From Avengers Endgame and Joker to Gully Boy and Super Deluxe, the top 10 films of 2019
Years from now, this past decade will be seen as the period during which the film industry underwent great changes. Whether or not these changes were for the greater good will probably take another 10 years to fully understand.
Streaming arrived and brought with it a revolution that not only shook the industry to its core, but also inspired several dormant artistes to try harder, lest they be forgotten in the reshuffle. Innovations that were once considered sure things revealed themselves to be nothing more than momentary flirtations. 3D came and went, the theatrical model crumbled, but good filmmakers continued to create.
There is no correct way to compile lists such as this, simply because it is impossible to watch every film that is released in a calendar year. And so these lists must be considered for what they are: a distillation of one person’s tastes that serves one purpose and one purpose only. The goal, as always, is to present a variety of movies, some of which you would have definitely seen, but hopefully, some you might discover. Some of these you’ve heard of, others you’ve ignored, but each of them is a strong reminder that regardless of what the industry does, good films will always be made.
Here are 10 great ones, from number 10 to number 1:
Heavily inspired by the bleak philosophy of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, Todd Phillips’ Joker is an unrelentingly distressing drama about loneliness and unchecked mental illness. In a year that gave us Avengers: Endgame and HBO’s Watchmen, it’s yet another reminder of how vital, and diverse comic book storytelling can be.
Director Richard Shepard’s The Perfection, available on Netflix, is a near-perfect masterpiece of modern exploitation cinema with a subversive feminist slant. It is precisely the sort of gem that gets lost in the interminable glut of mediocrity that dominates the conversation these days - especially online. We will watch what we are told to watch - either by corporations or by algorithms. I am neither. So please watch The Perfection.
Avengers: Endgame is a terrific example of that epic intimacy that Marvel does so well - alternating between glorious action and subtle character moments. Watching it almost feels like taking a wistful walk down memory lane, flanked on either side by a Russo brother. The Russos are probably operating at their most mature here, examining themes of parenthood and patriarchy, loss and legacy - and of power; how it switches forms as it moves from one hand to another (literally).
The only way to confront radical terrorism, the film asserts - and Thanos is a radical terrorist, make no mistake about that - is through unity and bravery. Real cinema is about the human condition, Martin Scorsese said. Considering the tremendous upheaval we’re witnessing right now, it doesn’t get more real than this.
Director Noah Baumbach’s new film, released on Netflix like his last, is utterly heartbreaking. Marriage Story is so authentic that watching it occasionally feels like eavesdropping on a couple in their most vulnerable moments. Alternately understated and ham-fisted, it is a love story about falling out of love.
The Two Popes
Not since Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs have the singular voices of a director and a writer united with such wisdom, wit, and visual flair. Written and directed by Anthony McCarten and Fernando Meirelles, respectively, The Two Popes is a triumphant capper to Netflix’s unofficial trilogy of awards contenders, following Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Marriage Story. And it might just be the best of the lot.
It would perhaps be a slightly hyperbolic to compare director Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but of all the Tarantino ‘imitators’ that have arrived over the years, this is easily the most original, leaping from raunchy teen comedy to a an existential drama of cosmic proportions. Super Deluxe a blazingly ambitious achievement, made up of four tonally different segments that intersect and flirt with each other, before ultimately colliding.
Directed with razor-sharp wit by debutante Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is the seminal high school of this generation. The comparisons to Superbad are justified - the structure is oddly similar, as is the adorable relationship between its two leads; not to mention, Beanie Feldstein is Jonah Hill’s sister - but in the decade that has almost passed since Superbad, the high school experience remains strangely unchanged.
Director Lulu Wang’s semi-autobiographical film is quietly stirring immigrant story. Endearingly acted and stunningly shot, The Farewell is more than just a tale about a woman caught between two worlds; it is a volatile mixture of American values and Asian attitudes. And like so many films on this list, it’s about family.
The finest mainstream Hindi film in many years, Gully Boy, like its mentor 8 Mile, is first and foremost a film about class - that great scourge of modern India. Ranveer Singh’s Murad could have been anyone. Rap music is merely a vessel for him to address his anxieties about the home he was born in, and the lifetime of servitude that he has been sentenced to.
Ironically, the two finest films I saw this year deal with the same themes. That probably says something about me, but also about the world we live in. But while Gully Boy chose to address ideas about social division and poverty with typical Indian reservation, Parasite turned out to be just as tonally bonkers as any film the South Korean genius Bong Joon-ho has ever made. It is a masterpiece of social satire, wonderfully performed, stylishly shot, and when it needs to be, shockingly brutal.