The Scorcese-led revolt against Marvel movies is connected deeply to the discord between big-budget mass entertainers and small indie films that don’t often get their due. Although the final say rests with each individual, you get where Scorcese comes from. Having established himself in the industry through these substance-driven scrap-budget films, Scorcese’s remarks are encouraging. Not to say that Marvel movies or other big-budget flicks do not have substance but hardly risk compromising their financial viability. This debate brings us to identify and present to you the list of most under-appreciated and underrated movies of 2019.
10. Fighting With My Family
“Just ’cause millions of people aren’t cheering you do it, doesn’t mean that it is not important”. Stephan Merchant’s hearty and fun-loaded biopic of professional wrestler Paige might as well be the most well-put-together movie of the year. Bringing the famed British brand of comedy to the fore, Merchant’s approach to the film benefits from his characters’ real-life inspirations, all of whom seem to be just as easy-going and complex human beings as portrayed on-screen.
Paige’s journey begins as Brittani, a naive, amateur wrestler from Norwich, harboring dreams one day making to it the WWE, along with her brother. The pair, who are pushed into wrestling by their family, are jolted with a mixed bag as Brittani is the only one who makes the cut. As her real struggle begins, a determined Paige sets out to prove all her doubters wrong. If Florence Pugh hadn’t already stolen the year with ‘Midsommar’, she surely does with ‘Fighting with My Family’. Although the entire cast is a well-rounded mix of brilliant performances, Pugh’s, as the central character, stands out. She finds the perfect blend of passion and grit determination to make Paige what she is behind the beaming floodlights and the daunting ring.
‘Fighting with My Family’ is the perfect mix of the oddballs, the outsiders, the ones who don’t belong, who’ll rest assured make your day. Undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.
9. The Souvenir
Joanna Hogg’s deeply personal film invokes one of the most clichéd lines used for films: “every scene a painting”. Depicting her own experiences as a struggling film student, Hogg’s sumptuous visual aesthetics at once make an impact with a delicate blend of soft, off-beat colors and stunning camerawork. Although the film seems like unfinished work, the craftsmanship is exemplary and more than makes up for the film’s languid tone. The brilliant Honor Byrne brings to life a character, Julie, who might become the central subject of hot-tempered debates revolving around representing the interaction between feminism and toxic male masculinity on-screen.
Byrne’s Julie seems overtly apologetic and agreeable but since she’s drawn from Hogg’s realities of life, she makes for an interesting character study. Julie is pitched opposite a mysterious and dominant older man, whose veracity recedes by the minute. As Julie slips deeper into slumber in the facade of her relationship, Anthony’s action becomes more vagrant and distanced from normalcy. ‘The Souvenir’s central conflict is deeply disturbing; a seemingly sheepish woman taken advantage of by an indifferent, antipathetic older man. In contrast with Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’, ‘The Souvenir’ is couched in a more toned downed environment and reflects a wholly different mood. While much of that is due to the fundamental contradiction in the perspective they are narrated from, Hogg’s choices for the progression of her story make a real distinction.
It would be a bit imprudent to call the film a coming-of-age, though it shows strong undercurrents of individual growth. But what’s certain is that Hogg’s intimate style and the subjective nature of her storytelling makes ‘The Souvenir’ a largely inaccessible portrait to the masses, while for the others it is possibly the best film they’ll see all year.
8. Under the Silver Lake
This cryptic Dave Mitchell mystery film is a head-scratcher and has a high chance of being overtly frustrating. The premise is rather simple. A middle-aged man, disenchanted with life, spots a gorgeous bombshell wandering about in his society compound. The girl disappears with no concrete basis, prompting the man to begin a maniacal search. Much like his previous endeavor, ‘It Follows’, ‘Under the Silver Lake’ suffers from a prominent lack of direction and cohesion between its three acts.
Andrew Garfield plays the protagonist, who seems clearly inspired by Sherlock Holmes and the hippie culture. In many ways, Sam reflects much of the young populace today- defeated by life, bored out of their wits, and looking, but not actively seeking, an adventure. This lure is enough to associate with the character and his search for the elusive prize, but whatever transpires in between, is sheer Mitchell magic.
Such is the absurdity of the events and the lack of any kind of connection, that viewing them as separate sub-plots and ‘Under the Silver Lake’ as a collection of those short acts seems right. Even for the biggest film aficionados, ‘Under the Silver Lake’ presents a mammoth challenge, both in terms of comprehension and likeability, but surely presents itself as a satisfying conspiracy drama, packing enough for an enjoyable watch.
Overgard is the only human being alive, stranded in the vast expanse of the glacial seas. The regulation of his daily routine, like clockwork, oscillates from trapping fish from underneath the snow to paying a visit to a radio from the airplane that crashed nearby. A chopper crashes in the area, where he’s able to retrieve the breathing pilot while the other occupant falls to the fatality of the accident. With the young woman now in critical condition, Overgard must attempt the impossible and scale the daunting mountains to reach her to safety.
Survivor films have been the toast of the Hollywood actors aiming to get busy in the awards season. Usually, such narratives are woven to suit its star and highlight his emaciated frame and all the work he’s put in for the role. Mikkelsen gets none of that, thankfully enough, allowing director Joe Penna to scale his one-man survival story to a fiercely intense and taut eclipse into the unknown. Penna wastes no frames or minutes to get his story going, simultaneously maintaining an organic progression of the script. Such is his skill to suck you in and make you a part of Overgard’s motivations, you are almost rendered breathless and on the edge of your seat.
Driven by a sturdy performance from Madds Mikkelsen and the harrowing barrenness of the region, ‘Arctic’ is a well-conceptualized and engaging movie that materializes to present and celebrate human values and much more than just a survival story.
6. High Flying Bird
A documentary-like examination of basketball and the nuances off the court, ‘High Flying Bird’ is here to entertain. Steven Soderbergh helms another gripping sports-drama, this time clawing into the backstage and back-end of another wildly popular sport. The human condition, which is essentially at the very center of all of Soderbergh’s artistic exploitations, is morphed into a frenzied and palpable Andre Holland. His crazy idea to break professional lockdown crescendos into a crazy idea that sends shockwaves through the industry.
Soderbergh’s new chosen mode of operation seems to be the iPhone, which he earlier used to shoot Unsane last year. As a consequence, the film loses a touch of its aesthetic and overall feel, but the brilliant camerawork and Soderbergh’s stylish brand of cinema more than makeup for it.
5. The Mustang
Probably one of the most heartbreaking and moving movies you’ll watch a year comes from the terrifyingly human and realist vision of first time director Laura Clermont. The relatively unknown Clermont successfully manages to find original perspectives in commonplace cinematic explorations of redemption and self-discovery, surprisingly and refreshingly straying away from established modus operandi to tell the story.
Matthias Schoenaerts, known for films like Daen and Bullhead, creates an authentic and touching portrait of an incarcerated prisoner, tasked with training wild mustangs before they’re sold off. His visceral and sudden bursts on-screen are as surprising and hard-hitting as Clermont’s creation of an indifferent and cold world, only presenting warmth to Roman in the mustang he trains like the light at the end of a tunnel.
Bruce Dern features as Myles, the rancher who provides the mustangs. His crafty supporting act is perfectly capable of becoming a study of its own but is beautifully appreciative of Schoenaert’s lead act. He seemingly underplays Myles and lends him a pearl of intelligent wisdom set in his ways. The two will definitely bag some awards during the season. The Mustang’s beating heart is the story it tells told from the original and delicate lens of Clermont, printing serious discussions on deeper issues of great significance within its creative core and also confirms Schoenaert as a major superstar.
4. A Vigilante
If one says that the biggest gainer from 2019 is Olivia Wilde, it wouldn’t be such a wrong statement. Not only does she make one of the year’s best high-schools buddy films in Booksmart, but the actress also delivers a stellar lead performance in Sarah Nickson’s indie thriller ‘A Vigilante’. Her fearless act as self-proclaimed vigilante saving victims of domestic abuse is a delightful mix of heroism and compassion. Although the film solely belongs to her, Nickson’s multifaceted script gives dynamism to the narration. Tackling contemporary and relevant themes, A Vigilante almost gets its act right, save some over the top moments and slightly constricted character progression.
3. The Dead Center
A Finchesque opening shot introduces us to the world of ‘The Dead Center’. Amidst an overlapping motley of voices, an ambulance rushes to the hospital. Snapping in and out of normalcy and inside the center, the movie mimics its center of attention John Doe’s psychological state. Billy Senese’s directorial debut is a ravaging hunt for the mystery that brings back Michael Clarke to life. Initially, a John Doe, his strange disappearance from the morgue coincides with an equally bewildering appearance at a psychiatry wing. The simultaneous investigations reach a shocking resolution.
‘The Dead Center’ is a slow burner, shedding its layers of sub-plots like an onion. The film stars Shane Carruth, the famed indie filmmaker, in a central capacity, although the prominent limb of the endeavor remains the central puzzle. Atmospheric is probably the first word that you might associate with the film. It is tense, gripping, and surely offers a new perspective on traditional horror-thriller tropes.
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2. American Woman
‘American Woman’ sees a transformed Sienna Miller inhabit a symbolic and inspiring protagonist that is readily tailor-made as a female role model. Her character is an encapsulation of single mothers trying to support their families by doing everything and anything possible. ‘American Woman’ is driven by the search for Debra’s teenage daughter, Peggy, and an impending challenge for the nascent grandmother to raise her infant grandchild. For many a stretch, ‘American Woman’ suffers from an acute lack of punch and ambition. Despite the commonplace setting, the story progression seems stunted, but assuredly wholesome as the final act wraps up.
Its unique and empowering take on motherhood and how it shapes a woman’s adulthood will resonate with a lot of similarly struggling women around the world, making ‘American Woman’ an important point of discussion in contemporary times.
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1. Long Day’s Journey into Night
This years’ best underrated film seems like a gateway between two of the greatest films ever made: Stalker and In the Mood For Love. Bi Gan’s second film is a spiritual follow-up to his equally mesmerizing and impressive debut, ‘Kaili Blues’. Set in the same town (also his hometown), Gan crafts a hypnotic, surrealist, dream-like ethos that successfully preserves the mystery at the film’s core and augments manifold its grip on the viewer. Luo Hongwu is drawn back to his hometown in search of a woman he shared a summer with and reminisce the memories of his friend, Wildcat.
Such is the sophistication with which Gan narrates ‘Long Day’s Journey’, that distinguishing the past and present, reality and fiction, becomes an impossible task. The filming techniques are generally experimental, although calling them so might be an insult to auteurs who first birthed them. Gan’s unique framing, drenched with evocative colors, brings together a gorgeous visual appeal that the film carries until its last-minute. Bela Bartok’s Hungarian-Chinese fusion makes for one of the best background scores of the year.
While ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ might be incomprehensible to the larger audience, its niche target viewers will remember it as a modern masterpiece that dictates the pumping of their blood, the wildness of their imagination, and the meaning of their existence as it gradually burns to its resolution. This movie will undoubtedly be in discussions for many, many years to come.
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