Darius Azadeh: The Other Side of the Wind. An Orson Welles project miraculously brought to life 40 years on, Netflix’s film is a fantastic time capsule from the mid-70s New Hollywood era. Shooting in sharp black and white, Welles perfectly balances the conflicting moods of the time period in this film-within-a-film. With great dialogue and on-point Hollywood commentary, The Other Side of the Wind will usher in another level of respectability and expectation for the streaming service’s original output. Honourable mentions go to First Man and Mandy. Louis Chilton: I’m an absolute sucker for the Coen brothers, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – another Netflix production – is one of their very best. A sextet of Western shorts linked only by their shared morbidity and distinctive authorship, this film is a tremendous display of craftsmanship and is every bit as smart, funny and cynical as you would expect from the modern American masters. I also loved Roma, Leave No Trace and Cold War. Ronan Hatfull: From the opening neck-bending guitar strains of ‘Black Eyes’ to Lady Gaga piercing your very soul with her direct look to camera, Bradley Cooper’s well-directed fifth iteration of A Star Is Born was unquestionably my favourite film of 2019. Honourable mentions must go to another actor who ably juggled first time director duties with a leading role in Josh Krasisnki’s near-silent, suspense-laden thriller A Quiet Place, plus Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, which not only politicised the superhero movie but may have changed the face of blockbusters forever. Scott Reynolds: Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse blends stunning animation with a compelling plot and relatable, faithful characters. The vibrant, comic-like animation is supported by a superb voice cast including Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, and Marhershala Ali, who each help to bring their characters to life. Spider-verse is a late addition to 2018’s box office but it is one that will be remembered for a long time as both an incredible display of animation and perhaps the best feature-length adaptation of the webslinger.
DA: Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite. In terms of invention and aesthetic flair, the Greek director’s eye is firmly on the ball here. The Favourite is an intriguing visual jigsaw which perfectly serves its plot. Beautiful tracking and fish-eye lens shots are used to circumvent the lighting problems inherent in trying to authentically recreate an 18th century palace. LC: Hirokazu Kore-eda, Shoplifters. One of Japan’s most esteemed filmmakers, often cited as the modern heir to Ozu’s cinematic legacy, had the biggest critical hit of his career with Shoplifters. The defining trait to his direction here is sensitivity. Sensitivity to his characters, to the sociology of Japan, to the passing of time. It is a great and profoundly moving film that no-one else could have possibly made the same way. Also Lynne Ramsey for You Were Never Really Here. RH: Ryan Coogler, Black Panther. Coogler followed the paths trodden by Thor directors Kenneth Branagh and Taika Waititi in creating a film which brought all his considerable talents and specific style to the fore. Where Thor is a Shakespearean drama of family fortunes and Ragnarok a parodic space opera, Black Panther delivered some of the most thrilling action sequences in the MCU to date, dazzling its audience with visual splendour and injecting the universe with a shot of political relevance and diversity. SR: John Krasinski, A Quiet Place. This was not Krasinski’s directorial debut, but it is undoubtedly the film which many will see as his breakthrough in directing. Co-written by himself, Krasinski crafts a world of suspense and horror with the expertise of a more experienced director, a similar feat to that pulled off by Jordan Peele with 2017’s Get Out.
Best Performance (Female)
DA: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a really terrific film that gets growing pains and teenage life down to an absolute tee. Thankfully we had newcomer Elsie Fisher leading the way, in a superb bit of casting. Fisher’s interplay with her ever optimistic Dad played by Josh Hamilton ranges from the hilarious to the near-tear-jerking, in a powerful, well rounded performance that anyone watching will instantly identify with, and which proves the actor has a really bright future ahead of her. LC: Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Deuce. David Simon’s coruscating HBO series about the sex industry in 1970s New York is abound with fine performances, but it is Gyllenhaal, playing Candy, an arthouse porn director and former prostitute, who deserves the lion’s share of the plaudits. She gives such a complicated, layered performance that surpasses any other seen on the big or small screen this year. Honourable mention goes to Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace. RH: Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place. Lady Gaga very nearly took this crown for her staggeringly assured performance in A Star Is Born – although anyone who has seen her perform live or in American Horror Story should not be surprised – but for her ability to achieve so much without speech and with gesture, Emily Blunt’s intense performance as pregnant mother Evelyn Abbott takes it by a nose. There are numerous moments from which to choose in A Quiet Place that illustrate this outstanding actress’s ability but uppermost must surely be the spine-chilling moment of release when she screams as she gives birth in a bathtub or when, with a sense of creeping inevitability, she steps on an upturned nail and must fight to remain silent as an alien invades her home. Special mention goes to Letitiah Wright in Black Panther. SR: Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns. Another on a growing list of actors and actresses who have stepped into another actor’s shoes and filled them with aplomb. Taking on the mantle of Mary Poppins, Blunt managed to pay a respectful homage to Julie Andrews whilst bringing her own unique flare to the character. In a supporting role, my choice would be Atlanta‘s Zazie Beetz in Deadpool 2.
Best Performance (Male)
DA: Adam Driver, The Man who Killed Don Quixote. Terry Gilliam’s “un-makeable” magnum opus is pretty bad. It’s a testament to Driver that he can still deliver a fantastic performance amid such an overly ambitious and unbalanced mess of a film. Starring as Toby Grisoni, a sleazy ad executive who is thrusted into a centuries-old Spain, his central performance anchors every ridiculous part, providing a believable compass through the madness. LC: Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread gives a magnificent and original performance as dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock. Ben Foster in Leave No Trace is also superb, and Steven Yeun is ridiculously entertaining as a chilled-out, possibly psychopathic playboy in Burning. RH: Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born. Cooper’s role as Jackson Maine is his most complete transformation yet, complete with a voice of gravel, weathered visage and such a convincing aura as some broken rock star that it’s remarkable to think that he’d never previously sang or played guitar prior to this film. The best supporting role was Sam Elliot in the same film. SR: Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here & The Sisters Brothers. The name Joaquin Phoenix has become synonymous with dedication as he has slowly but surely earned himself a nod as one of Hollywood’s best actors of all time. Like his mythical namesake, Phoenix constantly rises from the ashes of poor films to remind us why he is so well-loved by his fans and film studios alike. I also thought Michael B Jordan was great in Black Panther.
Best TV Series
DA: Maniac. Brilliantly developed and directed by True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga, Maniac is a fascinating look into a lavishly designed, retro-looking future. Although other Netflix shows this year, most notably BoJack Horseman, continued to genre-bend and improve, Maniac tops the list for its unique imagination and brilliant casting choices. LC: Season 2 of The Deuce on HBO was a marked improvement on the already-great season 1. Creator David Simon (The Wire; Treme) is a socially conscious and intelligent writer of fiction, and The Deuce is a brilliant, almost journalistic exploration of the intersection of sex, money and violence in the recent history New York. Also on HBO, Succession was the other contender for best TV of the year. A pitch black comedy about a Murdoch-esque media mogul and his family, this is as well-acted, sharply written and cynical as it gets. RH: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Netflix’s darker take on the beloved Nineties witchy comedy was the absolute surprise of the year in television. Replete with evocative visuals, distorted lenses and a double-whammy of dastardly villains played by Michelle Gomez and Richard Coyle, Sabrina was 2019’s answer to Stranger Things; a welcome shot of nostalgia with a contemporary feminist twist. Above all, the show was driven by a wonderful central performance by Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka, who is surely one to watch in the future. SR: The Haunting of Hill House. This incredibly loose adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel made waves as one of the best showcases of supernatural horror to grace the small screen, and deserves every single piece of praise it receives. Hill House mixes genuine frights with compelling and often emotional family drama with sheer expertise.