Awards season is upon us, and none are more coveted than the illustrious 25YL Film Awards. An elite and eclectic squad of our film writers select their personal best films of 2019 and the performances that wowed them. We invite you to disagree with us heartily in the comments or on the social media platform of your choice. To the red carpet! Where our writers await…looking very awkward.
Best Film: Parasite
The film most hard to classify (is it a Comedy? Drama? Mystery? Horror? Thriller? Satire?) is also the year’s best. This epic tale of class warfare in South Korea is so unpredictable and unsettlingly, yet so charming and hilarious, that no film can possibly compare. it is a film that must be experienced to be believed so go do that, on the biggest screen possible.
Honorable Mention: Uncut Gems, Us
Best Performance: Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
While there were fantastic performances in multiple roles for both Margot Robbie (Bombshell and Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood) and Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit), Nyong’o did twice the work in one movie, playing two roles and providing depth and nuance to both of them in Jordan Peele’s horror masterclass Us. The fact that both characters were polar opposites and that you couldn’t tell both were the same actress is a testament to Nyong’o’s excellence as a thespian. Currently my top actress of the ‘10s, Nyong’o will hopefully not be ignored when Oscar time comes around.
Honorable Mention: Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems), Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Most Entertaining Film: Avengers: Endgame
There have been plenty of films that can be considered “experiences” this year. And while Uncut Gems and Parasite certainly qualify, those two films mainly deal with dread and suspense while my Endgame experience was like a sports stadium during the Super Bowl. Openly weeping, laughing, and screaming with hundreds of people in one auditorium, not to mention millions around the world, was perhaps my favorite cinematic experience of not only 2019, but in my life.
Honorable Mention: Parasite, Uncut Gems.
Most Disappointing: Joker
Many factors went into what I see as the failure of Joker. The marketing certainly didn’t help as every trailer and commercial went through the entire film in chronological order, destroying any potential suspense or surprise. Not that there would be any anyway since Joker is a pale imitation of Scorsese’s main aesthetic if not The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver specifically. And while Joaquin Phoenix certainly gives his all, the script is straight-up boring when not ripping off other, better films. Considering my excitement level upon the project’s announcement, the end result is such a bitter disappointment.
Dishonorable Mention: Bombshell, Stuber,
Most Anticipated: 1917 and Black Widow
For 2019 releases getting wider releases in 2020, 1917 is my big blindspot this year as I missed the advanced screening and my market is too small to get it during the calendar year. The master Roger Deakins shot it, so you know even if the story ends up being pure poop (which it won’t), the movie will look absolutely beautiful. As for 2020, Black Widow is my early must-see, mainly because Scarlett Johansson, who I fully expect to be a two-time Oscar nominee by January, is finally getting her own movie! The fact that it stars Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz doesn’t hurt either.
Best Film: 1917
Nothing impressed me more this year than 1917 from Sam Mendes. It took the harrowing aspects of war and blazed our senses with its feeling of movement and urgency, thanks to its shooting and editing trickery. It was immersive, exciting, and still plenty poignant for following an absolute stranger through this roller coaster of risk.
Honorable Mention: Marriage Story, Little Women, Luce
Best Performance: Lupita Nyong’o (Us)
Lupita Nyong’o’s dual performance in Us blows me away every time I see it. Getting to play one role straight and one unhinged, with the respective wringers that accompanied those halves, had to be a blast for her and her co-stars. More than just amusing, the talent range on display is intense and impressive. She is colossal with every twitchy nerve.
Honorable Mention: Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Luce), Zack Gottshagen (The Peanut Butter Falcon), Adam Sandler (Uncut Gems)
Most Entertaining Film: Knives Out
The most wall-to-wall entertaining movie I saw this year was Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. It was a hoot to watch that dynamite ensemble cast create trashy characters and destroy tropes. High style and great humor fill the thing. The movie was cut to move so well and subverted all of the usual murder mystery cliches.
Honorable Mention: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot, The Peanut Butter Falcon, Booksmart.
Most Disappointing: Toy Story 4
I know I’m going to get crap for this even now months later to match the death threats I received from Rotten Tomatoes back in June, but I found Toy Story 4 to be the opposite of worthwhile. Few movie series can claim a comparable or more perfect ending than Toy Story 3. To undo that for the sideshow road movie that resulted feels like weak sauce and the cash-grab type of thing we shame Disney on in blunter examples. Pixar deserves the call-out on that one.
Most Anticipated: Top Gun: Maverick
Gladly showing my age, the coolest movie in the world when I was a pre-teen kid was Top Gun. Boy, was I likely too young to watch it back in its day, but fighter jets and ’80s cheese won me over. I’m all strapped in for the nostalgia factor that will come with Top Gun: Maverick. I think Joseph Kosinski is the perfect director to bring that bravura to today and the trailers are blowing me away.
Best Film: Parasite
Every so often, it takes a foreign film to come along out of nowhere and completely deconstruct the current status quo. That’s exactly what Parasite does. This unclassifiable, Korean beauty transcends genres as it reinvents them. It won the Palm d’Or at Cannes (the first Korean film to achieve this), has had an embarrassing amount of awards success and is rightly being dubbed as one of the films of the decade. I purposely avoided any plot information before seeing it and I’m glad I did, as it made the experience such a pleasant surprise. It somehow manages to be a social commentary on family and class, whilst also being one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years with some genuinely shocking, gory moments. Try and label that if you can. If you’ve already seen it, you’ll know that even the title is an oxymoron in itself. This treat comes from Director Bong Joon-Ho, who you may know from his Netflix film Okja or his adaptation of the graphic novel Snowpiercer, a hidden gem that I also highly recommend. Parasite’s story is complemented by everything down to the amazing production design and architecture; the performances are brilliant and the characters are well written. The cast is led by Joon-Ho’s longtime collaborator Kang Ho-song, who personally, I know best from Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a film from another Korean master, Chan-wook Park. You don’t need to know anything about the plot before going in and I recommend that you don’t. Just get yourself to the nearest cinema and see it for yourself as soon as possible. Some things do live up to the hype, you won’t be disappointed.
Honourable Mention: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Best Performance: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Despite what you may think of the film in general, nobody can deny that the performance Joaquin Phoenix put in as everyone’s favourite clown is nothing less than mesmerising. For the record, I think the film is great but there is a faction of critics who have turned their noses up at it for not being as good as the films it pays tribute to and some comic book fans who feel they’ve been cheated out of an action romp. I believe it works well as a character portrait of a disturbed man’s descent into madness. As a big fan of the Batman source material, I can tell you that it’s true to some of the best Joker stories such as “The Killing Joke” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” as well as being a good pastiche of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. On first viewing, I was gripped as there’s a palpable tension throughout the film created purely from Arthur Fleck’s interactions with other people. There’s a constant feeling of dread as it’s clear that something bad can happen at any moment and this is mostly down to Phoenix’s acting skills. In the climax, he single-handedly manages to make one kill more dramatic than if he had gone on a shooting spree. He’s clearly having fun with it though and some of the best parts of his performance were improvised. He also gets extra credit for managing to come up with a cool, iconic dance that is somehow more unsettling than that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
Honourable Mention: Al Pacino, The Irishman
Most Entertaining Film: Avengers: Endgame
I totally agree with Martin Scorsese’s recent comments about the Marvel films but I don’t see why that means you can’t enjoy them for what they are. Nobody is saying that they are masterpieces of cinema and there’s only one of them that would make it into my Top 100 films (Winter Soldier). However, none of this means that Avengers: Endgame wasn’t like mainlining pure adrenaline. It was the second and final round of a spectacle that has been more than 10 years in the making and whether you like it or not, that period has included some amazing moments with some of the best working actors in the industry. Plus, Marvel perfecting the first shared cinematic universe is an achievement in itself. Endgame was the sprint to the finish of a triathlon that included everything the Superhero Action genre has to offer and more. It was run by characters that we got to know and love; not all of them made it to the end and it mattered when they didn’t. It’s not very often that something can deliver with hype of the magnitude this movie had. Marvel are shrewd in how little they reveal in their trailers and how tight-lipped they are about spoilers. It meant that by the time you finally got to see the movie, it verged on a dreamlike experience, especially if you went to the first midnight showing as I did. Usually, when someone says that something made them laugh, cry and cheer, they’re exaggerating but it’s very true of this movie.
Honourable Mention: Shazam!
Most Disappointing: Velvet Buzzsaw
I still have no idea what went wrong with this movie. All the elements were there; it had the same Director/Writer as Nightcrawler, which was one of the best films of recent years. It also had the same two great leads as well as an amazing supporting cast that includes John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Zawe Ashton and Natalia Dyer. The premise was great and as someone who has spent many years working in the art industry, I had a personal investment in the intriguing story. The idea of a criminally insane artist creating works of art with his own claret and that spurning a commentary on how art dealers literally profit off a creative’s life source, is a brilliant idea. There was just something major lost in the execution, it was like missing an open goal. Disappointing is exactly the word that best describes it, as it was such a missed opportunity. I think the most apparent flaw was the awful special effects in the horror scenes. Me and my partner who I was watching it with, both laughed out loud when we first saw them. They looked like something you’d see on a theme park ride and not a good one at that. There wasn’t anything wrong with the plot or the performances but when the most crucial part of a horror film is laughable, nothing else really matters and it makes it look like they are all just playing along with an elaborate prank and the joke is on us, unfortunately. When I tell you that the film ends with someone being attacked by their own tattoo in broad daylight, that should be all you need to know. It was also released on my birthday, just to add insult to injury.
Most Anticipated: Tenet
Christopher Nolan is arguably one of the few auteurs in the industry today, so there’s always a lot of anticipation to see what he’s going to come out with next. The fact that he’s been so secretive about his next film, just makes me all the more curious. He’s assembled a great cast that includes Robert Pattinson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Debicki and longtime collaborator Michael Caine. He hasn’t disappointed before, now only time will tell.
Best Film: 3 From Hell
The best film of 2019 for me has been Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell and there is no doubt about it. House of 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects are my favourite films of all time so I had very high hopes going into it, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. Watching 3 from Hell felt like being back home again, attending a family reunion. Otis and Baby Firefly were as fucked up as they ever were (even after jail) and the introduction of Richard Brake to the family was incredible. We got to say an emotional farewell to Captain Spaulding following the loss of actor Sid Haig, and that gives the movie such a special place in my heart.
Honourable Mention: Soska Sisters’ Rabid
Best Performance: Gerard Butler, Angel Has Fallen
I think there’s a reason that Gerard Butler is such a widely recognised name. He always knocks it out of the park with his performances. I didn’t expect to ever see Angel Has Fallen, despite how popular it is. However I ended up seeing it at the movie theatre and I came out loving the movie. I think one of the main reasons is because I got invested in the character of Mike Banning. I may have completed it in the wrong order, but Gerard’s performance convinced me to go back and watch the previous films in the franchise, so I think that deserves some acknowledgment.
Most Entertaining Film: 3 From Hell
In addition to being my favourite film of the year, 3 From Hell was also the choice I found most entertaining. There’s nothing I love more than some bloodshed, some partying and some travel. I escaped jail with the Firefly clan, travelled to Mexico with a thirst for blood and left fully quenched. Richard Brake killed it as Foxy. I am still so excited to have him in the film. The whole thing was one huge bloody party.
Most Disappointing: It Chapter Two
The film that disappointed me most was It Chapter Two. I expected it to disappoint me and it went the extra mile to do so. I don’t think the first remake should have happened, and this one was just a slap in the face. I especially don’t like the new recreation of Pennywise the clown, it seems almost laughable. My vote: Not scary at all.
Most Anticipated Film: Coming 2 America
I never thought I would see a sequel to the John Landis classic Coming to America. The excitement I felt upon learning that Eddie Murphy would be returning to his role of Prince Akeem in Coming 2 America next year was immense. The whole gang is coming back together, and I can’t wait. As the cherry on top of the sundae, actor and musician Rotimi has joined the cast. I discovered Rotimi through his role as Dre on STARZ Power, and since discovered his talent as a musician. He is an excellent addition to the project. This is another feature I have very high hopes for.
Best Film: Parasite
Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite is not only the best movie of the year, but possibly the best movie of the decade. In short, the film is a tale of two families from different sides of the tracks, one rich and one poor, who fatefully cross paths and begin a twisted relationship with one another. With a crackling script, stunning cinematography and compelling performances from the best ensemble cast of the year, Parasite straps you in and takes you on a ride you perhaps didn’t consent to when it started but that leaves you agape and breathless by its finale. It is hard to accurately express how incredible this film is without spoiling anything, so my recommendation is to watch it immediately, if you haven’t already, and go in knowing as little as possible. For those worried about the language barrier, Ho said it best himself: “We all live in the same country now: that of capitalism.” For those familiar with the oeuvre of Bong Joon Ho, capitalism is a recurring theme, but don’t be fooled and think Parasite will be just another Snowpiercer or Okja. Parasite is something wholly original, an intimate and topographical examination of class systems that will change the way you see the world around you.
Honorable Mention: Midsommar
Best Performance: Florence Pugh (Midsommar)
Although she is getting Oscar buzz for her performance in Little Women, Florence Pugh blew me away much earlier this year in Ari Aster’s daylight horror Midsommar. I don’t know what it is about Aster’s writing and direction, but he seems to have that magic touch to bring out the best in his actors. With Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary last year and Pugh in Midsommar this year, Aster’s films have consecutively delivered my favourite performances of 2018 and 2019, respectively. The power of Pugh’s performance is unmatched by anybody this year; just the thought of Dani’s raw emotion in the opening sequence of the film alone has me on the verge of tears and had me openly weeping both times that I saw it in the theatre. Pugh’s vulnerability and openness not only made me empathize with her character but made me feel like I was her character, like she invited me inside herself and fed her pain and release directly into me like the tube fed the fumes into her family’s lungs. Dani simultaneously felt like my sister, my friend, and myself, which made the film so effective for me. In the end, why I love Pugh’s performance so much is because it perfectly encapsulates and mirrors the theme of the film: that we need to explode ourselves outward into each other rather than keep everything inside.
Honorable Mention: Toni Collette (Knives Out).
Most Entertaining Film: Ready or Not
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready or Not has no right being as good as it is. It was not only my most entertaining movie-watching experience of the year but the most surprising. I went into the film expecting another cheesy horror film, and while that is partially what I received, it was delivered in the best possible package imaginable. Ready or Not is like that perfect snack that you open even though you aren’t really hungry but then realize fifteen minutes later that you’ve eaten the whole bag and are left craving more. Samara Weaving is the MVP of the film, supported by a great cast, including Adam Brody and Andy MacDowell, who you can tell had an absolute blast working together. The movie has a little something for everyone: great kills for horror fans and killer laughs for those who appreciate smart comedy. Ready or Not also has my vote for best ending, as the film goes where you don’t think it has the balls to go and left me howling with delight by the time the credits rolled.
Honorable Mention: Knives Out, Hustlers.
Most Disappointing: Almost every Stephen King adaptation
Sigh. Why was it so hard to successfully adapt Stephen King in 2019? There were so many bad and disappointing King adaptations this year that I can’t pick just one, so King adaptations in general are my choice for most disappointing films of the year. With Doctor Sleep being the only outlier, the King films of 2019 quickly went from my most hyped to most disappointing as I ended up seeing each one. I’ve already written a whole piece on my problems with the Pet Sematary remake, which seemed to value shock over substance, and I would echo the same criticism for IT: Chapter Two. The finale of the IT film saga is so markedly different from Chapter One that it is hard to believe that it was directed by the same person. Although I am not the biggest fan of IT: Chapter One and believe it suffers many of the same problems as the sequel—mainly, a fundamental misunderstanding of the source material (#ReleasetheFukunagaCut)—it is still an enjoyable horror film. IT: Chapter Two, on the other hand, feels like a three-hour vignette that is disconnected from its source material and its filmic sibling. The worst offence the film commits, in my opinion, is what it does to Pennywise. Somehow, the film manages to take one of the scariest villains in horror history and turn it into a chatty caricature that is about as frightening as a newborn kitten. As for In The Tall Grass, not even Patrick Wilson’s wackadoodle performance could save this Netflix stinker that thought a grassy field with an all-knowing rock at its centre would make a compelling viewing experience.
Honorable Mention: The Perfection
Most Anticipated: Dune
Denis Villenueve is my favourite working director, so whenever he has an upcoming release it is always my most anticipated film of the upcoming year. 2020 is special, however, because my favourite director is releasing his adaptation of one of my favourite books of all time: Frank Herbert’s Dune. Dune has always been looked at as an unadaptable novel, even though many filmmakers have tried, and failed, in the past. Although I am incredibly disappointed about Villeneuve’s split with Roger Deakins as the DP of the film, I still am confident that Villenueve will, finally, pull off an adaptation of Dune that lives up to the magic of the source material. We only have to wait until December of 2020 to find out!
Best Film: Knives Out
I am willing to bet I am one of the few that name Knives Out as their number one film of 2019. For most, films like Parasite, Marriage Story and even Avengers: Endgame are the best of 2019, and while those are all amazing, Knives Out takes the top spot for me for a number of reasons. For starters, I’m a sucker for a good mystery. However, more often than not, mystery movies nowadays are either too formulaic or are too different that they are more thriller than mystery anyway. Knives Out is one of the first mystery movies in recent years to keep me enthralled and truly guessing for the better part of the film. The movie sports an ensemble cast that are all played beautifully, but none more so than Daniel Craig’s “private eye with the southern drawl.” Rian Johnson may have just redeemed himself from his Star Wars debacle with Knives Out, because the movie is one of the most entertaining of the year, and put all its wonderful parts together it definitely becomes my favorite film of 2019.
Honorable Mention: Longshot, Us
Best Performance: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
When it comes to performances of 2019, this choice should not surprise anyone. Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as the clown prince of crime in Joker was absolutely harrowing to see. Say what you will about the movie itself, Phoenix absolutely killed in his performance as the Joker. Audiences witnessed a slow-burn character study on what it is like to dive deeper into depression and madness, and it was truly a sight to behold. Phoenix truly made me root for the Joker, and everyone knows that the Joker is and always has been a detestable character. But when the actor as able to make the audience put their faith in someone like that, it is impossible to think of anyone else as having a better performance.
Most Entertaining: Avengers: Endgame
This choice is also likely to be a popular one for most entertaining of 2019. Avengers: Endgame is quite possibly the most hyped and anticipated movie of the 2000s, or maybe even of all time. No movie before no has had so much lead-up going into it, and I don’t think we will have another movie of this level of hype for a long time to come. All in all, the movie did in fact deliver on what was promised for a decade. The movie certainly had its faults here and there, but the Russo brothers were to bring nearly every single storyline from the first ten years of Marvel and wrap them up in neat little bows at the conclusion of the movie. Much like last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, I was absolutely on the edge of my seat for the whole three-hour runtime. Call it fan-service, or call it wonderful movie-making, Endgame certainly gave fans a sight to behold, and it became the most-watched movie in history. If that doesn’t qualify the movie as the most entertaining of 2019, I am not sure what will.
Most Disappointing: Lion King
Disney has got into a bad habit in recent years. While they do continue to pump out great movies, for every good one there is a dud. Moreover, more often than not, that dud is usually a remake. As of this writing, Disney has released 16 live-action remakes of past animated features, with three more on the way in the coming years. Some are certainly better than others, like Beauty and the Beast and Maleficent, but this year’s The Lion King just was not a great film. Now, don’t get me wrong, the animation was nothing short of magical (it legitimately looked like they made the movie in the middle of Africa), but that does not redeem all of the movie’s faults. The movie had tons of big names in the cast, from Donald Glover and Beyonce to Billy Eichner and Seth Rogan, but only Glover truly made his role something watchable. Beyonce may be an incredible singer, but she is no voice-actress. The movie’s songs felt uninspired, many of the performances were sub-par, and I kept wanting the movie to be like the original. Much to my displeasure, that was not the case.