This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
Every year, more movies come out than anyone could watch. Some of these films are ones nobody will miss, but there’s also a hell of a lot of quality cinema that gets lost in the shuffle. For whatever reason, these films either don’t get a wide enough release, or have a strong promotional campaign, or otherwise fail to find an audience initially. Brilliant, visionary, and spectacular films fall through the cracks, and while this can’t always be prevented, it’s still a shame when it happens to one of your favorites.
The good news is that Rob Hunter, Luke Hicks, Meg Shields, and yours truly all watched a lot of films this year and we’ve compiled our tastes and takes into one handy guide of the best movies that went underseen in 2019. Each of these films made less than a million dollars at the US box office, which means you probably missed them the first time around, but it’s not too late to catch up. So without further ado, here are the nineteen best films that flew under the radar in 2019.
19. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Issa López‘s haunting horror fantasy is one of the most imaginative works in genre filmmaking in recent years. Though it allegorizes trauma through fairytales, it never sugarcoats the story of a young girl caught up in cycles of crime and brutality, desperate to break free of the circumstances that she and other children living on the street are subjected to. The film has a childlike vision, but make no mistakes, it pulls no punches in its depictions of violence. The film’s ability to continually pull at the heartstrings without veering too far into melodrama is admirable, and it makes Tigers Are Not Afraid a more than worthwhile watch. (Anna Swanson)
18. The Dead Center
A dead man brought into the hospital morgue awakes, and as if that isn’t bad enough he comes to without remembering the reason why he took his own life. Shane Carruth plays a psychiatrist trying to figure out the man’s back story, but time is running out as people in the hospital begin dying in mysterious and gruesome ways. Writer/director Billy Senese‘s feature is a delicious slow burn tale of possession, madness, and the danger of bringing things back with you from beyond death. It’s a low-budget affair, but Senese keeps the atmosphere and tension high while building to a fantastically grim finale. Fans of methodically paced terror should seek out this indie gem. (Rob Hunter)
17. The Nightingale
Weak distribution isn’t the only reason The Nightingale’s anomalous brilliance passed by the masses without a murmur. But its lack of distribution is a direct reflection of the inaccessibility of its subject matter. Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her widely praised debut horror, The Babadook, is not only the most disturbing movie of the year, but one of the most gut-wrenching, hope-swallowing, and nausea-inducing movies of all time. As in, Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom-tier fucked up. It’s like the violent, oppressive suffocation of Lady Macbeth and the sick, barbarian cruelty of 12 Years of Slave blended into a single tale that traces an obliterating journey of dehumanization. Set in 1825 British colonial Tasmania, the film follows a young Irish woman and an aboriginal man—both ex-slaves to brutish British officers—as they vengefully hunt down the military men that have ruined them. Kent’s screenplay and direction are astounding for those who can endure the film’s punishing nature, which is captured in several blood-curdling on-screen rapes and raw, rage-induced murders. Of course, with movies like these, the question always becomes: “Why does it exist?” In the case of The Nightingale, Kent uses the tale of a sexually-traumatized woman and an abused man of color to drive home the hopelessly cyclical nature of violence, imbuing disquieting commentary on the power of institutions and reminding us that even the catharsis of the revenge we primally crave is backward and dirty when achieved through means of violence. Or, as Audre Lorde would put it, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” (Luke Hicks)
16. Extreme Job
A narcotics squad hoping to score a big bust sets up a front near their target’s headquarters, but their ruse of being a fast-food chicken joint hits a bump when the locals get a hankering for their fantastic fowl. Their food is too good, and soon it’s attracting the attention of the wrong people. This South Korean action/comedy is a smart, fast-moving romp that finds big laughs in the predicament and ensuing banter while still allowing room for some fun action beats and character drama. It’s far from weighty, but the entertainment value is high with sharp writing and a talented ensemble cast bringing this motley crew to life. (Rob Hunter)