From Avengers: Endgame to The Farewell, best films of 2019 so far, and upcoming must-watch releases
From the biggest blockbusters to the smallest indies, a look at the best films from 2019 so far — from John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum to Toy Story 4.
After Alfonso Cuarón's Roma and the Coen Brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs debuted to an all round rapturous reception last year, Netflix attained the validation and marketing power — of fall film festivals and awards — it so deeply craved. Now that it has earned its seat at the cool kids’ table, the streaming giant is confidently spending more on content than any Hollywood film studio — and it'll also release far more projects than its traditional rivals this year.
Its 2019 slate is wide-ranging in terms of content, genre and language but there have been few hits, more misses. But its philosophy of quality through quantity has still given it more to boast about than the Disneys, Warners and Universals. I Am Mother offered more sci-fi thrills than Fox's Alita: Battle Angel. The Perfection offered more twists and scares than Warner Bros' Annabelle Comes Home. Even some of its offbeat films (Velvet Buzzsaw, See You Yesterday) were more entertaining than Warner's Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Columbia's Men in Black: International or Disney's Dumbo.
For the major studios, sequels, remakes and superheroes remain their drugs of choice. Yet, the most interesting take on the superhero genre came from an indie film called Fast Color — not Disney's Captain Marvel, Warner's Shazam!, Universal's Glass or Screen Gems' Brightburn. With Netflix and new indie studios (like A24) starting to offer more satisfying auteur-driven dramas and cinematic comfort food than the so-called Big Five, it's time for Hollywood executives to do some soul-searching.
The first half of 2019 did however leave us a few films we'll forever cherish. We'll take a look at the best of the lot, from the biggest blockbusters to the smallest indies. We'll only be listing the ones that have had a release in India or on Netflix. But we'll make sure to highlight the films that blew us away at Sundance and Cannes earlier this year — and other films you should certainly not miss in the second half of 2019.
2019's most highly anticipated film, Endgame was the culmination of Marvel's decade-long superhero story that unfolded over 22 films — with each drawing more and more crowds to cinemas. There’s formula in this fan service film, but plenty of feeling as well. And sometimes familiar can be a good thing as Endgame provided one of the most unforgettable theatrical experiences as fans laughed, cried and cheered for their beloved Avengers. After the heartbreaking cliffhanger in Infinity War, any ending to the Marvel saga was bound to disappoint some section of fans. But don't let that put you off, because the journey to get to this climax is a rewarding one.
This low-key Netflix dramedy quiety sneaks up on viewers both emotionally and comedically. Mark Duplass and Ray Romano make the comedy seem both spontaneous and organic in a straightforward but genuinely honest drama about dealing with adversity together. It is a celebration of male friendship in all its ups and downs.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
The new instalment in the John Wick franchise is every bit its predecessor's match as far as action goes. It's cinematic nirvana for fans of pure action — which is delivered in unadulterated and steadily increasing doses of adrenaline. But there are also moments of bleak poetry in this Keanu Reeves-fronted ballet of brutality. Director Chad Stahelski is single-handedly rejuvenating a genre with inventive use of close range combat sequences. Sure, most characters only serve the purpose of human punching bags but it lets Keanu Reeves do his thing for over two thrilling hours. And it's glorious.
Jordan Peele's Get Out follow-up starts out as a family dramedy; then it turns into a tense tragedy; and then it just gets genre-flipping insane. Us is as subversive as Get Out but its commentary isn't as coherent. Although the storytelling is ambitious, the story itself is a bit thin and half-baked. Lupita Nyong'o's performance is revelatory, never breaking away into some horror caricature but always living deeply within her character, alternating between protective mother and gleefully deranged psychopath.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me? sealed the arrival of Melissa McCarthy, often typecast as the comic relief, as a dependable leading lady of consistently expanding range. Her dramatic turn as the biographer-turned-literary forger Lee Israel is a full-bodied, foul-mouthed, flaws-and-all portrait of a woman trying to overcome her past. She takes her character to a place of raw, deep emotional honesty but without ever losing Israel's deadpan wit. Richard E. Grant is charming as ever and shares such a natural chemistry with McCarthy. Both their performances provide the life force for this unsparing portrait, which doesn't try to earn easy sympathy votes but instead dwells entirely in the stinking mess of a woman on the edge.
Toy Story 4
By evoking a yearning sense to return to simpler times, cinema can recapture your childhood memories and the powerful emotions that come with them like no other. In an era where nostalgia has become a genre and industry in itself, Toy Story 4 is what happens when memory becomes commerce, commerce becomes cinema, and cinema becomes pure joy. Crafted with trademark Pixar perfection, it’s simply one of the most flat-out entertaining films of the year so far. At the same time, it is also a warm and playful reminder that while we all must leave childhood, we must ensure our childhood never leaves us.
Deadwood: The Movie
Yes, it's a TV movie but it's a movie nonetheless. Of all the films that have released so far in India this year and those available for streaming, Deadwood: The Movie sits at our top spot by an enormous margin — and for good reason. The beloved HBO series finally got the triumphant finale fans longed and hoped for and we can't thank David Milch enough for creating this world and giving us the closure we so desperately needed. It was a pleasure to see Ian McShane's masterfully Machiavellian Al Swearengen once again so beautifully articulate Milch's profane poetry. HBO flexed its lavish production values and took us right back to the old Wild West of South Dakota in a bittersweet but fitting conclusion to one of the greatest TV series ever made.
Though The Farewell is yet to release in India, one earnestly hopes it does so soon. Not only was it the Sundance breakout of 2019, it is heartening to hear that it has already recorded the year's highest per-theater opening weekend box-office average — even better than Endgame.
What we said: “Injecting what is a tragic setup with comic elements requires a precarious balancing act from the filmmaker and star alike, but Wang and Awkwafina traverse the tightrope without a wobble…At times playful, at times poignant, but never dull or uninspiring, The Farewell is a near-perfect film because it's impossible to distinguish its flaws from its joys.” (Read the full review here)
Films to look forward to in second half of 2019
After a mostly disappointing first half of 2019, our eyes inevitably turn to the treats that lie ahead of us. And we should expect a stronger second half as studios (and streaming services) would certainly have saved their award-worthy dramas for the fall festival season.
Beyond these, there are still plenty of films from Sundance (Brittany Runs a Marathon, Honey Boy, Luce, The Report) and Cannes (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Lighthouse) yet to hit theatres worldwide.
Don't forget. We also have these films coming out before the end of the year: Where'd You Go, Bernadette; It: Chapter Two; The Goldfinch; Ad Astra; Jojo Rabbit; Zombieland: Double Tap; Joker; Knives Out; Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; and Little Women. Sleeper hits and potential hidden gems can emerge in any month.
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