Every year a bunch of films aren’t talked about; they aren’t necessarily overlooked for awards or recognition, but they are films that dropped, overlooked at festivals, or even both. Sadly, they don’t get the attention they deserve, but true cinephiles can discover them in time. Therefore, here are 10 great films from 2019 that no one talks about.
1. 3 Faces – Jafar Panahi
Ever since his house arrest, the relentless Jafar Panahi has found ways to express his artistry in his native Iran. This time, alongside fellow actress Behnaz Jafari, he goes searching for a missing girl and aspiring actress in northwestern Iran, after witnessing a devastating plea over her iPhone.
What follows is a road movie with an observant approach and patient camerawork that makes you feel like you’re in the lands of northwestern Iran. We see the people, the culture, and landscapes change, much like the thought process of Panahi and Jafari. Of course, the film secretly comments on Iranian society, the outside cities, and the repression of its people, particularly women, in the case of the missing girl.
Panahi definitely crafted his most cinematic film since 2011 and his most diverse film as well. With beautiful moments on the road going from fierce to comedic and never shying away from the commentary on culture, it’s a film to be explored, much like Panahi and Jafari do in their own country.
2. The White Crow – Ralph Fiennes
Featuring an international cast and assorted direction by Fiennes, the film tells the story of Rudolf Nureyev and his ultimate defection to the West as a dancer from the Soviet Union. Shot in a beautifully 16 mm portrait, making this larger-than-life story more personal and in a form of documentary style, he sees this artist’s turning point and his life’s background to that point.
Fiennes manages to explore many elements of Nureyev’s decision and artistry in the film with different results. For example, we see young love, psychological thriller aspects, or the spy genre, all mixed into one man’s mind. This might cause the narrative to drift, but it ultimately supports the reasons for his ultimate defection in 1961. With stunning dance numbers and a commitment to craftsmanship, such as the different ratio and look of flashback sequences, Fiennes captured the man and moment with grace.
For any fans of biographical, historical, or European-centric films, don’t miss this film.
3. Donnybrook – Tim Sutton
In the earliest release of the year, Tim Sutton reaches new heights that explore the desperation of real America in a hauntingly brutal film. The film interweaves between a devil-like hitman and his young girlfriend; a man preparing for a bare-knuckle fight that can save his family’s life; and a down-and-out cop looking for peace of mind, amongst other things. Sure, this sounds maybe like a film noir or a B movie, but Sutton’s brutally poetic film must be experienced.
Despite the fact that it operates on a narrative that might be familiar, it is utterly unpredictable in terms of character, violence, and choices. It’s not necessarily a difficult watch, but you feel these characters’ pain and despair as Sutton doesn’t shy away from the commentary.
The film certainly captures real life in America in today’s age, but with Sutton’s approach, it’s elevated to brutal, violent poetry.
4. Frankie – Ira Sachs
After solidifying a string of New York films grounded in realism, Ira Sachs crafted an international cast led by Isabelle Huppert about three generations of a family over the course of a vacation day in Portugal. What follows is a conversation-heavy film on human relationships in the vein of Maurice Pialat or Eric Rohmer.
From an observant camera length and distance, his characters interweave and literally pass each other on the streets of Sintra. And we see the flaws, hopes, betrayals, and optimism of these people. It’s the tender moments of wisdom and grace mixed with uncertainty about the future that make us think about our own lives during the film, without ever leaving the characters behind.
Sachs has never shied away from difficult situations in his films, but here, with its minimal approach on storytelling, he gets to the roots of what these people want, think, and desire. It’s a film to watch on a Sunday afternoon, or to get you in the mood to think about what really matters in your life and the people to share it with.
5. End of the Century – Lucio Castro
A film that almost feels like a hidden gem of Queer Cinema from the 1980s, Lucio Castro explores the relationship between two men from the past and present. Played out in pure poetic realism, we see these two men from their casual sexual encounter to their first encounter, nearly 20 years earlier in Barcelona.
Castro allows for scenes and frames to linger, exploring these characters’s feelings of love, loneliness, and everything in between in the architecture of the city. It plays in fiction and the reality of the paths these two men take.
Never shying away from a sexy or haunting presence, it’s something that only film can capture – poetry, relationships, music, framing, and the sounds of any given moment. If you’re a fan of relationship films, straight or gay, or poetic cinema, this film feels both of the moment and classic at the same time.