Honourable mentions: A Hidden Life, High Life, Hustlers, Monos, Wild Rose
3. Little Women
Adapting such a classic of literature and the screen as “Little Women” was always going to prove to be difficult, but Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig pulled it off, offering a fresh take on a tale told countless times by leading voices in all kinds of mediums, and making one of the best and most empathy-driving cinematic experiences of 2019 in the process.
Featuring an ensemble of largely young but critically beloved women, this 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s story worked to set up expected comparisons to its 1994 film counterpart before working to deconstruct those and establish its own voice very much in the spirit of its lead character Jo March (Ronan).
Representing womanhood and family quite like nothing else in 2019, Gerwig’s adaptation also defined a depth and, perhaps more importantly, a strength in characters like Amy (Pugh) and Marmie (Dern) that had been missing from previous iterations of the story, this version of the classic novel giving each character their due while remaining faithful to the warts-and-all approach to family dynamics that had made Alcott’s novel so relateable in the first place.
Cinema doesn’t get any more tangible, relateable and empathetic than this.
Recommended for you: Little Women (1994) Retrospective Review
2. The Irishman
At over three hours long, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman may seem to be self-indulgent, but it is far from it; this self-reflective piece being more of a love letter to his long-time collaborators and a deconstruction of the gangster myths he helped to perpetuate, all wrapped up in a solemn exploration of old age and the inevitability of death.
De Niro, Pesci and Pacino particularly shine on the screen, while the infamous de-ageing technology becomes seamless only a few scenes in, but it’s the strength of the scopious narrative and Scorsese’s wonderful ability to handle it in a way that never becomes confusing or boring that makes for one of the year’s great viewing experiences. This is a director at the top of his game, operating at the peak of his powers with more control than ever, and not letting a single aspect of that get away from him.
The Irishman feels like a goodbye from a director and a cast who have left an indelible mark on the industry, and its themes of ageing only work to emphasise how truly important that is. If we never see another Scorsese-De Niro partnership, or even another Scorsese film at all, The Irishman can act as loving goodbye to one of the all-time greats of the industry; one last haymaker from one of the biggest hitters in cinema history.
1. The Souvenir
The Souvenir is like watching a self-portrait be born in front of your eyes, screenwriter-director Joanna Hogg’s self-exploratory drama about a young woman filmmaker struggling with a personal relationship being a masterful example of the cinematic form put to screen in 2019.
Shining in all of the traditional aspects of cinema, from its beautifully grainy composition to its rhythmic editing and phenomenal, utterly believable performances, The Souvenir shines as a film that is more than its 2 hour runtime but is instead a culmination of a life filled with thoughts, feelings, love and grief, the relatively unknown cast being close to perfect in a shining example of how casting the correct talent will always be more vital than casting the most popular.
The Souvenir will engross seemingly at will despite its objection towards bullet-pointing the narrative with large twists and turns, and more so than any film it will feel like it is slowly warming you up from within. It is self-reflective to a fault, but so beautiful and unequivocally poetic that it is both unmissable and phenomenal, a prime example of what cinema can offer as an art form and the best film of 2019.