My Favourite Films of 2019

As per tradition in March, I will give out imaginary awards to the films that I love most or hold in high regard for the preceding year.


For taking the creative risk of making a three-hour film non-chronologically and meaningfully-layered, as well as matching emotional intensities across time periods in a seamless and poetic way, in a film about the devastating impact of China’s ‘one-child’ policy from the perspective of a working-class couple.


For her formidable and exquisite period piece that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally shattering, about two women who find deep comfort and intimacy in each other.


For a breathtaking and unexpectedly restrained work that is both playful and nostalgic, but more importantly, giving history and imagination an equal stake in the creative process of filmmaking.

  • Best Director – Angela Schanelec (I WAS AT HOME, BUT) for her masterful and highly-calibrated portrait of a German family in existential crisis
    • Special Mention: Gu Xiaogang (DWELLING IN THE FUCHUN MOUNTAINS) for his ambitious and sprawling first feature, with astonishing long takes and an eye for finding poetic beauty in China’s modernising landscape
  • Best Lead Actor – Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe (THE LIGHTHOUSE) for their compelling physical performances that are by turns hilarious and frightening
    • Special Mention: Adam Sandler (UNCUT GEMS) for playing against type in his best ever dramatic performance as an obsessive man who pushes everyone to their limits
  • Best Lead Actress – Noemie Merlant & Adele Haenel (PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE) for their sizzling chemistry and allowing us to experience the intoxicating tenderness of the female gaze in a refreshing and revelatory way
    • Special Mention: Saorise Ronan (LITTLE WOMEN) for her incisive and sensitive portrayal of the iconic Jo March
  • Best Supporting Actor – Al Pacino & Joe Pesci (THE IRISHMAN) for two diametrically-opposite performances that remind us that old is gold
    • Special Mention: Swann Arlaud (BY THE GRACE OF GOD) for his excellent performance as a character scarred by the trauma of past sexual abuse
  • Best Supporting Actress – Jo Yeo-jeong, Lee Jeung-eun, Jang Hye-jin & Park So-dam (PARASITE) for their collective contributions to making the film work so effectively
    • Special Mention: Kathy Bates (RICHARD JEWELL) for her emotional gravitas, particularly a scene where she gives the most heartbreaking five-minute speech of the year
  • Best Ensemble Cast – KNIVES OUT for the year’s most integrated cast of eccentric characters with every role sharply-realised
  • Best Original Screenplay – Gabriel Mascaro et al (DIVINE LOVE) for their audacious and provocative take on religion, sexuality and bureaucracy
    • Special Mention: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won (PARASITE) for their razor-sharp treatise on class issues in South Korea that proved to be universal
  • Best Adapted Screenplay – Greta Gerwig (LITTLE WOMEN) for her skillful and imaginative reinterpretation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal text
  • Best Cinematography – Vladimir Smutny (THE PAINTED BIRD) for his extremely bleak cinematography that creates an atmosphere of collective oppression and fear
    • Special Mention: Leonardo Simoes (VITALINA VARELA) for his extraordinary play with chiaroscuro in service of Pedro Costa’s singular artistic commitment
  • Best Film Editing – Roland Bronstein & Benny Safdie (UNCUT GEMS) for creating the film’s consistent hyper-manic energy resulting in prolonged tension
    • Special Mention: Mark Jenkin (BAIT) for using Eisenstein’s theories of montage in an expressive and original way to comment on contemporary working-class issues
  • Best Production Design – Barbara Ling (ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD) for her sumptuous recreation of ’60s Hollywood
    • Special Mention: Henrik Svensson (MIDSOMMAR) for his charming and surreal sets that help director Ari Aster achieve a sense of an idyllic constant in an increasingly terrifying geographical space
  • Best Costume Design – Dorothee Guiraud (PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE) for her striking use of colour in costuming to heighten mood and feminine intimacy
  • Best Original Score – Alberto Iglesias (PAIN AND GLORY) for his exquisite score
    • Special Mention: Fatima Al Qadiri (ATLANTICS) for her mesmerising electronic-ambient score
  • Best Use of Source Music – PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE for its devastating use of Vivaldi
  • Best Sound – FORD V FERRARI for its superior sound mix and editing that create a strong exhilarating effect
  • Best Sound Design – THE LIGHTHOUSE for its frightening and immersive soundscape
    • Special Mention: THE DAY AFTER I’M GONE for an incredibly subtle sound design that effects subliminal changes in its lead character
  • Best Visual Effects – AVENGERS: ENDGAME for Marvel’s top-tier visual effects work that is still not recognised by the Oscars
    • Special Mention: THE IRISHMAN for its technological breakthrough in de-aging actors
  • Discovery Award (Filmmaking) – Waad Al-Kateab (FOR SAMA) for her extraordinary courage in documenting the personal impact of the Syrian war
    • Special Mention: Ladj Ly (LES MISERABLES) for his incredibly powerful first feature about social injustices and street-level rage
  • Discovery Award (Acting) – Helena Zengel (SYSTEM CRASHER) for her riveting performance as a child with difficulties adjusting to the norms of society

Top 10 Films of 2019:

  1. SO LONG, MY SON – Wang Xiaoshuai (China)
  2. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE – Celine Sciamma (France)
  3. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD – Quentin Tarantino (USA)
  4. PARASITE – Bong Joon-go (South Korea)
  5. FOR SAMA – Waad Al-Kateab & Edward Watts (Syria/UK)
  6. LES MISERABLES – Ladj Ly (France)
  7. FORD V FERRARI – James Mangold (USA)
  8. SYSTEM CRASHER – Nora Fingscheidt (Germany)
  9. THE IRISHMAN – Martin Scorsese (USA)
  10. LITTLE WOMEN – Greta Gerwig (USA)

Special Mention (in alphabetical order):

  • AVENGERS: ENDGAME – Anthony & Joe Russo (USA)
  • BEARS’ FAMOUS INVASION OF SICILY, THE – Lorenzo Mattotti (France/Italy)
  • BY THE GRACE OF GOD – Francois Ozon (France)
  • DAY AFTER I’M GONE, THE – Nimrod Eldar (Israel)
  • DIVINE LOVE – Gabriel Mascaro (Brazil)
  • FAREWELL, THE – Lulu Wang (USA)
  • HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD – Kim Bora (South Korea)
  • I WAS AT HOME, BUT – Angela Schanelec (Germany)
  • KINGMAKER, THE – Lauren Greenfield (USA/Denmark)
  • KNIVES OUT – Rian Johnson (USA)
  • LIGHTHOUSE, THE – Robert Eggers (USA)
  • PAIN AND GLORY – Pedro Almodovar (Spain)
  • PAINTED BIRD, THE – Vaclav Marhoul (Czech Republic)
  • SON, A – Mehdi Barsaoui (Tunisia)
  • SWALLOWS OF KABUL, THE – Zabou Breitman & Elea Gobbe-Mevellec (France)
  • TOY STORY 4 – Josh Cooley (USA)
  • UNCUT GEMS – Josh & Benny Safdie (USA)
  • VITALINA VARELA – Pedro Costa (Portugal)
  • WAVES – Trey Edward Shults (USA)

‘Out of Competition’ – watched outside of 2019 (1 Jan 2019 – 29 Feb 2020) period:

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