That Was The Year That Was: Matt's favourites of 2019

And there goes another year and the ever more sci-fi sounding 2020 is just around the corner. We’ve had some good laughs, we cried, we watched the TV in terror, then disillusionment and then resignation, name-checking Kübler-Ross along the way – but that was just politics. In terms of media, 2019 hasn’t been a bad year at all, has it?

First, movies. There were the big, expected ones, and I did enjoy them, such as Avengers: Endgame, which was fun fan service with some unexpectedly poignant moments, and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in America, perhaps not my favourite film by the director, but some of its scenes and performances might just make it onto the list. There was also Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, a poignant film performed beautifully by its cast, in particular the two leads Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, and Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight, the often luminous If Beale Street Could Talk.

However, in terms of the films I liked best this year, it would have to be Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, arguably the director’s best film to date, masterfully blending tones and genres and delivering the earworm ditty of the year: “Jessica, only child, Illinois, Chicago…”. Then there was the incandescent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the bracingly intimate film by Céline Sciamma that has the looks of the best costume drama but none of the stifling museum-piece qualities usually associated with that genre – which, in ways both funny and unsettling, can also be said of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. And finally, I got to discover Rúnar Rúnarsson’s Echo, a caleidoscopic, startlingly empathetic view of contemporary Iceland before, during and after the Christmas days.

The year’s TV was no slouch either. I have to admit that I am cheating a bit with this one, because we ended up watching some of the best series of previous years in 2019 only, because there’s simply too much to see. My wife and me, we’re not binge watchers, so just a season of a series is a commitment of several months, even if we’re always watching half a dozen series in parallel.

Nonetheless, for me it was the year of Jared Harris. I usually like him, ever since I first noticed the actor in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – and at that point he’d already been in the business for twenty years! He was fantastic in HBO’s Chernobyl, but my favourite of his to date is Captain Francis Crozier in The Terror, a terrific, terrifying series that was originally broadcast in 2018 but was part of our weekends in early 2019. We also finished The Americans this year, and while as a whole I never loved it as much as many (especially US) critics did, it was definitely smart, thrilling, nuanced television. Next to The Terror, though, the series that stayed with me most was Netflix’ oddball time-loop comedy-drama Russian Doll, which took an idea not too many miles from Groundhog Day and turned it into something hilarious, disquieting and deeply human.

Finally, 2019 was a year during which no one asked when video games would get their Citizen Kane, and for good reason. Recent years have already shown that games could have beautiful, whip-smart, haunting storytelling and still be their own genre – I’m thinking especially of indie treasures such as Night in the Woods and Kentucky Route Zero. This year, my two favourite games excelled at so many things that games do better than other media: Outer Wilds, a haunting, beautiful exploration game (that, incidentally, also takes a page out of the Groundhog Day manual), and Disco Elysium. Both of these are unique in terms of their tone and aesthetic and neither is the power fantasy that is still what games are pretty much expected to deliver. Instead, Outer Wilds gave us a sense of solitude and smallness but layered on top of that the solace of community, while Disco Elysium found comfort and meaning in acknowledging your own absurdity and hope in the ruins of revolution and change – while also being perfectly willing to kill you for a laugh because recovering an ugly-ass tie from a ceiling fan was just too damn much for you. Call yourself a superstar cop, do you?

So, 2020, a year that suggests they ran out of digits, a year that evokes bad early ’90s sci-fi. No flying cars as of yet, but I’m looking forward to what the next twelve months will bring, in terms of films, TV series, games and books (I’m making an effort to spend more time with these black squiggly lines on paper, as I hear all cool kids are doing). In that spirit: bring it on!

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