It's only September and already 2019 has given us a solid stable of films that will stand the test of time. Whether it's Scandinavian surrealism or the climax of Marvel's biggest feat of cinematic architecture, it's been a year that has had a little bit of something for everyone. If you've been a bit bad at heading to the cinema this year, don't panic: the following list is a comprehensive guide to what you should catch up on and a portal to our reviews so you can sound like you know what you're talking about.
Ari Aster had already haunted the internet with his cursed short The Strange Thing About The Johnsons and helped Jordan Peele make horror movies quality cinema again when Hereditary came out in 2018. When the teasers began to emerge for Midsommar – of pagan tapestries and horror set in eternal sunlight – it looked like he’d stumbled on to another winner. Amazingly, the hype was right: Midsommar is the most powerfully depressing, bleak and yet beautiful slice of horror since Annihilation.
2. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Who knew that the brutal murder of brutal murderers could be so funny? In Tarantino’s tribute to Sharon Tate-era Hollywood, DiCaprio and Pitt play best friends, colleagues and partners in crime in a study of age, danger and the perils of fame. It is, from a director who loves violence and chaos, a film about hope. “I simply was not expecting this from a Tarantino film, especially not this one,” said Jonathan Dean when he reviewed Once Upon A Time In Hollywood earlier this year. “This, on an emotional level, is why I like the film so much.” Read the full review here.
In the last twelve months we've had two big biopics of British artists: Bohemian Rhapsody took on Freddie Mercury and Rocketman took on Elton John. Both saw Dexter Fletcher, in different ways, play a part in telling these stories. While Rhapsody got its dues at the Oscars this year, Rocketman – which is gunning for 2020’s nominations – is not just a phenomenal biopic, it’s a phenomenal piece of cinema.
To quote Jonathan Dean when he reviewed it for GQ: “A terrific, odd, immensely moving fantasy biopic for a fantasy life. While, one suspects, Bohemian Rhapsody had Mercury weeping in his grave, the film of John fits his life like an expensive sequinned glove.” Read the full review here.
4. Marianne & Leonard
A documentary re-examining the relationship between Leonard Cohen and his famed muse Marianne Ihlen, the movie reassessed the use of the word “muse”, a term that seems laden with inhuman (male) artists preying on discarded women. If you want to know more about the vital importance of Marianne & Leonard, you could do a lot worse than reading Thomas Barrie’s excellent piece here.
5. Toy Story 4
No movie trilogy has ever finished as perfectly at Toy Story 3 and yet Toy Story 4... feels deeply, deeply necessary. More mournful than its previous films, it is one filled with a pervasive sense of duty, pain and sadness.
Beanie Feldstein's rise and rise as one of the most exciting actresses out there was cemented by Booksmart. A female-led movie that seems, on the surface, to be another comedy in the style of Judd Apatow, the film managed to ascend to much greater heights than suggested. A movie that provides a template for how respectful and intelligent teenagers nowadays can be and how art that approaches them should be made.
7. The Favourite
The Favourite is such a lauded, celebrated movie that to call it one of 2019’s best films feels in some way reductive. Yet on 1 January, a year of excellent cinema was started off with a lavish, unpretentious and violently funny look at Queen Anne and her court of ambitious, fluid consorts.
“The Favourite feels as modern in its style as it does in the handling of its themes: betrayal, ambition, love,” wrote GQ style savant Teo van den Broeke. “It's John Webster’s The Duchess Of Malfi without the gore, EastEnders without the accents.”
8. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins had a lot of people gasping for his next movie after Moonlight. Enter: If Beale Street Could Talk, a beautifully shot and gently paced adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel. A study of love in a time of racism and hostility, as well as a look at the power of family, the film will be remembered for the Oscar-winning role it gave Regina King but should be lauded for much more.
9. Always Be My Maybe
Netflix have leapt aboard the good ship romcom with a slew of movies that go from tacky to high-concept, but always with a focus on telling diverse and interesting stories. Always Be My Maybe is destined to be watched on hungover Sundays and the odd Valentine’s Day: but when that’s all a movie intends to be, is that such a problem? Ali Wong and Randall Park are so beguiling in this story of Asian-American childhood friends that I could watch it as much as anything Nora Ephron or Rob Reiner made.
10. Avengers: Endgame
It may not be subtle, and it may not pick up any of the big gongs at the Oscars, but the final movie of the two-part Avengers spectacle, Endgame, was a true display of what modern blockbuster cinema is capable of. A blend of comedy and tragedy, of absurd little vignettes and sweeping set pieces, of fan service and exquisite bleakness, Endgame was a rollercoaster farewell to a very specific phase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and to a phase in Western cinema we won't soon forget. Read our review of Avengers: Endgame here.
11. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese and Bob Dylan. Need we say anymore? All right, maybe a bit: the documentary, available on Netflix, takes a look at Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, one of the most vital parts of Seventies musical culture. To quote our review from Bill Prince: “An on-the-road movie that takes a diversion into pure fantasy, two of America’s greatest storytellers have delivered the best documentary of the year.”
How do you follow up from a movie as pointed, political and terrifying as Get Out? Jordan Peele gives us the surreal, gothic Us: a movie that turns charity advertising campaigns, fairgrounds and home assistant devices into objects of morbid humour.
Did we need an alt-right tinged origin story for Batman's devilish adversary? You could argue we didn't. But Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is a revolutionary performance, a chance to see one of our best actors step out and bring new life to a character we all thought we knew.
14. Ad Astra
If you think the idea of space travel is wild, imagine being a filmgoer in the Nineties and thinking Brad Pitt would be able to play an inconspicuous man named Roy. A brave new world indeed. Pitt's transformation into august legend of the screen is a beautiful one to watch and nowhere are his acting chops more visible than in Ad Astra. Read our full review here.