The Film ‘89 Year in Review 2019 – Part 2, Skye.

The year that future historians will refer to as two thousand and nineteen has been a great one for us here at Film ‘89 Towers. We’ve seen the site go from strength to strength with new, talented and passionate writers coming on board. From a personal point of view it’s been a year of both self inflicted chaos and familial blessings which has meant that I’ve unfortunately had far less time to dedicate to the Film ‘89 Podcast. To my absolute disbelief however, the podcast listener base has grown exponentially this year, to far greater an extent than any of us could have imagined, and for that we’re extremely grateful to our ever expanding and loyal fan base. I give my genuine thanks to you all. 

In my personal rundown of my favourite films of 2019 I’ll not list them in order of any preference but chronological order. With regards television, 2019 has seen the long awaited conclusion to one of my favourite shows, Game of Thrones. The first four seasons of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ bold adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s acclaimed books were nothing short of spectacular, truly game changing television. Unfortunately as the show veered away from Martin’s unfinished writing, starting with the limp fifth season, the rot starred to set in. Seasons six and seven picked up with some much improved writing and a fair smattering of truly jaw dropping episodes but this year’s final season was a bitter disappointment. A large portion of the fan base were up in arms with the way in which the show’s multi-thread narrative was tied up and the innumerable surviving characters’ fates. So disappointed were we all at Film ‘89 Towers that we scrapped our planned Game of Thrones episode. It could have been the greatest show ever to grace the small screen but sadly the ball was well and truly dropped in a final season that has proven to be arguably the creative low point of the year in terms of unfulfilled promise. 

Elsewhere we’ve seen Netflix maintain its position as a big player in the ever growing array of content providers out there with yet another season of The Crown, a show which, it could be argued, has unexpectedly become the real Game of Thrones. It’s a superbly written, brilliantly acted show with great production values and an addictive quality that I found pleasantly surprising given the subject matter. 

Season 5 of Black Mirror – another Netflix property – went back to a three episode structure after the six episodes of 2017’s brilliant fourth season. Whilst frustratingly sporadic in its release schedule, the show retains an extremely high level of quality and star pulling power which has solidified its current position as my favourite television show. 

After it’s first season aired in 2016, this year we were treated to the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s brilliant comedy Fleabag. This second season was easily as good as the first and seems to have brought the story of the relationship woes of Waller-Bridge’s titular character to a close. Equal parts funny, cringe inducing and heart warming, it remains one of the best shows to come out of the BBC in a long while and I really hope we see a third season at some point. 

Yet another Netflix show that we loved so much that we dedicated a significant section to it on our 24th episode of The Film ‘89 Podcast back in March was Ricky Gervais’ After Life, a show both wonderfully touching and achingly funny (one particular scene made me laugh so hard I was close to vomiting), it’s arguably the best thing he’s done since The Office

Two of the big hitters to start their own streaming services have been Apple with Apple TV+ and Disney with their Disney+ service. Of the frustratingly limited content on Apple TV+, the standout show for me is without a doubt The Morning Show. A show borne out of the wholly unpleasant behind the scenes revelations that lead to the #MeToo movement, The Morning Show addresses some uncomfortable subject matter from such an unexpectedly common sense perspective that coupled with some stellar performances from Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, Steve Carell and many more, it remains one of the most refreshing and welcome surprises of the year and gets my absolute recommendation. 

Whilst Disney+ remains out of reach for much of the world outside of the US until early 2020, those of us lucky enough to have access have no doubt savoured the welcome delights of its flagship show, The Mandalorian. Disney’s cinematic efforts with the Star Wars franchise have yielded mixed results with a schism being rent in the fan base that’s got more than a little out of control on social media. Fortunately John Favreau, Dave Filoni and the rest of the creative crew behind this new venture have managed to create a show that’s all encompassing in its cultural diversity without having any virtue signalling agenda placed ahead of its creative goals. From what I’ve seen so far it has great promise, being a welcome mix of western and Lone Wolf & Cub style wandering samurai tale. The production values are suitably high and if Pedro Pascal keeps that helmet on for the duration of the show then he surely deserves an Emmy for his troubles. 

Now onto the big screen, and in chronological order…

Avengers: Endgame – Marvel Studios, counting their collaboration with Sony Pictures (which I’ll also come to) released three films in 2019. The first, Captain Marvel, was a disappointment and for me the weakest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films thus far. Fortunately the big hitter that fans were all geared up for following 2018’s staggering Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, proved to be every bit the worthy conclusion to an 11 year cinematic odyssey. It wrapped things up in such a manner that I was left completely satisfied, something that all too few modern films can hope to accomplish. Irrespective of where the series goes from here on in, this first decade (and a bit) will surely be remembered as something groundbreaking and this denouement was the perfect mix of epic, grandstanding action, brilliantly clever time travelling caper and emotional gut punching resolution. What makes Endgame so enjoyable is the extra rewards gleaned from going into it with an intimate knowledge of the films that have preceded it as there are so many payoffs for loyal fans that completely enrich the overall experience. If I had to pick my favourite film of 2019 it would be this one. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home – I’d love to leave this one out in favour of something else just in the interests of making my list as varied as possible but for anyone who listened to Episode 31 of our fair podcast, I had an absolute blast watching this second Marvel Studios/Sony Pictures collaboration. After the perfect conclusion that was Avengers: Endgame, my expectations for yet another MCU film were low, I simply didn’t need anything else for a while at least. How wrong I was because this second Marvel/Sony Spider-Man film was the perfect tonic to the emotional gut-punch of Endgame. Jake Gyllenhaal made for a great antagonist and some wonderful visuals were used to bring to life his illusion creating ability. It was capped with a perfect rug-pull ending that made the ensuing real world deal shenanigans between Marvel and Sony all the more frustrating.

Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood – When it was announced that Quentin Tarantino’s next film would be a cinematic retelling of the tragic death of actress Sharon Tate at the hands of the despicable Charles Manson “family”, many were concerned with the approach the never subtle director would take. To the chagrin of some, he chose to set this film in his own, pre-established “Tarantinoverse” which gave him carte blanche to subvert expectations and re-write history to some degree, much as he had done in his 2009 WWII film, Inglourious Basterds. What took me by surprise was how much more there was to the film. For the most part it’s a love letter to the dying days of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the level of illusion that’s cast that this is 1969 is nothing short of staggering. I’ve gone into depth about the film with Neil and Tony Stella on Episode 33 but it’s one that’s stayed with me long after that first viewing and the two central performances from DiCaprio and Pitt are superb and the Spahn Ranch scene may be the most brilliantly tense set piece I’ve seen all year. We’re it not for Endgame this would be my favourite film of 2019.

Joker – Yet another film that I’ve discussed in-depth on the podcast, Todd Phillips’ Joker was a film that in the months prior to its release, I’d convinced myself I didn’t want to see. Yet again I was proven wrong. It’s courted some controversy and it’s share of detractors but on the whole, Joker has been a resounding success for Warner Bros. and well deserved too. Phillips’ film doesn’t hold back on some quite scathing social commentary and whilst it’s potentially incendiary subject matter of a publicly idolised agent of chaos caused some backlash, you’ve got to remember that as much as it goes against the comic book movie grain, it’s still an adaptation of an 80 year old comic book villain. The central performance from Joaquin Phoenix should get some dues come awards season and whilst it owes so much to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, maybe too much for some, it still manages to retain it’s own identity outside of any pre-existing franchise and was yet another refreshingly surprising 2019 theatrical experience. 

Doctor Sleep – Revered director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is one of my favourite films, certainly one of my favourite horror films, and Mike Flanagan really had his work cut out to convince me that a sequel to a film I hold so dearly had any right to be made. Again, this is all covered in more detail by Steve and I in a recent episode but his subsequent adaptation of King’s Doctor Sleep did the unthinkable and successfully bridged the gap between King’s original book, Kubrick’s film and King’s 2013 sequel novel. Again a theatrical experience enriched by lowered expectations, Flanagan’s film is a finely crafted sequel with some superbly realised visual set pieces and it remains one of my favourite viewing experiences of 2019. Disappointingly, Doctor Sleep was not a commercial hit in spite of a mostly positive critical reception. It’s a film that deserved greater success and one that shows that it’s director’s deft hand places him firmly near the top of the list of filmmakers to keep your eye on in the coming years.

Le Mans ‘66 (Ford v Ferrari) – Director James Mangold is slowly but surely racking up quite the filmography with films such as Copland, Walk The Line, 3:10 to Yuma and Logan showing that he’s an assured filmmaker with a steady understanding of his craft and an ability to effortlessly straddle multiple genres with ease. Returning to the biography, for some years Mangold had been wanting to make a film of the story of revered racing driver Ken Miles and his battles with the Ford hierarchy leading to his historic performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race that took place over June 18th and 19th 1966. Le Mans ‘66 is arguably the film I’ve most been looking forward to in the second half of 2019. I’m a lifelong motor racing fan and race car enthusiast so the prospect of a film depicting events from my favourite era of motor racing had me salivating. Quite fittingly, Mangold’s film motors along at a fair pace in spite of its runtime exceeding two and a half hours. The two leads, Christian Bale and Matt Damon, have a great chemistry and Bale is typically chameleonic and shed seventy pounds before filming began having previously gained a lot of weight for his role in Vice (2018). It’s on the technical front that the film really impresses. Fox must have had a lot of faith in Mangold, we’ll deserved after the success of Logan (2017) and they handed him a hefty budget of nearly $98 million and the resultant on screen racing is pretty jaw dropping and done for real wherever they could with relatively sparing and subtle use of CGI. The final act really took me by surprise and as it’s still playing I won’t give the game away but it really makes the preceding two hours worthwhile. It may not overtake John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966) as my favourite film on the sport of motor racing but it’s a well deserved second place on the podium at least. 

The Irishman – I can’t, in all good conscience, leave Martin Scorsese’s three and a half hour crime epic off this list for a number of reasons. First and foremost is because it’s simply a damn good film from one of the greatest directors of our generation, make that several generations, and credit to Netflix for financing the film after several big studios passed on it. You have to ask what they were thinking and why they had no faith in one of the most revered directors working today. Thankfully Netflix had such faith and the resultant film gave us a return to the big screen of not only Robert De Niro and All Pacino together once more, but also Joe Pesci in arguably the best performance of the principle cast. Contrary to the opinions of many of my respected peers, I don’t think The Irishman is top tier Scorsese but it’s still a finely crafted tale in spite of some problems. My fellow Film ‘89 cohorts, Leighton Winstone and Steve Amos, will no doubt heap praise on the film in their lists and whilst I have no desire to sully their reverence for the film, personally I couldn’t ignore the distracting de-ageing effects, a slightly OTT performance from Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa, a criminally underused Harvey Keitel and a flabby final act that, for me at least, robbed the film of some of its momentum. I fully understand the message Scorsese was conveying with an elderly and regretful Frank Sheeran but I think it could have been wrapped up more concisely than it was. Still, it’s a fine film and certainly one worthy of this list, I just wasn’t as completely enamoured with it as some were. 

Marriage Story – My final choice is yet another Netflix entry – quite the year for the streaming giant – this time from indie and art-house director Noah Baumbach, dealing with a topic he first explored in 2005 in his semi-autobiographical, The Squid and the Whale, that of divorce. Marriage Story is like a modernised Kramer vs. Kramer. Where that film focussed on Dustin Hoffman’s struggle with suddenly having to be a full time father to his young son, Marriage Story concentrates more on two soon to be divorcees’ struggle to keep their separation as amicable as possible. What it does brilliantly is shine a spotlight on how much work is required to maintain a marriage and in showing what caused Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole and Adam Driver’s Charlie to drift apart, it shows just how easily identity and individuality can be sacrificed when becoming a spouse and parent takes precedence over an individual’s needs. The two leads are exceptional and as much as one scene in particular has been played in isolation ad infinitum on social media, there are so many telling little moments peppered throughout the rest of the film that will no doubt resonate with anyone who’s ever been in a long term relationship. Neither party is painted as the outright villain, these are good people trying to deal with a bad situation as responsibly as possible – at first anyway. When divorce lawyers become involved, not only are we shown the nasty reality of US divorce and family law, but we’re also treated to two more great performances, this time from Laura Dern and Ray Liotta. Marriage Story isn’t always an easy watch but it’s never anything less than a riveting study of human relationships and if the final act doesn’t get you teary-eyed then you’re clearly made of sterner stuff than I. 

Again I’d like to give my sincere thanks to each and every one of you for your continued support and we hope to keep giving you even more great content throughout 2020.