5. The Irishman
“The Irishman” was one of the most anticipated movies of 2019 and saw Martin Scorsese reunite with Robert De Niro and ex-retired Joe Pesci and do what they do best. Al Pacino also starred in the film, marking his first-ever project with Scorsese.
Based on Charles Brandt’s book “I Heard You Paint Houses”, “The Irishman” has many resemblances with Scorsese’s 1990s epic mob films “Goodfellas” and “Casino”, but it is a more contemplative film that dwells a lot on old age, loneliness, life, and death. The movie tells the real-life story of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a truck driver who became a labor union official with mob connections and claimed to be involved in the killing of labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
“The Irishman” has many moments of fantastic directing and acting and the performances given by De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino are definitely stand-outs. It’s a swan song to one of the greatest generations of actors and filmmakers, and although it suffers from an exaggerated runtime and some distracting use of CGI de-aging, there are still enough moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout its extensive length to make it worth a watch.
4. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story By Martin Scorsese
You’ve all heard about “The Irishman”, but how many of you knew that there was actually a second Scorsese film released last year?
This experimental documentary/concert film blends fictional and non-fictional materials and, through 16mm old footage and interviews with Dylan, prominent figures of the tour, and some fictional characters, captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975 and the intimate “Rolling Thunder Revue” concert tour that Dylan performed during the fall of that year. Ingenious, enthralling, and a joy to the ears, this is Scorsese’s best film from last year.
3. System Crasher
Director Nora Fingscheidt’s debut feature film, “System Crasher” is an emotionally draining and very personal drama about a problem child and her never-ending struggle with the German care system, educational establishment, and the incapable adults that surround her.
From the get-go, the film introduces us to Benni (Helena Zengel), a 9-year-old girl with a violent, explosive character. Her frequent outbursts, which are probably a result of early childhood trauma, led to her being repeatedly suspended from her special school and placed in group homes. Wherever she goes, adults seem unable to help her and, soon, she gets dispatched to another foster family. Reminiscent of Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy”, this is as much the portrait of a troubled child as it is of an incompetent system.
“System Crasher” is not the most pleasant watch and it can be an exhausting experience. Its raw, naturalistic nature and hand-held cinematography give it the appearance of a “slice of life” movie and it sometimes feels too real – that can be tiring. But the film undoubtedly does its job, it is honest, accomplished, and, most importantly, it makes you understand and care about the main character, and that is mostly due to Helena’s Zengel’s excellent performance.
2. Marriage Story
“Marriage Story” starts with a voiced-over montage in which two spouses, Nicole and Charlie, (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson) tell – the audience? – what they like about each other. It’s a scene that makes you believe you are about to watch a love story, but as soon as it ends, it turns out that what you’ve heard so far were lists written by Nicole and Charlie for a counselor they are seeing because of their marital problems. Unlike its ironic title makes you believe, Noah Baumbach’s latest film is the story of a love’s end.
A modern-day “Kramer vs Kramer”, “Marriage Story” shows us the complicated thing that a divorce is (even an amicable one) in a very humane way, without ever becoming a tedious courtroom drama, neither too melodramatic. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are phenomenal and their work in this film was deservedly much lauded. As with most of the characters in Baumbach films, Charlie and Nicole feel like real people with little quirks, anxieties, and complex personalities. The cast is completed by Laura Dern, Alan Arda, and Ray Liotta, who play three lawyers that help the couple with their divorce case and who, despite their small screen time, are absolute scene-stealers.
This is yet another great entry into Noach Baumbach’s already fantastic catalogue. It is his most personal film to date (Baumbach himself went through a divorce with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, with whom he has a son together) and, while it doesn’t have a script better than “The Squid And The Whale” and isn’t as charismatic as “Frances Ha”, it feels like the most mature film of his career.
1. Uncut Gems
Similar to their previous film “Good Time” (2017), The Safdie brothers’ “Uncut Gems” is yet another fast-paced, funny, entertaining, and anxiety-inducing thriller that takes place over a short amount of time and grabs your attention from start to end.
Adam Sandler has proved himself to be a good actor when in the hands of the right director (his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” come to mind), but his role in The Safdie brothers’ movie is probably a career-high.
In “Uncut Gems”, Sandler gives one of last year’s best (and most overlooked) performances. He plays Howard Ratner, a Jewish-American who owns a jewelry store in New York City and has an at least to say eccentric temperament. After getting in over his head with some money and jewelry loans and angering the people he works with (among them, basketballer Kevin Garnett), Howard finds himself in a hard to escape situation that seems to go from bad to worse.
Masterfully directed by the Safdies, with a unique retro soundtrack from Daniel Lopatin and gritty celluloid cinematography from Darius Khondji, “Uncut Gems” feels like an ’80s thriller whose thrills have been turned up to eleven. It’s not only the brothers’ best movie yet, but also one of the finest films of last year and if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re losing quite an exhausting, nerve-wracking and hard to forget piece of cinema.