Right; to get my annual top ten films lists up to date, it’s time to go through my choices for 2019! This list shall operate in a similar way to those of 2017 and 2018 – two articles, each going through 5 films. Furthermore, as before, I am going by UK release date, so a film such as The Favourite counts for 2019. Here’s #10-#6!
#10: Stan & Ollie
There have been a lot of musical biopic films released in recent times, which can make it hard for them to stand out from one another; however, through taking a quieter, character-driven approach to the twilight years of Laurel & Hardy, director Jon S. Baird manages to create a distinctively touching and emotional story about their final performances in 1950s Britain. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly thoroughly embody the lead parts of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy respectively, without pushing their personas into exaggerated territory – that’s saved for their iconic double acts! At the same time, they make evident the professional and personal relationship between the two and the challenges they face to maintain it in a world of rapidly changing entertainment. Their partners at the time, Ida (Shirley Henderson) and Lucille (Nina Arianda) act as great foils to them, supporting the pair even if that isn’t always through making their act a priority – the dynamics are hilarious too, especially the blunt remarks of Ida. As a film about a comedic double act, you would expect a sense of humour from Stan & Ollie, and it’s very much there in a traditional, innocent way that matches their performances. Speaking of which, those scenes are marvelously entertaining, and conclude in a breathtaking final display that celebrates Laurel & Hardy and their unique friendship.
#9: Frozen II
After Frozen – back in 2013 – wonderfully broke the conventions of the traditional Princess story, a follow-up was a real test for Disney. Yet, in my eyes, Frozen II surpasses the first film, carrying on the magic and taking the characters into very mature themes. We rejoin Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) living peacefully in Arendelle, but as a mysterious entity draws Elsa away from home, Anna, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven, and Olaf (Josh Gad) follow her on an adventure that explores unexplained mysteries and also has the characters discover essential revelations about themselves. The addition of fall colours to the pristine ice animation gives the film a stunning, contrasting aesthetic that is just irresistible. Music is a key component of Frozen as a series and again Frozen II improves on its predecessor in this area; it’s where some of those aforementioned mature themes come from, especially in The Next Right Thing, a powerful commentary on grief where Kristen Bell tugs on my heartstrings. The catchy energy of Frozen music is maintained, but with new depths of emotion; overall, the entire film has less of the more superficial moments that showed up now and then in the first film. Frozen II is an incredible sequel that raises the bar for the franchise in every department.
#8: Le Mans ’66
I’m a motorsport fan, so it’s surprising to me that I took a while to sit myself down in a Picturehouse and view Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari in the States) on the silver screen – and oh, oh ho ho, am I glad I did, as this film is a visual thrill ride (pun… intended?). There have been some phenomenal motorsport films over the years, such as Senna (2010) and Rush (2013), but I was initially concerned whether Le Mans ’66 would manage to have the same level of emotion – consider me very much won over! Director James Mangold viscerally puts on screen how Ken Miles (Christian Bale) and Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) worked with Ford to tackle the all-conquering Ferrari at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The competitive narrative keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, yet it is that central partnership of two friends that drives (ahem) the film. It isn’t just their rivals they have to contend with; the conflict between their ambitions and the politics of Ford creates several flashpoints. Miles and Shelby don’t always see eye-to-eye either, but as shown by a hilarious expression of friendship later in the film, they are ultimately that: friends, motivated with a competitive spirit that is escalated by the budget behind them. There are a few small changes made to true events, but they serve to add emphasis and didn’t damage the messages of the story for me. Spectacular race sequences intersperse the film, culminating in an extensive finale at the 1966 Le Mans that gives the event the attention it deserves; the use of actual cars and racetracks whilst filming is so important for giving an authentic feel to the action. Also, so, the music… Wow, what a soundtrack! Composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Saunders, the heart-pumping energy produced by the intense tracks for the races is incredible; with the incorporation of the myriad of striking sounds present in motor racing, it results in audio that shakes the soul. Incidentally, Le Mans ’66 and Donald Sylvester won an Oscar for Achievement in sound editing; furthermore, Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland won an Oscar for Achievement in film editing. It all combines to create a momentum propelling the film on to a poignant ending.
#7: Green Book
Similarly to Le Mans ’66 and Stan & Ollie, Green Book (which won the 2019 Best Picture Oscar) is a film about two men and the relationship they have. However, the circumstances of Green Book (based on a real friendship) are very different from either of those films. When pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali) decides to go on a tour of Southern USA in the 1960s, this means facing racial inequality and abuse, and he hires Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to be his driver – Tony is out of a job as a bouncer, and takes the role on despite it meaning he has to leave his family until Christmas. Dr. Shirley is a well-mannered, proud man who takes his art seriously, very different to the blunt, unhygienic Tony. As the film progresses, Tony witnesses the talent of Dr. Shirley but also the mistreatment he faces, having to get involved on multiple occasions. Green Book is exceptionally smart in how it portrays the views of each of the two, and how they both learn from the other. For example, Dr. Shirley helps Tony write better, more affectionate letters back home to his wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini) and in the other direction Tony supports Dr. Shirley in combining his pride with a more social and open attitude to life. It isn’t as simple as one learning from the other; it goes both ways, as relationships and culture should do. Scene to scene there is a range of tones, the film skillfully switching from light-hearted to dramatic and vice-versa multiple times, further showing different sides to the world and how the horror of racism can suddenly intrude on a life. Green Book has had controversy around it that I disagree with, as to me the whole point of this film is that these are two people with vastly different experiences who learn from each other, instead of just saying one culture is entirely right or wrong.
#6: Pain & Glory
Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar reaches a new peak with Pain & Glory, a delicate character study inspired by his own life. Antonio Banderas is exceptional in the lead role as the emotionally raw Salvador Mallo, a writer who is now suffering from less of a passion for his craft and numerous health issues – as showcased by a vivid animated sequence early on. We follow Salvador as he reunites with loved ones; meanwhile, the actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) tries to persuade him to put his writing to stage once again. The film is punctuated by memories of his childhood spent with mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), where we witness key moments that made him into who he is now. This film is wonderfully delicate, a retrospective and introspective life story which draws you in and keeps you engrossed until the end. It’s starkly honest in the story told, and as ever, Almodóvar brings his enchanting direction and intelligent dialogue treatment. Pain & Glory is currently my favourite Almodóvar film; a magic spell of a film told with care, love, and a flourish.
The second part of this list, going through my picks for #5-#1, is on the way, so stay tuned to this website!