Film Review Daily

James Cameron-Wilson looks back at the year of 2019



As I stated last year, 2018 was an astonishing time for the box-office, with admissions at their highest level since 1971. In 2019, the box-office – in the UK – dropped just 1.9 per cent from the previous year, but takings for January in 2020 are already up from those of 2019. All of which to say, the cinema is alive and well and flourishing at new, record-breaking levels. And, globally, box-office receipts reached an all-time high of $42.5 billion.


In the US, the six highest-grossing films of 2019 were all from Disney. And at eighth place was Disney’s Aladdin, leaving room in the top ten for only three titles from other studios. As it happens, Warner Bros. snared ninth and tenth place with Joker and It Chapter Two, respectively, while Sony Pictures scooped up the one remaining position (No. 7) with Spider-Man: Far from Home. Other companies, like Universal, Lionsgate, STX Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount could just stare up at the top with emerald-eyed envy.


But in the corridors of Tinseltown, the conversation was less about Disney than Netflix. While Disney was reaping unheard of swathes of cash at the tills, Netflix was buying up the town. The latter had invested $15m in an intimate black-and-white Mexican film called Roma and then spent an additional $40m-$60m on its Oscar campaign. In the event, Roma clocked up ten Oscar nominations and won three, for best foreign-language film, best director (Alfonso Cuarón) and best cinematography (again, for Alfonso Cuarón). It was the first time that a director had won the gong for a film in a foreign language, although Cuarón had already won an Academy Award for helming Gravity, while his compatriots Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had skewered another three between them – in the space of a decade.


Yet in spite of this directorial stranglehold from the Mexican auteurs, the overall recognition of diversity by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was shameful. Ignoring fierce censure from all corners, in 2020 the Academy only nominated one non-white performer in the acting category, namely the London-born Cynthia Erivo for her role as the abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman. Similarly dispiriting, the Oscars’ record for nominating just one female director in the last ten years – Greta Gerwig, for Lady Bird – went unchallenged. Optimists hoped that the Academy might have acknowledged Gerwig again (for Little Women), or Lulu Wang (for The Farewell), or Lorene Scafaria (for Hustlers), or Marielle Heller (for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)… But it was not to be. Once again, old stalwarts like Scorsese and Tarantino were honoured for doing the same old thing.


As for my own favourites, below, I make no apologies for including titles that succeeded on grounds of pure entertainment, including Disney’s very own remake of its very own The Lion King. Unbeknownst to many critics, audiences often seek out a film purely for its enjoyment value. And that’s a trick that requires the skill of a consummate magician, of which Danny Boyle is a past master (cf. Yesterday).



1. Capernaum

2. The Cave

3. The Lion King

4. Yesterday

5. Sorry We Missed You

6. The Farewell 

7. Le Mans ‘66

8. Late Night

9. The Favourite

10. Green Book