We are already halfway through the year. 2019 isn’t coming to an end just yet, but we’ve already seen plenty of shows, episodes, or movies that we’ll remember the year for. In today’s article, you’ll find bite-sized notes and comments on the best films, shows, or performances from the first half of the year. Sure, my official awards winners and top tens won’t be published until the end of the year, but this is a great milestone or halfway-mark to look back upon some day in the future. Please follow the links below to read individual reviews of each film or series.
Best Performances of 2019, Thus Far
So, let’s define the halfway point. I recently saw and reviewed Spider-Man: Far From Home, as well as the third season of Stranger Things. So, for simplification’s sake, let’s say every 2019 film or television text that was released prior to Far From Home or Stranger Things 3 counts for these sections. In this section, I want to highlight five film and three television performances that, to me, have defined the first six months of this year. But let’s not chuck superhero films too far away, because, in a year marked by plenty of box office disappointments for non-superheroic blockbusters, superhero films have been pretty great.
Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Grazer were great in Shazam!, and I really liked Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, but the standout performance from superhero films in the first half of the year comes from none other than the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Robert Downey, Jr. Downey is a seasoned veteran when it comes to superhero filmmaking, but his incredibly touching performance in Endgame might be his best in these films.
Last year, Rami Malek was the talk of the town, and his performance in Bohemian Rhapsody eventually earned him an Oscar, which I still think is absurd given the competition. This year, his performance has already been topped in another musician’s biopic, i.e. Rocketman. Taron Egerton is astounding. He disappears into the role, and he sings all of the songs. Egerton probably won’t get the coveted golden statuette for the performance, but he really is good.
The one performance that I genuinely think has a chance to still be remembered when it’s time for the Oscar season is the dual-role performance given by Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o in Jordan Peele’s Us. Nyong’o is magnificent in this movie. She employs a frightening gravely voice and a peculiarly scary movement for one of her characters and a motherly determination for the other. It is my favorite dual-role performance of the decade.
The final two film performances that I want to single-out were given by two Danish actors — Mads Mikkelsen and Trine Dyrholm. These two performances weren’t seen by many and are therefore the two performances that I hope my readers will want to seek out. These films deserve the appreciation of international audiences. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in Joe Penna’s Arctic is a harrowing silent performance in what is essentially a one-man movie.
You already know Mads Mikkelsen, unless you hid under a rock for the last 19 years. But many American moviegoers may not be familiar with Trine Dyrholm, who I think is one of Europe’s best actresses. Dyrholm is venomous and twisted in the Danish film Dronningen (also known as Queen of Hearts internationally), which I’ll talk about more in the next section.
Which brings us to the best actors on television. There have been a lot of tremendously impressive performances on television this year, but the first of the three television performances that I want to highlight is the performance given by Jharrel Jerome in Netflix’s limited series When They See Us. Jerome is genuinely moving in the heartbreaking series. He carries the episode dedicated to his character outstandingly, and it deserves to be a star-making performance for Jerome.
Now, of course, Jared Harris was magnificent in Chernobyl, and Bill Hader, once again, was phenomenal in Barry, but those performances are already widely celebrated. Andrew Scott in Fleabag is a critical darling, but that show hasn’t got a comparable audience with the rest of the year’s best performances. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is terrific yet again, but I absolutely loved watching Andrew Scott show new sides of himself in Fleabag.
Finally, I want to mention Mahershala Ali. Ali has become a well-known name in Hollywood. He is already a huge star, as well as an Oscar-winner, but I feel like his performance in True Detective: Season Three, which really brought the show back in a great way, is in danger of not being as celebrated as it should be because of the odd season finale that I know has rubbed some fans the wrong way. The performance deserves to be remembered and praised, and I think he carried the season extremely well.
Best Films and Television Shows of 2019, Thus Far
The title above is self-explanatory so let’s just jump right into it. Chernobyl has already been lauded by audiences as one of the greatest series ever made. It is an incredibly detailed and bleak masterpiece about a world event once shrouded in mystery. Is it 100% accurate? Probably not, but as a work of art and drama it is one of the best limited series that I’ve ever seen. It deserves all of the praise that it has gotten. It’s absolutely infuriating and amazing all the same, and the same can be said for the other outstanding mini-series this year, Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us. It is a heartbreaking series that I couldn’t take my eyes off of.
The two best on-going series of the first half of the year were Fleabag and Barry. Fleabag seems to have come to an end, and it did so with a season of television that, not unlike what Barry did for Bill Hader, challenged Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a dramatic actor, and I, honestly, think she did a tremendous job. Her chemistry with Andrew Scott was a particular highlight this season. Barry returned for a second season that gave us its wackiest episode yet, but the season as a whole still showcased Bill Hader’s range as an actor. It’s time to binge-watch Barry, if you still haven’t seen it. Barry is the best on-going series on HBO.
The first half of the year has been dominated by bad news for hopeful movie studios not named Disney or Universal. The two best widely seen films from 2019 are from those very studios. Enough has been said about Avengers: Endgame. It’s one of the biggest movies of all-time. But it’s also an incredibly impressive film about grief, loss, and responsibility. It genuinely is my favorite movie of the year thus far, even though that may not be the coolest statement from a film critic. I loved this blockbuster movie.
And I loved Us as well. Us won’t be as successful at the Oscars as Get Out was for Jordan Peele, but Peele’s follow-up is fascinating, comedic, and scary. It’s got a great dual-role performance at the heart of the film, and I think it’s one of the most rewatchable films of the year thus far. Booksmart deserves a greater audience than it has gotten. Olivia Wilde’s directorial feature debut is a heartwarming and hilarious modern coming-of-age film that walks in the footsteps of Superbad, and I genuinely think it is just as good as that Greg Mottola cult comedy.
The final movie I want to talk about is Dronningen (also known as Queen of Hearts internationally). This Danish film is the second feature film from director May el-Toukhy, and it tells a story of a female Danish lawyer (played by Trine Dyrholm) who has a sinful affair with her 17-year-old Swedish stepson (played by Magnus Krepper). It is a twisted and sinful film about gender-roles, double-standards, and abuse of power that reminded me of Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen (also known internationally as The Celebration).
I hope that my readers are ready and eager to seek out and watch the films and series that I have highlighted. Please do check out my individual reviews of each series or film. If you have any questions, then please submit them below.
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.