Top 20 Most Underrated (and Must-See) Movies of 2019

 

2019 was such a good year for film that trying to whittle it down to just a few is the hardest thing anyone can do. Hundreds of films come out every year and only so many are given wide releases and big budgets, but thanks to streaming channels like Netflix and Amazon Prime, a lot more films are readily available to watch.

If you didn’t make it out to theaters or you’re not sure what to add to your binge list, I may have a few selections for you to wrap up the year that was. I know it’s hard to see a lot of movies throughout the year, but if you’ve got about 400 hours out of the year to spare, I got some pretty awesome movies you should watch.

So here are a few films that may have slipped under the radar last year that were absolutely spectacular and are worth checking out.

#20 – Frozen 2

Director(s): Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

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-Admittedly, this was not a small indie film. It also didn’t fall under the radar. Disney’s Frozen sequel garnered over a billion dollars and became the highest-grossing (traditional) animated film in history. Still, the film hasn’t received the same ubiquitous coverage as its predecessor despite it being a much better-made film. The animation gets an impressive upgrade, and its the first animated film where the score is as good as any feature film. It’s no doubt a celebrated film, but I think it would be celebrated even more.

Where to watch – Still in theaters

#19 – Booksmart

Director: Olivia Wilde

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– This film made our best of 2019 halfway mark list back in June and its still the best comedy of the year. Written with a fresh take on a coming-of-age film, it has riotous humor and makes fun of all the cultural woke signaling it champions throughout. Confirming my theory that if you can’t laugh at yourself, then you’re not that funny.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime, Hulu

#18 – Dolemite Is My Name

Director: Craig Brewer

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– Eddie Murphy’s return to form is done brilliantly in this dramedy about comedic and blaxploitation icon, Rudy Ray Moore. The film doesn’t just have humor, it has struggle, confidence, heart, and triumph. It’s full of cussing and kung-fu, but by the end of it, you’re feeling full and overjoyed for the team’s hard work and overdue success. One of the best feel-good movies of the year.

Where to watch – Netflix

#17 – The Peanut Butter Falcon

Director(s): Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz

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-Here’s a film you didn’t know you needed until you saw it. Newcomer Zack Gotsaggen joins with Shia Lebouf in this journey of friendship, forgiveness, and self-discovery. Zack runs away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of being a professional wrestler. The movie has moments of camp mixed in with genuine charm and a palpable belief that everybody is doing everything they can to make a boy’s dream come true.

Where to watch- Amazon Prime

#16 – The Lighthouse

Director: Robert Eggers

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-If you’re in the mood for a long descent into madness with two of the finest actors working today in Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, you’re in for a treat. Robert Eggers directs this gothic masterpiece about two men who are stationed at a lighthouse in the middle of nowhere for a month. They end up shipwrecked and the distrust and madness settle between the two of them. It’s filled with some of the best monologues Dafoe has ever done, and he does them with expert time and precision. The film is shot in black and white and the exposure allows the cinematography to shine throughout the entirety of the film. It’s one you can use to show other people interested in film or just as a way to torture a first date. Both are worth it.

Where to watch – In Theaters

#15 – The King

Director: David Michôd

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-I’m typically not one for medieval dramas, but seeing Timothee Chalamet in the lead role was enough to pique my interest and I’m glad it did. If you’re just a fan of large set pieces and huge sword fights, this film is for you, but as a character drama, it’s one of the most intense films of the year. You see the struggle Prince Hal has to go through to become the king he doesn’t want to be, and all the challenges that position entails. It’s a fascinating look into an unfamiliar world with enough tension and action to keep you enthralled all the way through.

Where to watch – Netflix

#14 – Official Secrets

Director: Gavin Hood

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-Keira Knightley is not getting nearly enough credit for how well she did in this bone-chilling spy thriller. Based on true events, Knightley infiltrates the United Nations to gather counter information to prevent a war. While it may seem procedural and wonky, the film keeps at an even pace to get you invested in the stakes and the risk. If Knightley is building a portfolio for a future Oscar run, it’ll be noted that she was grossly overlooked in this pivotal and important role.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime ($5.99)

#13 – Brittany Runs A Marathon

Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo

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-The ultimate motivational film of the year with the smartest lead actress choice they could’ve gone with. Shouts out to the casting director for going with the immensely funny, Jillian Bell (Fist Fight, Office Christmas Party) who’s reflective role is both inspiring and relatable as Brittany Forgler – a girl turned away from her partying lifestyle who decides to change her life and her body by training for the New York Marathon. It’s a simple premise with gut-busting laughs and a heartwarming story of friendship, determination, and self-love.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

#12 – The Souvenir

Director: Joanna Hogg

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-Joanna Hogg’s name is another female director whom you can add to the list of filmmakers who did astounding work in 2019. Her third feature film, The Souvenir is a personal one about a tumultuous and intense relationship she had in the ’80s. The film is erotic, passionate, daring, and emotional as you watch transformative performances from every cast member and a love story that keeps you spinning and mesmerized. Truly one of the unsung films of the year.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

#11 – Transit

Director: Christian Petzold

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-There is so much to love about Transit. From it’s stirring score to its revelatory direction all the way to its brilliant screenplay. It’s a film that captures the essence of humanity in a very unique story. We see a man trying to escape his past, but falling for a woman desperate to recapture hers. This film finds a way to put two people together in the most unfortunate of circumstances and takes us on their journey to truth and reconciliation. It is a vibrant film that will have you pining for the complexities of human connection.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

#10 – The Mustang

Director: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

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-Another impressive female director to look at in the coming years is Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, She bursts onto the scene this year in her first feature film, The Mustang about a convicted convict who bonds with an impressive horse. Clermont-Tonnerre’s direction is beautiful in its simplicity. She captures the intimate moments of Roman with Marquis, and the sheer reality of his crimes in quiet tones with subversive messaging. Easily one of the best films you’ve never heard of this year.

Where to watch – Hulu (with Cinemax add-on $9.99)

#9 – Sweetheart

Director: Justin Dillard

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-Horror has had a rough year with very few films being able to capture the zeitgeist and push the genre forward outside of Us and Midsommar, then along comes Justin Dillard’s creature-feature nightmare about a young girl (played excellently by Kiersey Clemons) shipwrecked on a remote island who must learn how to fend for herself and survive this monster that strikes at night. What Dillard manages to do on a string budget is nothing short of miraculous. His practical effects are genuinely frightening and he relies heavily on Clemon’s impressive acting talent to carry much of the film. Sweetheart is horror’s secret win, it is sure to develop a cult-like following and we’ll be in for a much larger scale sequel in the years to come.

Where to watch – Netflix

#8 – Little Woods

Director: Nia DaCosta

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-Tessa Thompson and Lily James might be one of my favorite on-screen duos in some time. Their chemistry is electric in a movie that feels as claustrophobic as the house the majority of the film takes place in. It’s a character drama about two sisters, the opioid crisis, and the extremes of economic poverty. Nia DaCosta (another awesome female director) brings to light all of these uncomfortable elements in a film that so desperately needs to be talked about. And we see James and Thompson as you’ve never seen them: Women, breaking at the weight of loss and expectation.

Where to watch – Hulu

#7 – Hail Satan?

Director: Penny Lane

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-There are some impressive and gripping documentaries out there, but Hail Satan is one you can just have a lot of fun with, while also learning about a different way of looking at life. The followers of the Satanic Temple invite you on a journey through religious acceptance and non-conformity. We get an understanding of what Satanism actually is, a debunking of the Satanic Panic of the ’80s and ’90s, and a battle over the separation of church and state. Hail Satan is the kind of film you want to watch with your grandparents just to see how cool they really are. It’s funny, insightful, absolutely daring and definitely one you’ll be thinking about all year round. (And another film directed by a woman! Wow)

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

#6 – The Report

Director: Scott Z. Burns

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-Adam Driver has had an incredible year. He’s been one of the best additions to the Star Wars universe in quite some time, and he delivered one of the best performances of the year in Netflix’s “Marriage Story”, which may net him an Academy Award nomination, but he had another stellar role in Amazon Prime’s “The Report”. A film that was bound to come out at some time, going into the details of the 9/11 torture report that hid information vital to the American public. The film is gripping and adds to Driver’s already impressive resume. But also have to give a shout out to Tim Blake Nelson who has been in 3 movies in 2019 and a television show.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

#5 – Luce

Director: Julius Onah

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-The breakout star of 2019 is undoubtedly Kelvin Harrison Jr, he gives a solid performance in Waves, but it’s in this film where he plays an adopted honor student who gets caught up in a scandal that damages his reputation forever. How he weaves from good kid to suspect is dangerously done and offers up one of the best performances of Octavia Spencer’s career. Luce will keep you on the edge of your seat, it will make you uncomfortable, it’ll make you ask and answer the hard questions, and by the end of it, you’ll be glad it’s over and desperate to experience it again.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime ($5.99)

#4 – Her Smell

Director: Alex Ross Perry

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-Elizabeth Moss. And that’s all I have to say. If you maybe haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale and weren’t sure of Moss’s acting abilities, then I implore you to check her out in this film. She takes on the role of a self-destructive rock star who finally decides to get back on the right track. Her journey is a heavy one as you watch her go through the process of making amends, finding her voice again, and forgiving her past. The film is an escapist haven, and of all the films that deal with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, its this one that makes you hope no one ever goes through it again.

Where to watch – Hulu

#3 – The Nightingale

Director: Jennifer Kent

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-Jennifer Kent is one of the best female directors working today, and this film is one of the reasons why. We’re transported to the middle of Tasmania to witness brutal crimes and a savage revenge plot that makes the most hard-nosed among us, pretty queasy. It’s Kent’s aesthetic that lands the impact of the film. Combined with stellar cinematography, and thrilling set pieces, The Nightingale is a revenge thriller that will have you mesmerized from start to finish. Watch this with friends and see who can stomach it the most.

Where to watch – Hulu

#2 – Clemency

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

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– Few films, outside of documentaries, ever tackle the death penalty in such a brazen and straightforward way. We’re seeing this film through the eyes of the Warden (Played exquisitely by Alfre Woodard who is more than deserving of an Oscar nomination behind it) and the difficult task she is faced with when it comes to executing criminals, especially when there is a chance of their innocence. Aldis Hodge (who played a prisoner earlier in the year in Brian Banks) is exceptional as well in this film. What stands out the most is the dialogue, this screenplay hits you right in the heart as Woodard’s character must confront the realities of the system and deal with her own powerlessness inside of it. This one is a true gem that you will regret missing out on.

Where to watch – Online

#1 – The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Director: Joe Talbot

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-You have never seen a movie like this. You have never seen a movie with characters this fresh, direction this impeccable, and a story rife with the realism of gentrification quite like this one. The Last Black Man in San Francisco might be one of the best films of the year. It tells a unique tale of the lack of black ownership in this country even to something you’ve built, and the harshness of living in a city that relegates you to the lower side of it.

Jonathan Majors gives a remarkable performance as does Tichina Arnold whose supporting role is genuine and unmistakably different from anything she’s done before. The cinematography in this film is breathtaking and the final shot of the film will leave you haunted. The music in the film adds another breadth to the emotional impact of everything you’re witnessing throughout, and each beat of the cityscape is enough to make you see the undying love each character has for a city that has let them go. I can’t stress this enough. GO. WATCH. THIS. MOVIE.

Where to watch – Amazon Prime

 

I just put a lot on your watchlist in 2020, but I can’t stress enough how good of a year 2019 was. There were compelling dramas, intense thrillers, hysterical comedies and much more. It’ll be amazing if 2020 can keep up with what we’ve just witnessed but I doubt it. Things won’t heat up until about March this year, which gives you plenty of time to catch up on some amazing films, astounding directors, brilliant screenplays, and incredible acting. So what are you waiting for? Go watch some movies, and let me know what you think.

 

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