Top Films of 2019

Missing movies! | The Case for Global Film

Here are my favourite  films of 2019 ranked from ten to one. Subject to my opinion and what I saw, of course.

Honourable mentions: Rocketman, Yesterday, Toy Story 4, Knives Out, Blinded by the Light, Little Women,  Avengers: Endgame (highest-grossing to date!)

  1. The King
  • The latest film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Immaculate set design and costumes and gritty fight scenes. Historically inaccurate at times and, though he gave a good performance I found (unpopular opinion) pretty-boy Timothee Chalamet miscast as the martial king Henry.
  1. Marriage Story
  • About a rich white liberal divorce with all the legal nastiness. Sad and compelling. Stars Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver.
  1. Dolemite is my Name
  • Eddie Murphy stars as ambitious but down and out comedian Rudy Ray Moore in 1970s Los Angeles. With zero experience he directs and finances a homemade kung-fu themed Blaxploitation film. Murphy’s best performance in years.
  1. Jojo Rabbit
  • The latest from director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnorok). A shy boy and proud Hitler Youth finds out his mother is harbouring a Jew. Waititi is hilarious as a camp Hitler, his imaginary best friend. Quite moving toward the end.
  1. El Camino
  • A sequel movie to the tv show Breaking Bad (2008-2013). Rivetting conclusion to Jesse Pinkman’s story.
  1. 1917
  • Two British soldiers travel through no man’s land to halt 1500 men from advancing to their deaths. Thrilling and harrowing: brings the horrors of trench warfare to life.
  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • A colourful and violent ode to 1960s Los Angeles.
  1. Joker
  • A disturbed and impoverished clown turns violent. More psychological thriller than DC flick. Dark but engaging. We live in a society.
  1. The Irishman
  • Mob epic from Martin Scorcese. Suspenseful and thematic.
  1. Parasite
  • Well crafted, topical and deeply unsettling. A Korean language film and only non-English one to make the list.

What were your favourites? What should/will win Best Picture at the Oscars? What were the best foreign-language films?   Let me know in the comments below!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Movie Review: "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (2019 ...

‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, the penultimate in his promised ten. Set 50 years ago, it follows the plight of a fading television star and his stunt double as they cross paths with Sharon Tate and the Manson Family. Its cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, in their first film together, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning and many more. Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski,  Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen and Charles Manson are depicted.

It was one of the most anticipated films of the year, unusual considering it is neither a sequel, remake or superhero flick. DiCaprio and Pitt are two of the only film stars, Tarantino one of the only directors, whose names can still draw box office millions with something original. The trailer is especially well done.

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) once starred in a popular 50s Western series but now gets by with villain roles in TV pilots. The times they are a changin’ and Rick Dalton is failing to adapt. Hollywood shuns his double Cliff Booth (Pitt), who possibly ‘murdered his wife and got away with it’, (alluding to Robert Wagner and the death of Natalie Wood) and is now Rick’s chauffeur and drinking buddy. While self-pitying Rick plays the tough guy on screen, Cliff is the real deal.

Sharon Tate Murder.*Warning – Graphic Images* | This is my ...In this fairy tale if Rick is the knight and Cliff the squire, then ‘doomed’ Sharon Tate is the princess. In reality the actress (right) was married to director Roman Polanski and brutally murdered – along with her three friends and unborn child – on August 1969 by the Manson Family. In the film, her moving next door to Rick’s mansion on Cielo Drive with her husband is a chance for Rick to renew his career. Tarantino took flack for Robbie’s lack of lines, though this was likely on purpose as the naturally shy Tate had only just hit the spotlight when she died. Publicly she was seen but seldom heard.

Though set in ‘69,  Once Upon a Time depicts a romanticised Hollywood past. Gone are the politics and social issues that defined the time.  Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are old-timers, more symbolic of the 1950s than the cultural decade – and they are fading fast. The soundtrack is celebratory, not rebellious.  Vietnam is mentioned once, Hendrix or the Beatles not at all and the hippies – those long-haired agents of social change – are the bad guys.

Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Posters Released ...

Once Upon a Time spends most of its 165 minutes panning through Tarantino’s late ‘60s Hollywood, blending comedy, nostalgia, drama and near horror before culminating in an explosive finale. For Tarantino it is a personal project, his ‘love letter’ to the old Hollywood in its final days. Both Tarantino and production designer Barbara Ling grew up in 1960s Los Angeles and they pay careful attention to its aesthetic and world-building. Easter eggs and Hollywood trivia abound. For those indifferent to the film industry, or unfamiliar with the Manson murders however, it can drag on. Though cinematography, dialogue and acting are tight, the narrative is loose.  Others disliked its violence. It was too much for me – but considering the director and subject matter, I knew what I was in for.

The best part of Once Upon a Time is the second act, which follows Rick, Cliff and Sharon Tate on three different adventures on the same day. Tate sees a film, Rick acts on set, and Cliff picks up a hitchhiker. Here, the film’s carefully constructed characters, its theme and world truly shine. What it says about Hollywood or the ’60s, exactly, is up for debate.

Verdict: 4/5


spartacus original poster.jpg

Spartacus (1960) is a swords and sandals epic starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Action, adventure, romance and intrigue abound.  The film follows the rise of a Roman gladiator from the lowest rung of society to public enemy number one.

Last week my local cinema was showing classics on the big screen. I’d seen Spartacus only once, when I was a boy. This was back before I could tell when a film was dated. Back when I enjoyed every movie I saw. I remembered the battles and the “I am Spartacus” scene but little else. Naturally the senatorial politics and Crassus’s monologue on liking both ‘snails’ and ‘oysters’ flew over my head. I also didn’t appreciate just how well written and acted this masterpiece was.

Related imageSpartacus is the story of a man who challenges the might of Rome. He is born a slave in the end days of the Roman Republic and forced to fight his fellow men as entertainment.  But Spartacus has other ideas. During a dispute in the kitchens, he kills his trainer and inspires the gladiators to revolt.  They escape and roam the Italian countryside, ravaging Roman estates and freeing slaves as they go. Using the techniques he learnt as a gladiator, Spartacus builds a formidable army and humbles the legions sent his way.

That much is true. Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who instigated the ‘Third Servile War’ of 73-70 BC, the largest slave rebellion of the ancient world.  When Crassus eventually crushed it, he crucified 6,000 rebels along the Appian Way.

Spartacus’s director, lead actors and screenwriter were among the best in history. They made the film at the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when technicolor was new and exciting but before television diminished the movie-going audience.

Image result for kubrick trumbo douglasKirk Douglas plays Spartacus. Well-built and charismatic, he fits the role well.  At 45, Douglas was conscious of being upstaged and used his position as executive producer to insist no one younger be cast as a gladiator. His performance makes up for this nonetheless.

Stanley Kubrick was chosen to direct two weeks into filming.  As much Douglas’s vision as his own, Spartacus is the only Kubrick film in which he did not have total creative control. With CGI not yet invented, Kubrick used 10,000 extras from the Spanish infantry for the final battle scene, filmed on a plain outside Madrid.

Dalton TrumboDalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay from behind the Hollywood blacklist. Once Hollywood’s best paid writer, he fell victim to the Red Scare after refusing to ‘name names’ of other Hollywood communists.

Howard Fast, who wrote the book, was also under blacklist. It was only by chance that his self-published work found itself in Kirk Douglas’s hands and was consequently adapted for the big screen.

Though Trumbo wrote Spartacus in exile under a pseudonym, Douglas insisted he take full credit for his work and personally accept its awards. Trumbo did so at risk of arrest and was exonerated only after a newly-elected John F Kennedy defied a conservative embargo to see the film. His endorsement broke the Hollywood blacklist. “Thanks Kirk,” Trumbo said, “for giving me back my name.”

Oscars:Related image

  • Best Supporting Actor (Peter Ustinov)
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinemotography
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Film Editing (nominated)
  • Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (nominated)

Pictured right: Peter Ustinov as the slave trader Bataiutus

Good quotes:

“You don’t want to know mine. I don’t want to know your name….. Gladiators don’t make friends. If we’re ever matched in the arena together, I have to kill you.” – Draba

“When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” – Spartacus

“I’m not after glory, I’m after Spartacus!” – Crassus

Image result for crassus laurence olivier

Part of Spartacus’s draw is the universal appeal of his struggle. He is fighting for freedom. Not freedom in a nationalistic, Braveheart sense, but literal emancipation. His army juxtaposes beautifully with the Romans. While they are scheming and factional, his people are fiercely united. While the Romans buy their love with money and force, Spartacus and Varinia are mutual and pure. While the Romans hold the material advantage, Spartacus holds the moral.

Despite being old, Spartacus is still worth a watch.

Update 05/02/2020: Kirk Douglas, who played Spartacus has died, age 103.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri | Fox Movies

Disclaimer: The following is a summary of this film with no spoilers. If you are the type of person who prefers to see films completely blind, however, I would not recommend reading.

This is the film that should have won best picture at the Academy Awards. It was written and directed by Martin Mcdonagh, a British-Irish playwright-come-director who brought us ‘In Bruges’ (2008), another favourite of mine. Witty, suspenseful, vulgar and violent, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is one hell of a film.

While driving along the American interstate 10 near Vidor, Texas in 2000, Mcdonagh passed a strange billboard. Pictured below, it condemned the local police’s failure to solve the case of Kathy Page, who was killed nine years earlier.

Related image

The event inspired Three Billboards. In it, Mildred Hayes, a bereaved mother of a murdered girl, rents three billboards along a little used road outside town. By keeping the case of her murdered daughter in the public eye she hopes to increase the chance of it being solved.

The billboards read:

Raped while dying

And still no arrests?

How come, chief Willoughby?

Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is Ebbing’s head cop and a pillar of the community. For seven months his men have failed to turn up any evidence over the Angela Hayes case. His popularity puts the town at odds with the billboards and the woman who put them up.

Frances Mcdormand, wife of Joel Coen, plays Mildred Hayes in one of the the best performances of her career. Foul mouthed and abrasive, her determination to see justice for her daughter makes her a perfect antihero.

Sam Rockwell plays Jason Dixon, a moronic and uninhibited police officer with a violent temper who lives with his equally hateful mother. Fanatically loyal to Chief Willoughby, he takes personal offence to the billboards and launches a vendetta to see their removal.

Despite losing the Oscar for Best Picture to Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape of Water, Three Billboards was still an Academy Awards favourite, nominated for:

  • best picture
  • best original screenplay
  • best film editing
  • best original score (Carter Burwell)

and winning:

  • best actress (Frances McDormand)
  • best supporting actor (Sam Rockwell)

Additionally Three Billboards won four Golden Globes and five BAFTAs. Both included best picture, best actress and supporting actor and best screenplay.

Image result for three billboards outside ebbing missouri characters

The film is intense. Its plot is turbulent and themes heavy: police brutality, grief, cancer and nihilism to name a few. Racism is touched on too, though somewhat clumsily. Like much of Mcdonagh’s work it couples dark comedy with deep emotional resonance. Few films have made me go from laughing out loud to hovering at the edge of my seat so much in a single sitting. Though the plot relies a little too strongly on coincidental encounters, at no point was it predictable.

Three Billboards was not without its share of controversy. Tim Parks of the New Yorker describes it as “a film so empty of emotional intelligence, so devoid of any remotely honest observation of the society it purports to serve”. Parks’s main criticism is that Three Billboards reduces complex social issues to a struggle between individuals and that it reinforces familiar stereotypes of the conservative Midwest. What he seems to forget, however, is that a film can only be so long, and exploring social issues and themes through characters is not transgression but the nature of narrative.

Another, more pressing criticism of Three Billboards is the handling of one of its main character arcs. Revealing more would call for a spoiler warning so I will stop short here. Suffice to say, I recommend you watch it first and come to your own conclusions. I will be happy to discuss mine in the comments below.

Verdict: 5/5


Green Eyed Devils

green-eyed-monster.jpegIn Medieval times, individuals with green eyes were associated with envy and deceit, especially prone  to witchery and dark magic. The evil eye, a malevolent curse documented by multiple cultures, was more likely to be cast by the light eyed. Early Islamic scholars wrote that green eyed individuals were cursed or unnatural, often acting with ill intent. Turns out they were right. Forget the Elders of Zion, Yellow Peril, Illuminati, shape shifting reptiles or any other crazed conspiracy, the truth is the green eyes are behind Agenda 21, they are taking over the world.

What is the New World Order’s most effective method of pacifying the masses? Panem et circensis. Through years of careful brainwashing we are oblivious to the coup taking place before our very eyes. When it comes to the reign of the green eyed monster, the movie industry is the worst culprit. Forget Jews, it’s the greeneyes who run Hollywood! Here’s a list of the best known names.

emma stone

  • Bruce Willis
  • Emma Stone
  • Paul Rudd
  • Channing Tatum
  • Clive Owen
  • Adrien Brody
  • Daniel Day Lewis
  • Scarlett Johannsson
  • Kate Hudson
  • Kate Middleton
  • Kirsten Stewart
  • Joaquin Phoinex
  • Amanda Seyfried
  • Tom Cruise
  • Angelina Jolie

As we speak these villainous and power hungry conspirators are spreading their tentacles to music – both and Adele AND Rihanna, two of the 2010s’ top artists, have green eyes!  Even Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994, who comes from INDIA, is guilty. It’s an intricate and deliberate plot to carefully brainwash the masses into thinking green eyes are superior, readying us for the day our future overlords shed their nefarious disguises. Might I remind you green eyed people account for only 2% of the world’s population? How’s that for disproportionate?

hillary trump

If you are still not convinced of the vast and far ranging conspiracy at hand, look no further than the presidential election. 2016 was the year the ‘elite’ finally shed their skin and discarded the long co-opted blue eyed puppets who have historically dominated the American presidency and elected one of their own. Might I remind you that BOTH Hillary Clinton AND Donald Trump are green eyed? Remember that episode of the Simpsons? It was just like Kang and Kodos, it didn’t matter whom was elected, the aliens would win either way!

The hard truth is these people are a miniscule population of mutants who have infiltrated the highest echelons of American society. It’s a deliberate and sinister conspiracy that’s been centuries in the works. Ancient scholars didn’t say light irises were prone to the evil eye for nothing did they? The Assyrians, early Islamic scholars, European witch hunters, Shakespeare, they were all trying to warn us. The green eyed monster has spread its wings over a nation that was once the bastion of freedom and democracy and we’re too blind to see it. Brothers and sisters, it’s time to wake up!