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20 Years of Film - 2019


8th December 2020
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Posted in: Articles

Exploring our favourite films in the year 2019

In this blog series, George and Matt from the Monitor Audio team explore their favourite movies from the last 20 years.

Our selection of films may not be critically acclaimed or box office hits, but have stood the test of time as our favourite movies.

Do you agree with our list? Let us know your favourite movies from the year 2019 on Facebook and Twitter!

 

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood - George's Top Pick

Dir: Quentin Tarantino | Sony Pictures

Director Quentin Tarantino led an ensemble cast for this modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood's golden age, set in LA.

Western TV series Bounty Law, based on real-life series Wanted Dead or Alive, features Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). Once a star, Dalton begins to realise that his career is waning, turning down opportunities abroad, deeming they’re not worthy of him. Rick lives in a luxury home in Benedict Canyon, where neighbours Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), and movie director, Roman Polanski, have just moved in.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s friend and stunt double, has a mysterious past. Living in a trailer with his pit bull, he struggles to find work due to his antics, including fighting with Bruce Lee on set. After Dalton tells Booth that living next door to Polanski could be the chance to become a big name again, we see Tate watching herself at the cinema, which is screening her latest film. During a conversation with his young co-star on the set of Bounty Law, Dalton is briefly filled with confidence, only to forget his lines. However, during a breakdown, the director is impressed with his passion. Upon dropping off a hitchhiker to Spahn Ranch, where Booth himself once worked, he notices the Manson Family have moved in. After a brief encounter with the owner, Booth beats up one of the hippies, after finding he had punctured his tire. Despite initially declining, Dalton and Booth head to Italy, for a six-month stint on a Spaghetti Western series. Back in LA, Dalton arrives at his apartment as he and Booth continue to drink, toasting an end to their working relationship. Booth then unknowingly scares away Manson Family members, who had planned to murder Tate, but they foolishly turn their attentions, when they recognise him from the ranch.

During a violent confrontation, Booth, along with help from his pit bull, gruesomely kills each of the family members. As the medical team treat Booth, Dalton is welcomed next door, to share a drink with Tate.

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s most vibrant film yet. With incredible chemistry from its cast, this slow building comedy-drama transports you back to 1969, with a perfect mix of history and fantasy.

 

Parasite - Matt's Top Pick

Dir: Bong Joon-ho | CJ Entertainment

From director Bong Joon-ho comes this wonderfully layered thriller, about a family infiltrating a rich family household in dark circumstances.

In a cramped basement apartment in Seoul, South Korea, live the Kim family, consisting of mother Chung-sook and father Ki-taek, alongside their children, daughter Ki-jung and son Ki-woo. Unable to pay their bills, Ki-woo takes it upon himself to help the struggling family. Whilst the rest of them fold pizza boxes for a local delivery company, Ki-woo poses as a university student, to take over his friend’s job as an English tutor for a wealthy family.

After impressing in an interview, Ki-woo begins working for the Park family, tutoring their daughter and soon persuades Ki-jung to do the same, as she takes a job as an art therapist for the family’s son. Ki-jung falsely accuses the chauffeur of unprofessional behaviour and unbeknownst to the Parks, recommends her father Ki-taek as their new driver. Soon, the three work to sabotage the housekeeper, to allow mother Chung-sook to take over. Not long after, the Kim’s have the luxury home to themselves, when the Park family go camping. But one evening, the former housekeeper arrives and asks to gather some belongings she left behind in the basement. They discover that the housekeeper’s husband has been living in their basement for four years, but when she threatens to expose the family, they trap them in the bunker. During a huge storm, the Kim’s return home, to find it under water and all of their possessions destroyed. A birthday party for the Parks' young son doesn’t go to plan, when Ki-woo enters the bunker to find the housekeeper has died. Her husband seeks revenge, hitting Ki-woo with a rock, before fatally stabbing Ki-jung in front of the Park family and their guests. Chung-sook fights back, killing him, before Ki-taek kills Mr Park in a rage, for the lack of empathy shown towards his daughter, before fleeing.

With the police hunting him, Ki-taek spends the following months living in the bunker, in the hope that Chung-sook and Ki-woo will soon return.

This entertaining but poignant film about social class is extremely raw, and also brings witty humour. With its lightening fast pace, Parasite could fit a number of genres, and ultimately it’s a brilliantly told story.

 

1917

Dir: Sam Mendes | Entertainment One

This epic World War 1 drama, from director Sam Mendes, follows two young British soldiers, ordered to deliver a message of huge importance.

As the Germans pull back from northern France, to take a new defensive position at the Hindenburg Line, the British send pilots to observe their behaviour. Unaware of their movement, the Second Battalion prepare to attack, leading General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to send word of their strategy and order them to fall back.

Without phone lines, which have all been cut, Erinmore turns to William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), two young British lance corporals. After being told of the German’s plans, realising his brother, Lieutenant Joseph (Richard Madden), would be part of that attack, Blake quickly heads off, with Schofield in tow. With 1,600 lives at stake, the responsibility to make their way across no mans land, falls on their shoulders. They soon reach underground barracks, after navigating through abandoned German trenches, but a tripwire almost kills them. Arriving at a farmhouse, a German plane lands close to them, but the surviving soldier fatally wounds Blake, when trying to save him. As Schofield kills the soldier, Blake requests that he write to his mother, before taking his last breath. Schofield is taken to the commune of Écoust-Saint-Mein by British forces, but during an exchange of fire with a sniper, he is knocked unconscious. After waking to find the town in flames, Schofield takes refuge in a French woman’s home, helping her to feed her newborn baby. With time running out, he makes a move to the riverbank, encountering numerous enemies along the way. Finally, he reaches the Devonshire Regiment, but struggles to find Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As the infantry begins its charge, he finally finds him and delivers the message, by making his way through an open battlefield. Schofield then passes Blake’s rings and dog tags to his brother Joseph, who survived the first wave, and is given permission to write to their mother.

This astonishingly complex spectacle from Mendes is a unique experience; as the effect of two continual takes puts you directly in the firing line. Elaborate, exhausting and captivating, 1917 is a masterpiece.

 

Ad Astra

Dir: James Gray | 20th Century Studios

This realistic depiction of space travel, from director James Gray, sees an astronaut venturing into the unknown, in search of his distant father.

In the 21st century, astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) and his team set up the "Lima Project", as they went out in search across the galaxy for intelligent life. After reaching Neptune, communication stopped and the crew were never heard of again.

Now in the late 21st century, SpaceCom inform Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) that power surges across the solar system are being traced to his fathers project. Roy makes his way to the Moon and is joined by Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland), one his father’s closest companions, and informs him that his father may still be alive. As they reach the far side of the Moon, they become embroiled in an on-going war, as pirates kill their escorts. Roy makes his way to Mars with a small crew on-board the Cepheus. When a space station releases a distress signal, they investigate, discovering vicious baboons, which kill the captain. As Cepheus lands on Mars, Roy is tasked with recording voice messages to his father, in the hope he’ll make contact. The facility director prevents Roy from hearing his father’s response, and then tells him he isn’t welcome to join SpaceCom’s team, who will head for the Lima Project station. Roy soon understands why, when shown footage of his father murdering the crew, when they tried to return to Earth. Roy persuades the director for access to the launch site, so he can talk with his father, before they destroy the station. After an accident claims the life of all crewmembers, Roy reaches the station alone, planting a nuclear weapon. Roy confronts his father, who admits finding extra-terrestrial life means more to him than family. Desperate not to return to Earth, Clifford launches them both into space; as Roy is forced to allow his father to drift away, in order for him make it back to the station.

Upon releasing the projects findings, its determined that humans are the only intelligent life in the galaxy, as Roy returns home to his family.

This lonely journey, in the vast reaches of space, focuses on human conflict, rather than aliens. Alongside its truly breathtaking cinematography, this thought provoking sci-fi from Gray is intriguing.

 

Joker

Dir: James Gray | 20th Century Studios

In this alternative origin story, director Todd Phillips brings us this psychological thriller about a failed clown, aptly known as the Joker.

In 1981, criminal activity sweeps through Gotham City, with unemployment rates at a record high; its residents are vulnerable and deprived. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is disregarded by society and shows signs of mental illness, as he tries to make it as a comedian.

Living with his mother Penny, Arthur witnesses gang activity in their rough neighbourhood and after being attacked, acquires a gun from one of his co-workers. As he visits his local nightclub to perform his comedy routine, his neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) shows her support. Arthur is fired as a clown, after dropping his gun in a children’s hospital. On the way home, still in costume, drunken businessmen on a train test Arthur’s fragile state, but he snaps, shoots and kills them. Arthur is left without medication when the social service program is cut, as protestors donning clown masks, demonstrate against the rich, across the city. Arthur’s favourite talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) shows clips to viewers of one of his recent failed comedy routines. When Arthur comes across a letter confirming he is Thomas Wayne’s illegitimate son, he visits Wayne Manor and briefly interacts with his young son Bruce, before fleeing. Following a confrontation with Sophie, he is asked to leave, and believing that Penny is delusional and not his biological mother, he kills her. When he is invited on to Murray's show, his ex colleagues visit him. Upon murdering one of them, he escapes the police aboard a packed train full of protestors, all dressed as clowns.

On live TV, Arthur is introduced as the Joker and quickly confesses to the murders. After berating Murray for mocking him, he fatally shoots him, and is arrested. As riots break out, Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed, as Bruce is spared. Protestors temporarily release Arthur, before we move forward in time and see him now locked up at Arkham State Hospital.

Although disturbing, Phoenix shines as the Joker in his awkward and mesmerising portrayal. Initially misconceived, Phillips brings us a strangely likeable character, as he slowly emerges as the villain.

 

Uncut Gems

Dir: Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie | Netflix

Directors Josh and Benny Safdie keep us on the edge of our seats in this crime thriller, as a gambling addict struggles to pay his debts.

Set in New York City, 2012, jewellery storeowner Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) finds himself desperately trying to get together enough money to pay back his loan shark. Howard is estranged from his wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), and owes her brother Arno $100,000, leading to further tension, although a divorce has already been agreed. Whilst living with Dinah, he is also in a relationship with Julia, one his employees.

Howard has something he believes will not only pay Arno back, but will also set him for life. Two years prior, miners retrieved a rare black opal from Ethiopia, which Howard purchased. When it arrives, Howard believes it is worth a million dollars. Howard's assistant Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), who recruits high profile clients, introduces Boston Celtics NBA star Kevin Garnett to Howard. When he falls in love with the opal, Howard reluctantly allows him to temporarily hold on to it for one evening, for good luck, giving Howard his NBA Championship ring as collateral in exchange. The ring is immediately pawned and a bet set against Garnett’s performance that evening. When Arno finds out about the bet, he stops it and the next evening they punish him, as Howard also discovers that Garnett still has his opal. Following a fight with Julia, Howard fails to reconcile with Dinah. On the day of the auction, Howard rejects Garnett’s offer of $175,000, but is disappointed when the opal is appraised for significantly less than his initial estimate. Howard accepts Garnett’s initial offer. As Howard gives the money to Julia, he instructs her to bet all the money, once again on Garnett’s performance. As she leaves, Arno along with his goons Phil and Nico confront Howard, but upon realising Julia has the money, Howard locks them in.

As they watch the Boston Celtics win the game in the final moments, Howard wins $1.2 million and lets them out to celebrate, but Phil kills Howard and then Arno, leaving Julia with the winnings.

Uncut Gems is anxiety inducing, as we witness Sandler’s character deteriorate, his addiction pulling him in the wrong direction. This exhausting story provides an excruciating start and a mesmerising end.

 

Us

Dir: Jordan Peele | Universal Pictures

This psychological horror, from director Jordan Peele, follows a family who are attacked by a group of threatening doppelgängers.

A flashback to a summer vacation along the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, introduces us to a young Adelaide. Upon entering the house of mirrors in a funhouse, she encounters a doppelgänger of herself. Years later, now on a vacation with her own family, we find Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) still struggling to come to terms with what she saw that day. Her husband Gabe (Winston Duke), along with their children, Zora and Jason, travel to Santa Cruz. That evening, intruders break into their home, as the family come face to face with their doppelgängers.

Only Adelaide’s doppelgänger Red speaks, telling them that they are called Tethered, sharing a soul with them, but want to be released. As the family escape, they are pursued by their doubles. Whilst Adelaide is trapped, Gabe kills his double Abraham, as Zora hides from Umbrae. As Zora’s double Umbrae cries out for Red, Adelaide escapes and regroups with her family. After running over and killing Umbrae, news reaches them that Tethered’s have been murdering all across the country. When Jason kills his double Pluto, Red abducts him. Adelaide realises that she must rescue Jason and knows exactly where to find Red. In the hall of mirrors, Adelaide confronts Red, as he enters an abandoned underground facility. Red tells her that the government created clones and were trapped for years, with no free will, until she instructed them all to fight back. During a brief fight, Red is killed, as Adelaide and Jason make it to the surface.

Whilst Gabe and Zora recover from their wounds in an ambulance, Adelaide and Jason join them, and as the family driver off into the new, post-apocalyptic landscape, she tells them about meeting her doppelgänger when she was a girl. A flashback shows what we didn’t see in the beginning, as Adelaide becomes trapped, her doppelgänger escapes, as young Adelaide thus became Red.

This socially uncomfortable horror from Peele provides us with a series of puzzles and metaphors. Us is engaging, unsettling and extremely violent, in a film all about America’s misplaced fear of outsiders.

 

The Irishman

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Netflix

Director Martin Scorsese tells the true story of mob hitman and World War II veteran Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, in this epic crime drama.

In the present day, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) reminisces, whilst in a care home, about his days working for a crime syndicate, being hired as a ruthless hitman. A flashback to early 1955, a few years after being discharged, Frank worked as a meat driver for Food Fair, before being accused of stealing goods. It was there that he met Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), through his lawyer Bill (Ray Romano), who introduces Frank to world of contract killing, or as he calls it, painting houses.

Russell is head of the Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family and has ties with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is led by Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), a labour union leader. As Frank impresses in the underworld, he rises to become the chief bodyguard for Hoffa. After Hoffa is sent to prison for jury tampering in 1964 and despite only serving 7 years, he is unable to partake in any further Teamsters activities. Upon release, he ignores the ruling and continues to reclaim his place, as Russell becomes increasingly concerned with his behaviour. With a roomful of Teamsters and mobsters, during a lavish dinner in honour of Frank, he is tasked with warning Hoffa, but is told that he is untouchable, before addressing the room. Just a few years later, Russell chooses Frank as the triggerman, as the dons sanction Hoffa’s murder. In a scheduled meeting in a house in Detroit, Frank kills Hoffa, as his body is cremated and all evidence destroyed. Teamster Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham), along with Russell and Frank are all convicted on various charges, but despite a huge investigation into Hoffa’s disappearance, no charges are brought.

As we catch up with Frank desperately trying to reconcile with his daughters, he comes to the realisation that everyone he worked with in the years gone by have passed away. Now lonely and carrying the secret of Hoffa’s demise on his own, he seeks absolution for his crimes.

Rather than the usual mobster epic, this solemn film from Scorsese focuses more on regret. With some impressive visual craftsmanship, this well-made movie, nostalgically transporting you back in time is superb.

 

Midsommer

Dir: Ari Aster | A24

This horror, from director Ari Aster, follows a student’s trip to Sweden, to celebrate a festival, unaware that it’s being run by a neopagan cult.

Whilst grieving, having lost her sister and parents, student Dani (Florence Pugh) is keen to spend more time with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor). Despite her trauma, Christian has other plans, as he is invited to Hälsingland in Sweden to celebrate friend Pelle's ancestral commune. Also are invited are Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper), who fail to persuade Christian not to invite Dani.

Christian and Josh are both cultural anthropology students and plan to write a thesis on the celebration, which occurs every 90 years. Upon arriving in Sweden, they meet couple Simon and Connie and together, they all take psychedelic mushrooms, as recommended by communal brother Ingemar. Under the perpetual daylight of Scandinavian summer, each reacts differently to the mushrooms, but Dani is unable to shake visions of her sister’s suicide. The group witness two-commune elders jump from a cliff to their death. Despite their shock, they are comforted and told that when elders reach the age of 72, they willingly end their lives. When Connie attempts to leave, she is told that Simon has already left. When one of the members of the community takes an interest in Mark, he is taken somewhere private. After Connie decides to leave on her own, that evening, Josh sneaks in to a temple, which holds sacred runic text, to take photographs, against the wishes of the elders. Before Josh is kidnapped, he sees a man wearing Mark’s skinned face. Unaware, the next morning Dani wins a maypole competition, but then discovers Christian taking part in a sex ritual. As the psychedelic drugs kick in, Dani begins to lose her grip on reality, as Christian is paralyzed, when he tries to run, after finding Josh and Christians bodies.

After being told that Mark, Josh, Simon, and Connie along with four commune members had to be sacrificed, Dani chooses Christian as the ninth and final victim. As the stage is set and the temple is set on fire, Dani slowly begins to take pleasure watching them all burn.

As a community practise the ‘circle of life’, this psychological thriller from Aster is twisted and brutal. Dread builds from the moment they enter the festival, in this nightmare, experienced in broad daylight.

 

Marriage Story

Dir: Noah Baumbach | Netflix

Director Noah Baumbach takes us on an emotional journey, in this realistic drama about a painful and messy divorce.

Set in New York City, married couple Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are beginning to find it extremely difficult to understand why they ever got married. Desperate not to undergo counselling, they see a mediator, but know deep down it’s the next logical step. Charlie works as a theatre director, working with Nicole, who is starring in his upcoming play.

Just as the play is due to move to Broadway, Nicole leaves after being offered the opportunity to star in a television series in Los Angeles. As the couple decide to split amicably, Nicole moves in with her mother and takes the couple’s young son Henry with her, also deciding to hire a lawyer. After being granted a MacArthur Fellowship for his work, Charlie travels to LA to tell Nicole of the news, but instead she serves him divorce papers. Charlie temporality moves close to Nicole and is forced to hire a lawyer, to ensure he doesn’t lose full custody of Henry. Things begin to turn ugly, when Nicole's drinking habits and Charlie’s unreasonable behaviour is brought up in court. Despite this, for Henry’s sake, the couple remain civil, whilst their lawyers look for dirt on one another. Realising their behaviour in court is having a negative effect; not only on Henry, but also with how they feel towards one another, they attempt to discuss terms in private. Soon they are back in court, but friendlier discussions finally leads to terms being agreed. We catch up with Nicole a year later, now in a new healthy relationship, as Charlie’s Broadway show is extremely well received.

Charlie has moved to LA permanently, in order to spend time with Henry. The couples counselling notes, containing all the things Nicole liked about Charlie are read aloud by Henry. As Charlie becomes emotional, its clear the two have moved on and are finally happy apart.

This extremely raw depiction of two people falling out of love is both chaotic and emotional. Baumbach provides us with intimate and heart-wrenching scenes, in this tragic but sincere story, that lingers on.


 

Honorable Mentions:

Dark Waters
Dir: Todd Haynes | Focus Features

Little Women
Dir: Greta Gerwig | Netflix

High Life
Dir: Claire Denis | Thunderbird Releasing

Booksmart
Dir: Olivia Wilde | United Artists Releasing

The Lighthouse
Dir: Robert Eggers | Universal Pictures

 


 

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