3. Marriage Story
This is Noah Baumbach’s best film. The writing is operating on another level and he has sensational performances, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver playing a couple going through a divorce, to back it all up. You may think you’ve heard the story before and seen it done to death but Baumbach positions the whole thing like a rom-com. It even has a great Randy Newman score! There are scenes here every parent and couple should watch, frustrating in their lack of reason and objectivity but rewarding in their closure. The often jovial tone makes the scenes of anger and despair cut through even harder and the whole experience feels emotionally exhausting – only growing our empathy for the characters.
2. High Life
‘2001: A Sex Odyssey’ is how I described Claire Denis’ sci-fi opus immediately after seeing it.
Robert Pattinson plays Monte, a death row inmate sent on a mission to space to harvest energy from a black hole. It’s extremely challenging to watch as the narrative structure makes it almost impossible to feel settled (intended I’m sure). It’s full of pessimism and despair about the human condition as well as a focus on mortality and the effect on our animalistic nature. There are moments of joy to be found in Denis’ other work such as Beau Travail or 35 Shots of Rum, but this doesn’t really happen in High Life, the filmmaker instead choosing unrelenting nihilism and misanthropy. I loved it.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins is one of the most important directors working today. His films focus on the experiences of, and the prejudices facing, African Americans. He uses beautifully intimate close-ups and manages to get transcendent performances from his actors. If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Fonny (played by Stephan James), who is accused of raping a woman, and the fight of Tish (his girlfriend played by Kiki Layne) to prove his innocence. It’s that same particular kind of plug-it-into-your-veins-with-a-drip filmmaking we saw in Jenkins’ Moonlight, the credits roll and you wish you could spend longer with the characters and share their strife. It would be so easy to be bitter and angry while telling a story with this amount of injustice but, if anything, anger is retrained in favour of empathy and compassion; for the characters, their stories and us as viewers. It’s absolutely the best film of 2019 and we really don’t deserve it.