After so much negativity (like we needed any more of that after the election results), it’s finally time to celebrate the brightest and most outstanding movies to debut over the last year.
But first, some notable mentions (in no particular order):
- The Farewell
- Marriage Story
- The Keeper
- Little Women
- Wild Rose
- John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
- Fighting With My Family
- Blue Story
- Gloria Bell
- The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot
And now, on with the show…
15 – JOKER
It was the film that Twitter loved to hate, even before they actually saw it, but Todd Phillips’ dark and disturbing vision of the classic Batman villain’s origins is a fascinating, engaging, and almost entirely superb film that stays in the mind long after watching it.
Whether it’s the gritty realism of Gotham City in the 1980s, or Joaquin Phoenix’s utterly mesmerising turn as failed stand-up turned Clown Prince of Crime Arthur Fleck, Phillips’ film commands your attention even as the film gets into some pretty rough truths about society, and what could happen to someone who’s completely ostracised by the system through no real fault of their own. It’s difficult to watch at times, thanks to instances of shocking violence as well as some very twisted reveals regarding certain characters’ backstories, but did you really expect a film about one of the most famous comic villains of all time to go easy on any of that? It wouldn’t be nearly as engrossing if Phoenix’s Joker went around adopting puppies or feeding the homeless for two hours.
The “controversy” surrounding this film, most of it on Twitter, didn’t seemed to deter audiences one bit, as it ended up grossing more than $1 billion worldwide next to a $55 million budget, making it the most profitable comic-book movie of all time. Critical reaction was a little more mixed, and the movie’s lack of subtlety in its messages lead me to understand why, but those who liked it seemed to really like it, and in my case it ended up staying with me after seeing it long enough for it to earn a spot on this list. It’s a well-made, well-acted and all around well put-together alternate to the classic superhero origin which is a must for comic-book movie fans, and movie fans in general.
Don’t worry about the film causing incel violence, like Twitter seems to have predicted; after all, the worst thing that the movie has done is gentrify a New York stairway. Speaking of which, here’s that glorious moment for all of you to enjoy…
14 – I LOST MY BODY
Animation this year was mostly dominated by sequels and reboots, from Frozen 2 to The Addams Family, but every once in a while there would be a gem that was completely and utterly original, and this French-native beauty was one of the most unique out of all of them.
Based on the book Happy Hand by this film’s co-writer Guillaume Laurant, its initial premise of a severed hand springing to life and journeying to be reunited with its body might not immediately sound so alluring, but once you get past the absurdity of it you’ll find a gorgeous meditation on life and its many eccentricities. There is strong emotion to mine from the sweetly simple main plot, as well as that of the story behind the young man who the hand belongs to, and it’s told through striking visual means that a live-action film would struggle to replicate.
The animation is gorgeous, kind of like a rough-edged Studio Ghibli film, effortlessly combining both 2D and 3D effects to take you on a visceral tour across the gritty streets of Paris. You can see the pencil-lines that have gone into nearly every frame, and you can see how the more computer-based effects have expanded this city to really feel like something which could truly exist in the real world. It’s wondrous stuff to witness, and the fact that you are also being emotionally satisfied – bar a couple of instances where it makes a few unnecessary detours into cliché – gives it an even more powerful impact.
It’s worth queuing it up on Netflix (its permanent home), as it’s by far one of the year’s more original animated films, and also one of the year’s best. So grab a hold of it when you can…
13 – KNIVES OUT
Rian Johnson’s fifth film, and his first since pissing off toxic fanboys with The Last Jedi, is a glorious homage to Agatha Christie that surprises, delights, and most of all entertains all while keeping some of its biggest secrets withheld until needed. It is also, quite frankly, his best work to date.
It works because it is not only a strong mystery, with twists and turns throughout that make it wildly unpredictable, but it is also an absolute blast of energy, taking aims at the privileged lives of the upper class from vapid lifestyle gurus to entitled trust fund kids, even poking fun at racist online trolls in the process (no doubt inspired by the fierce backlash Johnson received for The Last Jedi). It tackles themes like class, immigration and modern-day politics with such biting satire that it easily works as a funny, and deeply telling, study of the rich as much as it does a murder-mystery that Christie herself would be proud of.
It is filled with fun performances by a great ensemble cast, from Jamie Lee Curtis to Michael Shannon to Chris Evans – the latter relishing in a role that could not be further from Steve Rogers if it tried – with standouts including Daniel Craig as the flamboyant Kentucky-fried detective brought in to solve the case (whose Southern accent would have made him an ideal replacement for Kevin Spacey on House of Cards), and Ana de Armas in a breakthrough performance as the film’s unexpected secret weapon. The cast and their incredibly entertaining performances alone make this film worth recommending, but the fact that it is also one of the year’s most fun movies makes it extremely hard to overlook.
Hopefully, the film’s success will compel Johnson to make more movies with Craig’s Benoit Blanc; after all, the actor needs stability following his final performance as James Bond next year, so what better chance to jump onto a new franchise than this?
12 – DIRTY GOD
In one of the year’s bravest turns, Vicky Knight – who received severe burns at the age of eight in a pub fire – delivers a debut performance of raw vulnerability as an acid attack survivor coping with her newfound scars, in a film that feels as authentic and truly heart-breaking as its lead actress.
Director Sacha Polak’s gritty take on such a tragic situation is worth watching for so many reasons, beyond simply Knight’s exemplary turn as the victimised Jade. For one, it’s rich with themes of self-acceptance and insecurity, as Jade neglects her duties as a mother to an infant daughter to smoke, drink and party with her friends, as well as sign up for a webcam site to masturbate with other users, which are certainly depicted as selfish and irresponsible at times, but add so much to the character’s growingly complex view of the world that has cruelly scarred her for life.
Polak channels her inner Ken Loach and Andrea Arnold to make the film a compelling character study that takes us from the streets of London to the landscapes of Morocco, and she always comes back to her lead actress who, once again, excels in a completely engrossing performance that makes you forget that this is her first major acting gig. The actress exhumes the charisma and cheeky attitude of a movie star while also digging deep into her character’s need for acceptance in the world (an extended sequence where she tries on a burka that completely covers her body stays long in the memory for its other-worldly framing and the actress’s energetic turn).
She is marvellous in a film that is sure to give her an extraordinary boost for her new career, and hopefully it takes off as it leaves me curious about what she can also do…
11 – TOY STORY 4
For a movie that had absolutely no reason for existing, the fourth entry in Pixar’s most beloved franchise unexpectedly set new precedent for the series from an emotional and even considerate standpoint.
While the previous three Toy Story films focused more on the numerous beloved playthings of (formerly) Andy’s room, this one was very much Woody’s tale, not only nurturing a newly-alive toy named Forky into his new existence, but also reuniting with his long-lost love Bo Peep and realising that, for the first time, there might actually be more for him than just being played with by children. It ended up being an emotional and deeply personal journey for the cowboy doll, especially one we’ve all watched and loved ever since the first film, and the meaningful conclusion perfectly caps his journey throughout all four movies in a way that will have you crying and feeling extremely uplifted.
As to how it stacks against the other movies in the series, it contains some of its funniest moments – a duck and bunny pair played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele steal many of their scenes, as does Keanu Reeves’ deeply insecure Canadian stuntman toy – and, of course, some of its most gorgeous animation with the backgrounds and textures being so photo-realistic that you could almost mistake it for being live-action in certain parts. Though many of the original gang get very little to do here, they are still served well in a story where the primary focus is on Woody and his growing detatchment from his very reason for being.
It makes for the series’ most profound and even mature film to date, and is certainly Woody’s finest hour…