Top Films of 2019

Ad Astra – James Gray

A phenomenally visual but also intimate exploration into fatherhood buoyed by Brad Pitt’s best performance since Moneyball. Gray induces us into a sound coma before delivering flashes of acute sensitivity.

The Truth – Hirokazu Kore-eda

Shoplifters wowed critics last year but I found more enjoyment in the intricacies and twists in this lovable drama set in Paris, Kore-eda’s English-language debut. The three big hitters (Deneuve, Binoche, Hawke) are electric thanks to a mesmerizing chemistry, and a shout out to the wonderful cinematography of Éric Gautier.

Scheme Birds – Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin

Scheme Birds won the Best Documentary Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival for its intricate and devastating chronicle of a young girl’s life in place broken by the death of industry. The directors exquisitely paint a necessary panorama into the challenges the youth of Scotland endure today.

Beats – Brian Welsh

Brian Welsh’s astonishing feature is an intoxicating ode to the 90s rave revolution. Anchored by remarkable performances from the young leads, Welsh authentically evokes an age where the youth were trapped and discarded.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld – Mads Brügger

As always, Brügger goes out of his way (and risks his life) to tell us a story we had no idea we needed to know about. Dag Hammarskjöld was the second ever Secretary-General of the UN. He died mysteriously in a plane crash in (then) Rhodesia in 1961. The film implicates the CIA, MI6, a Belgian mining company, and a real (or fake) South African paramilitary unit. Fascinating.

Diego Maradona – Asif Kapadia

A glorious, revelatory expose into Diego’s time with Napoli in Italy. Kapadia has firmly established himself as the lead filmmaker in the biographical documentary field.

The Good Liar – Bill Condon

Bill Condon’s filmography is an odd fish, I can’t work him out. Saying that, this is probably his best film. Reuniting with Sir Ian McKellen, this entertaining caper (is it a comedy, or is it a thriller?) pits a con-artist with his ultimate match, the fabulous, show-stealing Dame Helen Mirren. An unexpected ending adds gravitas.

Sorry We Missed You – Ken Loach

Echoing I, Daniel Blake, the latest feature from Ken Loach is probably his most important. Tackling the cutthroat legacy that the gig economy is leaving on working-class Britain, it is a wake-up call nobody in government will listen to. What delivery apps do you have on your phone right now?

The King – David Michôd

I am a sucker for a well made historic epic, and Australian duo Joel Edgerton and David Michôd do not hold back in both grandeur and budget in this bold, visceral retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry plays. Timothée Chalamet continues his road to greatness but it was the under-sung performance of Sean Harris that really grabbed me.

Benjamin Haller, 2020