Misunderstood Movies: 10 Overlooked Films from 2019
Audiences and critics didn't go crazy for double Will Smith in Ang Lee's latest high frame rate experiment, or the wild monster mash that was Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but we reckon they're among the criminally overlooked films of the year
After the Wedding
Dir. Bart Freundlich
A weepie in the semi-classic, Redford-esque tradition, After the Wedding features some of the best dramatic direction we saw all year.
Bart Freundlich appears to be an unsung hero of Hollywood, pulling out all the stops in a story that, in the hands of another, would have likely been cloyingly middle-class and white. In particular, his navigation of a scene taking place at the titular wedding, in which the seemingly concrete foundations of the protagonists’ relationships get demolished, is exquisite. [Thomas Atkinson]
All Is True
Dir. Kenneth Branagh
Having directed five William Shakespeare adaptations (plus the Shakespeare-adjacent In the Bleak Midwinter), it was perhaps inevitable that Kenneth Branagh would one day play the Bard himself.
Written by Ben Elton, this speculative account of the writer’s retirement is a witty and heartfelt film about storytelling, ageing and grief. Branagh gets wonderful performances from his ensemble – especially Kathryn Wilder and Lydia Wilson as his daughters – and his own portrait of this great artist in his twilight years, contemplating his legacy, is some of the most impressive and moving work he has ever done. [Philip Concannon]
Dir. Luc Besson
After the box office disappointment of Valerian, Luc Besson must have felt he was on firmer ground with another thriller about a sexy female assassin. Anna was unceremoniously dumped into cinemas to little fanfare and mixed reviews, but it’s a fun and twisty ride, despite some unnecessarily baggy and convoluted storytelling.
Newcomer Sasha Luss is an engaging presence as the model/killer playing both sides, and Besson stages a number of slick and exciting action sequences. Anna also boasts a ripe turn from a chain-smoking, limping Helen Mirren, who’s clearly having a ball as a cranky KGB boss. [Philip Concannon]
Dir. Karyn Kusama
Destroyer is a sun-drenched LA Noir featuring a virtually unrecognisable Nicole Kidman as the anti-hero protagonist. Director Karyn Kusama shows the same mastery of the crime thriller as she did of horror in 2009's Jennifer’s Body, playing with the timeline and teasing audience expectations at every turn.
The script is taut, and the action scenes have real grit to them, but its Kidman’s performance that really impresses here – throwing herself into a character that’s complicated, conflicted and downright dislikeable. [GK Bartholomew]
Dir. Ang Lee
Reviews of Will Smith doppelgänger actioner Gemini Man, Ang Lee’s latest experiment in high frame rate (hfr) technology, offered a range of dismissive proclamations from “astonishingly bad” to “the visual sheen of an episode of Hollyoaks.” Such responses are predictable and lamentable because after a few minutes of recalibration, the hfr in Gemini Man proves to be the film’s most astonishing feature.
The plot may recall 90s conspiracy thrillers but the action sequences – in particular, a bike chase – are an intense, exhilarating blend of TV, movie, computer game and virtual reality that feels positively pioneering. [Ben Nicholson]
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Dir. Michael Dougherty
Defending any tentpole franchise movie from virile hatred is practically cultural suicide, especially in 2019. And yet, here we are, fighting for this big, stupid, perfectly respectable monster mash which, and there’s no easy way to say this, everyone was simply wrong about.
Its human story was decidedly lacking, but when did we start measuring monster movies by that metric? By every other measure it’s brash and colourful, expressive and religiously grand. Isn’t that why we go to movies like this? [Thomas Atkinson]
Dir. Harry Wootliff
This searing portrait of a whirlwind romance opens on New Year’s Eve, and a row over a black cab between Spanish ex-pat Elena (Laia Costa) and PhD student Jake (Josh O’Connor). This meet-cute lights the spark on an intense relationship that, initially at least, thrives within the bubble of Elena’s Glasgow flat.
Gradually, the real world begins to intrude by way of a ten-year age gap, a ticking biological clock, and the deadening weight of societal expectation. Shabier Kirchner’s handheld camerawork brilliantly accentuates the intimacy of the piece, lingering in close-up, but never uncomfortably so. [Joe Goggins]
Out of Blue
Dir. Carol Morley
If there’s such a thing as a metaphysical crime thriller, then Out of Blue is it. What starts as an investigation into a murder turns in on itself as we learn more and more about the detective’s past, vigorously brought to life by Patricia Clarkson.
With hints of her earlier documentary Dreams of a Life, Carol Morley seems happier indulging in the mystery of someone’s life, rather than solving it. [GK Bartholomew]
Dir. Dexter Fletcher
Coming from Dexter Fletcher, the director of Sunshine on Leith (and co-director of Bohemian Rhapsody), the expectation was that Rocketman would be serviceable. But those that took the chance on it got a wildly inventive musical that was completely unconstrained by the tediously well-worn biopic structure (unlike BoRhap).
Sensibly, Lee Hall’s script doesn’t attempt to cover the entirety of Elton John’s life – always a foolhardy aim – and instead focuses on the turmoil that drives him. [Tom Charles]
Dir. Brady Corbet
Nobody familiar with Brady Corbet’s beguiling first feature, The Childhood of a Leader, would have expected a lack of ambition from his follow-up, but Vox Lux is dizzyingly adventurous even by those standards.
The prospect of a deep dive into either the traumatic after-effects of a mass shooting or the destructive power of fame would be daunting enough taken separately, but Corbet seems to relish tying them together in what is a film of two halves in more than one sense of the phrase. If you're looking for an overlooked double-bill, it’s an ideal companion piece to Alex Ross Perry’s also-superb Her Smell. [Joe Goggins]