Five of the Best…Film 2019

Rojo – Benjamin Naishtat, Argentina

A dark, but at times darkly comic, disturbing and beautiful film that deals with many ugly things; the brutality of fascist dictatorship, violence, power, dishonesty and shame to name just a few.

Naishtat’s film is a furious exploration of things that many of us would rather be left unexplored.

Set in the moments before the arrival, the brutal and bloody arrival, of the military junta in Argentina the film acts as a satire for the society that led to that.  The film opens with a series of people entering a house and leaving with objects from it.  A long shot, reminiscent of Ozu’s stationery, static, watching eye that allows us to become immersed in a world where we don’t belong.  It isn’t instantly clear what is going on and, indeed, the relevance of the house only really becomes clear much later in the film.  The “real” story begins with a lawyer shaming a fellow customer in a restaurant, an event that leads to a violent confrontation that has devastating consequences for everyone involved and then the fun really begins…

A strong contender for film of the year and not to be lumped into the ghetto of “best foreign language film”, this is simply one of the best films you will see this year, or any other year.

Knives Out – Rian Johnson, USA

Anyone who was thrilled by “Brick” or “Looper” but slightly underwhelmed by Johnson’s work in the Star Wars universe (I can make no comment as I don’t have any interest in that particular children’s franchise) will be delighted by “Knives Out” which sees Johnson craft the sort of razor sharp script that made those early films so enjoyable.

“Knives Out” is, essentially, the sort of all star ensemble Agatha Christie adaptation that were massive box office successes in the seventies…think Peter Ustinov as Poirot and you get where we are.  Here Johnson has brought together the likes of Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lakeith Stanfield and Ana de Armas to fill up a Gothic mansion where something terrible will happen.

The terrible thing that happens is that the patriarch of the Ransom clan, Christopher Plummer, decides to kill himself at the conclusion of his 85th birthday celebrations…celebrations which have seen him “cleaning house” with his children, all of whom are (overly) reliant on their wealthy author father for their own income.

There is a problem though…his suicide might not be suicide and this is where Benoit Blanc comes in.  Blanc (Daniel Craig) is a Poirot-esque “Kentuck Fried Chicken” of a private detective employed by goodness knows who to unravel the “truth” of the events surrounding the death of the family patriarch.

It is worth mentioning here that several of the cast give career best performances…most especially Jamie Lee Curtis but the stand-out performance is Daniel Craig as Blanc.  He is…perfect.  Casting aside the baggage of you-know-who and delivering a star turn that is filled with comedy, heart, charm and style.  It has to be seen to be believed.

A knockout!

Amazing Grace – Sydney Pollack, USA

The 1972 performance of gospel music from the Queen of Soul that was thought to be lost for decades arrived in cinemas this year thanks to the efforts of Alan Elliot, Joe Boyd and others who took the original footage shot by Sydney Pollack and, with love, affection and, yes, soul brought it to the world.

I lost my faith and belief several years ago but I have no qualms about describing my response and reaction to this film as a spiritual experience, I felt myself being lifted above the natural and into a realm more appropriately described as supernatural.

A glorious celebration of song, the woman herself, community and, undoubtedly, God.

Full review here.

Diego Maradona – Asif Kapadia, United Kingdom

The debate rages on and on.  Who is the greatest footballer of all time?  CR7?  Messi?  The goals, the hat-tricks, the trophies, the individual awards…argument and counter-argument.

None of it matters.

Only one name is worthy of the title Greatest Of All Time.

Maradona.

It really is that simple.

Kapadia’s film explores the man behind the myth, the human behind the legend, the flaws behind the genius…the ordinary man behind Dios.

God.

Full review here.

Midsommar – Ari Aster, USA

There is no way of adequately describing “Midsommar” without writing many hundreds of words and of running the risk of falling down the sort of rabbit hole that leads…nowhere and everywhere.

Nothing is what it seems in “Midsommar”.

Everything is real in “Midsommar”.

The comparisons with “The Wicker Man” have been made time and again…and with good reason…but, truthfully, this is a film that takes you to places that very few horror films are willing to.  This is a film about the horror within and not the frights without.  It is slow, deliberate, hypnotic, disturbing and leaves a lasting impression on your psyche.

People who think that “The Conjuring” universe is good horror will be disappointed with this film…possibly even enraged by it.  In that sense it has a similar feel to Ben Wheatley’s magnificent “Kill List”…a film that, when I saw it, left one audience member so angry that he stood up before its end and shouted quite how angry he was so loudly that people in other parts of the cinema must have heard him.

Where normal horror uses the darkness and shadows to unsettle the audience, here director Ari Aster uses bright lights, sunshine and vibrant colours to lull us into a false sense of security…nothing bad ever happens in the light, right?

Wrong.

Aster has described the film as a break-up movie and, at its heart, that is true but be under no illusion that this is “Kramer vs Kramer” or “500 Days of Summer”…it isn’t.