Welcome to the FreakyTrigger Top 40 Films of 2019. Quick catch up on the rules, the vote is open to as many people who submit a ballot. Voters submit up to 20 films in order, which are ranked. To qualify for the final list a film must get more than one vote.

This year, probably because we didn’t do a music ballot and music is the main bread and butter of FT, we got about five less voters. This also meant that we only had 42 films to get more than one vote. I could tell you what they were – but I will leave that to the end. In particular, quite a lot of really good films didn’t qualify (he said bitterly having binned much of his list). To qualify a film had to have been released in 2019 in the UK, either in cinemas or straight to streaming / VOD. This meant quite a few of our international ballots had Parasite on it – which hasn’t been released in the UK yet. I can’t wait….
But while we are waiting, things to note: there are loads more documentaries in the list this year. Is it a golden age or are they easier to see (most of these have been on terrestrial TV since their cinema release). There are a few big movies that don’t do anywhere near as well as you might expect, and the top ten was remarkably tight. But down here in the 31-40’s, every single vote counts…

40: Capernaum

I found Capernaum extremely moving, and its story of undocumented children and child prisoners and refugees. The framing device, of a twelve year old child born to an undocumented Lebanese family suing his parents for giving birth to him in such a cruel world where he has no opportunities felt a bit precious to me before I saw it, but actually works well in the film. But only because the situation is so grim – there are moments where you watch this twelve year old hoiking a baby on his back whilst walking up a busy street where the potential calamity is at every turn.I had a few questions lay around the very young casts own understanding of the story they are in, but it is an angry, humanist film with a lot of power.

39: Dolemite Is My Name
Eddie Murphy is an extremely talented comic and comic actor. This is indisputable, when he wants to be. This is a return to form, an Ed Wood style biopic about 70’s DJ/comedian/father of rap Rudy Ray Moore who moved from filthy comic albums to his own self starring motion pictures without really knowing what he is doing. Made with real affection, it understands that bad films can be good to laugh with as well as at, and that while the kung fu and effects in Dolemite are terrible, the heart behind them is there. That said the parallel story about how Moore has a tight crew, and the eventual success means whilst it is very funny, it is also warm without being saccharine. Straight to Netflix in the UK.

38: Minding The Gap
A documentary about ageing skate kids in Rockford, Illinois – a rust belt town slowly decaying around these semi dead end kids lives. Or is it actually about something else. Some key rules of documentary seem to be bent and blurred here as the story onscreen starts to reflect the film-makers own experiences and a degree of catharsis occurs. Oddly specific it pretty much blew Jonah Hill’s Mid90’s out of the water which had similar skate/family themes but couldn’t help but feel fake next to this messy slice of life. Still on iPlayer.

37: Midsommar
I wasn’t as blown away by Hereditary as many, so went in to Midsommar looking for some bonkers midnight sun horror and expecting a terrific Florence Pugh performance. I got the latter, but bar one grisly moment didn’t really get the former. Like many films this year, stupidly long, I was impressed by the lengths it went to symbolise Pugh’s Dani finally throwing her horror of a boyfriend over, but perhaps she could have done that 150 minutes earlier. I did however twig that the opening tableau was going to be the plot of the film so whilst that was crafty, it also contained some major spoilers.

36: Hale County, This Morning, This Evening
A beautiful, experimental elegiac film, sitting comfortably between art cinema and documentary. Taking the form of snapshots of various lives in the the black community of Hale County Alabama, the film builds a patchwork of historical, and present echoes about what the lived experience of being African-American in that part of the world means. Sometimes fly on the wall, sometimes interviews, and a significant amount of time passes in the films envelope – it also has a photographers eye for juxtaposition, and interrogative, metaphysical intertitles “What Happens When All The Cotton Is Picked?” A fascinating piece of work.

35: For Sama
An intimate document of war, For Sama is a striking piece of insider journalism from Syria. Shot and narrated by Waad al-Kateab as a diary and explanation to her daughter, born in Aleppo and growing up as conflict takes place around her. There is the immediacy of the footage of course, but also the internal conflict, why doesn’t Waad and family leave? The film explains, including one sequence when they actually come back to help run their underground hospital. Vital film-making.

34: Wild Rose
I wanted to love Wild Rose, a British music film about subcultures with one of our best new actresses. And Jesse Buckley nails her Glaswegian country singer perfectly, the singing great, her own dreams vs reality narrative is a nice counterpoint to A Star Is Born (plenty of stars in the sky). But the narrative takes a swerve into BBC Radio 2 territory, literally, and the Bob Harris sequence fell flat to me. But the lead and music are terrific, and well worth a watch if you have Prime. (Director Tom Harper’s second film this year – the Aeronauts was also pretty good).

33: Varda By Agnes
No-one was begrudging Agnes Varda doing a victory lap, and this was rather delayed coming to the UK so sadly came out after her death here. It is a wonderfully idiosyncratic look back at her work, career and her interests. There is nothing didactic about her take on film-making or photography, but she knows what she is trying to do with it. Her playfulness continues to shine here (she was often her own best subject), and this is a wonderful retrospective, swansong.

32: Fast Color
A straight to Netflix acquisition in the UK, I had heard excellent things about its US release and this really is a clever little film. A small family story about the outcast daughter, wrinkled by its low key dystopian setting and its black, matriarchal family who have some form of amazing supernatural power. Yes there are men in black tracking Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s troubled lead, but this is impressive world building on the cheap, with some quite beautiful visuals and in a world where we are only just getting female or black led superhero films, here is one where the powers only belong to black women.

31: The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open
A tough but sympathetic look at abuse, and being a bystander, this Vancouver set two hander is deceptively simple. With the exception of a ten minute set up sequence, it more or less takes place in real time, where Áila is a middle class bystander sees a wet, hurt Rosie in the street being verbally abused by her boyfriend. Comprising of five or six single 16mm takes stitched into one, the film is technically excellent but the take is in service of the urgency and frustration of the plot. Both women are Indigenous but from very different class backgrounds, both are harbouring trauma, and there is a lack of trust, and accusations of egoistical bystanderism. There are swathes of awkward conversations, and a tough ending but it feels correct and important. It had a minor ICA release before going to Netflix

And there you got, the first ten done, thirty to go… See you next week for the next batch