2019 has been a stellar year for cinema. The blockbuster fare of the likes of Avengers: Endgame and Joker have been enjoyed by audiences the world over, while rom-coms have continued their resurgence (this time both on and away from Netflix) and comedies are returning to a level of popularity they haven’t been at for a decade. In the US, traditional filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach have taken to Netflix to complete passion projects, while up and coming women such as Greta Gerwig and Olivia Wilde have directed theatrical hits. In the UK, local talent has produced more than one international audience success and seen a growth in popular locally focused releases, while in Europe, Asia and Africa, films like Pain & Glory, Parasite and Atlantics have earned a worldwide reputation. Coming out of South America have been some of the most visually stunning and affecting movies of the entire year, including Pablo Larraín’s Ema which won’t be eligible for selection in this list due to its slated 2020 release date in the UK, and China has particularly reinforced its relevance and importance to the global theatrical conversation with a number of $500million-plus local box office hits and a more important role in US productions and scheduling than ever before.
As 2019 ends and the conversations of the behind-the-scenes mechanations of the industry dwindle, it will be the artistry put to screen that we shall most fondly remember. And, in a year of releases filled to the brim with modern auteurs, acting masterclasses and high quality genre fare, there has been almost too much great cinema to handle… almost.
In this list, it is my intention to outline the 10 best releases of the 2019 UK cinema release schedule; the films we’ll be talking about for years to come. Hopefully there’ll be a few that will inspire you to check out something new, though the boundary of UK release dates does mean that the likes of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Jojo Rabbit, Parasite, Uncut Gems and The Lighthouse will not be eligible for selection.
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Nadine Labicki’s blend of documentary and drama for the 2019 Foreign Language Oscar contender Capernaum offered a unique cinematic experience that, when paired with the film’s heart-tugging narrative and the allegory it presented regarding the people of Lebanon, made for one of the most emotionally draining but beautifully constructed movies of the year.
Zain Al Rafeea was a revelation as the 12 year old Lebanese boy who runs away from his abusive, emotionally damaging, dangerous and impoverished home in search of something new, while Labicki handled the project so carefully as to illustrate the struggles of her region in stark contrast to the privileges of our own while avoiding the trap of making a poverty vacation on film.
Praised for being “real”, Capernaum was far more than that; it was a strong and at times even poetic offering with layer after layer of allegory, metaphor and political commentary to unravel.
9. Sorry We Missed You
Legendary director Ken Loach speaks to the struggles of the working class in a way that no other filmmaker does on such a consistent basis, and in his 2019 Cannes competition entry Sorry We Missed You, the filmmaker behind Kes (1969) and 2016’s Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake took multi-billion dollar corporations to task over reduced rights for workers, bringing into question over a decade of policies set forth by governments on both sides of the atlantic following the banking crash of 2008.
What Loach excels in is creating empathy, with fully formed characters given room to grow within the movie and therefore hit the biggest emotional gut punch possible, often with untrained or at least non-famous actors, and in Sorry We Missed You he hit another peak of his catalogue, directing a film that not only spoke of a great, deeply held and sorry truth in our modern society, but one that was also relateable and truly heart-wrenching.
If I, Daniel Blake was our quiet rage, then Sorry We Missed You was our impassioned cry for help.
Recommended for you: I, Daniel Blake (2016) Review
8. For Sama
A documentary that will flatten you, For Sama, from the frontlines of the civil war in Syria, is not only one of the most affecting and tragic movies of 2019, but also one of the most important.
Filmed in war-torn Syria from the uprising of the revolution to the current day by journalist Waad Al-Kateab, and addressed directly to her daughter with whom she chose to stay in the country’s most populous and dangerous city of Aleppo, this personal tale of existing within a warzone imposed by one’s own government excels in presenting universal moments of pride, passion and most sadly grief, making for an unmissable, empathy-driving piece of cinema that is truly unique in its insight, timing and political significance.