(Along with one honourable mention and one movie that every one else loved conspicuous by its absence)
By Jay Stone
Here are my favourite movies of 2019, in alphabetical order:
Honeyland: An amazing documentary, filmed in Macedonia, about a female beekeeper who lives with her ailing mother in rocky isolation, and harvests honey in a way compatible with her deep understanding of the life of bees. This hard-scrabble harmony is disrupted by a family of raucous nomads who move next door. The result is a galvanizing drama about society, greed, culture and, well, bees.
Gloria Bell: Sebastián Lelio’s remake of his own 2013 Spanish-language movie Gloria stars Julianne Moore as a divorcee who assuages her loneliness at dance clubs, and John Turturro as the constricted man who falls for her. The final scene, with the magnificent Moore dancing to the titular disco hit, is one of the great cinematic shouts of joy of the year.
Jojo Rabbit: New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi directed and co-stars as Adolf Hitler, the imaginary best friend of a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis) in the final days of the Second World War. Transgressive and wholly original, it’s a bold drama that’s alternatively hilarious, frightening, and compassionate.
Little Women: The Louisa May Alcott classic is reinvented by director Greta Gerwig as a beautifully mounted period piece and also a postmodern meditation on Louise May Alcott, and in fact all female artists. A brilliant movie and as a bonus, it reunites Gerwig with the indispensible Soairse Ronan (Lady Bird).
Marriage Story: Tears and laughter — legitimate tears and laughter — combine in Noah Bombach’s drama about a couple of New York theatre artists (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) who are getting divorced, even though they still seem to be in love. Driver’s performance of the Stephen Sondheim song Being Alive is the most heartbreaking sequence of 2019.
Once Upon A Time . . . In Hollywood: Quentin Tarantino’s take on the Manson Family years in Los Angeles. It sounds like the recipe for a bloodbath, but in fact it’s an almost affectionate tribute to 1960s culture with Leonardo DiCaprio as an aging TV star and Brad Pitt as his assistant and stunt double. Inside Tarantino’s twisted history, there’s a galaxy of old Hollywood lore.
Pain and Glory: Another movie about movies, although Pedro Almodovar’s mid-life meditation is rich enough to stand on its own as a drama about hope and regret. Antonio Banderas plays an Almodovar-like movie director looking back on his life, finding darker shades in the director’s signature bold palette.
The Irishman: Not just a Martin Scorsese film but, it seems, all Martin Scorsese films. Robert De Niro stars as a hitman looking back on his life; Joe Pesci is the mid-level Mafioso who controls him and Al Pacino chews scenery with bold abandon as Jimmy Hoffa, the mob-connected union boss. We’ve seen versions of these characters before, but this time they’re in the twilight of their violent lives and counting the costs.
The Two Popes: Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict XVI (the conservative German one) and Jonathan Price is the future Pope Francis (the liberal Argentinian one) in this drama about morality, religion, forgiveness and the burdens of power. Based on a true story (and a play by Anthony McCarten) it finds its pleasures in the deeply considered conversations between the two men at a time when Benedict wants to hand over the reigns of power to a man who feels who doesn’t deserve them.
Uncut Gems: A remarkable surprise from the film-making Safdie brothers stars Adam Sandler as a brassy, irritating, and possibly doomed New York jeweler who owes money to loan sharks but can’t help gambling it away. Loud, anxious, and authentically observed, it paints a rich portrait of two worlds — the Manhattan diamond district and the compulsive fandom of professional basketball — in which Sandler is, amazingly, perfectly cast.
The Lighthouse: A psychological horror movie with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two men trapped together in isolation in the 19th Century. Hard to watch and probably a work of genius.
Conspicuous by its absence
Parasite: Hailed as the movie of the 2010s, but I thought it was kind of silly.
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