With so many movies coming out every year, it’s easy for many of them to slip under the radar. Sometimes, even major wide releases fail to gain the traction that they might deserve. Here is a list of great films that came out in 2019 that should get a second look, were misunderstood, or just simply ignored.
1. The Kid Who Would Be King
Director: Joe Cornish
I’m as tired of King Arthur stories as anyone, but this modern spin on the classic tale has all the elements of a new classic. Funny and exciting, especially for the children this film is aimed at, The Kid Who Would Be King breathes new life into an old legend. Director Joe Cornish, who helmed Attack the Block and was a writer for both The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man, perfectly captures the wonder and magic that the best children’s movies have. He also imbues the story with a topical sense of urgency; the looming threat of facism and Brexit can be found throughout.
2. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Director: Mike Mitchell
Maybe the Lego franchise oversaturated itself too early on, or maybe that first film was just a sort of one-time miracle. For whatever reason, the sequel to The Lego Movie was met with a shrug by audiences, despite it being just as fantastic as its predecessor. It’s equally as creative (and the animation just as mind blowing) as the first film, all of the jokes still land, and the narrative remains equally as meta as before. It’s very much worth checking out if you enjoyed the first one – the dynamic duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller returned to write, and the pair continue to raise the bar for animated films.
3. Cold Pursuit
Director: Hans Petter Moland
This film had the misfortune of coming out not long after its star, Liam Neeson, made some rather problematic remarks. While that might rightfully inhibit some from being able to enjoy it, Cold Pursuit is still one of Neeson’s best films. On the surface, it seems like yet another of his typical action flicks (Neeson’s son is killed by drug dealers and he seeks his revenge), but Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland turns the affair into a dark comedy. It’s an American remake of Moland’s In Order of Disappearance, and it’s as witty as it is gruesomely satisfying.
Happy Death Day was the surprise horror hit of 2017, thanks to a fun time-loop layout and a stunning performance from Jessica Rothe, but this sequel didn’t manage to win back its audience. It’s a shame. Everything that made the original work is back here tenfold, and turning it into more of an ensemble piece rather than a solo act like the first movie is a smart move. The ending sets the stage for the time-loop nonsense to get even whackier in future movies, but the franchise’s future seems in doubt. Stream this bad boy and let’s get more of these; they’re endless fun.
5. Alita: Battle Angel
Director: Robert Rodriguez
I wasn’t sure whether or not to even put Alita on this list. It wasn’t exactly a box office bomb and it’s built itself a pretty devoted fanbase. But it still struggled to break through to mainstream audiences, and even though I find the film to be a bit too bloated, there’s still a lot here to enjoy. Alita is live-action anime/manga done right for what feels like the first time; the action is crisp, the computer animation is stunning, and Alita herself (thanks to a terrific performance by Rosa Salazar) is one of the unsung great heroines of 2019, in a year that was wonderfully stuffed with them.
6. The Beach Bum
Director: Harmony Korine
The stylings of Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) may not be for everyone, and The Beach Bum may be his most unapologetic work yet. But that’s also what probably makes it his best. Featuring Matthew McConaughey in the most Matthew McConaughey role he’s ever played, this plotless hour and a half in the life of a poetic stoner named Moondog ruminates on what life is all about. In a world that consistently feels out of control, Moondog suggests that we’re only here to be ourselves and have as much fun as possible. After taking a good look around at this world on fire, his nonsense starts to make a whole lot of sense.
After a dismal haul at the box office, Booksmart has managed to continue gaining traction thanks to word of mouth. Believe the hype – it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story that features career-making performances from its two leads, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. Hilarious, original, and progressive-minded without ever being preachy, it’s a very solid directorial debut for Olivia Wilde.
8. Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Director: Mike Dougherty
When Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla hit theaters, it was met with complaints about its dour mood and lack of screen time for its titular monster. King of the Monsters seemed to want to rectify that – it’s the epitome of a big summer blockbuster that heavily leans into colossal monster mayhem. Critics didn’t seem to want that either, so maybe they’re just unsure of what kind of monster movie they want to see at the theatre in general. I think both films are fantastic in their own respective ways, but King of the Monsters is packed with so much ridiculous fun that it merits multiple viewings to take it all in. Helmed by passionate and lifelong Godzilla fan Mike Dougherty, it’s one hell of a silly but thrilling roller coaster ride.
Director: Alexandre Aja
This creature feature snagged a spot on Quentin Tarantino’s list of the best films of the year, but failed to find its own audience at the box office. Don’t keep sleeping on it. Crawl is the simple story of a young woman in a desperate bid to save her father in the middle of a Florida hurricane. Terrifyingly, the flooded house they find themselves in begins to not only fill up with dirty swamp water but alligators as well. Tense, fast, and fun, Crawl is one of those films that’s not trying to be anything more than what it is, and it’s all the better for it.
Director(s): Matt Bettinelli-Oplin & Tyler Gillett
While it’s not especially deep, Ready or Not is certainly the most instantly-accessible movie this year that invoked the sentiment of eating the rich. When a young woman named Grace marries into an eccentric and obscenely wealthy family, she quickly learns of the sadistic games that they like to play. Rather than become the next victim, Grace fights back, and seeing her hack her way through moralless rich folks is some of the most fun you could have at the movies this year. Oh, and its final scene is one of the best of the decade.
11. Under the Silver Lake
Director: David Robert Mitchell
This film can easily be a frustrating watch; it took me a while to really understand it, and even then I wonder if I actually do. Andrew Garfield stars as Sam, a hopeless and directionless guy whose search for a missing woman leads him into a confusing world of puzzles and hidden messages throughout Los Angeles. There’s a sense of unease to it all as Sam uncovers conspiracies galore, but writer and director David Robert Mitchell’s superb work also sometimes feels tongue-in-cheek; as if he’s poking fun at those who seek connections that aren’t there, all while sending his protagonist on a wild goose chase. Whatever the truth may be to this film, the journey is a continuously surprising and entertaining ride.
12. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Director: Joe Talbot
While it is certainly critically-acclaimed, The Last Black Man in San Francisco has been largely shut out of awards season, however, it shouldn’t be ignored. The tale of a young man trying to reclaim his old family home, and of loving a rapidly changing city that never seems to love him back, the film is a moving portrayal of the effects of gentrification and the people (largely people of color) who are tossed to the wayside by it. Much like Parasite, the majority of the film takes place in a large, beautiful home, one that feels just as alive as the heartbreaking characters that reside within it. There’s a sense of whimsy within the film’s otherwise melancholic mood, and it’s what sets this picture apart from anything else you might’ve seen before.
Any other year, Julianne Moore would be one of the frontrunners for best actress for her incredible performance here. Gloria Bell, a remake of the 2013 Chilean original Gloria, is a rumination on middle age and all that comes with it. It captures a moment in the life of its titular character; she navigates a lonely existence that is filled with disappointment after disappointment. While that might sound like a bummer, Moore still manages to fill Gloria with an unwavering sense of hope and strength, and the film becomes an inspiring tale of love, loss, and moving forward. A truly underrated gem.
Director: Sergio Pablos
While animation buffs have been singing its praises, Klaus has been completely ignored by the animated films category this year. It’s a stunning feat of traditional 2D craftsmanship, one that reminds you of the magic that only hand-drawn animation can create while still striving to improve upon the artform by using computer-generated lighting. The beauty of its visuals aside, Klaus is also an original Santa Claus origin story, and it’s a joyous, refreshing, and funny take on something that’s seemingly been done to death already. Created by an ace team of former Disney and DreamWorks animators, it’s a wonderful movie that should be considered a new holiday classic.
15. The Souvenir
Director: Joanna Hogg
This semi-autobiographical film by Joanna Hogg is slow, contemplative, and quietly devastating. It charts the effects of a toxic romantic relationship on a young woman whose life is only just beginning. Hogg holds little back in showing how her ambitions and relationships with her friends and family shifted to accommodate one dysfunctional man – and how the culmination of this moment in her young life influences her art to this day.
16. Dark Waters
Director: Todd Haynes
Director Todd Haynes takes what could’ve been just another procedural legal drama and turns it into something far more compelling, eye-opening, and important. Dark Waters tells the true story of Robert Bilott, a corporate defense attorney who uncovers a vast and horrifying history of pollution and ends up taking on chemical company giant DuPont. In a year that saw countless films tell tales of corruption and the ruthlessness of capitalism and corporate greed, Dark Waters may just be the most necessary one among them.
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