The best films of 2019 (so far!)

We’re still a few months away from awards season, but already 2019 has given us a range of must-see movies from blockbusters to biopics and quirky comedies. Here’s our pick of the flicks so far in 2019.

Doctor Strange



Following the Oscar-winning, zeitgeist-grabbing success of Get Out, Jordan Peele returns with another inventive and ambitious psychological horror film. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star as the heads of a middle-class black family whose family home is invaded by people who look exactly like them. Spooky af.

The NME review concluded: “Peele shows us horror among the familiar, and it’s all the more scary as a result… Towards the end of the film, the concept becomes a little stretched, even by its own internal logic. But it’s a film that confirms Peele as that rarest of things – a true auteur.”

‘Rocketman’

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Rocketman

Dexter Fletcher, the director who completed Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer departed, turns his attention to Sir Elton Hercules John. Taron Egerton stars as the iconic pop star in a movie-musical that doesn’t shy away from showing us Elton’s dark side.

The NME review concluded: “Where Bohemian Rhapsody was cautious, reverent and chaste, this is fearless, honest and sexy (yes, it’s a film about a famous gay man with scenes of actual gay sex)… Rocketman bursts in a storm of glitter and rhinestones. If you don’t adore it, you’re probably no fun.”

‘Liam Gallagher: As It Was’

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Liam Gallagher’s impressive post-Beady Eye comeback is definitely worth celebrating, and this documentary film works as both an intimate portrait of the former Oasis frontman’s last 10 years, and as authorised biography timed to promote his new album ‘Why Me? Why Not?’. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, basically.

The NME review concluded: “By the end of the film, you’re left with the impression of a force of nature: compelling, unstoppable and inclined to take everything in its path along for the ride.”

‘Eighth Grade’

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This coming-of-age story from first-time director Bo Burnham is no cheesy teen movie. Starring the naturally sympathetic young actress Elsie Fisher, it’s a vivid and sometimes quietly heartbreaking reminder of how awkward growing up can be.

The NME review concluded: “[This film] is a by turns uplifting and crushing reminder of what it’s like trying to become yourself, and a reason to be grateful you never have to do it again.”

‘Avengers: Endgame’

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Films don’t come any huger than this: the closing chapter to an 11-year saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, told across some 22 movies. And by the end of its three-hour runtime, there will definitely be tears.

The NME review concluded: ” There really is very little that could be improved about Endgame. There’s certainly no more that could be thrown at it. Whether your heart belongs to the original team or one of the newbies, you’ll see them get their time to shine. You will almost certainly cry. Probably more than once. Is it the best comic-book movie ever? The Dark Knight could give it a very good fight, but Endgame has more fighters on its team. It might just win.”

‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy stars in this brilliant biopic of Lee Israel, a biographer-turned-literary forger who made a decent living faking letters in the style of greats like Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker. A super-charming Richard E. Grant co-stars as her partner-in-crime, Jack Hock.

The NME review concluded: “Director Marielle Heller (The Diary Of A Teenage Girl) keeps a low-key look throughout. The whole film is set in New York, but she almost never looks up at the grandeur. She’s inside, in shadows, or underground with two people who live without ever really being noticed by anyone but each other. There’s nowhere else you’d want to go when there’s the option of sticking with them.”

‘Diego Maradona’

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Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona

Asif Kapadia, director of acclaimed docs about Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna, turns his attention to tainted football legend Diego Maradona. The soccer icon himself contributes some fresh insights, but remains a largely inscrutable figure.

The NME review concluded: “This absorbing, entertaining and well-constructed film may fail to expose the man for who he really is, but it certainly adds more allure to his legend. Against all the odds, and with the bar set imposingly high after Senna and Amy, Kapadia can keep the match ball. He has his hat trick.”

‘Rolling Thunder Revue’

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Martin Scorsese’s “fever dream” of a film is a lucid and revealing insight into Bob Dylan’s most iconic tour. Just don’t expect a strictly literal approach to telling the story of what actually happened.

The NME review concluded: “The film and its accompanying 14-disc live album provide another yet treasure trove for Dylan acolytes to dive into, categorise and obsess over. For casuals, there’s less to sink your teeth – its basically a plotless film dominated loosely by chronology – but remains a priceless insight into this incarnation of the mysterious vagabond.”

‘Vox Lux’

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Natalie Portman stars as a jaded former child star in writer-director Brady Corbet’s compelling meditation on the corrosive power of modern pop fame. Jude Law co-star as her long-suffering but all-too-complicit manager,

The NME review concluded: “As a portrait of modern celebrity – entirely detached from ‘real’ life and normal people but breathlessly begged for her uninformed soundbites on complex world issues – Portman’s Celeste is messy and riveting and all too easy to believe. Vox Lux is, just like Celeste and the modern news cycle, kind of depressing, but in a way that’s exciting.”

‘Amazing Grace’

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Major technical issues (and objections from Franklin herself) kept this concert film on the shelf for 47 years. Finally completed by producer Alan Elliot, it captures the Queen of Soul’s two performances at Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in 1972, which were recorded for her iconic live album of the same name.

The NME review concluded: “As the film nears its end, the emotional clout is taken up a level as Pastor Cleveland invites Franklin’s father, the Reverend CL Franklin, to address the congregation. His address is one of fatherly pride, hailing his daughter’s talents and even mopping her brow, a moment of familial intimacy that allows us to instantly forget that we’re watching one of the greatest singers of all time. More than a concert film, Amazing Grace is the ultimate testament to Aretha’s eternal talent.”

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

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Moonlight director Barry Jenkins returns with an emotionally charged adaptation of a classic James Baldwin novel. KiKi Layne stars as a young woman seeking to prove her wrongly accused partner’s innocence before the birth of their child. Regina King is on Oscar-winning form as her mother.

The NME review concluded: “In a film that could so easily feel doom mongering, particular in its final scenes that suggest that between the 70s and now not a whole lot has changed, If Beale Street Could Talk refuses to be dented. Through extreme darkness it always keeps proud hope alight. It’s romantic in several sense of the word. It’s a very easy movie to love.”

‘Wild Rose’

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Wild Rose

Rising star Jessie Buckley shines as Rose-Lynn, an ex-con and wannabe country star from Glasgow, in this affecting British film that’s definitely a bit grittier than A Star Is Born. Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo lead the support cast.

The NME review concluded: “At a time where working class voices are rare in cinema, this narrative feels long overdue. The balance between crowd-pleaser and cliché is a fine one, but Wild Rose manages the former while also delivering a timely message from a voice we desperately needed to hear.”

‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’

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Once Upon A Time

Quentin Tarantino’s latest takes place in ’60s Los Angeles in an alternate timeline where an ageing TV actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double (Brad Pitt) embark on an odyssey to make a name for themselves in the Hollywood film industry. Margot Robbie co-stars as real-life ragic actress Sharon Tate, adding to the film’s ambitious and sprawling narrative.

The NME review concluded: “If this truly is Tarantino’s penultimate film before his mooted retirement then the signs are that he intends to go out with a thunderous bang.”
Read more at https://www.nme.com/blogs/the-movies-blog/the-best-films-of-2019-so-far-2510511#U59Xs2dFZZyf156p.99

POND LIFE | REVIEW

Pond Life is the near perfect feature debut from director Bill Buckhurst. A delightful time capsule of epochal folk transience, the film benefits from an unusually assured young cast, smart aesthetics and a remarkable script by Richard Cameron, adapting his own play. It’s all wonderfully naturalistic – poetically so, not without irony – and boasts a tremendous feeling for locality. Esme Creed-Miles, meanwhile, will blow you away as gentle, tragic Pogo.

The film opens to a late Summer’s day in the rural village of Edlington, South Yorkshire, circa 1994. It’s easy to forget just how much as changed in a quarter of the last century but it’s a keen eye for detail that sees Buckhurst load his mise en scène with gameboys, door stop televisions and, auspiciously, a dearth of mobile phones. Perhaps it is a reflection on the digital age’s perception on its own past, but all feels rather antiquated in Edlington. Like a pocket out of time, the village and its quaintly odd residents seem to be poised in permanent anticipation of some imminent event. Tony Blair weighs heavy in the background, albeit considered an outsider for number ten by the villagers, and there’s the local legend that says a giant carp lurks within the local waters, waiting to be caught. Epitomising all, young, naive Pogo (Creed-Miles, currently heading up Amazon’s Hanna spin off too) attempts to capture exoticism within the mundane via the cassette recorder she carries everywhere.

Pogo’s closest friend is Trevor (Tom Varey), a good soul with a penchant for angling and itchy feet. There’s no longer room for Trevor at home – parents Russ (Shaun Dooley) and Irene (Sally Lindsay) need him out, whilst sister Cassie (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is too busy with local bad boy Maurice (Abraham Lewis) to care either way – and a job in the near town beckons. How he’ll break this to Pogo is a looming challenge, with her learning difficulties and recent traumas rendering her wholly dependent, but that can wait. In the mean time, there’s a carp to be caught – ‘a big bugger…with a back like a pig’ – and quiet adventures must still be had. That said, there are dark histories lurking in the muddy waters of Edlington and calm waters can be deceptive. 

Though the main drive here is the build up to Trevor’s final fishing trip at the local pond – coming of age beats are tangible but admirably subtle – snatches of life jostle for attention. Vignettes capture the village quiz night and the kids who use a dumped sofa and television in the local park to play a make believe night in. Peripheral characters float in and out of events, each carrying the heft of a backstory that we will never know. Thematically, this all very neatly ties to the fixation with fishing but is underplayed just enough not to feel forced. As Pogo wields her recorder, Buckhurst too takes infectious pleasure in drawing his own line across a landed ecosystem now lost to another time. If the surface seems calm, within life thrums. This is a unique but hugely relatable world, three dimensional but entirely insular in the penitentiary of localism.

Translating theatre to film can prove a troublesome task but Buckhurst can call this a success. No sense of staging pervades what is an essentially quaint tale of existence. For all the serenity, there’s darkness here too and heartbreak provides a poignant bedfellow for comic flair. As for Creed-Miles, keep your eye on that one. Much like her mother, Samantha Morton, once did, she has a strength of character and performative vitality that will take her far.

LATE NIGHT | REVIEW

There’s a voice in Late Night so sharp it could cut itself, and a core cast so winning you’ll forgive the softie plotting that blunts it. This is the Nisha Ganatra directed new comedy by writer, producer and star Mindy Kaling, who plays the ‘token woman of colour’ brought in to save Emma Thompson’s erstwhile pioneering late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury, from absolute televisual collapse. Gloriously astute to the self-pitying moral crisis of the white wing in a diversifying world, the film lands its fair share of laugh out loud moments before dawn.

Thompson’s Newbury, though effective, hasn’t really a direct modern counterpart. Perhaps Letterman at a push? Her accent is that of James Cordon – the British invasion a brief reference early on – but her format more Newsnight than late-night. Yet, that’s precisely the problem. Whilst she glares disparagingly down at the rise of crass comic Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz), Katherine exposes her waned relationship with the modern world. Her show lacks zing, is devoid of viral appeal and regularly hits misses with guests too highbrow to resonate with audiences after a laugh. Behind the scenes, new studio exec Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan) wants her out by the season’s close. Ten years of stale writing, from an all-white, all-male writing room has collapsed Katherine’s ratings, whilst a reputation for hard nosed misogyny backstage has done her no favours. Unwilling to go without a fight, Katherine hatches a plan: ‘we need to hire a woman’. At the expense of an incumbent naturally: ‘obviously you’ll have to go’.

Thus, in patters Kaling’s unlikely Asian-American hero Molly Patel, a chemical plant efficiency expert from suburban Pennsylvania without a jot of relevant experience. Sweet but ambitious and a little unwieldy, Molly has as much to learn as she can teach the older, not so much wiser, Katherine. First, though, she must overcome accusations that she has not actually earned her place on the team through merit, whilst finding a brittle balance with those ivy-league resistors around her. It’s out with the old – boring interviews with admirable journalists and public figures – and in the with the new – genuinely inspired features about white saviours and abuse of media power – all communicated, predictably, via montage. Late Night is essentially a chalk and cheese, platonic, workplace romcom in which the working women are mercifully not mortal enemies. As it transpires, Katherine’s loathing is not reserved solely for those of her own gender.

Entirely lost in Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, Kaling’s glowing personality shines bright here. Her Molly is hopelessly empathetic but in such a way as to never feel too Bridget Jones to buy. Having worked previously on America’s The Office, Kaling brings a knowing ear for TV writers’ room sexism into play – evidentially from experience – and prods genially at the glass ceiling throughout. Honestly, you’d expect a harsher vindication from a former insider-outsider but the jibes land regardless. Late Night’s social commentary may toy in familiar territory but there’s no denying Kaling’s acute contemporaneity. Note in one scene the hypocrisy of Molly’s white, male colleagues as they complain that women of colour are being prioritised by HR these days: ‘it’s staggering how unfair it is’. Funny but very much on the money.

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Purveying all, Thompson offers just her latest superior turn in a career full of them. Katherine has the stately presence of The Children Act’s Justice May and the withering disparagement of P. L. Travers. The sharp delivery of smart one liners, meanwhile, is all Thompson. Less dramatically successful is Katherine’s relationship with her – allegedly dying husband Walter, who is played by John Lithgow. Whilst sparks fly and resonance emits from scenes pitting Thompson with Kaling, Lithgow feels cursory, often forgotten and rather wasted. Could it be that his inclusion is simply to facilitate the dramatic slump of the second half? Almost certainly. Late Night might often soar but the whiff of contrivance belies a plot construction Kaling can’t quite smooth out. Ganatra, at least, shoots all with clean, effective elegance.

Late Night is, by some way, among the better of this century’s workplace comedies and should fare well with audiences. Ideally, it will prove a springboard for Kaling and a raft of equally funny features.

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