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The 22 Best Films of 2019 We’ve Already Seen

Before they hit release in the coming months, bone up on some of 2018's most beloved festival premieres, from "High Life" to "Gloria Bell" and more.

IndieWire Best of 2018

While 2018 is nearly over, the next year is right around the corner. Luckily, a fair bit of the highlights from the 2019 upcoming release calendar have already screened on the 2018 festival circuit and beyond. These include a number of features that topped this year’s IndieWire Critics’ Poll of the best 2019 films that already screened — from Claire Denis’ “High Life,” to Christian Petzold’s “Transit,” Asghar Farhadi’s “Everybody Knows,” Alex Ross Perry’s “Her Smell,” and Gaspar Noé’s “Climax.”

IndieWire has curated 22 titles worthy of anticipation and combined them all into a single guide, complete with release dates and review snippets that provide a sneak peak of several movies bound to be a part of the year-end conversation 12 months down the line.

Of note: This list only includes films we have already seen that have a set 2019 release date or have been picked up for distribution with 2019 release dates to be set.

“Sunset” (2019 TBD)

“Sunset”

Sony Pictures Classics

In his Venice review, Michael Nordine wrote of Oscar winner László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” followup: “With the one-two punch of ‘Saul’ and now this, one would be hard-pressed to name a better director of period pieces than Nemes — not the flashy, costume-driven sort but the kind of immersive experiences that make you feel as though you’ve caught an actual glimpse of the time and place as it actually existed, untouched by time. That these are dark, violent eras only makes the experience more intoxicating: “Sunset” invites you to revel in the last moments of Budapest’s pre-war grandeur even as you mourn what will soon befall it. There’s sadness and beauty in every frame, as though Nemes is nostalgic for this era despite not being born until many decades after the sun had indeed set on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. … ‘Sunset’ exposes that horror while also finding great beauty in it — it might not be infinitely pretty, but it’s worth remembering and preserving nevertheless.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“In Fabric” (2019 TBD)

In fabric peter strickland

“In Fabric”

Peter Strickland

After making serious waves with his kinky “Duke of Burgundy,” Peter Strickland turned his attention to a strange story of a different stripe. In his TIFF review, David Ehrlich wrote: “As much of a loving ode to the transformative power of fine clothing as it is a cheeky condemnation of the consumerism that drives people to buy it, Strickland’s long-awaited new delight might lack the cohesion of his previous film, but ‘In Fabric’ is cut from the same cloth. At a time when movies are growing more plastic by the day, it’s always a thrill to experience something that’s so attuned to the tactile pleasures of the cinema; to see a movie that you can feel with your fingers even when it bypasses your heart or goes over your head.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Teen Spirit” (April 5)

“Teen Spirit”

2018 has been dense with pop star-centric fables, so perhaps it was for the best that “Teen Spirit” is holding off until 2019. In his TIFF review, David Ehrlich wrote of Max Minghella’s directorial debut: “In some ways, it’s as ancient as a fairy tale — a Cinderella fable about a shy girl from a small town who finds her voice and takes on the world. In other ways, the film is inextricably of the moment, set in the neon world of TV singing competitions and scored to the likes of Robyn, Elena Goulding, and Ariana Grande. What’s so brave and exciting about Max Minghella’s directorial debut is that it refuses to compromise on either end, a sweet pop spectacle at once both proudly generic and unafraid to be itself. It’s a risky approach that prioritizes blunt feeling over a richer experience, but sinewy direction, dazzling cinematography, and a revelatory lead performance from Elle Fanning (does she give any other kind?) help this small wonder grow into a counterintuitively unique modern fable that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Knife + Heart” (2019 TBD)

“Knife + Heart”

At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, David Ehrlich reviewed Yann Gonzalez’s latest, which he billed as “an arty slasher that stars Vanessa Paradis as a gay porn producer circa 1979. …At its essence, ‘Knife + Heart’ is a story about the voraciousness of love, and the power that it has to subsume everything in its path. Anne remains frustratingly elusive to the bitter end, but her elusiveness is only so frustrating because she’s such a rich character. Not in the classical sense, perhaps — she isn’t driven by the banal distress of ‘motivation’ — but her emotional makeup is like an empty carnival with all of the lights on. She’s spooky and waiting to be explored. Paradis, who hasn’t possessed a role this challenging or dynamic since her indelible turn in 1999’s ‘Girl on the Bridge,’ leans in to all of those haunted spaces. A hyper-aggressive alcoholic who doesn’t know her own limitations (because she may not have any), Anne is at once both reactive and burning with infatuation, like she’s trying not to die in a fire she deliberately started herself.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Wild Nights With Emily” (2019 TBD)

“Wild Nights With Emily”

Molly Shannon stars as the eponymous Emily (Dickinson!) in Madeleine Olnek’s fun new vision of the author. In their SXSW review of the film, Jude Dry wrote: “Using Dickinson’s letters and poems (with permission from Harvard University Press), ‘Wild Nights With Emily’ paints a much sunnier portrait of the poet than that of the reclusive spinster terrified of publication. Instead, the film imagines a lively woman forced to hide a lifelong love affair whose work was mostly rejected by a literary establishment that would embrace it after her death. Continuing a fruitful post-‘Saturday Night Live’ indie film career (she won an Indie Spirit Award last year for ‘Other People’), Molly Shannon is brilliant and warm as the literary icon. The movie begins with a lecture given by Dickinson’s first publisher, Mabel Todd (Amy Seimetz, in a rare comedic turn), who spins the yarn of the reclusive Dickinson with a syrupy grin and pink flat-top hat. Mabel’s narration is a necessary reminder of the Dickinson that the world knows, and its inaccuracy is hilarious when juxtaposed against this vivacious and joyful version, known here simply as Emily.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“The Image Book” (January 25)

image book godard

“The Image Book”

Kino Lorber

Jean-Luc Godard has not slowed down one iota, and his latest film — essentially a nutty supercut arranged around similar themes — proves that the seminal auteur is still willing to try new things. In his Cannes review, Eric Kohn wrote: “Godard has a lot to say in ‘The Image Book,’ in fits of inspired poetry and angry asides, in tune with the apocalyptic dimensions that  characterize much of his late-period work. His raspy, bitter voiceover emanated from different channels throughout the theater at the Cannes premiere, his lyrical pronouncements rooting audiences in the confines of his restless mind. You choose to engage, or reject the entire endeavor outright. Anyone poised to do the latter falls into the filmmaker’s trap: More media installation than movie, ‘The Image Book’ bemoans a vapid world well into the process of disintegration, and his film is engineered to simulate that process in visceral terms. … A concise variation of his sprawling, multi-part film history essay ‘Histoire(s) du cinéma,’ the new project speeds through classic film clips, disposable film clips, and wartime imagery — often shown in poor, low-res quality — as he grapples with the relationship between the violent power struggles that dominate the real world and their sanitized versions in movies.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“The Wild Pear Tree” (January 30)

“The Wild Pear Tree”

Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan returned to Cannes with another sprawling drama that offers a glimpse at the filmmaker’s more playful side as he follows the arc between a father and son. In his Cannes review, Eric Kohn wrote: “The narrative’s gradual pace remains an acquired taste, but anyone willing to engage with Ceylan’s slow-burn approach will find his variation on an accessible formula — it stretches and magnifies the details of its character’s dilemma while pushing him along an impactful journey at a leisurely pace. Rise to the challenge, and payoff awaits on the other side: a formulaic story transformed into something more perceptive and profound. If only more family dramas took such care to get the details right.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Piercing” (February 1)

Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska appear in <i>Piercing</i> by Nicolas Pesce, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Zachary Galler. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Piercing”

“The Eyes of My Mother” breakout director Nicolas Pesce returned to Sundance with another vivid, totally bonkers new vision of terror, with Christopher Abbot and Mia Wasikowska facing off as “S&M psychopaths [who] unleash their kinks” on each other. In his review, Eric Kohn wrote: “A world apart from the drab chiaroscuro horror of ‘The Eyes of My Mother,’ which drew heavily from the ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ tradition of visceral survival stories, ‘Piercing’plays out like a swift tribute to Takashi Miike’s ‘Audition’ filtered through Quentin-Tarantinoesque exuberance: Split screens, ubiquitous pop songs, and elegant camerawork make it clear that this wacky two-hander treasures idiosyncratic flourishes over narrative sophistication; clocking in at a brisk 81 minutes, it’s at once enjoyable in the moment and utterly disposable. Pesce struggles to transform these outrageous circumstances into anything more than a jokey provocation, at least until Reed’s psychological history comes to the foreground in a series of disturbing flashbacks.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Arctic” (February 1)

"Arctic"

“Arctic”

Cannes

A somewhat unexpected entry in this year’s Midnight section at Cannes, Joe Penna’s snowbound adventure story offers a juicy role for star Mads Mikkelsen, who brings gravitas to the feature. In his review, David Ehrlich wrote: “Initially written as a sci-fi adventure set on Mars (before everyone involved came to their senses), ‘Arctic’ works because it’s so believable. The movie never cheats or takes shortcuts — in fact, Overgård and his living cargo are forced to take the long way round. Penna has packed the film with incident and excitement, even making room for a bear attack sequence that puts ‘The Revenant’ to shame, but even the most Hollywood moments obey a certain logic. More than that, Penna finds ways to infuse real drama into potentially mundane details. We always know where the characters are and what’s at stake with each step, so that watching Mikkelsen turn a sled into a makeshift shelter achieves the excitement of a major setpiece.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Everybody Knows” (February 8)

everybody knows

“Everybody Knows”

Asghar Farhadi opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival with his latest domestic drama (and his first Spanish-language feature), this one starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem and filled with plenty of compelling twists. At the festival, Eric Kohn wrote of the film: “Upping the ante with the explosive star power of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz as his leads, Farhadi has also found the most accessible genre for his heady storytelling to date — the suspenseful mold of a kidnapping thriller. As usual, Farhadi builds his dilemma around a sudden inciting incident: Shortly after Laura (Cruz) arrives from Argentina to visit to her family at their Spanish estate for a wedding, her teen daughter Irene (Carla Campra) vanishes from her room in the dead of night. That leaves a frantic Laura at the mercy of Paco (Bardem), who oversees the family vineyard and was romantically involved with Laura ages ago. Local incidents suggest they can’t go to the police, lest the kidnappers kill Irene right away — and they’re not equipped to shell out any ransom, at least not in the immediate future. As the ensemble of relatives linger in the estate, Farhadi pushes the material into Agatha Christie territory — everyone’s a suspect, and everyone suspects someone else.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Birds of Passage” (February 13)

“Birds of Passage”

After debuting his sterling “Embrace of the Serpent” at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, director Ciro Guerra returned to this year’s event, alongside producer-turned-co-director Cristina Gallego, with an unexpected crime offering. At the festival, Eric Kohn wrote: “While it never reaches the psychedelic heights of Guerra’s previous effort and relies on a more conventional pattern of events, ‘Birds of Passage’ delivers another fascinating tone poem about Colombia’s fractured identity. … Each installment takes place within the confines of the Wayyu, an indigenous clan that speaks a mixture of Arawak and Spanish. Guerra and Gallego quickly establish that the Wayuu are a stern, confident people, seemingly at odds with the outside world and steeped in traditions that dictate every facet of their lives. The Wayuu show such commitment to living on their own terms that the sandy, empty vistas surrounding them may as well exist on another planet. The encroaching drug war is a meteor heading straight for them over the next two hours.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

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