The 10 Most Surprisingly Good Movies of 2019

6. Long Shot

Maybe we shouldn’t have written this one off so quickly. After all, director Jonathan Levine has always been a pretty solid director. 2017’s Snatched was definitely a bump in the road, but the man also gave us 50/50 and The Wackness. At the same time, a political romantic comedy starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron didn’t seem like a surefire success. It didn’t come across as a failure by any means, but there was potential to polarize.

Long Shot is a surprise because, for the most part, it’s universally liked. People aren’t going out of their way to call it one of 2019’s finest achievements, but at the same time, people aren’t really throwing it on any “worst of” lists. It’s a crowd pleaser that largely relies on the strong chemistry between its two leads.

Without Rogen and Theron, maybe the response would’ve been more negative. Even with the sharp script, everything feels reliant on the two leads. Luckily, we don’t have to live in some type of hypothetical world where we got Rob Schneider and Linday Lohan instead. We’re lucky enough to have another charming romantic comedy that’s just adventurous enough.


7. Late Night

Late Night is an interesting entry on this list because, on the one hand, it all seemed rather inoffensive. The story of an ornery late-night talk show host came across as perfectly passable entertainment, but that’s sort of the problem. Strong cast members aside, it just felt like your standard showbiz movie. To some extent, that remains true even after its release, but it has just enough going for it to separate it from a crowded field.

There are a lot of familiar beats here. We meet a character who’s down on her luck. She gets the opportunity of a lifetime. The opportunity of a lifetime presents more than its fair share of complications. Eventually, everything is tied together with a nice little bow.

If you followed a basic plot diagram, you’d have a hard time distinguishing Late Night from countless other movies, but there are two key differences. First and foremost, this film addresses social issues with skill and subtlety. It doesn’t take a genius to discover that this is a movie focused on girl power, but these prominent themes are never overbearing. In fact, they often float in the background and let the strong writing do most of the talking.

That’s the second key difference. Kaling’s script benefits from sharp dialogue. When the next inevitable cliché rears its ugly head, we can at least sit back and appreciate the amount of heart that was put into this project.. Yes, the writing stumbles when it comes to offering something original, but it’s still bright where it counts.

You won’t find originality here, but that’s not really the point. Late Night succeeds because it has a heart of gold. You may not come to any groundbreaking revelations, but you’ll have fun and maybe you’ll learn something.


8. I Am Mother

I Am Mother

Netflix has really struggled when it comes to producing consistently compelling sci-fi offerings. The massive studio desperately wants to be the home of thought-provoking science fiction, but between Rim of the World and The Cloverfield Paradox, it’s safe to say they aren’t having the best luck. What does that lack of consistency mean? Well, it unfortunately means that Netflix original movies like I Am Mother are often accompanied by groans rather than cheers.

It’s more deserving of the latter. On the one hand, it does appear to be yet another movie about pissed off artificial intelligence. On the other hand, there’s a level of craftsmanship that feels foreign in comparison to the competition. In terms of technical prowess, I Am Mother is something of a revelation. Grant Sputore’s visually stunning thriller benefits from meticulous editing, vibrant cinematography, and skillful use of sound. Put simply, it’s a treat for the eyes and the ears.

The talented cast works in conjunction with these technical achievements in order to make everybody forget about the narrative clichés. This is not a wholly original movie. Critics aren’t making grand statements about how I Am Mother is unlike anything they have ever seen. This film works because every individual part rises about the status quo. It may have borrowed ideas, but it often improves upon these ideas due to an uncommon level of polish.


9. Happy Death Day 2U

Happy Death Day was its own special surprise when it came out in 2017. The Groundhog Day premise had been used to great effect before, but it never felt like it would work in a Blumhouse-produced slasher flick. Somehow, the studio pulled it off, but a decent sequel seemed out of the question. How could they expand on the ideas of the original without making it feel like 100 minutes of deja vu?

The folks behind Happy Death Day 2U decided to double down on the sci-fi and dark comedy rather than the horror. Rather than creating another dull slasher movie, director and screenwriter Christopher Landon placed a much greater emphasis on the science-heavy lore that was passively set up in the original movie. As a result, the audience is able to enjoy a movie that expands on ideas rather than repeats them.

That’s such a rarity in slasher sequels. Historically, filmgoers have become accustomed to getting a new batch of fresh blood and that’s it. Surprise, Freddy Krueger is still haunting people’s dreams to this day, but are we learning anything meaningful about the inner workings of the universe? No, not really, and that’s why Happy Death Day 2U feels refreshing. It’s a sequel that, in many ways, improves upon its predecessor.


10. Crawl

Good creature features are an anomaly. They definitely exist, but they’re buried underneath piles upon piles of rubbish. Even if we only included theatrically released creature features, we’d still be hard-pressed to name more than a handful of standouts. Remember 47 Meters Down? Neither does anyone else. That being said, there are those handful of standouts that take full advantage of what the genre has to offer.

Last year, Crawl joined the very exclusive club of creature features that are worth recommending. Like most movies in the subgenre, it captivates its viewers by cranking up the tension and letting the thrills do the work. It’s not thought-provoking. On the contrary, there are countless logical inconsistencies, but that doesn’t matter. You’ll have fun. You’ll be on the edge of your seat. You’ll want to keep watching until the end.

In other words, Crawl isn’t a good movie in the traditional sense. It’s important to note that this list isn’t exclusively for arthouse head scratchers. In fact, it’s mostly designed to cover the opposite. We’re looking at movies that look silly and stupid at first glance. The thing is, Crawl is silly and stupid even after the first glance. It just uses that to its advantage.