Moviegoers had to work for it this year: only three out of 10 movies on the list below are under two hours, and several are over three hours’ worth of viewing. That’s quite the commitment, but nothing new: Robert DeNiro is in The Irishman, this year’s longest flick, but he had more screen time in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (3 hours 49 minutes) and even more in Bertolucci’s 1900, a whopping 5 hours 11 minutes. (Clearly the Italians have a lot to say.) Quantity doesn’t always equal quality, as we cinephiles know all too well, but the films below are the exceptions to the rule and some of the best films of 2019.
Sam Mendes has done his late grandfather, Alfred, proud with his First World War epic 1917. Loosely based on the wartime heroism of his grandfather, Mendes’ tale manages to encapsulate the bureaucratic bungling, arbitrary violence, valor, friendship, madness, and stench of warfare by focusing not on a campaign or a battle but on a few hours in the lives of two soldiers. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George Mackay) are sent on a perilous rescue mission to save the lives of 1,600 men, an Odyssean journey through barbed wires, over dead horses, into craters full of corpses, and through the lush French countryside where more perils await. Shot to look like one, long, continuous take, 1917 is a technical wonder, a thrilling journey not to be missed.
A thoroughly original tale from Bong Joon-Ho about a down-on-their-luck family that insinuates itself into a wealthy household and slowly takes root. At first the brother, sister, father and mother can’t believe their luck but resentment and greed quickly follow, as they almost always do. If you thought you knew where this was story was going, you were a stairwell or two away from the truth. The director has plenty to say about the wide social and economic divide in present-day Korea, and does so with weirdness, humour, a good amount of blood, and a bigger dose of pathos that’ll keep you talking long after you leave the theatre.
A Hidden Life
A pastoral idyll, straight from Johanna Spyri’s pages, about a young couple living “above the clouds” in Austria. When war trickles in to their peaceable kingdom, Franz (August Diehl) finds it harder and harder to reconcile his faith with the politics of the Nazi party. Staggeringly beautiful and deceptively simple, Terence Malick’s film is about tested faith and whether or not one life can make a difference. “Darker times are coming. Men…won’t fight the truth, they’ll just ignore it”: words as true for us today as they were in wartime.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Not everyone loved this L.A. elegy, which tweaks history in the same way Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds did, but there’s no denying that it’s the sweetest – albeit bloodiest – love letter to late-‘60s Hollywood to hit the screens in a while. It’s also the first time the forces of Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have been brought together, and the pairing is buddy-movie magic. DiCaprio stars as fading action star Rick Dalton and Pitt as Cliff Booth, his longtime and long-suffering stuntman. Rick lives in the Hollywood Hills, right next door to where Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and new husband Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawieruch) are living. Yes, it’s a Tarantino bloodbath… but...
Yes, it feels like you’ve spent a week in front of the screen after you’ve watched Martin Scorsese’s mobster epic, but what a week it was! DeNiro and Pacino lead a stellar cast in this story about teamster and hitman Frank Sheeran (DeNiro) as he forms a friendship with mafia don Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), a connection that eventually leads him to a close relationship with Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Whether Hoffa actually sleeps with the fishes, we’ll never know; but Scorsese posits a hell of an entertaining theory in this well-spun tale of sins and regret.
A Marriage Story
Writer-director Noah Baumbach is the reigning king of family dysfunction (The Squid and The Whale, Margot At The Wedding, The Meyerwitz Stories) but none has been so keenly focused on the confusion and heartache wrought by divorce than A Marriage Story. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give memorable performances as Charlie and Nicole, a couple with a young son whose amicable separation becomes an acrimonious nightmare piloted by their respective self-serving legal counsel (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern, recreating her “Big Little Lies” character). The divorce process is like watching a car accident in slow motion but with Driver and Johansson taking turns at the wheel, we just can’t look away.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
In the hands of Shia LaBeouf, this straightforward tale of two men who find friendship on the run comes to life and emerges as one of the most tender tales of the year. LaBeouf stars alongside newcomer Zack Gottsagen, who plays a 22-year-old man with Down’s Syndrome who breaks out of the nursing home in which he is inappropriately housed and runs straight into Tyler (LaBeouf), on the lam for poaching crab traps and all manner of mischief. A Huck Finn-style journey by foot, car and, yes, raft down the intracoastal Carolina waterway follows as the reluctant travelers pick up a few strays (Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern) and form a ragtag family.
Pain and Glory
Pain and Glory is Pedro Almodovar’s best work in years, starring Antonio Banderas giving arguably his best work ever. The director whose films are best known for weird sex and Catholic guilt settles into a story about middle age and regret. Salvador Mallo (Banderas) is an aging filmmaker who no longer creates because of chronic pain and grief at the loss of his mother (played equally beautifully by Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano). “Without filming my life is meaningless.” A chance encounter sets the stage for this play-within-a-play, a lovely story about memory, art and second chances.
Queen and Slim
Melina Matsoukas’ film is a rare thing: a thriller that’s impossibly tense and languidly cool at the same time. Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, the story by Lena Waithe is about a black couple on their first date whose car is pulled over by a white policeman. When things go fatally wrong, Queen and Slim find themselves billed as the “black Bonnie and Clyde” and go on the run, with time against them but public sympathy on their side. Finely drawn characters, arresting visuals and great performances make the film a standout among recent films highlighting racially motivated police violence.
What’s not to love about this quick-witted, side-splittingly funny story about two super-smart friends who worry that they spent too much time with their noses in books and not enough time with their heads in the toilet… or something like that. Molly and Amy (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) vow to attend one wild high school party before they cross the graduation stage, with comi-tragic results that rival anything in the teen angst genre. Credit first-time director Olivia Wilde for this strong example of female friendship and making us laugh out loud, cry, and having the sudden urge to drink a whole bottle of wine while looking at old high school yearbook photos.