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The 50 Best 2019 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 7, 2019 

The Load (Ognjen Glavonić)


The Load is about a man and a van. We’re in Yugoslavia in 1999, where the rumble of NATO bombers can be heard in the distance. The man’s name is Vlada (Leon Luvec) and his job is to drive a container full of who-knows-what from Kosovo to Belgrade, no questions asked. His consignment and consigners are not divulged. Even he sits uneasily in his driver’s seat as worrying clanks emit from his cargo. In times of war what is out of sight can so easily slip out of mind. – Rory O. (full review)

Manta Ray (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng; Seeking Distribution)


Halfway through Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s hypnotic feature debut, Manta Ray, two men put up Christmas lights around an unadorned riverside shack. They’ve known each other for a while, but seldom speak: one (Wanlop Rungkumjad) is an unnamed Thai fisherman with dyed blonde hair; the other (Aphisit Hama) is a mute man whom the fisherman has found agonizing in a remote stretch of mangroves by the border with Myanmar, and has taken home to look after. The lights are to serve as decoration for a party the two are throwing that same night, but the sun is still high on the horizon; smiling ecstatically at the makeshift disco, the fisherman suggests the two should nap to make the day go by faster. And so they do. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Maya (Mia Hansen-Løve; Seeking Distribution)


With Maya, Hansen-Løve finds herself applying that skill (of carving out the distinct within the broad) to more questionable territory, evoking a tired cinematic trend of the restorative, mystical quality of India for passing Westerners with its narrative of French war reporter Gabriel (Roman Kolinka, a Hansen-Løve regular), recently returned home after months of captivity in Syria, struggling to regain a sense of normalcy and opting to recover in Goa. The 32-year-old Gabriel associates the location with his estranged mother and childhood, and in his attempts to recapture some of the magic it holds in his mind through refurbishing the house he used to live in and visiting with his godfather, Gabriel soon finds himself struck by the college-aged Maya (Aarshi Banerjee) who carries with her an offer of a different path forward. – Josh L. (full review)

The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent; Summer TBD)


Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale features some of the most atrocious on-screen violence in recent memory. It is a cauldron of blood, murders, and rapes so unflinching in vividness and brutality as to make it impossible to go through its 136 minutes without ever turning away from the screen, let alone to come out of it untouched. But it is also, in a way that’s indissolubly bound to role that violence plays in Kent’s work, and to the depiction she offers of it, one of the most memorable works in its genre – a parable that never turns violence into a spectacle, but is resolutely committed to expose the poisonous double prism of racism and sexism it feeds upon. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas)


Who needs a middle man’s subjectivity when you have algorithms predicting what people will like? Critics don’t matter much in Olivier Assayas’ talkative Non-Fiction, but they are not the only supposedly anachronistic relic to be thrown out of the window in this gentle and profoundly compassionate human comedy that draws from the ever-widening rift between old and new trends in the publishing industry to conjure up a tale of societal changes and those caught in between them. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Ray & Liz (Richard Billingham)


If there is an image to best introduce audiences to the grimy cinematic world of Ray & Liz–the remarkable debut feature of Turner prize-nominated visual artist Richard Billingham–it might be, fittingly, the very first one to hit the screen: that of a cracked, burnt-out light bulb filmed dangling beneath a nicotine-stained ceiling. Billingham has spent much of his career as an artist documenting and, in his short films, dramatizing the lives of his father Raymond (a chronic alcoholic played here by Patrick Romer and, as a younger man, by Justin Salinger ) and mother Elizabeth (Deirdre Kelly and–best of all–Ella Smith) and Ray & Liz could be viewed as a culmination of that work. It’s an immersive poetic-realist dive into the artist’s fractured memories of his parents during the time he spent growing up in Birmingham in the ‘70s and ‘80s. – Rory O. (full review)

Relaxer (Joel Potrykus)


While many indie filmmakers like Andrew Bujalski started making films in apartments with their friends and scaled up to larger projects, Michigan-based madman Joel Potrykus has gleefully and unapologetically scaled down as his career has progressed. His fourth outing, Relaxer, barely even takes place in an apartment, but rather in the corner of a living room where Abbie (Joshua Burge) is stuck on a couch for nearly six months. While staying there, his cruel (or tough love) brother Cam, (David Dastmalchian),  gives him a series of challenges. For the first one, he needs to drink a gallon of curdled milk out of nine baby bottles. Under the watchful eye of a Sony handicam, he’s not permitted to leave the couch under any circumstances until he’s finished. – John F. (full review)

Shadow (Zhang Yimou)


With its gorgeously choreographed sword duels, sabers slicing through paddles of blood and rain, watercolor bi-chromatic palettes and sumptuous costumes, Zhang Yimou’s Shadow (Ying) is a film of visual charms. To enter into the Fifth Generation maestro’s latest period piece is to be invited to marvel at a 116-minute long dance – a stunning return to form from a director who’d previously ventured into semi-autobiographical terrain with the 2014 moving Coming Home, and later veered into the bombastic Chinese-cum-Matt Damon blockbuster epic letdown The Great Wall (2016). Shadow brings heart and spectacle together, and the result is a bombastic martial arts wuxia replete with duels of breath-taking beauty that will please longtime Zhang acolytes and newbies alike. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Sunset (László Nemes)


“Let’s see what’s behind this.” That’s the very first line we hear in Sunset, László Nemes’ masterful follow-up to his 2015 breakout Son of Saul, a daring debut that followed the trials of a Sonderkommando member at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The pointed phrase is spoken by the host of a world-famous Budapestian millinery shop during the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. You may think that all sounds about as far away as one can get from the infamous Nazi death camp, yet Sunset somehow proves to be no less nerve-shredding a descent into hell for its lead character, and like Saul it is another film during which the frightening rumble of war can be heard in the not-so-distant background. – Rory O. (full review)

Too Late to Die Young (Dominga Sotomayor)


Halfway through Dominga Sotomayor’s movingly tender coming-of-age tale Too Late to Die Young(Tarde Para Morir Joven), my mind jolted back to a movie I saw and instantly fell for a couple of months prior, Carla Simón’s Summer 1993. It took me a while to figure out why. Summer 1993 is set in early 1990s Catalunya; Sotomayor’s takes place at the decade’s outset, but on the opposite side of the world: a commune nestled in the arid cordillera towering above Chile’s capital, Santiago. Yet at some fundamental level, the two films speak the same language. Underlying Sotomayor’s follow-up to her 2012 feature debut and Rotterdam Tiger Award winner Thursday Till Sunday is a deep-seated nostalgia – the same longing for a long-gone era that rang achingly true in Summer 1993. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Your Face (Tsai Ming-liang; Seeking Distribution)


The prevalence of social media has lent itself to a normalization of portraiture and the gaze, which no longer seems to appreciate the immense detail of the face that had once made the cinema a special medium. Photos on Facebook or Instagram feeds and the ways with which mainstream cultures celebrate beauty have stripped excitement from the specificities of appearance–to be scrolled through quickly and absorbed aimlessly without observation. Wrinkles and quirks, expressions and latent emotions represented are never contemplated, seemingly wasted on peripheral glances. Tsai Ming-liang, in his newest feature, Your Face, conducts a simple experiment in which moving images are primed on the intricacies of the face without distraction. Setting–often easier to connect with in a modern context–is erased almost entirely, as twelve faces are situated in front of a simple black backdrop. – Jason O. (full review)

Honorable Mentions

There’s a number of other films likely to arrive in 2019 that we’ve admired, including AuroraThe Chambermaid, Combat ObscuraCommunion, DriftEcho in the CanyonFast ColorA Faithful ManThe Feeling of Being Watched, The Fireflies are Gone, Friday’s ChildThe Gentle Indifference of the World, The InterpretersIntroduzione all’Oscuro, Jessica Forever, JoyA Land ImaginedLet Me Fall, LetoM, The Most Beautiful Couple, My Dear FriendNetizensO.G., Peterloo, Phantom CowboysRoi SoleilSay Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, Scary MotherScrewball, Sibel, SkinTeddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Tigers Are Not Afraid, Two Plains & a FancyThe Venerable W., Yung

Continue: Our 100 Most-Anticipated Films of 2019


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