Look, let's be honest. Whether we're punching the air in triumph, weeping and cursing, or just plain exhausted, we've all staggered a bit to the finish line this year. 2019 has been a big year for us, and pretty much everyone we know personally. On the balance, for us, it's been a good one, but we're happy for the chance to stop and take a breather.
Here at Cinema Viscera, the year leapt out of the blocks and never stopped racing: We began by launching into pre-production on our second feature, the horror film Apparitions, then shot it over 23 days from mid-March to early May (with another day or two of "second unit"-style exteriors later on). The second half of the year saw me editing the film, us finding an Executive Producer in the gentlemanly form of Marc Gracie, Pez being nominated for and picking up awards for a web series she devised and mentored the writing for (Last Breath for Girls Act Good), us getting our first feature, Trench, streaming and available to the (briefly to the US, UK and European, largely to the Australian and Kiwi) public on Amazon Prime and iTunes, as well as a free-to-air TV broadcast on Melbourne's Channel 31, Pez teaming with illustrator Jess Dubblu to start work on Cinema Viscera's first ever web comic (and longtime Pez pet project), The Others, the first issue of which we're planning for March 2020, us launching a Patreon page to try and build some ongoing support to spend more of our time making our own work, us teaching a quintet of teen actors an 8-week course in how to create their own content, writing short segments for our upcoming Christmas-set multi-genre anthology project December, and, for me, freelance work finally starting to trickle in.
I guess what I'm saying is, we need a rest.
Somehow, amongst all this, I got to watch some movies.
In fact, I saw over 100 new movies for the first time since 2015 (115, my highest total since 2014)! This was very much aided by a fateful phone call, way back in January, which saw me recruited to take over as anchor for Melbourne's RRR FM's long-running film criticism radio show and podcast, Plato's Cave, which has been a joy to host and shoot one's mouth off about movies new and old with my outstanding co-hosts (Sally Christie, Emma Westwood, Cerise Howard and Flick Ford) every Monday night. This venture led to another discovery for Pez and I this year: the monthly screenings of the Melbourne film collective Cinemaniacs, who not only show a terrific selection of older, harder-to-find titles on the big screen (we saw Sleepaway Camp, Madman (1981), Day of the Animals and Wolf Lake), but are also one of the most welcoming, fun and joyous film communities we've found, which has been a relief, given how disenchanted we were beginning to become with Melbourne's film scene. Lee, the aforementioned Sally, Therese, Bria and co. do a wonderful job -- and, with their longtime home of the Backlot Studios cinema suddenly closing, here's hoping they find an equally versatile and luxurious new home in 2020.
Now, speaking of older/retro titles... let's get to the things you all came here for, yes?
PAUL ANTHONY NELSON'S TOP 20 FILM DISCOVERIES OF 2019
Including the 115 new films I saw this year, I came dangerously close to a one-film-per-day average -- always something of a mini-Holy Grail for me! -- but finally fell just short at 320 feature films (in addition to 11 complete seasons of TV). Of those features, 82 were older films, released in 2016 or earlier, which I saw for the first time this year. Here were the 20 I liked the most...
#20: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Shame it wasn't the end, as the series goes out surprisingly strong with this fourth installment, with Joseph Zito directing arguably -- or, at the very least, level with Part II (Baghead Jason forever!) as -- the best film of the series. Jason Voorhees' first full outing as the hockey mask-wearing, machete-wielding icon we all know and love is a genuine banger; a likeable cast of characters (one performed by a pre-Goonies Corey Feldman and a young Crispin Glover!), cute dialogue, a genuinely surprising twist on the "final girl" trope and Tom Savini's peerless special makeup effects add so much. It would have been a hell of mic drop to end the series here. I sincerely wish they had.
#19: Blue Collar (1978)
Paul Schrader's debut as director after scorching a trail as a screenwriter through the 1970s 'New Hollywood', Blue Collar takes a greasy wrench to American class struggles, unions corrupted and corroded by Capitalism's gnarled, avaricious hand, and the notion that, no matter the purity of our intentions, it's probable we'll all get screwed over in the end. The film catches us off guard, unfolding as a kind of bawdy, shouty heist comedy, but as the film wears on, this just adds to the film's cumulative anxiety, especially as the lead trio (played by a brilliant Yaphet Kotto, an electric Harvey Keitel and a jangly, on-edge Richard Pryor), their personal moral codes and hard limits, become clearer. The entire film ripples with a barely hinged collective energy that devolves into sadness as the wheels of their scheme, and their grip upon their own lives, gradually fall away. Schrader doesn't do happy.
#18: The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
I've not seen nearly enough Ken Russell films, but if this one is any indication, I need to rectify that. Nominally based upon a Bram Stoker story, this is really just stark raving mad fun as only Russell can conjure, with indelible imagery (those crucifixion visions are a trip), excellent makeup work and general, all-round pisstaking... and, yet, it still manages to be rather sexy? Pairing Hugh Grant with Peter Capaldi in their twenties is some kind of prescient genius, as the two of them make a delightful duo of befuddled heroes of sorts, but the entire film is lifted and stolen wholesale by Amanda Donohoe, who is a blast as the delectably devious Lady Sylvia -- perhaps more snake than human -- whose physicality, wardrobe and wry humour in this role are incredible. A delight!
#17: Baghead (2008)
Exactly what the notion of "A Duplass Brothers horror movie" promises: more of a tight improv comedy that a horror film intrudes upon, while being far too relatable, hilarious, affectionate, satirical (more of actors than the horror genre) and, now and again, even creepy! Even though its final scene kind of lays there, the rest is excellent, well-performed fun that takes pure joy in playing with its audience, whether with cringe comedy or sudden frights.
#16: A Letter to Elia (2010)
I used to co-host a podcast called Hell is For Hyphenates, where a different, usually film-related guest each month would choose a filmmaker they love and we'd join them on a deep dive into that filmmaker's career. We always wondered who someone like, say, Martin Scorsese would choose if, by some startling twist of fate, he ever wound up on the show. A Letter To Elia is the answer and the show: Marty, the scamp, went and had the conversation without us. It's a beautiful, concise and hugely accessible tribute from one great director to another who inspired, even shaped, him, covering most of Kazan's films individually and passing on pure enthusiasm as only Marty can. Scorsese is more circumspect about Kazan's controversial role in the 1950s' Blacklist, not running from it or apologising for him, but merely emphasising that it doesn't take away from the power or quality of the work Kazan crafted (whether Kazan should have continued to enjoy the privilege to do so, where so many didn't, is forever up for debate), nor of its ability to endure, delight and inspire generations to come.
#15: Milius (2013)
I won't lie: I'd been looking forward to this one for a while. While it's most definitely a loving portrait of The Big Lebowski's Walter Sobchak -- sorry, I mean writer, director and self-proclaimed "zen anarchist", John Milius -- the filmmakers and their hall-of-fame roster of interviewees (everyone from Spielberg and Lucas to Stallone and Schwarzengger!) can't help but struggle to negotiate the man's more difficult, provocative (and, sometimes, purely performative) political and philosophical proclivities, while exploring his relatively brief but hugely influential, increasingly overlooked career as a 'New Hollywood' force. Essential viewing for fans of that era of cinema, packed with terrific anecdotes and concluding with a poignant twist I knew nothing of going in, this is a definitive portrait of one of American cinema's most fascinating, controversial and contradictory figures.
#14: The Purge (2013)
Plunging the viewer in immediately and never letting go, The Purge is a primal, taut and witty high-concept home invasion chiller -- one that, just six years on, is growing more and more into itself (for better or worse). While certain aspects of the concept take a leap of faith to buy into, it pivots upon the unsettling, and all-too-plausible, idea that Americans are collectively seething with such unquenchable rage that they'd dutifully toe the line for 364.5 days a year, provided they get 12 hours annually to run rampant and kill any and every person they damn well please. You don't find many story concepts as darkly hilarious as they are profoundly chilling. Sure, there's more than a few gaps in logic, but this is a sharp, lean and very mean little flick with a trio of terrific performances and a gift for crafting genuinely scary set pieces and blunt-force social commentary, leading to a resolution that's very funny and very pertinent to where America (and, let's face it, ourselves) are today. And it's a brisk 86 minutes long!
#13: Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971)
Full of atmosphere you can cut with a knife, this cumulatively effective, low-key four-hander is unafraid to switch up horror sub-genres (it cycles through at least three) and really creeps up on you, its swirl of psychological terror well grounded in character and relationships, driven by terrific, layered performances from its two female leads (Broadway actors Zohra Lampert and Mariclare Costello) and some innovative sound design... not to mention a town full of creepy seniors acting like juvie bullies! It's a slow burn you have to give yourself over to and sink into -- turn the lights off and put the phone away -- if you do, you'll be rewarded.
#12: The Woman Next Door (1981)
Probably the closest Truffaut came to Hitchcock outside of The Bride Wore Black, what starts as a gentle, even lightly comedic, tale of a family man who finds out his new neighbour's wife is the ex-girlfriend with whom he flipped out to the point of obsession years earlier, gradually becomes a sort of proto-Fatal Attraction relationship thriller, as the effect she has on him is pretty much reciprocal, wreaking havoc on their respective marriages in the process and leading to a dark, strangely inevitable conclusion. Depardieu and Ardant are electric as the crazy-making couple, lighting up a narrative which may feel slightly strident to US, UK or Oz audiences, but feels largely in step with French cinema and literature as we know it, where passionate love and psychotic obsession are separated by the thinnest of lines, but to which Truffaut's humanism and writing of relationships is a welcome addition, adding a mordant humour and small human touches to what could have been a standard potboiler. It's a 105-minute-long car crash, and I adored it.
#11: Public Speaking (2010)
I didn't know much about Fran Lebowitz beforehand, other than her name and her face, but after seeing Martin Scorsese's feature-length profile of her, I'm a believer. (He's also found someone who talks as fast as he does!) Scorsese's best documentaries so powerfully communicate his enthusiasm for his subjects that the viewer feels compelled to seek their work out, and, in this vein, Public Speaking is among my favourites. Scorsese gives full rein to Lebowitz's razor wit and brilliant perspective, having her riff on questions direct to camera (over Marty's shoulder, which often convulses as she cracks him up) and sampling past interviews and keynote addresses she's given. Lebowitz expresses her ideas in such a beautifully constructed, clear-eyed and hilarious way, she's shown not only to be one of our time's greatest wits, but greatest thinkers, full stop.
#10: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
What outwardly seemed to be a quaint, it-was-a-different-time cringefest is (despite its outdated title) actually a funny, warm, sex-positive and kind of beautiful film, anchored by two enormously charismatic performances from Dolly and Burt, alive with genuine chemistry. Director/co-writer Colin Higgins knew a thing or two about smuggling progressive ideas into crowd-pleasing comedies — witness Harold and Maude and 9 To 5 — creating a feelgood film about sex workers’ right to operate without falling under the hammer of the moral majority... but he also knows not to give us a false victory. Also, you get Charles Durning singing and dancing up a storm, lots of catchy songs and Dolly singing ‘I Will Always Love You’ to Burt (a decade before Whitney used it to conquer the world), defying you not to well up. What more could you want?
#9: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Okay, okay, so I'm much too late to this party, but what a tight, efficient nightmare of paranoia this is! Outside of its then-current metaphor of the American government's hysteria over Communist takeover (one seemingly easily adaptable to a different fear at any given time, which tells us something about humanity), it taps into the simple, uncanny terror of knowing the person you knew is no longer that person, despite looking and sounding identical to them. While it doesn't quite cover the mechanics of the snatching (where do the bodies go?), this is a riveting, urgent, tight and well-crafted film, which makes the unthinkable feel uncomfortably real. Had me wishing Don Siegel did more science-fiction.
#8: Starman (1984)
Carpenter's answer to E.T. -- which notably wiped out his previous film, The Thing, at the box office -- is a beautiful, humane, clever science-fiction parable that largely avoids sentiment and presents Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen with roles which rank among the best of their careers. A story about dealing with grief, the realisation that there are much larger forces at work in our lives which we can scarcely hope to comprehend, and the hope this can provide, while Starman is often seen (not incorrectly) as Carpenter's most "mature" film, it is also an invigorating, wonderful piece of genre cinema that stands tall beside the director's best horror and action pictures.
#7: Dial Code Santa Claus (1989)
Or, Home Alone Part 0: A Very Traumatic Christmas. Imagine Home Alone but French, with Luc Bessonesque visual heat, a lot less mugging, an adorable Rambo-obsessed kid, his kindly Grandpa, a house full of secret passages, toys and trapdoors, a genuinely terrifying killer pedo dressed as Santa, a Bonnie Tyler song interlude and— wait, is it redundant to mention it’s totally insane and vehemently NOT FOR CHILDREN?? This might be a new Christmas fave.
#6: The Psychic (1977)
LOVED this! The first Lucio Fulci film I've seen that feels like a real movie, rather than a grab-bag of WTF moments. Jennifer O'Neill is terrific as a psychic whose visions aren't what they seem, spending most of the movie trying to put the pieces in her head together like a dark jigsaw puzzle. It's riveting, clever, propulsive, playing like Edgar Allan Poe meets Stephen King in Italy, makes (shockingly, for Fulci) total narrative and character sense and, even if you get ahead of it, it's a ticking-clock blast.
#5: The Wild Child (1970)
A small, simple, utterly lovely film, based on a true story, of a feral boy found alone in the woods of rural France who, after a time of bullying and misunderstanding at a special school, is taken in by a kindly doctor and his housekeeper, who teach the child to communicate and give him a place to belong -- and never, ever as sentimental as that may sound. Truffaut's much too skilled a storyteller for that, and this is indeed the best possible version of this kind of story. Shot in black and white and somehow looking like a film shot 30-40 years before it actually was, this is infused with the humanism, curiosity and cinephilia which distinguishes Truffaut's work. It's gentle, frequently funny and touching, with an astonishing performance from Jean-Pierre Cargol as the boy, Victor, and pretty terrific work from Truffaut himself as the doctor. The way he drew performances from kids is nothing less than pure sorcery.
#4: Shame (1988)
A startlingly effective, sadly still relevant and criminally underseen rape-revenge action drama, which boasts a hurricane star performance from Deborra-Lee Furness and, even with its late-"Ozploitation"/Oz New Wave trappings (with a clear influence in 1979's Mad Max), is honest, intelligent, claustrophobic and unsparing, yet surprisingly restrained (it's never gross or male-gazey, and the attacks are never seen on screen), serving as a heartfelt plea to listen to women, a savage critique of unchecked Australian misogyny and a crackerjack action thriller, all building to an upsetting gut punch of an ending. An unsung -- and genuinely important -- Australian classic.
#3: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
An Invasion for the Parallax View/Three Days of the Condor age, director Philip Kaufman grounds his remake in post-JFK conspiracy theory, just as the original was borne of anti-communist paranoia — and it’s even better; it's persuasively apocalyptic, with horrifying makeup effects, a superb cast (especially Jeff Goldblum and Veronica Cartwright as a beautifully offbeat couple) and a perfect ending, sadly spoiled by a million memes. A genuinely scary and propulsive sci-fi-horror film born of 1970s 'New Hollywood' character focus and thematic nihilism.
#2: Small Change (1976)
As one who doesn’t much care for films about children, I’m constantly amazed by the way Truffaut crafts stories about the everyday lives of kids, which always manage to be utterly delightful without sentimentality, and joyous without shying away from the hardships of life. (It often helps that the kids in his movies are, generally, little ratbags.) The kids here are so wonderfully natural and off-the-cuff, it feels like you’re observing lives lived — even when it briefly takes a turn for the surreal (“Gregory goes boom!”) — in a way that’s affectionate, lived-in and completely unpredictable. The way the kids’ clothing is colour-coded so we can distinguish them quickly is both a terrific storytelling trick and gives the film an near-comic-strip feel at times. The film also takes a humanistic look at class disparity and the way societies aim to work. I love that everybody in Truffaut’s films are trying to be their best selves, flaws, complexities and all. I won’t spoil their antics here, but my MVPs are the green-skivvied ne’er-do-well De Luca brothers, and Sylvie, whose response to being grounded is pure genius.
#1: Model Shop (1969)
My first encounter with Jacques Demy (oh, I'll be back) and a huge influence on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Model Shop sees 2001’s Gary Lockwood as an aimless, seemingly impassive young man about to be drafted to Vietnam, who spends 24 hours driving around L.A. looking for options to dodge the draft and his girlfriend while aggressively angling to court Lola (Anouk Aimee), a French model/actress running from her life as a mother to a young child as she tries to figure things out, who is absolutely on to him. A sublimely character-powered study of two lost souls striving for connection amidst the disillusionment and hopelessness of a shifting time, Demy lets his characters move and breathe -- flaws, questionable choices, erroneous behaviour and all -- throughout this world, a beautifully lensed late-60s Los Angeles on the verge of epochal change itself, dialing the viewer in to their inner turmoil and revealing that, amongst the chaos of an ever-shifting, slowly decaying world, moments of connection are all we have... and that those are something worth living, and even risking death, for. Of all of my discoveries this year, this was the one that came back to haunt my thoughts the most.
PAUL ANTHONY NELSON'S TOP 20 FILMS OF 2019
As usual, the criteria for this list are feature films that received their premiere paid public release in Australia in 2019, whether via cinema, home video, streaming, video on demand or film festivals, that I saw this year (as opposed to seeing at festivals last year).
As mentioned earlier, the amount of new films I saw this year skyrocketed, from just 84 last year to 116 this year.
I should also let you know that I didn't catch such lauded or popular titles as Amazing Grace, Apollo 11, Birds of Passage, Border, Capernaum, Captain Marvel, Eighth Grade, Fighting With My Family, Happy As Lazzaro, I Lost My Body, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Kindergarten Teacher, Knife+Heart, Les Misérables, Little Women, Mid90s, The Mule, The Report, Shazam!, The Sisters Brothers, The Souvenir, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Support The Girls, The Third Wife, Thunder Road, Transit, Triple Frontier, The Two Popes, Woman at War or Yesterday. (Among many more.)
Other buzz titles, such as 1917, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Bombshell, Clemency, A Hidden Life, Honey Boy, The Lighthouse, Uncut Gems and Waves, are due for 2020 releases down here.
Having said that, here are my...
#30: Sometimes Always Never (Director: Carl Hunter)
Such a wonderful surprise! Ignore the dreadful trailer and seek this out. While Hunter's direction is a bit too self-consciously quirky at times, the script — about a distant, ordered, conceited Scrabble-champion father (the incomparable Bill Nighy, who relishes a complex lead role) and his annoyed, oft-dismissed son (Sam Riley, also wonderful) as they search for their son and brother who disappeared decades earlier — is excellent, taking us on unexpected turns through family secrets and emotional debris, being painful, funny and heartfelt without ever falling to sentimentality, and giving Jenny Agutter arguably her best big screen role since An American Werewolf in London.
#29: High Flying Bird (Director: Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh’s NBA lockout drama is dense with insider lingo as writer Tarell Alvin (Moonlight) McCraney’s crackling dialogue ricochets off the walls — it doesn’t stop to wait for stragglers, so I’d advise switching on the subtitles to catch it all — but amongst all the wheeling-and-dealing and fake-outs, there’s a fiercely political heart pumping in this lean machine. Andre Holland, as sports agent Ray Burke, walks into this as a terrific emerging character actor and leaves it a bona fide movie star. Soderbergh tracks 48 hours in Burke’s professional life like he’s executing a heist, but the real score is how the film layers in themes of capitalism driving sport, the way black men are still physically toiling for the ultimate profit of the white man and a potential path to liberation. A thematic slow burn on a continual fast break, this Bird (shot on an iPhone with a minimal crew!) flies higher than any Soderbergh effort since Behind The Candelabra.
#28: Dogman (Director: Matteo Garrone)
Terrific, almost unbearably tense, modern Italian crime drama founded in the need to stand up to dictators, no matter how small or powerless we may seem... and how enormously difficult that is. Marcello Fonte is heartbreakingly great as the dog groomer who thrives on the love of his daughter and the respect and friendship of his community. Edoardo Pesce is a singular presence as a terrifying hulk of a man, a bully who moves through the world like an overgrown child, and the way director Garrone uses the mere physicality of these two actors -- and the succession of wonderful, adorable doggos Marcello takes care of -- against each other and their landscape, leaves us constantly terrified for Marcello and the dogs' safety whenever the walls start to close in. Likewise, the near-abandoned seaside strip Garrone sets this in reflects a dream of Italy that's since become rotted, corroded, its community broken and crumbling.
#27: Her Smell (Director: Alex Ross Perry)
Owned by Elisabeth Moss' incandescent, open-nerved performance and structured like Steve Jobs, this musical drama takes a look at five key moments in the life of Becky Something (Moss), a charismatic flame of a rock star as she gradually burns out of control, then struggles to put her life back together. Perry's gift for capturing anxious social interactions and combative personalities in a way that feels both painfully real and almost cruelly funny is all here, but there's more pain than laughs this time. As with a lot of these sorts of films, the music played by the band at its heart is never quite as great as you want it to be (or, indeed, as the film builds it up to be), but the drama around the music is uncomfortable, heart-wrenching and always engrossing, ultimately full of empathy and heart for life's fuckups. Oh, and it also has the most moving rendition of Bryan Adams' 'Heaven' you never expected to see.
#26: Yellow is Forbidden (Director: Pietra Brettkelly)
Beautiful, intimate documentary following the work and process of Chinese fashion maestro Guo Pei and her quest to create astonishing wearable works of art while bringing traditional methods into the 21st century, whilst creating within the outwardly-ascendant yet still oppressive Chinese regime. While not quite the emotional ride of McQueen, last year's portrait of a similarly inspired designer, it's still an enormously engaging, detailed look behind the curtain of a true artist, who, even at the top of her game, still finds herself pulled between artistic, commercial and political forces.
#25: Brittany Runs a Marathon (Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo)
A hugely effective, emotionally grounded comedy-drama that truly earns its "feelgood" stripes, rarely taking the easy way out or making it easy on its characters, whom writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo and his improv-gun cast refuse to sand over the spikier edges of. It's a wellness cliche, but this is the film I've seen that really gets the idea that physical fitness is less important than emotional fitness and finding your community, even when that's the last damn thing you want to do. Jillian Bell really puts everything out there in this, giving one of the year's most criminally underrated performances.
#24: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Director: Celine Sciamma)
Sciamma's sumptuously designed romance has an intriguing focus on looking, being seen and how others see us, but is primarily a terrific character piece with a quartet of excellent lead performances that makes its small story, at least for a while, seem huge. Sciamma captures genuine moments of sensuality -- the small interludes and gestures the women have to steal when no-one is looking are sublime -- the leads' chemistry is palpable, the framing device works well, and cinematographer Claire Mathon gloriously captures painterly vistas, but... there's a pristine, airbrushed, modern Vanity Fair cover shoot artifice to the film that always feels constantly at odds with the very real energy the actors create together and its keen attention to small character beats, pulling one out of its carefully crafted intimacy (films like Barry Lyndon and 1978's The Duellists manage to recreate the look of paintings without sacrificing the grit and grime that lay beneath them). However, the tremendous way the film builds to its shattering, perfectly staged final scene is almost enough to make one forget all that, reminding us of the rare transcendent period romantic drama this comes so thrillingly close to being.
#23: Hustlers (Director: Lorene Scafaria)
Full of exuberance, sisterhood and both a kick to the ass of unchecked Capitalism and a cautionary tale of becoming seduced by it, this based-on-truth tale of a cadre of exotic dancers who respond to the 2008 GFC killing their careers by getting their own back at the Wall Street types whose lifestyles brought it all about is fun, brash, bright and quite often exhilarating. While it's a little PG-13 about being a film set in and around strip clubs, this gets as close and frank to the language of a big-time club as a Hollywood studio film of that rating will allow without ever demonising the lifestyle, which is admirable enough. Scafaria makes some emotive and clever directorial decisions with sound and image (a dictaphone switched off during a scene kills the dialogue for the rest of it, an flashback of a surreptitiously taped situation plays with the crushed audio from the tape, there's some stylish mirroring and use of closeups, and so on). Plus, how can you hate a film that takes this much joy in deploying Janet Jackson's 'Miss You Much'?
#22: Last Christmas (Director: Paul Feig)
Here's where The Internet starts plotting my cancellation. "First you placed Portrait of a Lady on Fire way down in the 20s, then you have the gall to rank it below Last fucking Christmas??!" Before you murder me for this seemingly insane ranking, let me tell you a little about myself: 1) I am a Christmas tragic. 2) 'Shambolic Screwup With a Heart' is one of my favourite character types (hell, the lead in Trench was one). 3) I adore everything George Michael-related. 4) I’ll watch Emma Thompson in just about anything. So, as you can see, this film hit a bunch of my sweet spots. It’s also sweet, adorable, cheesy in all the right Christmas movie ways, full of charm and fun characters and Emilia Clarke makes a pretty great loveable screwup rom-com lead. Plus it has Michelle Yeoh as a sardonic proprietor of a store full of garish Christmas trinkets. WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE???
#21: The Guilty (Director: Gustav Möller)
This elegantly shot, economically paced high-concept thriller succeeds in that most difficult of conceits: the one-character, one-location drama. Möller's script introduces us to a lead character who isn't particularly warm or ingratiating, but as his concern to solve this ever-evolving, increasingly stranger situation builds, and his world begins to gradually fall apart, we're right there with him. The script is kind of low-key M. Night Shyamalan in the way it springs intriguing twists and shocks, and the surprisingly simple shooting and blocking style -- there aren't any wild De Palma-esque flourishes here, just an extremely canny sense of when to stay back, when to go in close, when to glimpse others, when to turn on a flashing red light, and so on -- really allows the film to rest upon the excellent performance of its leading actor (Jakob Cedergren) and the voice cast. Tight, riveting stuff, superbly played.
THE TOP 20
THE TOP 10
And now... this year sees an unprecedented occurrence.
For in almost 30 years of counting down films (15 of those online), I've never, ever had, allowed, or even considered, a tie at #1.
MY EQUAL #1 FILMS OF 2019 ARE...
#1 (tie): ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and PARASITE
The 115 eligible films I saw were...
A Boy Called Sailboat
Angel of Mine
At Eternity's Gate
Be Natural: The Untold Story of
Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly
Death of Al Adamson
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Color Out of Space
Come to Daddy
Dolemite Is My Name
Happy New Year, Colin Burstead
Happy Sad Man
High Flying Bird
I Am Mother
If Beale Street Could Talk
Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks
It Chapter Two
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
King of Thieves
Matthias & Maxime
Minding the Gap
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Pain and Glory
Phantom of Winnipeg
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Rambo: Last Blood
Ready or Not
Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project
Reflections in the Dust
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Sometimes Always Never
Sorry We Missed You
Stan & Ollie
Sword of Trust
Tell Me Who I Am
Terminator: Dark Fate
The Biggest Little Farm
The Day Shall Come
The Dead Don't Die
The Field Guide To Evil
The Night Eats the World
Toy Story 4
Under the Silver Lake
Varda by Agnès
Yellow Is Forbidden
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A semi-regular blog exploring films, popular culture, current or future projects and (more often) year-end wrap-up and opinions from CINEMA VISCERA's co-chief, Paul Anthony Nelson.
(Disclaimer: The opinions found within are my own, and not shared by any employer, employee, colleague or association.)