It is my professional film fanatic opinion that 2019 was undoubtedly the best year for movies in my lifetime. Never has there been a year where almost everything that came out was either good, great, fantastic, or among the very best of the year. In this list, I’m going to discuss 15 movies that had the shock factor of being better than anticipated. Some of these films had rather low expectations and fully wowed while others had high expectations and they exceeded that.
If you haven’t gotten around to seeing these movies, they come highly recommended as I feel you’ll come away as surprised as I was by how good they are. So without further ado, here are my picks for the Top 15 Most Surprising Movies of 2019.
#15 – Toy Story 4
Going in there was a lot of worry because TS3 did such a fabulous job wrapping up that story that it put a ribbon and bow on all our childhoods, but what this one does is tell an especially unique story about Woody that we didn’t know we needed. All the feels are still there and we get to see our favorite toys on a new journey. The only problem is now, we’re hungrier for more. It’s entirely possible we get a Toy Story 5 before the end of 2030.
#14 – Knives Out
Rian Johnson’s name had a lot of bad blood on it due to the mixed fan reception to his Star Wars movie, but when he presented us with an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, we leaped at the chance. Rian’s story is fleshed out with engrossing characters, a commentary on class and status, and all the good misdirections you love in a whodunnit. Knives Out didn’t just surprise, it filled a hole we didn’t realize we were missing – a good detective story. Now we want more.
#13 – Richard Jewell
Another filmmaker who’s name had been taking a hit for a while was Clint Eastwood. His last entries The Mule and 15:17 to Paris received mixed to poor reviews from fans and critics, so when his name appeared as the director for this latest film, there was concern. However, your worries can be washed away. Eastwood handles the story of Richard Jewell with surprising toughness, heart, and a fierce willingness to expose the truth. This is one to own and share with friends who maybe don’t know the story of Jewell or maybe they do, but they don’t know the whole story.
#12 – Harriet
A bio-pic that’s probably 50 years late, but that’s because they needed to find the right person to play her. That person is Cynthia Erivo. Harriet was a no-nonsense woman who was extraordinarily proud and devoted to God and the abolition of slavery. The film, directed by Kasi Lemmons, does a number of things differently from other slavery-era films. It does not focus too much on the physical trauma of that time, and its themes are of freedom, power, and hope instead of suffering and pain. Harriet is treated like a superhero in this film. She is one with God, and uses her ailments to help her free slaves through the underground railroad. It may take liberties with history, but for the first biopic of an American hero, it’s damn good and about damn time.
#11 – Queen & Slim
I said in my review of the film that Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe made the blackest movie in history. And quite possibly one of the best as well. The movie feels poetic, chaotic, fierce, unapologetic, angry, calm, sexy and sweet all at once. It is a movie that earns every second of its run-time. With brilliant performances from Daniel Kaluuya, Bokeem Woodbine and outstanding newcomer Jodie-Turner Smith. It is a movie that will leave you full of love, of hope, of pain, of joy, but especially of understanding.
#10 – Alita: Battle Angel
Shifting gears to a completely different tone of film. Alita opens us up into a brand new world where man, machine, and alien finally mix. This is a film meant to be enjoyed on the big screen. What they’ve been able to do with the animation is nothing short of spectacular. They’ve set up a world that is fascinating, a game that is intriguing, a villain that is beguiling, and a lead character we’ve all gotten behind. We need the sequel badly.
#9 – Long Shot
Here’s the premise: a guy who has no business next to one of the most powerful women in the country somehow manages to woo her and they become lovers. It’s vastly unrealistic and yet somehow incredibly charming. The main reason for this however, is due entirely to casting. I’m convinced this year that Charlize Theron can do no wrong. She is a highly regarded actress with a marvelous range who can match up with Seth Rogen and still manage to be just as funny and off-kilter as her counterpart. The movie has some genuinely hearty laughs and a sweet story that makes it easy to fall in love with.
#8 – Wild Rose
If you’re like me and you’re a sucker for a good movie musical, then you’re going to love Wild Rose. A scottish born girl dreams of being a country singer and through much of the movie you follow her struggles and perils as she tries to climb the ladder to success. At times heartbreaking, at others, endearing. Wild Rose has been seared into my heart. It also features one of the best songs in a movie this year with “Glassgow (No Place Like Home)”. This is one to not only watch but to own, it’ll get you through whatever you’re going through.
#7 – Good Boys
Not gonna lie the expectation going in for this movie was incredibly low. What could possibly be entertaining about little boys cussing as if we hadn’t seen it on South Park for years now? But Good Boys had more to offer than that. The childlike naivete of our characters matched with their tendency to be foul-mouthed hooligans will make you erupt in laughter every time. The story is genuinely sweet and charming, but what it succeeds at most is the comedy. If you just want to laugh your head off, this is the one to have.
#6 – Aladdin
No one. I repeat, NO ONE expected this movie to be any good. Not only was it good. It is currently the best Disney Live-Action adaptation they have done yet. It just seemed like something clicked on this one. They didn’t do a shot for shot remake of the animated classic, the things they added made sense, the music was updated to a modern time and they actually gave Jasmine a motivation other than marriage. Aladdin not only exceeded expectations, it blew passed them and set a new standard for live action remakes going forward. Aladdin is -dare I say it – one of the best movies of the year.
#5 – Ready or Not
Horror movies have been getting a bad rep in recent years. They’ve either not been scary enough or at all. And in a time when it takes a lot for people to get scared, Ready or Not decided on a different tactic: Raise the tension and the humor so when the fear comes, it lands. And man, do they stick the landing. The film is helped out by some outrageously good performances and sharp dialogue. The slasher horror genre gets a revival with this one.
#4 – Crawl
Another horror movie that snuck up on a lot of people was Crawl with an intense and terrifying premise: You’re trapped in a massive flood with a bunch of huge crocodiles eager to eat your body whole. What do you do? Go. No one expected this film to be as fast paced or as intense as it was, but it is a thrill ride from start to finish that made for an entertaining watch.
#3 – Black & Blue
At first, this looks like your typical good cop, bad cop movie but it turns into much more than that. Again, the skill of casting made all the difference in this one as having Naomie Harris as your lead and a scary looking Mike Coulter as your villain brought a real captivating edge of believability to the role. The only awkward casting choice may have been Frank Grillo as the dirty cop as it seems he’s only reprising the role he had in Captain America: Winter Soldier, which leaves the film feeling a bit uneven even though it has its moments. The stakes are high and as the movie nears its conclusion the tension is ratcheted up substantially that you feel every moment as if you’re inside of it. There’s some issues with the plot overall, but an enjoyable time will be had by all.
#2 – Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark:
Based off of the grisly horror novels, this movie does well to stay true to its source material. Very little CGI is used in this film, instead the monsters and ghouls are used through practical makeup and effects. A very old-school tool used in the 70’s and 80’s of horror classics. It’s that feel that gives Scary Stories its niche. That, along with a strong cast, solid script and real consequences makes Scary Stories one of the hidden gems of 2019. If you’re in the mood for a scare similar to Goosebumps, but a little more mature, give Scary Stories a shot…or I’ll tell Sarah Bellows on you.
And we’ve reached the #1 Most Surprising film on my list, but before I give you that, here are a few honorable mentions that I also hope you decide to check out that were also surprisingly good:
Terminator: Dark Fate
Brittany Runs A Marathon
Blinded By The Light
and now here is my #1 pick for most surprising film of 2019, and it is…
#1 – FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY:
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a film produced by WWE studios, but they typically are not very good. Like at all. So to say my expectations were low for this film would be a vast understatement. It only took me about 10 minutes in before I realized this was going to be a uniquely different film and one that had absolutely no business being as good as it was. This is probably due to having Florence Pugh playing the lead character. It was her first breakout role of the year, and many people didn’t know her, but she would go on to star in Ari Aster’s haunting film Midsommar later in the year, and then completely steal the show in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. But it’s here where she plays Paige, a retired female wrestler who comes from a professional wrestling family, and manages to get the dream job of working for the WWE. It’s a movie that surprisingly has a lot of heart, charm and is an overall powerful story of fighting for yourself, your dreams, and especially for your family.
And there you have it folks, my top 15 most surprisingly good movies of 2019. There were so many incredible films this year that I’ll be doing several lists this year just so I can talk about all of them.
So until next time…see you at the movies!