2019 was a strong year for film. Hopefully the list I arrived at has enough variety most readers will not have seen one or two of the entries. At the time of writing I have not had the chance to see Uncut Gems, since—like more and more films financed by streaming media companies—Netflix gave it a very limited cinematic release in December, prior to its debut on their platform in late January. It’s one I’m keeping my eye on, and based on the initial reception I may come back and update this list to include it later.
1. The Irishman
Martin Scorsese, USA
Scorsese, at age 77, adds an entry to his filmography that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything else he has done. A sweeping, ambitious epic that calls to mind Once Upon a Time in America (1984)—surreally, Robert De Niro stars in and appears the same age in large stretches of both films. The tale thoroughly de-glamourises the gangsters it portrays while pointing deep into the U.S. political system for closer inspection. Al Pacino steals the show with a vivid and nuanced account of Jimmy Hoffa, a character seemingly tone deaf to the implied threats of mafioso, while Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are hot on his heels performing the roles of gangsters that at once starkly contrast against one another, while sharing basic understandings of life—rooted in shared experiences as soldiers in WW2—that enable a deep and toxic bonding between them. Magnificent cinema.