The Best of 2019

2019 rounded off the decade with another fantastic year of film. We’ve been spoiled for choice this year, but we’ve managed to pick a few of our favourites from the past 12 months. Tell us yours in the comments below or tweet us @glasgowfilm.

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Minding the Gap

Look, growing up is hard. Your teenage years can be the best times of your life but also some of the worst and this is very prevalent throughout Bing Liu’s absolutely breath-taking documentary. I was blown away by this sensitive exploration of three skater kids’ tumultuous adolescence. As they navigate through the minefields of teenage pressures and gradually life splits them off into different directions, I found so much of this film resonating deeply with me. Wonderfully crafted and explores the topics of masculinity, abuse, race and friendship with a skill and grace that is rarely seen from a director so young. Littered with moments that emotionally shook me, it is safe to say this is a film that will stay with me for a long time.

Honourable Mentions: The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Her Smell, One Cut of the Dead, Eighth Grade, Burning.

Chris Kumar Glasgow
GFF Programme Coordinator

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Pain and Glory

This, for me is one of Pedro Almodóvar’s finest films. It’s a rich tapestry of emotions beautifully played out by Antonio Banderas as a film director Salavador Mallo, who looks back at his career and life. Penélope Cruz is so vivid and full of life as Salvador’s mother and the scenes set in his past are perfectly counterpointed with the present where Salavador looks for meaning in his life.

Allison Gardner
Programme Director / GFF Co-Director

Spider-Man: Far From Home

My favourite film of 2019 definitely has to be Spider-Man: Far From Home starring Tom Holland, Samuel L Jackson and Jake Gyllenhaal. Join Peter Parker on a relaxing school trip around Europe as it takes an unexpected turn. When Nick Fury shows up in his hotel room to recruit him for a mission to fight four massive elemental creatures, Peter soon finds himself putting on his Spider-Man suit to help Fury and fellow superhero Mysterio stop the evil and save his friend and the planet from havoc. This film is definitely one to watch if you are looking for some light-hearted adventure.

The light teen-movie feel to this film gripped me the whole way through. And although the characters and plot seem familiar, the use of humour made it feel new and fresh as well. I also thought that this was a nice way to end the Avengers era.

Meera Haughey
Foundation Apprentice

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If Beale Street Could Talk

Released all the way back in February, this is the film that has stayed with me all year. Its themes of compassion in the face of injustice, and its encouragement to ‘trust love all the way’ have been both consoling and inspiring to me at different points through 2019. The film’s writer and director Barry Jenkins (who also made the Oscar-winning Moonlight) seems to be a filmmaker without a hint of cynicism in his worldview, and I am so grateful that his perspective has been embraced by audiences and film funders alike. Beale Street is adapted from a James Baldwin novel, and centres on Fonnie and Tish, a young black couple in 70s Harlem whose lives are torn apart by racist injustice when Fonnie is falsely accused of raping a white woman. Jenkins tells this story of pain and suffering with a warmth and love for his characters that radiates off the screen – assisted by a beautifully romantic score by Nicholas Britell (which is also my soundtrack of the year). I could go on, and in fact I did, in this article.

Paul Gallagher
Programme Manager

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Knives Out

I’m a sucker for a 'Whodunnit?' so my film of the year has to be Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. Even though the cat is let out the bag pretty early in the film, it ticked all of my Agatha Christie, Cluedo-loving, murder mystery tendencies. With a standout cast it’s impossible to single any one of them out – outstanding! 

Debbie Aitken 
Festival Manager

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One Cut of the Dead

Originality ✓
Invention ✓
Charm ✓
Humour ✓
That opening 37-minute single shot ✓
A general agreement among its fans not to say any more about the film for fear of spoiling it for those who haven't seen it yet ✓

And it's a zombie film!!! Well, sort of....

Honourable mentions: The Irishman, Marriage Story, Avengers: Endgame and Apollo 11.

David Gattens
Finance / Commercial Director

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Out of all films I’ve seen in 2019, Monos stayed with me the longest.

Re-interpreting Golding’s Lord of the Flies, director Alejandro Landes tells a hypnotising, fast-paced tale of a generation shook by infinite war with narrative poignancy, a dissonant score and unforgettable frames.

What appears to be a hedonistic camp for teenagers set in a dream-like landscape on a mountain top in some South American state soon turns out to be quite the opposite: a band of teenage guerrillas are brutally trained for war. Their purpose: to watch over a hostage and a milk cow. Failing to do the latter, they escape into the jungle, where the reins slip. Their universe is made up by their own rules – a teenage Apocalypse Now.

Childhood or adulthood? Dream or nightmare? Naivety or cruelty? Apocalypse or hope? Virtue or vice? Monos plays with and destroys these ambiguities until there’s nowhere left to turn.

Mirjam Rundel 
Venues and Volunteer Assistant

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Varda by Agnes

 My favourite film of 2019 was the documentary Varda by Agnes. This documentary turned out to be the final film of pioneering artist - Agnes Varda - who is one of the most important filmmakers both in fiction and documentary films of all time. The film very much continues on from Varda’s previous meditation on ageing and life, The Beaches of Agnes, and is a reflection of Varda’s career as a filmmaker and life as an activist fighting for equality.

Initially set against the backdrop of Varda giving a lecture on filmmaking, the film springs out in ways which allow Varda to show her more playful and humorous side. Her ode to her late husband Jacques Demy - another excellent filmmaker - is one which is extremely emotional as she allows her emotions to be laid bare before the audience. Varda by Agnes is an amazing and insightful documentary in its own right, but it also exists as a fitting send-off to a pioneer of cinema.

Ben Warnock 
GFT Youth Board

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Eighth Grade

It took so long for this film to reach UK cinemas, I imagine it appears in a lot of 2018 lists, but my top pick of 2019 has to be Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade. With a stand out performance from Elsie Fisher as 13 year old Kayla, Eighth Grade is a throwback to those awkward adolescence years where all you want is to be part of the cool crowd and for that crush to notice you. Where people 2/3 years older than you seem like they have a lifetime of experience and nothing makes you cringe more than your parents trying to relate to you. It was brilliant to welcome Bo to GFF back in February and hear him talk about making the film and working with Elsie. The film was more than worth the wait and definitely one where everyone can find something to relate to (whether they want to remember it or not!)

Sarah Emery
GFF Guest Services Manager

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Happy As Lazzaro

Few films beguiled and engrossed me as intensely as Alice Rohrwacher's Happy As Lazzaro. A film of two parts, which crosses from one to another over an unexpected and transformative event which shocks and confuses the viewer. This element of transformation is key: a film which dabbles in traditionalism, modernism, and the possibilities of bridging between the two. A film which discusses the power of faith, both in liberating and enslaving us. How we can learn from the past, either by adapting to previous norms or learning from our mistakes. And you can't even discuss this film without mentioning an utterly unforgettable core performance from Adriano Tardiolo as the titular Lazzaro, who can display an almost holy innocence though something as simple as a smirk. You're left questioning your own thoughts on faith and the past, however if this film teaches us anything, it's sometimes best to relax and follow where the music takes you.

Iain Canning
GFF Programme Manager

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The Farewell

The Farewell is the kind of story that could have ended up as a farce. A woman discovers that her grandmother is dying and the family has decided not to tell her. A make-shift wedding ensues so that everyone can say a final farewell to 'Nai-Nai'.

Instead, it winds up being a quiet, funny and warm-hearted film that can speak to everyone in different ways. Based on the director’s own experiences, the family felt real. Especially squabbling around massive dinner tables or posing for awkward pictures. And, Awkwafina finally got to flex her drama muscles – taking a break from films where she’s the quirky cousin, the fast-talking thief or an old man playing a video game.

For me, the film was a gentle reminder of grandparents in my own family – of a grandparent who was constantly trying to feed you, who was totally convinced that you’re going to land on your feet (even if you’d just dramatically failed) and who was always quietly (or sometimes not so quietly) planning your wedding in their head.

There’s nothing quite like a film that can make you ugly cry and want to call your grandparents.

Emma McDonald
Youth Programme Officer

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Singin’ in the Rain

I’ve chosen to interpret the rules rather loosely and choose my film of the year as 1952 Hollywood classic, Singin’ in the Rain

Shown in September as part of the BFI Musicals! season, I finally took the chance to catch this ‘must-see’ that I’d never gotten round to. And I was instantly annoyed with myself for waiting so long! I knew the dance numbers would be spectacular, what I didn’t know was that every other ingredient would be just as deliciously enjoyable. The production as a whole was so impressive, with some of the practical effects and camera work particularly astonishing. I laughed out loud, I tapped my feet, and I did my utmost not to sing along out loud. Such restraint was joyously abandoned recently when I watched it again at home. What a glorious feeling.

Tony Harris
Venues and Volunteer Coordinator

Avengers: Endgame

Everybody wants a happy ending. Right? But it doesn’t always roll that way.

Bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the colossal 22 film mark, Avengers: Endgame delivered the perfect follow-up to last years Avengers: Infinity War. With the fate of the universe in the hands of our remaining heroes, they engage on a time-travelling heist to undo the destructive consequences of Thanos’ 'snap'.

To the surprise of most, the opening hour (of its 3 hour runtime) is slower and more reflective than fans of the franchise are used to. But the action soon picks up, building to the inevitable final showdown.

I’m sure this film will have been written off by most who aren’t fans of the genre, but a final act, which is as heavy on emotion as it is on the action, really delivers a satisfying conclusion to the Infinity Saga – unless you count Spider-Man: Far From Home as the saga’s true ending.

With enough left open for us to expect a new wave of Marvel films in the future, both Iron Man and Captain America (arguably the story’s two main heroes) are given fitting conclusions to their story arcs… Then again, that’s the hero gig. Part of the journey is the end.

So, everything worked out exactly the way it was supposed to… and I loved it 3000.

Notable mentions: Apollo 11Vice.

Bryan Wilson
Finance Officer

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Since starting my job at Glasgow Film Theatre in 2018 it feels like a whole new world of film has opened up to me and I’m now braver in my film choices than before which has given me ever increasing rewards.

Now choosing a favourite film feels like an incredibly difficult task. Should I go with The Farewell, the beautiful Lulu Wang film that was the opening of Glasgow Youth Film Festival? (Before this job I would have said the trailer looked like it might be sad so I would have avoided). The richly uncomfortable comic The Favourite? (I’d have said it was ‘too dark’). Prophecy, the slow unfolding of a Peter Howson masterpiece? (‘Too artsy’). Or the incredibly fresh Booksmart? (Which I would have loved then, now and forever more.)

After much thought, I’ve settled on the GFF 2019 film Maiden. A documentary about sailing that pre-GFT Becca would have held little interest in. She would have sorely missed out. Maiden is the incredible story of Tracy Edwards, the skipper of the first all-female team in the Whitbread Round the World race. It is constructed of archive footage of great quality interspersed with present-day interviews. The scenes of the ocean are so powerful one man in the screening complained of sea-sickness. Coupled with this amazing footage was the story of some really inspirational woman. I especially loved that Tracy did not necessarily set out to challenge the establishment, or the misogyny of the boating world, but was determined to take part in the race and finding a female team was the natural way of doing so. It’s only 30 years later that she starts to explore the ramifications of her decision and re-claiming the feminist nature of her actions. 

Maiden was a great example of the gems you can find when you take yourself a little way out of your usual viewing habits. I cannot wait to find my next few gems. As Tracy Edwards knows, no risk means no reward!

Rebecca McSheaffrey
Children and Young People Coordinator

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So Long, My Son

It’s bum-numbing length, glacial pacing and emotionally draining content makes So Long, My Son a hard sell, but one which is worth every minute. The first in Wang Xiaoshuai’s Homeland trilogy tells the story of  Liu Yaojun and Wang Liyun as they try to deal with the death of their son Xingxing. The film’s story spans over four decades and is told in a non-chronological order, creating a near-perfect mixture of puzzle-box storytelling and emotionally engaging content.

What makes So Long, My Son stand out from the glut of melodramatic historical dramas is its subtlety. There is no hand-wringing, pearls-clutching, or hysterical sobs; but rather a quiet, mounting sense of despair that manages to connect the personal to the political. Beautiful, hypnotising, expertly directed and emotional devastating; the only film to make me ugly cry this year and one that has stayed with me ever since.

Andrew Campbell
GFF Guest Services Assistant 

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In Fabric

In the Giallo style that Strickland does so well, In Fabric is a sensual horror tale of a killer dress. Exploring witchcraft, consumerism and body image, Strickland balances deadpan humour and erotic surrealism into a perfectly horrific blend.

Emma Van Der Putten
Industry Coordinator

As per Scottish Government restrictions, seats available for all shows from 27 December to 23 January will be capped to meet the 1m social distancing requirement.

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