Fearlessly artistic, Bening has earned a remarkable number of her honors after the age of 50. After films grossing more than $2 billion, she continues to make films that have a resonant impact on our culture.
Martin Scorsese's Mafia movie is about aging: Late in life, Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, the alleged assassin of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, reflects on his past with regret and hard-won wisdom, and remembers the mentor who recruited and advised him.
PHOTO BY: David Hindley/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions
Zellweger's wrenching, riveting, utterly inspired performance as Judy Garland attempting a comeback (shortly before her death at 47 in 1969) isn't exactly a Zellweger comeback, because her career has never faded like the tormented torch singer's. But Zellweger did take about half a decade off after a string of Oscar-honored hits, and at 50 she has never been a hotter talent.
After leaving Saturday Night Live, Sandler demonstrated one aspect of his talent in a series of comedies that grossed over $4 billion. Films like Punch-Drunk Love showed that he can do drama, too. Yet it's now, at 53, that he's broken into the top tier of serious actors with his daring, startling, nerve-shattering performance as a good-hearted, greed-crazed gem merchant struggling with gambling debts, a wife and mistress, and mobsters who want his head.
Dern has been a respected actress since her teens, when she costarred with Jodie Foster and Cher, and she's noted for both Spielberg blockbusters and edgy art films. But at 52 she is truly coming of age. Wherever she goes, fans chant her famous line from the smash hit Big Little Lies ("I will NOT not be rich!"), and her turn as a Marriage Story divorce attorney is another iconic performance.
PHOTO BY: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures Entertainment
Even the nicest guy in Hollywood was a bit daunted to play the kindliest man in TV history, kids’ show host Fred Rogers. Yet Hanks proves perfect for the part, capable of conveying Mister Rogers’ crinkly-eyed goodness, his gravitas and vulnerability. In a film about Rogers’ healing effect as a father figure to a journalist who's interviewing him, Hanks strikes a new, deeper note. A buoyantly youthful elder statesman of showbiz at 63, he's still growing.
PHOTO BY: Niko Tavernise/Netflix
Best Director: Martin Scorsese The Irishman
How did the creator of Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino make yet another mob movie without repeating himself? By focusing, this time, on time itself. Though its occasional scenes of action and mayhem are a match for anything in his oeuvre, it's fundamentally a ruminative movie, representing a director at the peak of his powers changing his game, not reveling in the incendiary moment so much as presenting a man looking back on life with a moral vision. Scorsese's youthful masterpieces — Mean Streets and Taxi Driver — still influence our best films, yet he goes beyond them, still spiritually and artistically questing at 77.
PHOTO BY: Wilson Webb/Netflix
Best Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach Marriage Story
Baumbach has been an up-and-comer since his Oscar-nominated The Squid and the Whale, inspired by the divorce of his parents, but at 50 he has arrived. Marriage Story, a meticulously written, carefully modulated drama loosely based on his own split from his first wife, is far more fair-minded than the scathing satires of his youth. Witty and heartrending, revealing what united and divided its protagonists at deep levels, it's the best divorce movie since A Separation, if not since Kramer vs. Kramer (which it echoes).
Based on the American director Lulu Wang's real experience — she was invited to China to visit her grandmother, who appeared to have a fatal illness, but was forbidden to disclose that illness to her grandmother herself — the film is a masterful comedy of family dynamics and cultural collision. The chemistry between the granddaughter and her spunky forebear is utterly touching. It's a film that feels like a real family.
In a film as sharply engineered as a Swiss Army knife, the cast isn't just a collection of stars each getting a lively scene or two, as in many star-studded murder mysteries. Here, they're a smoothly fused unit bringing a complex plot to life. Each of the scheming relatives seeking a piece of the late patriarch's estate casts revealing light on the others' characters as well as on the clever plot. They may be caricatures, but they seem like relatives sharing a squabbling past.
PHOTO BY: Glen Wilson/Focus Features
Best Time Capsule: Harriet
Cynthia Erivo boldly strides out of the pages of history as Harriet Tubman, the 5-foot-tall Maryland slave who incredibly escaped to Philadelphia, then went back in disguise 13 times and led at least 70 people (including her family) to freedom, before leading Union soldiers in battle. It's about time Tubman got her due, and this film evokes its period as palpably as 12 Years a Slave. It's like a superhero movie whose heroine's powers are real, with her feet firmly planted in a real world we come to experience as if we'd been there.
Most of Pedro Almodóvar's movies are about his unresolved issues with his mother, but he understands her better now that he's 70 and she's recently passed. His newest eye-poppingly colorful masterpiece is also his most shadowy, melancholy, personal and grownup work of art. It's an inspired late-in-life tribute to the director's loved ones and formative experiences.
As a music documentary, it can't be beat, capturing each dazzling phase of an artist so various she makes David Bowie look like a one-style wonder. Barefoot countrified singer, rock star outshouting Jagger, heartbreaking balladeer, operetta diva, American Songbook classicist, bestselling Spanish-language singer — all the Lindas are there. More fascinating and moving is the film's insight into her well-read mind and heart like a wheel, and her indomitable response to Parkinson's disease.
PHOTO BY: Lacey Terrell/Sony Pictures Entertainment
Readers’ Choice: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
AARP readers have spoken: Their favorite movie of the year is the biopic about Mister Rogers, whose sweet wisdom speaks to our tough times and battered hearts. Like the man himself, the film doesn't flinch from some of the bad facts of human nature, redeeming them with sheer, courageous, thoughtful love. Wounded in childhood himself, Rogers says in the film that he empathizes with “broken people like me.” Or like all of us, who could use a movie like this right now.