7. If Beale Street Could Talk
Adapted from the book by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk solidified the talent of screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) as a filmmaker of screen poetry and melancholia the likes of which hasn’t been on offer in American cinema for decades.
Focusing on the story of a young black American man wrongly imprisoned for committing a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed, the author expresses how this may not be every black person’s experience but it sure is the black experience overall, and in watching If Beale Street Could Talk, the injustice of this fact is loud and clear.
Doused in a sumptuous score that elevates the romance at its narrative’s heart, and choosing to focus so strongly on love and the choice of a mutual existence in the face of great injustice, makes for a mesmerising watch that sinks into your bones, while some scenes are so well constructed from the page to the screen through blocking and performances that they’re worthy of a position all to themselves. If Beale Street Could Talk is an already timeless entry from 2019; a thoughtful and romantic movie that sticks in your head for days after watching it.
6. The Favourite
An almost post-modern period drama that somehow blended the tendencies of its off-kilter director, Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster), with classic cinematic techniques worth salivating over, The Favourite offered a special moment in film for 2019.
Featuring a plethora of visual language techniques not often used in the modern age, including prolonged cross fades (seen in the image above), distinct and expressionist lighting set ups and some of the most fanciful, if not a little ridiculous, set design, The Favourite was filmed largely with a fish-eye lens that worked to emphasise the director’s intention to point out the ludicrous nature of historical monarchy, though for all its technical mastery it remained a piece asking for empathy and featured some of the strongest performances of the year.
Olivia Colman was the revelation of the piece, her turn as the emotionally wrought Queen Anne being the anchor around which Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz superbly operated, while Lanthimos’ intelligent creative decisions behind the camera never once detracted from the emotional impact or hilarity of some of the film’s most memorable moments.
This was a film that was both clever and accessible, as well as important as regards pushing forward a genre that has long felt stagnant.
Following up on his phenomenal debut Hereditary from 2018, Ari Aster waited less than a year to hit the world with the second of his one-two punch combination, twisting ordinary cinematic conventions to offer one of the most creepy and chilling, yet beautiful and cinematic, of all horror films this century; Midsommar being every bit the masterpiece some critics have hailed it as being.
Florence Pugh was phenomenal in the lead role of this unusually daytime-set horror, her expressionistic face capturing the obscenely casual nature of the psychopathy at the heart of the film’s antagonists. Perhaps most satisfying is the film’s inherent quality to be read in a number of ways, with metaphors regarding sexual awakening and battling incomparable grief being chief among them and each incredibly worthwhile explorations in their own right.
Starting from a place of melodrama that escalates and escalates until it’s beyond even your wildest expectations, Midsommar is the sort of ride we’ll be comparing to the original The Wicker Man in years to come; a moment in time for horror and cinema as a whole that confirmed the arrival of a distinctive new voice within the medium.
Recommended for you: Hereditary (2018) Review
4. Marriage Story
Modern auteur Noah Baumbach turned his attention away from his usually New York centred independents towards a cross country exploration of love in Marriage Story, a film in which a to-be divorced couple – played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver – are each represented by the states of California and New York, in a film that can be seen as both a personal dive on the director’s own divorce from ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh, but can also be read as a metaphor for the divide in American culture (and specifically filmmaking ideologies) between Los Angeles in the West and New York City in the East.
Apparently formed as a rom-com about divorce, the staples of the genre are present in Marriage Story, with the will-they-won’t-they aspects brought to the fore on numerous occasions, and the film being a lot more funny than a movie about divorce should be expected to be.
Terrifically constructed in every aspect, from its simplistic but important and immaculately concepted shots to its moving “best of 2019” score from Randy Newman and right through to the perfect pacing of its editing in conjunction with its masterfully written script of highs and lows, and its career high performances, Marriage Story marks one of the high points for Baumbach’s career; a career already filled with moving, individualistic offerings worthy of rewatch after rewatch.
Recommended for you: The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) Review