Damson - What we're watching #18
2019 was a pretty stellar year for cinema-goers, but it was also the year when Netflix REALLY got in on the act with a few original releases.
It's always difficult to make an end of year list, but we gave it a go!
There has always been a real sense of Jamie Bell trying to shed "Billie Elliott" in most of his movie choices in the last 10 years, but in "Skin" he gives the performance of a lifetime. He stars here as Bryon "Babs" Widner, a neo-nazi covered head to toe in grotesque and highly offensive tattoos, as he has to contend with his white-power path while also trying to do the right thing by the new love in his life, Julie. The love she has for him and the promise of a healthier family and lifestyle make him reconsider his lifestyle choices. Babs' transformation is not an easy one, helped in no small part by a face covered in skinhead tattoos, and his efforts to leave his former life behind are not anywhere close to being straightforward as you'd imagine. "Skin" isn't the easiest movie to watch, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded by some sublime storytelling and absolutely phenomenal acting, especially from Bell.
It wouldn't have been too much of a reach to expect Rocketman to follow the same formula as Bohemian Rhapsody, especially with Dexter Fletcher being at the helm. What we got was something very different indeed. Rocketman tells the story of Elton John in all of its sleazy and debauched glory, whilst at the same time putting a fresh spin on some of his classic tracks. Taron Egerton is unbelievably good as Elton. He's larger than life, confident and vulnerable all at the same time. Egerton also does his own singing and dancing thoughout, which is no mean feat. You may actually find yourself preferring some of the arrangements on the Rocketman soundtrack to the originals, which a testament to how well the movie is made.
8) Marriage Story
This Noah Baumbach directed intimate story about the struggles of marriage and divorce was a big end of year hit for Netflix. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver have never been better in our opinion as the couple drifting apart. She's an actress who wants to move the family to Los Angeles so she has a better chance of expanding her career, and Driver is a New Yorker who has no desire to move and is desperate to keep his family in New York as there is more chance of keeping their son grounded there. They split up, as you would expect and attempt to navigate co-parenting, made even more difficult by the fact that it is now cross country. It's unflinching, heartbreaking and very difficult to watch, but if you do give it your time, you won't be sorry.
7) The Nightingale
There is a trend of making "revenge" thrillers/horrors in Hollywood these days, so you can be forgiven for rolling your eyes and thinking "here we go again" when reading up on "The Nightingale". Trust us when we say to you that you will struggle to find any a movie as brutal as this in 2019. Or any year for that matter. The story follows Claire, an Irish convict subjected to cruel and merciless treatment by British Army officers in 1825 Tasmania. After seeing her family murdered and being left for dead, she trails her attackers across the harsh Australian landscape with the help of Aboriginal tracker Billy in the hopes or exacting her retribution. As great a piece of film making as this is, it really isn't for the faint-hearted and not for everyone. But we loved it. And it's our list. So there.
Is Jordan Peele's follow up as good as "Get Out?" No, but it could never be expected to be. What it is though is an outstanding and very, very clever horror movie in its own right. "Us" is a lot of different things all at the same time. A commentary on American society, a story of family and identity, and at times a very funny comedy. It's difficult to imagine a director that would have handled all of this with such class than Jordan Peele, but that is exactly what he does. Not only that, but we also get one of the most unforgettable movies in a long time as an end product. For all of the highlights though, the movie really belongs to the incredible dual performance from Lupita Nyong'o. We're used to her knocking it out of the park by now, but this really is a career-best performance on of the best displays of versatile acting you are ever likely to see.
5) Knives Out
Rian Johnson wrote and directed this fascinating ensemble whodunit about family in-fighting over the contents of a will. If you are a fan of twisting murder mysteries, you will absolutely love this! It also has the best cast of any movie from 2019 not called "Avengers: Endgame", with Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Michael Shannon all displaying fantastic character work, while at the same time looking like they're having the time of their lives. The script is snappy, biting and at times very, very funny. We'd recommend catching this as soon as you can before some inconsiderate person totally spoils the ending for you. Absolutely class.
4) Avengers: Endgame
Wrapping up a decade worth of movies and keeping everyone happy is no easy task. Miraculously, Avengers: Endgame managed it, just about. If you ignore the fact that the time travel makes no sense whatsoever, this is a hell of a blockbuster. Yes, it is a crowd-pleaser and has a lot of fan-service, but that's not a bad thing at all. One of the biggest criticisms of Marvel movies is that there has been a real lack of consequence and no real fear that the characters are in real danger, but here they hit all of the emotional beats they needed to. The scenes involving Robery Downey Jr's Tony Stark are particularly poignant. The result is a huge spectacle that is as emotional as it is exciting. The final hour especially are some of the finest grand-scale battles you are ever likely to see on screen.
3) Once Upon A Time in...Hollywood
Quentin Tarantino's latest offering isn't without its critics, but for us, it was one of the most inventive, original and sometimes straight-up hilarious movies of 2019. Tarantino makes no secret of his love for 1960's Hollywood, and it really shows as the cinematography is stunning. Lead by the twin power of Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt as faded TV Western star Rick Dalton and his stunt man/best friend Cliff booth, the movie navigates the complications and narcissism of Hollywood, while also set against the backdrop of the Tate Murder by Charles Manson and his band of followers. The ending itself will be debated for years to come, but anyone who has watched a Tarantino movie before knows how he likes to mess with history, so the fact that he does here too shouldn't come as much as a surprise. Both Di Caprio and Pitt are absolutely outstanding and should really earn both actors academy award nominations in 2020.
2) The Irishman
After waiting for what seemed like a lifetime for Scorcese's latest offering, there was a real fear that The Irishman could never live up to the hype. Don't worry, it does. And then some. With a well documented 3 and a half hour runtime, it certainly asks a lot from its audience, but never once does it seem like a slog. You can say that there is no need for it to be so long, but honestly, there is nothing that we could think to cut out of this amazing movie. The story of a truck driver turned mob hitman spans decades and is propped up by some phenomenal performances, especially from Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as you would expect. We beg you, do not let the runtime put you off. The Irishman is worth your time, and then some. Quite simply one of the greatest movies of this, or any other year.
Surely, the most talked about movie of the year, with reviews varying from one to five stars, depending on how you interpret it. We are easily leaning more towards the five star part of the spectrum, that's for sure. Considering "The Joker" character has his origins in comic books, you would be forgiven for expecting something totally different to what we got. "Joker" is actually a very straightforward story, about a sad, lonely and mentally ill part-time clown who is rejected by society. Because of this, he gets a dangerous taste for violent retribution, culminating in a joyous, anarchic and shocking climax. Joaquin Phoenix has for years been one of the finest actors around, but here he gives a career-best performance that will surely have him as one of the front runners for the best actor oscar when the nominations are announced. Our movie of the year, hands down.
January 17, 2020