20 Criminally Underrated Films of 2019
20 Criminally Underrated Films of 2019: 2019 has been a great year for films. The veteran film-makers like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, Clint Eastwood came out with some of the best films of the year. The year also marked the end of the MCU’s beloved Avengers series with Avengers: Endgame that created a historic box office record of all time. Everyone saw films that surfaced well on whatever platform their boat sailed to. But there were some rather unfamiliar films that never saw the light of the day. These films need your instant attention, here goes our list of 20 most overlooked and underrated films of 2019.
20. The Death of Dick Long
Steaming with ultra-masculine black comedy midst a crisis, ‘The Death of Dick Long’ is a cautionary tale in weirdness and what not to do when the ‘eventful weird party’ horribly goes wrong. It starts off as a goofy buddy comedy about disastrous crisis management following the mysterious death of one of the three friends, and gradually shifts focus on the terrible consequences that damage relationships and hurt male-fragility among those hyper-masculine men.
19. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants | Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää
As peculiar as the name suggests, ‘Dogs Don’t Wear Pants’ is a harrowing film about a bereaved surgeon, consumed by the overwhelming grief and frustrated within the captive of intense sorrow after the death of his wife. Juha (Strang) finds a way to cope with the psychological pain when he accidentally ends up in a BDSM sex club. Sadomasochism at the hands of the dominatrix -Mona (Kosonen)- becomes a mean for illusory communication with his dead wife. It transcends into a self-discovery when Mona and Juha let-go their facade to reveal their vulnerability and incapability to deal with emotions. The pay off to such rich narrative feel underwhelming and safe.
18. Paddleton | Alexandre Lehmann
The sophomore feature film of cinematographer turned director, Alexandre Lehmann’s “Paddleton” is brimming with bittersweet and poignant moments. The deadpan conversations that carry the existential philosophy, seen through the lens of pessimism, is amusing, funny and moving. Like Blue Jay, Pendleton is a two handler, about Michael (Duplass) and his neighbour Andy (Romano), and their unlikely friendship that tenderly blooms in this tragic drama. Available on Netflix.
17. Les Miserables | Ladj Ly
Blurring the lines between good & bad, and questioning the whole meaning of French identity in this tense geopolitical ecosystem, Les Miserables is gruelling, an intense crime drama that examines the volatility of law and crime that seeps in each other due to lack of understanding and state of equality. Adapted from the documentary short, also named ‘Les Misérables’, Ladj Ly’s deftly edited, frenetically paced, the film is a compelling and gripping thriller that sketches out the lives of immigrants living in poverty, like the scum of the land scrapping through every day, fighting for equality.
16. Dolemite is My Name | Craig Brewer
‘Dolemite is My Name’ is unadulterated, rambunctious fun, and hugely entertaining from start to end. It’s bold and irresistible. Eddie Murphy owns the screen as if there’s no tomorrow. It’s an underdog story of a resident MC trying to find a space in stand-up comedy. It’s a story of a passionate artist who just wants to be heard and seen, and he chooses cinema as a medium to express himself. It’s a celebration of a life propelled by cinema. Watch Dolemite is My Name on Netflix.
15. Zana | Antoneta Kastrati
Antoneta Kastrati’s bleak film ‘Zana’, drenched in despair, has a woman struggling with post-war trauma that has left her disturbed mentally and physically – manifests in her failure to conceive. Lume (Adriana Matoshi) is caught up between her disquieting, relentlessly punishing past and her superstitious mother-in-law leaving no stone unturned for her to conceive. Antoneta Kastrati captures the nuances of the conflict in the spiritual healing and psychological breakdown of a woman who is at her wit’s end. Zana is #15 in our list of criminally underrated films of 2019. Read our TIFF Review here.
14. It Must Be Heaven | Elia Suleiman
Often compared to French actor -Jacques Tati, Elia Suleiman amusingly observes the quotidian life in Paris and New York filled with satirical tone in absurdism. The sardonic, deadpan humour works great initially, his examination of identity and belonging is reminiscent of Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms (albeit different genre) but the narrative enters in this repetitive loop by the end of the second act that recovers just before the end. It packs enormous geopolitical tension, drawing the nature of society and natives, which more than compensates for such shortcomings.
13. Comets | Tamar Shavgulidze
Tamar Shavgulidze’s sophomore film ‘Comets’ (2019) unfurls at an unhurried pace in airy, pastoral villa, like an indolent and languid life in the idyllic countryside of Georgia. The time feels suspended in the lush green backyard as if the forthcoming drama would crumble under its weight. The sound of still air, of insects and birds, appear vivid. Even at a modest running length of 70 mins, Shavgulidze languorously let the past of two teenagers trickle into the narrative without frantically opening it up to establish the intensity of their torrid affair. She indulges in long pauses, aching silences and leisure moments to make aware of the characters, the conflict, and their boundless love. Read our complete review from TIFF.
12. The Criminal Mind | Dmitry Mamuliya
Dmitry Mamuliya’s glacially paced, taut psychological thriller The Criminal Man (Borotmokmedi) thematically stems out of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s tranquil spirit. A slight, minimal narrative with sparse dialogues harbours mammoth of a complex subliminal conundrum of the lead protagonist George Meskhi (Giorgi Petriashvili), a 28-year-old deputy-chief engineer from an industrial town. George’s humdrum life turns upside down after he accidentally witnesses the murder of a famous football goalkeeper. The only eye witness to the sensational murder, George’s life find new meaning through his romantic obsession with the murder that leads him onto a perilous journey.
11. Soni | Ivan Ayr
Soni is a micro-budget quasi-documentary style drama that smartly constructs the narrative around two women police officers, seeking to highlight the deeply rooted patriarchy and insufferable hierarchy that widens the gender gap further. It addresses heavy topics, ranging from gender prejudice and sexual harassment to the power-dynamic distribution on different levels. Ivan Ayr avoids theatricals and sensationalism, and roots the film in a realistic milieu, further solidified by the two moving, nuanced performances that have already gone unnoticed this year. Read the complete review of Soni.
Available on Netflix.
10. Babyteeth | Shannon Murphy
The debut feature film of the Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy’s ‘Babyteeth’ is a delightful and jocular drama about life, love and family that has deep, underlying melancholia running through the lives of people related to cancer-stricken Milla (Eliza Scanlen). Screenwriter Rita Kalnejais (adapted from her novel of the same name) dodges the mawkishness and conventional sentimentality without losing the emotional palette. Rita doesn’t treat Milla, her family and her newly found love- Moses (Toby Wallace) as crutches to derive the mushy sympathy and flounder in their imminent loss, and besides subtle but humorous writing, the ensemble really helps to elevate this ambitious film. Babyteeth is #10 in our list of criminally underrated films of 2019. Read the complete review of Babyteeth 
9. System Crasher | Nora Fingscheidt
Writer-director Nora Fingscheidt’s intense, hyperventilating psychological drama is an equally heartbreaking and life-affirming film that centres around Bernadette (Helena Zengel), but she likes to be called Bennie, a nine YO time-ticking bomb. She harbours aggression & anger, ready to explode at the drop of a hat. Her erratic and passive-aggressive behaviour makes it impossible to engage with her, to reason with her. Her mother is scared of her, so she has handed the responsibility to child protection services. Underneath all the fury and violent streak, Bennie is a delicate, fragile girl, longing for unconditional love, and trying to reconcile with her mother. If Bennie’s temperamental behaviour is deeply rooted, there are reasons for it – which is never explicitly dealt with in the film.
Similar to Underrated films of 2019 – 20 Criminally Underrated films of 2018
8. Her Smell | Alex Ross Perry
In “Her Smell” Elisabeth Moss stars as Becky Something – The centrepiece of the punk-rock band ‘Something She.’ Self-destructive in nature and recklessly motioning through moments of absolute claustrophobia, the film tackles Becky’s viciousness and eventual relapse into herself. Directed with absolute razor-sharp precision and a kind of infuriating energy that could be hard to behold, Her Smell is a parable of understanding the fact that togetherness can save more than one soul and every scene that comes in the last act is a testament to longing, change, and growth.
7. House of Hummingbird | Bora Kim
In her feature debut, Bora Kim paints an intimate and sensitive story of a lonely and whimsical eighth-grader Eunhee (Ji-hu Park), set during the mid-90s. The intentional glacial pacing of the narration allows Bora to observe the nuances of the Korean culture and marginally reduced the role of women in society, reminiscing of Lee Chang-dong’s body of work. Eunhee struggle to navigate life through her dysfunctional family, abusive brother and her bullies in school while figuring out her place in the society forms the crux of the film. Bora presents an honest and poignant take on youth, filled with warm cinematography from Gook-Hyun. Continue reading the review of House of Hummingbird.
6. Waves | Trey Edward Shults
Trey Edward Shults is quite an ambitious and valiant film-maker who has experimented with the narrative employing distinguished score and elliptical camera movements. With Waves, he has peaked a dizzy height involving seizure-inducing snazzy camera movements and a percussive soundtrack with frenetic editing that create a feverish, intense drama in the first hour. Though the emotional underlying of the characters feel stomped under the heavy technicality, these broken characters in the family nosediving in the tragedy is fleshed out with empathy and boundless love that feels genuine.
5. The Souvenir | Joanna Hogg
Unlike several tragic romantic movies dealing emphatically with the whole conundrum of a toxic relationship, British film-maker Joanna Hogg’s ‘The Souvenir’ feels like an aching silence that echoes in eternity. Joanna is in complete command of her craft; nothing in the film feels contrived or obvious. The writing is a masterclass. It’s restrained and often subtle to misunderstand it for abstract narrative. It’s the story of the baffling toxic relationship Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a young girl studying in a film school, had with a charismatic, manipulative Anthony (Tom Burke), a middle-aged man working in a Foreign Office. Here is our #5 entry in the list of criminally underrated films of 2019.
4. Bait | Mark Jenkin
Bait is an audacious & ambitious experimental film on the gentrification of a Cornish fishing community, that aesthetically seemed to have resurrected from the lost reel of early cinema [Guy Maddin would be proud of it]. Concerned with the diminishing regional culture presented as a widening conflict between native fishermen and tourists, writer/director Mark Jenkin’s visually arresting mood piece involves jarring shots, old-school editing techniques and scratchy, granular monochromatic shots using a 16mm Bolex camera. This could be a perfect seafaring companion to Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse.
3. I was at Home, but | Angela Schanelec
Silver Bear Winner Auteur Angela Schanelec’s ‘I was at Home, but’ is the most audacious, wildly original and sombre mood piece puzzle that challenges the traditional narrative. It’s a perplexing and opaque family drama consisting of long, laconic takes with striking visuals and non-existent of the formal plot. It demands complete submission into its spiritual arc that often communicates through the cold but moving poetic visuals and strong subtext probing deep into the psychology of the characters. After having disappeared for a week in the lush forest, a 13-year-old boy, Phillip, returns home one day without saying a word, and the plot follows the family dealing with Phillip’s return.
2. Lara | Jan Ole Gerster
Even though the critics are divided on Jan Ole Gerster’s sombre film ‘Lara’, the cost of humiliation and criticism in order to push someone can adversely change the discourse of someone’s life make ‘Lara’ even more potent and must watch. It’s a powerful film, a haunting piece that would pierce in your conscience and question that one moment when you thought of giving up on something you were passionate about. It takes a grip of its audience’s heart right at the start and refuses to let go till long after the credits roll. Haunting, mesmerizing, and infinitely beautiful. A tour de force.
1. All Good | Eva Trobisch
Eva Trobisch debut film “Alles Ist Gut” is a rare Netflix Original to have slipped through the cracks into oblivion that needs your utmost attention. It deals with a conundrum of the post-traumatic stress after a raped woman who initially finds it hard to come to terms of what happened to her. It is artfully restrained, incredibly acted and masterfully edited. The film-maker from East Berlin, Eva Trobisch weaves a mature narrative having psychological complexity that would leave its audience distressed. Available on Netflix.