The Most-Anticipated Films of 2019

Virginie Efira in Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta (2019)

The IMDb lists nearly five thousand titles slated for release this year, and any overview of the eighty or so that we’re most looking forward to has to begin with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. Not just because any new work from one of the greatest living filmmakers is an event, or because The Irishman will be the first collaboration on a feature between Scorsese and Robert De Niro since 1995’s Casino, or because Scorsese will be directing Al Pacino for the first time, or because the project has lured Joe Pesci out of retirement, or because the cast also features Anna Paquin, Harvey Keitel, Bobby Cannavale, and Ray Romano. It’s the sheer ambition of the thing. Based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses, in which hitman Frank Sheeran confessed to author Charles Brandt that he’d carried out more than twenty-five murders for labor union boss Jimmy Hoffa before killing Hoffa himself, the story will span three decades, and in its early chapters, show us the three leads, now in their seventies, as much younger men. This feat has entailed state-of-the-art CGI and a whole lot of money. As Scorsese told an audience in Marrakech last month, he’d been shopping the project for several years before “Netflix took the risk.”

Anticipation for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may be laced with a little more anxiety. Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film (and he’s still claiming that he’ll retire after his tenth) follows 2015’s The Hateful Eight, which drew both accolades and condemnation, often within the same review. Last week at, critic Matt Zoller Seitz took a look back on the movies that have made a mark on his life and recalled walking out of The Hateful Eight “thinking that something truly foul was afoot in the United States, boiling just beneath the surface and getting ready to erupt.” Hollywood revisits a moment in American history as troubled as our own, the summer of 1969, and more specifically, early August, when four members of the Manson Family murdered actress Sharon Tate, three of her friends, and a young visitor at Roman Polanski’s home in Los Angeles. The cast is led by Leonardo DiCaprio as a washed up TV star and Brad Pitt as his friend and stunt double and includes Margot Robbie at Tate, Rafal Zawierucha as Polanski, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Kurt Russell.

Brad Pitt also stars in James Gray’s first foray into science fiction, Ad Astra. Pitt plays an astronaut searching the solar system for his father (Tommy Lee Jones), and Gray, who’s drawn comparisons between the story and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, tells the Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz that the project has “pushed me in ways I’ve never been pushed before . . . Visually, narratively. In the way it’s separating myself from what you might call the classical tradition. It’s still a story, but from the beginning it falls apart.” The occasion of the interview, by the way, is The Ties That Bind: The Films of James Gray, a retrospective at TIFF Cinematheque opening tomorrow and running through January 13.

Terrence Malick, too, is shifting gears. Noting in 2017 that he’d been “working without a script” throughout the 2010s and that he’s “lately repented the idea,” he said that with Radegund, in which August Diehl plays Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Third Reich, he “went back to a script that was very well ordered.” Radegund was shot in Europe in 2016, so it’d be surprising if it doesn’t turn up this year.

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