My criteria for choosing this year’s favourites remain as simple as they always have been. Did I see it? Did I love the shit out of it? Does anything else really matter?
Director Peter Strickland regularly reworks his obsessions into wild, high-concept genre-benders. Here, a cursed red dress makes life miserable for Marianne Jean-Baptiste, while we find ourselves ravished by the mix of period British hauntology and ’70s-vintage Eurosleaze. Taschen should make a big expensive book out of this movie.
Dolemite is my name
Eddie Murphy’s valedictory lap is just one of the great things about this deeply affectionate, endlessly hilarious evocation of the ’70s blaxploitation game at its absolute lowest. It’s no classic, but it does have titties and kung-fu.
Lifting the lid on 40 years of silent cooperation between cartels, human traffickers, and officials on both sides of the border, this Canadian doc might be the definitive word on the lawless hell brought down on Mexico by the drug war. It’s also a reminder that an unspeakable nightmare is repurposed into TV and movie entertainment everywhere north of Ciudad Juárez.
The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine’s blackout nihilism meets the full McConaughey (Matthew, that is) in this tale of a man so blissfully wasted that he achieves a state of grace (and wins a Pulitzer). No American actor went further out this year, no film risked so much in pursuit of so very little. Passionately free, and completely nuts.
Mike Leigh’s meticulous staging of the events leading to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819—an act of state violence against the poor that still isn’t commemorated in the U.K. school curriculum—is made only more vital (and heartbreaking) in the wake of that crushing election two weeks ago.
Thick with dread and achieving a kind of ancient folk-psychedelia, this Austrian feature about sorcery, madness, and practical magic in medieval Europe makes The Witch look like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Avoid if baby-eating isn’t your bag.
Anne at 13,000 ft
Depending on your angle, this is either a devastating portrait of a young woman fraught with emotional-health issues or it’s 2019’s blackest comedy. Either way, Deragh Campbell is responsible for some of the most painfully honest moments we saw on-screen this year, made even more remarkable when you realize that Kazik Radwanski’s movie was assembled in bits and pieces over two years for a handful of pennies.
This sexy item follows a young Israeli as he wends his way through Paris, eventually falling into a love triangle in one of the film’s many swoony callbacks to the French new wave. He’s trying to shake off that old IDF feeling, but Navid Lapiv’s witty and unpredictable screenplay keeps him thwarted and us beguiled.
The Irishman/Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese
It’s cheating, sure, but this was Scorsese’s year and these films are related, both being built on slippery deceits and mythomania, both achieving essential truths. One is a haunting renunciation of the gangster film itself, and an acknowledgment that Murder Inc. is the client of powers—earthly and otherwise—more vast than any puny mafia. The other rescues and reconstitutes an artist after decades of being trapped inside murky VHS dubs of Renaldo and Clara. Up to and including the film’s tissue of lies and fake-outs, was anything else this year so energetically fun as Rolling Thunder Revue? Has Dylan ever looked this possessed?
Ash Is Purest White
By turns whimsical, melancholy, and baffling, Jia Zhangke gives us the world and more in a super attenuated gangster epic/love story that becomes something quite different 140 minutes later. References to John Woo’s The Killer, the songs of the Village People, trickster UFOs, depthless and eternal sorrow—it’s all here!