Andrew’s Top Films of 2019

There is so much that Bong Joon-Ho delivers to perfection with Parasite, with its biting script, exceptional performances, and sublime narrative twists, but for me, the lingering memory of this social structure horror is the fascinating production design. It’s become a bit of a trope to say ‘the house is a character in the film’, but the houses in Parasite are characters, reinforcing the core themes, providing a lived in backstory to all of the characters, and reflecting the way the structure of homes work to incessantly reinforce class warfare barriers. 

There is much to appreciate about James Grey’s sci-fi family squabble film, from Brad Pitt’s introverted performance, to deep realisation of how modern governments will shape the future of space exploration. But, for me, the major takeaway from Ad Astra is the way Gray crafts a story that echoes the devastating effects of colonialism, and how no matter what happens with our future, it will always be inextricably entwined with the actions of the past. With Ad Astra and The Lost City of Z, James Gray deconstructs the ideology of the ‘noble white explorer’, discovering the world and the universe, and wreaking uncountable damage wherever he goes. Gray recognises the successes that comes with this exploration, but raises the question, are they worth it when all they lead to is failure for all? 

The overwhelming visual aspect of Aquarela becomes intoxicating as the film unfurls, drowning you in the beauty, the fury, the rage, that lives within water. This is a glorious symphony of the power of water, and the way humanity is inextricably entwined to its future. Through our actions, the world is changing, ice caps are melting, and the water of the world is furious. Director Viktor Kossokovsky is fascinated by the malleable nature of water, and provides a grand score to go along his exceptional cinematography. This is not a didactic film, with Kossokovsky intending to leave whatever lessons the viewer may glean up to them, but it is certainly one of the most visually impressive films you could see this year.  

Alison James’ empathetic short film about the plight of camels in the Australian outback is one that I’ve talked about a lot. But, what I haven’t talked about is the future of Alison James’ work. Who knows where her career will go from here, but if Judas Collar is any indication, it will be considered, reflective, and – that word again – purely empathetic. The landscape for Australian women filmmakers is stronger than it has ever been, and on this list alone there are six additional Australian women directors, all of whom have their own transformative stories to tell. Alison James is just one of those great directors who have an exciting career ahead of them. Get in early and appreciate this gem of a film. 

When I first watched Two Heads Creek, I was amazed by writer Jordan Waller’s brilliant ability to turn a phrase, and on top of that, I was left in awe of the way the cast managed to bring his delectable dialogue to life. At its core, Two Heads Creek is an immediate Aussie horror comedy classic, albeit one that is still waiting to be discovered. The cross-country storytelling works a treat, with the British roots coming back to Australia to correct the wrongs instigated in the past, and working up a bloody feast of hilarity.

I’ve talked about how in the year 2019, Australian comedy made a comeback, and no film indicates that reemergence more than Steve Vidler’s hilarious Standing Up for Sunny. RJ Mitte and Philippa Northeast give us one of the best one-two punches of the year, making a perfect co-lead double that really shines in so many different ways. I’ll be singing the praises of this comedy for years, using it as a routine response for when people say that Australia doesn’t make comedies anymore, and saying, well, yeah, we do, Standing Up for Sunny is one of the best we’ve got.  

There’s a mild trend with the focus on art in this list, with Looby and It All Started With a Stale Sandwich making a mark, but in the age of the Australian government abandoning the arts, it’s Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Oscar nominated Never Look Away that works as the best warning siren about what can happen when the arts is abandoned and not given the nourishment it deserves. Set during Nazi era Germany, this stunning film meticulously lays out the way that oppressive governments smother and restrict art that gives a voice to the people, and while I wish it weren’t relevant today, it certainly is. 

Yen Tan’s 1985 is a film I expected to see on a few more end of year lists, but alas, it’s on precious few. Maybe that was because barely anyone caught this powerfully quiet film about a man returning home for the holidays, keeping the secret of his sexuality quiet and reckoning with the past that shaped who he is. Lead by a gentle performance from Cory Michael Smith, 1985 has two simply brilliant performances from Michael Chiklis and Virginia Madsen as his parents. Like Little Woods, this is a film that we’ve seen many times before. 1985 respectfully and empathetically refuses to demonise the upbringing that many LGBTIQA+ folks have, instead presenting a family that was moulded by religion, because that’s the nature of the community that they exist in, and showing that they too can grow and learn past their prejudices.   

Australian audiences were blessed with two essential documentaries about footballer Adam Goodes, The Australian Dream and The Final Quarter. The two work in harmony, working as the ‘yes, and…’ to the conversation that mainstream Australian continues to refuse to have. Directors Daniel Gordon and Ian Darling, alongside Goodes and Stan Grant, address the insidious nature of racism in Australia, forcing white Australia to ask themselves, is this the country you want? Is this the standard you’re willing to accept? And, if you answer yes to either of those questions, then by gosh you need to address your crippling racism immediately, because it is ruining this country.  

As with Pet Sematary, I was left equally unsettled with Andy Muschietti’s It: Chapter Two. As someone who didn’t appreciate the first film, I found myself surprised by how moved I was by this entry, and equally surprised by how terrified I was. It’s a rare horror film that hits that beat for me, let alone one that’s pushing three hours long, but It: Chapter Two was that film for me. I can recognise the issues many have with it, but every decision – exceptionally that particular music drop – worked beyond belief for me. The It films may not stand the test of time, but right now this one hits the mark completely for me.  

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