Some of you may have noticed that when writing up these seemingly obligatory end-of-year big screen roundups, I’ve never titled any of my collections as “best.” Mostly that’s because, being an unsuccessful 31 year old screenwriter, how could I ever deem what should be considered the best cinematic output of the year? That is, in part, why I’ve always preferred using the word “notable.” In other words, a more personal touch. A cinema experience that has burrowed into my mind and stubbornly remains unforgettable .
Truth be told, it might be time for me to accept that the best of cinema is no longer actually being shown in cinemas. I’ve always possessed a Martin Scorsese-level of stubbornness in this regard. In my past three end-of-year lists I’ve always liked to remind my readers that “my only rule was that the film had to have been released in UK cinemas between 1st January and 31st December.”
Alas, with the meteoric rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime and countless other streaming services, the films that have had the biggest emotional impact on me have mostly been confined to the small screen. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened, Dolemite is My Name and Marriage Story could have all easily made the list.
I suppose the takeaway is that the ultimate death of the cinema experience is closer than I originally thought. Yes, my ways are antiqued and next year’s list will undoubtedly be more inclusive; but perhaps I can indulge myself this one last time.
Special mentions: Stan & Ollie, Can You Ever Forgive Me, Green Book, On the Basis of Sex, Of Love & Law, Shazam!, Rocketman, Booksmart, The Farewell, Joker.
My expectations were admittedly high when it came to Jordan Peele’s second directorial entry for the big screen. His previous film, the Oscar-winning Get Out, was legitimately a revelation considering his comedic background. Fortunately, Peele wasn’t content just to repeat the intricacies of his debut. While Get Out was a masterful exploration of the horrors that black America must face at a societal level; Us instead paints its social commentary in much broader brushstrokes
Of course, that doesn’t mean it loses focus. With a spine-chilling (and quite frankly Oscar-worthy) performance from Lupita Nyong’o; Us can be seen as a complex (but well-weaved) web of government waste, immigration & socialist fears, as well as touching upon the feelings of abandonment felt by those who turn to dictatorial strongmen.
It’s hard to believe that a simple two hour horror film could explore so many facets of the human condition, and yet Peele pulls it off with aplomb.
2) Avengers: Endgame
What a cliche! The biggest grossing movie of all time happens to be a film I find “notable!” 🙂
In a year where Game of Thrones, Star Wars and X-men all had climatic installments and failed to end on a high note; what Marvel have pulled off here is nothing short of astounding. True, a lot of the groundwork was laid down in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. But as a recent film that rhymes with “Pies of Whytalker” has shown us, it isn’t always easy to stick the landing.
Endgame, though, doesn’t just stick the landing. It does the cinematic equivalent of getting perfect 10s from each judge while its opponents cry themselves out of the building knowing they never had a chance to get the Gold. (Okay, I’m kind of stretching the analogy there!)
Still, with well over two dozen characters from the previous 21 films of the MCU coming together in a grand crescendo (with nothing less than the entire universe at stake!); I doubt we’ll ever see something like Endgame ever again.
3) Le Mans ’66 / Ford v Ferrari
God only knows why 20th Century Fox decided to release this film in Europe under the title Le Mans ’66; when the far superior Ford v Ferrari would have got far more bums in seats. Fortunately the bad title doesn’t hobble what is otherwise a stunningly exciting example of man v machine.
I could wax lyrically about the film’s many technical achievements, especially during the numerous heart-pounding and kinetic racing scenes. But the real emotion comes from the beautiful friendship between the film’s two leading men. Despite the clear differences in class, behaviour and attitude, Ford v Ferrari goes to great effort to show that sometimes the dream of accomplishment can bring people together in ways they never thought possible.
4) Knives Out
I was a little worried for Rian Johnson after the massive backlash to The Last Jedi. Even though he had made a film for the ages, surely such a negative response would affect his future job prospects.
Thank god then that movie studios know a good filmmaker when they see one. Just like Looper and Brick; Knives Out takes from well-worn genres and manages to spin it in a way that feels original. In fact, there’s a sense of filmmaking that is rarely seen today. With most of Hollywood having to be condensed into a sanitised PG-13 tale, it’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t resort to sex, bad language or violence; and yet should be considered a mature and adult story.
That’s not to say that seriousness is the name of the game here. Johnson’s skill as a writer instead crafts a delightfully fun tale with plenty of laughs. Mix in an all-star cast and David Crank’s fabulous production design, and Knives Out ends up being even more memorable than the accent of Daniel Craig’s southern gentleman detective!
I hope everyone has a safe and prosperous 2020!