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  • Writer's pictureMartin Vaux

Martin’s Top 20 Films of 2019: 15-11

Updated: Feb 22, 2020

In line with personal tradition, I have compiled my Top 20 Films of 2019.

Here are the second five films from that list, and to read 20-16, please click here.

15. Knives Out

This pleasingly post-modern murder mystery proved a surprise hit late in the year - so late that I did not include it in my original Top 20 list.

It may be a little slow to start, baggy in places and perhaps too cute for its own good, but it's still one of the year's best movies and is well worth a watch.

14. Ready or Not

Part supernatural black comedy, part survival horror, Ready or Not follows young bride Grace, played by Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). We meet her just as she is about to marry into a super-rich American dynasty whose fortune stems from the playing of games. The film subsequently stays with her through one of the more memorable wedding nights in recent cinematic history - one where not everyone is going to make it through to post-nuptial brunch...

While loathe to spoil the story, the film is fairly up-front early on; to enter the family, Grace must play a game of hide and seek with her in-laws, albeit with a macabre twist. This twist is the first of many, and the film’s directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (V/H/S, Southbound) clearly took great pleasure in milking a pretty thin concept for every last drop.

Key to Ready or Not’s success is Weaving’s Grace, a rounded female hero with a great sense of humour and a pleasing grounding in common sense. She is so likeable, and her new-found family so hideous, that is is very easy to gasp, laugh, cheer and clap her through her set-piece trials and tribulations. Plus, the figure she cuts, in a blood-stained wedding dress, yellow Converse trainers, ammo belt and elephant gun, is a great Halloween costume for anyone interested in such things.

A solid supporting cast features a few faces familiar from film and TV, including Andie MacDowell (Groundhog Day, Four Weddings and a Funeral), Adam Brody (The O.C., Thank You For Smoking) and Mark O’Brien (Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal), the last of whom plays Alex, Grace’s husband, but the film is essentially a mid-budget exploitation movie; the lack of star power means nobody is safe, and this is a definite strength rather than a weakness.

Evoking the likes of 2011’s Cabin in the Woods and You’re Next, 2006’s Severance and 2017’s Get Out, I had a whale of a time with Ready or Not. It walks a tightrope, managing to be very silly, incredibly engaging, pleasingly gory and wonderfully stylish - and it has bite, too.

Indeed, it would be a bit generous to call it a satire, but the film feels pretty timely. It offers some pleasing social commentary, plenty of tension, a few wonderful splatty moments, and buckets of laughs.

As such, if you like horror comedies then this is one of the year’s best.

13. Terminator Dark Fate

Despite being a box-office flop, the third proper entry in the Terminator franchise is a real return to form, giving the series a thoroughly justified feminist twist while honouring the source material.

If you missed it on the big screen then, frankly, you missed out. It was a victim of franchise fatigue, but I found it to be one of the finest all-out action movies I have seen in recent memory.

12. The Peanut Butter Falcon

This off-beat indie comedy follows Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Downs Syndrome who escapes from his sheltered living facility to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler.

There must be something in the water at the moment, what with The Peanut Butter Falcon and Fighting With My Family both hinging on the theme of wrestling, although this movie is really a Mark Twain/Huckleberry Finn sort of tale during which Zak’s odyssey aligns with that of Tyler, played by Shia LaBeouf (American Honey, Disturbia).

Both young men are on the run, one from perceptions of disability, the other from a series of poor decisions as manifested by Duncan, a vengeful fisherman played by John Hawkes (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene, Winter’s Bone). In their escapism however, the two engage in buddy-movie antics that offer a winning combination of idiocy and profundity with Tyler 'training' Zak along their way.

As they follow the coast of North Carolina, the two go from being chalk-and-cheese vagabonds to close friends, and their relationship is exceptionally, heart-breakingly touching. They meet a wonderful assortment of people as the go, from Bruce Dern’s crabby retiree Carl to Wayne Dehart’s Blind Casper John, climaxing in a joyful triptych of familiar faces who I am loathe to mention here.

The third wheel in Zak and Tyler’s relationship is Eleanor, played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, 2018’s Suspiria). While it is safe to say that the film fails the Bechdel Test, and that Johnson’s character takes a while to find its place, Eleanor’s role is absolutely essential in the film and Johnson is superb throughout.

There are simplistic ways to view this film, but ultimately it is a movie about defying expectations. It sits comfortably alongside such acclaimed indie road movies as Little Miss Sunshine, About Schmidt and Wristcutters: A Love Story, and is likewise warm-hearted, beautiful, funny and meaningful.

It’s hardly action-packed, but neither does it dawdle, and as dramas go this one offers just enough bittersweetness without going full-on Forrest Gump.

Oh, and, if your heart is not in your throat come the final 15 minutes then, frankly speaking, you are a monster!

11. Us

From the twisted mind of Jordan Peele (Get Out) comes Us, a satirical horror thriller about the darkness at the heart of the American psyche…

The film follows Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, Queen of Katwe), a middle class African American living happily with her husband, son and daughter. Regrettably, their seaside family holiday to Santa Cruz is disrupted in singular fashion, and it falls to Adelaide to keep her family together in the face of a walking, talking nightmare - or, should I say, a family of them.

During the opening moments of Us, we see cage after cage of rabbits and are then guided through a terrifying moment from Adelaide’s childhood. It involves a hall of mirrors, and we later come to understand its significance; this is a movie all about revolutions, topsy-turvy logic, doppelgangers and deepest fears. It is also a film about social experiments, and could only have been made in and about America.

While the past hangs heavy over the film it is, of course, about now. Race tensions are central, as is economic angst, and all this is explored through a number of dramatic foils (two of which are wonderfully embodied by Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker as Kitty and Josh). This film has a lot to say about envy, and asks after what sort of lives we wish we had as well as what sort of lives we might most fear having to live.

It is certainly divisive, and is likely too scary and/or too cerebral for some tastes. Indeed, making the follow-up to one of 2017’s most loved films must have weighed heavily on Jordan Peele, and perhaps as a result Us is a tricky, somewhat tortured movie.

Thankfully, it is utterly thrilling too, packed with wonderful set-pieces, outstanding performances, and simple human moments fantastically observed.

A bit like a band’s difficult second album, there are probably too many ideas in Us, and perhaps it does not quite hang together all the way. Just because it isn’t perfect does not mean it isn’t brilliant however - a sentiment that feels appropriate considering the messages the film reinforces in its every act and deed.

As such, Us it is so original, so stylish, and so fun that it begs to be watched, rewatched and celebrated - not least for all of Nyong’o’s menacing scissor snips. Shing shing!

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