This year has seen cinema step up its visual game through elaborate sets, distinctive lighting design, and fashionable fits. Production and costume designers are increasingly being acknowledged publicly for their work, and are often behind trends that extend far beyond the silver screen. We’ve seen more and more exposure detailing the visual language of films, which in turn has placed more importance on a film’s image.
With regards to the most fashionable movies and shows of the year, excess of all kinds was big in costuming, running the gamut from 1970s panache through to 2010s gaud. Architecture had a rare star turn this year, as did greyscale and black-and-white, while colored lighting inevitably hit a peak.
For an aesthete’s take on the best film and TV this year had to offer, here are the 25 most fashionable movies and shows of 2019.
Directors: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent
Touted as one of the most fashionable films of the year, the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems is a lesson in early 2010s excess. Set in Manhattan’s Diamond District, it follows jeweler Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler, as he gets caught up in high-stakes bets that could bring about his downfall.
Unsurprisingly, a film about diamonds brings the heat when it comes to bling. Howard rocks a pair of iced-out Cartier rimless frames, with transition lenses to boot, while former NBA player-turned-actor Kevin Garnett dons some serious diamond studs. But it’s not just the jewels that are impressive – costume designer Miyako Bellizzi nailed the film’s 2012 setting and included everything from designer (Ferragamo, Zegna, Chanel) to streetwear from the period, including Givenchy’s iconic rottweiler graphic tee, MA-1 flight jackets and of course, some Supreme.
Watch in cinemas from December 25.
Director: Martin Scorsese Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent
Martin Scorsese’s grand return to the Italian mafia genre, The Irishman is an epic that includes his regular collaborators Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as genre heavyweight Al Pacino. Based on the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, it details the life of mafia hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran.
Epic in story, The Irishman spans five decades and required a fitting number of looks, with costume designers Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson dressing 250 characters and 6,500 extras. What’s notable about The Irishman is that it’s a different kind of mobster style, less flashy than Marty’s earlier films. Peterson explains, “In this one, they’re much quieter men. They did not want to be photographed. They were well-dressed, but it wasn’t flash.”
Director: Peter Strickland Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent
In Fabric has all the markings of a cult classic: the horror-comedy has a far-fetched plot about a killer red dress, while the giallo-inflected visuals are dripping in style. It’s the kind of film you’re unsure whether to take seriously, until you realize it’s quite genius.
Heavily influenced by 1970s Italian horror, specifically the giallo genre, In Fabric uses color to full effect, while camera tricks and the music intentionally border on naff. Sartorially, a mash of historic influences – including Victorian and 1930-1990s – give an ambiguous air to the film that only exacerbates its eerie dreamlike quality.
Watch in cinemas now.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino Rotten Tomatoes: 85 percent
Quentin Tarantino’s homage to 1960s Los Angeles was one of the biggest moments in Hollywood this year, so it’s no surprise the film’s costumes and set design are still front of mind. LA’s bright lights mingle with its hazy days, in a story that weaves Charles Manson’s notorious cult with the glamor of the filmmaking industry.
The effort undertaken in recreating a bygone era of LA, both physically across locations in the city and sartorially, is worthy of recognition. Costume designer Arianne Phillips outfitted lead actors in original designs based on vintage looks, while the large number of extras were clothed in vintage pieces. Each principal actor was given a talisman that spoke to their characters, with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton sporting a monogrammed medallion necklace and belt buckle, while Margot Robbie wore pieces of jewelry that actually belonged to actress Sharon Tate.
Director: Bong Joon-ho Rotten Tomatoes: 99 percent
Bong Joon-ho’s Palme d’Or-winning film defies genre, instead opting for the only label it could possibly fit into: “A Bong Joon-ho film,” as the director cheekily put it. Revolving around two families – one poor, one wealthy – whose lives become entangled, Parasite deals with themes of class in contemporary culture.
Visually speaking, the film’s pièce de résistance is the wealthy Park family’s house. Befitting an Architectural Digest spread, the structure was designed and built specifically for the film and is even credited within the narrative to a fictional so-called starchitect named Namgoong. Bong worked with production designer Lee Ha Jun to realize the abode, which was built outdoors and designed in "consideration of the sun’s direction,” meaning that the way in which light featured throughout was carefully considered. The payoff of such meticulous attention to detail was worthwhile, selling the film’s story and making it one of the more fascinating sets of the year.
Queen & Slim
Director: Melina Matsoukas Rotten Tomatoes: 82 percent
Scripted by Lena Waithe and directed by Grammy Award-winning music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells the story of a young African-American couple who kill a police officer in self-defense during a traffic stop gone wrong and subsequently must go on the run. It stars Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and upcoming actress Jodie Turner-Smith.
Costume designer Shiona Turini drew inspiration from various aspects of African-American culture including the Black Panthers and Dapper Dan. The latter actually collaborated on Uncle Earl’s Gucci tracksuit specifically for the film. Slim’s tracksuits were also a big focal point, with Sean John a favorite, as well as Reebok sneakers, while Queen’s footwear of choice was Brother Vellies snakeskin boots. Cinematographically, the film is rich and vibrant, as you’d expect from a former music video director.
Watch in cinemas now.
Director: Ari Aster Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent
Ari Aster’s Swedish-set horror was a breath of fresh air when it released this summer, not only for its unique subject matter but for its sun-bleached aesthetic, an anomaly in the horror genre. A group of Americans witnessing Midsommar festivities that turn deadly might seem far fetched, but when done right, horror based on folkloric tradition can be some of the creepiest around.
Here, the Scandi aesthetic turns malevolent, providing a new take on what both horror and Nordic design can be. And while pagan rituals have a visual language that’s centuries old, it’s somewhat coincidental then that Kanye West’s Sunday Services and Nebuchadnezzar opera – both launched this year – resemble the tonal all-white fits seen in the field in Midsommar.
West’s longtime collaborator, artist Vanessa Beecroft has employed this aesthetic in her work for some years, making Midsommar’s visuals both historic and extremely on-trend.
Director: Todd Phillips Rotten Tomatoes: 69 percent
Perhaps the most controversial film of the year, Joker offers a possible origin story for the notorious DC Comics villain. Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian whose mental health deteriorates, giving rise to the antagonistic villain we know as the Joker.
A rich yet muddied color palette sets the tone for Joker, making it clear that this isn’t your average superhero blockbuster. Influenced by ‘80s New York and the grittiness of early Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, everything in Arthur Fleck’s world appears as if its degrading and slowly getting darker, mirroring his own mind. Both visually and thematically, Joker is one superhero film that’ll be remembered for years to come.
Creator: Sam Levinson Rotten Tomatoes: 83 percent
HBO’s first-ever teen show made a huge impact when it premiered early in the summer. A remake of an Israeli show of the same name, Euphoria drew heavily from creator Sam Levinson’s experiences as a teenage drug addict, imbuing the story with an authenticity that’s hard to fake.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest pop culture moments this year, Euphoria’s music video-style cinematography, dreamy sequences, and Gen Z style defined the summer. It helped that each actor brought something unique to their roles, resulting in the kind of lineup that offers something for everyone.
Dolemite Is My Name
Director: Craig Brewer Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent
A biopic of multi-hyphenate Rudy Ray Moore, who portrayed the pimp Dolemite in the 1975 film of the same name, Dolemite Is My Name is a funny and lewd retelling of Moore’s creative pursuits in the ‘70s. Eddie Murphy plays Moore, while the supporting cast includes Keegan-Michael Key, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, and rapper T.I. among others.
Stylistically, the film is a time warp to the ‘70s with heavy blaxploitation influences. Ruth E. Carter handled costumes, fresh off her win as the first African-American to garner the Best Costume Design award for Black Panther at this year’s Oscars. Needless to say, the attention to detail was immaculate and it shows. Murphy dons 75 outfit changes in the film, and to make his era-specific platform shoes more comfortable, Carter developed a hybrid that was made partially from adidas sneakers.
Director: Robert Eggers Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent
The sophomore film from The Witch director Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse is similarly set in New England, this time on a remote island off its coast in the late 19th century. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play two lighthouse keepers who become stranded for weeks due to rough weather as their sanity deteriorates.
Shot in rich black-and-white in an aspect ratio of 1.19:1 – an old format from the Silent Era that’s no longer in use – The Lighthouse has an old air about it from the start. The cramped frame deliberately suffocates its protagonists, just as their isolation on the island does, resulting in an eeriness that pervades the entire film.
Watch in cinemas now.
Director: Lorene Scafaria Rotten Tomatoes: 88 percent
Based on a nonfiction New York magazine article, Hustlers is about a group of strippers who stole from stock traders and CEOs by drugging them and running up their credit cards during the financial crash in 2008. A stacked cast led by Jennifer Lopez also includes Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo and Cardi B.
Hustlers, like the brands the women in the film are wearing, is all about excess – everything from Juicy Couture and Von Dutch to Louis Vuitton. Costume designer Mitchell Travers looked to party girls like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears to nail the late 2000s look, while the opulent neon-lit club where the girls work sets the tone for the film.
Director: Zhang Yimou Rotten Tomatoes: 94 percent
Zhang Yimou is a master when it comes to creating visually stunning movies, and his latest, Shadow, is no different. The story of a general who’s chasing victory over a rival kingdom, the film is full of incredible action scenes, as is typical of the wuxia genre.
Like its title, Shadow is enriched in a greyscale palette that appears like artwork onscreen. Inspired by traditional Chinese ink brush painting and the tai chi symbol (commonly referred to as yin-yang), these references are overt throughout and make for a painterly action film that only Zhang could pull off.
The Beach Bum
Director: Harmony Korine Rotten Tomatoes: 55 percent
Matthew McConaughey plays stoner poet Moondog in Harmony Korine’s neon-tinged comedy The Beach Bum. While the film was met with mixed reviews it’s hard to deny it made a strong visual impact, following in the footsteps of Korine’s earlier film Spring Breakers.
From Matthew McConaughey donning a Balenciaga muumuu to Zac Efron’s panini grill mark-inspired facial hair, The Beach Bum takes Miami excess to a whole new level. And it succeeds because it’s at once ridiculous and totally believable.
The Last Black Man In San Francisco
Director: Joe Talbot Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent
A passion project from lead actor Jimmie Fails and director Joe Talbot, The Last Black Man In San Francisco was conceived while the two were teenagers growing up together in the city. It centers around a young man who’s determined to reclaim his childhood home that his grandfather built, a Victorian house in the historic Fillmore District.
Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra described the “beautiful, romanticized, modern-yet-nostalgic vision for the city” the filmmakers were after, and that’s exactly what they achieved with the sumptuous and warm visuals. It lends a charisma that makes the film’s plight about gentrification all the more heart-rendering. Timeless clothes – both Fails’ skater fits and his friend Mont’s vintage business casual – only heighten the nostalgia.
Pain & Glory
Director: Pedro Almodovar Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent
Pedro Almodovar’s films are so recognizable and idiosyncratic that they could be a genre in their own right. Drawing from his own life, Pain & Glory is the story of an aging director who faces moments of his past, both through memory and in the flesh.
Grounded in Almodovar’s usual palette of bright colors, particularly red, the film moves from everyday domicile settings that are colorful and patterned to sun-bleached locations in nature – another Almodovar hallmark.
Creators: Steven Canals, Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent
From the creators of Glee and American Horror Story, Pose is a show centered on New York’s African-American and Latino ball culture in the late ‘80s. Heavily influenced by the seminal documentary Paris Is Burning, in Pose’s second season the show jumped forward to 1990 when the AIDS epidemic was devastating the queer community while the success of Madonna’s “Vogue” took ball culture mainstream. Other aspects of New York at the time, such as the downtown social and literary scene and the Trumpian yuppie world, are intersected into the main storyline.
Costume designers Lou Eyrich and Analucia McGorty scoured vintage stores all across the United States in search of unique pieces that were authentic to the era, while original designs were also turned out. The filming of the energy in the ballroom scenes is so strong that it feels like you’re participating IRL.
Director: Benedict Andrews Rotten Tomatoes: 46 percent
Seberg is a biopic of American actress Jean Seberg, who became a target of the FBI’s surveillance program COINTELPRO for her associations with the Black Panther movement in the 1960s. Critics have called out the film as glossing over sensitive topics in an otherwise fascinating true story, but the visuals have made an impact.
As a darling of the French New Wave thanks to her breakout role in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, Jean Seberg was seen as an It girl of the time. Fashion played a big role in her self-expression and the film honors that with 28 costume changes ranging from couture to casual. The sets in Seberg are straight out of Mad Men, while the ‘60s counterculture movement offers further visual inspiration.
Watch in cinemas now.
Knife + Heart
Director: Yann Gonzalez Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent
Another giallo-inspired offering this year, Knife + Heart is a French-Mexican co-production from director Yann Gonzalez. The film stars Vanessa Paradis as a third-rate gay porn director in the late ‘70s, who sets out to make her most ambitious film yet, however, her actors begin to get killed off. It’s camp and quirky and perfectly fitting to the giallo genre.
Unsurprisingly there’s a lot of fetish clothing and accessories at play in Knife + Heart, alongside gaudy ‘70s style. The film’s movie-within-a-movie premise lends itself to lots of outlandish sets and colorful lighting setups, while M83 (led by the director’s brother, Anthony Gonzalez) provide the perfect synth soundtrack.
Director: James Gray Rotten Tomatoes: 84 percent
Brad Pitt plays an astronaut who must travel to space in an attempt to find his long-missing father, who’s mission went cold 16 years earlier. James Gray explained he wanted to make “the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie” and despite strong similarities to classic and recent science fiction films, Ad Astra manages to hold its own.
The costumes don’t extend far past the typical uniforms one might expect in such a film, but there’s a sleekness to the mise-en-scène that puts it among the more fashionable films made about space. Hyper-stylized set pieces, some that could double as hip nightclubs, make the film’s near future setting feel even more probable.
Director: Jessica Hausner Rotten Tomatoes: 66 percent
In a laboratory concerned with developing new plant species, senior plant breeder Alice creates a special red flower that promises to make its owner happy when looked after properly. Against company rules, she takes home one of the plants to give to her son, but soon begins to suspect that Little Joe, as they’ve called it, is much more sinister than initially thought.
Like the plant itself, the film’s visuals are both enticing yet ominous at the same time. Hyper-stylized sets exacerbate Little Joe’s clinical setting and mood, while lush lighting and warmth of the flowers’ petals counteract this, adding to the film’s suspenseful duality. This unease is further enhanced through the film’s costumes, a mix of minimal silhouettes in tonal off-kilter colors such as mint and turquoise.
Director: David Michôd Rotten Tomatoes: 70 percent
Based on several plays by William Shakespeare collectively known as Henriad, The King is the story of Henry, Prince of Wales’ ascent to the throne after his tyrannical father King Henry V dies. The source material is loosely based on 15th-century events.
Working with production designer Fiona Crombie, who also worked on The Favourite, The King was filmed on location in castles in Derbyshire and Gloucestershire, England, while the battles scenes were staged in Szilvásvárad, Hungary, which rendered an authentic quality to the film. Meanwhile costume designer Jane Petrie was also influenced by historical architecture, taking inspiration from Tudor-style wood frames for one of Hal’s first looks, as well as Medieval architecture for The Dauphin’s armor.
Director: Joanna Hogg Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent
A semi-fictionalized version of director Joanna Hogg’s early adulthood, The Souvenir is about a toxic relationship between a wide-eyed film student and a secretive and untrustworthy older man. It stars Honor Swinton Byrne in her first starring role, while her real-life mother Tilda Swinton plays her mom in the film.
The Souvenir is set in the early ‘80s but avoids clichés and instead captures a nuanced snapshot of the era. A mixture of thrift-shop and vintage pieces outfitted a majority of the characters, while select items were designed exclusively for the film. Particular attention to detail was given to the fabrics in order to correctly convey the social backgrounds of each character.
Director: Jordan Peele Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent
Jordan Peele’s follow up to his wildly successful debut Get Out, Us veers further into horror than its predecessor. The plot follows a family that goes to the mother’s familial home, only to have four strangers begin to terrorize them, before realizing they are their own doppelgängers.
Revered costume designer Kym Barrett (who also worked on The Matrix franchise and Romeo + Juliet) designed the looks for the film, keeping in mind that in horror the audience isn’t meant to notice the clothing. However, after an initial watch, it’s worth revisiting and looking into the clothing’s symbology further to understand the film on a deeper lever.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night
Director: Bi Gan Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent
This Chinese arthouse film is one of the more original of the year – visually split into two sections, the first part is filmed in regular 2D, while the last 59 minutes consists of one take shot in 3D. Its plot revolves around a man who returns to his hometown of Kaili, before subsequently searching for a woman he loved but hasn’t forgotten.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night features sumptuous cinematography that perfectly captures the film’s considered set design. The final 59 minutes are impressive on multiple levels, not least for the choreography and planning necessary to pull off such a feat.