CC’s Top 10 Films of 2019

1. Swallow Although this will not get a wide release until later this year, I was so impressed with it at 2019’s New Orleans Film Fest that I feel like I need to gush about it now. It’s a horror film that perfectly captures the female experience, illustrating the complete lack of control you have over your own body & destiny if you’re born on the wrong end of class & gender dynamics.

2. Midsommar Ever dated an absolute asshole? Ever dated someone you knew wanted to break up with you, but stuck around because you wanted to see how they’d end it, so you wait for them to do something as months & months go by? If so, this is the cathartic breakup horror you need in your life.

3. In Fabric A bleak, surrealistic story about a murderous dress that fully indulges in the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s a fun watch, but it also makes both fashion photography and corporate employers legitimately menacing.

4. The Last Black Man in San Francisco A powerful debut feature brimming with beautiful cinematography and compelling performances from distinctive non-professionals. Its broader themes touch on gentrification & race politics, but it also makes room to emphasize the power of storytelling & nostalgia. It’s a beautiful tale of an unlikely friendship, one that explores how the stories we tell about ourselves sustain us.

5. Parasite It’s a genuine phenomenon that such a savage commentary on class politics became so universally popular, packing theaters for months on end. Usually when filmmakers tackle class so furiously (like Boots Riley with Sorry to Bother You), they earn strong critical attention but not such widespread popularity. It’s been amazing to see.

6. Knife + Heart This is great smut, especially if you enjoy slashers. It really turns the usual male gaze & female victim empathy of that genre on its head in a fascinating way.

7. Come to Daddy A darkly fun, weirdly plotted film that went in totally surprising directions I did not expect. It also doesn’t hurt that Elijah Wood is super cute.

8. Aniara Based on a Swedish-language epic poem from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Aniara explores the futility of being alive and trying to build anything in the face of the vast emptiness of space and time. It’s deeply sad, but also deeply relatable.

9. Little Women Previous adaptations of Little Women (and even the novel itself) have been criticized for weighting their drama too heavily on the story’s opening childhood half, so that the adulthood drama of the second volume feels like a rushed afterthought. The remixed timelines of this adaptation allow director Greta Gerwig to draw beautiful parallels between both halves of the story and to highlight powerful moments & lines of dialogue that other adaptations tend to skip over. It’s the best version of the story to reach the screen yet.

10. Violence Voyager I’ve never seen anything animated quite like this before. The way it uses such a cute, handmade, feminine animation style to tell such a nasty story makes for a haunting juxtaposition. It’s beautiful, unique, and original, but its artistry also makes for a discordant clash with its grotesque subject matter. That accomplishment deserves more attention than what it’s getting. At the very least we should be keeping an eye on the filmmaker, who genuinely seems like a potential danger.

-CC Chapman

Aniara (2019)

Among the big-city dwellers who were lucky enough to see it on the big screen, Claire Denis’s High Life proved to be one of the year’s more divisive films. That work’s stubbornly esoteric allegories about climate change & humanity’s isolation in an uncaring universe could either register as captivating or exhaustively boring depending on its audience’s sensibilities – an effect Denis only amplified by rooting the story in prolonged, systemic cruelty. Even the Swampflix crew was divided on the film’s merits, with Boomer filing a negative review for it the same week CC & I sang its praises on the podcast. In some ways, I wish that same awe-and-vitriol divide had been afforded to this year’s other brutal space travel allegory, Aniara, which shares a lot of thematic ground with High Life when considered in the abstract. Instead, Aniara has been suffering the much worse fate of not being talked about at all. Ever since it premiered at TIFF last year, Aniara has been damned with faint praise as a decent-enough, 3-star sci-fi yarn, which naturally stirs up a lot less critical conversation than the wild, alienating swings of Denis’s film. That’s a shame, since it covers similar thematic territory as the more divisive, attention-grabbing work in a way I think a lot more people would be receptive to. And it’s just sitting right there on Hulu, largely unwatched & undiscussed.

Maybe it’s only genre nerds who’ve spent hundreds of hours watching SyFy Channel reruns of venerated series like Star Trek & Battlestar Galactica who would be greatly excited by Aniara’s melancholy space travel mood. It shares existential climate change themes with High Life, but its story is much more linear & traditionally structured than its arthouse counterpart. At least, it appears that way in the early goings. As the boundaryless void of outer space and the meaningless of time for those drifting across it becomes increasingly apparent, the movie gradually blossoms into its own blissfully bizarre object. No matter how familiar the film’s storytelling structure & spaceship setting may first appear, it’s ultimately a surreal, existential descent into despair that processes the horrors of climate change through a deep-space travel narrative. It features a bisexual female scientist as the lead, dabbles in the psychedelia of futuristic space-cult religions, and argues that maybe bringing new children into a dying world isn’t necessarily the best idea – a tough, but worthwhile topic given our current path to extinction. No film that embodies all those potentially alienating elements should be brushed off as “conventional,” no matter how familiar its tone & setting might feel to sci-fi television storytelling ritual. It’s just that it’s more adventurous & ambitious in its ideas than it is in its formal structure, which could be said about plenty sci-fi classics of the past.

A massive spaceship ferrying a routine transportation haul of human passengers from Earth to Mars is unexpectedly thrown off-course by space junk debris. The captain of the ship informs his horrified passengers that their trip will now take months instead of hours. Those months turn into years as it becomes increasingly unclear whether the ship will ever return home at all. The organic supplies that generate fresh food & oxygen gradually start to rot. Drifting through space with no hope or purpose, the passengers search for higher meaning & easy escapism in their severely limited environment. This mostly entails visits to Mima – a machine that broadcasts holodeck-style images of Nature into the minds of its users. Even before they were stranded on this spaceship, this imagery belonged to a nostalgic past before Earth was wrecked by climate change. Through Mima, it’s now twice removed from its original source, and becomes an addictive tool for mental escapism in what’s essentially a prison ship. Of course, this shipwide abuse of Mima is not sustainable in the long run; the demands of the passengers far outweigh the supply. As the passengers search for other, grander ways to find meaning in their endless drift into the void of deep space (and wrestle with the morality of bringing newborns into such a nihilistic environment), we experience daily life on the titular ship through the eyes of Mima’s operator – who suffers the full spectrum of love, loss, labor, and search for purpose while her years adrift endlessly accumulate.

I’d readily recommend Aniara to any & all sci-fi nerds who’ve ever gotten hooked on a long-running space travel series. I’d especially recommend it to those who were intrigued but frustrated by High Life earlier this year. Personally, both films hit me in about the same way on a thematic level, but I found it easier to buy into the linear, structured drama of Aniara on an emotional one (not least of all due to a stunner of a lead performance from Emelle Jonsson). I appreciated High Life more for its arthouse craft, whereas Aniara left me gutted and terrified for our inevitable near-future doom as a species. Both works are worthy of attention & discussion, even if you end up falling in love with neither.

-Brandon Ledet