2019 has been a great year so far for cinema. Even before the award season started, we saw much-discussed acclaimed horrors like “Us” and “Midsommar,” alongside surprise minor hits like ”The Farewell” and of course, Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
As of now, the industry is probably busy talking about Oscar hopefuls and fall releases while audiences all over the world seem to be still obsessed with “Joker.” So maybe it’s time to remind everyone of good stuff from this year that you may have somehow missed. They range from documentaries to satires to darkly violent period films. So hopefully, there’s something for everyone.
10. Little Woods
The impressive feature film debut for director/writer Nia DaCosta, “Little Woods” is half-western/half-crime film, but mostly a drama about a sisterly bond. The movie is set in North Dakota, in a fracking boomtown well beyond its prime. In the early scenes, we witness Ollie burying a package of some sort in the woods. Then we see she is coming closer to ending her probation for dealing opioids. Now that her mother has died, she comes back to face her estranged sister Deb, who has her own problems with an unplanned pregnancy and a deadbeat ex.
The film has a bleak tone and is more of a character study than a narrative-driven feature. What makes this work so great is how real and complicated the relationship is portrayed between these two main characters. It’s a slow-burn drama with some messages being little too on the nose, but in general, “Little Woods” works exceptionally good. The acting being so strong helps as well. Even though Lily James does a good job, it’s Tessa Thompson who steals the show, proving she is a very gifted dramatic performer. Such a grounded and touching work.
Ray is on a Thanksgiving road trip with his family. When they take a break, his wife and daughter fall into an open construction site. He takes them to the hospital but he passes out from exhaustion. When he wakes up, hospital staff starts to deny that his wife and daughter were ever admitted to the hospital. The plot sounds familiar, maybe if you watch too many thrillers and didn’t skip films like “Flightplan” and “Unknown,” but if you like such movies, “Fractured” may know how to entertain you. One of the reasons is Brad Anderson.
Anderson has been somewhat of an underrated director. First he started with two great, original and compelling romantic comedies: “Next Stop, Wonderland” and “Happy Accidents.” Then he made a great shift to the horror-thriller arena delivering great films like “Session 9,” “The Machinist” and “Transsiberian” alongside mildly entertaining stuff like “Beirut.” Sure, he had misfires as well.
“Fractured” is not exactly strong as “The Machinist” or “Transsiberian,” but is still an atmospheric film with surprises and excellent twists that is sure to shock some viewers. But what “Fractured” does best is create the right atmosphere and that mysterious aura. And since all of these are combined with fine acting and compelling narratives, the movie takes you into itself. One of the better Netflix thrillers for sure.
8. The Nightingale
Jennifer Kent made a big break with the amazing “Babadook,” which was probably the biggest independent horror hit of its year, acclaim and popularity-wise. She is now back with a bleak, authentic, very dark, and very violent disturbing tale of revenge. It’s not a horror but rather a gothic atmosphere and the whole darkness and intensity shows that it’s from a director who knows how to deliver the horrors.
Set in 1825 in the British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now the Australian state of Tasmania), “The Nightingale” was produced in collaboration with Tasmanian Aboriginal elders who asserted that this is an honest and necessary depiction of their history and a story that needs to be told.
As mentioned earlier, its violence and dark tone may turn off some viewers. Even some screenings had walk-outs. So it’s obviously not for everyone, but the movie does a surprisingly good balancing act; yes, it’s somewhat of a revenge story but it’s also a story of tolerance and understanding, so the movie has more complex narrative. That atmosphere sure adds a lot to it as well. It’s a tough watch, but its realistic approach is the reason why. A poetic film that is hard to forget.
7. Peanut Butter Falcon
Maybe the sweetest film of the year, “Peanut Butter Falcon” was kind of a surprise hit given its budget and the type of film it is, but you still may have missed it. Shia LaBeouf is having the best year of his career since who knows when, with this and “Honey Boy.” Here he stars as a thief whose road somehow crosses with a young man named Zak. Zak has Down syndrome and he escaped from the retirement house where he stays to reach his dreams: to get into a wrestling school and be a professional wrestler. They become friends and after some time, the social worker Eleanor who used to take care of Zak joins them on the road as well.
The plot may have some familiar touches, but the script and dialogue are so good and the movie has just that right tone to warm your heart, make you laugh, and sometimes make your eyes wet. It’s a feel-good film overall and raises several questions. It also sends great messages about empathy and empowerment. It’s a great friendship story as you can hear in the film, “Friends are the family you choose.”
The performances are all around great with Zack Gottsagen delivering such a sympathetic, great work. LaBeouf is in his form and Dakota Johnson is a very warm, lovely presence throughout the film. John Hawkes’ and Bruce Dern’s supporting turns are always lovely to see as well.
6. The Mountain
In the 1950s, young introvert Andy works at his father Frederick’s ice rink, but when he dies, Andy meets with family friend Dr. Fiennes who was responsible for his mother’s lobotomization. He invites Andy to travel from asylum to asylum while he works; Andy will reluctantly document and act as a photographer, journalist, and overall some kind of assistant to him.
Arguably the weirdest film on the list and definitely not for everyone. In fact, none of Rick Alverson’s films have been for everyone, but this one may have a cult following sometime in the future alongside passionate haters. “Midsommar” & “Hereditary” director Ari Aster is already a fan.
The movie has a bleak subject matter and some obvious influences from Roy Andersson and David Lynch, and it’s very aesthetic with a kind of hypnotic narrative that may engage you. Jeff Goldblum is a particular standout in the cast, giving a great performance as usual, and it’s always mesmerizing to watch him. It’s worth noting that his character is somewhat based on the story of controversial physician Walter Freeman. Overall, it’s quite a distinctive work that may be worth taking a look at.