6. High Flying Bird
Some time between 2008 and 2009, Steven Soderbergh signed on to direct Moneyball. Of course, a quick internet search should tell you that Bennett Miller ultimately ended up directing the project. According to internet rumors, Sony felt that Soderbergh lacked commercial appeal, so they kicked him to the curb. It’s now eight years later and Soderbergh has gifted us with something remarkably close to Moneyball: High-Flying Bird.
Soderbergh’s latest effort feels like a strange combination of Moneyball and Ocean’s Eleven. Now, Soderbergh making something akin to one of his most successful movies shouldn’t come as a surprise, but at the same time, the subject matter doesn’t exactly seem fitting.
High Flying Bird is about a sports agent who tries to “game the system” during a basketball lockdown. That’s the Moneyball side of things. Like Moneyball, this is a sports drama that cares far more about the business side of things than the actual sport. Yes, it’s technically about basketball, but it’s just as much about how capitalism diminishes the value of human beings.
Unlike Moneyball, Soderbergh delivers a script that’s fast-moving and filled to the brim with twists and turns. In other words, it feels like a product of Soderbergh’s mind. What appears to be a straightforward sports drama turns out to be something else entirely.
Thankfully, this twist on the genre works far more often than not. As is customary in a movie like this, there are plot holes and moments that lack logic, but they’re negligible in the grand scheme of things. High Flying Bird knows how to take hold of its audience and keep them invested until the very end. That’s what matters.
7. The Mustang
Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre first big release is one that is sure to propel her to stardom, even if more casual moviegoers end up missing it. It’s the kind of prestige drama that helps budding directors move forward with their careers. With the Mustang, Clermont-Tonnerre has officially proven that she knows how to tell a gripping and emotional story.
The Mustang is about a prison rehabilitation program where inmates train horses before auctioning them off. This particular part of the story is based on a real program, but the characters are fictional. That being said, they’re just as three-dimensional as any real life person could ever be.
The compelling characters largely come as a result of strong performances and great writing. Clermont-Tonnerre’s script is almost always entertaining, and actors like Matthias Schoenaerts and Bruce Dern liven up every scene in which they appear.
These elements come together to create something remarkable. Although The Mustang isn’t necessarily original, it is well-made. In the end, it’s easy to forgive most of the issues because The Mustang is simply a really good movie.
8. Plus One
Let’s start with the bad news: you’ve basically seen Plus One before. It’s another romantic comedy about two friends who try to stay friends before they inevitably end up falling for one another. This is a recycled premise that has gained even more momentum in the age of the anti-rom-com. This premise feels older than time itself, but against all odds, Plus One injects just enough life into the formula.
Most of the “life” comes from the two phenomenal leads. While the script is generally sharp, it would be nothing without the immensely likable pairing of Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid. Erskine, hot off a critically acclaimed role in Hulu’s PEN15, provides the perfect amount of energy to counteract Quaid’s more straight-laced performance. We all know that romantic comedies demand stars with chemistry, so it’s comforting to see something that really nails this aspect.
Meanwhile, the dialogue is consistently strong even if the script covers familiar territory. It’s easy to hate on such a generic script, but when the jokes land so often, that familiarity begins to feel like less of an issue. Of course, it is an issue, but it’s one that feels unimportant in the long run.
Overall, Plus One gets by on an abundance of charm. To an onlooker, it sounds like a flop. Why would anyone want to see this recycled story for the fifteenth time? Well, you’ll want to see it because it tells this recycled story in a way that feels refreshing.
9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Hulu’s television adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was delightful, but it showed little interest in sticking to the source material. Considering Shirley Jackson’s penchant for writing excellent stories, it was a tad disappointing to watch an adaptation that only stuck to the spirit of the novel. Luckily, 2019 brought us a beat-for-beat Shirley Jackson adaptation with We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Based on the 1962 novel of the same name, We Have Always Lived in the Castle revolves around a reclusive family who hide from the public eye following a very public murder trial. The town ridicules the family because Constance (Alexandra Daddario), the eldest sister, was believed to have poisoned both of her parents. She now lives under scrutiny with her sister Merricat, played by Taissa Farmiga. The central mystery has to do with who actually poisoned the family.
It unwinds slowly, but it’s hard to look away when two gifted performers share the same screen. Even if you aren’t fully invested in the whodunit of it all, Farmiga and Daddario are forces to be reckoned with. Farmiga’s eccentricity oozes through the screen to the point where she comes across as downright hypnotic.
The deliberate pacing will drive away certain viewers, but there’s an alluring kind of magic that comes with a film like this. Fans of Shirley Jackson should already be on board, but everyone else also needs to give this hidden gem the attention it deserves.
10. Her Smell
Her Smell is bound to polarize. Elisabeth Moss’s brash, in-your-face performance is excellent, but her character is insufferable. Even if that’s the point, it can be hard to stomach such a god-awful person, especially for 135 minutes. Furthermore, Alex Ross Perry’s hectic direction is bound to drive certain viewers more than a little crazy. Despite all of this, there’s actually a lot to love here.
Her Smell has two key ingredients: Elisabeth Moss and a kickass script. Again, Moss plays a toxic character, but she does so effortlessly. You’re not supposed to like Becky Something. She’s a selfish, narcissistic drug addict who stands out as one of the most unlikable characters in a 2019 movie. Moss’s ability to make you hate her and feel for her is impressive enough to forgive the countless character flaws.
Then there’s the script. The rockstar lifestyle is often poorly portrayed in movies, but Her Smell gets things right. The overstuffed runtime can be taxing, but ultimately there’s a lot of captivating dialogue to be found in Her Smell.
A lot of the films on this list are easily recommended to everyone, but Her Smell is a little too wild for its own good. There’s clearly a target audience, but there are bound to be detractors. If you’re not sure if it’s your type of thing, it’s worth seeking out and giving a chance. This could be a cult classic in the making.