From Gully Boy to Hotel Mumbai, the top 10 movies of 2019 (so far)
As we find ourselves in the middle of one of the most disappointing summer movie seasons in recent memory, we must ask ourselves this: Has Hollywood broken us, or, more thrillingly, have we broken Hollywood?
Established film franchises such as X-Men and Men in Black have tanked miserably, and as recently as last week, Toy Story 4 failed to capitalise on its excellent reviews and wonderful goodwill, registering a box office opening drastically lower than what was expected. The US box office for 2019 is trailing 2018 by almost 10%, thanks to the underwhelming performance of the films that Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, was convinced that we’d pay to see.
Because of this delusional approach, the films that we should have invested our time into (and essentially voting with our money that we’d like to see more of), were instead lost in the rubble of the 2019 theatrical slate.
Never before has it been this apparent that we will watch what we are told to watch - in theatres and online, because there is a force at play that, through iffy data and a thorough misreading of audience sentiment, has decided that certain films deserve a bigger marketing push than others.
The fall of the theatre-going experience has allowed another industry to flourish. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, despite being billions of dollars in debt, show no signs of taking stock of matters, and proceed, undeterred, in their individual quests for world domination. This works well for us. As we approach the halfway mark of 2019, here is a (hopefully diverse) list of the top 10 films of the year, populated significantly by movies that were available, primarily, on streaming services.
Director Jordan Peele cashed his Get Out blank cheque by delivering an even stranger film, one that established the comedian as a leading horror filmmaker of our times. Us is a more old-fashioned scary movie than Get Out, but it retains Peele’s singular voice. It is the American equivalent of what we like to call ‘social cinema’.
The first of three films on this list to be set in the Maximum City, Photograph finds director Ritesh Batra at his poetic best. It’s a bit of a crime, really, that we aren’t paying more attention to his work, considering just how instrumental he has been in announcing to the world what Indian filmmakers are capable of. While his sensibilities remain as international as ever, Photograph is rooted in its Indianness.
8. Under the Silver Lake
Director David Robert Mitchell’s hotly anticipated follow-up to It Follows is a rare example of upstart studio A24 (The Florida Project, Lady Bird, Hereditary) failing to comprehend what they saw, and therefore deciding to dump the film. In fairness, Under the Silver Lake is deliberately obtuse film, featuring an excellent Andrew Garfield performance, some twisted culty stuff, and human beings barking like dogs.
7. Hotel Mumbai
Director Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai is to 26/11 what Paul Greengrass’ United 93, and the more recent 22 July, were to 9/11 and the 2011 Norway massacre, respectively. So of course it makes sense for it not to have secured distribution in the country whose people it honours so graciously.
6. Velvet Buzzsaw
Velvet Buzzsaw is a deliriously entertaining and frighteningly pulpy movie, in which director Dan Gilroy attempts to understand the co-dependent relationship between critic and creator, and between art and commerce. It features an unhinged Jake Gyllenhaal performance, which, on several occasions, will convince you that he’s channelling Nicolas Cage.
5. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
There was room on this list for only one sequel, and after a tense toss up between two-dozen Marvel superheroes and Keanu Reeves, the third film in the gloriously entertaining John Wick series trumped Avengers: Endgame. John Wick 3 broadens the scope of the franchise by co-opting decades worth of action movie tropes and creating something unique. It is also the single biggest reason you’re all into Keanu Reeves again.
On this list, you will see several examples of legitimately great movies that were, for some reason, buried by Netflix. The absolute disappearance of Paddleton, director Alex Lehmann and writer-actor Mark Duplass’ follow-up to their tremendous Blue Jay, was particularly difficult to swallow. But spreading the word about it, in whatever way possible, is truly why lists such as this exist. Had it been granted a theatrical release, an Oscar nod for Ray Romano would’ve been on the cards.
3. The Perfection
Some swear by Netflix’s unbeatable slate of romantic comedies, others commend the service for investing handsomely in niche properties that older studios wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. What unites these genres is that they are no longer - broadly speaking - available to enjoy on the big screen. The Perfection is the sort of movie that seems to have been designed for lazy home viewing; a near-perfect masterpiece of modern exploitation cinema with a subversive feminist slant.
2. Gully Boy
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, in all honesty, could have been anyone. Rap music is merely a vessel for him to address his anxieties about where he comes from, and how his background has essentially sentenced him to a lifetime of servitude.
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.