Oscars Schmoscars, this is the list about five people have been waiting for. And while there is a lot here in common with the Best Picture lists from this year (and last), the conclusion is somewhat different – albeit partially due to UK release dates. So below we have Queen’s, writers, gangsters and some women who don’t seem significantly littler than the average.

10: The Irishman
It is probably important that we have dumbass conversations about what is and what isn’t cinema every now and then, and for a three hour twenty minute Netflix movie Scorsese is massaging the definition as much as Marvel might be. There is much to like and enjoy in The Irishman, but I think the two films in there (the gangster Hoffa one, and the contemplative getting old one) pull in different directions that might have been better served by it being in multiple parts (and if you want, you can watch it that way on Netflix).

9: The Favourite
Last years’ number eight, I allowed this year because it had an out of London release on the 1st January so it seemed unfair to not let it in. So between the years it possibly would have topped the list and why not. A scabrous satire with a trio of great performances and odd enough direction to make you feel glad it was so well embraced by a global audience.

8: Avengers: Endgame
The culmination of 21 films – they say – so (as we see by the no show of the Rise Of Skywalker) sticking the landing is not to be under-estimated. It also manages to balance its tone between high universe saving adventure and small character comedy surprisingly well. So people accusing it of being formulaic, playing safe and the nadir of cinema neglects the spectacle, the stabs at emotion and that it felt pretty satisfying at the time. Don’t let Chris Evans wear old man make-up again though.

7: Hustlers
Perhaps I have been a bit rude to Scorsese above so lets just say the opening of Hustlers is pure Goodfellas, we get dragged around a club, seeing everything, told the lie of the land in exotic dancing. And then…J Lo does a pole dance. Even if the rest of the film had been rubbish (its not) the audacity of the opening ten minutes would have made it stand out. Its crime spree is exploitative, and yet as victimless as most bank heists, and the film can pack a lot of questions about relative morality in there. But its a great time at the movies, crime pays, then it doesn’t – the oldest plot in the book but this time the gang are women, and the crime they commit, only they can.

6: Marriage Story
Noah Baumback bounces back from the pretty lousy Meyerwitz Stories with a well judged divorce film which is much funnier than it should be and generally saves its anger not for its protagonists, but the adversarial system of break up in the US. Scarlett Johanssen and Adam Driver play a very convincing couple with a very convincing break-up (the film is nominally sympathetic to her though again doesn’t so much demonise the Driver character than the cultural patriarchy he exists in). What is so refreshing about it is quite how funny it is, and that it recognises that people grow, change and that things don’t last forever, but they don’t have to be bad. And never impress anyone with a knife trick.

5: Little Women
Neatly sidestepping the question if the world needs another adaptation of Little Women (it needs as many as it gets) Greta Gerwig takes her Lady Bird buzz and throws herself at a classic and triumphs. Deciding on a non-linear structure to a very linear book(s) pulls out clever parallels between the action but her masterstroke is spending time understanding Amy. Florence Pugh manages to capture the annoying tone of the character, but also embody the growth to a degree that we can sympathise with her – and perhaps even prefer her to Jo. Perhaps a hug of a film, but it did come out on Boxing Day so…

4: Booksmart
Yes it is just a silly little teen comedy, but it is notable how few silly little teen comedies we get these days, not least ones which are as funny as these. The Beanie Feldstein presence made people reach for Superbad comparisons, and it has that level of raunch if not more – but in the service of a lovely central female friendship and there is a surprising amount of nuance about class, sex and friendship. It has a terrific script, Olivia Wilde adds some lovely touches  and the icing on the cake is a bit of inspired lunacy from Billie Lourd.

3: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Whilst Mariell Heller’s film boasts a fascinating story, and a well drawn picture of living alone in early 90’s New York, its real strength comes from the sympathetic portrayal of a pretty misanthropic character. Melissa McCarthy is excellent as Lee Israel, biographer on hard times who turns to faking celebrity letters, and paints a portrait of someone bitter, who finds it difficult to relate, and get by. She does find a friend in Richard E.Grant (the teetotaller’s drunk), and the film suggests that things could go well for her. But Heller paints a tender portrait of loneliness, what it can do to us, but also why we might be there.

2: Pain And Glory
There was a surprising amount of freebasing heroin with little consequence going on in movies this year, but Pain And Glory had the best drug use. Almodovar uses Banderas perfectly in a semi-autobiographic tale of a film-maker and his partners, lovers and his ego. And yet for such a specific story, it feels so warm and open – his flashbacks to the mother played by Penelope Cruz are a story in themselves and the whole piece and ensemble works perfectly. If the Irishman made a tilt at regret and ageing in its final act, Pain And Glory has it as part of its DNA, and is lovely for it.

1: Knives Out
Perhaps buoyed up by its release date, I still am very pleased with Knives Out coming top. I enjoyed it immensely, its large cast all pulling to make the chewy scenario spring to life. But what I most appreciated was the fine calibration in the script, direction and even marketing. You were led to expect one kind of film (a whodunnit) only to be given a different kind of mystery. You were led to thing Benoit Blanc, Daniel Craig’s ludicrously accented detective, was your lead – but he turned out not to be. And Rian Johnson manages to juggle comedy, action, mystery and a fair bit of social commentary on the back of this meringue of a film. It was one of the most enjoyable (and social) nights out I had in the cinema in 2019, and a worthy winner (as they usually are on this poll).

So – surprises. We have a few. No Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood – just one vote. Next to no love for Joker. No Le Mans ‘66. Just two votes for Bait but it came in at 50 -, the BAFTA and British film darling. Perhaps there being no Star Wars love was predictable, but after two strong years, no Spider-Man either. Indie Spirit award winner The Farewell – one vote (from me).  There are also a number of great but low key smaller British pictures – Ordinary Love and Only You which surprised me by getting no votes (possibly due to having unmemorable titles). Whilst it came out late too, I was expecting the usually challops happy FT voters to wave at Cats. 

TV list to follow soon – but thanks for everyone who took part and despite the surprises, a pretty solid list all told. See you next year where I reckon Parasite might be the one to beat.