9 Unexpected (and not-so) Films I Enjoyed in 2019
As the Christmas season draws to a close, I feel a lot of us are left slumped on our sofa, aimlessly scrolling through Netflix for something half decent to watch, whilst simultaneously digging around in the Quality Street tin for one of the good ones (a box of holiday chocolates for the American readers)- and let’s be honest only the shit ones are left by boxing day. Well I’m here to provide some purpose to your post-Christmas come down, with some films I have loved myself through the year. So next time you find yourself in front of the box with nothing to watch, you might be able to take some inspiration from this list. Ranging from 1975-2019, some of the films I have chosen are box office smashes you have likely seen, with a few lesser known discoveries that surprised me.
1. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019) - EXPECTED
One of my favourite releases of the year. The film is about a fictitious movie star called Rick Dalton, and his best friend and stunt man Cliff Booth, living during the final moments of the golden age of Hollywood. Rick happens to live next to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, and as it takes place in 1969 (the year of Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson family) I went into the film a little apprehensive about how the film would approach that. Without revealing too much, I was totally surprised when the pinnacle moment of the film arrived. Tarantino’s reimaging of history was comedic, scary and brilliant. Also, its worth noting that the actor who portrayed Charles Manson also portrays him in the second season of Mind Hunter, which came out this year, which is well worth a watch as well.
2. Le Jeu (Nothing to Hide, Fred Cavayé, 2018) – UNEXPECTED (unless you’re French)
Okay so I think I technically watched it a couple of days before 2019 but it is still getting tagged in. My sisters and I were at a loss of what to watch one afternoon and I had remembered seeing this film advertised, so we decided to get it up on Netflix. A drama/comedy/thriller is sort of how I would characterise it, about a group of French people at a dinner party who decide to play a game where they all put their phones on the table. Whenever a phone buzzes the message has to be read aloud to the group. Lots of scandals and secrets come out and it’s an all-round interesting watch.
3. Tell Me Who I Am (Ed Perkins, 2019) - UNEXPECTED
If you enjoyed Abducted in Plain Sight I would strongly recommend this film. It is a Netflix documentary following the true story of two men, twins, one of whom got into a motorcycle accident at age 18 and totally lost his memory. It was the responsibility of his twin brother, the only face he recognised on waking up, to rebuild his memory and fill in the gaps. However, the life rebuilt for him doesn’t entirely make sense- without spoiling the whole documentary, it becomes apparent that there are certain family secrets that his memory and brother are denying him access to. Now decades later the truth comes out. It is tragic and compelling, one of the most fascinating documentaries I have seen for a while.
4. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015) - UNEXPECTED
2019 was the year I discovered I actually like horror. My mum always told me I had an overactive imagination- any kind of supernatural film would terrify me as a child, and consequently as an adult I’ve not watched many classic horror films. As well as this, the words “horror movie” brought up associations of slasher films, which don’t appeal to me greatly because sometimes the bloodshed just seems gratuitous. But after watching The Witch, I was surprised by how much I could enjoy a film classed a horror movie. The film is set in New England in the 17th century and tells the story of a family terrorised by “the witch of the woods”. Very interesting watch and by the end I was left feeling that it maybe even had feminist elements to it (watch and see, I know not everyone agrees with this).
5. Lemming (Dominik Moll, 2005)- UNEXPECTED
In this same horror vein, Lemming was another film I found surprisingly enjoyable. I would say it is maybe a lighter horror, or even a thriller. Lemming is a film about a French couple whose life changes for the worse after a strange dinner party with the man’s boss and his wife. As part of a cinema module at university, this film came up on the course and it was quite polarising. A lot of my friends really disliked it, but I found it a really compelling watch. If you aren’t familiar about what a lemming actually is, it’s a rodent originating from Norway that is often associated with a myth of mass suicide. Lemmings tend to follow each other over waterfalls to their death, not in a conscious effort to die, but this tendency has turned into the myth that surrounds it. And if that doesn’t already create an intriguing premise for a horror…
6. A Simple Favour (Paul Feig, 2018) - EXPECTED
I don’t know if it was the kitsch settings or the quirky French soundtrack (Cue Comment te dire adieu by Françoise Hardy) but this thriller with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively really appealed to me. Maybe not the best plot I’ve ever come across, but the premise hooked me and it was an intriguing and enjoyable watch all the same. I also just really like Blake Lively.
7. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)- EXPECTED
I might be a little late on this bandwagon. I’ve never felt too compelled to watch Jaws but bored one evening, after watching an episode of a documentary it was mentioned in, I decided to put it on. Great decision. I feel like there is very little to say here that hasn’t already been said. The idea that the music representing the shark (you know the notes I’m referring to) can create so much anticipation and fear without seeing so much as a fin is a testimony to how powerful it is. And fun bit of trivia- I found out the title of Jaws in French is “Les Dents de La Mer” (the teeth of the ocean).
8. Je Ne Suis Pas Un Homme Facile (I am not an easy man, Éléonore Pourrait, 2018)- UNEXPECTED
Okay sorry one last French film. My friend recommended me this film after we had an intense conversation about catcalling. Je ne suis pas un homme facile is a comedy about a misogynistic, narcissistic man who hits his head and wakes up in a matriarchal society, where the gender roles are reversed and it is the men rather than the women who experience everyday sexism. One thing I particularly enjoyed was the little easter eggs planted in, referencing classic cinema moments. One moment shows the protagonist looking out of his window into an apartment across from him, where he sees a man on a pretend date with himself and sobbing at the dinner table (reminiscent of Miss Lonely Heart in Rear Window). Another is in two separate scenes when a film meant to be Le Mépris is playing on television- Bardot’s character is replaced by a male actor, with his body becoming the object of the female gaze instead. The film has some really funny moments and on a level of entertainment, I did like it a lot, whether or not the feminist message works (I can’t decide).
9. The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)- UNEXPECTED
A spur of the moment trip to the cinema one night with my sister and her friend led us to seeing The Souvenir- probably my favourite film on the list. It’s an independent, British, semi-autobiographical film about a tumultuous relationship between a film student and an older man. The semi-autobiographical nature of it gives the film a very realistic feel, dealing with difficult issues such as toxic relationships and drug abuse. An added nice detail is that Honor Swinton Byrne is in it (the main actress), playing the daughter of her real-life mother Tilda Swinton. It is hard to write too much about the plot without spoiling it but it is quite a heavy watch (but fully rewarding) and I found it very moving.