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[OPINION] The Best Films of 2019



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2019 has been an interesting - and very good - year for film despite getting off to a slow start, and given that we're now approaching the end of January 2020 (which usually gives me enough time to catch up on some of the films that I missed out on when they aired theatrically earlier in the year), I thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of my favourite films of 2019. Before we get this list underway I can't stress this enough: this is entirely a personal list that is reflective of my tastes and my tastes in film alone, and just because your favourite film missed out on this list doesn't mean that I don't think it's good, it's just that I've only got space for 25 movies and loved these 25 movies so, so much. I also haven't seen every 2019 release - although I did watch over 100 films that were released last year, but there's the odd few, like I Lost My Body, Missing Link, Dolemite is My Name, Beanpole, Harriet, Richard Jewell, Bait, Long Shot, Frozen 2, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood & Judy to name a few big films that I didn't get around to watching in time before making this list but will do my best to watch when I can and remedy that.

25. ROCKETMAN

I wasn't expecting Rocketman, which on the surface looked to be another by the numbers musical biopic to be as good as it was. This is in no small part due to the brilliant performance of Taron Egerton, who like many on this list, was robbed at an Oscar nomination, as he really comes to life as Elton John in a career best role after the two worked together on Kingsman: The Golden Circle. It's a musical fantasy that takes creative risks with the biopic formula and proves that you can have a musical film that is more than just an greatest hits compilation, injecting some heart and emotion into a movie that absolutely earns all its big, epic musical numbers, making them all the more rewarding because of it, be they I'm Still Standing's rapturous end-credits recreation of the classic music video or Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting's epic, seamless transition between two Elton Johns - transforming Kit Connor into Taron Egerton when he steps out on our screen as a teenager about to begin his rock and roll adventure. Based on the energy that Dexter Fletcher brings to this project I can't wait to see what he does next. If you thought you were done with the biopic genre - Rocketman will be the one that you'll want to make an exception for.

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24. ONCE UPON A TIME IN... HOLLYWOOD

Quentin Tarantino's most mature and experienced film of his career to date, Once Upon A Time in... Hollywood is one that I've seen a few times now and have liked it more every time I've revisited. Granted, it's not without its issues with in particular the Bruce Lee treatment being almost unforgivable an the pacing could be better in parts, but the film nails the atmosphere and setting of the 1960s time period and does justice to Sharon Tate, remembering her for how she lived not how she died. Performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt make the most out of the chemistry that both actors share playing electric characters as a culture battle plays out across the film - between the dying days of a Hollywood that they are clinging to and the arrival of a new generation of young stars that look set to replace them. It's hard to pinpoint a scene from this one that stands out as a clear favourite and that says something about how good this movie is. Is it the tensest moment of the film when Brad Pitt's character Cliff Booth arrives at Spahn Ranch, occupied by the Manson Family cult? Or is it the divisively shocking and bloody of a final act that follows a memorable sequence set to The Rolling Stones' Out of Time, where cinematographer Robert Richardson is at his very best? There's just too many to pick from - but in a movie where for the first time Tarantino brings real, human people to life before our eyes, a standout would be both Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth bonding over Dalton's 'big FBI moment', that's one of the film's quieter scenes which does an excellent job at showing the unbreakable bond that both characters share, something that's so important to the film working as well as it does.

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23. BOOKSMART

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is one of the decade's finest comedies (and certainly the best studio comedy of the decade), taking two Straight A teenagers and putting them through four years worth of partying that they missed out on whilst studying into one night that will be one of the most entertaining, wild and unexpected of their lives. Kaitlyn Dever needs no introduction for fans of Justified but she shows how much talent she has here, sharing completely authentic chemistry with the equally talented Beanie Feldstein. This film feels like the definitive modern high school movie for the ages, and I was in love with it long before the Almost Famous reference provided by a scene-stealing Billie Lourd, the stunning extended party sequence towards its insanely satisfying climax, and its memorable graduation speech that won't be easy to forget.

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22. THE LIGHTHOUSE

2019 is the year for horror directors delivering excellent sophomore efforts to their feature-length debuts and Robert Eggers is no different to any of the other directors on this list, remarkably talented and not afraid of pushing boundaries in favour of creating one of the most unique cinematic experiences of the last few years. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play lighthouse keepers stranded on an island forced to survive without contact with the outside world as a power struggle develops between the two men. Entirely removed but not unrecognisable from The Witch, Eggers' debut, The Lighthouse is a bleak, inhospitable film shot entirely in black and white that will haunt your nightmares, The influences of films like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining can be felt in this psychological thriller, as like many on this list, it's not a crowd-pleaser or an easy film to like - but I wouldn't have it any other way.

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21. HONEY BOY

Alma Har'el's breakout debut is one of the best and most personal films of the year for writer and actor Shia LaBeouf, who is entirely unrecognisable from his days of running through explosions underneath the battles of giant, CGI'd Transformers taking place around him. LaBeouf delivers the best performance of his career to date as a father of a child star who is trying to mend their broken relationship, with his characters' son played at two different ages by both Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges. We see the emotional toll that the father as had on the boy's life, with Har'el showing audiences a side of Hollywood that not many will have encountered before, entirely removed from the glitz and the glamour. The performances from the entire cast are both tender and emotional, and FKA Twigs fans will appreciate a supporting role in this inventive, soul-destroying film that pulls all the punches possible.

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20. HIGH LIFE

Robert Pattinson has been cast as the next Batman and his transformation into one of the best actors currently working is complete with High Life, a masterful space odyssey about convicts sent into the unknown with no chance of survival. It's a suicide mission to explore a black hole in the near future, and the film's bizarre storytelling centres on the loneliness of space travel and the weird encounters that come with it. Pattinson's Monte must look after his baby daughter against all odds, and with compelling performances from both Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth in particular, High Life looked majestic on the big screen and more than delivered on its ambitious, unusual premise that is quite unlike any other space story of the past few years. Director Claire Denis has built a career out of exploring the unconventional, and this may be her most unconventional film yet.

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19. HUSTLERS

Lorene Scafaria is one of the many breakout directors of the year that the Academy completely overlooked, and it's a crying shame to see that Jennifer Lopez' performance in a supporting role didn't earn her what would have been a much deserved awards nod either, especially given that it's her best since starring in the Steven Soderbergh classic Out of Sight. Hustlers sees Scafaria take the audience on a ride-or-die story that follows a group of strippers who try to get revenge on their Wall Street clients following a massive stock market crash that shaped the American economy and saw them get away without any consequences whatsoever. Echoing the look and feel of an early Martin Scorsese movie if it was made in the mid-2000s, this film comes with some pitch-perfect needle drops that are executed perfectly (not even including a cameo from the very real Usher). As scene-stealing as Lopez is it's also important not to overlook Constance Wu's performance as Destiny, in this electric, exciting film that's full of non-stop fun. It's rare that you get a film that rocks as hard as Hustlers, and I can't praise it enough.

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18. US

Jordan Peele's revolutionary debut Get Out proved to be a real game-changer in the horror genre and deserved its best picture nomination. It's a shame to see that so far Us has been completely overlooked by awards bodies as it more than lives up to the expectations that audiences had going into Peele's sophomore effort. Making use of an ingenious concept about doppelgangers to tell a gripping horror story that's not without its brilliant usage of pitch-black humour (remember when an N.W.A. needle drop kicks in during the home invasion sequence?), Us shows that Peele is here to stay, in no small part due to just how good Lupita Nyong'o's performance is in her two roles, unforgettable in both, lifting the film to all new heights. Michael Abels' score further enhances the mood laid down by Peele to devastating effect, and if you ever find yourself putting this one lower and lower down your best of the year lists as time goes by, you need to revisit it to see just how well it holds up, because it most certainly does.

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17. 1917

Sam Mendes has always been a bit hit and miss for me even outside of the James Bond franchise, I loved Skyfall but hated Spectre and wasn't a huge fan of American Beauty which has not held up well at all. Thankfully, 1917 more than delivered on all the hype with its audaciously beautiful cinematography from the legendary Roger Deakins to truly craft something special. It may be a gimmick film and there is no getting around that, but the fact that 1917 is a good gimmick movie cannot be denied, using the one take shot editing style that films like Birdman and Russian Ark (actually filmed in one take) have utilised before to create an unforgettable experience. If there was ever a film to be seen on the big screen, 1917 was it - breathtaking from the first scene to the last, complete with breakout performances by the talented George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. The supporting cast are excellent too and don't let their star names overshadow the plot, with Richard Madden making a memorable impression in his only scene.

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16. AD ASTRA

Brad Pitt's solo odyssey into space may be one of the more divisive picks on this list but I adored it, James Gray's masterpiece feels like a Terrence Malick film in all the right ways, pushing the main character to the limit in the search of his father. It's a slow burn of a film that explores the relationship between father and son, and provides a more introspective character study than a sci-fi epic that many might have been expecting. It makes a good companion piece with Damien Chazelle's First Man, unjustly finding its brilliant cinematography snubbed at every turn, with regular Christopher Nolan collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema really capturing the emptiness of deep space, allowing Pitt's character Roy McBride feeling more and more alone the further he leaves Earth behind. The score, as expected from Max Richter, is nothing short of majestic, and Ad Astra as a result despite its otherworldy setting feels like one of the most human films of the year, a near-perfect accomplishment from the director of The Lost City of Z.

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15. UNCUT GEMS

The Safdie Brothers have given us a breakout hit in 2017 with the Robert Pattinson-starring Good Time and have returned again with one of the most stressful movies of the year, a pure nevre-wracking experience that hits you like a punch to the gut. Adam Sandler delivers one of his best performances of his career and arguably his best if Punch Drunk Love did not exist, making audiences care for a truly despicable con artist who we should by all rights hate. It's part of Sandler's charm that this film works as well as it does, with the Safdie Brothers crafting a memorable atmosphere that echoes the films of Martin Scorsese and captures the same atmosphere of 1970s New York even in its present day setting. Julia Fox, Lakeith Stanfield & Idina Menzel all flesh out the cast with peformances that will leave you breathless, unable to tear your eyes away from the screen by the time the film is over, wrapped up in Sandler's chaotic energy and wanting his character Howard Ratner to land that big score that he's always searching for. You won't soon forget Daniel Lopatin's psychedelic score in a hurry either, as it's simply a masterclass, feeling like something straight out of Akira.

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14. MARRIAGE STORY

Adam Driver puts in one of the best performances of the year but that shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who's up to date with his filmography, or at the very least seen a lot of his films; he's arguably the best actor of the 2010s and this performance only confirms that, as his character Charlie is caught in the middle of a divorce with Scarlett Johansson's Nicole. It's a film that has a fantastic performance from the entire cast involved: Johansson is great, Merritt Wever steals the show with just one major scene, and the battle of lawyers where Ray Liotta and Laura Dern go head to head in a courtroom is one for the ages. Noah Baumbach injects humour, heartbreak and energy into Marriage Story that completely sells the film's exploration of two flawed, imperfect characters, and seeing Randy Newman deliver an excellent score outside of the Toy Story franchise is just a delight.

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13. A HIDDEN LIFE

Terrence Malick has always been a divisive filmmaker but his recent efforts like Song to Song and Knight of Cups have been even more divisive than his previous work, avante-garde experiments with little in the way of straightforward narrative storyline. As good as those two films were it's refreshing to see Malick return to a more narrative approach with A Hidden Life, a film that tells the story of a farmer and his wife living in Austria during the days of World War 2, and the quiet resistance of one man who refused to fight for the Nazi Regime. It's sombre, harrowing and tough to watch, coming in at almost three hours long, A Hidden Life provides a character study of those who fought against the Germans through small acts of non conformity, even if it makes them pariahs among their own people. Malick adds a touch of delicateness to it found in few other filmmakers' works, rich and rewarding in all the best possible ways, and August Diehl and Valerie Pachner both add human touches to a never ending story of despair, set against a beautiful backdrop of nature that Malick always delivers on.

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12. ATLANTICS

2019 should be regarded, if anything, as the year of Claire Mathon, whose cinematography is a work of art. Playing an instrumental role in helping Portrait of a Lady on Fire look as good as it is, Mathon also makes Mati Diop's Atlantics truly stand out among the crowd of Netflix originals with unforgettable results, offering a look at migration using a ghost story as a backdrop to the film's main storyline that explores the doomed romance between Ada and Souleiman, showcasing how they fell in love before Souleiman leaves the country by sea in search of a better future. It's a heartfelt tale that sees both Mame Bineta Sane & Ibrahima Traore give performances to be reckoned with, and is one of those films that is best watched without knowing anything about it whatsoever - I didn't watch a trailer or even read a review going in, with the results being all the more rewarding because of that.

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11. TRANSIT

Giving Anna Seghers's novel a fresh coat of paint, Transit opts for an interesting twist that makes it feel more timely with every passing day - keeping its World War 2 plot about a character trying to escape Nazi occupied France in search of a better life but moving the timeline forward to present day Marsielle under an occupied regime, Christian Petzold's film is simply unforgettable. It looks and feels perfect, taking clear influence from the likes of Jean-Pierre Melville, my all-time favourite director, so there was a no-brainier that I was going to love it. Its picturesque cinematography is jaw-dropping thanks to the commanding brilliance of Hans Fromm. The love story that develops between a man posing as a dead author and a woman searching for her missing husband could not be more emotional, with excellent performances by Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer in particular that elevate the film to greater heights. If anything this film could double as a ghost story, a film about a man out of time, where even the protagonists where clothing from an older generation and mobile phones are scarcely seen. Pivotal, generational and essential viewing, it's sad that this film has swept under the radar of many.

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10. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

I waited until today to finally getting around to watching this movie and I'm really glad I watched it before publishing the list, it's one of the most visually astounding films that I've ever seen, and one of the boldest. Bi Gan's film feels so clearly inspired by the likes of Wong Kar-Wai and David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return making it a perfect experience for fans of both, planting the movie so hardly in the noir genre yet finding a clever way to subvert the audiences' tropes and expectations to give an experience unlike anything seen before. Starting off with a simple hook of a man named Luo Hongwu returning to his hometown Kaili in search of the woman whom he loved, the film gives way to become a mystery wrapped with in an enigma that there are no clear answers to, exploring the mind of a man and his memories. Few directors have the audacity to put their titlecard at the 70 minute mark of a film, but that's something that Gan relishes in doing so, before following it up with an even riskier move - unleashing a breathtaking one-take sequence that stays with us to the end of the film that will never be forgotten.

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9. PAIN AND GLORY

One of the films on this list that earns the "every frame is a painting" comparisons on this list is the truly beautiful Pain and Glory. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar delivers a remarkably poignant, powerful film about a director coming to terms with the life that he's lived, his lovers, his mother and his actors that he worked with over the course of his career. Taking audiences from a small village in Valencia to the bustling heart of Madrid, Pain and Glory contains three sensational performances. There are memorable supporting roles for Asier Etxandia and Leonardo Sbaraglia but it's Antonio Banderas who puts in the best performance of 2019 to date, captivating audiences' attention. The scenes where Salvador Mallo reunites with both Federico Delgado to reminisce about the past as a ruly youth are heartbreaking, and Asier Etxeandia shows that he deserves your consideration for best supporting actor with a powerful, committed mini-performance of a one-man play that rivals that depicted in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. And that ending is up there with one of the most bittersweet of the entire year.

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8. THE FAREWELL

The Farewell is one of the best debut films of the year. It's a masterclass exploration of a class of cultures, blending comedy with tragedy in a way like few other directors have managed this year. Lulu Wang's unique film allows Awkwafina to shine (earning a Golden Globes nomination in the process) as an independent Chinese-American woman who returns to her family's home in China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis, but that's where the real plot kicks in: Billi has to struggle with her family's decision to keep her grandma in the dark about the illness that she's really going through, including participating in a fake wedding that leads to some outright hilarious results but not before hitting you with a roller-coaster of emotions. Zhao Shuzhen puts in a memorable performance in a supporting role as Billi's grandmother that brings extra depth and heart to a film already full of it.

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7. KNIVES OUT

A Rian Johnson whodunit. Agatha Christie updated for the 21st Century in an achingly on point way that feels like a direct response to critics of Johnson's career best work thus so far, The Last Jedi, Knives Out proves that there is still fresh life to be had in murder mysteries by injecting plenty of fun into the script that keeps the audience on edge at every turn. Daniel Craig's bizarre but hilarious Benoit Blanc leads the way as a modern Colombo or Poriot, called upon to investigate a murder of a family matriarch and thrust into a world of backstabbing, treachery and murder. Every member of the Thromberry household could be a suspect, and with a fortune on the line, the knives are more than ready to come out again. The cast, full of big names that include Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette, are so clearly having fun as they inject passion and warmth to a film that is a surefire bet to be an instant crowdpleaser, one of those rare movies that's more entertaining with a larger audience.

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6. MONOS

Alejandro Landes' Monos has been compared to the likes of Apocalypse Now, Aguire, the Wrath of God and Lord of the Flies and it matches the same intensity of Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War epic, focusing on eight child soldiers (with names like Rambo, Boom Boom, Lady and Wolf) stranded on a mountain top protecting a hostage and a conscripted milk cow, things go awry when the cow dies and a hostage escapes, sending any plans that they had for the foreseeable future into immediate chaos. It's raw, gritty and visceral, so intense I had to watch it twice at the cinema to fully let it sink in, lead by a completely transformative performance by Moisés Arias. This film is an excellent case study into the true horrors of war and will leave you unable to forget it after watching it for the first time. Jasper Wolf's cinematography is jaw dropping and Mica Levi delivers what might just be my favourite score of the year, creating a hauntingly hypnotic experience.

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5. LITTLE WOMEN

Gerta Gerwig's energetic, fun and lively follow up to Lady Bird is an adaption of the classic novel by Mary Lou Alcott that is such an easy viewing it should be a crime. You'll be taken on an emotional rollercoaster throughout the film that immerses you in the lives of four March siblings growing up in the middle of the American Civil War, finding yourself completely invested in the characters from the word go thanks to performances by actors who deserve to be in consideration for awards. Saoirse Ronan puts in the best performance of her career to date as aspiring writer Jo, whilst Florence Pugh manages to steal every scene as her sister Amy, and Emma Watson, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet and Elizabeth Scanlen all impress. Alexandre Desplat's score is creative and helps make this film feel unlike any period drama that's quite gone before it. I laughed, I came close to crying, and it's one of those films that I saw this year that had me leaving the cinema needing to see it again.

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4. THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

Joe Talbot's inspiring debut is a love letter to the city of San Francisco that argues that you can't hate a place until you loved it. It's a passionate defence of the city that brings it to life before our eyes through to lifelong friends, one of whom will stop at nothing to reclaim his childhood home. Both Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors put in compelling turns with a believable and authentic friendship that is put to the test over the course of the film, with both characters finding themselves in a city that is starting to leave them behind. Poetically illustrated from start to finish, Adam Newport-Berra's cinematography is something to be marvelled at and Emile Mosseri's score is unforgettable, creating a perfect backing track for audiences to fully immerse themselves in the lives of the characters.

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3. THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese's swan song to the gangster genre that he shaped almost entirely by himself almost feels like an end of an era. It's not his last movie, he's already started working on his next one, but it feels like a goodbye to a genre that he's spent his whole life working on. Focusing on Frank Sheeran, a real-life mobster, the film looks at the underbelly of the mob with an ambitious and riveting attention to detail, boasting a brilliant performance from a de-aged Robert DeNiro. Much of the attention will be on the supporting performances as both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci put in unforgettable performances from start to finish, with Pacino's loud and commanding Jimmy Hoffa acting as a nice counterpart to Pesci's quiet and sombre Russell Bufalino. It's one of the legendary director's best films in years, as regardless of its length, it's something that is worth every bit of an undertaking. Netflix may not be making a profit back on the budget that they spent to de-age Robert DeNiro and give The Irishman the authenticity that it needed to work, but I'm glad that they put this thing out into the world for all to see, and gave it a theatrical release date so that those who wanted to see it on the big screen like myself could.

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2. PARASITE

The reviews weren't kidding about how good this film was, it more than lived up to the hype allowing for one of the best cinematic experiences of 2019. It's an eat-the-rich, anti-capitalist film that commands the audience to think beyond just its tightly woven, cleverly planned screenplay about a poor family who take advantage of their son's new job as an English tutor to a child of a rich family to infiltrate the household. It's tense when it needs to be but also brilliantly funny, complete with clever set design (this film gets the award for best house 2019) that feels real and lived-in. Bong Joon-Ho's breathtaking direction is unparalleled, with the film's ensemble proving to be one of the best of the year: Song Kang-Ho and Park So-dam are among the standouts in a movie where everyone is at the top of their game. That flood sequence at a crucial turning point in the film feels special, it's one of the most finely crafted sequences in cinema for not just of the year but of the decade. I can't wait to watch it again.

"I just feel comfortable here. It feels like I was born here. Maybe I had my wedding here, too. In my old age, love will comfort me."

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1. PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

Céline Sciamma's romantic period drama set in Brittany at the end of the eighteenth century lives up to all the hype. It's a rewarding crowd-pleaser of a film set against the backdrop of a desolate island in the middle of nowhere, beautifully directed with another stellar effort from cinematographer Claire Mathon where every frame looks like a painting. The lead performances by Noémie Merlant & Adèle Haenel are flawless, as both play a painter and a bride-to-be who develop strong feelings for one another sharing clear, intimate chemistry. It's tender, intoxicating and damn near as perfect as any film could get this year, showcasing the ups and downs of their relationship. Sciamma has a way of captivating the audience's attention from the word go with one of the finest films of the 2010s, following up on her masterpieces that were Girlhood and Tomboy, that are every bit as worth a watch as this. Instant classic is a term that gets thrown around all too often but it absolutely applies here.

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HONOURABLE MENTIONS: I thought I'd end it with the films that didn't quite make the list as I had to have a cut-off point somewhere, but are every bit worth seeking out if you can, in a purely unranked order.

Waves, The Nightingale, Midsommar, Doctor Sleep, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, Blinded by the Light, Non-Fiction, Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé, Captain Marvel, I Am Easy to Find, John Wick 3: Parabellum, Wild Rose, High Flying Bird, Avengers: Endgame, Apollo 11, Diego Maradona, Crawl, Toy Story 4, The Souvenir, Jojo Rabbit & Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story


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