Favourite films 2019

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A new one for Mind the Blog this year! Following Bohemian Rhapsody last autumn, I started paying more attention to cinema; it’s cheaper than theatre (especially with my work perks), I was interested in seeing the awards competition, and there seemed to be a lot of interesting stories being told.

I learned quickly that there’s a clump of quality films in the winter as things build up to awards season, so the summer was a little dry (other than a couple of favourites that got multiple viewings), but I still managed to tick most of the films off my ‘to see’ list. I’m not mad on the audience behaviour a lot of the time – mostly the incessant munching, to be honest – but at least the volume is usually loud enough to drown things out.

Just like when I first got into theatre, my critical faculties aren’t all that attuned just yet; I know what I like, I can appreciate a good performance, but I have no clue about the technical aspects – and, despite having seen a hell of a lot of films throughout my life, I don’t really have the historical knowledge to make decent comparisons or contrasts. This is precisely why this is a list of my favourites rather than what I consider to be ‘the best’!

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker screen grabCR: Lucasfilm
The Rise of Skywalker
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

10 – Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

As it was the last ‘episode’ ever, I decided I had to go all out: not only would I go to a midnight screening, but I’d also see the first two in this particular trilogy as a cinema triple bill. I don’t think it’s perfect by any means (only Rogue One and The Empire Strikes Back come close to that category), but any ending is difficult – especially with 40 years of anticipation. Full of surprises & action, and with a brilliant new character in Babu Frik (hello again, Shirley Henderson), you won’t be shocked to learn that I’ve already returned to the cinema for a second helping.

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The Favourite
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

9 – The Favourite

Definitely an eccentric film, but as there are so many historical dramas out there (on both film and TV) it’s good to have something a little different every now and again. I became aware of aspects of this story thanks to the RSC’s play Queen Anne a couple of years ago, so yet another reason to put a slight twist on it. I’m a big fan of introducing anachronisms to costume dramas, whether it’s using modern songs (in either their original format or period style), introducing varied styles of clothing, or speaking the way we do now – after all, it’s not a documentary. The Favourite, of course, had the glorious Olivia Colman at its centre, alongside the brilliant Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz (plus a smarmy & hilarious turn from Nicholas Hoult).

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Vice
Photo credit: Matt Kennedy

8 – Vice

From the same director as The Big Short, creating a definitive style. It may not be to everyone’s taste, as it’s not your typical storytelling all the way through, but I like the quirkiness it brings as well as being rather informative. Too much goes on in the world (and has gone on in the world) so it’s impossible to keep on top of that and know everything there is to know – even in very modern history and the events that you partly live through – so films like this help to fill the gap as well as provide entertainment. It’s one of many recent examples of Christian Bale’s versatility and chameleon-like nature as an actor.

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Mary Queen of Scots
Photo credit: Liam Daniel/Focus Features

7 – Mary Queen of Scots

Inexplicably left out of the Oscar nominations for Best Director for Josie Rourke (do all male directors need to be banned for a year in order for women’s work to be recognised as being just as good and/or better?) this was a slightly more typical historical drama in many ways. There was, of course, some artistic licence – Mary wouldn’t have had a Scottish accent, having spent nearly all her life in France, and she never did end up meeting Elizabeth – but I’d just like to reiterate that these films aren’t documentaries. (You’d be surprised how few people understand this basic concept.) Gloriously shot, beautiful costumes, and strong central performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie.

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Stan & Ollie
Photo credit: Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics

6 – Stan & Ollie

Looking back to the age of silent films has been a bit of a trend over the last couple of years, with various stage shows about individual performers (such as Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel), and now this wonderful film about the later years of Laurel & Hardy. It was incredibly funny, as you’d expect, but it was also surprisingly moving – the fading of the famous double act’s appeal as they fall behind the times, as well as age & health catching up with them, is very poignant. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly could not have been more perfect as the film’s eponymous stars.

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Joker
Photo credit: DC Comics/Warner Bros

5 – Joker

Apparently director Todd Phillips didn’t intend this to be overtly political, however the social commentary aspects of the film were there for all to see, and probably what struck me the most. Aside from a jaw-dropping performance from Joaquin Phoenix, that is. Because of the overabundance of superhero-type films these days (not a comment on quality, there are simply too many of them) I’m more likely to avoid them – that way I don’t have hundreds of others to keep up with across the years… But this one piqued my interest, and really speaks to the kind of world we are now all faced with; austerity and the extreme wealth gap is like a pressure cooker – the film doesn’t condone or condemn the course of action taken by people affected by this, it merely points it out.

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Le Mans ’66
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

4 – Le Mans ’66

I don’t think I saw any trailers for this film, just the poster – I thought it sounded interesting, plus I’ve enjoyed much of Christian Bale’s recent work, so I thought it was worth a watch. What it actually turned out to be was an exhilarating piece of cinema that had me glued to the screen. I do enjoy Formula 1, but there’s no denying that it’s become quite sterile and fairly devoid of real characters; some of this is in the name of safety, which is understandable, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be any entertainment. Not knowing the story behind this film meant I was watching the racing as if it were real, and it made some of the incidents all the more shocking. Bale was impressive, as ever, though it was bizarre not hearing him speak in an American accent – and the soundtrack was absolutely brilliant.

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Wild Rose
Photo credit: Aimee Spinks/Neon

3 – Wild Rose

Country music isn’t really my thing, but the story behind this film is what suckered me in. Yes, it’s a ‘star-is-born’ idea, but a completely original one which sees Glaswegian Rose-Lynn fresh out of prison, trying to get her life back in order and follow her ambitions too. She’s desperate to reconnect with her two young children and earn some money for them all, but at the same time her dream of being a country music star is pulling at her; it’s believable, heart-warming, funny, and moving. Jessie Buckley is as excellent as ever, but what’s completely unexpected is the quality of her singing – I went straight home and downloaded the soundtrack, let’s just leave it at that.

♦♦♦

For the first time in my ordered list-making history, this is an official cop-out. But only because I genuinely can’t separate the top two films on my list – they’re both music-based efforts, but two very different films that mean a great deal to me.

♦♦♦

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Rocketman
Photo credit: Paramount

=1 – Rocketman

My expectations of this film were, aptly, sky-high ever since I saw the first teaser trailer around Bo Rhap time last year, and I was counting down the days until the end of May as I seemed to see it advertised nearly every time I stepped into a cinema in the early part of this year… I know it disappointed some people as it turned out to be a full-on musical – even though it was kind of obvious that it would be if you’d paid full attention to the trailers. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realise it was a musical (I hadn’t read/heard any interviews, and was clearly just dazzled by the trailers), but then I’m not the kind of person who has a hissy fit at the mere notion of a musical so I didn’t need to know either way. But think about it: how could an Elton John biopic be done any other way? The whole thing is a masterpiece, from Dexter Fletcher’s direction, Lee Hall’s screenplay, and Julian Day’s costume design to Taron Egerton’s stellar performance. I expect to see it picking up a collection of awards over the next few weeks, and then watch it on a London stage within the next few years.

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Blinded by the Light
Photo credit: Nick Wall/Warner Bros

=1 – Blinded by the Light

Another one that I had built up and up in my mind for weeks before finally seeing it; my first viewing of the trailer convinced me I was going to love it, and my instincts were bang on. For me it was the underlying story of becoming a fan that really connected, as well as working hard to realise your dreams. I also ended up ‘discovering’ Bruce Springsteen alongside Javed (an enthralling Viveik Kalra); I’d obviously heard his music quite a lot before, but I’d never properly listened – and since August I’ve been making up for lost time. (I saw Western Stars during the London Film Festival, and that very nearly made it onto this list.) The setting of the story was another interesting aspect, as it shows that history repeats itself in a horrifying way; the presence of the National Front in 1987 in the film can be equated with the far right factions appearing again now, following the likes of Nigel Farage and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon. As Mr Evans says in the film, “48 years ago I marched into war with my friends to fight men in swastikas. Today I see swastikas on young men on the streets of Luton. That was a very brave poem, young man. You must write more and get your message out. N.F. scum indeed!” It’s the most emotionally connected I’ve felt to a film this year, and I subsequently powered through the Sarfraz Manzoor book on which it was based. Loved it.

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