Ash Is Purest White
This list is no particular order but I would cite Jia Zhangke‘s ‘Ash Is Purest White’ as my favorite of the year. I went into 2019 certain ‘The Irishman’ and its legendary components would be irresistible cinema never fails to surprise. There is something meta about ‘Ash Is Purest White’ beating out Martin Scorsese’s gangster epic because Zhangke’s film looked like it was gunning to be the best gangster film of the decade in its first act but instead digs deeper for more immersive layers of its central characters and Chinese society. Led by a terrific performance by Zhao Tao, what we get is a riveting exploration of gifts and curses of time that leave ineffaceable marks on its setting.
‘The Irishman’ isn’t as seamless as it could have been but it is a masterfully made picture concerned not with the violence and appeal of the crime world but with humanity and the state of one’s soul. The reflective and largely melancholy tinged coming together of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino make it a humbling cinematic landmark in its own right, made that much more monumental by its embracing of streaming distribution via Netflix.
Some of the most interesting films of 2019 have been about class and the horrors of exploitation. Jordan Peele’s ‘US’ set the tone for the year with his unsettling horror pastiche, high on metaphors, that flies the flag of genre filmmaking in remarkable fashion. Lupita Nyong’o gives one of the best performances of the year and begs the chilling question; how hard would you fight to hold on to your privilege?
As haunting as it is beautiful, ‘Atlantics’ is a remarkable debut from writer-director Mati Diop. This contemporary neo-realistic look at contemporary Senegalese society still has a pan-African heart in the way it conveys a heartfelt story about loss and longing, filtered through a mystery and supernatural lens, that seems to traverse time and space for black people everywhere.
‘Ad Astra’ is an earnest exploration of a father-son relationship and once you buy into this, I don’t see how you walk away not being overwhelmed by the film’s very intimate outpouring of emotion. Directed with stunning grace by James Gray, there’s something truly powerful in the metaphor of the son (played with utmost restraint by Brad Pitt) traversing and conquering literal space to bridge that gap with his father.