My Favourite Films of 2019
In last year's 2018 blog post I prefaced my list by referencing the Celluloid Ceiling report, which tracks data on women's employment in films - the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film have been doing this for the last 22 years so the research is comprehensive and reliable. I'm pleased to say that the headline from the 2019 report is positive: 'In 2019, the percentages of behind-the-scenes women working on the top 100 and 250 (domestic) grossing films increased, reaching recent historic highs, while women’s employment on the top 500 films remained stagnant' - we love a historic high!
Though any increase is a step towards equality, when you look at the comparative numbers, the gap is huge. Just look at these figures for 'Percentages of Top 250 Films with No Women in Roles Considered':
85% had no women directors
73% had no women writers
44% had no women exec. producers
31% had no women producers
72% had no women editors
95% had no women cinematographers
Almost one third or 31% of films had no or 1 woman in the above roles
I strongly recommend reading the report so that we can really understand the context of filmmaking and, as a result, the perspectives and messages that are being conveyed to mass audiences. See Bandura, Gerbner, Van Zoonen and bell hooks for media theorists whose work is relevant to wider discussions on this area.
Like I said in my tweet after finishing my log of all films I saw in 2019, I watched 58 new films and 15 of these were directed by women - just over 25% of my list. I actively seek out F-Rated films - both personally & for my film club, so this isn't for lack of trying. Like most forms of oppression, this is a societal issue that requires a shift in thinking from early socialisation and education, all the way up to those in positions of power who are responsible for decision making and hiring!
Therefore, as film fans we must keep championing and supporting films that are made by women to ensure that the female voice and vision is as celebrated as possible. I hope I am demonstrating this with my Favourites of 2019 list below, where 60% are directed by a woman and 50% are Triple F-Rated (meaning they have significant women on screen in their own right AND they are written AND directed by women)...
10. Minding the Gap
Dir: Bing Liu
Skateboarding documentary Minding the Gap conveys the beauty and freedom of skating with the juxtaposing hardships and struggles of becoming an adult. I've always been fascinated by skating as a subculture and this naturalistic insight into life in Illinois is a reminder of the liberation it can provide. A remarkable debut.
9. Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé
Dir: Beyoncé, Ed Burke
Like the New Yorker quote says in the trailer, this film is 'an education in black expression'. Rather than just documenting Beyoncé's Coachella 2018 performance, it contextualises the vision that Beyoncé has an artist, director and leader. The film successfully immortalises what has affectionately become known as 'Beychella' on screen and has given us the gift of being able to have a whole concert experience from our sofas, with the added privilege of being able to see a concept become an epic reality.
Dir: Alfonso Cuarón
I feel like Roma was the Netflix Original release that sent a unequivocal message to Hollywood traditionalists that Netflix is not here to play. Released in late 2018 (though I watched it in January 2019), this black and white drama stunned me with its gorgeous cinematography (the way Alfonso plays with water and reflections... oof), emotional depth and unsettling moments. It went on to win three Academy Awards.
7. Captain Marvel
Dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Carol Danvers (played by the awesome Brie Larson) is Captain Marvel in this fun origin story filled with 90s related nostalgia and a killer soundtrack - it's Marvel's first female-led superhero film, in fact. Overdue? Yes. Did it perform? Definitely - it made over $1 billion at the box office. Was it well received? Hard to say... As a result of Larson's comments on how she hoped the film would help to diversify the blockbuster world, some people 'review bombed' Captain Marvel on Rotten Tomatoes, bringing down its rating before it had even been released. Thankfully, this led to a series of changes on the site so that this can't happen in the future. So, don't take any notice of user reviews and take that, sexists!
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
Dir: Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins can do no wrong in my eyes. He has a way of conveying thoughts and feelings about highly sensitive and contentious subject matter in a gorgeous, understated way without sacrificing intensity or power. If Beale Street Could Talk is no different. It's a love story, but it also tells a story of institutionalised racism, discrimination and single parent families in America. Any critic who complains about a 'slow pace' or, worse, that it's 'boring', has clearly missed the point: Jenkins' nuanced approach to characterisation and narrative is what makes this film such a beautifully harrowing watch.
5. Wine Country
Dir: Amy Poehler
'Can I offer you some feedback?' If you ever need an easy watch on a Friday night, or a film you can watch with friends of any age, put Wine Country on and I guarantee you will soon be howling at the ensemble cast as they drink, fight and laugh their way through a boozy weekend in Napa Valley. The running jokes are great, the physical humour is hilarious and the one-liners may just find their way into your own friendship group once you've watched this together. So what are you waiting for? Grab a few bottles, gather your gal pals and get Netflix on!
4. Marriage Story
Dir: Noah Baumbach
The title of the fourth and final Netflix film on this list is somewhat misleading: Marriage Story is less about marriage and more about divorce - it's definitely not recommended watching for anyone in a fragile relationship. Bi-coastal co-parenting does not go well for Charlie and Nicole (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) in this film, but boy do their fights allow them to flex some mighty acting muscles. It makes sense that two A-listers playing theatre actors would enjoy the challenge of playing passionate, resentful thespians, but the monologues in this film really are on another level. A crushing, unmissable watch for the central performances alone, but maybe not just before you're due to get married (as I did...).
3. Little Women
Dir: Greta Gerwig
I can't think of anything I don't love about this film. The cast, the direction, the way each main sister is realised through dialogue, Timothée Chalamet as Teddy, the respectful treatment of the source material, the family chemistry, the use of humour... Instead of continuing with this list (which I could do!), here is one of my favourite quotes from Jo (Saoirse Ronan): "Women, they have minds and they have souls as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition and they've got talent as well as just beauty, and I'm so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for."
Dir: Lorene Scafaria
Hustlers is about sisterhood, entrepreneurship and the unapologetic force of women who have a desire to succeed: as JLo's character Romana says,"You either got to stand in the corner or get in the ring." Inspired by a real story, the movie uses an actual strip club in Long Island as one of its settings, a handful of high profile cameos (Cardi B, Lizzo, Usher) and a mixture of club music interspersed with Chopin, perfectly complementing the frenetic lifestyles of the main characters. Ramona (JLo) takes Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing and as their industry undergoes mass changes due to the financial crash of 2008, they get... creative. Get ready to be wowed and entertained by a cast of charismatic stars.
Dir: Olivia Wilde
I already wrote a glowing review for Booksmart, so I'm going to self-quote for my favourite film from 2019:
'For some, this film will be an easy watch about a pair of best friends having a personal crisis. We've seen it before in movies of a similar ilk - they strive to prove their social worth to their high school peers on the eve of graduation in an idyllic, fanciful setting, with plenty of physical, emotional and moral obstacles along the way. Perhaps it isn’t always realistic, but to others, Molly and Amy and the people that surround them are much more than mates on a mission to party. They are two female lead characters; one is a main queer character and it also presents a Christian family doing their best to understand their gay daughter. Not only are they likeable and funny, they’re admirable... and so is Wilde for getting a film featuring such positive representation and diversity green lit.'
What were your favourite films of 2019? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter 💜