Welcome back, everyone! I trust you’re all having a great start to your new year, and that you can all see clearly (now that the rain has gone; what did you think I was going to say, a 2020 joke?). We’ve gone through some of the more preliminary work regarding our end-of-year lists for the movies of 2019 already, but still have quite a ways to go towards the Top 10 Best and Worst, so let’s talk about the movies of last year that did not, perhaps, get talked about as much as they deserved to be; these are the films that, while they may not be counted among the absolute best of the 2019, maybe deserved a second look. I do have some pre-list notes for you to keep in mind: some of these will overlap with other lists; that’s just the nature of film lists – they overlap sometimes. Those that do overlap, I won’t spend as much time on, as you likely have already read what I thought about them in those other lists (though they will get something written about them). Those that don’t overlap, however, will get more extensive paragraphs dedicated to why you should probably see them (or see them again). As always, the more underrated/under-discussed/under-appreciated I feel a film is, the higher it gets placed on the list. Now, without further ado, let’s get into my Top 10 Most Underrated Films of 2019!
10. Ready or Not
Truthfully, the first four entries on this list all also appear on my list of the 10 Most Surprising Movies 2019 had to offer, so I won’t spend too much time on them, but suffice it to say, if you entered a movie theater in August, this was probably the most fun you had that whole month. Ready or Not is a wonderfully good time, and Samara Weaving is a gift to the world.
9. Missing Link
What else can be said about the film that pulled off a major upset at the Golden Globes to win Best Animated Feature? Whether it deserved the award or not, Laika’s newest animated offering is nonetheless a charming ride through some of the most ambitious stop-motion sequences ever put to screen, with genuinely likable characters, and a few good laughs to boot.
8. Blinded by the Light
You don’t have to be a Bruce Springsteen fan (or even know who he is) to enjoy this heartwarming tale of a Pakistani son trying to figure out his way through adolescence in 1987 England, and you certainly don’t have to have much prior knowledge of Pakistani culture in order to be moved by the tale of Javed’s father, Malik, trying to reconnect with his teenage son as he feels him slipping further away from the only way of life he knows. Gurinder Chadha really did something special here, and I hope we see more from her very, very soon.
7. The Kid Who Would Be King
A sweeping action fantasy that’s easily one of the most enjoyable family films in years (well, that’s not named Paddington, anyway), and gives young boys an action hero to look up to that doesn’t require a Marvel or DC brand name up front. The performances all have their own unique flavors of wit and charm, the action sequences themselves are genuinely exciting and clever, and Joe Cornish’s signature style might just be what we need to resurrect the family action adventure genre to its fullest potential once more. Seek this one out if you can.
6. The Good Liar
Here’s where we start getting into the film that may need a little more background before their recommendations can be verified. In fact, the whole list from here on out can be classified as previously undiscussed on this blog, so count on reading some longer paragraphs for these top six. And at number 6 is a film that I don’t believe many people saw, despite a solid cast in Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren making what might otherwise be pretty decent but otherwise unmemorable Saturday afternoon white noise work as a genuinely enjoyable film with the help of director Bill Condor. Sure, it’s absolutely the sort of film your grandma would fawn over for months after seeing it at the theater, but that’s exactly part of its charm, and the central mystery at the heart of it all does give way to some pretty solid moments in the film’s climax. There’s a reason they don’t make them like this anymore, but sometimes it’s good to see one of these come back into the fold.
5. Wild Rose
The reason this tale of Jessie Buckley trying to make it in country music as a deadbeat alcoholic mother ranks so high on the list is due to the fact that I only recently discovered it, and was only able to watch it due to it being on Hulu. Nevertheless, Buckley’s performance is genuinely moving, and if A Star Is Born didn’t quite do it for you in terms of letting you actually enjoy country music again, go ahead and take a listen to “Glasgow,” and maybe you’ll be moved just enough to let Wild Rose take a shot at it. You might need to turn on the subtitles, though (that Scottish dialect can be hard to understand).
4. Late Night
Mindy Kaling of The Office fame wrote one of the most enjoyable comedies of the year, which co-starred her and Emma Thompson, and somehow, even with its incredibly warm reception at Sundance in January, no one’s talked about it since its theatrical release back in June. That’s a real shame, too, because the film does boast some genuinely hilarious moments, and Thompson and Kaling have a remarkably great chemistry that allows them both to dive into the kinds of characters they do best. It may not be the absolute best comedy of the year (hell, it’s not even the best one on this list), but if you have Amazon Prime Video, I’d recommend checking it out; it will do everything it can to earn the privilege of your time.
3. Brittany Runs a Marathon
A lot of inspirational sports movies have come out in the back half of this decade, some of them even ranking among my all-time favorites, like Creed or James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari, but many of those films take a more in-world approach than Brittany Runs a Marathon, a moving film about an overweight woman living a dangerously unhealthy life trying, even in the smallest ways she can, to get just a little bit better. Don’t get me wrong, those other movies listed above are great, but there’s something about Brittany’s authenticity and vulnerability that make it a perfect companion to those other movies. It isn’t just about someone who’s really good at a sport trying to get better at that sport; it’s about someone whose life has fallen apart trying bit by bit to piece even part of it back together, and the perseverance it takes to achieve that. Brittany struggles with self-doubt, self-patience, and insecurity in her self-betterment just like most anyone would, especially anyone with such cards stacked against them as she has, and it makes us feel like we know her because we all know someone like her. This is one of the most moving, down-to-earth, genuine, and inspiring films of 2019, and it’s all headed up by a brilliant performance of career-best work from lead actress Jillian Bell.
2. The Art of Self-Defense
If no one was talking about The Good Liar or Late Night after their first week or so was over, no one was talking about this movie even when it actually hit theaters, and that is a real shame. The Art of Self-Defense is one of the quirkiest, most idiosyncratic, and just plain weird and strange movies of 2019, but somehow, that only makes me love it more. This thing goes so dark, you couldn’t get a flashlight to shine through it, but it’s also incredibly funny for anyone that shares just a tiny bit of its sense of humor. Most importantly, however, the thematic core of toxic masculinity being both our destruction and the thing that causes one to find and accept their own femininity (which pretty much sums up the main arc of Jesse Eisenberg’s lead character), which ultimately ends up as the thing that “defeats” the film’s main villain, is handled with such poise and craft that one might barely notice it’s even there unless one thinks to look for it. People love to talk and grandstand about Hollywood and filmmaking in general just “not having any original ideas anymore,” but The Art of Self-Defense might be the single greatest takedown of that notion out of any movie released in 2019.
I feel like every year, there’s at least one movie that comes out (usually in the middle of the summer) that takes a simple but effective premise, executes it almost perfectly without any window dressing, and soon fades into obscurity, seldom to be discussed again. This year, that’s Crawl. No, Crawl is not the best movie of 2019, and it’s not even the best horror film of 2019, but the premise of two people stuck in a flooding house during a hurricane and having to escape without getting eaten by invading alligators sounds like something that shouldn’t work even on paper, and yet this movie is as tense, well-performed, well-executed, and fun as you want it to be without asking you to do any heavy lifting to let it get there. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper both turn in really solid performances that give the B-movie material exactly the kind of flavor it needs, and while director Alexandre Aja doesn’t always hit his mark (looking at you, Piranha 3D), this small-but satisfying thriller proves he’s still a director worth keeping around for a while.
And that’s it! Those are my Top 10 Most Underrated Films of 2019. How many of these have you seen? Are there any movies from 2019 you feel are particularly underrated? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Honorable Mentions: The Aeronauts, Downton Abbey, Fighting with My Family, The Kill Team, Long Shot, The Report