Honourable Mentions: Spider-Man: Far From Home, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Marriage Story, The Irishman, Glass, Midsommar, Joker, The Lighthouse, Ad Astra, Ready or Not, Booksmart.
10. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Mysteries are revealed as the final battle is fought for the fate of the galaxy as Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) sends Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) after Jedi in training Rey (Daisy Ridley). Skywalker brings back the ultimate bad guy as events in the film resonate with the weight of the previous movies. The action is spectacular with compelling performances by Ridley, McDiarmid and Driver as the script features some neat surprises and funny moments, like C–3PO (Anthony Daniels) being even more put upon than usual. A modern pop culture myth gets an epic send off.
9. El Camino:
A Breaking Bad Movie
Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is on the run in this film epilogue to the TV series Breaking Bad with Jesse trying to escape the ghosts of his past. Paul puts in a fantastic performance that is both heartbreaking, determined, and sometimes hilarious as Jesse processes his grief through enlightening and moving flashbacks as the clock keeps kicking for Jesse as things are closing in. Writer and director Vince Gilligan delights in twisting the screws with neat reveals and some very Western moments as El Camino gives emotional closure to Jesse’s final ride.
8. One Child Nation
A harrowing and sometimes heartfelt documentary about the one child policy of Communist China from 1980 to 2015. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang talks to people about their experiences living under it, and the answers are sometimes horrifying and sometimes slivers of light in the darkness. The stories are absolutely stunning as even years later some still think the terrible actions by the government were right. The repercussions of the one child policy is still being felt by all generations throughout China as One Child Nation ensures its memory will never be swept away.
Writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out) stages a thriller that starts out small scale and then expands to include freakier ideas as it goes on. Adeline (Lupita N’Yongo) and her family’s vacation is interrupted when they are confronted with their murderous doppelgangers as the long night gets progressively worse. With great performances, especially N’Yongo as both the mother and her killer double, there are some incredibly tense scenes, a slow build to a larger unexpected threat, and a crazy twist that flips the entire narrative on its head.
Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) delves into the front lines of World War I in this gripping film about two soldiers, Blake (Dean–Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) who have to deliver a message to stop an attack against the German army or everyone will perish in a trap. It is a technical marvel as 1917 is shot like an uninterrupted single take as it pushes along with the soldiers in breathtaking and terrifying moments. Scenes like a trench line run are incredible, as 1917 goes from extremely quiet and then explodes in intense chaos.
A Korean language thriller by director Bong Joon Ho about a family living in a basement who can’t get enough cash to get out of their situation so one by one they con their way into working for a rich family until everything goes wrong. Visually, the movie is stunning even though it’s basically just set in one house. It has a precise, clockwork plotting as things click into place with a remarkable sustaining of tension until the unforgettable climax. As a parable for living disparity it resonates profoundly today and it’s also just fantastic filmmaking.
4. Knives Out
Writer/director Rian Johnson takes the classical whodunnit genre and then flips it on its head. Billionaire Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead and investigator Benoit (Daniel Craig), with the help of Harlan’s nursemaid Marta (Ana de Armas), questions the eccentric Thrombey family who stand to inherit the fortune. With a cracking script and terrific performances, especially Chris Evans as a complete jerk, Knives Out subverts murder mystery conventions and then does exactly what one would want, like a climatic accusing parlor sequence which is what should happen in a murder mystery.
3. JoJo Rabbit
In the waning days of World War II, Nazi youth member JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) is hanging out with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Taika Waititi, who also wrote and directed) and discovers his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is hiding a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Consistently hilarious, it also turns heavy as imaginary friend Hitler goes from quirky to downright menacing. JoJo Rabbit is a wacky and at times tragic coming of age story about strangers learning about each other in a crumbling world.
2. Avengers: Endgame
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Infinity War saga comes to a satisfying conclusion. After Thanos (Josh Brolin) destroys half of all life in the universe, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the Avengers come up with a time travelling plan to undo it, but the attempt may cost them everything. It’s three movies in one, a superheroic rumination on loss, a zippy time heist caper, and an amazing final battle. With emotionally soaring moments, the portals scene is a crescendo for the entire MCU, and moving work by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson as the Avengers gloriously assemble one last time.
1. Once Upon A Time …
Quentin Tarantino’s ode to a bygone era of Hollywood is one of his funniest, most diverse movies ever. Aging actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff (Brad Pitt) are trying to make it in Hollywood, although Cliff gets drawn into a freaky cabal of Manson family lunatics which culminates in their lives intertwining with the beautiful movie star, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Hollywood bounces between filmmaking styles via the various gigs Dalton has, the buddy chemistry between DiCaprio and Pitt is electric, things flip from quippy to intense with a finale has unexpected twits and emotional pathos. V