The Underrated Films of 2019

So yesterday we talked about the Overrated films of 2019, today we’re gonna talk underrated.

For me, underrated just means that people are overlooking the film, or a certain aspect of the film that I think is more impressive than it’s being given credit for. Maybe it was dismissed as a genre film, maybe it was seen and dismissed as a throwaway but there’s more going on there. There’s always something.

My point isn’t to try to tell people that the movies are good, but just that there’d more going on here than one would assume, and maybe don’t dismiss them as easily as you might have otherwise. That’s it.

So here are some of 2019’s most underrated films:

1. Ad Astra

Lost City of Z was on this list in 2017. James Gray makes eternally underrated movies because they’re always really solid and somehow people never see them. Or when they do, they go, “That was good,” and that’s it. No. You know how difficult it is to make good movies every time? And this movie — this is his best work yet. It’s got Brad Pitt, which means that more eyeballs will be on this than his other films. But jesus, man… what a bold film. And yet, all I heard coming out of this was people saying, “Ehh, I didn’t like it as much as (insert other space movie here).” People either seem to be comparing it to other films of its ilk or just going, “Yeah, I liked it” and moving on. But man, this movie is really good. And like First Man last year, I don’t think enough credit is being given to how grounded and real the space travel felt. Jokes aside (about the $50 blanket and the corporations on the moon, which are 100% things that would happen if this stuff became a reality), this is a movie where you don’t notice the special effects. And that’s really impressive to me. I just feel like Grey is one of those filmmakers who needs to be appreciated more in general, but this film specifically is a film that is not properly appreciated for being truly one of the best films of the year.

2. Avengers: Endgame

Look, I’m ready to own this. I’ve given Marvel shit for almost decade now. And with this film, they tied it all together in a completely satisfying conclusion. And I think the way in which most, if not all, of the threads they’ve woven through all these films felt wrapped up in such a way that befits what all the people who worked on the films put into them all these years is really something we can’t speak enough about. This is truly something that has not ever happened in the history of cinema. And the fact that it feels cathartic is insanely impressive. People overrate the individual films and they’re not all as good as the amount of praise they get, but what the studio, and it has to start with Feige himself, did with these films, in terms of giving them room to grow and be their own things and never really fit an agenda (even if they are part of a broader formula that exists in almost every film above a certain budget level) is very impressive. They never felt the need to ‘one up’ the last film by adding more set pieces and more villains (looking at you, Spider-Man 3) and honestly seemed to, as much as they could, address the fact that all their early villains were basically these one-note characters who had one-dimensional motivations and were largely forgettable. As we got closer to this, you started seeing more subverted villains, where someone you thought was good is actually bad, and more complex motivations, of course culminating with Thanos and all of that. And you saw them furthering each of the characters to the point where every major character (I’m not counting people like Cheadle, who are just kind of there) got what feels like a full story arc. Now, I’m not gonna assume they’re gonna be able to sustain anything going forward, but I will say, what they’ve achieved with this film is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. And that can’t be understated. I don’t give a shit about the rest of it. It’s this one. Because you also realize — they closed the book. It’s like British television versus American television. American TV will run a show into the ground after eight seasons. British TV will do two series, three or four episodes each, and then be done with it forever and just move on to the next thing. And truly what they did with these characters (not all, but the ones who’ve been around for most of the decade. The newer ones still have a couple of films left in them, understandably) is just close the book on them. And it doesn’t feel like they’re (currently) going to be any weaker for having done it. And they’re not gonna rush to reboot them just yet because they feel people want to see them. They’re just gonna go and do the next thing. Which is also why I think this movie is underrated. When do you ever see a franchise straight up say, “No, we’re done with these characters for now.” And at this point, assuming it all goes forward like it seems to be, do you expect to see Iron Man or Captain America or any of these people in a movie in the next fifteen years, let alone ten? Because they just got X-Men and Fantastic Four back. If they stick to the finality of this movie and truly just move forward, I’m even more impressed with what they accomplished with this.

3. Dark Waters

The investigative/trial film is one of the most underrated genres out there. And fortunately I have a similar film from recently with Mark Ruffalo in it (Spotlight) to point to as proof of that. But this movie… this movie covers a lot of bases for me in terms of being underrated. I’m not sure just how much this has properly come out yet, so I don’t know if people have or haven’t properly seen it just yet, but I will say, no matter what kind of box office this gets, I already know this is gonna get zero Oscar attention and it’s gonna be one of the forgotten great films of this year (like A Most Violent Year, Widows, Prisoners… I can keep going). But it’s a trial film, which I say are always interesting, and it’s got a message behind it. It’s about a mega corporation not giving a fuck about its consumers and knowingly poisoning them. It’s got great performances, great writing, and it’s a Todd Haynes film, for the few of you that part matters to. All around it’s one of the most underrated films of the year and I already see this not getting nearly the kind of praise it should.

4. Ford v. Ferrari

You can never overrate good, old-fashioned moviemaking. That’s what this is. This is a movie that could have been made in 1975, or even 1945. It’s just got that classic Hollywood feel to it. And that is an eternally underrated quality in a film. You may not think so. But wait ten years. How often do we all watch Walk the Line whenever it’s on TV? James Mangold makes those kind of movies. You can rewatch them endlessly. And this is already an endlessly rewatchable movie. You can just tell as you see it the first time. I’m gonna rewatch the shit out of this movie. It’s got movie stars, great writing, great directing, and it’s just a fun time. Truly, this is a movie I would show my entire family, even the ones who don’t give a shit about auto racing (most of them) or sports (mostly the women), because everyone can enjoy this movie. They don’t make enough of these.

5. Gemini Man

Not gonna claim this is a great movie (though I enjoyed it as a throwback kind of action movie. And I think the fact that he shot it at the frame rate and in 3D allowed for the scenes to breathe rather than allowing him to chop it up like most action movies would do), and not gonna claim that the whole younger CGI Will Smith is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen (though I bought it most of the time, except when they have him jumping around like a parkour creature or whatever that was during the rooftop chase). My only point in saying this is an underrated film is the fact that Ang Lee is trying to further the development of cinematic technology and the things we can do within a film. It’s too easy to dismiss it as ‘didn’t work’. At least he’s trying to do something new. What, so we’re all just happy with the Marvel effects that are out there? Because some of those films’ effects look bad. The goal is to move forward. And he tried something new and people just shit all over him. They did it with Billy Lynn too. And I’ll admit… Billy Lynn didn’t work. But that felt like a shooting style versus subject matter sort of thing. Here, I don’t see why we’re faulting someone for trying to push the envelope. There’s an extent to which the envelope should be pushed. Which is to say, no one loved Zemeckis’ string of uncanny valley CGI films (though he did pretty much get it right by the third one. A Christmas Carol does work in ways that Beowulf and The Polar Express do not). But he just kept doing it. Ang Lee tried something, then he tried it a little different with something new on top. I’m fine with this. It’s not like anyone would have given a shit about this movie had it been made in a conventional way. It would have gotten generally positive mixed reviews and we’d have moved on with your lives. This just feels like people being reactionary and trying to shit on progress. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with trying to break new ground, and this is one of those films that unfortunately got thrown out with the bathwater by people with an agenda.

6. Honey Boy

I just feel like the bravery to make a movie like this makes it more than just something to be easily dismissed or accepted. And, I know, it’s not true bravery. It doesn’t fight fires or any of that stuff. But this dude really puts a lot of ugly stuff up there on the screen. All the shit going on inside of him, that he’s grown up with and had to live with… it’s all there, warts and all. And that is really fucking impressive. You really don’t see something this vulnerable that often. The film that immediately came to mind for me was All That Jazz. Not that I necessarily put them in the same weight class, but you watch All That Jazz and you go, “That guy is really putting himself up there on the screen. And it’s brutal.” And this feels that same way. It’s different. But Shia LaBeouf broke off a piece of his soul and shared it with the world. And I just can’t let that go without acknowledging it. It’s not as simple as just saying, “Yeah, I didn’t like it,” or, “Yeah, it was pretty good.” You can’t underestimate what actually is achieved with something like this, and I really cannot stress that enough.

7. The Irishman

Yes, it’s three-and-a-half hours. Yes, it has a five minute conversation about fish. Yes, it feels unintentionally at times like that moment Clint Eastwood talked to a chair. Yes, the de-aging has mixed reviews. But also… imagine if Martin Scorsese didn’t oversee the de-aging. Marvel gets away with it because it’s only for a few minutes. This is 209 minutes. The two aspects of this that I think are underrated: first, Marty got the band back together. Bob, Joe, Harvey, and he brought Al in, which everyone’s wanted to see happen. He got them all in a movie together. And honestly, it doesn’t seem like this is ever gonna happen again. De Niro is slated to do one more with him (and he always said he wanted to get to ten with him), and it’ll be with Leo, which will also be a bit of a culmination of sorts, but this is the one. They got everyone together and they made a big epic crime movie. That’s a big deal, no matter what you think of the film. And the other reason this film is underrated — shit on this film all you want now. Go ahead. Make fun of the effects, the run time, all of it. But in five years, you’re just gonna be watching the movie a bunch whenever it’s on. That’s how this ends. I’m gonna make the same argument with another movie further on down the list. We know how this ends. People want to take their stands and seem cool by shitting on stuff, but the films always win out in the end. Every major film has people who, when it came out, hated it, and then had to eat their words twenty years later when they went back and called it a masterpiece, conveniently forgetting what they said at the time. (Which speaks to what I’ve been arguing for a decade now… your initial reaction to a film is never eternal. It’s going to change. That’s the beauty of it all.) A lot of people are gonna call this overrated, and a lot of these people are gonna be the same ones who, in ten years, go, “The Irishman was on TV last night. I just watched it all the way until the end. You can’t turn it off.” And the only thing you can possibly tell me that’s wrong about that statement is the fact that TV might not exist in ten years. Because I’ve seen this story too many times.

8. Jojo Rabbit

Yes, it’s underrated. Anyone who says it’s overrated is completely missing the point. Fortunately (and you have no idea how much I mean that) I’ve stopped paying attention to that stuff so I don’t know the source of why some people don’t like this movie or whatever the supposed backlash is against it. All I know is that this is a really smart and funny movie that handles its drama really well too. It actually does the drama so well that you almost want them to veer a bit more into it. But what makes this underrated to me, aside from being one of the best films of the year that I feel is not gonna get its proper due now but in five years will be looked at as such, is the fact that we don’t get the same old damn Holocaust movie. We’ve seen that film. A lot. We know Nazis are bad. So this movie has fun with them. It’s doing something different and opening up a genre that should be opened up (as much as possible. Admittedly it’s a very narrow window). I just feel like time is gonna be very kind to this and I can just see everyone in the present not appreciating this properly.

9. Last Christmas

Oh, we’re fucking doing this. Let me begin by saying — I am not defending this movie. You knew the plot immediately from the trailer. You knew where it was going, all of it. And it’s exactly what you expect it to be. And everyone shit on it. And everyone made fun of it. And that’s fine. People take glee in piling on. But you know what? Sometimes you can take great joy in a piece of shit. And I’m not even saying it’s a piece of shit. Because what is a piece of shit? Is The Room a piece of shit? I love The Room. But I originally watched The Room because it was awful and enjoyed the shit out of it because it was funny without trying to be. And it’s a great movie to watch with a bunch of friends while you drink and shout the lines back to the screen. If you love something ironically, eventually the irony goes away. And something tells me that this is the kind of movie that people are gonna discover once it comes out streaming and all that, and they’re gonna have the same kind of fun with it. Maybe not in the same way that they do for The Room, but in that way people gather around for cheesy movies. And my point is… doesn’t that say something about the movie that we want to see it for how ‘awful’ it is? Honestly, I saw this movie and immediately said, “This needs to be a Broadway musical.” (Because trust me, it does. I’m honestly shocked they haven’t announced yet that it was going to be one. Also, if you are gonna do that, I’ll gladly help out in that. I don’t even watch Broadway shows and I know how easily this can be translated into one.) The movies that make you groan and roll your eyes… those are the ones where you pretend like you hate them, but then you find yourself watching them whenever they’re on. Maybe that won’t be the fate of this movie, and maybe it’s destined to be in the hall of turkeys or whatever ignominious destination you want to put it in. But I think there’s more to this than that. I think it’s a very enjoyable movie, maybe if not always for the best reasons. And also, shouldn’t a movie that features Emma Thompson saying the line, “I will nail you to my dick” always be seen as underrated?

10. The Lion King 

I said yesterday that every Disney live action remake is Overrated. And that stands with this film, as it does with all the others. From a narrative standpoint and almost every other standpoint, this movie is Overrated. HOWEVER… from a technological standpoint, this movie is underrated, and that’s solely what I’m going to be talking about with this entry. I will not defend anything else about this movie (the fact that it’s basically a remake and anything they changed slightly actually made it worse, the voice casting, the creepy lack of expressions on the animals’ faces, any of it), but I will defend the technology. Because as much as I wanted to hate a lot about this movie, I can’t fully dismiss it knowing what they achieved visually. And I’ll admit, my knowing this is because I listened to a DGA interview with Favreau and read an in depth article where he talked about how they shot the movie. Most people will have just seen the film, so I get why they might be quicker to call it one of the worst movies of the year. But… this is the kind of movie that, if it won the Visual Effects Oscar in two months, I’d be okay with that. That’s how impressive what they achieved is. Because aside from the opening shot of the sunrise, every single thing in this entire movie is created on a computer. Every single thing. For Jungle Book, they shot the whole thing in a warehouse, with basic stairs and flat sets that they digitally turned into a jungle and the kid was running around in them. Here, literally everything is digital. And they created a virtual reality work space, where people from different rooms, studios, states and even countries could go inside and actually work on the visual layout of the film. I couldn’t stop listening when I heard it all, because it was so fascinating to me. You know how people always defend stuff by saying how much work goes into making each and every movie and how no one sets out to make a bad one? It’s true, and sometimes we are unfair to things. But in this case, knowing what kind of work went into making this and just how much was achieved in the realm of visual effects means that this movie can’t be seen as anything other than underrated in that regard. Hate the movie all you want, but don’t dismiss those effects.

11. Long Shot

Truly one of the most underrated movies this year. This movie surprised the hell out of me. Because it’s a rom com that actually works. It’s funny, but at its heart it’s about two adults having a relationship. And it tells a real story on top of all that. It’s just a very mature film most of the way around (it’s still got a couple of puerile moments), and I just think the way it handles three separate genres at the same time is very underappreciated. This was one of the finer films I saw this year and while I thought it would be good, I really wasn’t it expecting to be as solid as it was.

12. Motherless Brooklyn

I feel like people got turned off by the trailer, seeing Norton do his Tourette’s thing. And you have that concern going into the film. You really wonder how bad it’s gonna be, but within five minutes it goes away. I’m not sure what else it was that kept people away from this, but this was one of the best movies I saw this year, and I feel like not enough people are giving it its proper due. It’s a throwback kind of detective movie with modern themes that actually has something to say. The book it’s based on is set in the 90s. The detective stuff is used ironically. But Norton sets it in the 50s so he can put the social commentary behind it, which really adds a layer to it that a good detective story should have. The obvious comparison is Chinatown, which, honestly, any movie with a detective in it should aspire to be. I just liked everything about this movie, and I don’t understand why people overlooked it so badly. I think there’s a lot more here than people realize/are giving it credit for.

13. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I feel like this one was pretty properly rated for most of the year. But, the thing with Quentin is… you never realize just how good a Quentin movie is until a few years after it comes out. Some people hated The Hateful Eight when it came out, but now… you find yourself going back and watching it whenever it’s on, don’t you? No matter what you think of a Quentin movie initially, it’s those rewatches over the ensuing years that really mark it as underrated. Because rewatchability is the one factor that really ensures longevity. Some movies — Schindler’s List is unquestionably an amazing movie. But you can’t (though I imagine some have and do) watch that all the time. Goodfellas, on the other hand… how often does that wind up on TV and you’re watching it through til the end? That’s what I’m saying. Quentin movies are like that. You can think they’re great, but it’s when you find that you’re just watching them whenever they’re on that you realize just how great they are.

14. Serenity

Oh that’s right, I’m fucking going there. Because, even more so than Last Christmas, this is a movie that people are going to enjoy because of how batshit crazy it is. This movie came out, got savaged by critics, and disappeared immediately from theaters and was put on streaming within a month (if that). And most people didn’t even really know it came out (new distributor and all that). I started telling people about it and were like, “Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway.” And they were like, “Oh that fishing movie or whatever?” They had no idea it had even come out. And then they go, as they always do, “Wasn’t it bad?” And then you tell them what it’s about, and even what the twist is. And suddenly everyone wants to see it. Because this is one of those movies where, the more you know about it, the more you want to see it. Because you want to see just how insane it is. And that’s a really underrated value for a movie to have. That’s what gets viewers. Mediocre movies are forgotten immediately, but the “It was a video game all along” movie is gonna last a long time.

15. Terminator: Dark Fate

Why is no one talking about this movie? This is the first legitimately good Terminator movie since 1991. The reviews, the box office — that’s whatever. That’s not what makes this underrated. It makes it underseen, not that it’s gonna be on that list tomorrow, but that’s beside the point. What makes this movie underrated is that it actually furthers the mythology, which none of the other sequels ever did. They were all too scared to step on Cameron’s toes, so they just told the same tired ass story over and over again. And this movie dispenses with all of that (quite literally) within the first three minutes of the film. And they just go on and do something else. Which is the first fresh thing a Terminator film has done since Cameron left. The film isn’t perfect, but it couldn’t be. It’s still a very great step forward for the franchise, and it’s absolutely devastating that they might not make any more for a while because it didn’t do that well financially. But still, the fact that they actually did something new with this franchise is something we should be paying so much more attention to than we are.

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