Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime will play a major qualitative role in awards and best lists, if not box office, this year.
Everything looks better on a theater screen rather than your home TV, but a film like Martin Scorsese’s epic, three-and-a-half-hour The Irishman seems designed for home viewing, with its ability to accommodate bathroom and nap breaks. Long, yes, but in my opinion, it is the film of the year, even if Oscar voters may punish it for threatening the future of movie theaters.
Here are my 10 best, highly subjective choices for 2019:
1. The Irishman – A culmination of everything director Scorsese has done in his half-century-long career. A suppositional tale of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa’s demise, with stellar performances by Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and particularly Joe Pesci.
2. Marriage Story – Yes, a more accurate title would be Divorce Story, but that might cut down on viewership. Still, stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give career-best work as the parting couple, turned contentious by their lawyers.
3. Pain and Glory – The great Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar crafts his most autobiographical movie yet, starring longtime collaborator Antonio Banderas as a fictional version of the filmmaker, creatively blocked late in his career.
4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Quentin Tarantino’s output has been erratic, but he is back on top in this epic tale of bygone Tinseltown, with Leo DiCaprio as a Western star and Brad Pitt as his go-fer and stand-in. His screenplay, compelling if overlong, moves inexorably to the Sharon Tate murder by charismatic Charles Manson and his cult.
5. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Fred Rogers’ neighborhood to be precise, yet the uncanny impersonation by Tom Hanks takes a back seat to Matthew Rhys (The Americans) as a cynical magazine writer, assigned against his will to interview the cardiganed childrens’ show host and finds himself transformed by the experience.
6. Parasite – The wealth gap is distressingly universal, as South Korean director Bong Joon Ho shows in this slyly satirical look at two families – one crazy rich and the other poor but clever – played by a remarkable ensemble of unknown (well, to most American eyes) actors.
7. The Farewell – Comic actress Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8) is a revelation in this dramatic leading role as a staunch New Yorker who is drawn to embrace her cultural roots when she goes to China with her family to celebrate the life of her cancer-stricken grandmother.
8. Jojo Rabbit – What would you get if you crossed The Producers with The Diary of Anne Frank? Yes, a Holocaust comedy, with debuting Roman Griffin Davis as a young fervent German boy with an imaginary friend – Adolf Hitler (played broadly by director Taika Waititi) – and a Jewish girl hiding in his home.
9. Motherless Brooklyn – It’s not that Edward Norton doesn’t know how to delegate, but he wrote, directed, produced and stars – all impressively – in this classic film noir centered on a New York detective with Tourette’s syndrome, doggedly on the trail of murder, blackmail and corruption.
10. Bombshell – Fox News fans may not be persuaded, but “fair and balanced” viewers should recognize the stellar performances of Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie as the trio of blonde lookers at the network who brought down serial sexual abuser Roger Ailes (jowly scene-stealer John Lithgow).