1. Peterlooby Mike Leigh
Mike Leigh's life was spent making films about us and for us, whether we appreciated them or not. The servants in wealthy houses, the struggling newlyweds on welfare, mothers too poor to have children, people living in caravans housed between a dozen others in a cramped trailer park. Working class people; those are Mike Leigh's people. He's looked after us in his fiction. He cared what happened to us, looked back in history at the moments where a wealthy ruling class's morality got the rest of us killed. Peterloo is the definitive moment, England's point of no return - the moment it became fully what it was always going to be. The poor organize, the drunken pigs swoop in to kill them with sabers. It sounds too cruel to be real. It happened. It happens still. Peterloo is Mike Leigh's richest film for a spell, filming union meetings like religious paintings, deifying the working class, showing us, with an awful dearth of romance or safety, the eagerness with which judges condemned them, politicians signed their death warrants, and police beat them to death. The way of the world has always been thus, and Mike Leigh's always reminded us, because he loves us despite our wretched impulses and predictable moral failings. Peterloo may be his last film, and it's almost certainly his best.
2. The Souvenir
by Joanna Hogg
Joanna Hogg has become who she is by being honest about the interactions of an incredibly specific group of unhappy people. Wealthy, respectable types who have made peace with their discontent. They sold their truth for equilibrium and spend their days looking for the receipt. She’s finally turned her exacting gaze (she has a contemporary sculptor’s harsh geometry and imperative diction) on herself, recalling her own beginnings as an artist during a time of even greater moral cowardice than the one we’re in now. Tom Burke plays the kind of self-assured rich guy that Honor Swinton-Byrne’s Hogg stand-in is meant to be happy to settle for. He’s cultured and erudite and inoffensively handsome. Everything is just a little beneath him, including the addiction that comes to consume his whole life, the way he consumes hers. The awful dependence that emerges from behind Hogg’s diamond perfect image of their semi-ironic domesticity is meant to be shocking. The perfection of their lives is a lie, and not even placing it in front of mirrors, of being honest, of saying it all, will prevent the car crash. Hogg let’s herself become more overtly emotional, and the film she tried to give to her young self to say it was ok to make these mistakes, that love is a car crash, it’s not always someone’s fault , is like shattered glass in the heart.
3. A Hidden Life
by Terrence Malick
Malick closed his comeback decade with a return to what he’s ‘known for’. Of course by returning to another time he’s reflecting our world more than the one he captured in his run from 2011-2016. While Knight of Cups takes place now, its reference points are firmly pre-American. A Hidden Life takes its cues from art and literature directly around the Second World War, from the films of Bresson and Borzage to the writing of Adorno. All to place one man in heaven and then watch him fall into hell. That is how it feels before tragedy, national or otherwise. Malick takes pains to show the idyllic life of Germany before it fell prey to a heinous outlook but then as his hero looks around he sees that prejudice has always been alive where he laid his head, he just couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. He wonders what degree you must go to prove you aren’t your neighbor when flags start waving. America hasn’t had this quandary in any real way in the last half century, not really, but Malick sees us going back there. What does god want from us? To earn the image we were created in. To earn the bodies able to work the land, to earn the minds capable of refusing a policy of hate, to earn the lives we alone are given to live. There may have been better ways to do so than to give them up when history demanded you abandon your will for the tide, but Franz Jägerstätter looked long inside of himself and found no other gesture that wouldn’t make him hypocrite while millions died. And if they would die for this same argument he did not agree with then he would die with them, uselessly perhaps, but they “were all equal now.” Malick, like Ford, hides his radicalism in the poetry of bloodshed (not so well that you can’t find it) but he’s always been the man who reads us best. People asked for more than a decade why he couldn’t stop repeating his vision of paradise - free people frolicking in fields of wheat. Because it’s so often ripped from us. Why wouldn’t you want to imagine your understanding of a people at one with nature, at one with the planet, with their fellow man, with themselves? It’s a fantasy as great as any epic novel’s because history will take you to hell sure enough. Paradise could be anywhere, even republican America or pre-Nazi Germany, if every man had seen it. But all they saw was a problem that needed solving through the deaths of the undesired. Malick still sees what we could have been, what we could still be. Maybe that makes him naive but I’ll never tire of fleeting visions of perfection. It makes me think we still have a chance.
by Daniel Minahan
What may turn out to be David Milch's final produced work during his lifetime. Fitting, if probably unexpected for him, that Deadwood would become his epitaph. He worked for nearly 30 years in television but Deadwood looms largest. His candle-lit western I, Claudius, or maybe Plato's Republic, took the romance out of the frontier, only to rebuild it from scratch in the mud in unexpected ways. When it was cancelled it went out on the best and most agreeably hopeless fashion, fans learned to live with it. The movie was more than we could have hoped for. It's uncanny and strange, a living wake, a parade in celebration of mortality's ravages. Life takes and takes and takes, but the essential character of men and women, of the Deadwood they built, remains. With Roherian grace, Minahan and Milch show their towns folk bargaining with the outside for more time, and local godfather Al Swearengen trades his life for his town's, but only metaphorically. Milch never believed in obvious gestures, even though by wrapping his saga in a bow, he's finally given us one.
5. Varda By Agnès
by Agnès Varda
When I met Agnès Varda, she was at once enormous and so, so small. The woman who invented modern French cinema’s romantic poetry, the thoughtful and empathetic foil to Godard, the woman who clutched Jacques Demy’s hand while he died, the woman who photographed Castro and the Black Panthers, who made damn sure feminism and film would stay married til death did they part, who took a camera to an island and created a working life from a dying relationship like Rossellini’s heir, there she was on a chair, too tired to speak English. I did my best to be kind to her fatigue, and let her go when she let me know our time was up. Very few people would see her again. She knew she only had so much in her so she gathered her films, her friends and her ghosts and she sat one last time for a lecture about her life. Future generations are going to need her roadmap when we forget where we came from, what the cinematic landscape was like before she helped chisel a place for herself. The pioneer with the ever changing hair and a mise-en-scene like a bear hug, she gave us a parting gift: a little more time with her. It’s good for the soul and it’s good for posterity and it’s great for the history of this medium. Without la Varda, the best of our moment in time in unthinkable.
by Keisha Rae Witherspoon
A gathering of bereaved souls who know more than we could ever. The loss of their homes, their patterns, their cores, has rendered them smarter than anyone should ever have to be. They dress for a celebration of the dead, aware we'll never know why they do it. "There's no punchline, bitch!" Just sorrow, just us living in the weeds of the departed. The arrival of a talent so huge they don't have words to describe her yet.
7. First Cow
by Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt opens her latest western with a nod to Peter Hutton and then quickly segues into the world of Robert Altman. Her cinema is one of transpositions and border crossings, of fences separating us and single gestures defining us. To bridge the gap between the doggedly narrative and the experimental is a task at which very few ever succeed. Experimental flourishes very rarely find their way into mainstream entertainments in forms you'd recognize but Reichardt has succeeded where others fail because she answers to the emotional, and sometimes a shot of a boat crossing a stream or a train tearing through a tranquil field is the surest way to place your heart where it needs to be for the yarn that follows. Here she stays true to the silence of her early work even as her story veers almost into buddy movie territory. Two men and a cow, a friendship born and fueled at night stealing from the wealthiest man in the county. The lovely words of thanks spoken to an animal who can only intuit their kind tone. This is a film that speaks to our capacity for good even as we descend into criminality. It's got a pre-code mentality in that regard: a criminal's just a man who wants to eat. Reichardt's rogue's gallery gets two of its finest dreamers here, a scheming capitalist and his only friend, a good-natured cook who lights up when people like his art. That genuine feeling is all over this film, each new scene as heart-warming as the last, even if the essential hostility of the past never ebbs.
8. The Irishman
by Martin Scorsese
A farewell to arms, the end of a genre, the end of every life that seemed so full of sin. The invincibility of the winningly amoral comes to a screeching halt.
9. Uncut Gems
by Josh & Benny Safdie
The Safdies structure movies like binges. You want to stop, you want them to stop, but you can’t, you’ve come this far, you’ll take the next bite, drink the next shot, it’s right there what’s the worst that could happen. So much. So, so much could happen. Uncut Gems is the ne plus ultra Safdie anxiety attack, cinema at 10,000 BPM, an unrelenting bad time good time. You can’t even wallow in the surfeit of poor behavior and worse judgment, because the next awful move is already underway. Adam Sandler, playing up his worst tics and manners into a kind of living corpse trudging through life until he can get spat on again and love every second of the embarrassment, is magnetic. Every chewed up syllable and screamed excuse growing even more ingratiating when they should be tiresome. The movie, like its climactic basketball game, keeps surprising you until you’re in a beatific stupor. And then the last turn. Just magic. Awful, awful magic.
10. 3 From Hell
by Rob Zombie
Never have I been so thrilled to spend time in the company of bastards. Zombie's grammar's gotten stronger as his budgets have gotten smaller, and his way of looking at the world - 70s nihilism filtered through 00s moral provocations - becomes like a brick-and-mortar business in a sleek, corporate world. He even road-showed it like he was Kroger Babb. 3 From Hell may as well be John Ford today with how factory tooled so much genre in America has become. He sets his killers loose on vigilantes, corrupt cops, assassins, and old vendettas, and they're strong enough to survive but their number is about to come up. Zombie's images have become like home to me, comforting in their specificity, monstrousness and occasional naïveté. He still so plainly takes utter joy in constructing his carnage, and I'll always take just as much joy reveling in it.
by Dan Sallitt
I recognize my word on this one only counts for so much because I’m in the credits three times but see it for yourself. Dan’s most skillful balancing act yet. Like Unspeakable Act it relies on hindsight on the destination to re-contextualize the journey but a film that heads to a place that ruins you the way this ruined me, what else can you call it but deftness, soul, skill, artistry, genius. Watching Dan direct has the same kind of awe-inspiring effect of watching a great sculptor. You watch him pull a face from marble, clearly aware of the design in his head, still unable to believe he’s going to create a masterpiece from the series of little manipulations he insists upon. And between takes he’ll talk Alan Rudolph or Tom Cruise or Casablanca like he was at a party. And a year later here’s his latest, and it’s even more heart-rending snd deeply felt than the last one. Dan I don’t know how you do it but don’t ever stop doing it.
12. “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians”
by Radu Jude
Jude’s gnostic rumination on art’s place in society that rejects truth for legend. “My character is an atheist, I am not.” The Meta text even refutes his premise, that no body beholden to the invisible can ever get around to being accountable for itself. Jude’s proven himself one of cinema’s great aesthetic chameleons, a shapeshifting new waver who will pick the methodology best suited to his new tale of ancient dead ends and mass graves on which the present is built. A thesis film about a thesis film, a slippery formal dare.
by Shin'ya Tsukamoto
Tsukamoto’s final work of a decade of reinventing himself as a tragedian, Killing is supposed to be hard work and it is but it’s also got an engine like a race car. The premise is simple, The Red Badge of Courage by way of Peckinpah - what feels like unAmerican fatalism to deconstruct Japanese honor. An old samurai sees potential comrades in young men but when push comes to shove neither is up to the task of stopping bad men from taking advantage of good people. The awful things gangs of powerful bullies can wreak on folks ill-equipped to protect themselves must happen or else how would we learn the real efficacy of violence? Being a skilled warrior as Tsukamoto’s blustery ronin obviously is means he got that way at he expense of many lives. A legend is only told because he left bodies behind him. Valor as sociopathy, heroism as not just a lonely pursuit but an absolutely insane one. The Iron Man of the cinema questions a century or more of nationalist folktales and movies.
by László Nemes
Nemes' cinema has been introduced to us as one of pointing out the inherent weaknesses of trying to tell the stories of the dead. The perspective will be limited because of what we know and can reproduce faithfully. So he's chosen a method of giving us that limited perspective literally, sticking close to the face of our point of view character as if we were launched back in time. Nemes is in some ways paralyzed even as breathless as his camera's pace can be at times, following, always following, as someone fails to take stock of the unfolding intrigue before it can happen. The dye of violence and revolution has been cast. In making us aware that history cannot be changed, Nemes also captures what it feels like to watch the present happen in all caps, completely powerless to effect change on events just over...there. By shallowing the focus and queering the specifics, he strands us in a throng of allegiances and a sweltering fog of violence. It's all happening right in front of us and we can do absolutely nothing.
by Kevin Jerome Everson & Claudrena N. Harold
A few minutes of practice, smiling faces at work, making beauty where there is only silence. Everson's been one of the busiest filmmakers in the world lately, creating something like a hundred films this decade alone. I don't claim to have seen nearly enough of them to be able to come up with words to describe his enormous impact or his multifaceted identity, but I can say that I'm frequently speechless when they end. Hampton strikes me as a foray into a realm of the perfectly artificial, which he doesn't usually visit. The loving composition, the faces, very aware of the camera, yet even more aware of their duty to the art they practice. Stirring and hopeful, a present for our tired eyes and wearier interior.
16. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
by Quentin Tarantino
It’s not always wise to judge a film based in anyway by the conversations it inspires, whether by content or volume, but a half year after its premiere this still has folks’ hackles up. It’s understandable, it looks misogynist from the outside and on the inside it kills women for fun. It looks conservative but it also prolongs there hippie movement in its imagination by killing its most famous escapees. Two decades of increasingly intolerable revisionist Fantasia from Tarantino made me cringe for months ahead of this one, but It’s no good being afraid of a film so I went and saw it. And yeah the provocations endure the way everyone says but it’s also Tarantino’s best work. He stops writing over his direction, which was always his first and best virtue. He stops telling us things we don’t need to know. He stops insisting we’re watching great work, he just gives us some. Maybe it’s because I’m used to his films telling me exactly what to think but it was a delight to be encouraged to make up my mind about the vast array of troubled people on screen. I think Tarantino making the film asking that some guilty men be forgiven their trespasses is pretty transparent but man did he pick the right pace to sell me the idea. This film about the sun going down on problematic guys just meanders from one encounter to the next, an episodic picaresque for guys who used to live charmed lives and now just kinda live. Tarantino finally relaxing his grip on his text and letting the space and time soak in, transporting us to the end of the line for the Hollywood he so wished he’d been a part of and his own version of it. I’ll take the bad with the good now because the good is transcendent and fun. A work that feels as charming as it is watching Brad Pitt watch TV. The little things, the making of dinner, the repair of an antennae, the changing of a tire, a cinema finally of small processes. It only took years of impersonating himself but he found himself again.
by Ekta Mittal
Mittal's unabashedly emotional experimentations works as an in-country riposte to Robert Gardner's famed look at Indian urban life. Mittal actually speaks to native Indians, and understands their pain and the lack in their lives. Her film is a marvel of intuitive montage and unmoored, arresting symbolism, one of the best experimental features of the decade - fleeting and mournful, homegrown existential meanderings, intimate secrets of those left behind by migration, yes, but also just by the sheer vastness of capital. Communities transformed into small things, defined by faces smiling to keep from frowning. The wide world rendered only by the night sky that city and country must share, unthinkable as it may seem.
18. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
by Céline Sciamma
Doomed romance is a hard thing to commit to without any irony or further distancing mechanisms in 2019. The stories have been told, we know how they end. And by setting this one in the past you run the risk of throwing modern sensibilities into the past. I went in with high hopes anyway. I love Sciamma’s work, love her care with her characters, love that she doesn’t put anything between us and them and her. We’re all in these medium close ups together. Get on board or don’t - this is the story. It’s about being trapped by time in a future you have had written for you. Sue me, I was hooked. Sciamma’s images don’t intellectualize the conflict of her young heroes, they don’t have to. The simplicity of having a goodly sun of experience denied does the trick. Just being women means life there will be question marks that will never turn to exclamation points. And if they do, the price tag for the conversion is steep. Portrait is her sequel to Water Lillies in which Adele Haenel awakens something in another girl she has never known and doesn’t understand much better when she just as quickly gets ripped out of her life. Better to know and live without her or try and pay for it the rest of your life. You’ll know where you stand when the summer movement of the “Four Seasons” plays for the second time. If you answer Haenel’s tears with your own, or you simply watch as Sciamma creates a new anguished face for a new generation of lost souls right there with Marie Falconetti, Nicole Kidman in Birth, or Antoine Doinel.
by Mati Diop
It's never a good idea to let awards write a review for you, but Atlantique now stands as a testament to more than its host of wandering spirits. It stands as a memorial to the work of black women completely ignored by racist bodies who look to keep work like this, which follows no Western narrative patterns or forms, from receiving accolade or attention. That critics the world over couldn't look at this and see the performances, hear the music, see what Diop wasn't saying as clearly as what she was. Diop wends her way down a path of absences and subliminal queues from worlds beyond ours, speaking only to whomever will listen. Senegalese cinema has one of the most rewarding bodies of work and without cribbing a note from any of it, she's re-introduced the world to the artistic tradition from which she sprung. This sleek and sexy nearly-noir sees the dead everywhere because the rest of the world has closed its eyes.
by Larry Fessenden
It was immediately obvious when the film started that this was Larry Fessenden's passion project, the movie he waited a decade plus to make because he wanted to get it just right. He makes new fables, dredging up the soil of Americana and finding the many hungry ghosts lying in wait all over our forgotten places. He's been obsessed with what we killed when we developed the natural world for cities and vacation towns, what's still hiding where we can't see it. Depraved is his first story in which the monster is made in real time in front of us. We see every mistake being made like we're watching an absent father raise a child. It's among his best pieces of work for this reason. Every mistake, every part of his mad doctor that makes him human also steadfastly refuses to make him god. Pictorially effulgent, with a powerful sound design guiding us through this moral tale, this is Larry at the height of his powers, using every tool in his kit, following every stylistic whim, making the glorious tragedy he always had in him.
21. Ad Astra
by James Gray
The truly sad part about Ad Astra, beyond the man losing his father and the wonder of life with him, is that he keeps trying to experience the end of the universe with some measure of humility, to allow himself to reckon with what love really and truly means to him but everywhere he looks is the trash of humanity floating around him. Gray (accurately?) predicts that when we do make it to the infinite, we'll bring the utter crassness of life on earth with us. Try having a tearful moment of understanding, of turning your father from hero to man, with the sounds of Moon TV in your ear. Even in space his father watches old movies because the crushing silence was too much. We can't be alone because we aren't built to be alone, but together we create an awful racket. He retreats back to the womb of commercialist excess and resources easily held hostage. The movie keeps threatening to complicate Brad Pitt's journey but it's always almost too easy. The further he goes from home, the more aware he is that he can't ever leave.
22. Chained for Life
by Aaron Schimberg
A word for Jess Weixler: to some of us she showed up with a fully formed comedic persona in Teeth, and rather than pursue the easy path of continuing to make raucous splatter comedies, she kept her nose to the grindstone and took interesting parts in no budget dramas until the big budget parts reflected her persona and respected what she was capable of providing. Here she's performing a balancing act akin to walking on a tightrope with both arms full of dishes stacked up on top of each other. She's funny and bewildered as an actress at one locus of a complicated film set. Schimberg's Day For Night update doubles down on the sexualized confusion of a film set and doesn't reach for the poetry of creation - it's the oddity of the machine that most interests him. The things we think we're looking for versus the stuff that tends to wind up on film. Weixler and co-lead Adam Pearson have delectable chemistry as everything around them goes from falsehood to reality and back again in the blink of an eye, or the change of an angle. Maybe sadly, maybe not, a one of a kind film.
by Beyoncé & Ed Burke
In the current era the most important thing a performer can do is know how to present themselves to an audience, because it is work that never ends. The days of rigidly controlling what the public knows about you are over. Now half of an artists life (especially one as ubiquitous and monolithic as Beyoncé) is bending facts to fit a narrative in real time, as if repairing a rocket ship in mid-flight. Beyoncé, like a politician or religious leader, means everything to all people, and so she must choose her words carefully when addressing an adoring public that consists of billions. Homecoming is a rephrasing of a performance most of the world saw happening live and it still feels brand new. Her outfit changes play like stunning theatrics, her dancing figure seems a thousand feet tall. Perhaps the most savvy and wonderful device in the whole package is rephrasing this as a portrait of her roots and her community. The show, beamed from another dimension on the live feed, now plays like the calculated act of love it always was. Like a sequel to Stanley Nelson's Tell Them We Are Rising, this is a story of bringing the whole neighborhood with you when you've got the means to make yourself better. It's the counter-myth to the American bootstraps lie. When you've made it to the top, you turn around and offer a hand. That's why Beyoncé's always going to be more important to the public's moral health than whosever in the oval office. She can change any setback into another limb on her tree, and it's never going to stop growing.
24. A Story From Africa
by Billy Woodberry
Billy Woodberry’s stunning photo montage and the haunting score by Antonio de Sousa Dias slow a blunted coup to its essence, like examining lightning in segments. His new film, one of a tragically small body of work, details Identity turned lame by circumstance. A man’s dignity forged in betrayal won’t keep a spirit afloat, and once your blood, the people who once looked after you, have turned on you, what have you left? A welcome visitation from a benighted time, a tale of lessons never learned.
25. Warning: Do Not Play
by Kim Jin-Won
It was more than ten years ago that I saw Kim Jin-Won's The Butcher. He had reached into the viscera of the current moment of political horror - torture porn on one hook, found footage on another - and made the finest statement on the headlong death drive animating media at the time. People were racing each other to the most depressing statement on a world intent on destroying itself. The Butcher was like a crocodile (see below) in that it had nothing much on its mind, it was just going to kill some people and show you. I felt like Ash in Alien: "I admire its purity." A tight 75 minutes of gory adrenaline as a man we don't know runs for his life after we see what it is he's running from. Remarkable. So naturally no one gave its director a dime to make his next movie until this goddamned year. Worth the wait, for once. This gorgeous ghost story (think Takashi Shimizu by way of the hotel room in Vertigo) is replete with many splendored tableaux of both modernist homes and grotesque, forgotten hovels, stalked by a terrifying entity. It's also a movie about why we become obsessed with film, about what comforts horror movies, specifically, can provide us at our lowest (having spent a year nestling into horror movies when tragedy struck this was the film that best captured my mindset). I thought when next I saw from Kim would be abject and loud and painful. It turns out he was waiting to give me the thing I needed when I needed it most.
By Alexandre Aja
The movie that saved me this year. When I needed blissful distraction and obvious artifice, when I needed considered direction on a small scale, something short of perfect but more than awesome. Determination from behind sleepy eyes; it isn't that the fight for survival here requires more than the two characters are used to giving. It's that surviving is the only option, so that's what they'll do. Can't tell you what it felt like to write that last sentence. Crawl is an apt title because when life steals from you what it had assured you you'd always have, that's how it feels to move on.
by Brian De Palma
De Palma, like the equally problematic Bertolucci before him, has basically lost the use of his legs. This may mean he's done directing after the compromised Domino, or it may mean his next work is even more fatalistic and acidic. I hope he's not done despite the fact that it took decades of combatting him mentally to make peace with him as an artist. Domino is one of those things for which I'm a little hard pressed to precisely define my affection. Yes, I know it was taken from him by producers who gave him a ton of shit for doing exactly the thing they ostensibly hired him to do. Yes, I know he made it for a fraction of what he used to work for. Yes, I'm aware the limitations manifest all over the canvas in ways big and small. Yes, I know the film makes hay out of mass shootings in 2019, and De Palma still seems incurably sore about the way film culture treated him. I just don't care. This thing is so beautiful at times I wanted to weep, and for the man to use what may turn out to be his last soapbox to once more point us to the fundamental equation of what makes something 'cinematic,' by quoting someone else, for once it seems beautiful to me and not a little underhanded. Dying, stuck to a chair, the best years of his life behind him, he wanted to make Vertigo one last time.
by Bong Joon-Ho
Bong taps into the same state-of-the-union paranoia that animated Burning and goes immediately for the jugular. Class prejudice strapped to a brick and thrown through the screen in traditionally gonzo Bong style, the film shows the savviest of the starving weening their way into the lives of the unforgivably moneyed. So why aren't they always so prosperous, if they're so smart? Because the system is a system for a reason, and no amount of brains can outwit it. Revved-up but sleepless determination turned into the engine of unraveled perfection. The rich may always be rich, but they're not immortal, even if their position is.
29. Knives Out
by Rian Johnson
Johnson may spend a little too much time on twitter for his own good, but he's also the only person to use a whole map of hatreds and petty grudges to chart one of the most precise mysteries in years. Like a clock with a faulty gear, the murder mystery at the heart of this love letter to Agatha Christie keeps telling the right time to the wrong people as Johnson reminds us repeatedly in increasingly upsetting ways that no matter what shade of white you are, you're guilty of something.
by Lorene Scafaria
Scafaria's cutthroat economics lesson is so snappy and easy that when the bodies start appearing you're almost disappointed, even if this was the only place it could lead. Most of us lived through the recession and know what it did to a lot of people, even if the financial sector never suffered or even fucking apologized. This is the story of women who wanted just a glimpse of what it felt like to stay rich and never have to say sorry for the lives they ruined along the way - a burlesque of criminal masculine entitlement with better outfits and deeper scars. Every party ends, and the women here couldn't imagine everyone would get to go home, so they turned on each other, finally believing they'd never actually get to live like the hideously amoral men they conned. American tragedy as the three hours between going to bed drunk and waking up hungover.
31. Pain and Glory
by Pedro Almodóvar
Even Almodóvar's crises are prettier than the rest of ours. His surrogate (gorgeous Antonio Banderas, looking more human maybe, but still godlike) tries hard drugs, loses sleep, loses his mother, loses his friends, loses his muse, but his life remains beautiful, because that's what truly matters to Almodóvar. We may die, we may cough and sputter and lose everything, but we will never let life (or our apartments) become ugly. Sue me, but I think that's wonderful. It's a tale as old as Sirk, Powell and Stahl.
32. It Chapter Two
by Andrés Muschietti
Following the new-teen-classic adaptation of the earlier portions of the book it was a joy to see Muschietti indulge his wildest Moctezuma/Plaza Spanish horror impulses. A film that leaks its emotions like a shot fish tank, and scares you with clowns jumping out of the dark, and the thought that you wasted your life being afraid.
by Tilman Singer
An exorcism for forgotten cities, lost time, and antique means of expression and myth-making.
by Sergei Loznitsa
Like a crowdsourced Paisan, this nightmare trip through a dying region keeps changing the name of the game, trying to let outsiders know what it feels like to live at the mercy of the randomness of war and political turmoil. America only just got a glimpse of what Ukraine lives with, we’ll never know what it feels like to not have distractions and comfort, to be displaced. The film changes locations and focuses with the death or abandonment of whomever was just front and center. The antic rhythm and hopscotch structure is nail biting; truly anything could happen. The more Loznitsa makes documentaries and found footage docs, the more he learns how to mock the texture of unfolding tragedy, and this wild sprawling road movie will stand as a document of the absurdity of the lives we ignore while our own government fucks around and lets the world come to this.
by M. Night Shyamalan
Bless Shyamalan for trying to put the superhero thing to bed, but not even one of America's top formalists could manage such a...superhuman task. Anyway, his mobile camera gets its strongest workout here, whipping around the contained environment to simulate the imprisonment of potential (something of a pet theme for the underrated madman since he started getting bad reviews; and honestly good on him for tackling the thing head on, he's always deserved better than the critical body and the public at large has given back to him. They made him abandon romanticism, for which I'll never forgive America). Glass shatters all hope for the Übermensch to save us from disorder. Power is in the hands of all of us now. For better or worse.
36. The Traitor
by Marco Bellocchio
Giving Scorsese and The Irishman stiff competition, 80 year old Marco Bellocchio released his most caffeinated treatise on treachery, the overstuffed and luxuriant The Traitor, which traces Italian organized crime and its mirror image in the Italian government from the late 70s to the present day. The deliberately insubstantial character of the digital image he proffers meant to evoke the ignoble lives these would-be-princes don't realize they're living. An early nod to Welles speaks to the valley of difference between the glamour of crime on film and the shoddy and dingy real thing. The symbols of prosperity back then in all-too-clear digital look especially hollow and ugly, as if we were staring at them from behind the observation glass of the mid-film trial sequences. This, the film says at every turn, is what these men died for. What a hilarious waste, what a dreadful bargain.
37. Girls of the Sun
by Eva Husson
A new Apocalypse Now for wars that the First World is encouraged to misunderstand. If we don't get what's at stake, how much could we care really? An ashen Golshifteh Farahani, the unhappy warrior, her movie star radiance ripped out of her like her hope, on the war path, beset by smoke and darkness, not knowing where the enemy is anymore, knowing her small contingent can't possibly turn the tide. The hallucinogenic quality is left behind, the scars are too fresh. The war still wages and it's not clear the right people will win. They never seem to, anymore.
by Roland Emmerich
Emmerich has become my pet vulgarian, possessed as he is of a grammatical strategy only a few of us seem keyed into. Midway is a return to the high flying theatrics of his early work by way of his late digital sketching. It's the film he's been building to for the last twenty years - technology finally able to make sitting in the seat of a combat plane both harrowingly real and magnificently artificial. The teeth gritting pilots diving towards submarines are his best action sequences, full stop, and he's been no slouch before now. The sweaty romantic melodrama also firmly in his wheelhouse is admirably relegated to the sidelines (making this a corrective to Pearl Harbor in all the right ways). This is an old school epic in its construction - a new famous face shows up, does his bit, and then vanishes. All business except for the fireworks.
39. Dark Waters
by Todd Haynes
Haynes refuses the resplendent kitsch glamour of his best work to tell the story of the secret ingredient to all of his work - the slow poisoning of the American public by corporations. All his heroes either exist outside of supply and demand or they're dependent on it - the heroines of Safe and Mildred Pierce flip-sides of the same coin. The pots and pans, the toxins and chemicals, the dresses and wallpaper, everything made by companies who don't care if we live or die. Dead would be easier, then there'd be no lawsuit. Mark Ruffalo plays the anti-Dylan of I'm Not There, a man driven by realizing too late he's lead his people into a trap and now needs to extricate them. Unlike Dylan, who had to shapeshift to escape scrutiny or detection, Ruffalo faces both and tries to bring this to light to an unwilling and scared public. The tall-tale here was that millionaires were looking out for us.
40. La Ciudad Oculta
by Víctor Moreno
An endoscopy of the great cities that listens keenly to the great yawning nothing below us. A purer sensorial abandonment you may never feel than to watch this in total darkness. To quote Lincoln, you cannot help but be "aware of your aloneness," to know this work persists where no one can see or hear it. A labor movie, a public works movie, and an alienating drift worthy of Ballard.
41. Extra Ordinary
by Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman
The funniest out-and-out comedy I watched this year, Extra Ordinary has uniquely Irish warmth to its pitch black humor. The death of loved ones is where it starts and it gets weirder and more vicious from there, but you wouldn't know it from the goofy laughter spilling out of you. Maeve Higgins is who I wish Rebel Wilson was.
42. The Mountain
by Rick Alverson
Alverson finally starts trying to trace back his arrested men, the first stream eventually poisoned with irony like the blood of a dead animal flowing down through history. The lumpen sad boy all but screams at the hostile world for it to make sense and every further glimpse he gets into the backrooms and offices where adults live and prey on children, the further he wishes himself free of consciousness. Surrendering your sanity isn't even possible, because there are still nothing but dead ends and impossible goals ahead of you. There is always a mountain to climb and you will never be strong enough to climb it.
43. Happy Death Day 2U
by Christopher Landon
Jessica Rothe's been a useful figure the last few years because she has proved that no amount of clear talent (she's funny! She plays scared realistically! She sells a crush! She credibly expresses frustration and sadness about her broken family) can get the wider world to take genre films seriously. If they did she'd have a mantel full of gold and a full answering machine. Rothe returns for an even more heartbreaking go around as the woman forced to relive her own murder to stop a killer. The film gets nuttier this time around with its 80s sci-fi vibes (Weird Science or Zapped! are the obvious touchstones) which means that Rothe somehow getting more empathetic is something special. Everything around her grows loud and she gets quiet and dependably gutting. In a better world, she'd be everywhere, but I guess there is something to knowing something the rest of the world doesn't.
by Pollyanna McIntosh
My favourite story from behind the scenes this year was Pollyanna McIntosh deciding she wasn't done with the story of The Woman. She played the title character in Lucky Mckee's deeply disturbing horror fable in 2011 and then 8 years later brought her back to life exactly where we left her. Rather than simply rehashing the old plot points she turned the story into a mid-career Luis Buñuel film, like Viridiana or El. On one side of the story is the woman living in a homeless encampment, on the other is her daughter, forced into religious education. The twain meet in a bloody, erotically and symbolically charged clash. The film quietly swallows all its institutional foes and slyly hints at the diseased world that produced the madness we see on screen. Anchoring everything is McIntosh's typically incredible work on screen, and her newly reliable work off it.
45. Vitalina Varela
by Pedro Costa
Costa's idea of melodrama, of a Barbara Stanwyck weepie, interrupted by the echoing chasms of Murnau and Dreyer, in full bloom. Faces in rapturous darkness, the screaming silence of god, and the endless scrutiny of a community who watched as you lost everything. Nothing at all has changed since City Girl.
by Jordan Peele
A Jean Rollin movie with Sergio Martino's colour palette. The film about performance that turns everyone who reacts to it into a sort of a performer as they try to explain why it didn't work for them; an extremely savvy move on Peele's part. A sort of cracked mirror up to 'the discourse' with no patience for those who feint at progressivism, because to believe anything and not act is just dancing in a cave.
47. High Flying Bird
by Steven Soderbergh
Soderbergh's take on a Michael Ritchie procedural satire crackles with vivacious bite and caustic wit. André Holland practically tap dances through the film, holding the frame like a silent film star and spitting his intricate dialogue like Danny Brown or Busta Rhymes knee deep in a verse; this film is a star showcase of one of our most dextrous actors, someone who can write his character's biography with a furrowed brow and a sigh. High Flying Bird is the kind of assured work about a sport that never once transpires on screen. A whole team of filmmakers and actors at the top of their game.
48. First Love
by Takashi Miike
Miike rediscovering not just romance but his own love affair with the elemental ingredients of genre cinema. He was already old when he was young, and his early gangster experiments had a world-weary grayness. Now they're in full bore neon and deep primaries. The pain is always real but the shape of the underworld grows simpler, its intricacies fading into the background of the real story: two people who'd die for each other.
49. “The Healer”
by Rusty Cundieff
In one six minute segment of a baggy but hilarious and thought-provoking segment of the omnibus American Nightmare, Rusty Cundieff proves again why he's the satirist America doesn't deserve but desperately needs. Clarence Williams III kidnaps a preacher played by Barry Shabaka Henley to punish him because the miracle he promised didn't come to pass. Williams has always been an underrated character player and seeing him tap into even about a 16th of the emotional core he's capable of reaching is a brutal sight. America's borderline narcotic dependence on religion, a corrupted shell game, in one broken promise.
50. Joan Mitchell, Departures
by Ken Jacobs
Jacobs stirring, psychedelic re-imagining of Joan Mitchell as a living organism is a re-contextualization of two-dimensional, hand-and-paintbrush art, but also a way to weld himself to the artists he loves, to make his montage and tinkering inextricable from his influences. Jacobs sees the future now when he plays with the images in front of him, seeing beyond the truth of an image into its kinetic potential. The rush of color and shape, like he was pressing down on his eyes a little too hard, that's what lies beyond the immutable truth of the image. There is always somewhere else to go. Cinema is never done.
by Iyabo Kwayana
Kwayana's most tightly coiled work to date, a film, I should think that will wind up a rosetta stone for her future successes. Hypnotic and mammoth, a tribute to collective effort; a beautiful response to China's historical unease with the idea of community and where it brings us - a kind of anti-Maoist song of humanity through communism. Together we're amazing. Together we're strong.
52. Charlie Says
by Mary Harron
Harron putting feminist theory and empathy to the test, asking if everyone truly deserves to be saved. Harron and her writer Guinivere Turner ultimately believe they do but understand what a miserable gift rehabilitation can be. Without it though, what are we? Men, ultimately and fittingly. After all, Charlie didn't repent. A raft of exceptional performers letting us into the bleakest moments of life after the supernova that ended the 60s.
53. Up The Mountain
One of the most probingly and carefully composed documentaries I've ever seen; tapestries of creation and community. It's almost like a Brueghel painting, the image of the artist himself never far from the drama of the many lives on display as in The Mill & The Cross. Painterly depictions of painters aspiring and assured, modernity's promises spread across their aspirations like fireworks. One simple yet astonishing tableaux after another.
54. Endless Night
by Eloy Enciso Cachafeiro
In the finest tradition of Communist cinema, there is no center here, just a path of destroyed lives and dishonored soldiers. The enemy is over the heads of the characters, taller than the trees and the newly constructed police stations that dwarf them. He's in the air, just around every bend hiding in darkness. Those who fought for freedom and equality are hounded into oblivion, only fire and fern to keep them company, and their memories. Their hideous, hideous memories. A lifetime with ghosts awaits any who makes it clear of fascist country and fascist times. This film is almost hopeful in that it imagines a waning day for the worst systems and the betrayers who peddle their hollow ideologies. Its hypnotic vignettes lay like the sound of crickets in the night, like the chill in the air as you watch your breath scrape the darkness.
55. Black Circle
by Adrián García Bogliano
Bogliano has been quietly planting a distinct body of work in his back catalogue for the last two decades I was beginning to wonder when he'd make something I loved. Here it is, the film more personal for its apparent unreadable genesis. He's put cult queen Christina Lindberg at the apotheosis of a cult of sleeper cell phantom worhsip baked into vinyl records - making this Bogliano's Lords of Salem in more ways than one. This film is an unabashed celebration of old media - the kind of fetishization I expect from Peter Strickland (see #61) but that Bogliano, it turns out, also excels at. Whereas before his rubbery gonzo aesthetic was a place for him to toss references at his audience through fast and furious inference, here he's all about the big picture reminding you of a lot (The Ring, Begotten, Satan's Slaves) and also nothing at all. It's textually rich and drips with invention, even as it knows this has all been done before in some fashion. I wish it was an hour longer.
by Albert Serra
Since first viewing this I've been no more able to move this up a list of my favourites as I have been to shake the feeling that this is one of the great works of visual art of...the decade? All-time? Who could say but I'm transfixed by this drably festooned orgy among the palms. There's something in here...something odd. Something I can't quite stop thinking about.
57. The Dead Don’t Die
by Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch's genre pastiches are always his most wry because he expects you to know the rules, allowing him to make fun of them and you, a little, for having studied so long. I was happy to have him laugh at me because I didn't spend most of my teen years studying zombie films to shrink from his tribute and the barbed cynicism in which he wrapped it. George A. Romero is dead, long live George A. Romero. Jarmusch plays a lovely, nasty trick here, by allowing us a prolonged glimpse at the dead we loved and realizing the experience of having them back would be striking at first, annoying second, and miserable third. He'll never have his heroes back, and the world they left us may make more sense with their art guiding us, but it's still the world, and we're still dying.
58. Richard Jewell
by Clint Eastwood
Arther Miller by way of Walmart, potluck-dinner Bresson. One of the great performances of the '10s is our map to the lonely working class and their melancholy dreams of use. Jewell is an homage to the idea that so many of us thought we might do right by the public, our friends and family, that there was a heroic place for us like the ones we saw in fiction. Paul Walter Hauser has the energy of someone who needs to be discovered by Maurice Pialat. That he won't is a shame but that others will is just fine. it
59. Dolemite Is My Name
by Craig Brewer
Screamingly funny folk tale for the age of the New Beverly and Alamo. A man made himself into the hero he wanted to see on screens - we take for granted that you can just do that now - and in the process helped put the finishing touches on a burgeoning movement. Of course the wonderful thing is Brewer and writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander don't care about Rudy Ray Moore as part of anyone else's history - this is his story, and his indefatigable enterprising alacrity was the reason he made art that put a roof over he and his friends heads. The right hero, in the right outfit, for the right time.
60. Zombi Child
by Bertrand Bonello
Bonello's first old man film (in that his reference points were current pop and 70 year old film). Turns out the insouciant enfant-terrible makes for a beguiling old hellraiser, still magically attuned to young people's taste and preternaturally aware of what's hip.
61. In Fabric
by Peter Strickland
Strickland's obscenely upholstered fetishism gets its most gleeful airing here in this sick comedy about the easiest fake answer to our the problem of confidence. The worst people have it, and those of us who need it find it only in retail. Dummying up an Amicus anthology would have been no mean feet but he doesn't lose the thread of his own giallo-inspired colour scheme and knife-like sound design. This witchy, dreamy, acerbic thing is pure him, a movie we know now only someone so atomically perverse could have produced.
62. Chinese Portrait
by Wang Xiaoshuai
A country speaking through a handful of people standing still while capitalism and religion shove the head of national identity down like a schoolmaster scolding a child. Wang gives humanity to the largest population on earth in just the few people who don't work while others do. Those brave enough to stare at us through his camera, and tell us that they live as we do.
by Neil Jordan
Neil Jordan was never really done with In The Company of Wolves, and every few years he makes some new Grimm Fairy Tale to remind us he never left the cottage of spiked fables and lost princesses. Here the fairy godmother is a couture-sporting chic succubus, stealing the energy and life from young women in a perfectly unrealistic New York City. Jordan's images and his cutting are both ironclad, so secure and sturdy you'd think they fell here from 1995. There's just nothing like when someone does something old fashioned just the right way.
64. Nowhere, Nobody
by Naima Ramos-Chapman & Terrence Nance
Naima Ramos-Chapman and Terence Nance's first full-on collaboration as directors has the uncanny rhythms and make-up/mask work of her bone-shaking short form, and the docu-realistic intensity of his. It takes its sweet time moving from one setting and idea to the next, but the halting, incantatory feeling is the destination. Essential artists beginning to fill in the blanks.
65. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
by André Øvredal
A gorgeous autumnal throwback to the Pennsylvania-bound nightmares of George Romero, and a reminder that what he was trying to warn us about hasn't gone away just because he died and stopped making movies about the issues. Our children are still dying, and no one in power wants to believe it. Stunningly considered and composed, as easy to watch as it is tough to consider.
by Kantemir Balagov
A new voice enunciates at full volume, in calm green reverie and in agonizing red screams.
67. The Nightingale
by Jennifer Kent
A new Soldier Blue for millenials, a film interested in the push-pull retribution plays in our souls. How badly do we want to be avenged? Enough to lose our humanity? Australia's crimes against the indigenous and the poor have only really had their surface scratched. This grey brown dirge, this endless, bloody road movie is a necessary step.
68. The Day Shall Come
by Chris Morris
Despite an embarrassment of riches, Morris, maybe the greatest satirist alive, has never overplayed his hand. Make a pest of yourself and it doesn't matter how smart you might be. Almost a full ten years after Four Lions comes its fraternal twin, in which the government no longer has the extremist problem it imagined it did, and so creates one. The dexterity of Morris and co-writers Jesse Armstrong, Sean Gray & Tony Roche's script and the casual proficiency of Morris' direction frequently hides the hideousness of their conclusions, and the implications of every joke, but they're all in there, waiting for an audience prepared to do the legwork of admitting how well and truly fucked we are. But hey, at least we'll have a long and hearty laugh. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
by Kasi Lemmons
Lemmons telling of Tubman’s origins isn’t committed to narrative fealty, but rather presenting her life and beliefs in a style true to her struggle, and to the women who most need her strength. This is a feature length gospel performance, a hard earned song of loss and reclamation, a film designed to inspire without losing the contours of trauma or the bruises it leaves forever. But despite the pain the celebration of her achievements and her life remains visible and audible (the music! Those costumes!) and keeping hold of the big picture is no mean feat. It’s always easy to turn your nose up at sincerity but in this case that would be an enormous mistake.
70. Fast Color
by Julia Hart
It takes a lot in this obnoxious and exhausting superhero economy to make me see the good in your film if you start from a place of even hardcore revisionism. Fast Color isn’t a superhero movie per se it’s about the need for a better kind of movie for an underrepresented portion of the American moviegoing public and its so well performed and honestly intentioned I wanted everyone to see it when it was over. This is how you beat the dominant narrative. Make better movies.
71. When They See Us
by Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay’s version of a Capra film, just as bleak and honest. The deep bench of talent lends this travesty of justice the feeling of a red hot poker on your skin, each development worse than the last. And all the while five men fight tooth and nail to keep their humanity. Harrowing, and only something that could have come from DuVernay’s intense and exultant book of lives in need of detailing.
72. The World is Full of Secrets
by Graham Swon
It's been called a horror movie but frankly it's just too lovely to engender real fear. It's like the old Ebertism about their being no such thing as a depressing movie. Swon's images are so gentle, his montage so soft, his performers so arrestingly strange and real that even if the horrors they speak of were to arrive, they couldn't penetrate the atmosphere of sisterly affection and rarefied cool.
by Curtis Essel
It's in the way he films their faces. Skin tones like the ones captured in Agya are not native to American cinema. That alone is revolutionary and splendid. A few minutes of impeccable timing, gorgeous editing, and some of the most luscious photography of the year showing faces that need to be on more screens immediately. Essel's got a true feeling for how to navigate space and love bodies with his camera.
74. The Beach Bum
by Haromy Korine
A boomer Sweet Movie so indulgent it can be tough to notice when this boozy poet’s luck runs out as his whole life is touched by fate’s loose grip. The true conservative outlook of Spring Breakers is revealed fully, but blissfully at least the awful truth comes in a breezy and colourful package. Some of the most guilt-free fun you’ll have all year.
75. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
by Terry Gilliam
Gilliam’s empty provocations may be more proof than the resolute failure for his only passion project to grow legs, but anyway you put it he wasn’t made for this moment. His grammar predicted every third director alive; he giftwrapped the modern mid usher cinema for us and he’ll die having planted his feet in a lot of bad places but I won’t lie and say I wasn’t moved enormously by this film. Maybe with no windmills left he’s thrown it away on purpose, but I’m grateful he got this last chance.
76. Hector Malot: The Last Day of the Year
by Jacqueline Lentzou
A filmmaker beginning a long career with her most important discovery: that filming the search for quiet, and our identity in that quiet, is a virtue. Lentzou nailed it right away.
77. Dragged Across Concrete
by S. Craig Zahler
A slick neonoir with the politics of Vince McMahon and the confident language of David Mamet or Michael Mann. Probably monstrous. Probably better for it.
78. The Whistlers
by Corneliu Porumboiu
Corneliu Porumboiu goes full European vacation, making a glamorous and sexy spy story with the same poe-faced sarcasm he brought to his experimental sketchbook. A lacivious dream of mixed languages, double crosses, and real time espionage as only he seems interested in filming. The film is funny but it never quite bests it's funniest joke: Vlad Ivanov as James Bond. His mind.
79. Sorry We Missed You
by Ken Loach
Loach can't seem to quit the ghouls in charge of our well-being. If he did they might get even more comfortable ruining our lives than they already are. His takedown of the gig economy, late capitalism, and Amazon is as stirring as you might imagine and somehow even more emotionally ruinous. Knowing how much people need the thing killing them is just never not going to sting. His family here comes so close, but Loach knows better than to lie to us. It's going to get so much worse.
80. Coincoin and the Extra Humans
by Bruno Dumont
Dumont's Banlieue Jackass saga deals with the immigration crisis by making the other a menacing mirror. How afraid can we be of visitors if they look like us and mean us no harm? The film's utopia of dancing enemies is a hysterical vision of the seemingly impossible (from where we now stand anyway) is a tonic against self-serious replies to the end of the world (and auto-critique from one of the most self-serious directors). Dumont just wants us to be able to laugh from time to time as we tear ourselves apart; it might distract us long enough that we forget what we were so mad about in the first place.
81. Millenium Bugs
by Alejandro Montoya Marín
Getting to know the comic sensibility and burgeoning voice of Alejandro Montoya Marín has been a non-stop delight. Seeing him arrive with Monday and showing so much promise - Robert Rodriguez and Joe Dante his two most obvious forebears - was terrific, but seeing him make good on his promise with Millenium Bugs, due for a proper release in 2020, was beyond rewarding. His tale of twin depressive dreamers acting out before they become some other version of themselves is a wildly adorable and earnestly empathetic study of arrested development just about to give way. Incredible work from leads Katy Erin and Michael Lovato help the film earn its sentimental streak, but the film somehow never loses its witty charm, no matter how dark things threaten to get. Deeply impressive work from a no-budget maverick, the next Edgar Wright.
82. In The Shadow of the Moon
by Jim Mickle
Mickle's newest genre cryptogram uses science fiction (specifically time travel) to once again weaponize empathy as only he can. In Boyd Holbrook's big angry eyes, growing narrower and more sad with each jump, we see a man coming to terms with the design of the universe - he can only save everyone the way he dreams of if he saves himself first. Michael C. Hall's on hand to do some more career best work (like it's no big deal for him) as one of the best screen Philadelphians I've ever seen, and to color in the margins of Holbrook's big, important journey. The colour scheme is perhaps Mickle's prettiest (the precision focus of the photography a non-stop treat) and the performers are all to-die-for. Exactly the kind of no-frills experiment I hope for sometimes.
83. Knife + Heart
by Yann Gonzalez
Gonzalez's pristine eroticism (not a dick in sight! What gives?!) is the backdrop for a heady and intoxicating tale of a pornstar killer, exactly the kind of depraved euro-ambient cinema we should get more of so that each individual example doesn't have to be held to the most exacting standards. This one is fun and sexy and divine, and that's enough, but it's also good enough to make me wish they'd pushed the envelope just a little more. Still to have more than one giallo a year in the year 2019 is not nothing. Could watch the crowd blocking here all day.
84. Captive State
by Rupert Wyatt
Wyatt has always been the kind of director to let every dollar on the screen without once distracting from the increasingly unbearable tension he orchestrates closer to his camera. Here Chicago is under siege from an all-but-unseen alien species, and the focus is on the combined momentum of a resistance movement. Everyone we meet surrenders their individuality for the greater good of trying to break the extra-terrestrial stranglehold. Captive State is one of those movies that because it was marketed wrong, because it was science fiction, because it got bad reviews, will always be a little more bold and blasphemous than people will realize. In here is the recipe for the overthrow of tyranny. People were busy being flattered by military-funded comic book movies to notice. That's our life, now, but I'm glad no one told Wyatt, who directed this with every ounce of his discipline.
85. Little Joe
by Jessica Hausner
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a software ad, perfection slowly eating away at its competition, never asking whether it's wanted. Hausner trains that laser-precise direction on the modern home, on our relentless pursuit of better things to distract us from worse lives.
by Tim Burton
Tim Burton, against all odds, remembered how to make a film compelling from end to end, and he's nearly in John Ford territory here - the light, depth, and certainty of each shot - though maybe it's more accurate to say he's in Hatari! territory. Even so, it's his proper follow up to Big Fish, brimming with all-American iconography and just-as-American anti-capitalist fervor. The big top is a celebration of greed and falsity, for sure, but everyone deserves a distraction. It's the hucksters in real buildings with real walls who spoil the fun.
87. Little Women
by Greta Gerwig
A film that plays like reading the contents of a group chat, and coming to the conclusion that for all the rivalry and in-fighting, these people love each other. It's a love that spills from the warm, fleeting compositions out of the screen and onto your lap and into your soul. It's impossible not to cry, I found, whatever my reservations, I was happy to lose it watching them discover, too late and right on time, that their love for each other would transcend anything else. Little Women is an enduring text because its message is so rarely adhered to, except in our imagined inner lives. What if we could meaningfully tell the people closest to us what they mean to us and have nothing else get in the way of how deeply the love ran. We can always try, but these women always succeed. Gerwig's deliberately messy direction, quick pace and structuring, is a sharp analogue for what happens to the enormity our emotions as we move from adolescence into "maturity." Of course maturity is vanishing before our very eyes, so it makes sense that the girls look the same across the years. Maybe it was always a lie.
88. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story
by Martin Scorsese
It will always be Sharon Stone and her KISS t-shirt that reminded me why Martin Scorsese is truly our best American. Having Bob Dylan pretend to be interested, scratch that, impressed with Gene, Paul and the boys was a better and more interesting troll than anything in the game. Recasting a bewildering but undeniably transfixing moment for Dylan, America's ornery FM poet laureate, as a series of conscious decisions to further confuse the issue and preserve a little of his mystery by pretending to be forthcoming is one of the longest cons in film history. Imagine Orson Welles admitting at his death he'd never gone broke and the ruse of looking for money was to explain his flamboyant style (not a dig, Welles is maybe the only American filmmaker better than Scorsese). Dylan has a subdued blast (the only kind he knows how to have) talking out his ass for two hours about the flood of talented people who climbed over each other just to be in his orbit - and there's honestly nothing funnier than the likes of Alan Ginsburg and Joan Baez trying to work out a two hour set like they were organizing the Thursday night line-up on a failing tv network. Bitter and only-too-welcome.
89. Culture Shock
by Gigi Saul Guerrero
Just as Issa López's Tigers Are Not Afraid finally got its release, its B-side hit Hulu, Guerrero's neo-Outer Limits episode, marked by brilliant pastels and dead-eyed commitment from its incredible cast. This whip smart anti-Conservative science fiction film recasts the Fourth of July as a kind of Voight-Kampf test and loyalty oath, a virtual reality trap in which immigrants run in place until they pass. Redolent of Jonathan Demme's colourful nightmares (think his Manchurian Candidate on a Blumhouse budget), this works shows enormous promise and doesn't pull a single punch.
90. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged
by Johannes Roberts
Shark movies will never go anywhere so it's a minor miracle when I can stand a new one. Johannes Roberts took few formal risks with his first 47 Meters Down, but here he's assured and lets his style settle in, letting slow motion and assured steadicam speak louder. It's a lovely little lesson in suspense generation: what you can't see but know is there. What you can see but can't see you. Is it worse to be observed or observe what you can't change?
91. Master Z: The Yp Man Legacy / Ip Man 4: The Finale
by Yuen Woo-Ping & Wilson Yip
Yuen Woo-Ping is 75 years old now but still choreographs fight scenes with the gymnastic alacrity of five or six strapping young men. He directed the action scenes in the final film in the Donnie Yen/Wilson Yip Ip Man series and then directed Master Z, his own spin-off, all in the same year. The stunning verve of his work ethic and his death-defying stunts would be reason enough to watch these films, but they are works of visual beauty and (perhaps even more importantly) clarity that set a full table at which charismatic performers like Michelle Yeoh, Yen, Dave Bautista and Scott Adkins happily chow down.
92. In Like Flynn
by Russell Mulcahy
Mulcahy returning to his early wheelhouse: two fisted men of action chopping it up in the outback. Ok so he never did that, but if you added Highlander to Razorback and divided them by the 80s, you'd have something like In Like Flynn. Errol Flynn's days as a strapping boathand get the winking, leering Mulcahy treatment, his neatly sexual gaze at every manner of Aussie layabout. Mulcahy makes watching boys be boys seem new and fun, incident and emotional turns never relenting, women a distant afterthought to the brawling, swanning, gambling and drinking. Mulcahy's star may have somewhat fallen since his Hollywood days but he's still one of the most reliable directors of action alive.
93. Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
by Ben Wheatley
As Michael Sicinski pointed out, Wheatley's version of a Play-for-Today, this one about a black sheep who doesn't know he's a black sheep. Sort of Melancholia-esque in its feeling of a reunion of the Ben Wheatley players (that end credits scene!) and a delightfully mean-spirited holiday film to boot. Wheatley returns to his early, quieter style to allow his actors room to play off each other and spread their wings a bit. Watching people like Sam Riley and Hayley Squires bounce off each other is spectacle enough and Wheatley knows it. Low-key and satisfying.
by Joel Potrykus
Potrykus' latest 80s revision finds him calmly observing regular leading man Joshua Burge working himself into an ugly sweat. Relaxer, or Scanner Pacman, has a lot of un-processed anger and everytime he refuses help to wallow, believing it nobler to stay on the couch than get up and be a man. The petty negotiations of the space spit one awful fluid on him after another and still he refuses to grow up. Potrykus diagnoses modern masculinity one antique VHS after another, trying to encourage men to combat their worst impulses, but they'd inevitably rather beat the next level.
95. Birds of Passage
by Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra
Like an entire wing of the Museo Del Barrio brought to life, the film's exacting portrayal of the opulence accumulated through the death of a culture, every pattern, outfit and composition speaks to vast knowledge and creativity undermined by a desire for more, more, more. The lavish gifts ignored in the quest for dominance. Guerra and Gallego's El Dorado. Lost before it could be found.
96. Nancy Drew And The Missing Staircase
by Katt Shea
I don't know how anyone could have lived long enough to see Katt Shea go from stripper detectives to Nancy Drew and not almost start crying. This is the Katt Shea narrative, of never surrendering an iota of your own invented womanhood to best your suffocating surroundings, for a new generation. Naturally the studio buried it, but it'll always be out there for young girls to find, and for weird cinephiles like me to appreciatively marvel at (it kills me I couldn't figure out how to end this sentence without a preposition). The cute set decoration, the loving performances, the small crew of beleaguered women trapped by gaslighting oppressors - the more things change, the more they stay the same. Bless and keep you, Katt Shea.
97. Two Plains and a Fancy
by Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn
Kalman and Horn are two of our funniest directors, parodying yuppies all through time and space, like they were hunting for Carmen Sandiego but kept finding crystal-buying millennial wastrels everywhere they went. Here they make their version of a western, and even there they find men from the future come back like tourists for no greater purpose than to exist somewhere new. The lovingly sunkissed mise-en-scene suits the old West trappings magnificently, though they don't make many allowances - this is still their doggedly charming vision of loony world-travelers untouched by work or hardship all over. I hope they go to the moon next.
98. Through Black Spruce
by Don McKellar
McKellar the hired gun seems an odd fit as he's always been one of the most distinct voices in Canadian cinema, on and off screen, but I rather like him showing up to muscle through this tale of wronged women hunting for satisfaction. The Cree specificity certainly helped - Canada's not doing a fucking thing about its vast number of vanished and murdered First Nation women, so I'm glad the cinema's at least offered this - and it tracks with McKellar's track record and artistic legacy to care about the people left high and dry by the public at large. This film conjures authentically shabby rooms for authentically heated and stilted conversations about where it all went wrong, of course aware that this started centuries ago and won't stop while any of us is still alive. Gripping, sad, and run down, the depressive tone suits the ideas.
99. Backdraft 2
by Gonzalo López-Gallego
Poor box office and reviews for his Hollywood debut has caused López-Gallego to retreat to VOD, but it's worked out in his favor because he can actually stretch a little on their budgets. His editing and choreography are at their best here, picking apart every room like the fire safety inspectors on which it centers for exits, and also for compositional strategies. The camera all but does cartwheels to show us a room like it's never been shown before, and the flashiness helps imbue a rote dramatic scheme (Silence of the Lambs meets...well, Backdraft) with real verve and excitement. I hope they'll let López-Gallego back near major budgets again, but only if he promises to never stop directing like he's on a leash.
100. I Trapped The Devil
by Josh Lobo
One of the great pleasures of my year was posting a kind of middling review of this movie and unexpectedly getting an email telling me the director had commented on it. I braced myself for the worst, having seen this go sideways so many times. To my surprise Josh Lobo didn't want to castigate me for my few barbs, he was just grateful I'd given it my time. A few replies and an hour or so later I was ready to call Lobo a friend. Lucky for me his movie has grown on me considerably since I first gave it a mixed review last year. This film's claustrophobic tale of two brothers rehashing old fights while the devil paces in a locked room downstairs has grown to subsume me with its subdued pastel Christmas lights, its cramped rooms, its high-pitched petty arguments refusing to grapple with the real problem (which now by being so literal strikes me as a wise move to make in 2019 - this is really how things are now). Lobo being a prince about my criticism didn't make his movie better - living with the movie made me see that I had been looking for things it wasn't going to give me and missed the things it was. I strongly recommend you open it for yourself, let it breathe like a bottle of wine, and experience one of the most unnerving films of the year.