The 20 Best Movies of 2019 (so far)
9. Soni | Ivan Ayr | Drama
Ivan Ayr doesn’t resort to sensationalism and theatrics to address the plaguing issues ranging from gender prejudice, sexual harassment to the power distribution on different strata that manipulates the law. Keeping the women police officers at the vantage point, he captures the helplessness of women in the Indian society within the law and outside of it and reflects the gender disparity and prejudices within the family of female cops. The understated and nuanced writing coupled with a sharp camera work and bravado performances by both the leads, Soni [available on Netflix] is one of the best films of 2019 produced at the shoestring budget.
8. Stan & Ollie | Jon S. Baird | Comedy-drama
In one of the most heartbreaking scenes, Stan and Ollie indulge in a war of words while the people at the party observe their altercation from a distance. At the end of it, an old man laughs on it and asks his wife surprisingly if it was supposed to be funny. It’s ironic and heart-wrenching. It gives profound insight into the understanding of humans; first, how people around perceived Stan and Ollie, almost unadulterated comic due without any scratch of the very feelings that make us human, as an iconic without the troubles that surround normal beings; second, we get to see Stan and Ollie without inhibitions and facade, a flawed humans trying to salvage their friendship.
‘Stan and Ollie’ pick the most crucial chapter from the lives of the most iconic and revered comedy, and makes it a charming but often soul-stirring tale of friendship that suffered a blow when Hardy shot the infamous ‘elephant movie’ Zenobia in 1939 without Laurel.
7. Honeyland | Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska | Documentary
Winner of Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (alongside Best Cinematography Award & Special Jury Award), Macedonian film-makers’ Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland (2019) tells the moving ethnographic tale of a lone beekeeper and her perfect communion with nature.
It is an affecting, poignant and beautiful documentary about the last female bee-hunter in Europe and her delicate relationship with nature. The only conversation with her ailing mother is heartwarming but melancholic too. Even the flickering light of the candle couldn’t swallow the sadness spread in every corner of her hut.
6. For Sama | Waad Al-Kateab, Edward Watts | Documentary
Documentary films are tricky. If not done with utmost honesty, it could feel like propaganda. Waad Al Kateab “For Sama” comes directly from the horror of living in the city that could turn into ashes any moment. It captures the horror of Russian bombing in the Aleppo city (SYRIA) with shells, chlorine gas, bombs, cluster bombs. A local woman calls it “the bombing soap opera.”
But the honesty comes from the motive behind filming such horrendous act that could put humanity to shame – a melancholic apologizing letter to her daughter explaining the ecosystem she is born in. There are films that move you, that make you emotional, leave a lump in your throat, but how you respond to a film that not only question the existence of humanity but put it to the shame.
But “For Sama” is not all bleak, it has parts filled with hope and perseverance. The film in itself is a sombre love letter to Waad’s daughter Sama.
5. Alles Ist Gut | Eva Trobisch | Drama
Alles Ist Gut is a heart-wrenching masterclass on thinking in textures. Artfully restrained, incredibly acted and masterfully edited, Alles Ist Gut would leave you trembling. The film-maker from East Berlin, Eva Trobisch weaves a mature narrative having psychological complexity that would leave its audience distressed. And it is her debut feature film. Her approach on the complex subject is intimate and elementary, hence it strikes much deeper in the conscience of the audience. ‘Alles ist Gut’ is a portrait of a strong woman brought to quivering by a tumble of emotions, from outrage and shame to anger, that is left with nowhere to go. We stay, clenched with her, to the last. Continue reading our review of Alles Ist Gut.
Alles Ist Gut featured in our list of The Best Netflix Movies of 2019
4. House of Hummingbird | Bora Kim | Coming of Age
In her feature debut, Bora Kim tells an intimate and delicate tale of a lonely and whimsical eighth-grader Eunhee (Ji-hu Park). She deliberately slows down the pace of narration for nuanced observation of the Korean culture and marginally reduced the role of women in society.
Eunhee is trying to navigate life through her dysfunctional family, abusive brother and her bullies in school while figuring out her place in the society. Bora Kim presents an honest and poignant take on youth, filled with warm cinematography from Gook-hyun and introduces a powerhouse performance from the young Ji-hu Park. Read the complete review of House of Hummingbird.
3. The Souvenir | Joanna Hogg | Drama
Unlike several tragic romantic movies dealing emphatically with the whole conundrum of a toxic relationship, British film-maker Joanna Hogg’s ‘The Souvenir’ feels like an aching silence that echoes in eternity. Joanna Hogg is in complete command of her craft; nothing in the film feels contrived or obvious. The writing is a masterclass. It’s restrained and often subtle to misunderstand it for abstract narrative.
It’s the story of the baffling toxic relationship Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young girl studying in a film school, had with a charismatic, manipulative Anthony (Tom Burke), a middle-aged man working in a Foreign Office. Anthony wears thin air of mystery throughout the film effortlessly. He gives Julie undivided attention and intently listens to the story of her film project. He takes a keen interest in her story, challenges her ideas, questions her constantly about the story, the reality of it, and the characters. Though he reeks of arrogance, there’s an undeniable charm & gravitas to him.
Julie, the innocent and gentle loving with no opinion of herself, falls head over heels with Anthony. She surrenders herself to the relationship. Her naivety becomes apparent when she couldn’t understand the needle scar in the arms of Anthony. Even when a cocky acquaintance asks her outright what she is doing with a habitual heroin user, she doesn’t get it. Their relationship starts showing cracks as the mystery around Anthony gets deepen. It reaches to the point to threaten her dream of making the film. Anthony shows toxic behaviour, yet Julie is helplessly seduced by him.
Joanna Hogg avoids the usual tropes of portraying the toxic relationships. She doesn’t indulge in unwarranted camera movements, no display of loud behaviour to assert the development of an abusive relationship. A lot of drama happens offscreen but don’t misunderstand it for the weakness as the full-blown honesty ‘The Souvenir’ brims with would take you by surprise. The inconspicuous sharp edges would leave your soul trembling.
2. I Was at Home, But | Angela Schanelec | Surreal
It could also be the most divisive film on the list. Schanelec is often referred to as Berliner Schule auteur. She discards the traditional narrative structure and typical character sketch, and merely use them as a secondary tool to makes us observe and experience at the moment which is ever-changing.
“I Was at Home, But” is a sombre mood piece puzzle. It calls for complete submission into its spiritual arc that often communicates through the cold but moving poetic visuals and strong subtext probing deep into the psychology of the characters. Read the complete review of the film from the Berlin Film Festival.
1. Lara | Jan-Ole Gerster | Drama
Undoubtedly, the best movie of 2019 so far and would prove to be the underrated movie of 2019 as well. Lara is a beautiful and successful woman who has everything but the shocker opening scene of her attempting to commit suicide says a different story. Over the period of one day, director Jan-Ole Gerster gives us a profound insight into the personal life of Lara to understand for the shocking opening scene.
We learn about her restrained relationship with his son, her bitter divorce and unaccepting mother. But what is even more confounding is a small revelation by once Lara’s music teacher that changed her life forever. The greatest accomplishment comes to those who risk humiliation at the cost of scathing criticism.