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Underappreciated movies you missed in 2019

With each new year comes hundreds of new films — from the big-budget blockbusters (Captain Marvel! Avengers: Endgame! Spider-Man: Far From Home! Shazam!, no extra exclamation actually needed!) to action flicks that get your heart racing and horror pics that threaten to stop your heart entirely and everything in between. 2019 is no exception to this standard, maintaining the content surplus from years past and even cranking it up a notch. Movie lovers have to carve out more time than ever in their busy schedules to see all the films they've been waiting patiently for (like those superhero movies we all love to theorize about for months, sometimes a full year, before they launch in theaters). And that means audiences have little extra room to catch movies that haven't been plastered on billboards, posters, and screens ahead of their debut.

Just as the masses missed out on gems like The Endless, Bomb City, Border, Thunder Road, Shirkers, and so many more in 2018, they've completely passed by some truly fantastic films in 2019. Being your go-to place for all things entertainment, we are here to rectify that oversight. Let us revamp your radar with a comprehensive list of all the underappreciated movies you may have missed this year — and are bound to rave about to everyone you know as soon as you finally see them.

The Kid Who Would Be King

If 2019 had gone differently, The Kid Who Would Be King would be the king of the box office. Alas, this year wasn't kind to The Kid Who Would Be King, which went largely unnoticed in cinemas. Written and directed by Ant-Man scribe and Attack the Block filmmaker Joe Cornish, The Kid Who Would Be King takes a familiar tale and gives it a modern facelift. Viewers watch as 12-year-old student Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, the son of director and motion-capture genius Andy Serkis) discovers he's the sole person on the planet who can swing the mythical sword of King Arthur, Excalibur, out from its stone — the weapon that can vanquish the sinful sorceress Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Alex gathers up his friends (and frenemies) to serve as his knights, and the whole crew enlists the aid of the backwards-aging wizard Merlin (Patrick Stewart and Angus Imrie) to help take down Morgana before an impending solar eclipse allows her to assume her highest form and enslave the people of England.

Whether marketing was to blame or it was a case of other movies (like fellow January releases Glass and Serenity) drawing viewers away from The Kid Who Would Be King, the movie wound up a critical success but a commercial failure. Though the movie lost tens of millions, reviewers praised it as an inventive take on an Arthurian legend that's "sentimental in all the right places and impossible to dislike."

Fighting with My Family

Who would've thought that the goofy guy from the British version of The Office would write and direct one of the most delightful films of 2019 — and one about the WWE career of professional wrestler Paige?  Surprising as it sounds, Stephen Merchant pulled it off with Fighting with My Family, the biographical sports comedy-drama that follows Saraya Bevis (Florence Pugh) as she moves from bickering with her brother Zak (Jack Lowdon) to making her dreams of WWE stardom come true with the help of her working-class family of wrestlers, including mom Julia (Lena Headey) and dad Patrick (Nick Frost).

When Saraya, now fighting under the ring name Paige after her favorite character from Charmed, gets the opportunity to participate in a lucrative WWE training program — a spot her brother didn't snag after failing to impress WWE trainer Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) — she embarks on a personal journey that sees her fighting for her family instead of just fighting with them.

Certainly not your typical biopic, Fighting with My Family quickly won over audiences — well, at least the ones who knew about the film before it opened in theaters in late February. Limited promotion and an initial limited release may have kept you away from Fighting with My Family, but its scrappy spirit and heartwarming story (plus the inclusion of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) will pull you in, and have you agreeing that this is "the feel-good comedy of the year."

Paddleton

Debuting at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival on the first of February before making its way to Netflix just before the end of that month, Paddleton is an unlikely charmer about an unlikely friendship — featuring actors in what many might feel are unlikely roles.

The film, a comedy-drama directed by Alex Lehmann from a script he whipped up with actor Mark Duplass, centers on Duplass' Michael Thompson, who is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and carries on a strange and sweet "bromance" with his neighbor Andy Freeman, played by Ray Romano. Traditionally viewed as comedic actors, Duplass and Romano prove their dramatic chops as the two give themselves over to their respective characters in a way that's organic and affecting. The most impressive part of Paddleton, and the element that makes it stand out amongst the sea of other films about the big C-word? There's not a lot of dialogue — a reflection of Michael and Andy's shared distaste for small talk that guarantees every line of Paddleton is a meaningful one.

Both genuinely funny and genuinely heartbreaking, Paddleton will pull you in with its premise and hold you there with its tender relationship between Michael and Andy, its intimate atmosphere, and its moving ending. Queue up Paddleton for your next Netflix session (which, let's be real, is likely very soon) — just be sure to have a box of tissues at the ready.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Described by one critic as the "first excellent film of 2019," The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a pic you probably hadn't heard of until you stumbled across this article. No one can't fault you for that, as Standoff didn't generate much mainstream buzz. What it did do, however, is turn the heads of noteworthy critics and leave them breathless. 

Henry Dunham's feature directorial debut, Standoff brings ex-cop Gannon (James Badge Dale) out of retirement after he discovers that a mysterious man has shot up a police funeral. The clincher? The shooter belongs to Gannon's militia. Using his skills as an interrogator, Gannon grills each of his men until one of them reveals himself as the killer.

It's a little bit Reservoir Dogs and a little bit The Thing, but never feels derivative of either, always twisting away from the norm as it tells a story of complex masculinity and flawed morality.

The film opened in a limited capacity in the middle of January, a month in which many films get completely buried. The few who were able to catch it in theaters urged others to watch it in any way they can: "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is classic old-school thriller filmmaking ... well worth your time and hard-earned cash."

Egg

No, this isn't a movie that will teach you all the ways to cook an egg, or the proper protocol to follow if you want to keep your favorite breakfast food from turning green

Directed by Marianna Palka, Egg is a whip-smart comedy starring Alysia Reiner (Orange Is the New Black) as an artist named Tina and Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Deuce) as her onscreen husband Wayne. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) plays Tina's rival, the mother-to-be Karen, who spouts off cold remarks about how she pities childless people. Tina gains what she believes is the upper hand when she invites Karen and her husband Doug (David Alan Basche) to her New York loft to make a major announcement: Tina and Wayne are expecting via the bubbly blonde surrogate Kiki (Anna Camp)... who is ditzy but certainly not innocent. 

That's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to radical reveals in Egg, a fierce chamber piece that weaves through all the weirdness of what it means to be a woman and a mother, a "drama laced with unblinkered truths about the sometimes ruthless, sometimes warm-hearted ways that women see themselves and each other."

This kind of subject matter isn't everyone's cup of tea, of course, but critics are urging people of all types to see Egg. One wrote, "This film is wonderful for the way it takes you into yourself and exposes you to your own contradictions and emotions."

Arctic

Ah, Mads Mikkelsen. To some, he's the villainous Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. To others, he's the posh people-eater with the name far too close to the epithet he carries from Hannibal. And to Disney and Marvel fans, he's Kaecilius from Doctor Strange and Galen Erso from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But this year, Mikkelsen steps forward in a role you won't soon forget. 

The Danish actor portrays a man named Overgård in director Joe Penna's Icelandic survival film Arctic. Lost, alone, and running out of resources in the Arctic Circle, Overgård misses out on his chance of rescue when the helicopter meant to retrieve him crashes, killing the pilot and injuring a female passenger (María Thelma Smáradóttir). Overgård must make the difficult choice between attempting to survive within his self-built campsite, or trek across the unknown so he and the young woman can potentially make it out alive.

Mikkelsen has described Arctic as one of the most challenging projects he's ever been involved with, and critics have assured that the grueling days on location in Iceland were well worth frozen toes and loneliness, as the actor has arguably never been better.

"Mikkelsen gives an astonishingly expressive performance in what is essentially a silent film. You owe it to yourself to see this," wrote Seven Days' Rick Kisonak. "It'll be a cold day in hell before a better chronicle of cold days in hell comes along."

Don't Come Back from the Moon

Starring Rashida Jones as Eva Smalley and James Franco as her husband Roman Smalley, Don't Come Back from the Moon is as deeply affecting as its title suggests. The film, an adaptation of Dean Bakopoulos' novel directed by Bruce Thierry Cheung, angles itself from the perspective of the Smalleys' 16-year-old son Mickey (Jeffrey Wahlberg), who is grappling with feelings of intense abandonment after his father becomes the latest man in their California town to pack his bags and leave, vanishing without another word. 

It sounds like the logline of a new paranormal sci-fi series, but Don't Come Back from the Moon is rooted in a harsh reality: the fathers and husbands in the rundown desert community walk away from their lives because they have nothing better to do — because they don't care that they're leaving behind boys who must turn into men before their time, and children who don't know why their dads always end up "going to the moon." As Eva resists the urge to self-medicate with alcohol, Mickey looks after his younger brother Kolya (Zackary Arthur), explores his sexuality, and lets his angst manifest in a rebellious streak — the whole time weaving a tale that's "piercingly observant about the fragility of the family foundation."

Released in a limited run in mid-January, Don't Come Back from the Moon has garnered sweeping praise from critics, who regard the film as "poignant and visually striking," "an artful and affecting mix of harshly defined specifics and impressionistic storytelling."

To Dust

Like salt and coffee, chocolate and fried chicken, and hot sauce and ice cream, To Dust is the just the right level of strange that it actually works. But rather than its oddness turning people away, To Dust's has drawn them in. 

The directorial debut of Shawn Snyder, who brought the pic to Tribeca before rolling it out for a limited run in theaters, To Dust is an eccentric black comedy-drama with a Jewish slant: it zeroes in on Hasidic cantor Shmuel (Son of Saul actor Géza Röhrig) as he's grieving the passing of his wife, Rikvah, and experiencing unsettling nightmares about her dead body. Shmuel is desperate to end the madness that has overtaken his brain following his wife's death, so he recruits community college biology instructor Albert (Matthew Broderick) to help teach him about what happens to the body after death, aiming to determine when his wife's ruach (her soul) will unite with god and when her physical body will return to dust. Shmuel's religion views scientific thought as heresy, and yet he seems willing to be seen as a blasphemer if that means finally obtaining the closure he needs. The unlikely pair engage in some bizarre experiments and morbid misadventures (all of which are 100 percent not kosher) in efforts to soothe Shmuel's troubled mind.

To Dust is quirky and daring, charming and darkly funny, striking in all senses, and a film everyone should see – if only to bask it how strange it really is.

West of Sunshine

Moviegoers Down Under may have already caught this Jason Raftopoulos-directed drama last year, but those living Stateside didn't have a chance until January 2019. But even then, West of Sunshine slipped right under most people's radars and wrapped up its theatrical run before the mainstream caught a whiff of it.

From the arresting performances that real-life stepfather-and-son pair Damian Hill (who sadly died shortly after the film's release in Australia) and Tyler Perham give to the slice-of-life, scraggly-around-the-edges directorial style that first-time feature filmmaker Jason Raftopoulos implements to a story that serves as a "timely and intelligent essay on the eternal theme of how fathers can both inspire and alienate their sons," West of Sunshine has everything the audience will want. Critics agree: viewers will root for Hill's Jimmy, a gambling addict who has forgotten how to be a good father, on his journey toward redemption, and will be moved to tears as they follow Jimmy and Alex cruising around Melbourne, Australia and ultimately reconnecting with one another.

Like one critic said of the film, "In a sense, West of Sunshine is a coming of age drama, yet one where the adult learns how to take those first steps and fulfill his duty as a father. After you watch him do so, wipe those tears from your eyes, and be sure to hug your kids (if you have them), and tell your dad you love him."

High Flying Bird

Acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh is three for three in the "making movies that go underappreciated by most people" game. He delivered the grossly underrated heist comedy Logan Lucky in 2017, then dished up his psychological horror flick Unsane in 2018. And now, in 2019, Soderbergh has kept up the streak with High Flying Bird, a subversion of the sports movie genre that's ceaselessly stylish and respectably risky.

High Flying Bird details the plan sports agent Ray Burke (André Holland) carries out after he stumbles upon a loophole during a professional basketball league lockdown. Ray's discovery offers him three things: a chance fulfill his obligations to his young basketball client; a life-changing opportunity to advance his career; and the prospect to potentially shake up everything people thought they knew about an organization. 

Shot entirely on an iPhone (just as Soderbergh's Unsane was), High Flying Bird has the kind of sleek aesthetic and structure that will grab you by the wrist and send you down the rabbit hole.

The lovechild of Moneyball and Jerry Maguire, Bird hit Netflix's enormous content catalogue in early February, shortly after films and TV shows like Velvet Buzzsaw and Russian Doll launched at the very start of the month. Having too many options to choose from is likely why viewers missed out on High Flying Bird; the good news is that the fix to this is as simple as booting it up on Netflix.

The Breaker Upperers

As Thor: Ragnarok proved to global audiences in 2017, and as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople showed New Zealander moviegoers in the years prior, writer-director Taika Waititi's creative visions snap, crackle, and pop on the screen regardless of how he's involved in a project. Yet another film that evidence's Waititi's talents is 2019's The Breaker Uppererers, which he executive produced alongside writers, directors, and lead actresses Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.

Centered on a pair of romance-averse ladies (Sami's Jen and van Beek's Mel) who make a career out of their love-related cynicism by breaking up couples who are headed towards splitsville, The Breaker Upperers opened in New Zealand theaters in May of 2018, but only just made its way across the ocean and to U.S. Netflix in February of 2019. The buddy comedy was, sadly, hit with the same wave of content that swallowed it up and left it largely unseen — but there are plenty of testimonials from professional critics who can't rave enough  about The Breaker Upperers and can't overstate the kind of fun you're missing out on if you haven't yet seen it.

Graeme Tuckett of Stuff summed it up best: "The Breaker Upperers is the funniest and most likable film I've seen this year. Go see it."

Ruben Brandt, Collector

Like all the other underappreciated films you may have missed this year, Ruben Brandt, Collector is more than worthy of a post-release watch to make up for missing it in theaters. There is so much to love about the latest from director and animator Milorad Krstic: there's the art style that floods each frame with playful visuals and characters that look like they came tumbling straight out of Pablo Picasso's brain, the inventive story that follows the titular psychotherapist Ruben Brandt (voiced by Ivan Kamaras) who is tasked with stealing 13 paintings to finally put an end to the horrifying nightmares he's suffered since he was young, and the action that takes viewers around the globe to five famous museums — the Tate, the MoMa, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsem, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ruben Brandt, Collector melts into a mad-fun adventure led by Ruben, computer wiz Fernando (Christian Niels Buckholdt), kleptomaniac Mimi (Gabriella Hamori), bank robber Membrano Bruno (Henry Grant), and bodyguard Bye-Bye Joe (Matt Devere). As police try to crack the case of "the Collector," the film grows in fizzy wonderment to capture the thrills of James Bond, the mystery of Ocean's Eleven, and the action of Mission: Impossible — then packages everything together in downright delicious feast for the eyes.

Sit down with Ruben Brandt, Collector ASAP, and find out why Rolling Stone's Peter Travers described it as "a transporting and transcendent cinema marvel that re-invents what animation can do."

Apollo 11

With Apollo 11, director-producer-editor Todd Douglas Miller took a true-life story everyone knows and transformed it into an entirely new, absolutely breathtaking experience.

Featuring archival footage and 70mm film never before seen by the public, Apollo 11 chronicles the 1969 spaceflight mission (for which the film is named) that saw lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin and commander Neil Armstrong become the first humans in history to set foot on the surface of the Moon. History books and several past documentaries have taught the world about the Apollo 11 landing and return, but Miller's film sheds a unique and vivid light on the mission. Teaming with NASA, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the New York-based post-production company Final Frame, Miller crafted high-resolution scans of hundreds of hours of footage and obtained thousands of hours of audio recordings for use in Apollo 11 — clips that hadn't been viewed or listened to by the masses until now. 

What makes Apollo 11 even more striking is that it implements a direct cinema approach: it doesn't include any narration, voiceovers, or interviews beyond those found in the archival source material. This all comes together to create what critics have called "a visually outstanding and remarkably visceral piece of filmmaking" and the best thriller film of 2019

The Mustang

No, this film isn't about the speedy little Ford car often featured in the Fast and Furious franchise — and viewers will actually be happier for it. Directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, The Mustang stars Matthias Schoenaerts as Roman Coleman, a man who has spent the last 12 years in prison after he left his domestic partner with permanent brain damage. Though it's been over a decade since the violent altercation, Roman feels as if the darkness of his inner demons constantly looms over his shoulder. He's nearly given up on the idea of ever being a productive member of society again — but others haven't given up on him

A rancher named Myles (Bruce Dern) taps Roman to be a part a special social rehabilitation program that pairs select prisoners with wild mustangs, tasking the men to train the animals over five weeks leading up to an auction. Through the course (based on the Northern Nevada Correctional Center/Stewart Conservation Camp Saddle Horse and Burro Training Program) and with the help of his fellow inmate Henry (Jason Mitchell), Roman learns to control his own temper by calming a headstrong and hard-wearing mustang many believed to be unbreakable.

Given that The Mustang opened in a limited release, it's not difficult to see why the film slipped under so many people's radars. Now that we've filled you in on it, catch The Mustang ASAP and see why critics have praised it as "a moving look at human potential for redemption and rehabilitation." 

A Vigilante

Once declared Hollywood's wild new it girl, Olivia Wilde is far more than a pretty face and a cool attitude in writer-director Sarah Daggar-Nickson's directorial debut. She's a vigilante — literally. Wilde top-lines A Vigilante as Sadie, a domestic abuse survivor who commits to a life of retribution and vengeance as she saves those currently suffering from abuse and continues a years-long journey to find and kill her ultimate target: her husband (Morgan Spector), who is so vile that no one dares speak his name. Seriously, take our word for it: he's like Lord Voldemort times a million.

Evocative of other feminist revenge thrillers like Enough and Ms. 45 and in the same vein of vigilantism-focused works such as The Punisher and The Equalizer, A Vigilante is explosive, gritty, and oh-so-raw — a showcase of Wilde's top-of-her-game talents and an indication that Daggar-Nickson is a filmmaker to watch.

"Wilde's performance is so committed that there are times when you may fear for her physical safety and emotional health," Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com wrote. "A Vigilante... is one of those small but brutal films that major directorial careers are made from." Added The Young Folks' Brian Thompson, "Skillfully straddling the line between mourning and hope, A Vigilante delivers a precious commodity we too rarely see at the movies: sincerity. This is the kind of sleek, devastating character piece that indie directors build entire careers upon."

Dragged Across Concrete

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn team up to portray a pair of embattled police detectives in the grim crime film Dragged Across Concrete. Written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, the filmmaker behind one of 2018's most underappreciated movies Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete affixes its core focus on the act its title hints at: an incident in which Gibson's Brett Ridgeman and Vaughn's Anthony Lurasetti became needlessly and excessively rough with a suspect and his girlfriend during a drug bust. When Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson), the men's superior, views video footage of the act (which is later leaked to the press), Ridgeman and Lurasetti are suspended from the force without pay. With no means of legally making money, Ridgeman maps out a dangerous plan that Lurasetti reluctantly agrees to take part in. From there, things get really real, really fast.

While some might find Dragged Across Concrete too brutish and too mean-spirited (one critic wrote that the film is like a "nasty, nihilistic, nicotine-stained '70s death trip," while another said it's "not for feminists or liberals"), the majority of people who caught the film in its limited release were genuinely impressed by it. Clint Morris of MovieHole argued that "even the most detached and pessimistic of film-fan will be swept up in" Dragged Across Concrete, which he praised as "the type of sweat-inducing, white-knuckle chin-drooper that not even the securest of celluloid split air systems can quench."

Never Grow Old

Writer-director Ivan Kavanagh's Never Grow Old in three words? "Debauchery. Greed. Murder."

Starring Emile Hirsch and John Cusack, Never Grow Old is a  "dark and spare and blood-spattered Western" that centers on Hirsch's undertaker and carpenter Patrick Tate and Cusack's ruthless outlaw Dutch Albert in the formerly quiet town of Garlow in 1849. You see, Garlow's leader, Preacher Pike (Danny Webb), banned alcohol, harlots, and gambling throughout the town — which created a kind of peace begging to be broken. Cue the arrival of Dutch and his fearsome men, who enter Garlow to carry out a single mission. 

The cold-hearted Dutch doesn't intend to stay in Garlow after completing his deadly act, but he soon takes an interest in refilling bottles with liquor and the saloon with working girls. Dutch also finds himself drawn to Patrick, obliging the Irish immigrant to bury his many victims in exchange for blood money. Should Pat refuse, Dutch will come after his wife Audrey (Déborah François) and his children. It isn't long before the tragedies, the rising death toll, and Dutch's viciousness drive Pat to violence, ultimately forcing him to confront his own conscience and morality.

Like most films on this list, Never Grow Old saw a limited-release run and didn't generate much mainstream buzz. That's a shame, as the film depicts Hirsch and Cusack in ways audiences have never seen them before. Believe you us: you'll want to see Never Grow Old before you grow old yourself.

Transit

A gripping foreign-language film written and directed by Christian Petzold, Transit completely captivated those observant enough to catch it in its limited launch at the beginning of March. An adaptation of Anna Seghers' 1942 novel that brings the narrative to the present day, the film zeroes in on Georg (Franz Rogowski), a refugee fleeing to France from Germany as fascism rises in his home country. 

While in Paris, Georg is meant to meet a writer named Weidel, whose transit correspondences he had been carrying. But when Georg comes to find that Weidel has committed suicide, he assumes Weidel's identity, scoops up his belongings, and with a man named Heinz (Ronald Kukulies), boards a train to Marseilles, a port city teeming with other refugees. There, Georg ends up meeting Marie (Paula Beer), a woman in pursuit of her lost husband — the same writer whose identity Georg has stolen.

Described as a "timeless exploration of the plight of displaced people" and the story of "a man caught in purgatory considering the lives he could have had as a writer, doctor, father, lover before he's allowed to move on to the next phase," Transit is a film that will move, shock, and transfix anyone who watches it — and spread a powerful message in the process. As Film Inquiry's Lee Jutton wrote, "Transit cements Christian Petzold's status as a modern storytelling master. A film of surreal, sad beauty, it should not be missed."

Fast Color

One of the greatest superhero films of 2019 was one the vast majority of moviegoers completely missed out on. Fast Color, directed and co-written by Miss Stevens filmmaker Julia Hart, stars The Cloverfield Paradox actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ruth, whose seizures cause massive earthquakes, and Orange Is the New Black alum Lorraine Toussaint as Bo, Ruth's mother who has the ability to disintegrate and reassemble objects with her mind and to see "the colors" — vivid flashes of light.

When Ruth makes the trek to her old family home in search of shelter and to reunite with her mother and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), a series of events exposes her supernatural powers to the world. A scientist named Bill (Christopher Denham), the local sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn Ellis), and mysterious forces are after Ruth — who embarks on a journey of self-discovery in a film that winds up feeling just as much about superheroism as it is about family, secrets, and personal trauma.

Critics agree that Fast Color is a movie in a league of its own. The Movie Critic's Sean P. Means said of the underappreciated pic, "In a movie world overrun with superheroes, director Julia Hart's independent gem Fast Color delivers something even more fascinating: Characters for whom special powers are both a curse and a valuable tool."

Someone Great

A Netflix original that tragically slipped under many subscribers' radars, Someone Great is a cocktail of heartache, realistic female friendships, hilarious hijinks, and some raw truths that will hit close to home. 

The Jennifer Kaytin Robinson-directed film stars Gina Rodriguez as Jenny, who just broke up with her long-term boyfriend Nate, played by Lakeith Stanfield. Her next logical step post-split? Cry to Lizzo's latest album, sip on mimosas, and organize a night at the annual pop-up concert series Neon Classic — the last one she'll be able to attend in New York City before heading to San Francisco to work for Rolling Stone as the outlet's newest music journalist. Jenny and her best pals Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) spend the day of Neon Classic traversing across the Big Apple in search of all sorts of mood-boosters to prepare for their final hurrah, but they wind up getting a lot more than they bargained for.

Equal parts riotous and relatable, Someone Great should be the next Netflix pic you load up. Not convinced by our pitch? Take the critics' word for it: "Netflix's Someone Great is the new must-see breakup movie."

High Life

In a cinema landscape littered with space movies, High Life takes a giant leap ahead of the others in its genre. Unfortunately, many missed out on the visually moving, emotionally stirring, and deeply haunting film in favor of other movies that debuted on April 5, 2019.

Robert Pattinson leads the movie, helmed by 35 Shots of Rum director Claire Denis, as Monte, a man who is on death row for killing his friend when he was a child. Monte, his fellow inmates, and their criminal supervisor Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) are carrying out a dangerous mission in space, hurtling toward a black hole for reasons not initially explicitly known. The journey doesn't end well, and the path that the prisoners walk along is just as devastating. Told in a nonlinear fashion, High Life follows Monte as he attempts to learn what actually happened to the other inmates aboard the ship while caring for his infant daughter, Willow, who was born during the mission under chilling circumstances.

High Life isn't a film for everyone — there's a big divide between the critical rating and audience score on Rotten Tomatoes — but it's perfect for those wanting to experience something completely new. As The New Republic's Josephine Livingstone wrote, "High Life will send you back out into the world with a totally new idea of what black holes symbolize. It is an elliptical film, yes, because it will answer only the questions that you did not think to ask."

Little Woods

From writer-director Nia DaCosta, Little Woods paints Tessa Thompson and Lily James with a whole new brush. The pair, known for playing a Marvel warrior and a Disney princess respectively, portray sisters Ollie and Deb living in the boomtown of Little Woods, North Dakota. Desperately trying to make it to the other side of her probation after being caught running prescription drugs from the U.S. into Canada, Ollie dreams of a better life and is looking forward to landing a legitimate job in Spokane, Washington. The allure of her old ways tugs at Ollie — and when her mother's death reunites her with her estranged sibling Deb, the pull to get back in the illegal business proves almost irresistible. With just eight days left of her probation and one week to pay off the mortgage on her mother's home before the bank forecloses on it, Ollie must decide if she wants to continue selling prescription drugs under the table and carry out one last run without getting arrested, or if she wants to wipe her hands clean of everything in her past.

Little Woods didn't tickle the fancies of all moviegoers who saw it in theaters (there weren't many, considering its release fell on the same day Avengers: Endgame opened), but nearly all critics sang its praises, which are sweet enough to convince you to catch the underrated movie for yourself as soon as possible.

Shadow

Director Zhang Yimou redeemed himself for the truly terrible 2017 film The Great Wall with Shadow, the Chinese epic that critics say you have to see to believe.

Deng Chao stars as both military commander Commander Ziyu and Jingzhou, a man who was adopted when he was young for his striking resemblance to Ziyu. Jingzhou grows up in a secluded cave and trains to become Ziyu's "shadow" — his body double — to stand in for him should someone make an attempt on his life. His time strikes in a tense ancient China where King Peiliang (Zheng Kai) is clueless and craven, Princess Qingping (Guan Xiaotong) is unreliable, everyone wants a taste of power, and kingdoms are falling. Ziyu is a hero ready to battle against challenging commander Yang (Jun Hu), and Jingzhou is the man who must rise to replace him when things go awry. 

There's so much more to Shadow than meets the eye (like court intrigue, hopeless romance, fight sequences that captivate, and weapons that would make comic book villains drool with envy), but it's the exploration of yin and yang that makes Shadow unforgettable — "a masterful spectacle of human frailty and intellectual dishonesty that only grows in resonance as it goes along."

Booksmart

The comedy of the year, the film that "gives Superbad a run for its money," and "simply one of the best high school movies of all time" — these are all things critics have said about Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's directorial debut that, despite valiant efforts, didn't stand out at the box office.

The flick follows do-good best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who make the shocking realization that while they were hitting the books in the hopes of getting into good colleges, their peers were partying hard and gaining entry into those same universities. Motivated by a desire to prove themselves as carefree and a burning need to never be inferior to their classmates, Molly and Amy try to shove four years' worth of rule-breaking fun into a single night. As you watch the pair attend parties, learn new slang, get in trouble with the law, face their fears in more ways than one, and finally come of age, you'll laugh, cry, and wish your last day as a high school student was even one-tenth as interesting and life-changing as Molly and Amy's blowout envoi.

It's difficult to oversell just how incredible Booksmart is, how heartbreaking it is knowing that it didn't make tens of millions of dollars, or why you should see it, like, yesterday. So, we'll let Little White Lies' Hannah Woodhead do the talking for us: "Booksmart feels like a watershed moment for the next generation."

Echo in the Canyon

A candid celebration of the pop music boom in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon, Echo in the Canyon is a film whose title you probably didn't hear until this very moment. It quietly slipped into theaters on May 24, 2019 (alongside Disney's big-ticket Aladdin remake) and never registered on most people's radar. Anyone interested in learning how folk-rock music morphed into the signature California sound in the late '60s; discovering how bands such as the Beach Boys, the Byrds, and the Mamas and the Papas shaped a whole music movement; and bearing witness to never-before-disclosed intel on the groups that inspired generations — plus interviews with famed musicians like Brian Wilson, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, the late Tom Petty, and so many more — will find heaven in this documentary written and directed by Andrew Slater. Not only will it move and delight you, but it will also leave you humming the tune of "Good Vibrations" for days on end. It's a win-win if we've ever heard one.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Exalted as "one of the best movies of 2019 by a long shot," if not the top film of the year, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a rousing, soul-stirring, haunting effort from Joe Talbot. Talbot makes his directorial debut with this drama partly based on the life of Jimmie Fails, a black man trying to reclaim his childhood home in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, California. Jimmie's best friend Montgomery "Mont" Allen, played by White Boy Rick and Captive State actor Jonathan Majors, accompanies him on his quest to recoup ownership over the Victorian house his grandfather built. What follow are discoveries about identity, truth, and belonging in a city they no longer feel has any space for them. 

The film — which also stars powerhouse talents like Danny Glover, Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, Rob Morgan, Thora Birch, and Finn Wittrock — left critics moved when A24 released it in a limited launch on June 7. Its scenes filmed and its story told beautifully, The Last Black Man in San Francisco bursts with emotion, grapples with life truths that will resonate with audiences of all sorts, and has the makings of an unforgettable classic. The pic definitely isn't one to miss (though many did miss out on it when it hit cinemas), so catch it as soon as you can.

Wild Rose

Step aside, A Star Is BornWild Rose is here to take your glory. 

An invigorating take on the star-is-born tale, Wild Rose puts aspiring country star Rose-Lynn Harlan (Jessie Buckley) up on stage, then draws the curtain back to show what life beyond the twangy tunes and cowboy boots is really like. You see, Rose-Lynn isn't your typical doe-eyed country musician with a dream in her heart and a guitar in her hand — she's also Scottish, an ex-convict, and the mother of two children. Struggling to make ends meet, to avoid falling back into the habits that landed her in jail in the first place, and to realize her ultimate goal of becoming the next Dolly Parton, Rose-Lynn hits a crossroads when the doors that lead to a better life finally open... and draw her away from her kids. 

After Entertainment One rolled out Wild Rose in U.K. cinemas in April, NEON put the flick into stateside theaters in June. Sadly, Wild Rose had a limited release and went up against the mammoth Toy Story 4 and the Child's Play remake, which both debuted on June 21. Those who did show up to a screening of Wild Rose fell head over heels for it and for lead actress Buckley. As critic Mike McGranaghan wrote, "On its own, the movie is an entertaining music drama that's worth seeing. Anchored by Jessie Buckley's riveting work, however, it becomes a touching, inspiring tale with singing that'll blow you away."

American Woman

From writer/director Jake Scott and fellow scribe Brad Ingelsby comes a touching drama that follows a single mother named Debra Callahan (Sienna Miller) in the time after her teenage daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira) vanishes under strange circumstances, leaving her to raise her infant grandson, Jesse. Spread across various points in Debra's life in the 11 years from 2003 to 2014, American Woman tells a tale of hardships, never losing hope, young motherhood (and young grandmotherhood), familial bonds (with Christina Hendricks playing Debra's more straight-laced sister Katherine), and how the truth can both heal and hurt. 

American Woman barely made any noise at the box office, earning just over $230,000 domestically, but kicked up a stir in critical response. Giving much praise to Miller's "genuinely stunning performance" that Tomris Laffly described as pulling from "Patricia Arquette from Boyhood, Frances McDormand's Mildred from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Angelina Jolie's Christine Collins from Changeling," reviewers were taken with American Woman — and we know you will be too.

Framing John DeLorean

You know the name from Back to the Future, but do you know the man who brought it to life? The double-gull-wing-doored DeLorean is an icon of pop culture, and its creator, the engineer and executive John DeLorean, has been both famous and infamous. Framing John DeLorean explains why. 

An engrossing documentary from filmmakers Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, Framing John DeLorean chronicles DeLorean's rise through General Motors and to the height of U.S. auto industry ingenuity, followed by his jaw-dropping fall when he was arrested for trafficking cocaine. The film takes an interesting approach to the documentary genre, stitching together archival footage of DeLorean and the people in his life with scenes performed by Alec Baldwin as the DeLorean Motor Company founder whose want for the American Dream got the best of him. 

Also starring Deadpool's Morena Baccarin as DeLorean's one-time wife Cristina Ferrare, Framing John DeLorean gripped audiences at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2019, but didn't attract many moviegoers or much money during its theatrical run that started on June 7. This was down to box office competition (hello, The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Dark Phoenix) and a lack of big-budget marketing. It's a darn shame, as critics have called it "an excellent film that leaves no stone uncovered in its pursuit of peeling back the layers of a genius who turned corrupt."

Plus One

With the releases of Long Shot, Someone Great, and Always Be My Maybe, this year has shown that the rom-com is back and better than ever. Fresh-faced directing duo Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer kept the momentum going with Plus One, their Tribeca Film Festival darling that went underappreciated by mainstream moviegoers. 

Plus One stars Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine as Ben and Alice, single college pals who are dreading the upcoming summer wedding season. To avoid the awkwardness they know is coming and to skirt around the incessant "Who are you seeing these days?" questions as everyone in their lives is falling in love, Ben and Alice partner up and agree to be each other's dates to the many, many weddings they're set to attend. Through vows and speeches, commemorative photo-booth sessions and dances, and plenty of opportunities for one-night stands, the two realize that their happily ever after could be with one another. 

If you were like most other people in the world and missed out on Plus One, never fear — the flick is already available on VOD and Digital. Snatch it up and discover the feel-good fun of the relatable rom-com comeback.

The Farewell

If you loved Awkwafina in Ocean's 8, then fell fully head over heels for her in Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell will solidify your adoration for the comedian-turned-actress (soon to enter the MCU in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). The film, a moving comedy-drama from writer-director Lulu Wang, isn't a film one would normally associate with Awkwafina. That makes it all the more impressive that she brings an astonishingly dynamic performance to The Farewell that makes it completely irresistible. 

Released by A24 in a limited run on July 12, The Farewell centers on Awkwafina's Billi, an aspiring Chinese American writer, and her family, who are shocked to learn that their beloved Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) — Mandarin for "grandmother" — is dying. Billi's parents Haiyan (Tzi Ma) and Jian (Diana Lin) notify her just days after she's turned down for a writing grant that Nai Nai has terminal lung cancer and only a few months left to live. 

Billi's family decides not to tell Nai Nai of her impending fate. They repeatedly deceive the ailing woman in an effort to realize the old adage about ignorance being bliss, ultimately scheduling a wedding for Billi's cousin Hao Hao (Chen Han) as a way to unite the family for one last celebration before Nai Nai passes. However, Billi is uneasy about lying to her grandmother and ends up disobeying her family's request, showing up in China to rock the boat. 

Sea of Shadows

From director Richard Ladkani comes a documentary that's been heralded as "heroic and heartrending," "an engrossing portrait of mankind's encroaching, self-inflicted demise, with moneyed interests leading us, like the pied piper, off the cliff and into the sea."

Sea of Shadows focuses on a group of scientists, undercover agents, journalists, and conservationists during the tense time after drug cartels from Mexico and traffickers from China banded together, headed to the Sea of Cortez, and began poaching the totoaba fish, a once-abundant species that has now become endangered. But it isn't just the totoaba population that is threatened by these poaching methods — the entire ocean is, especially the endangered whale species, the vaquita porpoise. Along with members of the Mexican Navy, the crew of dedicated people embark on a mission to save the vaquitas and put a stop to the criminals endangering innocent marine animals. 

The documentary, backed by National Geographic Documentary Films, saw a limited release in mid-July, when it slipped under everyone's radar. An eye-opening exposé that has a lot of heart, Sea of Shadows isn't one to miss. 

Sword of Trust

An antique sword your deceased family member insisted was proof the southern states won the U.S. Civil War is probably the last thing you'd ever think would be passed down to you when your grandfather dies. But that's exactly what Cynthia (Workaholics favorite Jillian Bell) inherits in Sword of Trust. The film sees Cynthia and Mary (Saturday Night Live alum Michaela Watkins) heading to a pawn shop run by the ill-tempered Mel (GLOW's Marc Maron) to see if they can swap the strange sword for some actual cash — you know, something that would be more useful to Cynthia. Mel and his juvenile assistant-slash-sidekick Nathaniel (Molly's Game actor Jon Bass) soon discover that the relic is worth a lot of money... to people who want to prove that the South actually did win the Civil War. The two men are bent on selling the sword to the highest bidder, and they join forces with Cynthia and Mary on a journey through wild conspiracy theories and even weirder potential buyers. 

Sword of Trust hit theaters in the mid-July box office lull, after Spider-Man: Far from Home swung into cinemas and before things heated up with the late July launch of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Most people missed Sword of Trust, which is a crying shame considering it features Maron at the top of his game and offers some spot-on commentary about the current state of the world.

The Great Hack

Raise your hand if you've ever received a targeted ad on your social media that has convinced you that the government is tracking your every move online, or that there's an FBI agent assigned to your devices, or that your phone is recording your conversations and companies are selling that data to advertisers. That experience — something to which everyone can, terrifyingly, relate — is at the heart of The Great Hack, a grossly underrated Netflix documentary that explores the many sides of one of the biggest data and privacy breaches in recent history. 

Co-directed by Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, The Great Hack bobs and weaves through the dark underbelly of data exploitation. Along the way, it explains how business conglomerates, hackers, and entire governments are buying, selling, trading, and weaponizing data to start cross-cultural and political wars. The doc also uncovers the harrowing details of the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the British political consulting firm was found to have mined and brokered data from millions of Facebook users without their consent to use for political advertising. 

The Great Hack is every bit as chilling as it sounds, and critics are urging everyone to give it a watch. Load it up the next time you sign into Netflix (which we know will be soon) and prepare to be alarmed.

Crawl

Step aside, Jaws. The best new disaster-film-slash-creature-feature on the block is Crawl. Set in Florida during a Category 5 hurricane, Crawl follows aspiring college swimmer Haley (Kaya Scodelario) fending off a horde of alligators who are out for blood. Haley has ignored orders to evacuate the state, as she wanted to find her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), and bring him to safety. She does eventually find him... unconscious in the crawl space of their family home. When she races down to retrieve him, they both become trapped by rising floodwaters and a group of vicious alligators. Time is running out to flee from Florida, and the threat of drowning and/or being eaten alive by the hungry gators grows with each passing minute. 

Unlike most of the movies on this list, Crawl actually scored a wide release (through Paramount Pictures, no less), but that didn't help the film rope in a huge audience. It went mostly unnoticed at the box office, raking in only $55 million worldwide. It did, however, kick up a ton of talk among critics, who have praised it as "a lean-and-mean thriller" and a film that's "beautifully crafted, immaculately paced, and genuinely shocking."

Brittany Runs a Marathon

For some, running a marathon is the ultimate fitness goal. For others, it's a way to push themselves beyond their self-imposed limits. For Jillian Bell's Brittany Forgler in the little-seen comedy-drama Brittany Runs a Marathon, running for 26.219 miles straight is a nightmare scenario. But when her hard-partying nights and Adderall-abusing days, mixed with her love of red wine and devilishly delicious foods, see her in a doctor's office on the receiving end of a comment no one ever wants to hear — "I want you to try losing 55 pounds" — Brittany knows she has to get a grip on her health. 

Reluctant at first, Brittany takes up running, eventually going on group runs with her ostensibly perfect neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and meeting struggling wannabe sprinter Seth (Micah Stock). The trio soon form a unique bond, complete a 5K, and set their sights on running in the New York City marathon. 

Director Paul Downs Colaizzo's feature film debut, Brittany Runs a Marathon was a shining gem at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, but wound up getting out-sparkled at the box office when it opened on August 23. Whether moviegoers missed out on it due to its limited release, or overlooked it because there were so many other films out in theaters at the same time, Brittany Runs a Marathon went underappreciated by the masses. For anyone in need of a heart-warming, hilarious tale of triumph against everyone's biggest enemy — themselves — this flick is a must-see.

Blinded by the Light

At the intersection of Bruce Springsteen's heart-tugging lyrics and the life of a teen in 1980s England is a story of self-discovery, coming of age, and the transformative power of a chorus that begs to be belted out loud. From director Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light tells this very tale: contemporary rock fan and aspiring songwriter and poet Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra), the son of two Pakistani immigrants living in the south east of England, discovers Bruce Springsteen and is suddenly struck with a feeling he's never experienced before. 

Though "The Boss" and the wide-eyed teen lead two very different lives, Javed finds all too relatable Springsteen's lyrics of wanting to break free from his small town and make a name for himself. His parents (Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra) and his best friend Matt (Game of Thrones' Dean-Charles Chapman) may not understand, but Javed feels like he was born to run — outside the city limits of Luton, away from his traditional family values, and into a world where his dreams can become reality. 

Blinded by the Light hit U.K. cinemas on August 9, then arrived in the U.S. a week later on August 16, where it went largely unnoticed at the box office. That's a major shame, considering how many critics have sung its praises on high. Wrote The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern of Blinded by the Light, "'Nobody wins unless everybody wins,' Springsteen likes to say. This little movie is a big winner."

Give Me Liberty

Directed by Kirill Mikhanovsky, Give Me Liberty centers on medical transport driver Vic (Chris Galust), whose day gets thrown off track when he scrambles trying to get his grandfather (Arkady Basin) on a bus to the funeral of a Russian immigrant named Lilya. The morning complications cause Vic to be late to his paying job, and matters only get stickier when he learns that the bus scheduled to pick up his grandfather and his Russian pals to take them to Lilya's funeral never actually arrived. Along with Vic's clients — including the witty Tracy (Lauren "Lolo" Spencer), who has ALS — the gang of funeral-goers pack into the van. But with protests closing down streets, Vic's forced to take an alternate route. What follows is an off-the-rails ride filled with humor, heart, family (we even meet and Vic's mother and sister along the way), and a surprisingly profound commentary on the so-called myth of the American Dream. 

Most mainstream moviegoers had no idea Give Me Liberty was out in theaters, but critics didn't miss it. The film pulled in positive reviews by the bucketful, with FilmWeek's Christy Lemire writing that Give Me Liberty "pulls off a miracle," and The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney calling it "an underclass daytime version of Martin Scorsese's After Hours" that "reaffirm[s] the resilience of the American Dream even amidst spiraling disorder."

Luce

A gripping mystery-drama from director Julius Onah, Luce picks up ten years after the adoption of Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a bright boy born in war-torn Eritrea who has become a respected debater at his high school, an all-star athlete, a beloved member of his Arlington, Virginia community, and, of course, the pride and joy of his parents Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth). Luce's dazzling reputation takes an unexpected hit after he submits an assignment — an essay written in the voice of 20th-century political revolutionary Frantz Fanon — to his history teacher Harriet Wilson (Octavia Spencer). The underlying message of Luce's essay causes immediate concern, and when Harriet searches through Luce's locker to see if there are any clues to explain the young man's alarming remarks, she discovers something far worse than words on a page. 

Described by critics as "a powerful film that shows how far some will go to protect the reality they choose to believe," Luce bowed in theaters in early August 2019, remaining under the radar for the entirety of its run. With powerful performances from its cast and a story that will undoubtedly provoke discussion, this film is one to dissect and analyze. As Elements of Madness writer Douglas Davidson said of Luce, "In a tight 109 minutes, Onah puts into motion a film which examines ideas of racial coding, classism, parenting, academic excellence, nature vs. nurture, and more, all without losing an ounce of power or sincerity."

Villains

You know them as the man behind Pennywise and the breakout star of the paranoia-inducing horror flick It Follows, but Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe take on two very different personas in the Dan Berk and Robert Olsen-directed comedy-thriller Villains. This time around, Skarsgård and Monroe portray Mickey and Jules, a pair of amateur criminals whose dreamily-discussed gas station robbery goes less like a scene from Pulp Fiction and more like the sinking of the Titanic

The couple end up on the run, but when their car breaks down, they seek refuge at the home of George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick). Mickey and Jules break in, chow down on some cereal, and dabble in some drugs (since, you know, they're ne'er-do-wells without a lot of common sense) before they head to the basement and make a horrifying discovery. Before Mickey and Jules can escape the house they thought was empty, George and Gloria arrive. It's there where we'd cue the Kill Bill sirens: this home invasion just became a whole 'nother crime entirely. 

If this sounds like your cup of tea (or lukewarm Red Bull, like the stuff Mickey and Jules probably enjoy drinking) and you're now kicking yourself for not having heard of Villains while it was out in theaters, we don't blame you. Villains, "a stylish and savage battle of the bad guys" according to Morgan Rojas at Cinemacy, is undoubtedly one of the funnest movies of 2019.

Dolemite Is My Name

It's been a hot minute since Eddie Murphy put out a film worth watching. Critics put his two most recent films through the shredder, and it seemed that Murphy would never have a hit again — destined to be remembered as a talented comedian who lost his way... or that dude who voiced Donkey in the Shrek franchise. 

That changed with the launch of Dolemite Is My Name. This biographical comedy stars Murphy as real-life actor and singer Rudy Ray Moore, who gained fame for his over-the-top character Dolemite in the blaxploitation films Dolemite, The Human Tornado, and The Return of Dolemite. The flick follows Murphy's Moore as he discovers the key to success after a string of failures: craft the persona of a cane-carrying pimp named Dolemite. The plan works wonderfully — his scandalous records sell like hotcakes — and leads Moore to writer Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), actress Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), and director D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes), who help bring his dream of a Dolemite movie to fruition. 

Like the film within in the film, Dolemite Is My Name is a bona fide smash with critics. But unlike 1975's Dolemite, the 2019 movie that tells of its creation wasn't a box office hit in its limited theatrical release. It sadly went unseen by the masses, but those who did catch it had amazing things to say. "Eddie Murphy is back, baby," wrote The Washington Post's Ann Hornady, "in a performance so big and so generous that it virtually busts through the screen." Hopefully, the Netflix-produced biopic will find more fans on the streaming service.

The Dead Center

Contrary to what its name suggests, The Dead Center, the mystery-suspense film from writer-director Billy Senese, didn't end up in the dead center of moviegoers' radars. Where it did end up, however, was on the coveted list of perfectly rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes — and for good reason. 

The film stars Primer and Upstream Color director Shane Carruth as Daniel Forrester, a psychiatrist who takes on a peculiar case: a catatonic patient (Jeremy Childs) arrives in the psychiatric ward, unable to recall how he landed in the hospital at all. As Dr. Forrester attempts to connect with the patient, people all across the ward start dropping dead — and Dr. Forrester soon realizes that he may have unwittingly unleashed onto the ward something far more chilling than even the worst of his personal demons. 

Luke Y. Thompson at Nerdist gave The Dead Center a near-perfect score, writing in his review, "Writer-director Bill Senese proves himself a masterful new voice in terror, specifically the body horror kind previously dominated by David Cronenberg [...] You may come out of The Dead Center rooting for a sequel. I'm just rooting for whatever Senese's next movie is, even (especially?) if it keeps me awake at night."

Her Smell

Praised nearly universally by critics for Elisabeth Moss' "fantastic," "incredible," "gripping," and "fascinating" lead performance, Her Smell follows has-been rock superstar Becky Something, once part of the '90s female grunge band Something She, who now finds herself spiraling in the wake of her former success. Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, Her Smell is an unflinchingly de-glamorized look at rock and roll stardom and everything that comes with it, as Becky's fame and success is consistently undermined by her own acts of self-sabotage.

Also starring Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Virginia Madsen and Amber Heard, Her Smell challenges audiences who are used to seeing gritty rock biopics of both real-life and fictional stars play out a certain way. The typical tropes of addiction and recovery, frenzied highs and dismal lows, and the often-tragic tension between public persona and personal vulnerability are all there, but not in the ways we necessarily expect to see. 

Despite its positive reception from critics, you wouldn't be alone if you missed Her Smell during its limited theatrical run. The "thrilling, funny, and heartbreaking" film failed to sell enough tickets to even make up its modest budget, and much like Becky herself, is in danger of winding up obscure and forgotten, despite its artistic greatness.

Wild Nights with Emily

It's been a big year for Emily Dickinson, with the emotive poet getting the gleefully anachronistic TV treatment in the Apple TV+ series Dickinson, and also a feature film in the form of Greenwich Entertainment's Wild Nights with Emily. Starring SNL veteran Molly Shannon, Wild Nights with Emily recontextualizes our classic understanding of the famously reclusive poet. Although for many years, historians characterized Dickinson as a withdrawn spinster who rarely left her house and spent her life pining away for an unnamed man, modern scholarship suggests a very different version of the scribe, who actively pursued success and engaged in a passionate, life-long love affair with her sister-in-law, Susan.

This is the tale Wild Nights with Emily sets out to tell, one of romance and ambition and humor that pulls Dickinson out of the dust and shadows and paints her as a vibrant and vivacious woman full of dreams and passions. Shannon shines in the lead role, making full use of her comedic skills while balancing the humor with moments of seriousness and genuine introspection. Also starring Amy Seimetz, Susan Ziegler, and Brett Gelman, Wild Nights with Emily failed to draw a large crowd during its limited release, despite its positive reviews. Much like Emily Dickinson herself, it deserved better.

The Souvenir

Featuring captivating performances from real-life mother-daughter pair Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton Byrne (who also star as mother and daughter in the film), The Souvenir follows a young woman named Julie who forms an unhealthy relationship with a much older man while attending film school. Based partially on writer/director Joanna Hogg's own experiences at film school, The Souvenir weaves its narrative together using loose, dreamy stitches, relying on the audience to fill in the purposeful spaces it leaves as it skips through time in uneven strides. The result is an often painful and occasionally abstract coming-of-age tale that wrestles with addiction, ambition, and destructive romance that feels more like remembering an experience than telling a story.

Considering the wide discrepancy between the critical consensus and the audience reception, The Souvenir may not be the best movie night pick for a casual film fan, but committed cinephiles should expect to be blown away by its strong performances and expert filmmaking. While this critical gem didn't fare so well during its limited theatrical run, you can catch up with it in the comfort of your own home, since it's now streaming on Amazon Prime.

The Art of Self-Defense

In a world where superheroes dominate the box office and conventional Hollywood wisdom seems to posit that there is no problem so great that it can't be punched into submission, The Art of Self-Defense is a perfectly targeted throat-punch to the narrative of violent conflict resolution and toxic masculinity. Jesse Eisenberg stars as timid office drone Casey, who decides to take up karate after being mugged one night on his way home. At first, Casey is exhilarated by what he learns at his new dojo, internalizing every word uttered by his Sensei and practicing the techniques at home as his self-confidence skyrockets. But the more Casey immerses himself in his new world of fraternity and combat, the more he begins to question whether Sensei's teachings are really in his — or anyone's — best interests. 

A quirky, surprising comedy that delivers its funniest lines with the straightest of faces, The Art of Self-Defense entertained both critics and general audiences alike, but failed to make much of an impact at the box office. Perhaps it was drowned out in a crowded summer season, or perhaps the marketing wasn't effective in conveying the film's unique balance of sharp satire, physical humor, and biting social commentary. Whatever the reason, audiences mostly slept on The Art of Self-Defense, despite being hailed by critics as an "instant offbeat comedy classic."

The Peanut Butter Falcon

In an increasingly cynical cinematic landscape, it feels almost subversive that a movie as quiet, gentle, and kindhearted as The Peanut Butter Falcon exists at all. Starring Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Zack Gottsagen, The Peanut Butter Falcon follows Zak (Gottsagen), a young man with Down syndrome, who escapes the nursing home where he's being housed and sets off to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Shortly into his journey, Zak crosses paths with down-on-his-luck fisherman Tyler (LaBeouf), who reluctantly agrees to accompany him, and as the two travel together to Florida and work to get Zak in shape, they form an unlikely friendship.

Written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, The Peanut Butter Falcon was conceived specifically for Gottsagen, who wanted to be an actor but knew he'd have a hard time getting cast in Hollywood. Drawing from many of Gottsagen's own experiences and ambitions, the Huckleberry Finn-inspired narrative places Zak front and center, and Gottsagen shines as a leading man. It didn't attract large crowds during its theatrical release, but for those who did manage to catch it on the big screen, both audiences and critics agree that The Peanut Butter Falcon was worth the trip to the theater. "[He's] a born entertainer," Schwartz told /Film, speaking of Gottsagen. "[We] built a dance floor, and Zack just went out and danced."

Judy

The late 2010s boasted several major movies where current Hollywood stars did their best to channel legendary musical performers, from Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody to Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman, but one that slipped through the cracks for many moviegoers was Renée Zellweger's committed and compassionate portrayal of former Hollywood sweetheart Judy Garland in 2019's Judy. Focusing mostly on the last two years of Garland's too-short life (she died in 1969, at the age of 47), Judy is less concerned with its subject's early career and superstardom than with a woman struggling to balance her family and her legacy in the twilight of her life.

Although Judy received mostly positive reviews from critics, who praised Zellweger's performance in particular as "remarkable," "incredible," and "the performance of a lifetime," it was largely underseen at the theater. Still, for fans of Garland, Judy offers a powerful and compassionate examination of one of Hollywood's most enduring stars and most memorable singers, showing that even once she'd begun to fade from the spotlight, no one sparkled quite like Judy Garland.

Light from Light

When you think of Jim Gaffigan, your mind probably goes to food-based comedy way before paranormal drama, if the latter even occurs to you at all. But the Knoxville, Tennessee-based Light from Light was actually written specifically for the stand-up comedian, who stars as a man that hires a paranormal investigator when he thinks his late wife may be haunting him. "The way [Gaffigan] just talked about his life and work and different kinds of things, I just thought 'There's a complexity to him... that we hadn't seen on screen, and that that would be interesting to see,'" said writer/director Paul Harrill, who also directed the film. "And he also has the physical presence of the kind of character I was thinking of when I just started drafting."

The unorthodox casting pays off in a quiet, pensive film that's about grief and loss far more than it is about ghosts. Also starring Marin Ireland as the single mother whom Gaffigan's character hires to help him find closure with his deceased wife, Light from Light has been praised for the performances of its two leads, along with its sensitive and intimate examination of the idea of life after death. However, despite the largely positive reviews from critics, Light from Light was almost entirely missed by audiences, thanks to its extremely limited release and lack of promotion.

The Lighthouse

In 2021, Robert Pattinson will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to major franchise fare — after previously appearing in both the Twilight and Harry Potter films — when he'll star as Bruce Wayne in The Batman. Until then, he's keeping plenty busy with smaller, artistically ambitious films that challenge both actors and audiences alike, such as the black and white psychological horror film The Lighthouse. Starring opposite Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse follows a pair of lighthouse keepers who gradually lose their grip on sanity after a storm traps them on their remote island.

Directed by The Witch filmmaker Robert Eggers, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max, The Lighthouse is a surreal and disturbing "descent into madness," with standout performances from both Pattinson and Dafoe. It may be a little too bizarre for the casual film fan — one critic called it a "visceral assault on the senses," with others warning that it is "rough going" and "the opposite of a crowd-pleaser" — but these appear to be features, not bugs, playing into the overall effectiveness of the film. But while The Lighthouse performed respectably for a film of its size, it was still not widely seen by movie-going audiences as a whole, despite its warm reception from critics.

Jojo Rabbit

Described by writer and director Taika Waititi as an "anti-hate satire," Jojo Rabbit takes a bold swing for the fences of good taste in its depiction of a young Nazi boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) living through the waning days of World War II with his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler. Jojo's world is turned upside down, though, when he discovers that his beloved mother (an effervescent Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a Jewish teenage girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. At first, Jojo is horrified, having believed all the antisemitic propaganda he's been fed by the Nazi party, but soon begins to question whether the version of reality he's been instructed to believe is, in fact, true.

Waititi, who is himself Jewish, plays the imaginary Hitler with a hefty dose of irreverence, mocking the infamous dictator and imbuing him with a sense of half-witted goofiness while never shying away from the catastrophic effects of his horrifying beliefs and policies. This is the tricky tonal tightrope Jojo Rabbit walks throughout its runtime, attempting to perfectly balance its silly comedy with the gravity of its subject matter. It shouldn't work — reservations about the film's tone divided critics, and perhaps contributed to keeping the film's box office take surprisingly modest, despite its A-list cast — but audiences seem to agree that filtering its discordant narrative through the innocent (if deeply misguided) eyes of a child helps Jojo Rabbit find an enjoyable rhythm that, despite its wackiness, communicates a timely and earnest message about the dangers of hate and the power of compassion.

Motherless Brooklyn

Based on the 1999 crime novel by Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a private investigator with Tourette syndrome, as he attempts to solve the murder of his mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis), in 1950s New York. Following the clues that Frank left behind, Lionel winds up crossing paths with Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman working to prevent the destruction of low-income neighborhoods in the name of "urban renewal." But digging for the truth winds up unearthing some secrets that powerful people would rather keep buried, placing both Lionel and Laura in the crosshairs of some of New York's most dangerous players.

Motherless Brooklyn has long been a passion project for Edward Norton — who also wrote, directed, and produced the film — and boasts an impressive cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Cherry Jones, and Michael Kenneth Williams. Although the critical reception was somewhat mixed, which could have contributed to the film's disappointing box office performance, reviews praised the film's strong performances, atmospheric setting, and smart writing. Writes one critic, "Motherless Brooklyn is a love-letter to the long-held focus across film noir on masculinity in crisis, but through Lethem's source material and Norton's deep engagement with it, something genuinely fresh explodes out of seemingly familiar material."

Dark Waters

Inspired by a true story that should be shocking, but is becoming sadly less so with every news cycle, Dark Waters stars Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott, the lawyer who helped draw a connection between a series of unexplained deaths in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and DuPont, one of America's most powerful corporations. What started as an investigation into the pollution affecting the health of a single town eventually spirals into the realization that DuPont's use of unregulated chemicals in their products is likely poisoning most of the people on the planet. Bilott then embarks on what turns into a years-long quest to hold DuPont accountable for their actions and get justice for the people of Parkersburg, even as his mission threatens to cost him everything.

An outspoken environmental advocate himself, Ruffalo is the ideal person to lead Dark Waters, bringing his own authentic and determined zeal to his portrayal of Bilott. Ruffalo is joined by a powerhouse supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway as Bilott's wife, Sarah, Tim Robbins as his supervisor, and Victor Garber as DuPont attorney Phil Donnelly. But despite the strong cast, compelling subject matter, and positive reception from both critics and audiences, Dark Waters failed to make a dent at the box office, likely due to debuting in December of 2019 alongside some of the year's biggest blockbusters.

A Hidden Life

Based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II, A Hidden Life examines history's most infamous war through the eyes of a soft-spoken conscientious objector. Written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick, A Hidden Life stands solidly behind its principles, weaving themes of faith, love, and quiet resistance into its moving tale. Unlike many of Malick's previous films, which boasted the talent of some of Hollywood's biggest stars, A Hidden Life doesn't include any names that will be familiar to American households among its cast, which is led by German actor August Diehl as Jägerstätter.

Critics have praised A Hidden Life for its sensitive portrayal of a little-known story, with The Washington Post writing, "A Hidden Life is indisputably the finest work Malick has produced in eight years, as an examination of faith, conviction and sacrifice, but also as proof of concept for his own idiosyncratic style." But due to its lack of recognizable stars, subdued marketing, and its release into a tumult of holiday and awards-season heavy hitters, it's not surprising if you didn't manage to catch it in theaters in 2019.

Waves

Featuring an impressive ensemble cast that includes Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (It Comes at Night), Sterling K. Brown (This is Us), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Broadway's Hamilton), Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), and Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird), Waves follows a black suburban family in South Florida as they struggle to cope in the wake of one of their own committing a terrible crime. The emotional tale wrestles with good intentions and horrific mistakes, forgiveness and consequences, and the cost of compassion as it follows the various members of the Williams family in their attempts to find peace.

Earning favorable reviews from both critics and audiences, Waves was described as "beautiful and pensive and heartbreaking" by The Chicago Sun-Times, while TIME praised Russell's performance in particular as "a rush of wind on a dry, hot day, the blessing you didn't know you needed." But despite the positive press, the turbulent family drama didn't make many waves at the box office when it hit theater screens in November of 2019, most likely due to its limited release and restrained marketing campaign.

Honey Boy

On paper, Honey Boy seems like the type of film that shouldn't work at all, the type of self-indulgent and overly personal fare that is much more therapeutic for the filmmaker than entertaining for an audience. And yet, somehow, the Shia LaBeouf-penned film (in which he also stars as his own father) manages to defy expectations, delivering a deeply personal and introspective film that also works as a nuanced examination of a dysfunctional father-son relationship and a thoughtful commentary on child actors in Hollywood.

In a loose recounting of LaBeouf's own childhood, Honey Boy mostly follows 12-year-old television star Otis (Noah Jupe), who lives his life between comedy sets and a seedy motel room, which he shares with his father, James, a former rodeo clown who now makes his living as Otis' chaperone. James is several years sober, but still fails to give Otis the love and affection he craves, offering up hefty helpings of criticism and outright hostility instead. Yet, as the adult Otis (Lucas Hedges) reflects from rehab (the setting in which LaBeouf also wrote the screenplay), he can't completely write his father off, much as he may want to, and still finds himself yearning for some sense of connection.

Both critics and audiences heaped praise upon Honey Boy, hailing LaBeouf's and Jupe's performances and marveling at the depth and honesty of LaBeouf's writing. Fortunately for the majority of people who missed Honey Boy in theaters, the film will begin streaming on Amazon Prime in February of 2020.

The Two Popes

Based on the play The Pope by Anthony McCarten (who also wrote the screenplay), The Two Popes centers around Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), who would later go on to become Pope Francis. Frustrated by the scandals plaguing the Catholic Church in 2012, Bergoglio wishes to retire from his position as Archbishop, but can't provoke a response from the Pope, so he flies to Rome in order to speak to Benedict face to face and deliver his resignation in person.

What follows is a battle of faith and intellect between two formidable opponents who do not see eye to eye on a number of issues affecting the Church, but command one another's respect all the same. The ideas that are wrestled with in The Two Popes are lofty, but the strong performances of the two protagonists help filter them through a personal lens that feels relatable, in spite of the forbidding institution the characters represent. While certain events in the film are based on real happenings, others were invented by McCarten, although he said of his additions, "Hopefully that speculation is based in facts and the truth, and hopefully it's inspired." 

Reviews for the film were largely positive, with particular praise given to the performances of Hopkins and Pryce, as well as the screenplay's handling of its complex theological debates. Not a lot of people got a chance to see The Two Popes in theaters during its limited release, but the film is now on Netflix for anyone eager to check it out.

The Report

Adam Driver had an impressive year in 2019, dominating the holiday box office with The Rise of Skywalker and co-starring in Marriage Story, which earned six Golden Globe nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Driver. However, that same year, Driver also starred in a couple other films that flew under most people's radars, including the well-reviewed political drama The Report, which opened in limited release in November of 2019. The Report follows real-life U.S. Senate Investigator Daniel Jones (Driver) who led an investigation into the CIA's use of torture following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Beginning with Jones' inquiry into the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, The Report takes audiences through Jones' uphill struggle to hold the government accountable for their actions and make the public aware of what was happening in the shadows.

Co-starring alongside Driver in The Report are Annette Bening as Senator Dianne Feinstein and Jon Hamm as White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, along with a host of other recognizable faces. Most reviews singled out Driver's performance as exceptional, while many praised the film for its straightforward and relentless depiction of true events, with one reviewer calling it "a particularly timely reminder about the importance of the system of inter-governmental checks and balances within a constitutional democracy during a time when that system seems more endangered than ever." The Report wasn't in theaters for long, but fortunately for anyone who missed it, it's now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Clemency

At the same time that the Michael B. Jordan courtroom drama Just Mercy hit theaters, a different film tackling racism, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty also slipped quietly onto screens. Unlike the former film, we wouldn't be surprised if you've never heard about this one. Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, Clemency stars Alfre Woodard as prison warden Bernadine Williams, who is mentally and emotionally fatigued after years of carrying out death row executions. But now, as she prepares to execute yet another inmate (Aldis Hodge), Bernadine is forced to reckon with the toll her job has taken on her, and the connection she feels to the man she's required to kill.

Clemency only premiered in a few select theaters at the end of December, so chances are you didn't get a chance to see it before 2020 arrived. However, among the critics that managed to see it early, it's earning lots of praise, particularly for Woodard's performance, which has been heralded as "superb," in a film that "is remarkable for the understanding it affords to all involved with its wrenching subject matter." Writes Matt Fagerholm in his glowing review at RogerEbert.com, "This is screen acting of a very rare sort, and Clemency is a vital emotional powerhouse sorely deserving of being seen."