30 Great Movies You Missed in 2019

     December 31, 2019

You probably didn’t get a chance to see every movie that came out in 2019. That’s okay, neither did we. So while 2019 is about to come to a close with a few movies on our wishlist that we still have to watch, we’re looking forward to catching up with them on streaming, on-demand, or on home video releases. We’ve put together a handy guide of the best movies you might have missed this year to help streamline your movie-viewing.

Some of these titles started off 2019 and should be easy to find on home release while others only hit theaters a few days or weeks ago; you might still be able to see the latter on the big screen. But all of them are worth a watch for one reason or another, whether it’s to complete your Keanu Reeves film collection or to see just how awful a motion-captured CATS movie can really be.

And now, in the order in which they were released over the last 12 months, here are the best movies you missed in 2019:

Replicas

From The Best Sci-Fi Movies of 2019:

Keanu Reeves’ inexplicable cloning drama Replicas was originally completed back in 2017, and it took bold financiers a full two years to actually release it to the public. Reeves stars as William Foster, a “research scientist,” which is a term the movie loosely tosses around to explain Foster’s genius-level proficiency in virtually every conceivable area of science. He’s working on transferring the consciousnesses of dead soldiers into the bodies of unspeakably advanced androids. In a tragic turn of events, a hilariously abrupt tragedy kills Foster’s entire family, and he enlists the help of his assistant Ed (Thomas Middleditch) to clone them new bodies so that he might transfer their minds into them. Yep, there is incidental human cloning in this film.

 

However, Ed only has enough clone vats for three of Foster’s dead family members, so Foster chooses to leave his youngest daughter dead and erases her memory from the minds of his wife and other two children. Despite the bonkers set-up, it’s an admittedly interesting sci-fi premise – Foster is living in a house with three clones who do not know they are clones, have no memory of dying, and do not know they used to have memories of a whole other person. That sounds like a pretty classic Twilight Zone by way of Harlan Ellison story, right? Well, the movie goes in a totally unexpected and wholly unpredictable direction from there, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, what I will tell you is that it involves way more car chases and robot fights than I had any right to anticipate. It truly must be seen to be believed. — Tom Reimann

 

If Beale Street Could Talk

What’s most frustrating about If Beale Street Could Talk is that its goals are so noble. I’d love to get wrapped up in a story of two young people in love who must fight against a corrupt system so that they can be a free family. But movies aren’t taken piecemeal. They’re holistic, and while I can point to individual elements where Jenkins has made a strong picture, the overall picture is frustratingly scattered. You’ll get a scene where a friend of Fonny’s (Brian Tyree Henry) comes in to give a heartbreaking account of how the system screwed him over and tossed him in prison for two years for a crime he didn’t commit, and then that friend is never heard from again, rendered into an example rather than a person. You can see the broad outline of what Jenkins wanted to accomplish with If Beale Street Could Talk, but the inside is hollow. – Matt Goldberg

The Kid Who Would Be King

Thankfully, the film never feels preachy or pedantic because of the upbeat and fun tone. Imrie gives a scene-stealing performance as the young Merlin (the older version being played by an always-game Patrick Stewart giving the film a little of his gravitas) with his lanky frame and odd behavior as a man out of time. But the movie really belongs to its four young lead actors who provide the heart and humor that has you rooting for them every step of the way. The Kid Who Would Be King has no shortage of charm, and you always feel invested in the journey.

 

There are a few brief moments when the film drags a bit and an anticlimactic fake-out near the climax makes the film feel like it has to restart a bit to reach the end, but these are small qualms against one of the best kids’ adventure movies in recent memory. It’s a genre that has largely been abandoned as kids just head to PG-13 superhero movies, but it’s good that there’s a film like The Kid Who Would Be King for pre-teens who not only want to go on a fun quest, but will feel ready to take on a divided world as a result. – Matt Goldberg

Serenity

Be sure to check out the “Ending, Explained” here, because some spoilers follow below:

When you look at Serenity through the eyes of Patrick, it becomes a far more interesting, and far sadder movie. It’s about a son who never got to know his father, is now stuck with a man who beats him and his mother, and has to create a fantasy world where someone will come save him. For me, that’s far more compelling than “Will a grizzled fisherman kill his ex-wife’s abusive husband for $10 million?” That story is fine for what it is, but Knight chose to do something big and bold by using that thin story as a springboard for something more in line with science fiction than pulp fiction. I didn’t go into Serenity expecting a film where Matthew McConaughey questions the nature of his reality, but I’m glad that I got it even if it can be messy and nuts on the way there. – Matt Goldberg

Fighting with My Family

[Florence] Pugh continues to shine as a rising star, showing that she can dish out the quick-witted jokes while still maintaining the dramatic center of the movie. Even if you don’t have any interest in wrestling, you’re invested because Raya and Zak are invested, and the earnestness in Pugh and Lowden’s performances makes for a winning formula. Other actors, like Frost and co-star Vince Vaughn, who plays Raya’s coach, get to fire off a bulk of the one-liners, which allows Raya and Zak to handle the film’s emotional arc, and everyone does a terrific job. I will say that for those looking for a lot of Dwayne Johnson, who plays himself, will have to look elsewhere. He’s only in three scenes, and two of them are in the trailer.

 

There’s nothing unexpected in Fighting with My Family and that’s okay. It’s a sports story about an athlete who fights to achieve her dream. It’s worked before, it works here, and it will work again. Even the presence of WWE helps add authenticity rather than stealing focus and becoming an infomercial for the organization. I’ve never been into wrestling, but it doesn’t matter when you care about the characters and their fight to succeed. Throw in some good jokes and you have a winning combination. – Matt Goldberg

The Mustang

The Mustang is an extremely well directed movie, and a wildly impressive feature debut. The camerawork suggests that [Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre] knows her story and characters inside and out. Her visuals give the film a naturalistic vibe that enhance the experience tenfold. She also has a real knack for seamlessly guiding your eye through her frames, and most are doing much more than just showing you the main action. For example, the way she isolates Roman in certain scenes speaks to how he’s feeling, and mirrors his ups and downs throughout the story.

 

The Mustang turned out to be such a wonderful, extremely heartfelt surprise. I thought I had the entire narrative mapped out within minutes but between De Clermont-Tonnerre’s deft touch and the unforgettable lead performance from Schoenaerts, they were able to subvert most of my expectations, not with dramatic twists and turns, but with simple human understanding and emotion. It never makes excuses for Roman’s crime but it does challenge him to be a better person through a program that can make a real difference. – Perri Nemiroff

Triple Threat

If you’re a fan of the DTV/international action movie circuit, then Well Go USA’s Triple Threat has probably been on your radar for a while. The martial arts movie stars a squadron of genre greats, including Tony Jaa (Ong-Bok), Iko Uwais (The Raid), and Tiger Chen (The Man from Tai Chi), just to name a few. Triple Threat assembles its action hall of famers for a new adventure that follows a down-and-out team of mercenaries hired to protect a billionaire’s daughter that’s determined to bring down a crime syndicate. Then, they fight. Ah yes, they fight. – Haleigh Foutch

Hotel Mumbai

Sure, after two hours, the relentlessly grim film starts to feel oppressive, and you’re ready to escape just as badly as the hostages are, but that may just be a sign of a job well done and a commitment to realism. Some will yearn for an early check out, but I urge you to put up a fight and stay until the end, which resonated more strongly for me than Paul Greengrass22 July, which explores the emotional aftermath of such an attack. When the smoke cleared over Mumbai, it was discovered that half of all casualties were staff who gave their lives to protect the hotel’s guests. The “guest is God” at the Taj, and the staff sacrificed themselves in the name of that God—a sacrifice far more brave than that of the terrorists who were willing to die for their twisted beliefs.

 

Hotel Mumbai may not live up to the actual Taj’s five-star rating, but this Weinstein Company orphan (rescued by Bleecker Street and due in 2019) exceeded expectations and delivered the goods thanks to its dedicated ensemble, its confident direction and its commitment to realism, no matter how hard it may be to watch. – Jeff Sneider

The Beach Bum

From The Best Comedy Movies of 2019:

Under all of his absurdities, director Harmony Korine has a heart. In the case of The Beach Bum, that heart buried under a fair bit of surf and sand but believe you me, it’s there. Korine’s March 2019 release stars Matthew McConaughey as layabout poet Moondog, a Margaritaville wannabe who probably smells like a mix of Banana Boat and Hennessey at all times. Moondog is adrift, an addict who treats everyone as a BFF in the making and feels absolutely zero pressure to take responsibility for his life. His world rapidly derails when his ex-wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher) is killed in a freak accident during the couple’s wild night out on the town.

 

Even though The Beach Bum has its downbeat moments, there are tons here to lift it up into the realm of the absurdly hilarious. Trips to the surreal growhouse of Moondog’s friend (and Minnie’s current boo), Lingerie (Snoop Dogg), an extended sequence where Moondog helps out old friend Captain Wack (Martin Lawrence) swindle a nice family of four out of their money while on a marine life sightseeing trip, Moondog’s performance of some rather graphic poetry performance at his comparatively straight-laced daughter’s nuptials, and even his breaking out of rehab with Zac Efron’s Flicker (looking like the biggest South Florida scumbum to ever exist) are just a few of The Beach Bum’s most memorable and comedic moments. If you missed this one, seek it out on Hulu because it’s not only one of the funniest movies of the year but it’s perhaps the best introduction to Korine if you have somehow managed to skip his work all these years. — Allie Gemmill

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

[Terry] Gilliam has said over the years he was inspired by the original Don Quixote novel because of similar themes he saw in the book and in his own work. Those ideas may have been more prevalent in the earlier incarnations Gilliam tried to put to film, but they are almost completely absent here. Instead, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote feels like a slightly conventional studio tale, and you could argue next to The Fisher King it’s the most Hollywood movie he’s ever made.

 

Happily, there are moments when some of Gilliam’s wonderful imagination brings the movie to life. At one point early on, Grisoni wipes away the English-language subtitles for Spanish-speaking ones and says something along the lines of “we all know what you’re talking about.” And as the film progresses, the hallucinations Grisoni experiences become more and more beautiful to look at even if they are less inspired than you’d expect (it’s worth noting the film’s budget was reportedly under $20 million and the below-the-line talent wonderfully make it look like it cost significantly more). As the film drives towards its inevitable conclusion, though, there simply isn’t enough of the legendary Gilliam touch to really make you care.

 

But it got made. And Adam Driver proved he can carry a movie that a studio might have greenlit all on his own. And, again, it got made, right? That’s got to count for something. – Gregory Ellwood

Her Smell

From The Best Movies of 2019 (So Far):

Elisabeth Moss and Alex Ross Perry already put audiences through one excruciating topple down the rabbit hole of sanity with Queen of Earth and with Her Smell they deliver a hell of a cousin film, centered around the spectacular flameout and slow crawl back to stability for a ‘90s rock star. Moss is electric and putrid as Becky Something, a self-destructive grunge queen, beloved and enabled for her brilliance who’s spiraling out on drugs, unchecked antics, and buying the hype. Uncontrollable and unreliable, Becky is a terrible mother to her young daughter, abusive to her friends and bandmates, and dead set on destroying everything she has going for her. Perry makes you part of the downward spiral with intimate close-ups and mortifying reaction shots that refuse to look away, but it’s Moss’ unflinching portrait of Becky’s beat-for-beat breakdown and recovery that make Her Smell such a shattering portrait of redemption. Moss makes no concessions for vanity, and because of her bravura performance, Her Smell is among the most complex, challenging, and rewarding dramas of the year. — Haleigh Foutch

Hail Satan?

When Hail Satan? begins in Florida in 2013 with Greaves and his cohorts shouting “Hail Satan! Hail [Florida Governor] Rick Scott!” it’s funny and a clever stab at folks like Scott who want to establish their Christianity in government. But once you see that’s really the only trick in [The Satanic Temple’s] bag, you wonder where else the documentary can go, and it ends up going in circles. The film touches on TST’s charitable work and divisions between different chapters, but that’s not enough to make the documentary compelling. Maybe in about 10 years there will be a more interesting story to tell about The Satanic Temple, but in Hail Satan?, they seem defined by little more than a willingness to troll evangelicals and the media. There’s nothing wrong with that goal, but it’s not enough for a 95-minute movie. – Matt Goldberg

Fast Color

It’s also so refreshing to see a cast of primarily black actors who have powers and those powers aren’t used in service of the “magical negro” trope where the black characters exist only to come to the aid of a white protagonist. Instead, the powers these women possess are what tie them together, but also what separate them. Through these three generations, we see different struggles and different solutions. Although the world they inhabit is incredibly bleak (the fact that it’s presented so matter-of-fact makes the setting even more unnerving), their powers represent a way of moving forward. Just as they destroy and repair objects, the subtext is that they can heal a broken world, but first they have to repair a broken family.

 

For some, the stakes in Fast Color may seem too small for having superpowered characters, but that juxtaposition is what gives the movie its edge. Saving the world and nefarious government figures are background to what’s happening between Bo, Ruth, and Lila. There are enough movies where people with superpowers are tasked with rescuing humanity. Fast Color goes for something far more personal and unique. If you like your superhero stories done with intimacy and grace, you’ll want to make time for Fast Color even if it doesn’t feature name-brand superheroes. – Matt Goldberg

Teen Spirit

[Elle] Fanning has the innocent pop star look down, but her singing really impressed me here, and she supposedly performed all the songs live on her own, without any assist from Auto-Tune. She may not be the next mainstream major star created by the competition, but there’s a soul to her performances that suggest a certain longevity as an artists. And speaking of those performances, Minghella does a nice job staging the competition and making each one feel like a music video. He has a strong sense of visuals, and it helps that the film features the recognizable music of Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding, Annie Lennox, Tegan & Sara, Major Lazer and many more popular artists, which should up the buzz factor just a bit. Music supervisor Steven Gizicki deserves credit for curating the soundtrack, and the film boasts a score from Marius De Vries, who served as the music director on both Moulin Rouge and La La Land. Indeed, the latter film shares a producer (Fred Berger) in common with Teen Spirit, which also debuts an original song from Jack Antonoff titled “Wildflowers.”

 

Despite the Grammy-winning names and power pop ballads on its soundtrack, it’s important to keep in mind that Teen Spirit is a low-budget indie film, and Minghella makes the most of it. The story may be a bit conventional, but at least the director introduces several stylistic flourishes to keep things interesting, and the film never feels cheap. It’s a strong sign of things to come from Minghella, and I’m not surprised that the film was acquired for a reported $3 million during the festival. Just as Vlad saw (well, heard) something in Violet, I saw something in this movie, and predict that under the right circumstances, it’ll find a bigger audience than Fanning’s last few festival films. – Jeff Sneider

Under the Silver Lake

As Sam seemingly gets closer to determining Sarah’s fate the film somehow gets even more trippy, evoking – intentionally or not – earlier works set in the city by David Lynch and Richard Kelly. And, at worst, it’s now obvious that Mitchell’s talent lies with his eye and he fashions some striking images that will absolutely haunt you. That’s no easy feat considering how much is packed into Silver Lake to begin with. It also hampers Mitchell’s achievement because he doesn’t quite realize when to stop. He has so many ideas on how to convey his thesis they all begin to overshadow one another. This is where Mitchell’s directing prowess cannot compensate when his screenwriting skills fall short.

 

And yet, when it all comes together at the end he finds a way – in large part thanks to Garfield – to make you care.  And if you consider the long, almost hallucinatory ride you’ve been on up until that point it does make you step back and wonder. Throw in the fact you’ll likely still be thinking about it six months from now? Well, that might make Silver Lake just remarkable enough. – Gregory Ellwood

Tolkien

Tolkien explores the formative years of the renowned author’s life as he finds friendship, courage and inspiration among a fellow group of writers and artists at school. Their brotherhood strengthens as they grow up and weather love and loss together, including Tolkien’s (Nicholas Hoult) tumultuous courtship of his beloved Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), until the outbreak of the First World War which threatens to tear their fellowship apart. All of these experiences would later inspire Tolkien to write his famous Middle-earth novels.

The Sun Is Also a Star

It takes real talent to make a film look distinct. Sure, there are a variety of tools at a filmmaker’s disposal, and various combinations of cameras and lenses and lights that can create differing images, but more often than not—especially in the wake of the advent of digital photography—a lot of films have started to look rather same-y. Which is why the YA adaptation The Sun Is Also a Star is such a breath of fresh air. Not only is the film shot in anamorphic, but the image carries with it this lived-in texture that is at once cinematic and grounded, making this timely love story all the more realistic.

 

The Sun Is Also a Star is based on the book of the same name by Nicola Yoon and stars Yara Shahidi (Black-ish) as a Jamaica-born woman named Natasha who meets and falls in love with a college-bound romantic named Daniel (Charles Melton) in the course of a single day. However, as her family faces deportation and with hours left on her last day in the U.S., Natasha finds herself fighting against the world—and her own feelings.- Adam Chitwood

The Dead Don’t Die

Obviously, [Jim] Jarmusch is no stranger to using genre to convey a narrative.  He crafted his own interpretation of the Old West with Dead Man and played with Vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive. This time up he pretty much telegraphs the point of this picture early on and when his characters reference Romero it’s almost unintentionally funny because the homage has already been so obvious. This is socio-political ground that particular filmmaker covered back in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and somehow with more nuance than Jarmusch who usually soars with quiet subtlety.

 

The Patterson, New Jersey native has spent decades crafting films in his own celebrated style. The plot can be secondary to the characters themselves. Nothing is ever rushed.  Events and scenes will playout at an often slow and deliberate pace. And, most importantly, the humor will be dark and often deadpan (hence his continuing collaborations with Murray and Driver).  But in the case of The Dead Don’t Die Jarmusch tests the limits of that aesthetic in a genre that often demands a bit more urgency.  Granted, there are no real rules for a zombie movie. Jarmusch can play in the zombie sandbox in whatever manner he sees fit.  And by the final act there’s a hint of the bats**t lunacy he could have embraced considering the film’s dire circumstances. But that’s never been Jarmusch’s cup of tea and he’s happy to let it all play at out at his own pace hoping the real-life horror sticks with you more than the events on screen. – Gregory Ellwood

 

Late Night

Even more stunning is how the world of Late Night truly has something to say about the state of comedy. There are comedians (who tend to be white and male) who bemoan the current state of comedy and say that “political correctness” stops them from being able to tell the jokes they want to tell. Late Night counterpunches and says this position is just laziness from people who no longer have anything left to fight for. For Newbury and Molly, who have real skin in the game because they can’t expected to be handed anything, the challenge is how to find a new comic voice and break free of complacency and fear. Rather than blame the world, which is where Newbury starts, Late Night argues that comics, even those with countless accolades, are the ones who need to change if they hope to stay funny.

 

Late Night never needs to get preachy with its message about comedy because it’s all in the characters’ actions. No one needs to give a speech about the state of comedy, and there doesn’t need to be an avatar for the old guard bemoaning the changing face of comedy. The dynamic between Newbury and Molly and the arcs for both characters speak volumes with a deft comic edge. The mix of comedy and subtext is intoxicating, and I can’t wait to see it again. – Matt Goldberg

Brian Banks

The inspirational true story of Brian Banks, an all-American high school football star who finds his life upended when he’s wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Despite the lack of evidence, Banks gets railroaded through a broken justice system and sentenced to a decade of prison and probation. Years later, with the support of Justin Brooks and the California Innocence Project, Banks fights to reclaim his life and fulfill his dreams of playing in the NFL.

 

The Farewell

The Farewell is the kind of smart, sweet, heartwarming movie that I hope people will seek out.  It has great performances and a charming tone, but it also feels like it’s letting us take a view at an East/West divide at how families relate to each other. Wang isn’t trying to say that one is better than the other, but that there’s value in the difference, and that while behaviors may differ, the love is unmistakable. – Matt Goldberg

Blinded by the Light

From Why ‘Blinded by the Light’ Is an Essential Film for Anyone Who’s Ever Felt Alone:

You know how even the songs you love can have lines you never quite learn, the lyrics you only sort’ve half-sing during every spin? Even as a lifelong Springsteen fan I could never make out the first line to the chorus of “The Promised Land.” (Bruce Springsteen is a genius, but my dude is also a mumbler.) The most electric, stirring sequence in Blinded by the Light just happens to have those lyrics beamed above Javed’s head during a thunder storm. Thanks to this movie, I finally learned that line. It couldn’t be more apt:

The dogs on Main Street howl, because they understand…

– Vinnie Mancuso

Brittany Runs a Marathon

[Jillian] Bell carries the movie beautifully. The actress has always been a scene-stealer (I start to crack up every time I think of her fight scene with Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street), but she really gets to shine in a lead role that not only uses her incredible comic talents, but also shows she can easily tackle the dramatic side of Brittany’s story. We can see how Brittany retreats from close relationships as well as her growth to accepting her new life as a runner. Bell has to sell a performance not just of physical transformation, but also emotional transformation, and she does it perfectly.

 

There’s nothing wrong with nice movies. Not every film has to upend expectations, and there’s something to be said for films that lift you up if you’re in a lousy mood. I wasn’t in a bad mood when I saw Brittany Runs a Marathon, but I was certainly exhausted from the film festival grind. And yet watching Brittany Runs a Marathon, I was smiling throughout and eager to strap on my running shoes when I get home. – Matt Goldberg

Motherless Brooklyn

A noir like this requires its audience to pay full attention since you’re dealing with a big cast and lots of information, but Norton can’t keep it straight for his audience. Motherless Brooklyn isn’t confusing, but it can be listless, spending too much time on one scene while failing to establish what’s happening in another. Norton certainly didn’t need to hold his audience’s hand, but Lionel’s investigation can be so obtuse at times that the film can’t find a pulse. It’s clear that Motherless Brooklyn isn’t an easy adaptation, but I doubt this is the best version of the story that could have been put on screen.

 

Norton has more success in his performance as Lionel. What could have devolved into a series of tics and self-conscious choices instead feels like a real person and a fitting protagonist for the noir genre. If a noir like this is all about communication and information, then Lionel, with his difficulty communicating and his ability to retain all information, fits well into the story. He doesn’t feel like he has Tourette’s because the story needs a hook, nor is he solely defined by his neurological disorder. If Lionel ever feels like he’s a bit too much, it’s not because of the performance but because of the film’s pacing that lacks urgency.

 

I don’t hate Motherless Brooklyn, and I think in the hands of a more capable director with a studio giving him or her the budget he or she needed, the film could have been something special. Instead, the movie is more of a finish line for Norton, a project he labored on for years and now he can says it’s done. I suppose you could categorize it as a “vanity project”, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a director caring deeply about the material and working hard to bring it to the screen no matter. I just wish Norton had the skill to make it come alive. – Matt Goldberg

The Lighthouse

Not all of [Robert] Eggers’ decisions work as he might have intended. A good portion of the beginning of the film finds Thomas and Ephram arriving on the island on an overcast day. This haunts the beginning of the film and is, sadly, a detriment to Jarin Blaschke’s mostly impressive cinematography. The picture is so dark for the first act you often begin to wish it was in color instead (the black and white imagery actually adds nothing to the story). The production, which shot on location in Nova Scotia, must have been found brighter days towards the end of the shoot because the imagery lightens up considerably.

 

Eggers also throws in a hint of homoerotic tendencies between the two men which, frankly, the movie doesn’t need. These shots are so slight that they demand more answers than are given. Especially as they do not appear to have anything to do with either character’s arcs. Why include them at all? But when you have two powerhouse actors such as Pattinson and Dafoe setting the screen on fire a lot can be forgiven. – Gregory Ellwood

Dark Waters

At best, Dark Waters plays out like a horror film in slow motion. There’s nothing supernatural about the terror here, and its banality only makes the events more terrifying. This is the system technically working like it should, but it shows the system obliterates lives and communities in exchange for corporate profits. It can’t all come down to the Robert Billott’s of the worlds who have the expertise and the resources just to be a David against a DuPont’s Goliath. We have a system that does not work, not even necessarily because of brazen corruption, but because capitalism itself, if left unchecked, will destroy everything. You can see it in every scene where the citizens of West Virginia are angry at Billott or Tennant because DuPont employs most of the town. People will risk drinking poison if it means they can hold onto their jobs. That’s insane and yet it’s so common you can already see future Dark Waters ahead.

 

In 5-15 years from now, we’ll probably get a big drama about the opioid crisis. It will go through the same motions with a crusading lawyer and/or victim who discovers that the opioid companies always knew their drugs were dangerous and addictive but had the power to push them on the American public anyway. We’ll probably get a movie about Flint, Michigan and how much they’ve suffered since their water gave the entire town lead poisoning. And on and on it goes to where these kinds of movies almost feel oddly exploitative because yeah, it’s dramatic, but what kind of awareness are you really raising when this kind of story keeps getting told?

 

At some point, you need to go deeper or find a new approach, and sadly, Haynes does neither. It doesn’t make Dark Waters a bad movie, but a frustratingly redundant one. We’ve seen this story of the good-hearted everyman taking on the system and getting crushed under its wheels. You’ve got Anne Hathaway playing the thankless role of Concerned Wife who has no existence outside of what her husband does. You’ve got a scene where Billott thinks he’s being followed in a parking lot even though there’s no indication that DuPont kills people, especially when it has the money to just bury them in the legal system. From a director like Haynes who has shown ways to cleverly upend genre with movies like Far From Heaven and I’m Not Here, Dark Waters feels anonymous and rote; a gray slog through a system we know is broken and no one knows how to fix. – Matt Goldberg

Black Christmas

Screenwriter (and former LA Weekly movie critic) April Wolfe cowrites the screenplay for the latest remake of Black Christmas that stars Imogen Poots and hits theaters this Friday. Wolfe along with director Sophia Takal have constructed a script that updates the classic story of a group of sorority sisters being stalked by a mysterious killer in new and exciting ways. Rather than following the slasher cliche of screaming and running desperately from their killer, these ladies stand and fight their potential killer by any means necessary … Wolfe and Takal’s script has a powerful #MeToo storyline and explores the conversations that men and women are having on college campuses about the rapidly evolving traditional societal roles of women and men in 2019. – John Rocha

Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell is emblematic of a large problem with Eastwood at this stage in his directing career, which his that he largely makes bland hero stories as a hobby. At best, you might get some stylish propaganda with a strong lead performance like American Sniper, but more likely you’ll get something like Sully, which rips from the headlines to show a hero who is persecuted by the system yet perseveres thanks to being the hero. Eastwood’s movies don’t really demand more than that of their audience, and they certainly aren’t demanding him to surprise us as a director, which is a shame when you’re working with rich material like you have with Richard Jewell. Ultimately, it feels like a waste and like the point of Richard Jewell isn’t to provide insight into its main character or institutional failure, but rather to give Eastwood something to do in his twilight years. – Matt Goldberg

CATS

The best thing I can say about Cats is that all of the actors are committed, and perhaps Hooper’s gift is getting people to buy into his vision. No one is half-assing it or betraying any thought that this movie could seriously damage their careers. And hell, maybe working on this project took them back to their theater kid days where you could throw yourself into movement and didn’t know a good musical from a bad one. I would say that’s where the magic of Cats lies, but then the film gets super horny again and launches into another awful song. – Matt Goldberg

1917

The craft of 1917 is stunning from start to finish. The pacing keeps you on the edge of your seat, Thomas Newman’s score is among his best as it balances melancholy with intense action, and not enough good things can be said about [Roger] Deakins’ work. 1917 is a movie that works on every level, but it’s always to put you inside the war machine with the careful balance of keeping you captivated but never to make you comfortable with what you’re witnessing. War is a parade of horrors. It’s rarely been better realized. – Matt Goldberg

Uncut Gems 

The saving grace is [Adam] Sandler. I don’t even know if I’d qualify his work here as a “great performance” since it’s not like he’s really stretching himself to play a guy who yells at everyone, but he’s great for this role. He shows no need to be liked, but he has the comic timing to keep us engaged with Howard’s obnoxious shenanigans and the energy to sustain his endless rage. It’s a testament to Sandler’s devotion that he keeps Howard entertaining even though the character isn’t all that complex or nuanced.

 

But because the character is a self-destructive black hole surrounded by other self-serving characters, Uncut Gems, with its aggressive cinematography and score, just feels like a drain. It’s not a “crazy” movie; just a very loud one. If someone were to shout in your face for 135 minutes, you wouldn’t question their devotion, but you’d still eventually find it tedious and irritating all the same. There are those who might enjoy Howard’s constant implosion, but I quickly became impatient for the collapse. – Matt Goldberg

Just Mercy

It’s difficult to judge a film based on a hypothetical audience, but the strength of the narrative hinges on the strength of its message. The question I keep puzzling over is whether anyone is willing to hear that message in an increasingly polarized age. I don’t have an answer for that. I know that Just Mercy is on the right side of history. I know that no single film can upend an entire system predicated on racial injustice. And I know just because I agree with a film’s politics that doesn’t mean the film is good (for example, I think Michael Moore’s documentaries are garbage even though I agree with him politically). But Just Mercy is a well-intentioned and, more importantly, well-made film that will hopefully connect to those who are willing to entertain its argument that justice isn’t just how we treat the people we know, but how we fix a broken system so that it provides justice to everyone.- Matt Goldberg

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