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There’s been a host of fantastic films this year so HeadStuff gathered the collective minds of our Film section to bring you our picks for the top 20 of 2019. Below are #20 to #11, see our top 10 best movies here.
By merging a heist thriller with an undercover cop movie, director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) brought new life to both genres. Destroyer stars Nicole Kidman as a washed-up LAPD detective who decides to take out members of a bank robbing gang of which she has history. This is after she is alerted the leader (a snake-like Toby Kebbell) has resurfaced.
With a twisty and time-shuffling screenplay by The Invitation scribes Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and typically confident and muscular direction by Kusama, the movie would always be solid. That said, Destroyer is given extra heft by Kidman. The Oscar-winner does career best work as a bad cop practically zombified with guilt – given one last jolt of energy when a chance to make things right rears its head. Stephen Porzio
19. In Fabric
Peter Strickland’s In Fabric is a truly strange film but be under no illusions, this macabre flick managed to provide one of the most fulfilling horror movie experiences of the last decade. Centering around a cursed dress and the consequences of its ownership, it feels like Strickland saw Sion Sono’s similarly bonkers, Exte (2007) and vowed to take its stylistic fears to the next level of cinematic absurdity.
Undeniably beautiful throughout, morbidly funny and charmingly silly at times, In Fabric ventures where very few horror movies dare to go. If you can buy into its progressing insanity, the film truly comes alive and by its conclusion you will feel overwhelmed, confused and deeply satisfied with a shameless grin to match. Who knows, you may even find yourself second guessing that dream purchase at the high-end clothing store… John Hogan
18. Little Monsters
Upon initial viewing of the trailer for Abe Forsythe’s Little Monsters, I was interested in if still slightly hesitant of another possible run-of-the-mill zom-com offering. Thankfully, the film is so much more than that, hitting all the right notes when it needs to – bringing to mind the familiar power of Edgar Wright’s 2004 classic Shaun Of The Dead.
Dave (Alexander England) is loud, offensive and a failure. But when he meets his nephew’s school teacher, Miss Caroline (played by the incredible Lupita Nyong’o), his world is literally turned upside down in the worst way imaginable. Cue vicious sock puppets, mini Darth Vaders, blood drenched renditions of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ and some truly laugh out loud moments. Little Monsters is a superb debut with a surprisingly heartfelt message at its core and the much needed zombie slaying to back it all up. John Hogan
17. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Easily the best action flick of the year, John Wick: Chapter 3 had a hell of a challenge living up to its predecessor’s sequel stinger – which saw the title hitman blacklisted from all the protection his crime world offered and with a massive bounty on his head. Yet, it delivered on that promise with the franchise’s most bone-crunchingly brutal entry to date as Mr Wick fought his way out of a New York where everyone wants him dead.
In the opening ten minutes, Reeves’ assassin murders a 7ft man with a book. He then follows this by killing his hunters by utilising all the artifacts of a weapons museum, a horse, a pack of vicious dogs trained by Halle Berry and special bullets which pierce kevlar vests. The whole shebang culminates in a visceral over-extended last stand in which more mirrors are broken than in any film ever, one which leaves viewers feeling as beaten and exhausted as its lead character. High praise indeed. Stephen Porzio
Every once in a while, there comes a delightful surprise of a film which manages to exceed expectations wildly. Hustlers is one of those movies. Based on the true story of four strippers who turned the table on their clients, this comedy-drama could have been Showgirls meets Magic Mike XXL and I would have been satisfied. Instead, it’s nestled in the higher echelon of Scorsese-esque ‘I can’t believe this actually happened’ stories somewhere between I, Tonya, American Made and American Hustle.
On one level, the film is a terrific crowdpleaser. It’s filled with humour and pathos. It boasts four terrific lead performances – including an Oscar worthy turn from Jennifer Lopez – as well as a handful of amazing music video like scenes – J-Lo stripping to Fiona Apple’s ‘Criminal’, a police raid scored to Lorde’s ‘Royal’. That said, Hustlers is also quietly subversive. After all, it’s sexy without sexualising its lead characters and is a story about the difficulties of stripping while not stigmatising the profession, elements which elevate the film above many of its contemporaries. Stephen Porzio
15. Toy Story 4
The latest addition to this franchise of lovable plastic adventurers gives viewers the heart and humour they have come to expect from the series (case in point, Forky). That said, this entry also does more, exploring honestly and openly aging, lack of self-worth and how to cope with these issues.
Many were doubtful when TS4 was announced, with the franchise coming to what seemed like a natural conclusion with Toy Story 3. This was when the now adult Andy passed on Woody, Buzz and co to the younger Bonnie. Yet while Andy may not be around, it doesn’t mean Woody’s story has ended – the former favourite toy now struggling to come to terms with a new owner who does not value him the same way.
TS4 is anything but a rehash. Not only has the fluid animation never looked better but the film builds on the previous movies, giving viewers a story that feels like a natural evolution for the characters we’ve grown and empathised with for nearly 25 years. Joseph Learoyd
14. Pain and Glory
Not every Pedro Almodovar film will be great, but he will never stop being a great filmmaker. In a year chock full of sublime, semi-autobiographical cinema (The Farewell, The Souvenir), Almodovar arguably gave us the most personal of the lot. Antonio Banderas plays a director in decline who when faced with the possibility of terminal illness, recalls his impoverished childhood with a tenacious mother who willed a better life for him.
In his best film since 1999’s All About My Mother, Almodovar presents us with a profoundly touching meditation on regret, aging and homosexual awakening. Pain and Glory is how the man views a life lived. The pain is the experience, the glory is in the telling and this is glorious filmmaking. Mark Conroy
After first watching Jordan Peele’s latest horror I wrote for Film Ireland that Us was almost as good as Get Out. Upon rewatch, I would argue that it’s the stronger of the two. Like Get Out, Us massively rewards repeat viewing, but it also manages to cross genres in doing so. Where Adelaide Wilson’s (Lupita Nyong’o) journey is a horror the first time, it becomes instead a tragedy with further insight.
Indeed, even the aspects of the film that initially irked me proved to be their strongest elements: the vague, ineffable explanation for the doppelgängers’ existence becomes a mark of the not-entirely-explainable world into which we are plunging. Popular cinema has gotten a little too comfortable, a little too easy to follow. Peele’s here to shake things up a bit.
The film is also so successful thanks to its incredible cast. Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Astonishingly creative choreography is also embedded in every aspect of Us, carefully challenging the American narrative of upward social mobility. I’m still mulling over just what Peele’s latest might mean, and I have a feeling this time the journey might be more important than the destination. Sarah Cullen
Evoking Apocalypse Now and Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Monos feels like co-writer and director Alejandro Landes trekked into a Columbian mountain range, stumbled upon some child soldiers and together with them improvised a movie. It’s that disturbing, raw and visceral – plunging viewers into the lives of teenagers dealing with all the drama that comes with growing up, along with having to mind an American prisoner of war (the incredible Julianne Nicholson).
Yet, Monos also boasts dreamy powerful imagery, a twisty screenplay, a hypnotic score/soundscape from Mica Levi and an all-round phenomenal young cast (led by former Disney star Moisés Arias) – elements which imply a more planned precise production. Either way, by blending social realist drama with a Lord of the Flies style thriller, Landes has cemented himself as a new giant of world cinema. Stephen Porzio
Just when you think you’ve seen every variation on the high school buddy comedy, Booksmart – the directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde – comes along and makes viewers realise why they loved the sub-genre in the first place. Evoking memories of American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused and Superbad, the film centres on two bookworm high school students (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) who come to believe they’ve wasted their best years by prioritising school over partying. On the even of their graduation, they decide to rectify matters and paint the town red.
A wickedly funny script, the most lovable central duo in recent memory, an actor turned filmmaker excited to flex their directorial muscles and a cast of future stars of tomorrow (looking at you, Billie Lourd) combine to create an infectiously fun cinematic experience. What makes Booksmart must-see, however, is its humanist streak. Like so often is the case in secondary school, there are no villains in Wilde’s film; only people who act out due to personal insecurities or fears of being seen as different. It’s to Booksmart’s credit every part of its ensemble cast gets a chance to be a three-dimensional character, this inclusivity and warmth never dulling the movie’s comedic edge. Stephen Porzio