about to come crashing down around him.
If Beale Street Could Talk; Director: Barry Jenkins; Stars: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Was an Oscar contender last year, but it's in our list because it didn't get much screen time in our part of the world. A young woman embraces her pregnancy while she and her family set out to prove her childhood friend and lover innocent of a crime he didn't commit.
Barry Jenkins follows up the Oscar-winning Moonlight with this gently romantic drama with a fiercely topical core, so while its staggeringly beautiful filmmaking tantalises our eyes and emotions, the film is also stirring something darker and deeper about the deep-seated injustice in American society.
Sometimes Always Never; Director: Carl Hunter; Stars: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe
This tender fantasy detective drama centres around the love of words. Bill Nighy plays Alan, a stylish tailor with moves as sharp as his suits. He has spent years searching tirelessly for his missing son, Michael, who stormed out over a game of scrabble. With a body to identify and his family torn apart, Alan must repair the relationship with his youngest son, Peter, and solve the mystery of an online player who he thinks could be Michael, so he can finally move on and reunite his family.
Booksmart; Director: Olivia Wilde; Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams
This glorious movie turned the high school buddy movie on its head. Helmed by actress-turned director Olivia Wilde, she gives the movie an exhilarating "you and me against the world" tone, as the realisation suddenly dawns on them that they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
The Current War; Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon; Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Oliver Powell, Katherine Waterston
We all take electricity for granted. We expect it to be there at the flick of a switch but the story of the development of electrical power is fascinating. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, with his whizzy visual sensibilities, which pull out internal feelings using snappy camerawork and a sparky script, the film traces the battle for supremacy as two rival inventors battle to light-up North America. It's a great story, and a fascinating film.
Midsommar; Director: Ari Aster; Stars: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren
One of the big critical hits of the year but didn't linger long in the superhero-packed cinemas of the summer, which is a pity because this atmospheric film deserves a far bigger audience.
A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown's fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.
Blinded By The Light; Director: Gurinder Chadha; Stars: Viveik Kalra, Nell Williams, Dean-Charles Chapman
You wouldn't think that Luton in the 1980s would be a natural home to the New Jersey rock'n'roll of Bruce Springsteen but Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha, integrates both elements beautifully to create this heartwarming true story of a young Asian writer trying to find his voice in Thatcher's Britain. A witty script, lively performances from the young cast and a soundtrack packed with the best tunes from The Boss means that this is movie which has a lot of rewatch value.
Judy; Director: Rupert Goold; Stars: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock
Renée Zellweger turns in a career-best performance as Hollywood icon Judy Garland. This film captures her in the late 1960s, performing a last series of concerts in London. Chronically unwell, battling a multitude of different conditions brought on by a life-time of drink and drug abuse, Judy still manages to come to life in front of an audience. One of the films of the year.
The Farewell; Director: Lulu Wang; Stars: Shuzhen Zhao, Awkwafina, X Mayo
A studio film with a indie sensibility, helped by the fact it is an inter-generational story told across two continents and in two languages. A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies. It highlights how different generations and different cultures treat the subject of death and how families relate to tradition.
The Souvenir; Director: Joanna Hogg; stars: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, James Dodds
Vaguely autobiographical, this latest film by writer-director Joanna Hogg topped many critics year end Best Of lists. Hogg's movies certainly aren't easy. She expertly exposes the brittle nature of the British middle-classes, telling stories that are anchored in repressed emotions and the need for a stiff-upper-lip.
In the early 1980s, Julie (Swinton Byrne) is a film student in London, living in a pricey flat in Knightsbridge. She takes art seriously, but clearly hasn't had much life experience outside her pampered childhood with doting mother Rosalind (real-life mother Swinton). Then Julie meets Anthony (Burke), who works in the Foreign Office and has the same privately educated pedigree as Julie. Their relationship is cold and stiff, just like their parents'. And since they never truly share themselves with each other, Julie is wilfully ignorant of the fact that Anthony is a heroin addict.
Bait; Director: Mark Jenkin; Stars: Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd
British independent film, shot in black and white and on 16mm, this film focuses on life in traditional Cornish fishing villages, which are in danger of being gentrified by second home-owners, destroying the natural balance of Cornish life and sending house prices through the roof, making them unaffordable for local people.
The film follows Martin, a fisherman without a boat, his brother Steven having re-purposed it as a tourist tripper. With their childhood home now a get-away for London money, Martin is displaced to the estate above the harbour.
The Peanut Butter Falcon; Directors: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz; Stars: Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf, Ann Owens, Dakota Johnson
One of the most heartwarming films of the year. The Peanut Butter Falcon is an adventure story set in the world which comes across as a modern mix of Swallows and Amazons and the world of Mark Twain. Zak is a young man with Down syndrome who runs away from the nursing home where he lives to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Bizarrely, Tyler, a small-time outlaw on the run, becomes Zak's unlikely coach and ally. Together they wind through deltas, elude capture, drink whisky, find God, catch fish, and convince Eleanor, a kindly nursing home employee with a story of her own, to join them on their journey.
Official Secrets; Director: Gavin Hood; Stars: MyAnna Buring, Keira Knightley, John Heffernan, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes
Dazzling contemporary thriller which emphasises how quickly the news becomes history. It tells the true story of a British whistleblower who leaked information to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It's a strikingly well-made film that moves at a gripping pace and reminds you that UK film-makers can match the Hollywood giants.
The Good Liar; Director: Bill Condon; Stars: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey
A rare onscreen head-to-head meeting of two theatrical giants as Mirren and McKellan play a game of
cat and mouse in this wonderful caper movie that just fizzes with terrific dialogue.
Consummate con man Roy Courtnay has set his sights on his latest mark: the recently widowed Betty McLeish, worth millions. But this time, what should have been a simple swindle escalates into a deadly dance with the ultimate stakes.
Marriage Story; Director: Noah Baumbach; Stars: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Julia Greer, Laura Dern, Alan Alda
It's already been described as a contemporary classic and has been nominated for a whole string of awards, this Netflix-funded movie is a quirky, semo-autobiographical tale inspired by the separation and divorce of writer-director Noah Baumbach from his first wife Jennifer Jason-Leigh. This drama is infused with a sense of sadness but thankfully never turns mopey or maudlin nor does it point the blame at any one individual. Instead it provides all its stars with some wonderfully meaty moments to get their teeth into.
Harriet; Director: Kasi Lemmons; Stars: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn
A captivating film which lays out in extraordinary detail the true story of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and her transformation into one of America's greatest figures, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves. Cynthia Erivo is brilliant in the title role while the usual bio-pic conventions are remade as an action-thriller.
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