It’s almost time to wrap up this year and this decade. A wondrous opportunity to reflect on what has passed. If you haven’t already, I heartily recommend you check out our Top 100 Films of the 2010s – #100 to #81, #80 to #61, #60 to #41, #40 to #21, and #20 to #1.
2019 has been a golden year for film. The rise of new voices and talent intertwined with career zeniths for Hollywood’s leading lights has woven a fine tapestry for us all to enjoy. The One Room With A View Top 20 films of 2019 is here!
As always, we begin with a rundown of our 20 to 11 positioned films here, and that’s when the fun begins. Over the coming days, we’ll be announcing our top 10 films, day by day, with essays from our writers vouching for each film’s excellence.
Thank you all for your support for another year. Bring on the next decade.
—David Brake, Founder/Editor of One Room With A View.
n.b. As our site is UK-based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2019.
Moving from observation to direct investigation via personal memoir, this remarkable film contains multitudes. Bing Liu returns to his Illinois hometown to film his childhood friends – a community forged from a love of skating – and sculpts these beautiful, often ecstatic evocations of adolescence, now left behind. His close pal Zack struggles with frustration and anger, ultimately sliding into domestic abuse, and the way Liu approaches this as both friend and filmmaker is fascinating; his sensitivity defines the picture’s feel, but there’s an intellectual rigour to the construction. This is an extraordinarily moving dive into America itself: pathologically defined by its never-ending abuse cycles.
Take Ocean’s Eleven, filter it through a distinctly female gaze and an acute awareness of the 2008 crash, and Hustlers is the glitzy, gritty result. In this tale of the strippers who played Robin Hood, Lorene Scafaria’s assured direction and stellar cast foregrounds these women’s agency and narrative (in a refreshing change for Hollywood, no man shows up in more than a tertiary role). The film is not without its problems in on- or off-screen sex work representation, but the thrilling twists and superb performances – notably Jennifer Lopez’s long-overdue star turn – will hopefully pave the way for more nuanced depictions.
“Part of the journey is the end”, philosophised Tony Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist and, of course, Iron Man – in the trailer for Avengers: Endgame, and it’s half true. The comics have proven that nothing is truly over (and, no doubt, Disney’s bulging coffers will wholeheartedly agree), but the Russo brothers deliver on a blockbusting followup to last year’s massive Infinity War with an epic that brings the spiritual conclusion to the MCU’s first saga to an exhilarating conclusion. As audiences and auteurs continue to stagger towards superhero saturation point, this may be both the studio and perhaps even the genre’s apotheosis.
A thousand blurbs, some mild controversy, rapturous acclaim, articles and video essays digging into its intense rigour, and we as cinephiles, as historians, as a species, have barely scratched the surface of Joanna Hogg’s masterpiece. The Souvenir draws from Hogg’s own experiences as a wealthy film school student, particularly her relationship with an older man nurturing a destructive heroin habit. Class warfare takes a backseat to watching the haves eat their own tail, utterly blind to how their own rituals of insulation suffocate and kill. It’s a horror story, the comedy of the year, the stuff of a thousand memes. Long may Julie reign.
The best Claire Denis film since the incomparable Beau Travail, her high-flying sci-fi brought her visual storytelling to her largest canvas yet. High Life shows that the gross physicality of life is not separate from questions of the soul; that, rather, the two are intrinsically linked. The vastness and danger of space lend High Life the weight of an epic, even as the story narrows and narrows until it has a pure focus on a moving father-daughter tale. With some of the year’s finest editing and most indelible images, High Life is an obvious masterwork from one of the great filmmakers.
The emotional punch anticipated by this film’s dying-grandmother setup is powerful and complex – but there’s a great deal to love in the preceding 90 minutes. Lulu Wang’s quasi-farce screenplay is tight and hilarious, her tone as director thoughtful and downbeat. Awkwafina is revelatory in realistically carrying this tension while handling every emotional and comic beat with facility; she is real, and devastating. It helps that the cast is uniformly brilliant, and each well served by a filmmaker whose style is absolutely refined in its unfussy empathy. There can often be an unbelievable emptiness to culture-clash comedy; Wang reveals remarkable skill in going far deeper.
Noah Baumbach’s films often focus on relatable, although perhaps not totally likeable, characters. Marriage Story flips the formula, constructing two leads who battle for audience empathy, aided by a deliciously quick script packed with wry humour. Two people who seem to bear little animosity towards each other, and indeed who seem to love each other, have decided to get divorced. Pain comes with every subsequent step: the lawyers, the humongous sums of money wasted, the endless personal defeats and digs. Even when Marriage Story breaks into near melodrama, it is grounded with a lugubrious reality and utterly heart-wrenching pathos.
Pedro Almodóvar is an established master of filmmaking. At 70 years old, he could have delivered a self-indulgent semi-biographical piece resting on his excellent filmmaking credentials; it would have been solid at the very least. With Pain and Glory Almodóvar dares to push himself, in this achingly sad, joyfully fun, wondrously personal reflection on a life lived, and still to live. The facades are stripped back, and we’re invited to see the real person behind it all. Through colour and pain, and an extraordinary Antonio Banderas, Almodóvar reminds us of the gift of life, with such warmth and integrity, and how it is not over until we are six feet under.
Bait’s grainy, monochrome, hand-processed photography could feel gimmicky or alienating, if not for director Mark Jenkin’s tangible enthusiasm for his craft. Dodgy equipment and limited resources are alchemically transformed into a feat of great energy and subtle expressionism. With an insider’s perspective and confident voice, Bait dismantles the view of Cornwall as a pretty backdrop for middle-class drama. Its tone is suitably angry, as fisherman Martin (Edward Rowe, aka comedian Kernow King) struggles against the crushing forces of gentrification. Bait’s story is an increasingly universal one, but Jenkin’s great achievement here is bringing an explicitly Cornish tragedy to the screen.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 11…
#20 – Minding the Gap
#19 – Hustlers
#18 – Avengers: Endgame
#17 – The Souvenir
#16 – High Life
#15 – The Farewell
#14 – Marriage Story
#13 – Pain and Glory
#12 – Bait
#11 – Booksmart
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2018 to count down our Top 10 films of 2019!