Let’s be honest: most of the films you watched this year were either old favourites or shite rom-coms on Netflix. You nursed your weekend hangover while slumped on the sofa in your pyjamas (post-night out) with some posh bloke’s handsome face and a cheesy pizza for company. It’s the truth, don’t deny it.
However, there were a few new releases that enticed you out to the cinema in 2019 (or at least got you to watch something new on your laptop – RIP Friends on Netflix). From creepy horror sequels and tell-all musician biopics to sassy high school comedies and very, very long mob epics, this year was yet another vintage year for film.
So without further ado, here’s NME‘s 20 best films of the year. Give it a read — we promise it’s about 50% shorter than The Irishman.
Words: Kambole Campbell, Rhian Daly, Alex Flood, Nick Levine, Claire Lim, Hannah Mylrea, Nick Reilly, Dan Stubbs, Greg Wetherall, Kyann-Sian Williams.
20‘It Chapter Two’
Director: Andres Muschietti
Even if – by some miracle – you didn’t see It when the Stephen King adaptation smashed box office records in 2017, you’ll probably still recognise Pennywise as the murderous, dancing clown your drunkest mate now dresses up as at Halloween every year. It Chapter Two, the inevitable sequel, provides more of the same bloodthirsty chills, but is perhaps even scarier than the original. 27 years after their first encounter with the clown prince of mime, The Losers’ Club have grown up and moved away from Derry. However, when a mysterious phone call draws them back, everything starts to go a bit pear-shaped again. What follows is a tightly-constructed potboiler that balances humour and horror in a satisfying way. Pennywise might have finally been given the comically large boot, but considering the franchise’s massive success, he definitely has the last laugh.
Best moment: Mouldy decapitated heads singing in a fish tank while the gang catch up over a chinese? Sure. It Chapter Two works best when it’s being totally – and ingeniously – bonkers. AF
Like this, try this: Doctor Sleep, Gerald’s Game
Director: Jennifer Kent
If you’re feeling at all fragile, do not watch this movie. Perhaps the worst hangover film you could possibly choose, The Nightingale revolves around the most shocking sequence you’ll see on screen this year. Without spoiling what happens too much, rape, murder and infanticide all feature. Later, the victim of these crimes, a young Irish convict woman called Clare (Aisling Franciosi), treks across the 19th Century Tasmanian wilderness in pursuit of her tormentor – a British Army officer (Sam Claflin) with the meanest of mean streaks. Definitely the most divisive film on this list, The Nightingale won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but stick with it and there’s a gripping historical revenge thriller to be discovered.
Best moment: The scene where Hawkins (Claflin) takes his anger out on Clare isn’t enjoyable, but it’s certainly memorable. Some won’t be able to watch, but if you do, the images will be seared onto your brain for days afterwards. AF
Like this, try this: The Babadook, Revenge
Director: Alexandre Aja
A massive hurricane hits Florida and aspiring swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her dad Dave (Barry Pepper) find themselves stuck in the basement of his house. With water levels rising, they discover an even bigger threat – bloodthirsty alligators. As the pair struggle to escape, the deluge brings in more ravenous reptiles who seem intent on dining out on any civilians stranded by the fracas. A hugely entertaining disaster movie with (sort of) monster-alligators providing the twist, Crawl is an edge-of-your-seat nail-biter that doesn’t allow you room to breathe.
Best moment: The first time we meet the alligators – just before the water hits the basement – is extremely tense. Snarling jaws and glowing eyes conspire against Haley’s steely determination, and the early stages of the movie are vital when it comes to building suspense. CL
Like this, try this: The Shallows, Arachnaphobia
Director: Martin Scorsese
In what might be the film’s funniest and most morbid running joke, almost every character in Martin Scorsese’s latest film is marked with a time of death from the moment they appear. Adapted from the book I Heard You Paint Houses, about the life of mob assassin Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), The Irishman is transfixed on this inevitable endpoint, the sum of one’s numerous ill deeds. While it’s an often miserable affair, this lengthy film often feels surprisingly fleet – even with ticking clocks surrounding Frank, reminding him and us of life’s impermanence.
Best moment: The Irishman’s painstaking accumulation of little tragedies builds up to a devastating denouement, as Frank is forced to lie to a victim’s daughter about the whereabouts of her father; De Niro putting in his finest work in years as the weight of his sins finally crushes him. KC
Like this, try this: Casino, Silence
16‘Always Be My Maybe’
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Netflix rom-coms tend to be pretty formulaic, high-school set affairs, but Always Be My Maybe is a properly grown-up sleeper hit. Directed by Nahnatchka Khan, who created short-lived sitcom Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 as well as the more successful Fresh Off the Boat, it follows childhood friends, Marcus and Sasha (Aquaman‘s Randall Park and American Housewife‘s Ali Wong), who reconnect when Sasha returns to San Francisco to open a restaurant. It’s not the freshest premise, but Always Be My Maybe transcends its setup because of Park and Wong’s infectious chemistry, and the script – which they co-wrote – is packed with warm humour and clever social commentary. If you only have time for one rom-com this festive season, choose Always Be My Maybe over Last Christmas.
Best moment: The two scenes in which Keanu Reeves gamely sends himself up by appearing as a (slightly) exaggerated version of himself. Without wishing to spoil things, the end credits feature a very funny song called ‘I Punched Keanu Reeves’. Amazing. NL
Like this, try this: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Big Sick
15‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’
Director: Jon Watts
The second Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland succeeds largely because Holland is the best on-screen web-slinger yet. Director Jon Watts, who also helmed fab 2017 reboot Spider-Man: Homecoming, supplies plenty of action razzle-dazzle, but never at the expense of Peter Parker’s convincingly teenage character development. Whether he’s being manipulated by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio, an intriguingly weird baddie by blockbuster standards, or falling awkwardly for Zendaya’s self-assured MJ, Holland’s Spidey is a sweetly endearing superhero you can really root for. No wonder the Internet breathed a collective sigh when it was confirmed that Marvel could make a third Spider-Man movie with Holland.
Best moment: The silly but thrilling action sequence where Spidey gets bashed on the head not once, but twice, by a church bell encapsulates why this film is so infectious; its sense of humour is playful and grounded where some Marvel movies can feel a little too knowing. NL
Like this, try this: Kick-Ass, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Topical as ever, Deptford storyteller Rapman brought his music to the silver screen in this tale of love and war, taking inspiration from growing up surrounded by Peckham and Deptford’s rival gangs. We see Timmy and Marco’s friendship go wrong, humanising the gang members stuck in a painful cycle but also offering an honest portrayal of London’s rising knife crime epidemic. Even a ban from showing in cinema chain Vue’s theaters couldn’t stop this funny, authentic and emotional drama from scoring big.
Best Moment: The start of the film, when we see Timmy and Marco as best friends full of endless laughs. On the bus with the rest of their mates, the two are en route to a college party – although they’re meant to be in year 11 – and make up an impromptu song to get them ready for an epic night ahead, which ends in a scrap and a man threatening everyone with a giant sword. KSW
Like this, try this: Kidulthood, Anuvahood
13‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’
Director: Quentin Tarantino
For his ninth film, Quentin Tarantino looked to the horrific events of 1969 when Charles Manson’s cult, ‘the Family’, gruesomely murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate in her own home. Even 50 years on, it’s an event which casts a long shadow over the American consciousness. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood showcases Tarantino at his best and his self-indulgent worst. Superfluous scenes and a questionable send-up of Bruce Lee miss the mark. But the nerve-tingling set-pieces and reality-defying, bonkers final third with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt more than compensate. When Tarantino’s in this kind of inspired mood, he provides cast-iron proof that he stands in a league of his own.
Best moment: Any number of set-pieces could claim the crown, but the night of the Manson’s attack is where Tarantino removes the shackles, rips up the rule book and tosses the discarded scraps out of the window. Exhilarating, brilliant and heart-pounding entertainment from a one-of-a-kind, gifted virtuoso. GW
Like this, try this: Inglourious Basterds, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Director: Ari Aster
Hereditary director Ari Aster began Midsommar with a proposition that sounded as horrifying as the film’s big climax itself – going on holiday with a partner you’ve secretly been trying to dump for months. Visiting the secret Swedish Midsommar festival is a trip would-be dumpee Dani (Florence Pugh), boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends likely regretted after the serene yet vacant Hårga community slowly, subtly indoctrinate Dani into their cult as everyone else becomes collateral damage when they try to escape. Filled with brutal gore and unsettling visuals, Midsommar was one of the year’s most truly scary horror films.
Best moment: When Dani has a full on meltdown and the Hårga women show their obedience to the May Queen by eerily mirroring her actions. RD
Like this, try this: Hereditary, The Wicker Man
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
A lewd and sweary royal love triangle, The Favourite sticks a middle finger up to anybody who reckons that period dramas are boring and stuffy. Starring Olivia Colman as the miserable and tragi-comic Queen Anne, two women compete to be her court favourite. Released UK-wide on New Year’s Day and shot through wide-angle lenses, the world that Queen Anne rules over is chaotic and vivid. When Abigail (Emma Stone) goes shooting with The Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), blood splatters loudly across her enemy’s face. The queen’s bedchamber is overrun by 17 pet rabbits; she has a breakdown at the suggestion her smokey eye make-up makes her resemble a badger. For all its absurdity, this is ultimately a film about how love makes us mad and its lead actors delivered three of the year’s strongest performances.
Best moment: More like best underrated character. The final credits for this film are a real treat, including ‘Wanking Man’ (played by Paul Swaine) and Callum Lewin’s turn as ‘Nude Pomegranate Tory’. Imagine being able to add those characters to your acting CV. EH
Like this, try this: Dogtooth, The Lobster
10‘Fighting With My Family’
Director: Stephen Merchant
The glistening, muscle-clad world of WWE couldn’t be further removed from the streets of Norfolk, where star wrestler Paige cuts her teeth before becoming one of the youngest champions in history. And yet, it’s the contrast between these two worlds that made Fighting With My Family one of the year’s unexpected gems. Tracing Paige’s journey from amateur wrestling to the big time, it expertly tackles the feeling of always feeling like an outsider, as well as the true cost of achieving your dreams. Bolstered by a brilliant supporting cast that includes Nick Frost and Lena Headey as Paige’s parents, Fighting With My Family has a heart bigger than the Rock’s biceps (or at least one).
Best moment: Paige’s debut at the WWE. It’s crowd-pleasing stuff, but delivered with a triumphant emotional pay-off that could reduce the hardest of wrestlers to tears. NR
Like this, try this: The Fighter, I, Tonya
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Having steered Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody to completion after original director Brian Singer was fired, Dexter Fletcher showed off his flair with this flashier and more audacious movie about Elton John. Played appealingly by Taron Egerton, the piano-tinkling icon is an awkward mix of angst and charisma, self-loathing and showmanship, and though John himself was executive producer, Rocketman doesn’t flinch from showing his messy spiral into addiction or infamous tantrums. Factor in some thrillingly staged song-and-dance numbers and Rocketman becomes a fitting tribute to a genuinely fascinating entertainer.
Best moment: The landmark gay sex scene between Egerton’s Elton and Richard Madden’s John Reid, his toxic lover/manager. Fletcher was reportedly pushed by the studio to remove it so the movie could get a lower age rating, but the fact it stayed in neatly underlines why Rocketman is such a daring and satisfying biopic. NL
Like this, try this: Velvet Goldmine, The Runaways
Director: Rian Johnson
Another example of Rian Johnson’s penchant for cutting a genre to pieces and reassembling the parts into something both familiar and unpredictable, the joy of Knives Out can be found in its upending of the whodunnit. Following ace private Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he unravels the mystery of the death of wealthy book magnate Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the twists and turns of Johnson’s efficient, airtight script are never less than entertaining, as he navigates the various secrets and sins of a toxic family of spoilt would-be heirs.
Best moment: On his way to solving the case, Benoit Blanc gets caught up in his metaphor of the mystery being the hole at the centre of a doughnut, leading Daniel Craig to repeatedly utter the words “doughnut” and “hole” in a number of different configurations and a wonderful, deep-fried Southern accent. KC
Like this, try this: Brick, Gosford Park
Director: Jordan Peele
For his follow-up to Get Out, Jordan Peele turned his lens on the American dream and the imposter syndrome side effect of social mobility. In Us, the Wilsons go on a beach holiday with a difference – mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is reliving her childhood vacations and one very traumatic experience. But her memories were far from the most chilling thing about this gripping horror. A doppelgänger crew that look exactly like her family take that title when they turn up one night, exposing a whole underworld of “tethered” people, determined to take the Wilsons’ comfortable position in the world by any means necessary.
Best moment: When the Tylers – the Wilsons’ insufferable friends – get their own comeuppance with their own bloody home invasion. RD
Like this, try this: It, Get Out
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Based on a New York magazine long-read by Jessica Pressler, Hustlers follows a group of strippers at NYC club Moves. When struck by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the gang, led by veteran stripper Ramona (played immaculately by Jennifer Lopez on career-best form), start fleecing rich Wall Street merchants by drugging them, nicking their account details and racking up huge bank bills. The dazzling Ramona takes the more timid Dorothy (Constance Wu) under her wing and they make an unlikely team, working together and earning unimaginable wealth. Until their operation starts to fall apart…
Best moment: When Usher visits Moves and all the dancers lose their shit. There are also laugh out loud moments – including cameos from Lizzo (who plays the flute in the club dressing room) and Cardi B (who shows Dorothy how to best give a lap dance). HM
Like this, try this: Thelma & Louise, Chicago
5‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’
Director: Chad Stahelski
Keanu Reeves’ series of brutal and beautiful gun ballets reached its zenith with a preposterous, delightful third instalment. With the eponymous hitman now on the run, the labyrinthine mechanics of Wick’s world continued to fascinate, as Wick navigated new corners in order to escape his former employers. But the main draw was still Stahelski’s complex action choreography – no other film this year gave us sword fights on motorcycles, single-take fight scenes with Halle Berry and Reeves working in tandem with attack dogs, and what can only be described as horse-fu.
Best moment: There’s not a single bad action sequence in this film, but Wick dispatching his pursuers in a weapons museum is the highlight. A gunfight turns into a fistfight, followed by the most absurd knife fight ever put on screen. KC
Like this, try this: The Killer, The Man From Nowhere
Director: Olivia Wilde
Actor Olivia Wilde made her directorial debut with a coming-of-age comedy that treated its characters with kindness. Even when Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and their classmates had you in fits of giggles, it always felt like you were laughing with them, not at them. As an examination of the last throes of high school and the ties of teen friendship, Booksmart got everything right and, in Amy and Molly’s quest to catch up on some experiences they’d missed in favour of studying, found a new way to portray the urgency, embarrassment, and rush of young adulthood.
Best moment: Any time Amy and Molly get caught up in a back and forth of extreme complimenting. RD
Like this, try this: Lady Bird, Superbad
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
In a year that saw Disney release Frozen II, The Lion King, Aladdin and close the book on the Star Wars saga, it is frankly incredible that a plot-heavy superhero movie with 22 films-worth of assumed knowledge still came out on top. 22 films! Of course, Avengers: Endgame is no normal film – and now it’s the highest-grossing movie ever there’s less chance you’ll be made to sit through the interminable Avatar (probably on BBC One) this Christmas. And if that is Endgame’s only lasting legacy, it’s still worthy of the top spot.
Best moment: Let’s be honest, goody-two-shoes Captain America is everyone’s least favourite. ‘Ooh, look at me! I love my country so much, my girlfriend died at a normal age – feel sorry for me and my perfect face, musclebound body and luscious hair!’ Nah, sorry mate, not buying it. But when Cap snatched up Thor’s hammer and boshed Thanos in the chops with it, we were cheering in the aisles with the rest of them. AF
Like this, try this: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Director: Noah Baumbach
The opening scenes of indie auteur Baumbach’s debut Netflix film play out like your average Richard Curtis movie, with Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole Barber and Adam Driver’s Charlie Barber listing the things they love about each other. But this is not so much Love, Actually as Love, Really, an emotionally draining and painfully honest but warm-hearted look at what happens when two people choose themselves over each other. Films rarely achieve this level of reality – Marriage Story makes as its end goal not a happy or sad ending, but a sense of life going on.
Best moment: When Driver is in the New York diner where he and Johansson would gather with their theatre company, and she’s the missing element. Struggling to express himself in words, Driver takes the open mic and sings ‘Being Alive’ from the musical Company. It’s high class karaoke as catharsis and it’s absolutely crushing. DS
Like this, try this: Kramer Vs. Kramer, Blue Valentine
Director: Todd Phillips
Many may have crumpled their nose when they heard The Hangover’s Todd Phillips was set to direct DC Comics’ Joker origin story. But my word, did he deliver, catching Joaquin Phoenix in career-best form as the mentally troubled, wannabe comedian Arthur Fleck beaten down by a heartless society until he unleashes bloody revenge. Joker sparked a media debate about incel culture, but also scooped the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and stormed the box office. From the washed-out cinematography to the slow-burn narrative, everything about Joker screamed ‘instant classic’. As the dust settled, it was that final take that remained.
Best moment: Drunk city pricks harass a terrified female commuter on a late-night subway, before turning their attention to Arthur Fleck in full clown regalia. As punches rain down on a wincing Fleck, a sudden blast of shocking retaliation marks the moment the man dies and the Joker is born. GW
Like this, try this: Taxi Driver, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest