2019 has been a great epilogue to this decade of movies, and as a result of the many great films released this year, some have fallen through the cracks and gone overlooked. There are many reasons why a film is overlooked- poor marketing campaigns, small budgets, middling reviews, disinterested audiences, and competition from other popular films are all frequent causes, and there’s no easy way of discerning which films will be considered underrated in the years to come.
As the year concludes, many of the same films will begin to populate top ten lists and award conversation, so it’s worth branching out and giving a second shot to the stories that didn’t get their fair share of attention upon their initial release. These films represent many different genres, styles of filmmaking, and themes, but they are similar in that they haven’t quite found the audience they deserve. Here are the top ten most overlooked movies of 2019.
10. The Current War
The journey to get The Current War to theaters was a tumultuous one; initially screened as an incomplete version at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, The Current War was beset with negative reviews that soiled its awards chances, and the collapse of The Weinstein Company prevented the film from every getting a release.
However, two years after its debut, The Current War was released in its intended fashion, with director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon regaining final cut privilege from the distributors and reediting the film with new reshoots and a trimmed runtime. The result is a thrilling depiction of the lives and conflicts between inventors Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch), George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), and Nikola Tesla (Nicholas Hoult).
Gomez-Rejon is an energetic storyteller, and his infusion of modern energy into this period piece makes the conflicts between characters come to life; as much as these three men were innovators, they were also celebrities of their time, and Gomez-Rejon is keen to show how they used media campaigns and corporate politics to outdo each other.
Each actor is perfect for their role; Cumberbatch excels as a tortured genius with an ego complex, Shannon is terrific as a shrewd businessman and family man, and Hoult steals the film as an inventor more focused on creating than profiting. It’s a rousing historical tale that suffered from its botched release and challenging road to distribution, and is certainly worth checking out.
9. Queen & Slim
While some predicted that the provocative story and relevant themes of Queen & Slim would make it a major topic of conversation, the film was mostly buried upon its release and failed to start the shockwaves it intended to create. It’s a shame, because Queen & Slim is an exhilarating film that turns the traditional road chase movie on its head; after they are confronted and accidentally kill a police officer, Queen (Jodi Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) run from authorities and unexpectedly create a media circus that establishes them as icons.
Kaluuya has proven to be a talented leading man in films like Get Out and Sicario, and here he once again proves that he can be a charismatic and can get the audience on his side. This is a breakout role for Turner-Smith, who delivers a pensive and austere performance, and as the character of Queen is placed in increasingly dire situations, the hard shell around her life and history begins to come down.
This is an impressive debut for director Melina Matsoukas, who is able to depict the reality of police brutality with unflinching specificity, yet also celebrate underrepresented communities as her characters engage in various escapades throughout their journey.
8. Triple Frontier
A throwback to high concept action thrillers of the 1990s, Triple Frontier is the type of star-studded “dad movie” that is rarely made by studios anymore. The story is simple and effective; veterans Redfly (Ben Affleck), Pope (Oscar Isaac), Ironhead (Charlie Hunnam), Benny (Garret Hedlund), and Catfish (Pedro Pascal) have all felt disenfranchised and abandoned by the country they serve, and decide to take on a daring mission to rob a sinister crime lord in the South American jungle. What puts Triple Frontier on a higher level than other films in this genre is the impressive craftsmanship from director J.C. Chandor, who captures a grim realism within the set pieces and asks genuinely introspective questions about these characters and their motivations.
The film was co-written by The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty scribe Mark Boal, who once again shows his ability to capture realistic military dialogue, and even though the premise is lifted from similar action films, the anxieties these characters face feel real. It is in no way a toothless film, and is able to surprise with its sharp transitions from fragmented character drama to breathless action thriller, and eventually to a grim survival story. Between its exhilarating heist sequence and surprisingly heartfelt final moments, Triple Frontier is a terrific throwback to a different era of action cinema.
7. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Despite debuting to universally positive reviews, The Last Black Man in San Francisco ultimately got overshadowed by higher profile releases from A24 and has failed to make a major dent in this year’s awards races. It’s unfortunate, because it is one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, and does a great job at capturing the history and texture of San Francisco. Jimmie Fails reflects to a stranger complaining about the city on a bus that they “don’t get to hate it unless you love it,” and it’s clear from the patient storytelling that writer/director Joe Talbot has a great love for this city and its people.
Jimmie Fails and Jonathan Majors give great performances as one of the year’s best onscreen duos, and for a film with a loose narrative structure that often follows extended side stories, it is essential to have strong characters at its center. Centered around Jimmie’s attempts to reclaim his family home, the film has a lot to say about the importance of reclaiming one’s history and defining one’s family legacy. Introspective and artful, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is easily a film that could be analyzed to death for its rich thematic subtext, but it also can be appreciated for its deeply emotional story.
6. The King
Lost in the shuffle among higher profile releases from Netflix, The King is one of the best Shakespeare adaptations of the decade, and combines elements of the Henriad plays to tell a complete story of Henry V (Timothee Chalamet) as he ascends to the throne and becomes a part of the endless cycle of death and destruction. What The King never loses sight of is the twisted coming of age story at the center of the Henriad epics; Henry is a character who is taken advantage of by insidious political agents, and his desire to not become his father is challenged once he finds himself at the center of a war with France.
Chalamet has established himself as one of the finest young actors of his generation, and he delivers a gripping performance as an inexperienced leader wrestling with the pressures of command. The excellent score from Nicholas Britell gives a haunting sensibility to the story, particularly in the scenes of Henry’s coronation, and director David Michod depicts the medieval action with both visceral gore and a keen sense of strategy. Capturing the vast scope of medieval politics and the haunting story of generational violence all at once, The King was sorely underappreciated for its interesting approach to such legendary source material.