One of the hardest things about writing a Top 25 Films of the Year list is making the difficult decision of which quality selections are going to be left out. What often perplexes me when people inquire about my annual end of year ‘best of’ tradition, is that people are surprised that there are enough good films out in a year to warrant such an extensive list. The reality is exactly the opposite. The hard part is not getting to 25, but highlighting only 25 films. Anyone keeping a list of the best films of the year,often finds that come November, the list of praise-worthy cinema is ever lengthening.
Ranking the best cinema has to offer is inherently flawed, since you are trying to numerically quantify pieces of art that have affected you in widely differing ways. Still, it is the best method of introducing people to films that may otherwise entirely stay off radar. A film critic has a better chance of enticing people to discover a film when it is on an end of year best of list, than they do as a stand alone review.
With that in mind, films that have stayed with me, and at least deserve an honorary mention are included here:
Birds of Passage. How the drug trade got started in Northern Columbia, offered a poignant and ruminative portrait of how greed tears through communities. It was a great follow-up and companion piece to director’s Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent. Both films were inspired reflections of the legacy of destruction down in South America at the hands of outside influence.
Arctic was a tense and taught survival film with an authentic and sympathetic performance from Denmark’s Mads Mikkelsen.
Other really good films that didn’t make the list include: Destroyer; Climax; Three Identical Strangers; Burning; The King; Booksmart; Brightburn; Wildlife.
Release Date: May Taiwan
10. Free Solo
Imagine scaling America’s highest peaks and only having a few ropes to safeguard you in the event of a fall. Now imagine climbing them without the ropes. This is the point in which you enter into the seemingly deranged sport of free climbing. This eye-opening documentary gripped tighter than a free solo’s fingers to bare faced rock. It’s possibly the only sport in which just one tiny mistake in a whole career would result in certain death. The imagery of a man on a ledge thousands of feet up, with the same safety equipment a young boy might have used to climb trees, i.e. none, was the most jaw-dropping footage it is ever possible to commit to celluloid. It is so extraordinary that the people who provided it are in the film as characters, representing the fear and anguish that everyone except the climber himself seems to have. They are aware of the delicacy of the situation, so they are worried that the intrusion of their cameras may increase chances of a grave mistake. It’s a feeling of apprehension that the audience can relate to far more than the mentality of the subject.
You winced, squirmed and shifted uncomfortably in your seat watching him, in a way you would think would be reserved for only his family members had he used safety equipment. But the sheer terror of knowing that just a slight slip of the fingers would bring about his demise, made Free Solo one of the most tense and nervy films of the year.
The mind boggles about what it takes to have such an unshakable sense of believe in yourself to take on such a death-defying quest. What sort of level of self-confidence in one’s own abilities do you need to possess to be so assured that you will not make even one mistake on a climb of a few thousand feet? The character you meet at the center of Free Solo defies every preconception that you have before watching the film. The conclusion the film made about how its subject had such composure in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, was as surprising as the challenge itself, leaving the audience plenty to reflect on post-credits after one of the most extraordinary documentaries you will ever see. Those who saw Free Solo on the big screen this year, got a taste of what it is to cling to rocks thousands of feet up. Hearts were in mouths and audiences reacted with the same sense of awe as if a miracle had been witnessed, and in a way, the sport in Free Solo, if it isn’t totally mad, is miraculous.
Release Date: January Taiwan/UK
9. Cold War
In his debut Ida, director Pawal Pawlikowski made a fascinating film, shot with moody black and white cinematography about a Polish girl journeying into secrets that change her identity. His second feature has lots of parallels with his debut: sumptuous black and white cinematography, a narrative probing under the surface of period-set Polish life and characters carefully rendered from real life observations. The film is loosely about the relationship he perceived of his parents. The two films have made him a rising name in World Cinema; Cold War crossed over to the West, fueled by across the board critical appraisal, which allowed it to run the gauntlet of awards recognition. Ida and Cold War have lifted his profile and put Polish cinema back on the map.
The striking poster of a couple warmly embracing contrasts the icy depiction of the relationship within. There is more than a hint in the title of how the director has depicted this marriage. The director is not interested in surface sheen, he is interested in capturing the complexity of how their relationship is affected moving from their native Poland, rural an impoverished, to the ritz of the Parisian playboy worlds of lavish parties.
Cinema loves romance, but it has always struggled to capture the multi-layered complexity of relationships, both the bitter and the sweet that develops over years and years of shared experiences. And that is one of the many reasons why Cold War was such a refreshing depiction of a relationship. Set over many decades, it captured how decisions made over a long and shared journey together can strengthen, distort and perhaps even strangle. There is no doubt that the two characters in Cold War love each other enough to endure together as life partners. Their relationship is something of a double edged sword: they enhance each other, have mesmerizing chemistry and a mutually complementary air of sophistication, but their enduring love for each other has a dark side, with a suggestion that their bond is actually also corrosive. Such an unusually complex and deep character dynamic resonated throughout, leading to a finale that was among the boldest endings to a film in cinema in 2019.
Release date: January Taiwan/ UK
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
Another Spider-man origin story seemed about as fun as and as welcomed as being bitten by a poisoned arachnid. Filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller – the hottest property in American animation outside of Pixar – were self-aware of this over-saturation point for Spidey and flipped it on its head, feeding Spider-man into a prism, with a knowing wink and finding that with some twists and distortions to the formula, a colorful stream of Spidey-related ideas streamed out the other side. In this universe, your friendly neighborhood Spider-man could be anyone in the neighborhood: a guy in his thirties; a detective; a girl and most notably a black teenager. It was a genesis of an idea, far-out and wildly adventurous, proving this story could be spun in more ways than one.
Visually, the film resurrected and reshaped a comic book format, abandoned since Ang Lee’s The Hulk, and fused it with a street-art style punk-ish vibrancy. It was an imaginative animated style that really made for an eye-popping spectacle. Filmmakers have always worried too much about distancing their visual form away from the hyper-stylized worlds of comics, so to see Lord and Miller fully taking on this challenge of making a comic book film celebrating comic books, in a fast–paced kinetic style, was really thrilling.
Phil Lord and Miller have a fresh snappy comic style all of their own, and their humour applied to the Spider-Man Universe worked wonders in freshening up well worn material.
You would think that far-out theories of the quantum realm would be too weighty to work in a superhero movie, but it was the connective spark that made this film so outlandishly from a different realm of the imagination.
In the end, there was a sense of inspiring another generation to think creatively about one of America’s most enduring superheroes. Thanks to Into the Spider-verse, you were free to subjectively stylize Spider-Man to whatever you wanted him to be in 2019.
Release date: Taiwan June UK February 2020
The ever growing disparity between the way the affluent and the poor are living is now so wide that it is possible to live in different worlds even when you reside in the same city. All around the world this is happening and at least three films from Asia in 2019 reflected these social issues. Shoplifters, from Japan, was a bittersweet, underplayed drama showing how the poor band together on the fringes of Japanese society to survive and support each other – it scooped last year’s Palme D’or for its beautiful depiction of the galvanizing flip-side of poverty. We also had two films from South Korea which captured a brewing social discontent under the surface of society. Burning gained a simmering tension as the film quietly and subtly commented on the dangers of alienation; and Parasite used the wealth gap for an extraordinary vision of two families, from different classes living massively contrasting lives.
South Korean director Boong Ju Hun has been one of the most prolific directors of the decade. Furthermore, he has done something that only a handful of Asian directors have done, in that he has crossed over from making Eastern films, to Western films and then back again to make films in Asia.
Parasite continues his trend of reflecting socio-political themes in his films, in fascinating and unique ways. His films seem designed to stir up reflection on social issues swept under the carpet in society. In Okja, he reflected on the hidden mechanics of the meat industry and in Snowpiercer he made a film about how the rich and poor are kept in separate spaces. In Parasite, the barrier between the rich and the poor’s lives is lowered in a series of astonishing and shocking plot developments. One family, living in dire conditions, seeking out a living folding pizza boxes, cunningly engineered a way of gaining employment at a rich family’s estate, first in an impressively crafty way, and then in an increasingly more desperate and dubious style. At first, the film played rather lightly, as a black comedy, capturing how the only jobs left in these difficult economic times are those in humble service to the extremely wealthy. There was a catalyst about midway through, a game-changing moment, that was impossible to foresee, which, started a chain reaction of incredibly tense and involving events unfolding, that gripped in an enjoyably agonizing way.
One of the many great things about South Korean cinema is that it is anything but predictable. There are usually tone and mood shifts that come out of the blue, which totally change the dynamics of storytelling. Protagonists are often suddenly treated coldly, as if they are being directed by old testament gods, rather than someone who cares for their plight. It is an entirely different attitude than how mainstream American films treat protagonists, which means the films often have sudden unpredictable moments of cruel drama or that adhere to the narratives of reality rather than fantasy. Parasite was another great example of how enjoyably ruthless South Korean cinema can be.
The stage the film was largely set on was a beautifully designed, airy and spacious house with a garden; contrasting this we saw the dire dwellings of the main characters, who were all huddled together in damp, messy conditions. Both spaces were integral to what happens in the story and both send a message of how these circumstances shape personalities and lives. The poor yearn for what the rich take for granted and the rich amble through life oblivious to the suffering of the underclass. What is nice about the film, is that it makes its point about society without having to demonize the rich. The evil is the disparity between the two families. You have to buy into the rich family as naive but amiable, in order for the story to work. The unawareness of what was happening in front of them, made for a massively suspenseful plot as well as quietly projected its message that the rich do not see the human cost of these changes to society. How this message is done was brilliantly inspired, with almost every scene having a visual poetry to capture its themes of inequality. There was a lovely duality to the film – even the title Parasite could work in connection for how both families are living their lives if you reflect on it. The film was rich in lyrical metaphor about how the poor are almost unknowingly pitted against each other when jobs are scarce in society.
As the poor continue to grow in numbers in big cities around the world, it is interesting how they seem to be ignored to the point of invisibility. How Boog Ju Hu uses this point as the touchstone for a gripping, satirical, dark, blackly comic, twisted screenplay, is ingenious. Parasite followed in the footsteps of Shoplifters as a totally deserved winner of the Palme D’or. See it now before an inevitable – but understandable – Hollywood remake and before it gets deserved Oscar buzz in the foreign language category.
Release Date: Taiwan August UK January
6. Blinded by the Light
Have you ever had a transformative experience when a song lyric just speaks to you at the right moment in your life? The music of Bruce Springsteen reflects the plight of the working class struggle so perceptively that it has provided many people in such circumstances with this kind of epiphany. The twist in this film was that the working class boy is the second generation of a Pakistan family, adapting to life in the kind of small town people may strife to break out of – like a character in one of The Boss’ songs. This isn’t the Badlands of America though, this is Luton in the 1980s; the Thatcher-driven threat of unemployment unsettles in the background and a racial tension could be lurking around the corner – there is darkness on the edge of town. The boy in question (named Javed) felt poetry in his soul and a desire to be a writer; against the will of his father, who wanted him to pick a more lucrative field. He needed a mentor, which he found when a peer of his handed him an album by The Boss.
The way the film visually represented the creative awakening the boy had is done so well by Indian female director Gurinda Chadha. A personal internal moment of connectivity Javed had when he realized Bruce’s lyrics perfectly capture his own plight, prompted a number of magical, infectious sequences. Lyrics were projected onto walls, as a burst of expressive energy was released from a working class hero homing in on his potential.
Music speaks to people who feel isolated in a way that friends, family and peers may not grasp. Blinded by the Light illustrated that connectivity better than anything I’ve seen before.
There is a body of work that captures the struggle of being Asian and trying to find your place in British society. Films such as East is East, Chadha’s own Bend it Like Beckham and even last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody have captured the struggles of trying to reconcile Western-influenced ambitions in an Eastern subculture. Blinded by the Light shines brightly alongside these films at illustrating the young Asian’s internal conflict: How do you adapt, grow and find the individualism required to succeed in the West, whilst still not betraying the values of the culture you hail from? There is a tension in this paradox that creates great drama in Blinded by the Light and the aforementioned films. Globalization has created many opportunities, but it has simply ignored the fact that people from different parts of the world have opposing attitudes to conservatism and liberalism.
We are living through an age where celebrity culture is oversold to us. This film reminded us about what an inspiration artists can provide if their poetry connects to your soul.
If you want to be a writer, or you are someone with a dormant creative inner persona, this was one of the year’s most essential films.
Release date: January Taiwan/ UK
5. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos has been experimenting with weird, irregular, disorientating and strange cinema for a while now ever since his debut The Lobster, but this was the moment that his style clicked to become something quite special. From the outside, the period setting, and lavish costumes made The Favourite look like a traditional royal drama. But Lanthimos, had great fun subverting expectations by taking the oddball monarch of Princess Ann and slotting her into a mesmerizing three way character-driven power struggle between three really textured female characters. The script, the dialogue and the power play between the three leads, was very offbeat, surreal and modern for what looked like a costume drama. The Greek director continued to distort already unconventional storytelling with off-kilter, fully barbed dialogue exchanges, bizarre shots using fish-eye lenses and a wry satirical tone. It’s unconventional in itself to see a film driven by three strongly written, multi-layered female leads. But to take a female character story and plot it with this much edge, this much wry-fascinating, complexity was something that was stand alone unique.
The film fully explored the depth of the premise, with a game behind the throne involving power play and manipulation. The twists and turns and shifted dynamics between Oscar winning Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. Any stuffy white male film execs who think three women cannot carry a film should watch The Favourite and see what unpredictable story-telling is possible if one is willing to imagine female characters as something more than objects to be exchanged between male counterparts.
Release date: Taiwan June Uk May
4 . Rocketman
A sequin-suited, towering sparkly demon barges into rehab – a poetic visual metaphor for the soul of Reg Dwight aka Elton John was born! The musical biopic is trending in cinema lately, but Rocketman managed to get under the skin of its subject far more successfully than others in the genre.
Elton John is a colorful character with a checkered life. His considerable flamboyance lends itself to spectacular musical fantasy sequences and boy did Dexter Flectcher conjure some tributes to do justice to the man. The opening set-piece, of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, burst away from the responsibility of telling the backstory of Dwight’s youth, and had audiences buzzing with excitement, to such a level that they could barely stay contained in their chairs. Rocketman took off from there. Every subsequent set-piece was peppered with Elton’s shimmering magic.
One of the reasons why Rocketman surged above other films of this ilk, is that it had an original idea at its core, which validated the many colorful flights into fantasy the film took. The idea was not that this was Elton’s life, but that it was Elton recalling his own view of his life, from the crisis point of rehab. The rules were established in the first five minutes, which gave the film creative license to play around with blurring the lines between reality and extravagance.
Stars struggling to contain the fallout from a meteoric rise to fame are a stable of biopic cinema. A descent into a hellish world of drugs and depression has been the fate of many stars, of which Elton John was one of the most prominent. But Rocketman actually provides an explanation for the source of the damage, which movingly works out the Elton John conundrum, whilst offering a rare insight into why so many stars launch a journey into self-destruction.
The way Flectcher dexterously told the story between the struggles of Elton’s working class upbringing and the heady stage show act he escaped into, was beautifully woven. You get a strong sense that if you don’t have an emotionally satisfied inner core, then fame and fortune are just window dressing that do not disguise a tortured soul. Lots of people see the wealth and fame of stars and wonder why they are not happy with everything. Rocketman actually provides a personal explanation. A fantastic performance from Taron Egerton is the vehicle for which the vibrancy of Elton shines through. Elton himself was so pleased with his portrayal, that he actually invited Taron on stage to perform with him. That is probably a higher honour than receiving any award recognition. Rocketman filtered the essence of Elton through a kaleidoscopic fantasy that sparkled and excited whilst also telling the Rocketman’s poignant, personal tale.
Release Date: Taiwan/Uk October
DC comics’ most iconic super villain was transformed into a Scorsese-style anti-hero and transported into a Gotham that resembled the means streets of a gritty seventies film. The result was the year’s most controversial film. Genuinely rattling the establishment before its release, Joker went on to both divide and strike a chord with audiences, who helped make it into the top 10 biggest grossing films of 2019. It was an R-rated firecracker of a movie, which sticks out as a welcomed anomaly in a top ten grossing films of the year that is otherwise totally dominated by Disney.
The detached mania of previous Joker portrayals was replaced by a more tragic sense of personal trauma, with Joaquin Phoenix tapping into the depths of his tortured soul to capture the dangerous vulnerability of the character. The Joker is rarely given a back-story, which gave The Hangover director Todd Philips a unique calling card; the central premise was all about how much personal tragedy a lonely outsider has to endure before his mind snaps.
Turning the Joker, aka Arthur Fleck, into a sad, pathetic, put-upon figure was a risk, and you can see how it sat uncomfortably with some of the DC core fan base. The Joker is the clown prince poster boy for madness, but you never really get a chance to analyze the psychosis behind the mania. That all changed in Todd Philips’ probing depiction. Who knew The Joker could be so sympathetic? At first Phoenix’s portrayal had an innocence and purity: Fleck was a man who genuinely wanted to succeed at being a clown. The ruthlessness of the society he was in meant this spirit got chewed up and distorted, and like a dog that’s been badly treated, he became a threat. There was nothing funny about his plight; the infamous laugh, being turned into a tension lifting, chiming bell, sounding the alarming indicator of hidden pain. The punchline was the pathos. Heather Ledger’s terrorist Joker just wanted to see the world burn, in this, it is the Joker’s soul that was burning. It would seem the character’s colorful madness can stand up to multiple reinterpretations, but few have been as affecting as this one.
Through all this pain and suffering, the character got chewed up by the cold, grinding machinery of society. The film seemed to try and pin-point the mental moment, when a person who has been constantly victimized decides to take a stand.
The Joker was re-imagined as a martyr for the huddled masses who have been neglected and mistreated by society. In doing so, it shone a mirror to show the plight of the marginalized who have been wronged by the rigged games of capitalism in our actual societies. And that is the real reason why it seemed to spook the media. And perhaps is the reason it got so much traction with the public for so long. In this world, the entitled are the real villains, the corporate establishment, which includes – tellingly and cleverly – the Wayne empire, are the real menace to society. Phoenix’s Joker becomes the hand grenade thrown into the the powder-keg of discontent stored under the surface of society. One look at the news today will show you that it is a powder-keg that is under the surface in society for real. There is a simmering discontent in the real world, which Phillips tapped into; that made it the most anarchic film since V for Vendetta; it could be re-dubbed J for Vendetta. Joker transcended its comic book roots to say something powerful about the state of society.
Release Date: Taiwan/UK April
2. Avengers: Endgame
The finale of Infinity War was arguably the biggest cinematic cliffhanger of all time as the fate of half of the iconic franchise-fronting characters was left literally in the air. Fans had an agonizing wait of a year to see whether there was any actual jeopardy in the apparently bold move, or whether it was the biggest demonstration of emotional manipulation in cinema history. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo struck a tone of melancholy and reflection at the start of End Game, that suggested they were willing to commit to the seemingly ruthless storytelling that stunned viewers at the Infinity War climax. Marvel heroes were left adrift, either physically or emotionally, creating a further sense of sadness for the fallen heroes. How End Game opened was actually like the saddest ending you could conceive of to a film, rather than a beginning, being all the more dramatically rich and emotionally textured for it.
Superheroes who usually find a way to save the day, were seen grappling with emotions of helplessness that were far more familiar to us regular folk than superheroes. Marvel confronted a superhero’s darkest nightmare: what sense of despair is unlocked if you can’t save the people of the world or even yourselves? Heroes have never been depicted with such vulnerabilty. The emotional fallout was authentic, and deeply satisfying.
The film created a quite thrilling sense that there would have to be a humdinger of a metaphysical, time bending plot-line, to have any chance of overturning the damage inflicted by Thanos. And boy did they come up with one. The story managed to find a way to incorporate all of the remaining characters, in a complex way, that seemed reasonable, at least in the physics-defying Marvel cinematic Universe. Furthermore, it was a plot-line, all-encompassing enough to revisit 10 years of Marvel films, creating the thrilling impression, that each of those films, had been thought out to lead to this last one – the End Game. That is probably a beautifully constructed illusion, but what it did was reward loyal viewers, who had watched and bought into the mythology of every film. The more you had invested in this ever-sprawling opus of a franchise, the more deeply satisfying End Game was. It was like every film was a separate thread, that the directors had vision to weave into a stunning, intricately stitched tapestry.
The constant expansion of the Marvel cinematic universe to encompass more films and more characters is enticing but creates certain narrative problems: how do you come up with a narrative with enough scope to give everyone something to do? How do you create a villain who is credible to match such an incredible display of power? How do you keep a story that shifts from earth to various parts of space, cohesive? Questions such as these were emphatically answered in End Game, and to a certain extent, Infinity War.
This was the Russos’ crowning achievement: juggling all the various narratives in a fashion that kept the momentum of the storytelling. In Thanos, expertly played by Josh Brolin, the Marvel films have come up with one of the most thought-provoking super-villains of all time. He’s not some egocentric megalomaniac. His mission to give balance to the universe by removing 50% has an internal logic to it, that is outside pure evil and more Darwinian in nature. Really, he’s a man who wanted to use a glove to give nature a helping hand. The glove and infinity stones he sought, perhaps created the impression that he was another villain interested in personal pursuit of power, but his story arc, had a sense of self-sacrifice that was also reflected into the superheroes’ various plot-lines. Where we find him at the start of End Game told us more about his interesting detachment and humility as a character. On a planet such as ours in which rampant population growth goes on unmitigated, without assessment of damage, the points Thanos raised, were lots of fuel for reflection. Following his character and skewed philosophy were fascinating.
Tonally, the film was also expertly done. The spectrum of emotions the film moved through was extraordinarily wide. It’s a film that had to tribute fallen comrades, but at the same time delivered the snappy one-liners and gag-a-plenty script that Joss Whedon long ago established. The ease in which the film moved from heavy to light was impressive: DC, watch and learn!
As it all moved to an inevitable but absolutely epic final battle sequence, there was still so much up in the air. The clashes were spectacular and finally power seemed to be matched on both the good and evil side of things.
Infinity War had thrown a gauntlet down, suggesting that at least some of Marvel’s cinematic franchise would have to meet their end. That sense of peril ran right up into the final battle sequence, which showed the sense of risk was not fake.
As the curtain came down on Endgame, audiences were left rightfully feeling bittersweet. Underpinning that sense was a satisfying feeling, that this insanely epic first opus for Marvel was actual closing. It closed in an emotionally, spiritually, and beautifully conceived manor that contrasted wonderfully the sense of uncertainty at the end of Infinity War. Thanks Marvel.
Release Date: Taiwan March
1. They Shall Not Grow Old
There have of course been many documentaries about the First World War, but few, if any, have gripped the heart, mind, and soul as much as Peter Jackson’s astoundingly stirring They Shall Never Grow Old.
It starts out like any other War documentary; grainy footage and reflections; but, there is a moment in the first third that was the most world-shakingly impactful moment I have ever experienced in a cinema. The moment Jackson, forever a technical pioneer, used the full force of the impressive technological advancements, to take the audience up close and personal to those who sacrificed everything for crown and country during the First World War. In this moment, the grain faded away, the footage remarkably turned to color and the horrifying sounds of war were momentarily drowned out by jaws hitting cinema floors.
Footage nearing a hundred years old has been restored in this film, to such a pristine level of clarity that you would have been forgiven for thinking that it had been shot the day before. It was like the mist we usually look at old footage through completely cleared, leaving us staring into the eyes of people who made the ultimate sacrifice for future generations.
Using technology in this way seemed miraculous – like Jackson’s technology was seeing the seemingly unseeable – imagery that was surely lost to time forever was now crystal clear. With the haze removed, we could see and feel, in a way we could not before, that the soldiers were just young lads, in jovial spirit, not fully mentally equipped for the horrors that were about to be unleashed on them. In this moment, Jackson’s technique allowed us to be transported back to the beginnings of a war that would shape the century; we could step in muddy trenches, and almost walk through the torments in their boots. 3D cinema tries to be this immersive and fails. The emotional impact of this new technical approach to the old was immeasurably powerful.
Children born in the latter part of the 20th Century in the UK are told stories by their grandfathers of the Second World War, who in turn pass on stories that their fathers told them about the First World War. There is always a grave tone underpinning these stories, with a message about how close the UK came to succumbing to invasion.
We are told to value our freedom because of the sacrifices previous generations made. ‘We shall never forget’ is a message the young must learn. They Shall Not Grow Old personalizes this in a profoundly moving way. Jackson has managed to retrieve an extraordinary amount of footage of life in the trenches – it was so vividly delivered that you felt you could smell the stench of mud and gunpowder permeating the air. It was gritty and hard-hitting, giving a fully formed picture of what day to day life was like in the trenches, never fully knowing whether you were about to have you last day on earth.
Old men, who have gone through tough times as younger men are the best storytellers. Jackson paired the hard-hitting footage, with many old, well-restored sound recordings of elderly men reflecting on a youth shaped by combat in the First World War. It has been over a hundred years since the war, so these men have also long since passed – it’s like hearing ghosts recall tragic times of life on earth. The sound editor must have gone to extraordinary lengths to pair the right story with suitable imagery, to give the film its full, vivid impact. Each voice acts like a sonar system, filling in the blanks in the picture of the war in your mind’s eye. All those first hand testaments, combined with heart-stirring imagery created an effect that felt like finding a time machine to a First World War battlefield. Anyone who saw this in the cinema, was shook up to their very core; feeling the horror of war in a way that was not possible before. Hearing the firestorm of explosions and machine gun fire, haunted the spirit to all those who experienced it.
They Shall Not Grow Old was harrowing enough to ensure that the message of ‘we shall never forget’ will be forever printed in the minds of anyone who saw this profound piece of cinema.