ICO's Best of 2019

Posted on December 26, 2019 by Kate Ottway

Categories: News Round-up

With so many films and screenings to choose from, the ICO team share their cinematic highlights of 2019. Here’s to many more in 2020!

Heather McIntosh, Film Programmer

From films released this year, Maiden by Alex Holmes is probably my top screening of 2019. A very moving and energising film about an all-women sailing team who defied all odds in the 1989 World Yacht Race. Hearing directly from Tracy Edwards afterwards in the Q&A was an amazing experience.

My two favourite repertory screenings of the year were Society by Brian Yuzna and Nine To Five by Colin Higgins – both of which I was watching for the first time. I saw Society in 20th Century Flicks, Bristol – a little DVD/video store which had a projector in the back room – as part of the Cinema Rediscovered film festival. It was like watching a film in you mate’s attic – a great communal experience. Nine to Five I absolutely loved, and Jane Fonda introducing it while swigging a martini elevated the whole thing x1000.

Nine To Five

David Sin, Head of Cinemas

Just as it was beginning to feel as if audiences were becoming much more homogeneous and cinema programming was for the most part following suit, trying to respond to, rather than shape audience taste, along comes BAIT, a hit film in its own terms by Mark Jenkin and surely the most unexpected success story in British cinema for some years.

Everything about cinema-going in the past few years tells us that what audiences want is bigger sound, the biggest stars, higher definition (higher frame rates anyone?), the most luxurious seating and this year is likely to be a record breaker for films that gross over $1 billion globally. Given this, who knew there would be a sizeable, ticket paying audience for a low-budget, scratchy, black and white, mono sound, academy ratio presented parochial melodrama about a Cornish fisherman? The very fact that it has bucked this wider trend surely makes BAIT the film of the year for independent cinemas at least. And the film, itself creates a new creative template for British films, showing that it is possible to for a highly original and individual vision to connect with big audiences across the country.


On a similar theme, another highlight for me this year was Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH, like BAIT, a drama that emerges from a contemporary social context but with a completely different treatment to Mark Jenkin’s film. Pallaoro’s film is much more part of a European Cinema tradition exemplified by the films of Michael Haneke, in which the processes of everyday life disguise the unease and violence just under the surface. In this case, it’s a study of an elderly woman adjusting to life after her husband is imprisoned. The film is minimally constructed and sparse in dialogue but nevertheless packs an emotional punch through the outstanding performance of Charlotte Rampling, conveying extremes of emotion that penetrate the film’s series of wordless long takes.

The UK box office results for the film suggest that UK audiences are now tired of this kind of European miserablism, so maybe this choice says more about me than anything else. I did find this on almost every level the antithesis of the over post-produced and over-hyped commercial mainstream that now dominates not just our film industry, but also our film culture, for this reason, I for one am grateful to 606 Distribution for the UK release.

Isabel Moir, Film Programmer

I feel incredibly lucky to see so many films as part of my job, however it also makes it hard to remember everything I have seen throughout the year. There are so many films every year which get overlooked and lost in the UK release schedule so I am always wary of list making and narrowing a year down to just ten films and deciding which films deserve to be praised. My list for the year are all films that have made the most impact on me and left me thinking about them long after the closing credits. Writing this list has also made me realise that there are still many films I need to catch up on before the end of the year..

  1. An Impossible Love directed by Catherine Corsini
  2. Burning directed by Lee Chang-dong
  3. The Kindergarten Teacher directed by Sara Colangel
  4. Eight Grade directed by Bo Burnham
  5. Minding the Gap directed by Bing Liu
  6. Madeline’s Madeline directed by Josephine Decker
  7. Support the Girls directed by Andrew Bujalski
  8. Monos directed by Alejandro Landes
  9. Marriage Story Directed by Noah Baumbach
  10. Atlantics directed by Mati Diop
Madeline’s Madeline

Jonny Courtney, Senior Film Programmer

These are the ten films released in 2019 that had the most impact on me. Not always the best films, but the ones I think of most when I look back over the year.

Some of them brought me pure joy (Little Women, The Favourite) and some of them just burned themselves into my eyes (Lords of Chaos is a hard film to recommend simply because it’s so hard to unsee, but it’s a brilliantly-made film).

The Souvenir challenged my own pre-conceptions about the ‘type’ of people I want to see on screen (who wants to see films about posh people…turns out I do if they’re as good as this). A meticulously crafted film that’s exquisite in its detail and portrayal of a toxic relationship, and the real cost of addiction. I started off hating it but it soon won me over.

The haunting savagery of Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale often comes to mind when I see similar but lesser films, and has there been anything else as beautiful but maddeningly mysterious as Lee Chang Dong’s Burning this year?


Us and Vox Lux are flawed films for sure, but both combine music and visceral imagery in such a way that they certainly left an impression after the credits rolled. I’ll watch both again soon.

Whilst different in tone, Capernaum and For Sama share many similarities, and offer hope and despair in equal measure. Both brought tears to my eyes and made me feel pretty useless, but they are urgent films that I would urge everyone to watch.

So in no order, apart from the one these are written in here:

  1. The Favourite directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
  2. Burning directed by Lee Chang-dong
  3. Capernaum directed by Nadine Labaki
  4. Us directed by Jordan Peele
  5. Lords of Chaos directed by Jonas Åkerlund
  6. Vox Lux directed by Brady Corbet
  7. The Souvenir directed by Joanna Hogg
  8. For Sama directed by Waad Al-Kateab & Edward Watts
  9. The Nightingale directed by Jennifer Kent
  10. Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig

Jemma Buckley, Senior Partnerships Manager

This year I’ve been fortunate enough to work across three archive programmes – our two new Britain on Film titles – Welcome to Britain and Protest, as well as our Film Hub South East screen heritage project New Towns, Our Town. As always, the best thing about working on these programmes is the opportunity to watch such a large and diverse range of this rarely-seen material – more than we could ever squeeze into the touring programmes themselves.

Transatlantic Teleview: New Towns in Britain

Here are my top ten that made it onto the big screen:

James Calver, Project Coordinator

I started off with the intention of making a list of my favourite pets in the films of 2019, but quickly realised that restricting the list to “Pets” would be neglecting too many animals. So with that in mind, here is my list of…

…Top Animal Performances of 2019!

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Seagull in The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)
This isn’t the only animal performance on this list that has the sole purpose of terrifying the audience, but the seagull in The Lighthouse deserves a mention for drawing so expertly on our natural fear of those creatures, and doing so in an often nonchalant manor. Also, whilst I have never wished harm on any animal, there was one particular scene in this film I must confess I took quite a bit of pleasure from, having lived by the coast for several years and having been woken up by seagulls at the crack of dawn nearly every day.

Brandy in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Pitbull’s are barely ever seen in films as the cute, loveable dog anyone who’s ever met one knows they can be, so seeing one as adorable and obedient as Brandy in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was a site for sore eyes. Obviously the majority of the ending isn’t going to help the Pitbull image, but hopefully people can look past that.

The Camel in Öndög (dir. Wang Quan’an)
The camel is an animal that seems to be able to convey so much by doing little more than standing and chewing, or laying and chewing, or occasionally walking and chewing. The fact he seems so unaware of what is going on behind him whilst he shields his owner and her lover from the wind on that cold evening just adds to his joyous innocence.

The Rabbits in Us (dir. Jordan Peele)
Never has a film made me hate one of my own pets more than Us. I came so close to ordering an exorcist for the family rabbit on my way home from the cinema.

The Cow in Monos (dir. Alejandro Landes)
Some people may not see dying as a massive part of acting, but if Sean Bean can make an acting career from it, the cow in Monos could have a bright future ahead of them.

Honorary mention – Sir Ian McKellen in Cats (dir. Tom Hooper)
Is he a cat? Is he just dressed as a cat? Does it being one or the other disqualify it from this list? Should I be having this many nightmares about feline Ian McKellen?

Sarah Rutterford, Operations Officer

I thought I would write about a few films that have stuck in my head this year.

Firstly The Souvenir, which I found very consoling. It features an unusually awkward protagonist, film student Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) who is as incapable of articulating the meaning of her creative project as she is determined to realise it. She is confused about class and what world she can, or should, make art about. Director Joanna Hogg fills the film with quietness and uncertainty and dialogue as evasive and circular as it often is in real life. It’s full of intimacy and intelligence and strangeness, alternating between emotional distance and receptiveness. The meaning of things is elusive – Julie has to live through a difficult love affair before she can begin to see it clearly. It’s so distinctive, I really loved it.

Like (I imagine) everyone else who saw it, I found For Sama agonising but unforgettable. Its director, Syrian video journalist Waad al-Kateab stayed in her home city of Aleppo as protests swept across the country, started filming as the bombs began dropping and stayed on despite the danger, her camera capturing the bloodshed and the desecration of her city as well as the expansion of her personal world as she falls in love with, then marries doctor Hamza before giving birth to their daughter. The word ‘visceral’ is overused but really applies here; several traumatic scenes feel like they reach the limits of what it is emotionally, even physically possible to watch onscreen in a way I haven’t experienced before. It’s incredibly moving, not least for its moments of humour and kindness between friends and neighbours amid truly awful circumstances.

For Sama

On a lighter note I also loved watching Vendredi Soir at the BFI, Claire Denis’ film about a one night stand. The whole film feels in flux or like you’re sinking into something – it’s mostly wordless, with a great soundtrack by Tindersticks. It starts off with its protagonist, Laure (Valérie Lemercier) stuck in heavy traffic because of a strike (classic Paris!) and Agnès Godard, the film’s cinematographer shoots the cars and their lights strobing along the streets really beautifully. It’s romantic and passionate but also funny and odd – there was a man wearing a really intense aftershave in the cinema and now when I walk past someone wearing it I get flashbacks to the scene where the olives and anchovies on the pizza the couple eat at dinner animate, apparently just for lols, into a weird comedy smile.

Lillie Harman, Administrative & Finance Assistant

My film highlight of 2019 was going to Anthology Film Archives in New York. Whilst studying fine art, I was introduced to the films of Jonas Mekas and 10/11 years on, I regularly go back to his work. Mekas was one of the founders of The Film-Makers’ Cooperative and he later went on to establish Anthology alongside P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka and Stan Brakhage. To me, Anthology Film Archives is the heart of avant-garde cinema, preserving and exhibiting an extensive collection of film, video and associated materials. Whilst I was there I saw the animations of Piotr Kamler (in the Maya Deren theatre) – abstract and hypnotic, the films explored the relationship between sound and image. Sadly Mekas died earlier this year, but his legacy lives on through Anthology.

Anthology Film Archives

Kate Ottway, Marketing & Communications Manager

Having had the opportunity to visit some incredible film festivals in 2019, I’ve decided to list my top three festival screenings.

First up is Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho) at Cannes, which I saw at a red carpet screening in the expansive Grand Auditorium Louis Lumière. The novelty of having to ‘look smart’, sitting among hundreds of excited festival goers and watching the film on the biggest screen I’ve ever seen in my life all added to an unforgettable experience. The film itself, took me on a complete journey, twisting and turning so my expectations changed throughout and my attention was fully captured. I ended up in a completely different place from where I’d started.

Next up is Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma) which I saw at New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw for their opening night screening. This film has had the most lasting impact on me in 2019. Brittany is a part of the world I hold a particular love for, and seeing the impressive coastal scenery held great nostalgia for me. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel’s performances are truly hypnotic and as a viewer you are completely under the couple’s spell from the start. I also found the sense of secrecy and discovery of Héloïse’s (Adèle Haenel) face particularly intriguing. Amazingly, I spotted Sciamma and Haenel the next day having breakfast at a hotel and did my best to act as nonchalant as possible…

Finally, I saw Relativity (Mariko Minoguchi) at the BFI London Film Festival. Watching this on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the Ciné Lumière, I found myself in fits of tears. A story about coincidence and fate, love and devastation, the narrative has stayed with me since. For me the original German title Mein Ende. Dein Anfang, which translates to My End. Your Beginning carries much more weight than Relativity. Shout out has to go to Saskia Rosendahl’s performance as Nora.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

From everyone at the ICO we wish you a very happy new year! 


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