As 2019 concludes and a new decade begins, we had a look back at some of the best cultural gifts the year had to offer, how do these compare with your favourites of 2019?
In a year that saw a lot of change in society – mostly of the kind that confirms we’re existing in the darkest timeline – there was plenty of reflection in the art around us. Joker poured grime and a stealth critique of society’s treatment of those with mental health into the D.C. universe. On the small screen, When They See Us upped Netflix’s prestige TV claims with a staggering account of racial bias and ruined lives, themes that also arose in HBO’s Watchmen, which somehow successfully argued that the classic graphic novel needed a filmed sequel rather than a straight adaptation. Away from the polemical, Elizabeth Moss burned a hole in the soul in the heartbreaking Her Smell. Scorsese’s The Irishman saw the protagonists wrestling with death, and as the director was given carte blanche to bring his vision to life – the chance to bask in this uncompromised story was a delight.
The Irishman might have needed de-ageing technology to bust out of decades of development hell, but the peerless main cast provided their latest and – let us be as honest as this film is about age – possibly their final shot at cinematic glory. With a crackling script from Steven Zaillian delivering more meat than a refrigerated Teamster truck to chew on, this version of the saga of Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia is laid out using Scorsese’s signature style, but comes with an ultimately stark undercurrent. Grumblings about historical accuracy – not to mention the ongoing controversy about the supposed lack of agency given to female characters – misses the point: this is a film about insidious toxic masculinity and the price paid for living by corrupting and corrupted codes. Parasite might have the savage satire, Marriage Story the Oscar-friendly (but ultimately too obvious) histrionics, but nothing this year packed a punch like De Niro struggling to engage with an emotional reckoning over a phone line, or Joe Pesci‘s final Intinction. Sobering, but essential.
Death Stranding is an unfiltered dose of Kojimagasms, where great acting from Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen and haughty themes like managed extinction rub shoulders with the need to shite out a grenade to bust ghosts with. It’s also the chillest game in a long time, the soundtrack from the likes of Major Lazer, Chvrches and (especially) hitherto hidden gem Low Roar adding to the beautiful vistas that always seem to appear just when you’re about over the next hill – in every sense; this is not a game for the CoD crowd.