January 1st, 2020

BB Piano

Faves of 2019

As is the annual tradition, my favourite films, TV, music, and games from 2019.

Films. 2019 was the #YearOfFilm where I tried, and succeeded, to watch at least 365 films. In the end I managed 373 films that were completely new for me, and 411 in total.

This means there are quite a few favourites, which I had to whittle down from an initial list of around 70... you didn't want to read a list of 70 films did you?

Not that I've shortened the list a great deal, so here are two groups of films. The first are my secondary favourites that I've watched this year, a mix of films released both in 2019 and prior. This is followed by my most favouritest released in 2019.

Films Part One: Secondary Favourites

Destroyer (2018). The dark tale of a police detective seeking revenge against a criminal gang. Nicole Kidman is almost unrecognisable in a stunning performance.

Prospect (2018). Set on an alien moon, a father and daughter risk their lives mining. The thing about Prospect is that it's so different to the bulk of sci-fi out there. It's gritty and lo-fi, and does a great job of being original even if the story is rather minimal.

School of Rock (2003). Dropout Dewey Finn tricks his way into a cover teaching job, and puts his own twist on the experience. It has taken me 16 years to watch it, but still a great story with Jack Black in a role that he's perfect for.

Up Among the Stars (2018). A Spanish film about the sad story of a film director who has lost his way since the death of his wife, and uses his son as cast and crew for a series of half attempted films. A lovely and unusual tale with some great performances, simple as that.

Solis (2018). An astronaut wakes up to discover he is in a failing escape pod. Solis is a minimal tale, in the vein of other films set in a single location, but still manages to create an engaging story and performance. It feels very much like 70s sci-fi.

He Never Died (2015). A strange character with supernatural powers must protect his daughter from a criminal gang. Henry Rollins is perfectly cast in an unusual tale with various twists and turns.

Father's Chair (2012). A Brazilian film that follows a troubled family. The film does a great job of capturing the realities of parenting, even if in an extreme situation, and reminds us that it's also about love.

Border (2018). A Swedish film that follows a strange character that works for the border police. Although a slow story it does a great job of reminding us how humanity treats people that are different.

Pain & Glory (2019). A retired film director spends his time coping with his various ills while revisiting his past. A career best performance from Antonio Banderas in a rich and interesting story.

Sad Hill Unearthed (2017). A Spanish documentary about a group of film fans who find a key location used in the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. A lovely non-fiction tale of people coming together.

Aquarius (2016). A Brazilian film about a woman recovering from cancer who fights to keep her apartment. Despite being fictional this feels like a fly-on-the-wall story about individuals having to fight against corporations and corruption, helped by excellent performances, particularly from Sonia Braga.

Filmworker (2017). A documentary about Leon Vitali, an English actor who starred in Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and then ended up dedicating his life to working for Kubrick. Just a fascinating real life story of the pros and cons of dedication.

Zatoichi (2003). A Japanese film about a blind samurai who now works as a masseur and ends up in a village controlled by warring gangs. A classic tale of one hero against the world, with wonderful production and performances.

Vincent Has No Scales (2014). A French film about a loner that seems to develop powers when immersed in water. The film falls into that category of alternative superhero films, and in a particularly original and charming way, even if it loses its way.

Little Joe (2019). A British film set in the near future about a company that genetically modifies plants for the consumer market. Feeling very much like 70s sci-fi the film has an unusual and slow burning story and great performances set to an original and creepy soundtrack.

Ordinary Love (2019). A British film about a couple going through the torment of cancer diagnosis and treatment. A gritty but very real tale of people going through "ordinary" things that require extraordinary effort. Fab performances from Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson, and a great soundtrack.

Films Part Two: Favouritest Favourites

Stan & Ollie (2019). Set during Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's twilight years as they try and have a last hurrah of a tour in the UK. It also includes some of the earlier history of how they met, and a recreated moment or two from their famous films. The magic is in the recreation of the pair by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, who do an amazing job with a great supporting cast.

Midsommar (2019). A small group of Americans go to a traditional Swedish festival. Ari Ester does a great job again of turning a seemingly normal situation into nightmarish horror with an original twist.

Judy (2019). Judy Garland is in the twilight of her career, struggling with money, her children, ex-husbands, and drug and alcohol abuse. Renee Zellwegger embodies Judy Garland in a stunning performance, which is also a fascinating tale of an unusual life.

Earthquake Bird (2019). An expat living in Japan is embroiled in the murder of her friend. Although Alicia Vikander is arguably the weakest part of this film, the rest is superb. The dark story is the best part of this film, as it twists and turns both in the past and present. Great production and performances from the supporting cast.

TV. Inevitably this took a back seat with so many films to watch, but somehow I still managed to watch a couple of complete seasons. The stand out early in the year was the Netflix animated series Love, Death & Robots. There was also a second season of One-Punch Man, which didn't quite match the heights of season one, but was still plenty of fun. There was a rather poor season five of Black Mirror. The Boys was a fun alternate take on the superhero genre, albeit forgettable for me. I caught up with season one of the lovely Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing, and then watched this year's season two.

Music. This also took a bit of a backseat, but with the family away over the Summer hols I did manage to listen to quite a lot of music. Unfortunately I didn't write any of it down at the time, and can't be bothered with trawling through added dates on iTunes - although a cursory scan suggests a revisit of The Beatles, a lot of Brazilian music, and Barenaked Ladies. Looking just at 2019 albums it's slim pickings, and the obvious favourite is the surprisingly good No Geography from The Chemical Brothers. There was the surprise of STET from Guy Sigsworth, which is both unusual and enjoyable. A new album from Lana Del Rey which is entertaining in places, but gains a distant third place because of so many co-writers. I need to listen to M83's DSVII more, but it has potential. Finally, Handfuls of Night from Penguin Cafe, although nothing on it has managed to hook me yet.

Games. All that I managed on the PC this year was Overcooked and Overcooked 2, which turned me into Gordon Ramsay when playing with the daughters. Gaming was dominated by a purchase of the Oculus Quest in June. I was surprised by how revolutionary virtual reality is, helped by the Quest's good quality hardware, even though the graphics are lacking. There was a moment when playing the introductory game of First Steps when I was genuinely wowed, and there have been a handful of wow moments since. Stand out games are:
Beat Saber - a rhythm game with lightsabers
Pistol Whip - another rhythm game, but mostly about guns
Arizona Sunshine - a zombie hunting game that does a particularly good job of capturing the atmosphere
Here's hoping we get some more good stuff next year, and perhaps a big graphics upgrade in a couple of years.
The year ended with the Christmas present of an Xbox One with a Game Pass, so many games have been played. Too early though to draw any conclusions on those.

So that's it, what are your faves?