We already gave you Yahoo Entertainment’s official picks for the 25 best movies of 2019, from Joker to Knives Out. Considering what a great year it’s been for American and international cinema, though, there are many, many more we weren’t able to list. And, chances are, many more than you probably missed! Here are 16 underseen or under-the-radar titles that might have slipped by you in theaters, but are now available to stream for the holidays.
Alita: Battle Angel
The first collaboration between executive producer James Cameron and director Robert Rodriguez was a giant hit everywhere… except the U.S. of A. Alita’s $85 million domestic gross was a drop in the bucket compared to its nearly $320 million global earnings, which means there’s a sizable segment of the American viewing public who haven’t seen, and would really enjoy, this far-future sci-fi yarn, freely adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name. Boasting a breakout star turn by Rosa Salazar — whose big computer-generated eyes are the gateways to a soulful performance — top-notch special effects and futuristic production design, Alita wears its beating, earnest heart on its sleeve. Here’s hoping the worldwide affection for the film means that we get that sequel.
Barack and Michelle Obama are among the most movie-savvy POTUS and FLOTUS ever to occupy the Oval Office, and they’re continuing to flex their filmmaking muscles outside of the White House. In May 2018, the power couple signed a production deal with Netflix, and American Factory is the first in a series of feature films and TV shows they’re developing for the streaming giant. Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, the film chronicles two years at a Chinese-owned and operated glass factory in Dayton, Ohio that moved into a shuttered General Motors plant. Over the course of that time, the initially positive relations between the Fuqing-based management and the largely American workforce give way to animosity over productivity and working conditions, as well as a push to unionize. It’s a fascinating and troubling portrait of the future of work in an increasingly global economy.
American Factory is currently streaming on Netflix.
An Elephant Sitting Still
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman isn’t the year’s only four-hour meditation on crime and punishment. The first and only feature film by Chinese author, Hu Bo — who took his own life not long after finishing this magnum opus — takes place in an aging Northern China metropolis caught between an industrial past and an uncertain future. His four central characters are feeling trapped as well, stuck in place due to poor choices and poor fortunes. (The title refers to an urban legend about a pachyderm that resides nearby a more bustling city and stubbornly refuses to engage with the outside world.) An Elephant Sitting Still moves at a slow, deliberate pace, the result of the director’s stirring use of long tracking shots that contrast the intimacy of the characters’ lives with the expansiveness of the ruined city around them. Much like The Irishman, the final shot will live in your memory for days afterward.
An Elephant Sitting Still is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel.
Imagine Silent Running crossed with The Road, and you’ve got the general mood of this Swedish deep-space drama, which takes place entirely aboard a super-sized starship that veers wildly off-course en route to Mars. After a near-miss collision robs the Aniara of its fuel reserves, the passengers and crew are left to float in space, hoping for some manner of rescue. In the meantime, they attempt to keep society functioning smoothly — attempts that steadily break down as the years and decades go by. Emelie Jonsson’s nameless employee serves as our guide to this floating world, and her own fate becomes inexorably bound to the fate of the ship. If Star Trek provides the utopian view of exploring the final frontier, Aniara finds its power in presenting the demons and weakness that humanity might carry with them to the stars.
Aniara is currently streaming on Hulu.
The Beach Bum
Seven years after Spring Breakers, writer/director Harmony Korine heads back to the Florida beaches with Matthew McConaughey in tow. The Oscar-winning star plays Moondog, the poet laureate of the Margaritaville lifestyle created and endorsed by Jimmy Buffett. (Not coincidentally, Buffett is among the movie’s many great cameos, including Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill and a hilarious Martin Lawerence.) But when his wife and source of income (Isla Fisher) dies, this beach bum has to make a new life for himself… without changing his essential philosophy, of course. Egged on by Korine’s freewheeling directing style, McConaughey dives headfirst into Moondog’s larger-than-life personality, and the resulting performance — and movie — is a blast to watch.
The Beach Bum is currently streaming on Hulu.
Blinded by the Light and Western Stars (a.k.a. The Bruce Springsteen Double Album)
He may still pack stadiums and Broadway theaters, but Bruce Springsteen’s name wasn’t big enough to get audiences into multiplexes for a pair of hugely enjoyable Boss-themed movie offerings. Directed by Bend it Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha, Blinded by the Light takes place during Springsteen’s ‘80s heyday, when the Jersey boy’s rock anthems are discovered by Anglo-Pakistani teenager Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra, playing a version of screenwriter/journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor). Despite living in middle-of-nowhere England, the music and lyrics on such seminal albums as Born to Run and The River speak directly to Javed’s heart and inspire him to get out while he’s young. Springsteen himself is the co-director and star of Western Stars, a visual accompaniment to his latest record, which earned a spot on Yahoo Entertainment’s list of the best albums of 2019. Taking the stage in a seriously-outfitted barn, he performs all 13 Western Stars tracks, plus a killer version of “Rhinestone Cowboy,” because he’s just that boss. Reminder: these films should be played loud.
Crawl may look like a Z-grade creature feature, but it boasts serious horror movie pedigree. Produced by Sam “Evil Dead” Raimi and directed by Alexandre “High Tension” Aja, this woman vs. alligator yarn packs plenty of thrills — and some gnarly gore — into its taut, tense and trim 90-minute runtime. It helps that Raimi and Aja found the right human heroine in Kaya Scodelario, who battles a bevy of hungry, hungry ‘gators from the basement to the top floor of her dad’s house in the middle of a freakin’ hurricane. Outlandish? Maybe, but one of the pleasures of Crawl is the way it makes the impossible seem possible. “It’s a set of circumstances that could exist right now and that’s what made it so fantastic to me,” Raimi told us earlier this year. “And Alex’s direction is rooted in reality, which is the strength of the concept — that it could happen.”
Released in theaters a mere two weeks before the epic final issue that was Avengers: Endgame, Julia Hart’s intimate family drama/superhero origin story quickly found itself banished to the bottom of the spinner rack. Fortunately, it didn’t stay there for very long. The critics, moviegoers and industry executives that did make time for Fast Color have deservedly championed the film for its deft near-future world-building and nuanced depiction of three generations of women confronting their complicated past and even more complicated abilities. All that support paid off: Amazon Prime is currently developing a TV series based on the film. No time like the present to pick up Issue #1.
Fast Color is currently available to stream on Hulu.
Elisabeth Moss goes off the deep end — watch as she dives in — and positively soars in writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s propulsive portrait of a punk rocker’s harrowing trip to hell and back. Unfolding across five self-contained acts, Her Smell builds to a grand emotional crescendo that avoids the cliched narrative trajectory of the tragic artist. Perry surrounds his leading lady with a terrific supporting cast that includes Agyness Dean and Gayle Rankin as the long-suffering bandmates of Moss’s self-destructive frontwoman, Becky Something, and Eric Stoltz as the band’s hapless manager. But it’s Moss who rocks the mic — and the movie — in a career-best performance. If she ever wants to take a break from this acting thing for a singing career, we’d follow her band around the country, Grateful Dead-style.
We’re fans of The Devil Wears Prada. We’re fans of Lost Highway. And we’re super-fans of the combination The Devil Wears Prada and Lost Highway that is Peter Strickland’s deliriously bonkers In Fabric. It’s difficult to summarize this cult movie in the making, so suffice to say that the story involves a killer red dress, a demonic department store, Goth Gwendoline Christie and some seriously messed-up washing machines. Behind the camera, meanwhile, Strickland tosses David Lynchian dark humor (and abrupt narrative transitions), fashion magazine-quality clothes, smatterings of giallo gore and a wryly hilarious star turn by Marianne Jean-Baptiste into the laundry and sets the whole thing to spin cycle. The result is a kaleidoscope of crazy you’re not likely to forget anytime soon.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Every generation deserves its own version of the King Arthur legend, and Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King is perfectly geared towards the 12-and-under crowd. Sadly, parents completely blanked on taking their tykes to the theater during the movie’s blink-and-you-missed-it release last January. So, kids, it’s up to you to convince grown-ups that this delightful fantasy romp stands alongside better-known Arthurian cinematic yarns like The Sword in the Stone, Excalibur and Camelot. If it helps, you can also tell them that Wright is an obvious fan of ‘80s kids movies like Time Bandits and The Neverending Story and hit upon the brilliant idea of casting the one and only Patrick Stewart as Merlin. Jean-Luc Picard’s presence will definitely be enough to... engage their attention.
Five years after scaring audiences silly with her breakthrough debut, The Babadook, Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent returns to the big screen with a period drama that’s even more traumatic. Set in early 19th century Tasmania, the film follows a convict (Aisling Franciosi) who watches her husband and infant die at the hands of British soldiers and then pursues them through the wilderness on a mission of vengeance with the reluctant aid of an Aboriginal guide (Baykali Ganambarr). Shooting almost entirely outdoors with natural light, Kent wrestles with the legacy of British colonialism in the context of a bloody, brutal revenge movie. Whatever she does next, she has our attention.
The Nightingale is currently streaming on Hulu.
One Child Nation
Documentary filmmaker Nanfu Wang makes the political personal with One Child Nation, which examines the impact of China’s one-child policy on her own family and the country as a whole. Working with co-director Jialing Zhang, Wang speaks with men and women who remain haunted by the role they played in enforcing the law of the land, whether that meant forced abortions or abandoning babies to the elements (as her aunt and uncle did) or to human traffickers. The Chinese government officially discontinued the policy in 2015, but One Child Nation reveals how the after-effects will be felt for generations to come.
One Child Nation is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Mike Leigh elevates political discourse into a veritable symphony of dialogue in Peterloo, the veteran director’s expansive account of the events leading up to the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, when England’s ruling class let the nation’s army loose upon crowds of otherwise peaceful protestors. With his typically intensive and incisive attention to detail, Leigh depicts how this particular protest grew out of debates held among small groups of workers congregating in pubs and meeting houses, and steadily snowballed into a full-fledged political movement complete with marchers and music. While Peterloo refrains from directly commenting on 21st-century politics, any connections you may spot between the past and the present aren’t in any way accidental.
Peterloo is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home presented a (mostly) straightforward account of Bob Dylan’s rise from folk singer to rock icon. For this belated sort-of sequel, the director foregoes the facts in favor of the legend surrounding Dylan’s 1975 tour, known as the Rolling Thunder Revue. Weaving actual archival footage together with scripted talking head interviews — including Sharon Stone’s entertaining, but entirely invented account of a tryst with the singer — Scorsese turns the film into a fascinating piece of meta-commentary about the way pop culture takes on near-mythological status in the minds of those who lived through it.
Rolling Thunder Revue is currently streaming on Netflix
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