We’re already just passing the midpoint of 2019 –– where does the time go? –– and so what better time than right now to look at what have been the most visually impressive films of the year? Sure, the fall and winter will surely see a tidal wave of worthy and prestige award’s bound fare, but certainly all of the 10 films that follow will be discussed and devoured for years to come.
These 10 films showcase not just visionary directors, but the best cinematographers and production designers working today. Seek these out, expand your horizons, and above all; enjoy!
10. Under the Silver Lake
“It’s silly wasting time on something that doesn’t matter,” says a dreamy young woman with a fondness for balloons (Grace Van Patten) to an embittered and unemployed young man turned would-be detective named Sam (Andrew Garfield) in writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s surreal stunner, Under the Silver Lake.
Sam isn’t a very likeable layabout, he’s months behind in his rent at a rather low-key lovely apartment complex in the trendy neighborhood of Silver Lake. When he’s not spying on his neighbors with high-powered binoculars, masturbating to vintage Playboys, distractedly screwing his kinda sorta actress girlfriend (Riki Lindhome), or watching old black-and-white movies, Sam is pining over his pretty and provocative neighbor, Sarah (Riley Keough).
Unfairly mothballed for well over a year, Under the Silver Lake offers an overlong, but totally captivating, study of self-important, wealthy, and white spoiled brats. These L.A. rats, each in a state of arrested adolescence, fixate on shiny surfaces and shallow beauty and the result is one of the most visually rich, outlandishly audacious, campy, and crass offerings of the year.
9. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Intense and ultra-violent action abounds in the third installment of the John Wick neo-noir action thriller series. Chapter 3 finds ex-hitman and dog-avenger John Wick (Keanu Reeves, perhaps the purest human being on the planet) stripped of the international assassin’s guild protective services and with a lofty $14 million bounty on his head.
But don’t worry, escaping the blood-soaked neon-lit streets of New York as the world’s most skilled and ruthless killers are after him is par for the course. Before this chapter’s done you’ll see some stunning equestrian vs. motorcycle mayhem, senses-shattering knife-fighting, brutal and balletic dog-attacks, and more. Rarely is carnage so elegantly choreographed, and Parabellum offers the best action set-pieces of the series so far.
Pop cinema this exciting and entertaining while also being bloodthirsty, brutal, and beautiful is a too-rare treat. Is there an action franchise anywhere that’s this dazzling and dreamy to take in?
8. In Fabric
This ulta-stylish deference to Euro-horror from writer-director Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy) is his most outlandish, over-the-top, and batshit brilliant coup de cinema yet. In Fabric ostensibly tells the tale of a cursed killer dress and the ill-starred humans in helpless orbit around it.
As a meticulous madness descends, so does Strickland’s uncanny knack for displaying tactile pleasures, visual responses, and barbed perceptions of consumerism and the occult.
Paki Smith’s stunning production design perfectly suits the strange, psychedelic sex-horror and near-maudlin melodrama of Jesús Franco and Jean Rollin, and there’s enough blood-curdling shrills to suggest Dario Argento and David Lynch as other influencers in Strickland’s bizarro mashup of flagrant psychedelia, giallo, midnight movies, and softcore erotica.
Strickland’s always been an acquired taste, but for cineastes in search of surreal horror assembled with slavishly detailed fizz, deep fascination, and a sense of obscuro adventure, you won’t find a finer, freakier, meticulously embroidered nightmare anywhere else than in In Fabric.
7. The Beach Bum
Writer/director Harmony Korine finally follows up his decadent cult hit Spring Breakers (2012) with the ultimate shaggy-dog saga, The Beach Bum. Matthew McConaughey is perfect in a role he seems born to play, as the bedraggled beat poet Moondog, a Dude-like layabout, sophisticated in women’s dress and fanny pack, reciting poems that in real-life were penned by the late great Richard Brautigan.
Moondog, a South Florida eccentric, once famous for his verse, now adrift around his beachside town’s many places of ill-repute, smoking weed, guzzling booze, and bedding beautiful women, after all “that’s what feeds the juices up here in my nugget, man.”
Aided by a feel-good soundtrack, and fully envisaged by cinematographer Benoît Debie, who makes even Florida’s seediest spots a deliriously colorful trip, The Beach Bum wants you to feel the hedonistic highs along with Moondog. It’s a beaut, especially if you’re space-faced.
6. High Life
Who but French filmmaker Claire Denis could conjure up a space odyssey centered on a crew of doomed astronauts travelling millions of miles from Earth into a black hole that alternates between the serene and sensual as much as it does with eerie beauty and startling brutality?
Atypical of Denis, High Life spells out almost nothing explicitly in an elliptical tale about a reformed murderer named Monte (Robert Pattinson) who winds up raising a daughter (Scarlett Lindsey) aboard a spacecraft drifting on the edge of oblivion.
Some influences are apparent; the psychedelic headiness of Kubrick’s 2001, the twin sci-fi crescendos of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, and Douglas Trumbull’s eco-obsessed Silent Running. But how Denis reconfigures these recognizable motifs is where her mastery soars.
High Life is a hauntingly refined work, stunningly textured, and while ominous and nasty at times, there are still romantic rhythms and other humanistic complexities captured onscreen. Denis has devised an original sci-fi tale that’s lyrical, even when tenderness becomes terror-filled. And while it won’t win her more fans, those already attuned to her connotative charms will be enraptured and amazed.