It’s that time of year again: the time where this author reflects on the previous twelve months in cinema and – having viewed the remainder of the year’s releases in January and February – decides what were his favourite pictures, which ones he was most keen to revisit, and which are most likely to become his all-time favourites in the years ahead, all of which is documented in the most inanely-named “Awards Ceremony” in existence.
There are a phenomenal amount of quality pictures vying for accolades at the 2019 Fish Called Wanda Awards, some of which have yet to be written about on this blog owing to numerous external factors, so there’s bound to be a few surprises in the mix. Otherwise, things are pretty much the same as previous years, with prizes being “awarded” by genre to a sole recipient, and consideration being offered to the films that narrowly missed out.
Without further ado, let’s kick things off 2019’s proceedings with…
BEST ACTION FILM
A sense of déjà vu pervades the very first Wanda of 2019. Much like the victor of this category last year, the latest winner is a superhero blockbuster with an ensemble cast that blends science-fiction and comedy elements with action (naturally) to deliver thrills, laughs and surprises aplenty. This year’s winner – which won’t come as a shock to anyone – is the highest-grossing and highest-rating blockbuster of 2019, none other than Avengers: Endgame.
When it comes to this category, all previous ceremonies have gifted an Oscar winner – if not a very strong contender – with a Wanda, a trend that continues this year. Though it hasn’t been given a thorough review on this blog, by now everybody will be familiar with Bong Joon-Ho’s critically-lauded, genre-bending masterpiece of cinema, so there shouldn’t be any need to justify its win. The victor in this category is, of course, Parasite.
Honourable Mentions: Little Women and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Seldom a genre that earns the attention of this author, it takes a very special feature or personality for this Wanda to even be presented. The 2019 recipient has two powerful drawcards in screenwriter/director Jordan Peele and lead actress Lupita Nyong’o, both of whom are in top-form. An intriguing premise, tense sequences, perfectly-timed quips and phenomenal acting (from our star especially) deliver the win for Us.
BEST BIOGRAPHICAL FILM
It is possible for a true-to-life story to be entertaining whilst also being historically accurate. In this crowd-pleaser, hidden behind the glossy, thrilling race sequences and comedic gags is a story of how two outsiders overcame not one, but two large corporations to fulfil their dreams of glory – and the tragedies that befell them along the way. Ford v Ferrari isn’t just the awardee of the Wanda for Best Biographical Film – it’s one of 2019’s best movies too.
Honourable Mention: The Irishman
BEST COMING-OF-AGE FILM
The endless parade of tales regarding teenagehood and adolescence continued in 2019 with little fanfare, yet one movie did stand-out above all others, covering ground that few others before it had. The picture in question – led by two talented young actresses and crafted by a majority female crew – is one that’s progressive, reasonably stylish, resonates deeply and has its fair share of laughs. A rare film that actually lives up to its title, Booksmart is of course the winner.
BEST INDEPENDENT RELEASE
As the triumph of a certain movie at the Academy Awards proved recently, there are some stories that can transcend cultural, lingual and social boundaries with their universal themes and messages. Such is the case with Lulu Wang’s comedy-drama– her debut feature, no less – which possesses a warm, resonant tale about family and mortality. Its inclusion here cannot atone for being snubbed at the Oscars, yet nevertheless, The Farewell remains worthy and deserving of everybody’s recognition.
Honourable Mention: Late Night
BEST AUSTRALIAN RELEASE
In a first for the Wandas, this prize will not be going to a feature-length narrative – though one or two other antipodean pictures did impress, they failed to leave an indelible impact on the author as the winner did. Like all good movies, it tells a compelling story that has the viewer identifying with its central protagonist, engaging with the conflict and riding every emotional wave that comes their way, only it’s a documentary. Superbly crafted and intelligently told, The Australian Dream demonstrates our industry at its very best.
Honourable Mention: Judy and Punch
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Fourteen months have passed since this picture, and in that time its contemporaries have failed to reach, let alone surpass its quality. Such a feat is made yet more remarkable by said picture being a second sequel that outshines its predecessors with top-quality animation, a nuanced screenplay and a resounding, satisfying end. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an exemplary animation, and the definitive example of how to conclude a franchise properly.
Honourable Mentions: Weathering with You and Klaus
Claims that humour is being stifled by political correctness were once more rubbished by the entertainment industry in 2019, demonstrating that the comedy genre is continuing to improve and stronger than ever. The recipient of this Wanda proved so by attuning its screenplay to the fractious political climate, resulting in the most hilarious gags to be placed in a romantic-comedy in recent memory. It has no shortage of smarts, but the humour in Long Shot is probably the strongest element of all.
Honourable Mention: Jojo Rabbit
MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE
In ceremonies past, this category has taken into consideration releases with low expectations, or those met with apprehension on the author’s behalf. No such feelings were offered to this low-budget production – premiering at Sundance and dropping on Netflix mere hours after, there was barely any indication as to whether it would be a quality product. As it happens though, Paddleton is a remarkable film that explores a rather confronting issue with quirkiness, warmth and grace. It’s a most pleasant surprise indeed.
Honourable Mention: Zombieland 2
This acknowledgement, like all other years, comes not from a place of malice but sorrow. The amount of coverage, praise and even controversy afforded to this film left yours truly anticipating its screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Yet instead of being satisfied by proceedings, he was left feeling bleak, queasy and depressed, courtesy of the excessive, unwarranted and graphic violence displayed within. There are great examples of Australian films that examine sexism, racism and the colonial experience – The Nightingale is not one of them.
Runner-up: All is True
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD AWARD FOR WORST FILM
Of course it’s Cats – what else could it possibly be? There was no other film in 2019 so woefully produced that it required a “patch” to fix mistakes; nor was there one that tried to remarket itself as a camp, Rocky Horror-style, so-bad-it’s-good product, only for people to realise it was never that bad to begin with. If that doesn’t scream “failure”, then nothing does.
Runner-up: Dark Phoenix
THE FISH CALLED WANDA AWARD FOR BEST OVERALL FILM
2019 proved an extraordinary end to an extraordinary decade of cinema, yet only one picture was ever in consideration to become this author’s favourite of the year – so much so, that it may even be one of his favourites of the decade, a fact even he is surprised by. It’s a film blessed with an admirable hero, incisive dialogue, sharp cinematography and a rousing score, yet it’s not a Hollywood blockbuster. The film in question is…
THE AUSTRALIAN DREAM
Yours truly has watched this documentary multiple times since its theatrical release, and can confirm that even on repeat viewings, the impact of the narrative never lessens and the viewer finds themselves overcome with emotion every time. More than that, the film inspires everybody to reflect upon their own journey, motivate them, and empower them to not just become better people, but to stand-up for what’s right. It truly is cinema at its most powerful, and for that reason, it deserves the accolade of Tom’s Favourite Film of 2019.