2019 was a year of great cinema for all audiences. Avengers: Endgame ($858.3 million United States domestic) crushed the box office. Director Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite ($44.3 million U.S. domestic) became the first foreign-language film to win Best Picture, and people across the nation were able to bring their dysfunctional family to see the film about dysfunctional families, Knives Out ($162.2 million U.S. domestic) for Thanksgiving. However, there were still multiple worthy films overlooked by most U.S. audiences. Here are 6 films that went under-noticed in 2019.
Monos dir. Alejandro Landes
U.S. Box Office: $406,000
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 93/85%
Earning a relatively tiny $406,000 in the U.S. domestic box office, Colombian director Alejandro Landes’ third feature Monos landed without a splash but certainly not without applause. The film scored top honors at the BFI London Film Festival, securing the prestigious Best Film award, as well as drawing in an additional $930,000 internationally. Monos chronicles a platoon of teenage soldiers assigned with the monitoring of an American prisoner of war and a dairy cow on a feverish island. The film is shrouded in layers of mysticism and environmental fear—the island is illuminated with terrifyingly gorgeous waterfalls and unearthly sunsets at massive elevation. Mud and dirt coat the kids as they traverse through the jungle, mixing the perverse themes of Lord of the Flies with the griminess of Apocalypse Now.
A Hidden Life dir. Terrence Malick
U.S. Box Office: $1.7 million
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 80/72%
The story of a hero largely erased from the history books, Terrence Malick’s return to form tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector living in Austria during the start of WWII in 1939. It poses questions on human obligation to stand up, to be an activist or to simply defy the powers of evil. It’s pure, old-fashioned Malick, forming a lovingly human vision of a martyr, ingrained with his own personal beliefs and spirituality. It’s a gorgeous film as well—intimate close-ups and Malick’s own emphasis on visuals over dialogue paint an expressionist and ethereal biographic picture. The emotion carried through the film cannot be described by words but rather must be experienced.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco dir. Joe Talbot
U.S. Box Office: $4.5 million
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 93/84%
The Last Black Man in San Francisco represents a tour-de-force in debut filmmaking. It was sadly overlooked during its release due to the poor distribution of the film, resulting in it opening in very few theaters. Co-written by childhood friends director Joe Talbot and Jimmie Fails, who stars as himself, the film is a beautiful, poetic exploration of the long-term effects of gentrification on urban neighborhoods. Fails and Talbot are both San Francisco natives who went into the film with nearly no prior filmmaking experience, relying on their own skills and knowledge of the medium to break the mold and put out a truly masterful examination of the world around us and how we affect it. It carries a considerable amount of joy and compassion, for both the audience and the city itself. It comes directly from the heart.
Pain & Glory dir. Pedro Almodovar
U.S. Box Office: $4.5 million
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 97/91%
Making an autobiographical film is always a challenge. There’s a fear of gluttony, feasting upon one’s own personality, painting a portrait that feels more egotistical than humble. Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar’s latest film is heartbreakingly honest and beautifully sincere, depicting the struggles of growing old, leaving behind the people you know, and reconciling with your inner demons. It’s endearingly compassionate and bittersweet, heartpanging in its beauty. It’s gorgeously shot, with impeccable colors piercing through the frame, reiterating on Almodovar’s classic usage of red in his films. It’s a mature and subdued film from a director who built his fame through sexually pungent and transgressive cinema. Although Pain & Glory didn’t land box office fame in the U.S., it was able to draw in an impressive $37 million internationally.
The Lighthouse dir. Robert Eggers
U.S. Box Office: $10.8 million
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 90/72%
Shot entirely on location off of the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Robert Eggers’ second feature is a miserable nightmare plagued by the elements: maelstroms, hurricanes and a flock of particularly annoying seagulls. It tells the tale of a lighthouse kept by two keepers on a five-week shift, distanced from the rest of civilization as both peck at each other, waiting to see who will crack first. It’s a vicious duel that’s equally as funny as it is horrifying—embodying pure loneliness, desperation, misery and insanity. It’s drenched in Greek myths and folklore, dripping with realistic mariner dialogue, with every inch of the sets providing depth and atmosphere to the mucky film. It’s a purely original film, the likes of which rarely come along. It’s also astonishingly gorgeous, shot on moody black-and-white 35mm film stock.
Uncut Gems dir. Josh & Benny Safdie
U.S. Box Office: $49.8 million
RottenTomatoes Critic/Audience score: 92/52%
Following an admirable train of overwhelming praise at festivals in Telluride and Toronto, it seemed that Uncut Gems was surely on its way to securing a spot as one of the most acclaimed films of the year. However, what followed was a C+ grade on Cinemascore, a 52% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes, and a shocking zero Oscar nominations. However, beneath the profanity, toxicity and cacophonous soundscape of the film lies one of the most delightfully anxiety-inducing masterpieces of modern cinema. The Safdie brothers are at the top of their game here, punctuated by a decade-topping performance from Adam Sandler. It grants the audience no mercy, filling you with terror and tension that climaxes spectacularly in the best ending of the year.