Best films of 2019 so far

Charlize Theron flips into funny with Seth Rogen, Mel Gibson picks Vince Vaughn as his accomplice and Avengers reach their Endgame the finest movies yet this year released in the UK

The Favourite

A New Years Day release date in the UK for Yorgos Lanthimoss period romp kicked the year off in fine style; Olivia Colmans Oscar win two months later was the crowning glory.


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    What we said: A reminder that the idea of royalty as polite and picturesquely sentimental is something that came in with Queen Victoria: The Favourite is more punk than that. Its a rousingly nasty, bleary, hungover punchup. Read the full review

    An Impossible Love

    A daughters life is shaped by her fathers arrogance and her mothers humility in Catherine Corsinis delicate drama.

    What we said: A mother-daughter story with the erotic intensity of a love story and the pathos of a coming-of-ager though darker, messier and more unresolved than is traditional. Read the full review

    Colette

    Keira
    Invigorating and sexy Keira Knightley and Dominic West in Colette. Photograph: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

    Keira Knightley and Dominic West have a riot in this gender-bending and surprisingly funny story of the author and the husband who tried to steal her glory as well as her girlfriend.

    What we said: A Star Is Born for the belle poque: an early-years biopic of French literary phenomenon Colette that is invigorating, mercenary and sexy. Read the full review


     

    Monsters and Men

    Reinaldo Marcus Greens tough drama follows the fortunes of three young African American men who find their loyalties divided and their futures in peril.

    What we said: There is humanity and complexity in this welcome movie, as well as muscular power and unreconciled anger. Read the full review

    Hale County This Morning, This Evening

    Executive-produced by Laura Poitras, this documentary by RaMell Ross is a revelatory study of African American lives.

    What we said: It feels as if Ross has created a sustained kind of euphoria, a 76-minute epiphany of love for his community. Read the full review

    Destroyer


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    Raw
    Horribly compelling Nicole Kidman in Destroyer. Photograph: Sabrina Lantos/Allstar/Lionsgate

    Nicole Kidman alters her appearance and leaves her comfort zone considerably for this gritty, twisty crime drama about an LA detective brutalised by an undercover mission.

    What we said: Kidmans performance is superb: smart, committed, utterly absorbing. There is a horribly compelling contrast between Erins present state and her fresh-faced appearance in flashback. Kidman brings something particularly disquieting to the role, turning into a bleached, gaunt mask with eye sockets raw and red, possibly from long-dried tears. Read the full review

    Vice

    Adam McKay follows The Big Short with a larky quasi-biopic of former VP Dick Cheney strewn with red herrings, ripe cameos and risky politics.

    What we said: A big, enjoyable, intelligent central performance in which Christian Bale has the sense to do more with less. Read the full review

    Burning

    Lee Chang-dongs Cannes hit is a superbly shot mystery thriller about obsessive love, taken from a short story by Haruki Murakami.

    What we said: A psychological drama set in the modern consumerist Korea of the callous Gangnam-style rich and poor young people who often go invisibly to ground, pursued by credit-card debt. Read the full review

    Can You Ever Forgive Me?

    Melissa
    Authentic Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant. Photograph: Mary Cybulski/AP

    Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant excel as a belligerent literary memorabilia forger and her waspish sidekick in this brilliant black comedy.

    What we said: There is something very authentic in some of this films incidental details. Lee grabs her TV, turns it on so its showing fuzzy white noise and then flips it on its back so she can use it as a lightbox to trace Nol Cowards signature on one of her phoney typewritten screeds. That has the clumsy absurdity of real life. Read the full review

    All Is True

    Kenneth Branagh is a late-stage Shakespeare and Judi Dench his long-suffering wife in Ben Eltons witty, melancholic study of regret and homecoming.

    What we said: I liked the long scenes of winter drear, as William and Anne huddle together in a corner of a dark room, flickeringly lit by firelight like a cave. Read the full review

    Amrica

    A 93-year-old Mexican woman is the startled star of this irresistible documentary about her relationship with three doting grandsons.


     

    What we said: The film has real artistry in the way it is put together. It has the potency of a sympathetically fabricated kind of realist fiction, a guided-reality effect that is completely absorbing. The coda leaves you with an irresistibly sweet sadness. Read the full review

    If Beale Street Could Talk

    Barry Jenkinss follow-up to Moonlight is a lush and highly emotional adaptation of the James Baldwin novel about childhood love and police brutality in 1970s New York.

    What we said: Here is a film almost woozy with its own beauty and dignity, a film going transcendently high in the face of a racist world going low. It is a tribute of quiet passion extended to those lives fractured by injustice, and seems to serenely offer up their hard-won heroism to ward off bigotrys corrosive evil. Read the full review

    The Lego Movie 2

    The sequel to the wildly acclaimed first Lego film offers a sophisticated and nuanced adventure for the micro heroes.

    What we said: Theres hilarious voice-work artistry, ceaselessly inventive pop-culture riffs, eyeball-popping graphics and a 107-minute nonstop gag-storm of a screenplay from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Read the full review


     

    Capernaum

    Passion
    Passion and compassion Capernaum. Photograph: Lifestyle pictures/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

    Nadine Labakis powerful drama tell the story of a Beirut child who sues his parents for giving birth to him then ends up on the street caring for a strangers baby.

    What we said: There is passion and compassion here, and Labakis film brings home what poverty and desperation mean, and what love and humanity mean. Read the full review

    Hannah

    Charlotte Rampling brings an intelligent intensity to the role of a woman whose ageing husband has been jailed in this near-wordless drama.

    What we said: The film itself has what you could call Resting Charlotte Rampling Face: austerely intelligent, unsmilingly beautiful, intimidating, cold in a way that speaks of sadness protectively walled up in dignity and courtesy. It is an expression that could too easily be mistaken for simple contempt or self-disgust. Read the full review

    Border

    Transgression
    Transgression and taboo Border. Photograph: Henrik Petit/Meta Spark and Krnfilm

    Ali Abbasis dark drama focuses on transgression and taboo as two troubled people living on the edge of society develop a strange friendship.

    What we said: Its a satirical reflection on the minority experience, perhaps also inspired by the directors own feelings about being an Iranian who has studied and now lives and works in Denmark. Read the full review

    Everybody Knows

    Iranian director Asghar Farhadi casts husband-and-wife Javier Bardem and Penlope Cruz as a couple picking at an unhealed wound.

    What we said: This is a movie about a devastating external blow to a family, delivered with almost supernatural accuracy, a blow that exposes all sorts of cracks and weaknesses and fault-lines, and does so with such pitiless efficiency that it is almost as if these secrets and lies are a kind of sin, which has called forth an inevitable punishment. It is an idea to which Farhadi has been drawn before: the unburied secret, the unhealed wound, the imminent return of the repressed. Read the full review

    The Kindergarten Teacher

    Maggie Gyllenhaal excels as a teacher and wannabe poet who exploits a child prodigy in this gripping psychological drama.

    What we said: It is a story of horribly intimate transgression, and also a deadpan provocation, somewhere between realism and fantasy satire. It reminded me of Jonathan Glazers 2004 drama Birth, which found a similar way to test audience expectations of permissible behaviour. Read the full review

    Girl

    Victor
    Sustained intensity Victor Polster in Girl. Photograph: Menuet

    Victor Polster is outstanding as a 15-year-old trans girl auditioning for ballet school in Lukas Dhonts intense, emotional drama.

    What we said: Opinions may divide about the climax of the film, whether it creates an unnecessarily problematised narrative, despite the note of realist optimism on which it finishes. The sheer sustained intensity of the drama and performances carry it through. Read the full review

    Us

    Jordan Peeles follow-up to Get Out is a superb doppelganger chiller that skewers the American dream.

    What we said: Though this doesnt quite have the same lethal narrative discipline of Peeles debut masterpiece Get Out, with its drum-tight clarity and control, what it certainly does have is a magnificent lead performance from Nyongo, who brings to it a basilisk stare of horror. Read the full review

    Pet Sematary

    Previously filmed in 1989, this remake of the creepy Stephen King novel with Jason Clarke and John Lithgow is an impressively nasty scare story.

    What we said: The story keeps efficiently turning the screw, and the misspelling itself has a power of its own. It conveys an oppressive state of wrongness: it is the non-cemetery where the dead refuse to accept their status. The final image is an exhilaratingly nauseous lurch. Read the full review

    Happy As Lazzaro

    Alice Rohrwachers enigmatic drama is an unsettling and moving satire about the unquestioning toil of peasants lives.

    What we said: Happy As Lazzaro is a weightless enigma, an unfathomable promise of happiness, gently tugging you upwards, like a balloon on the end of a string. Read the full review

    The Sisters Brothers

    Jacques Audiards English-language debut is an all-American delight, starring Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly perfect as sad, squabbling siblings.

    What we said: This is a portrait of male sadness and claustrophobic and empty male ambition: the title is not merely jokey; these are men without women who have become emotionally stagnant and terribly lonely. Read the full review

    Dragged Across Concrete

    Gritty
    Gritty thriller Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson in Dragged Across Concrete. Photograph: David Bukach

    Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are a pair of out-of-control cops careering towards in oblivion in S Craig Zahlers often brilliant crime flick.

    What we said: Dragged Across Concrete doesnt drag. This is a long film, but there is something so horribly compelling about its unhurried slouch towards the precipice. Read the full review

    Avengers: Endgame

    The climactic movie in the Avengers series is an irresistible blend of action and comedy, guaranteeing a sugar rush of delirious enjoyment.

    What we said: Avengers: Endgame is entirely preposterous and, yes, the central plot device here does not deliver the shock of the new. But the sheer enjoyment and fun, the pure exotic spectacle, are irresistible, as is its insouciant way of combining the serious and the comic. Without the comedy, the drama would not be palatable. Read the full review

    Ash Is Purest White

    Tao
    Gripping parable Tao Zhao stars in Ash is Purest White. Photograph: Xstream Pictures

    Jia Zhangkes latest offering is a frequently glorious drama about how one womans journey from self-sacrificial moll to avenging criminal echoes her countrys embrace of capitalism.

    What we said: A gripping parable for the vanity of human wishes, and an impassioned portrait of national malaise. Read the full review

    Eighth Grade

    An affecting lead performance anchors this outstanding debut from comic Bo Burnham about a vulnerable young teen.

    What we said: There is something anaesthetised or at least tonally ambiguous in this gripping drama about a teenage girl in the US about to enter high school. Elsie Fisher is absolutely outstanding in the role of Kayla Day, like an undiscovered Fanning sister: her smart, observant performance gives the audience instant access to her vulnerabilities, hurt feelings and quiet determination. Read the full review

    Irenes Ghost

    Iain Cunninghams profound documentary about the strange fate of his late mother.

    What we said: I wont say exactly what happened to her, but the tragedy of it is that today shed have had every chance of recovery. The film is a love letter to Irene, yet the emotional balance finally tips to Cunninghams dad ending with an unexpectedly tender moment between the two men. Read the full review

    Long Shot

    Shenanigans
    Shenanigans Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron in Long Shot. Photograph: Murray Close/AP

    Charlize Therons restrained politician falls for Seth Rogens outlandish journalist in a crowdpleasing comedy.

    What we said: Its Rogens wheelhouse, and hes dependably hilarious whether exploding into a bombastic yet awkward speech, getting up to stoner shenanigans, or pratfalling down a flight of stairs. Whats pleasantly surprising is how well hes matched by Theron. Read the full review

    High Life

    Robert Pattinsons astronaut on an odyssey to a distant black hole faces parenting challenges and existential panic in Claire Deniss space drama.

    What we said: As with so many of Deniss films, the point is to contrive an overwhelmingly powerful mood and moment, an almost physiological sensation, this one incubated in the vast, cold reaches of space. It throbbed and itched with me long after the film was over. Read the full review

    Madelines Madeline

    Molly Parker plays a theatre director throwing the spotlight on her young stars mental-health issues in this intense drama.

    What we said: The movies tone and its narrative arc are intriguingly elusive. At various times, it resembles Roman Polanskis Repulsion, Charlie Kaufmans Synecdoche, New York and Alan Parkers Fame. Its an immersive and exotic experience. Read the full review

    Amazing Grace

    Long-suppressed Aretha Franklin documentary, shot by Sydney Pollack during recording sessions in a Los Angeles church.

    What we said: I felt wrung out at the end of this film. How incredible must it have been for those who were there in person. Read the full review

    Birds of Passage

    Ciro Guerra-directed drama about marijuana trafficking in Colombia and the culture of the indigenous people involved.

    What we said: There is also an extraordinary scene depicting a second wake in Anbals property: a ceremony involving the exhumation of a dead body in a coffin and the solemn removal of body parts while alcohol is sprayed around like holy water. Are these ceremonies accurately reported? I dont know. But the film shows cultural expressions being intensified and warped by the new energies of the drug trade. Read the full review

    Bacurau

    Fever
    Fever dream Bacurau. Photograph: Photo Cinemascpio

    A horror-style western about a Brazilian outback town under siege from a mysterious threat.

    What we said: It is a really strange film, beginning in a kind of ethno-anthropology and documentary style, becoming a poisoned-herd parable or fever dream and then a Jacobean-style bloodbath. It is an utterly distinctive film-making, executed with ruthless clarity and force. Read the full review

    Aladdin

    Guy Ritchies adaptation was widely anticipated to be awful; in fact it came out lively, colourful and funny, with only judicious tweaks to the original.

    What we said: It has felt like Will Smiths mojo really is trapped inside a lamp, after what seems like a decade of miserable and self-important serious roles which reached their nadir with After Earth and Collateral Beauty. Smith seizes his chance to let it out again and do what he does best. His Genie is less cartoonishly manic than Williamss; more human, you could say. But hes still the life of the party: part-Queer Eye makeover guru, part-Siri in human form, part-romcom best buddy with perhaps a touch of Hitch, the professional matchmaker Smith played in 2005. Read the full review

    Booksmart

    Olivia Wildes directorial debut is a funny, filthy, female-fronted competitor to Superbad that boasts its own distinctive style.

    What we said: Booksmart is inclusive and p

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