Top 10: Films of 2019 (So Far)
We’re more than halfway through another year, and while 2019 seems to pale in comparison to last year, it’s still too early to tell. Though the year hasn’t started out as strongly as we’d hoped, we've still been gifted with some phenomenal films so far — and there's still a whole lot of cinema yet to come before the year’s over!
We're a smaller indie blog and don't get the opportunity to see every film, so this is solely based on the films we were able to see. Also, as the subtleties of taste buds seem to differ from person to person, it's highly unlikely that we'll be in complete agreement, but if you let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, we'd love to have a conversation over the midway's lot of fantastic films.
Without further ado, here's our favorite films from 2019 (so far):
10: The Mustang
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre gives fresh perspective to the American West with her feature-length debut, The Mustang, a true story about convicts breaking horses as part of their rehabilitation. Poetic and elemental, Clermont-Tonnerre creates a quiet knockout that is physically and emotionally intensified by the powerhouse performance from Matthias Shoenaerts. It blazes down the same trail as 2018’s Lean on Pete and The Rider, creating a trifecta for the man-and-his-horse film. A bit more bristly and untamed than other horse films and a bit softer and more touching than your average prison film, The Mustang is a pretty unique slice of solemn, sun soaked indie filmmaking that has some real giddy-up. Even if you’re not riding with it for the full 90-minutes, the gorgeous cinematography and rich performances will prove to be rewarding to any and all.
9: The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is gorgeously lensed and beautifully lit. Ripe with poetic lyricism, its visuals are striking, and its persistent sun-drenched magic hour look gives it a fairytale esque vibe with a tinge of magical realism. Based in part on Jimmie Fails’ own life (he co-wrote the script with director Joe Talbot, who produced and directed), the film is a poignant and personal love letter to a city that’s up against a considerable amount of change. It’s essentially a break up film between a man and a city, only explored in a non-sappy, poetic manner. San Francisco is the Place Jimmie calls home, but it’s overrun with gentrification and suffering from a housing collapse (amidst other things), and its no longer the city that inspired or nurtured him. While it has a lot of touching things to say, it fizzles to a close, never really letting loose, but is still a solid achievement, full of quality moments and resinous imagery.
8: Dragged Across Concrete
Dragged Across Concrete is a grim and grinding buddy cop slow burn that takes audiences on a “Shotgun Safari” through the treacherous asphalt jungle. A veritable hangout film, a la QT’s Jackie Brown, it moves at the pace of an actual stakeout, managing to hit riveting pockets that define its characters and their obstacles before letting the bullets fly. It is incredibly slow, esoteric, and wholly subversive while delivering the mainstays of the genre, Zahler challenges the viewer with his reprehensible characters and by denying the gratification of their expectation in hopes of delivering it in more unexpected ways. As controversial and unapologetic as its subject matter may be, Zahler’s ability to craft thought-provoking and challenging genre stories is undeniably sharp and on full display. Plus, the casting of Mel Gibson is just perfect.
Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker that makes art your body responds to — generally a mix of trippy euphoria or dread, crawling unease, or straight-up disgust — and his latest, the dazzlingly choreographed party turned nightmare, CLIMAX, is no exception. Hypnotic, hallucinatory, and downright singular, CLIMAX creates one helluva club banging party that seems to suggest that life is a party, one that can easily spiral out from beyond your control but should be experienced nonetheless, implying to a certain degree that the dance goes on — though not in the “happily ever after” sense. Noé nihilism is as dark as it’s been since Irreversible, and his technical artistry, which is elevated by cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, Spring Breakers) is on full display, bolstered by some absolutely mesmerizing and hypnotic sequences that will leave your jaw on the floor (like the phenomenally exhaustive long take opening dance sequence).
Filled with lovable characters, wild antics, and heart, Booksmart is an infectiously hilarious debut from actress Olivia WIlde. Though it may not appear to be true at first glance, Booksmart is much more than just “Superbad with chicks,” and despite being fairly paint-by-numbers, it delivers hearty laughs and face-paced fun with confident swagger. Though it’s content to color in the lines, it’s Booksmart’s occasional scribbling outside the lines that make it truly something special. The icing on the cake is the performance from Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister). Their friendship is endearing, and more importantly, it feels authentic. Their chemistry is just as good (if not better) that Superbad’s Seth and Evan, and their back and forth exchanges are really wonderful.
5: The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum is a slyly poetic yacht-rock anthem that gives the burnt out and directionless stoner manchild a sense of authentic soul. It may be heavily lathered in a thick haze of pot smoke and hedonistic behavior, but there are pockets and bubbles of clarity that waft moments of poetry and beauty over the viewer as intoxicating as the pot Moondog indulges throughout. What it lacks in focus, it more than makes up for in swagger and charm, of which it has oodles, making the whole experience so infectiously joyful that it’s hard not to succumb to its tomfoolery. It may not have the gags that fuel a Cheech and Chong vehicle, but it evokes the same feeling of joy, and it delivers on the laughs. The half baked, no fucks given attitude completely work to its advantage, crescendoing in a fiery display so gnarly you’d think it’s a piece of ole Moondog’s clothing.
Somewhat of a spiritual cousin to Hereditary, Ari Aster’s second feature, Midsommar, finds him probing deeper into the themes of loss, grief, and codependency, dragging the horror into the sunlight and letting the festivities run red with blood in this delightfully twisted and deliciously psychedelic fairytale. Trading in darkness for sunlight and the deteriorating family dynamic for an imploding relationship, Aster frames his latest haunt around the meat of another compelling drama. However, instead of focusing on how grief and loss can destroy or transform you, Midsommar finds the budding auteur slightly shifting gears, exploring the liberation from those dreadful feelings. Amidst the eerily peculiar and unsettling horrors, there’s an element of beauty and wonder (thanks to Pawel Pogorzelski’s lush cinematography), which is one of Midsommar’s stronger assets; not since the original Wicker Man have we been reminded that things can be sun-soaked and idyllic and still unnerve and psychologically run amok.
3: High Life
There’s little wonder why we love Claire Denis’ first English-language film, High Life, so much, given how much it echoes First Reform’s themes of extinction and existential dread. The film is a wonderfully stylized challenge that defies the traditional typifications of the sci-fi genre, taking the viewer down a cerebral path that has only been trampled on by contemplative cinema and art film mainstays like Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Languid, atmospheric, elusive, and more arrhythmic than most sci-fi fare, Denis rejects all of the genre’s tried and true conventions in favor of moving to the beat of her own drum. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly rang our bell. The film gives you so much to chew on and is undeniably a singular experience that will stick with you for awhile.
2: The Art of Self-Defense
This refreshingly offbeat and deliciously niche comedy had us in an stranglehold of laughter for nearly its entirety. It may veer too heavily into the deadpan for some, but it takes on its meaty subject matter with deliberate blows that quietly boil into a surprising crescendo. It’s ultimately about toxic masculinity and the dangers of “boy’s clubs,” but it has some things to say about woman and femininity by proxy, which are just as potent. It has some really sneaky, low key zingers and several roundhouse kicks of gut bursting laughs though. Anchored by the excellent lead performance of Jesse Eisenberg, with Alessandro Nivola and Imogen Poots providing phenomenal support, The Art of Self-Defense is sure to deliver a karate chop your funny bone.
1: Her Smell
Spearheaded by an absolutely go-for-broke performance from Elizabeth Moss, Her Smell is a beautifully chaotic cyclone character study full of glitter, sweat, and mysticism that will absolutely leave you drenched in its singular aroma. It possesses a visceral energy that effectively wraps you up in its dizzying madness of its protagonist, a punk rocker on the downward spiral. The narrative is thin, and really it’s nothing new, but the performances and execution elevate the end result through the stratosphere. All of its efforts are directed solely on the characters, and slowly and subtly, it reveals shades of depth and definition to each individual character and their relationships, creating layers that the audience gets to unravel. Her Smell is pitch-perfect, even when it sings off-key, with each aspect working in harmony to create an absolutely visceral experience. Watching a rock star burn their life, career, and image to the ground and piss on the ashes has never been so engrossing or entertaining, which is why it’s our favorite film so far this year.
What do you think? Did we leave your favorite film off our list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!