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X-PRESS TOP 20 FILMS OF 2019



As the November 2019 setting for Blade Runner becomes a thing of the past, we turn our attention to the year that has been. It has been a year that has seen a few bright sparks in film, and one where genre film has shone very brightly, showing us what can be done in entertainment. So from criminally insane clowns to post-modernist artists, here’s some of the best examples of this year’s films, as brought to you by Film & TV Editor DAVID O’CONNELL and the team of DAVID MORGAN BROWN, NATALIE GILES, Q, RYAN ELLIS, HARVEY RAE, AMY SMITH and SHAQUILLE STIRLING.

20. The Nightingale

Q: Jennifer Kent’s (The Babadook) second feature, historical drama The Nightingale, is nothing short of a true nightmare. This is a revenge film 200 years in the making. Based on actual horrifying events that occurred in colonial Tasmania in the 1820s, it explores the still-relevant themes of racism, sexism and class, brutally depicting the terrors inflicted by privileged, entitled, white men (sound familiar, 2019?). Although our two heroes are from different backgrounds – one a female Irish convict, the other an alienated Aboriginal man – they find a shared purpose in hunting down their common enemy as retribution for the pain perpetrated on their respective people. With high levels of graphic sexual and physical violence, the film is very difficult to watch, but it’s an eye-opening look into Australia’s buried past.

19. Koko: A Red Dog Story

DOC: This documentary-mockumentary hybrid shifts its realities, tone and genres with a blindingly fast grace and ease. What directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce (the local team behind Top Knot Detective) deliver, starts off as a tongue in cheek look at the making of Red Dog and its star, and ends as a heartrendingly real tale of a man’s love for his dog.

18. Shoplifters

DOC: Perth audiences had to wait till this year for Kore-Eda’s 2018 Palme d’Or winner, but it was certainly worth the wait. This is an incredibly empathetic look into a flawed family struggling with poverty in modern Japan. Kore-Eda portrays them with characteristic humanism and warmth, but it is a world with many moral ambiguities, and no easy answers. Shoplifters is a heart-warming trip into a beautiful yet broken world.

17. Dragged Across Concrete

DMB: Very much evoking its title in mood (though not literally), Dragged Across Concrete is a hell of a slow burn, showing this grim tale of suspended cops Brett (Mel Gibson) and Anthony (Vince Vaughn) and the criminals they suspect of planning a big new heist. The intense build-up layers on the dread, finally resulting in one of the longest, most sparse, and best shoot-outs in recent cinema memory – it’s where all the socio-economic frustrations of these three groups of characters come bursting out, not through words, but gunfire. For his third feature as writer/director, S. Craig Zahler is up there with Quentin Tarantino as a craftsman of superb (and very quotable) dialogue, which is further benefited from strong performances and dingy, moody, night-time cinematography.

16. Ad Astra 

DOC: Apocalypse Now meets 2001: A Space Odyssey in this space epic, but rather than just parroting the form of superior films, Ad Astra uses its inspirations to say a lot about the constant mistakes humanity makes. As we stretch towards the future we bring the past with us, be that daddy issues, or neo-colonialism, and part of astronaut Roy McBride’s (Brad Pitt) journey is reconciling that within himself, and not becoming a slave to those same cycles. Part head trip, part couch session, Ad Astra is a beautiful meditation on how we can grow as individuals, wrapped up in some shiny, hard sci-fi set dressing.

15. Never Look Away

DMB: The atrocities of World War 2 are deeply reflected upon in this film. Mostly set in the art world in post-war Germany, a young artist, Kurt, navigates his way as a painter in the newly divided nation. He wishes to break out of the social realist paintings he’s forced to make, believing that the post-modernist style would be a better way to bring the personal and the political together, viewed in a number of stunning sequences showing his methodology in exploring this creativity through his pain, grief, and love. Never Look Away is an astonishingly told story, and portrays the importance and necessity of bringing art into our lives.

14. Avengers: Endgame

NG: Possibly the only other finale more anticipated by filmgoers this year is the upcoming Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker, but it would be a tough call to beat this marvellous end to a saga. The conclusion to one of the most popular franchises in recent history was so eagerly awaited not even Doctor Strange could have foreseen the response. Queues formed, we watched it repeatedly, then rehashed our favourite moments over and again. There’s no denying that the world loved it. Bring on its box office competition in two weeks (not that we’re geeking out and counting or anything).

13. At Eternity’s Gate 

DMB: Achieving where most other biopics fail, At Eternity’s Gate spends most of its time focusing on what it actually was that made Vincent van Gogh great. The film closely examines the relationship between the painter and his art, what it is he took from the world, from his friendships, his emotions and his faith, and how he would put it into his works. van Gogh comes to life through Willem Dafoe’s performance, who looks upon the world with equal parts astonishment at its beauty and disdain at its wickedness. From there, we see him take his own complex emotions and render them onto the canvas, via this complicated process the film takes an invested look at, putting a much needed and inspiring spotlight on the joys (and difficulties) of being an artist.

12. Destroyer

HR: Nicole Kidman’s Golden Globe nominated tour de force as a deeply flawed cop in a no win scenario, was one of 2019’s most brutal cinema experiences. Not necessarily subtle but heavy on impact to make up for it, Destroyer is a revenge drama with a smart twist you might not see coming. Flashbacks of LAPD detective Erin Bell, undercover in a seedy crime world, slowly point to a pivotal moment that informs the present. But it’s the current timeline that proves most explosive, as we witness damaged characters forced to live with their past, willing to do whatever it takes to survive. Harsh, grim, but rewarding.

11. Booksmart

NG: Some of the most insightful and on point young feminist content ever made, masquerading as a high school graduation/ coming of age comedy, Booksmart is the inimitable Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut and it is as spectacular as the lady herself. Featuring two of Hollywood’s most promising talents, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, it’s possibly one of this year’s most overlooked pieces of cinema, and the quietly subversive, riotous comedy we needed decades ago. The irony is that it is probably flying under the radar because it’s too ahead of its time even now, in 2019. Definitely one to show your teenagers and discuss with them, because there’ s a lot to unpack during the giggles.

10. The Irishman 

DOC: There’s no doubt this is safe ground for Scorsese, De Niro, Paccino and Pesci, but The Irishman allows these mob film veterans to do something more with the genre. This doesn’t merely tell us the tale of vanished union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), nor give us insight into the mobsters involved with the notorious figure, it allows Scorsese to expand his typical fare into a reflection on the effects of aging and regret. Here we see the titular character, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), struggle to come to terms with his actions as he seeks to meet his maker. Moving and illuminating, The Irishman allows us to look at gangster films in a fashion we never have.

9. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

AS: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum may not be rooted in a particularly groundbreaking or complex storyline, however, the plot makes sense and is a step above its action film contemporaries. Sometimes you just want to switch off, escape from reality and bask in some senseless violence and, by golly, John Wick delivers in spades! The extended, choreographed action sequences are equally as beautiful as they are brutal, and include some of the most creative violence you will have ever laid your eyes upon.

8. The Favourite

HR: Olivia Colman deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actress, but the real hero of The Favourite is the script. A biting social commentary of class conflict and appalling abuses of privilege, disguised as a period piece, there’s still plenty of room for bawdy sex and liberal use of the c-word. Director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) proves himself one of Hollywood’s most flexible auteurs, and with the film divided into chapters with names like I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye, it’s no surprise this crowd favourite is as wildly enjoyable as it is impressive to behold.

7. Mid90s

Q: Drawing inspiration from mid 90s homemade skater videos, the directorial debut from Jonah Hill perfectly captures the feel of the era. Mid90s is a coming of age film where the usual teenage first-time experiences with alcohol, drugs, sex and misfit behaviour are given a deeper consideration, with the characters’ troubled backstories revealing the reasons behind their rebellion. Although there is a strong sense of nostaligia with this film, its the stripped-back, personal delivery that really sets it apart from other works in the coming of age genre.

6. Midsommar 

DOC: Producing rare daylight scares, Ari Aster’s follow up to Hereditary takes us down a psilocybin inspired rabbit hole. Stunningly beautiful and brutal, Midsommar slowly leads us on a terrifying trail of pagan ritual and bloody sacrifice. Part breakup film, part environmental metaphor, part dark fairy tale, this is a picture perfect dip into folk horror.

5. Burning

Q: Three friends: the quiet outsider and the confident alpha male who’d never cross paths if it wasn’t for their mutual connection with a wistful but oblivious female companion. As their awkward bond grows, their confiding trust is exposed, until she disappears. South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong’s delivery of the short story Barn Burning by the surrealist author Haruki Murikami (Japan) is beautifully captured, with a choreographer’s precision. He subtly reveals a portrait of jealousy and suspicion, piece by piece, finally igniting in a calculated confruntation. In characteristic Murikami style, the film leaves you with a haunted feeling, and requires considerable post-film discussion to really dissect the mystery.

4. Us

RE: From the eerie mind of writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out), Us follows a haunting and bloody face-off between a family and their mysteriously terrifying opponent, themselves. Grippingly engaging and thought provoking, it’s a modern-day horror that manages to maintain an unsettling vibe and keep you guessing even as the credits start to roll. Peele has a talent for productions that get under your skin for the ultimate creep out, and Us gets deep; real deep. It’s a blood-soaked nightmare-inducing film, proving that of everything out there, we’re our own worst enemies.

3. Joker

SS: Todd Phillips’ gave himself some pretty big clown shoes to fill when he took on this character, but with Joker reaching over a billion dollars in the box office, it’s safe to say he surpassed expectations. A cinematic masterpiece that combines expert directing and powerful acting sure put a smile on fans’ faces. Even though this film was not set in modern times, you can’t help but notice the timely lessons it passed on about power, wealth, and mental health. No time soon will audiences forget this instant classic.

2. Parasite 

AS: Parasite explores deeply rooted social disparities in an entertaining and engaging way. Director Bong Joon-Ho (Okja, Snowpiercer) skilfully mixes genres and expertly uses sudden mood shifts to keep the audience engaged as the story carefully peels back, layer by layer, until it reaches its dramatic and unexpected conclusion. If, at any point, you think you’ve pinned down where the story is headed, you are likely wrong. The highly symbolic cinematography, compelling scriptwriting, emotive use of score and Oscar-worthy acting are all just icing on the cake. It is no wonder this masterpiece satisfied casual film goers and critics alike. Believe the hype.

1. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood 

DMB: In what feels like a culmination of Quentin Tarantino’s career, his new film was more than just a love letter to the 60s that completely teleported you to its iconic setting, it revealed itself to be (through some brilliant historical revisionism) an ode to life itself. Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are a winning duo here, DiCaprio as the big shot actor going through a midlife crisis, and Pitt as his loyal stuntman/ assistant who has a much breezier outlook on life. Along with Margot Robbie giving a warm and respectable portrayal as the real-life Sharon Tate, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film in love with not just films, but even moreso, with life.

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