At long last, we can reveal our top picks for the year – and they are as follows…
5 – ROCKETMAN
It’s the movie that Bohemian Rhapsody really should have been, with its unique and wondrous portrayal of a British music legend, told in a way that the man himself is undoubtedly proud of.
The life of Elton John, brought to life by both Dexter Fletcher’s fun-filled direction and Taron Egerton’s transformative performance, is depicted in all its glory, but wisely doesn’t hold back in showing the singer’s most troubling times, from his growing drug addiction to his pretty repulsive attitude to people around him. It refuses to lionise its central figure, and in doing so it’s a much more earnest and respectful film than the Queen biopic was, which wasn’t necessarily awful but played things way too safe and conventional, both of which Rocketman wondrously does not do.
It celebrates his greatest hits in the form of a jukebox musical, with the many song-and-dance numbers given the energy and passion of old-fashioned movies like West Side Story and The Sound of Music, and with Egerton’s strong singing voice they are sung graciously and with as much frivolity as Elton John himself once did. It’s a film that isn’t ashamed to celebrate both the good and bad qualities of a beloved figure, which not only makes it a pretty well-balanced biopic but also a rather uplifting one, because it is an inspiring story of overcoming the odds set to some of the best songs ever written, and how can anyone not love that combination?
Who knows which beloved pop superstar will be the next to get the biopic treatment, though it is doubtful that they can top the glorious nature of this real-life fantasy…
4 – AVENGERS: ENDGAME
Never before has there been such a build-up for such a momentous occasion in blockbuster cinema, and especially never one with such a beautifully satisfying pay-off as this.
The culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date set itself up with an incredibly tight corner to work its way out of – that being the unforgettable climax of Infinity War, which saw half the universe and with it many heroes we had spent the last twenty-odd movies rooting for suddenly dissolve into dust – but its many strengths lie in the strong writing which somehow juggles so many heroes from Iron Man to Captain America as well as an intricate time-travel plot without once letting them fall to the ground. So much thought and compassion has been put into these characters that even the three-hour running time manages to fly by, and that time is well spent wrapping up several plot threads and character arcs which come to a satisfying and even emotional climax here.
It takes care of these many loose ends with some of the most uproariously pleasing moments of fan-service which feel entirely earned, especially after over a decade of movies up to this point. Small things from Bruce Banner’s compromise with his Hulk-ish tendencies to Captain America finally wielding Mjolnir in battle are great, as are major developments such as THAT portals scene and – spoiler alert, in case you still haven’t seen what is now the highest-grossing movie of all time – the heartbreaking but heroic farewells to both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, as they both came to terms with their fate and bowed out in a respectful and pretty much perfect manner.
No other major franchise has accomplished what Marvel has done, and their efforts have been rewarded with an incredible crowd-pleaser that not only wraps up several storylines but also sets the bar extremely high for whatever comes next from them…
3 – THE IRISHMAN
Sure, a lot of people got up in arms when Martin Scorsese denounced Marvel movies for not being true cinema, but the fact remains that the legendary auteur can still make films that outrank even the likes of Avengers: Endgame on lists such as this, and he’s done it again with this excellent return to the world of mobsters that he helped define.
Reuniting with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since 1995’s Casino – along with, for the first time, Al Pacino as union leader Jimmy Hoffa – Scorsese’s latest is an epic in every sense of the word, from its lengthy three-and-a-half hour running time to the numerous decades it spans, using some strong de-aging technology to give his acting veterans water from the Fountain of Youth. The three give their best performances in years, especially Pacino who is thunderously great as the slain Hoffa, who are given some golden lines from writer Steve Zaillian’s tight and profound screenplay which is among one of the most layered of any film this year.
Scorsese’s vision of the life of mob hitman Frank Sheeran is a lot more nuanced that his previous gangster flicks like Goodfellas and The Departed, but it’s mesmerising in how much detail and love that the filmmaker puts into every single scene, with not a single scene feeling out of place despite the incredibly long running time. You’re left in awe of how someone like Scorsese can still be making movies this complex and technologically sound even when he’s approaching his late 70s, but of course age has nothing to do with how incredibly built and structured the movie is, making it worth the price of your Netflix subscription and then some.
It has indeed been a banner year for the streaming service, with I Lost My Body, Dolemite Is My Name and now this making this year’s list – hopefully this will act as the precedent for the years of Netflix originals to come…
2 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
Quentin Tarantino has gone on record several times that after ten movies, he’s closing up shop. It’ll be a great loss for cinema, especially with his ninth film easily being one of the filmmaker’s strongest and most loving to date.
The film contains everything you love about Tarantino – the intricate dialogue, eccentric characters, deep-cut movie homages and references, and even bare feet – and puts it to gorgeous use, in a movie that sees the filmmaker play loving tribute to a long-gone era of Hollywood ambition. From the dozens of billboards advertising classic films to a soundtrack filled with time-appropriate bops, Tarantino has recreated the late 1960s to a tee, even finding time to incorporate legendary figures such as Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and most poignantly Sharon Tate who is portrayed by Margot Robbie as the lively spirit that was so cruelly taken from us in that fateful year.
Though the presence of Charles Manson and his followers looms large over the course of the movie, we are more fixated on the lives of faded cowboy actor Rick Dalton and his stuntman friend Cliff Booth, played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt respectively, as for a lot of the film we are simply following them though a couple of days in their lives, whether they’re on movie sets or just bumming around Tinseltown. It’s exhilarating stuff to watch because not only are the characters likeable and fun to be around, but you have moments where you really feel for them and see that deep down, past the egos and questionable backstories, they are good people who just happen to be caught up in an industry that doesn’t know what to do with them.
Much has been made about the ending, which like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds completely disregards historical facts and just does its own thing, but again it is backed up by sheer entertainment value as well as the fact that you have spent enough time with these characters for their parts in this climax to feel earned and respectful. Most of all, it ends on a note that is among the sweetest that Tarantino has ever done, regardless of whether or not you know the real outcome of certain people depicted here, and it shows a level of maturity on part of the filmmaker not seen since Jackie Brown more than twenty years ago. It is certainly among the finest achievements that the director has to his name, because you can see the passion and adoration for this world on Tarantino’s part, who has translated it into a format that audiences can love just as much.
It’s a very special movie for any movie fan, and a great way to end the year if you haven’t already gotten around to seeing it. However, for me personally, there was only one other film that I loved even more…
1 – THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON
I saw a lot of movies in 2019, many of them truly phenomenal as you’ve probably already seen on this list, but none have left me feeling as uplifted, emotional and with a new positive outlook on life as The Peanut Butter Falcon, my pick for the very best film of the year.
A film that takes plenty of inspiration from Mark Twain but has the decency to be its own unique product, this is the kind of movie that will cure any depression you may have, because it promotes the most beautiful of human values, whether they be friendship, family, or even just being a kind and decent person, all of which leave you with the most wondrous of feelings. You will laugh at all the right moments, whether it’s moments of physical comedy or fantastically delivered lines (“What’s rule number one?” “Party!”), be on the verge of tears at other moments, especially as we discover more and more about certain characters – played wonderfully by Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson and debut actor Zack Gottsagen – and, most importantly, having just the most joyous time as you accompany these people on their journey together.
So much heart has been poured into the script by directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who have plenty of it to spare in their direction, especially when you know the origins of how this movie came to be. They met Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome, at a camp for disabled actors and channelled his desire to become an actor into a film they crafted especially for him, which just goes to show how much this project was founded on love and care for someone who might never have been given a real chance in the industry. Seeing someone like Gottsagen in a major role in a movie that has garnered great attention through positive reviews and strong word of mouth is nothing short of inspiring, especially for any disabled people who might think they don’t have what it takes to make it in the business; all they now have to do is watch this film and see how well Gottsagen handles being the primary focus of the movie, which hopefully will be all they need to tell themselves that they are indeed just as able as any other actor or filmmaker.
There is so much else that I could get into about the film, from the great supporting cast to the powerful themes of friendship and goodwill, but really the best way to find out how fantastic this movie has turned out to be is to just watch it. I cannot see anyone seeing this movie and coming out of it with a far less positive outlook on the world than they were going in, because it is one of those movies that will have you forgetting all the rotten stuff going on in the real world, even if it is just for ninety minutes, and just enjoying the reminder that there is still goodness out there which might not be immediately apparent, but is there all the same. I highly applaud Nilson and Schwartz who, with their debut feature no doubt, have turned in a movie that puts many of the big blockbusters released this year to shame; nowhere in the likes of The Lion King, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw or even Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker would you find emotion, character and thematic depth that this film carries in spades, nor do any of them have the same amount of pure goodwill and optimism about humanity. There is not a shred of cynicism in its body, nor is there any sense of corporate control; this is just pure cinema, at its finest and its most uplifting.
Please do search far and wide for this movie wherever possible, because I guarantee you will never regret letting a little bit of joy and happiness into your life…