Around the halfway mark of the year I had about five films in contention for my annual Top Ten list – moments before writing this post I had 17 titles all vying a place in the final countdown! It wasn’t easy to eliminate many of them and certainly wasn’t any easier ranking them once I had made my choices.

Some of the titles featured below, and indeed among those that missed out on a place on the list, were sentimental picks meaning they weren’t necessarily any better or worse than others but had a profound emotional effect on me. Therefore, whilst it seemed like a place for early contenders Stan And Ollie and Avengers Endgame were guaranteed to last the course, it was painfully hard to deny the former given my lifelong love for Laurel and Hardy.

It was also hard to exclude entries from two of my favourite auteurs, namely Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain And Glory and Sion Sono’s The Forest Of Love, as well Korean sci-fi shocker The Witch, empathetic Chinese drama The Farewell, and Icelandic eco-satire Woman At War. Whether you want to take that to mean the films that made the grade must be exceptional is up to you, but sometimes voting with our heart instead of your head and vice versa will yield different results.

Of course, I must point out for anyone who might be more pedantic than I am (if that is possible) that whilst some of the films I’ve chosen were big on everyone else’s lists in 2018, not all of us were so fortunate to see them back then and had to wait for the UK cinema or DVD release before enjoying them.

So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten films either released or available to the UK for the first time in 2019 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.

 

10. Midsommar (US/Sweden Dir. Ari Aster)

This one caught me by surprise since I was one of the few not blown away by Ari Aster’s debut Hereditary. I approached this follow-up concerning a grieving young American woman’s getaway to a Swedish cult’s summer festival with caution given the mixed reviews but found myself utterly captivated by it. Florence Pugh is on a top quality performance roll at the moment whilst the film itself is wonderfully observed and very creepy.

Read the full review HERE

9. The Guilty (Denmark Dir. Gustav Möller)

A simple concept – a police officer demoted to call desk duty answers what seems like a cross call but soon realises the caller has been kidnapped. Through cryptic messages and a lot of hard work, the officer is able to get a tracking on the kidnapper but finds sitting back and relying on others to help the victim too much. Arguably the most intense, nail-biting 85 minutes you’ll ever spend in the company of Jakob Cedergren and his faceless support cast.

Read the full review HERE

8. Birds Of Passage (Columbia Dir. Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra)

Perhaps it shouldn’t be any surprise a film from Columbia would be centred around drugs but this decades-spanning drama based on real events tells of the rise and fall of one family from humble village folk to notorious drug kingpins. Between the mystical rituals of the impoverished community and the violent shoot-outs between rival drug gangs, this sprawling effort shouldn’t work but does, exceeding all expectations in the process, whilst delivering a message everyone should heed.

Read the full review HERE

7. Still Human (Hong Kong Dir. Oliver Siu Kuen Chan)

The plot may not be so original – a difficult paraplegic man gets a new helper and they enhance each other’s lives. The difference is the location of Hong Kong, where neither the impaired man or his Filipino carer are able to speak the other’s language. It might be a conventional drama in construct but rises above this in exploring the topical subject of anti-migrant prejudice via powerful performances from the eximious Anthony Wong and impressive newcomer Crisel Consunji.

Read the full review HERE

6. The Third Wife (Vietnam Dir. Ash Mayfair)

In an age of female empowerment and the continuing fight for equality, this startling debut reminds us of how far things have come in this struggle. In the late 19th century, a 14 year-old girl is married off to a wealthy land owner, already with two wives, hoping to bear him a son to carry on his family lineage. Instead of in-fighting and betrayal, the three wives work together to keep their integrity in a morally askew patriarchal society. A bold and relevant film.

Read the full review HERE

5. Capernaum (Lebanon Dir. Nadine Labaki)

One of the most hard hitting films of the year, Capernaum revolves around a 12 year-old boy suing his parents for bringing him into a horribly hopeless world of poverty, crime, and discrimination. That the young star of this film is himself a former immigrant living in a slum makes this even more tragic, which is saying a lot when you consider what his character goes through here. An utterly urgent, vital and damning indictment of modern society.

Read the full review HERE

4. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker (US Dir. J.J Abrams)

Arguably the greatest sci-fi saga of all time comes to an end 42 years after it began with another film that has divided opinion. Since the first two films in this final trilogy were placed higher in their respective year end lists, don’t read it as this one being “worse”, rather the competition from other films was much higher this year. I know people hated it and it has its flaws, but for someone who was there at the very beginning it was the emotional closure that means the most to me. So sue me.

Read the full review HERE

3. Parasite (Korea Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Given his varied oeuvre so far, Bong Joon-ho is a director capable of surprising us with each new film yet never loses sight of his inherent ability to feel fresh and consistent at the same time. Parasite is another film with the topical theme of social inequality that takes a family living in poverty and gives them a chance to live like kings when they con their way into the employ of a rich family then take over their house for a weekend. I’ll say no more except watch this film!

Read the full review HERE

2.  The Favourite (UK Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Scooping pretty much every Best Film award (except the Oscars because America), the latest inspired lunacy from Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos takes us back to 18th century England where an ailing Queen Anne finds herself in a Sapphic tug of war for her affections but her power mad friend and a vengeful maid. Not only did this film see Olivia Colman have to by a bigger awards cabinet but also for this writer made Emma Stone watchable for once. Bonkers, arty, magnificent!

Read the full review HERE

No 1.

Shoplifters

(Japan Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

You and everybody else probably saw this in 2018 but I had to wait for this year’s UK Blu-ray release to see it. Like Parasite, a family living in squalor resort to shoplifting to stay afloat, pushing their resources further when they take in a young girl who is being abused by her family. Superficially, it is a tale of the ends justifying the means set to the socially relevant themes but Kore-eda isn’t going to make it that straightforward.

Every filmmaker arrives at a point where their life’s work culminates in a film so special and immense that it might seem impossible to follow, whilst others have an innate ability to take it all in their stride and carry on as normal. Kore-eda might be at the height of his powers with Shoplifters yet whatever he does next will be just as quietly devastating and emotionally affecting as this undisputed gem.

Read the full review HERE

 

I must confess I am still wondering if this is my definitive list for the year but the fact you are reading it (I hope) means I now have to commit to it. That said, I don’t feel any regret towards my choices and I am pleased to have seen and be touched by so many great films in 2019 rather than making a list of token entries because they were fun.

No doubt, to get an early idea of what will be on my list in 2020 you can look at the lists for 2019 from critics and festival goers who got to see all the good stuff before the rest of us mere mortals do, provided they get a UK release, of course.

So, join me in twelve month’s time to see what will earn a place on MIB’s Top Ten films of the year!

Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!