Film Critic Isabel Stevens shares her top ten films to see in 2019.
While it’s unlikely that Boro the Caterpillar Ghibli maestro Miyazaki’s latest will surface this year, 2019 looks set to be an exciting year for animation with big money backing indie animation talents. Apple’s soon-to-launch streaming service has acquired Wolfwalkers, by Song of the Sea’s Tomm Moore and his Irish studio Cartoon Saloon. Like Moore’s previous films, this lycanthropic tale looks set to blend delicate hand-drawn animation with Irish history and folklore. Set in a magical time when wolves are seen as demonic, it’s about a young apprentice hunter named Robyn who comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last pack of wolves. But when she strikes up a friendship with a wild native girl, her views on wolves start to change.
After the success of the Jungle Book, Disney are busy converting much of their animated back catalogue to live-action films, but it’s a fairy tale once animated by Disney (and that is now out of their mitts) that’s one of the most tantalising projects in the pipeline. Pinocchio has been Guillermo Del Toro’s passion project for much of his working life, and he has spent a decade trying to convince a major studio to give him the budget needed to realise a stop-motion version of the tale of a puppet who dreams of becoming a real boy. Enter Netflix who came up with the funds after the Oscar fanfare for The Shape of Water. There are echoes of Pan’s Labyrinth in Del Toro’s no doubt macabre Pinocchio, as it’s set in 1930s Italy as Fascism, is on the rise.
Martin Scorsese’s return to the mob movie, with a cast including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, makes The Irishman one of the most eagerly anticipated projects of the year. It’s based on I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, and revolves around the true story of the 1975 assassination of controversial union leader Jimmy Hoffa (played by Pacino, working with Scorsese for the first time) by New York mobsters. Reportedly it’s the director’s most expensive film to date, with digital de-ageing VFX pushing up the budget to allow flashbacks to De Niro and Pacino’s characters’ heydays.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
No stranger to controversy, Quentin Tarantino has stressed that Once upon a Time in Hollywood (pictured) isn’t his ‘Charles Manson movie’. Instead, it’s a Tinseltown saga, set as the swinging 60s turn sour, with the Manson Family murders in the background. Brad Pitt plays a washed-up western star struggling to reinvent his career alongside his longtime stunt double (Leonardo DiCaprio) in an industry they no longer recognise. Accompanying them are Pacino, Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate) and Dakota Fanning.
It’s a prestige ensemble project that you might have expected Sofia Coppola to direct, but Little Women is after all project adolescent coming-of-age story which Greta Gerwig does specialise in after directing Ladybird and writing Frances Ha. Expect a more idiosyncratic take on period drama from her though. Gerwig’s adaptation focuses on the second half of Louisa May Alcott’s novel and sees the four March sisters played by Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh and Eliza Scanlen, with Meryl Streep cast as their aunt and Timothée Chalamet as the boy-next-door love interest.
Soon to be unveiled at Sundance, Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir is one of the most anticipated British films of the year. Exec-produced by Martin Scorsese and starring Tilda Swinton, Robert Pattinson and Richard Ayoade, the 1980s-set drama centres on a young film student who becomes romantically entangled with a mysterious, untrustworthy older man young (Tom Burke). Swinton’s daughter Honor Swinton Byrne plays the young woman who embarks on her first serious love affair and who must disentangle fact from fiction as she surrenders to the relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.
Parasite – Bong Joonho
So many foreign-language directors have been making films in English recently that it makes you worry for the future of world cinema. So it’s refreshing to hear that one of those who sparked the trend, Bong Joonho, is returning to Korean-language film after working abroad on two daring dystopian tales (Snowpiercer and Okja). Despite the sci-fi-sounding title, Parasite is a family drama – there are no actual parasites or aliens, Bong has said. However, given that he has a penchant for reinventing the conventions of genre films and considering quite how macabre his past films have been, this won’t be a cosy family tale.
Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s mind-boggling project has employed thousands and taken years to make as he’s recreated Stalinist-era Russia with a fully operational fake town populated with extras. It’s been a production that cinephiles have long been waiting for and hearing rumours about (from the fact that resident extras were fined if they smuggled phones onto the set to reports that 14 children were conceived during the production). What it is actually about (supposedly a biopic of Soviet physicist Lev Landau) has been overtaken by the fact that it now resembles the mad directorial experiments found in films and books such as Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York or Tom McCarthy’s Remainder. But will it be an overblown failure or one of the most outlandish remarkable epics? A trailer now exists for the 330-minute marathon, so it won’t be long before we find out.
We are much in need of revisionist Westerns. Too many film directors have been in awe of white men and their antics conquering the vast expanse of the American West. Not so Kelly Reichardt. In Meek’s Cutoff, she foregrounded the experiences of pioneer women on the Oregon trail, with a sensitivity to the plight of native Americans too. Her next film First Cow is set in a 1820s Oregon fur trading post and will reunite her with the sublime barren landscapes she filmed so vividly in Meek’s Cutoff. The film’s use of Native American talent is also intended to be more thoughtful and accurate than that of most other movies.
With Brexit on the horizon, there is a no more tantalising prospect than a new Chris Morris film. The surreal comedian who deftly explored and deflated the hysteria around terrorism in his satire Four Lions will no doubt be engaging with contemporary events and politics. Very little is known about the untitled film apart from that it involves a botched FBI operation and that Pitch Perfect actor Anna Kendrick stars as an FBI agent who comes into conflict with her superiors and that actor Rupert Friend and comedian Jim Gaffigan are also rumoured to be involved.
Illustrations by Aysha Awwad