While the very future of the cinema-going experience seems to be facing an existential threat these days, with streaming becoming an ever-bigger force in entertainment and non-tentpole filmmakers seemingly finding it harder and harder to get their movies seen on the big screen, the fact remains that there were a bunch of very interesting titles released this year… whether you were aware of them or not.Yep, lots of movies just kind of sneak by us these days, but — and here's where streaming comes in again — it's never too late to track these flicks down and give them a go. So now, as we approach the end of 2019, let's take a look at some of the highlights from the year that you might've missed. From indies to would-be box office champs that undeservedly fizzled, these are the best movies you (probably) didn't see in 2019…
In this low-budget sci-fi film starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, a group of convicts volunteer to be test subjects on a one-way space flight to a black hole in order to discover a new form of energy… or something. But the film, from French director Claire Denis (Beau Travail), isn't particularly interested in spaceships or mission objectives or any of the conventional trappings of the sci-fi genre. Instead, High Life offers up a non-linear story that unfolds over many years, as Pattinson's character and his fellow crewmembers grow increasingly bonkers… like the film itself, really.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Written and directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), The Kid Who Would Be King was not at all king of the box office — it reportedly lost as much as $50 million upon release. But the story about a boy who finds the sword of legend, Excalibur, is a fun, family-friendly adventure that is ripe for discovery by viewers at home. It also happens to feature Patrick Stewart as Merlin, so what more could you ask for, really?
Captive State was Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt's return to science fiction. The film is set several years after the planet Earth has been invaded by aliens, with Ashton Sanders starring as Gabriel, who's trying to survive in this dystopian world even while a rebellion against the E.T. overlords brews. The film is a lo-fi vision of the future which, according to IGN's review, "manages to be both heartbreaking and hopeful."
Stop-motion masters Laika returned in 2019 with Missing Link, the story of a “myths and monsters investigator” (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and the Bigfoot he encounters (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). Though this is another film that crashed and burned at the box office this year, it's another example of Laika raising its creative bar. "It seems to be inspired by everything from Aardman-esque design to the straight edge animations that came out of Eastern Europe, all set against this stunning backdrop that utilizes a seamless mix of expansive physical sets and CGI," reads our review. "The results are repeatedly jaw-dropping and will genuinely have you asking how they managed to do what they’ve done."
This zombie comedy stars Alexander England as an unemployed musician who, along with Lupita Nyong'o's schoolteacher, must protect a group of students when the undead come a-knockin. In our review of the film, we said that if "you've always wished that Shaun of the Dead sparked a whole zom-com subgenre, Little Monsters will likely please you greatly. It'll be equally as effective for audiences looking for some unconventional fun as the film offers up both horror and comedy in equal amounts alongside a whole bunch of honesty and heart that every audience needs in 2019."
Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D) is the alligators-run-amuck movie you didn't know you needed in your life. Barry Pepper and Kaya Scodelario star as a dad and daughter who are hunted by the scaly critters during a hurricane, with our review calling it a "snappy, little B-movie that preys on people’s most primal fears and instincts when it comes to surviving against a bigger, deadlier animal. … It’s often less gruesome than many of Aja’s other films, relying more on building suspense rather than the bloody aftermath — although that’s not to say there aren’t several gross-out moments (this is a When Animals Attack movie after all)."
Booksmart is actress Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, a critically beloved teen comedy about a pair of overachieving girls (Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever) on the verge of graduation who decide to make the most of their last night of high school with a wild time on the town. Our review called the script "snappy, outrageous, and full of heart, giving depth to stock characters often marginalized and mocked. And it does all this while thoughtfully exploring the pressures and pitfalls of the unique hell of being a teen girl."
This biopic stars Nicholas Hoult as the man who created the Lord of the Rings universe, J.R.R. Tolkien. Director Dome Karukoski's film focuses in on the early years of the author's life, in a tale about love, creativity, and friendship. This is not a critical look at Tolkien's life by any means, but an immersive journey into a past era that delves into the creative pursuits of one of the world's foremost authors.
Ready or Not
Ready or Not has such a great premise, it's almost impossible to resist it from the start. Samara Weaving stars as a new bride who, as part of her in-laws' family tradition, becomes the target of a ritual hunt. From our review: "This is an entertaining game of tension and gore with a strong funny bone, all in a well-wrapped package clearly designed with surprising thought and artistic effort with a star-making performance for Samara Weaving."
Alita: Battle Angel
After so many years of development — this manga adaptation was on James Cameron's slate as far back as the year 2000 — it seems a shame that when Alita: Battle Angel was finally released, it sort of didn't leave a mark on the mainstream consciousness (the film might've broken even at the box office, depending on who you ask). Robert Rodriguez ultimately directed the tale of an amnesiac cyborg (a CGI concoction voiced by Rosa Salazar) in what our review called his "best film in many years. It’s an ambitious, impressive, visually spectacular production with great performances that make its strange world seem real."
This documentary about 1969's Apollo 11 mission was made entirely with archival footage, including 70mm footage, and the result is spectacular, a sobering reminder that we take mankind's progress over the past 50 years for granted. Almost all of the footage here has not been released before, but just as intriguing is the film's lack of any of the typical documentary-isms that we're used to. Apollo 11 doesn't cut to interviews, there's no narration, and there's no commentary. It's just the actual footage of three men on a trip to the moon. And it's amazing.
I Lost My Body
This French animated film has gained a lot of attention recently thanks to end-of-the-year word of mouth, as well it should, as it's a beautiful little story… about a severed hand that's gone looking for its body. But really, that's not what it's about at all. As we said in our review, "Jérémy Clapin's bold and bizarre film is a poignantly maddening meditation on the cruel nature of disconnection. It's also profoundly gorgeous, offering up a floating, weaving narrative that will sit with you even though it delivers little-to-no answers or affirmations."
Happy Death Day 2U
This horror sequel pretty much picks up where its predecessor left off, as its characters find themselves stuck in a Groundhog Day-style loop… only one of a decidedly deadlier variety. "Happy Death Day 2U deserves a healthy amount of praise for pushing its pedal to the metal all the way through," we said in our review. "It's hard not to get the impression that no idea was really shot down in terms of generating story here, no matter how bonkers it all seemed. The level of risk-taking is refreshing, even when it's not completely successful at every single turn."
This is a superhero movie you might not have even heard of. Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as a woman who has seizures. And those seizures… cause earthquakes. And she is hunted for her powers, hunted by forces that fear and envy her… Yeah, this is some X-Men level stuff here, but the film is not a typical tights-and-flights outing at all, but rather a more psychological and human exploration of what having such powers would do to a person.
This South Korean comedy/thriller from Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), about a poor family who con their way into working for a wealthy family, has been winning a variety of critics awards this season, but it's still gone largely unseen by the wider public. But that needs to change right now! IGN has already nominated it as one of the best films of the year, and in our review we called it "a film that sneaks up on you. The first hour is a dark screwball comedy that’s filled with funny characters and silly situations. Then a sudden about-turn changes everything that’s come before, and funny becomes serious, before just as quickly segueing into tragedy."
What films from 2019 do you think deserve to be championed? Let's discuss in the comments!