Staff Picks: Our Favourite Films of 2019 (So Far)10 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
As we reach the midway point of 2019, it only feels fair of us to take pause and reflect on some of the films that have moved us. It’s been a strange past six months for cinema, saturated with mega-budget Hollywood remakes, ending of popular franchises, and some very daring and critically acclaimed outputs from Asian cinema—some of which we’ve covered, and others which may have slipped through the cracks.
Just one caveat: Some of these films are not technically released in 2019, but all have been screened in Singapore this year. We get movies late sometimes. Sorry!
On that note, I’d also like to give a shoutout to Anticipate Pictures, Singapore Film Society, Asian Film Archive, and The Projector for working tirelessly to bring less mainstream films to our shores, for feeding all our insatiable hunger for films that may stray out of left field, and for carving an important niche locally.
So, without any further ado, here’s a non-exhaustive selection of some of our staff’s favourite films of 2019 (so far) that have graced everything from the arthouse to the multiplex. We hope you could maybe find some hidden gems, or at least have your favourites be reaffirmed.
Ying Tong— “Still Human 淪落人”
Dir. Oliver Siu Kuen Chan
Country: Hong Kong
Still Human is a dramedy that follows the story of a paralysed man and his Filipino domestic worker learn about each other as they go about life in Hong Kong.
My favourite film for the first half of the year is Still Human. It’s a film about the bonding between a disabled middle-aged man and his young Filipino domestic helper as they learn to live with each other and themselves. Still Human puts what people go through in their everyday lives on big screen. The film questions our humanity and giving dignity to characters that have become invisible in our society.
Dir. Jordan Peele
Accompanied by her husband, son and daughter, Adelaide Wilson returns to the beachfront home where she grew up as a child. Haunted by a traumatic experience from the past, Adelaide grows increasingly concerned that something bad is going to happen. As night descends, their serenity turns to tension and chaos when some shocking visitors arrive uninvited.
My film pick for 2019 thus far would be Us. I thought it was a chilling and thrilling film that had me on the edge of my seat. After watching Jordan Peele’s Get Out, I knew that his next film would not disappoint, and it didn’t.
As expected, there were elements of exaggerated social commentary incorporated in the film that I thoroughly enjoyed because it kept me glued to the screen and had me thinking about it even after leaving the cinema.
The cast did an amazing job, especially Lupita Nyong’o, who played different characters (Adelaide Wilson and her tethered, Red). What stood out to me the most was how it was a satirical reflection of society today and the metaphors used to describe it. Even though it couldn’t beat Get Out, it was still a pretty good movie nonetheless. As someone who loves watching thrillers and suspenseful movies, I really did enjoy the movie!
Nicholas— “Parasite 기생충”
Dir. Bong Joon-Ho
Country: South Korea
All unemployed, Kim Ki-taek’s family takes a peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks for their livelihood.
Because we are them as much as they are us.
Editor’s note: Succinct! Hey, if you want to read our (longer) thoughts on Parasite, check out our review here.
Miranda— “One Cut Of The Dead カメラを止めるな!”
Dir. Shinichirou Ueda
Things go badly for a hack director and film crew shooting a low budget zombie movie in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, when they are attacked by real zombies.
This answer is a bit of a cheat because the film is from 2017 and its Singapore premiere was in November 2018—but I only saw it this January, and dang it, it’s delightful. Genuinely my favourite film I’ve seen this year. Gut-bustingly funny and quietly sweet, it’s the purest distillation of the manic joy of filmmaking.
Here is my non-cheat answer, though: Parasite deserves all of its accolades, and then some. It is heart-stoppingly good.
Editor’s note: Hey, here’s another shameless plug of our review!
A last note: it’s kind of sad to see the limited accessibility of non-blockbuster films in Singapore. There are so many films I wish I had seen, so that I could answer this question better. Ask me again at the end of the year when, hopefully, more films have washed onto our shores.
Leticia— “First Reformed”
Dir. Paul Schrader
First Reformed follows Reverend Toller, a pastor of a small church in upstate New York. Battling his rapidly declining health and shaken faith, he spirals out of control after a soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife.
There are two things in life I know to be true: Paul Schrader is without a doubt one of the best screenwriters of our time, and climate change will kill us all by 2050. The former being more celebrated than the latter, of course.
It’s difficult for me to put into words everything that I felt while watching this film because it was such a transcendental, meditative experience. Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of his career as a deeply troubled man of faith; grappling between utter despair for the world eroding around him, and whatever glimmer of hope that’s left.
It’s gorgeous, intense, horrifying, and desperately bleak—I don’t think I’d ever been so emotionally affected by a film than when I left the theatre after watching this. As much as First Reformed is a film about spiritualism and climate change, I believe it’s moreso a universally resonant reflection of anger, its capacity to co-exist with conviction, and the loss of hope for the world around us, and in turn, ourselves. Everything sucks. We’re all gonna die!
“Will God forgive us?”
Dir. Matteo Garrone
Marcello, a small and gentle dog groomer, finds himself involved in a dangerous relationship of committing petty crimes for Simoncino, a former violent boxer who terrorizes the entire neighborhood. After reaching his breaking point, Marcello submits to an unexpected act of vengeance.
Dogman by Matteo Garrone screened at Singapore’s Italian Film Festival at The Projector in May this year. It’s based on a true story about a guy whose rough life pushes him to the limits of being a nice guy. Mostly, it was the build up of his character, and his psychological breakdown that stayed with me.
The last fictional protagonist to truly intrigue me this way was Breaking Bad‘s Walter White and Dogman kind of reminded me of him in some sense—the nice guy who unintentionally becomes the bad guy. I love dynamic characters like these and Dogman executed this characterisation really well, alongside a deeply haunting story.
Read Nadia’s full review of Dogman here.
Kessa— “Dying to Survive 我不是药神”
Dir. Wen Muye
Based on a real-life story, a Chinese leukemia patient smuggles cheap but untested pharmaceuticals from India to help hundreds of Chinese people suffering from cancer.
While not technically a 2018 film, Dying to Survive hits all the right notes for me. What’s there not to like? It’s not simply about the steep prices of medicine in China, but a group of misfits thrown together to fight against corporate greed, police officers struggling between duty and morality, and redemption—not just within the film’s narrative itself.
The tale of the underdog rising above its circumstances is not a new one, yet Dying to Survive manages to give this trope a new life by carefully balancing humour and feeling. It is also a rare commentary on China’s health care system—and if that’s not enough, it boasts of an influence strong enough to actually enact change in the very system it criticises.
Honestly, it’s just a really great film. Just look at its 8/10 rating on IMDb.
Hazel— “Avengers: Endgame”
Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
The highly anticipated sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, Tony Stark sends a message to Pepper Potts as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle in space. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers—Thor, Black Widow, Captain America and Bruce Banner—must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos, the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe.
This is definitely not Cannes worthy but no other movie has made me feel as much as Avengers: Endgame. I have followed the Marvel cinematic universe diligently as a kid; even now Iron Man posters still adorn my walls. But Endgame would probably be the last Marvel movie I look forward to as a special event on my calendar.
The ‘old gang’ in Endgame were the characters I grew up with, and it is time to part ways. I am not a cryer, but Endgame just demolished the floodgates. Though it was simple in its story, it was momentous to witness for how they have taken more than a decade to built up to the final battle. Yes, I have had to bid a heart-wrenching goodbye to my beloved Iron Man, but it was the closure I needed. It was more than a movie, it was the culmination of a journey with them.
To Avengers: Endgame: “Thank you, love you back 3000.”