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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.

“Transit” (March 1)

“Transit”

After alluring audiences with his twisty “Phoenix,” filmmaker Christian Petzold returned with another drama in which all is not what it seems. “So we arrive at the driving conceit behind Petzold’s beguiling ‘Transit,'” wrote David Ehrlich out of Berlin, “which the ‘Phoenix’ director has boldly adapted from Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel of the same name: The film is unstuck in history. Unlike the source material, it doesn’t take place in World War II, or even establish that World War II ever happened. The Nazis are still German, but they’ve been re-branded as generic fascists. And yet, while it was clearly shot on the streets of modern-day France (the roads hum with electric cars, and the cinematography isn’t aged in any way), Petzold’s telling isn’t necessarily set in the present.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Climax” (March 1)

“Climax”

Wild Bunch

You’re either a Gaspar Noé fan or you’re very, very much not, but his wild “drug dance movie” just might have enough legs and ambition to changes some minds. At Cannes, Eric Kohn wrote: “‘Climax’ takes place in 1996, and focuses on the experiences of a dance troupe in a remote lodge surrounded by snowy emptiness, where late night dance battles take a dark turn after someone spikes the sangria with LSD. Noé takes his time establishing the vibrancy of the setting before tearing it apart: an ominous opening that finds one woman crawling through the snow, the ostensible final girl in the horror movie to come, followed by a prolonged introduction of the colorful ensemble in a series of audition tapes. From there, the filmmaking ambition begins its steady climb. From an astonishing long take of voguing throwdowns, Noé keeps rolling, following the characters through the room as they trade party banter and gossip. With the typical acrobatic intensity of cinematographer Benoit Debie as his ideal vessel, Noé never allows a single frame to rest. For a time, it seems as though he could just hover here, but the smooth ride can only last so long before the mayhem begins.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Greta” (March 1)

“Greta”

TIFF

Neil Jordan goes nutty in this strange little thriller that debut at TIFF this fall. At the festival, this critic wrote of the Isabelle Huppert- and Chloe Moretz-starring camp classic in the making: “This campy B-movie curiosity should have been programmed in the Midnight Madness, instead hiding in the Special Presentations section where it’s billed as a ‘nerve-rattling thriller.’ It’s that, sure, but it’s also hearty fun, a ‘bad”’movie that’s made suddenly good by the involvement of a game audience and Jordan allowing Huppert to go certifiably batshit on a doe-eyed Moretz. It’s easy to see why Jordan’s film, based on a story and screenplay by Ray Wright, zips through its opening act with such abandon, because there’s fun stuff to get to once the pieces are lined up. When waitress Frances (Moretz) finds a chic bag on the subway, she does the right thing: looks for identifying information of its owner, takes it home, keeps it safe. Her best friend and roommate Erica (Monroe, the secret MVP of a movie in which Huppert is the obvious draw) wants to rob it for cash to use for colonics or facials or something else they can presumably Instagram. Frances, sweet, dumb Frances, remains firm: that’s not what they do where she comes from.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Gloria Bell” (March 8)

"Gloria Bell"

“Gloria Bell”

A24

Also at TIFF: a very different female-centric drama, in the form of Sebastian Lelio’s faithful make of his 2013 charmer “Gloria.” This one stars Julianne Moore and moves the action to America. In his TIFF review, Eric Kohn wrote: “Some may question the reasoning behind the project, which threatens to bury the impact of Garcia’s original performance and implies that most English-language audiences would never take a chance on the original. However, Moore does away with those misgivings from the very first shot, turning ‘Gloria Bell’ into the cinematic equivalent of a new theatrical staging for a beloved play. … Lelio boils the essence of his project down to a handful of new faces. At the same time, he wisely stays close to the material, adapting the screenplay he co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza into a fresh platform for Moore to give some of her best work in recent memory.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Her Smell” (March 29)

“Her Smell”

TIFF

Alex Ross Perry added his own version of this year’s “female pop star on the verge of … something” genre with his bold Elisabeth Moss-starring addiction drama. At TIFF, David Ehrlich wrote of the clever punk epic: “Imagine if Danny Boyle’s ‘Steve Jobs’ was about Courtney Love in the mid-’90s and you’ll be on the right track. Chronicling the reckless fall and cautious rise of punk rocker Becky Something — lead singer of the band Something She — “Her Smell” is told across five long scenes that stretch over 10 years, each of the vignettes unfolding in real time. Three of them take place in the snaking bowels of a concert venue’s backstage area, where the drug-addled riot grrrl (a bravely loathsome and unhinged Elisabeth Moss) is surrounded by fellow musicians (Amber Heard), her manager (Eric Stoltz as Howard Goodman), her mother (Virginia Madsen), her ex (Dan Stevens), their baby, and even some kind of huckster shaman who she’s paid to cloud her mind with nonsense.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Fast Color” (March 29)

“Fast Color”

Codeblack/Lionsgate

A different kind of superhero story bolstered by a sensational lead performance by Guga Mbatha-Raw, Julia Hart’s drama asks some real questions of the out-there genre. In his SXSW review, Eric Kohn wrote: “The movie presents a fresh variation on the superhero story, a near-future setting that may as well take place in the same dystopian landscape where ‘Logan’ found its own wayward mutant hiding from the world. However, while the Wolverine gave up on his responsibilities long ago, Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has yet to fully comprehend them. A broken, lonely recovering drug addict on the lam from government forces, Ruth roams through sleepy truck stops and empty roads, with bandages on her hands pointing to a disturbing past. The nature of her talents only gradually comes into view, but she appears to turn material objects into dust with little more than a glance. That uncanny ability leads a government agent (Christopher Denham) to chase her down, giving her a ride before revealing her identity. Their tussle marks the only genuine action this slow-burn character study. Though the supernatural component of ‘Fast Color’ turns on CGI trickery, the ensuing drama is more intimate in scope.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Hotel Mumbai” (March 29)

“Hotel Mumbai”

An “almost unbearable” depiction of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Anthony Maras’ star-studded drama demonstrates plenty of craft. In his TIFF review, David Ehrlich wrote: “It isn’t hard to pillage riveting entertainment from the scene of a real massacre, and scavenging the dead for cheap suspense often is closer to robbing graves than it is to making art. The value of a movie like ‘Hotel Mumbai,’ or ‘U-July 22,’ or ‘United 93’ is not and cannot be measured by how engaging it is to watch. The grisly spectacle is only a means to an end. What redeems ‘Hotel Mumbai’ from morbid opportunism is that, in all but its slickest and most Hollywood moments, the thrills of Maras’ heart-wrenching re-enactment are never an end unto themselves. Even when a desperate Armie Hammer is running around in search of his missing baby, or a stoic Dev Patel is delivering a covert audition to be the next James Bond, the movie is leveraging its sick violence to humanize the people on either side of it.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Diamantino” (April TBD)

Diamantino

“Diamantino”

A beautifully bonkers story about a dum-dum soccer star and the charmingly weird mishaps he gets into (the imagined fluffy puppies are just one part of his odd life), there is so much to recommend about “Diamantino.” As David Ehrlich explained in his NYFF review, “This winningly demented 21st century fairy tale centers on a beautiful, child-like soccer phenom named Diamantino who reacts to a devastating World Cup loss by adopting a Mozambican refugee who claims to be a teen boy but is actually an adult lesbian on an undercover mission from the Portuguese government to investigate a money-laundering operation run by the athlete’s evil twin sisters. Also, there’s a mad scientist who’s trying to clone Diamantino in order to create an invincible super team capable of stoking national pride and “Making Portugal Great Again.” Also, there are giant puppies. A lot of them. A litter of Pekingese the size of double-decker buses. And that’s just the basic set-up. Unfolding like a blissful cross between Guy Maddin’s lo-fi surrealism and Jeff Koons’ candied indecency — the directors have cited “an anarchy of references” — “Diamantino” is a frothy and infectiously sweet film that bubbles with the madness of the modern world, and dares to suggest a way forward that’s as simple as the moral at the end of a children’s story (hint: it has something to do with choosing love over apathy or exploitation).” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“The Biggest Little Farm” (April 5)

“The Biggest Little Farm”

A surprise hit when it debuted at Telluride, John Chester’s crowd-pleasing documentary about his attempts to create a sustainable farm just outside LA was soon picked up by Neon, as the boutique distributor continues to beef up its doc arm. At TIFF, Eric Kohn wrote: “The movie tracks this epic saga across seven years of hiccups and tragic developments as the reality of taming nature settles in. A gorgeous and often devastating look at good intentions slamming into harsh practical challenges, ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ is the rare eco-friendly documentary that reaches beyond the celebratory formula to explore the application of its environmental message in detail. It’s a remarkable educational experience for anyone eager to go back to the basics. In the process, it arrives at a deeper understanding of the underlying impulse, while delivering an emotionally resonant narrative with plenty of cute animals to spare.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“High Life” (April 12)

Claire Denis High Life

“High Life”

A24

In his TIFF review, David Ehrlich wrote of Claire Denis’ first venture into English-language filmmaking: “In many respects, the mesmerizing and elusive ‘High Life’ is a first for writer-director Claire Denis: the first of her films to be shot in English, the first of her films to be set in space, and the first of her films to follow Juliette Binoche inside a metal chamber that’s referred to as ‘The Fuckbox,’ where the world’s finest actress — playing a mad scientist aboard an intergalactic prison ship on a one-way trip to Earth’s nearest black hole — straddles a giant dildo chair and violently masturbates in a scene that’s endowed with the tortured energy of a Cirque du Soleil routine. Needless to say, ‘High Life’ isn’t your average science-fiction movie. In fact, Denis rejects the genre designation outright, insisting that her latest and most elliptical opus is far too grounded to be lumped in with the likes of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Solaris.’ That logic doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny in a film where Robert Pattinson and Andre 3000 ride a flying matchbox past the outer limits of our solar system, but no matter. The results are heavenly all the same.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

“Under the Silver Lake” (April 19)

“Under the Silver Lake”

A24

When David Robert Mitchell’s much-anticipated “It Follows” followup finally arrives in theaters this spring, it will likely look a fair bit different than its first incarnation: a Cannes premiere the proved divisive enough that A24 pushed back the release date to 2019. And yet, at Cannes, Eric Kohn loved the Andrew Garfield-starring feature, writing: “Like Mitchell’s two other features, ‘Under the Silver Lake’ transforms a familiar genre into a unique context, in this case channeling the shaggy-dog detective story into the ambivalence of a millennial who keeps losing the narrative thread of his own life. The movie personifies the male gaze, but it’s also conspicuously about that, deconstructing privilege more than lingering in its confines. After all, this is the story of a philandering white guy whose obsession with his sultry neighbor Sarah (Riley Keough) sends him on a bizarre subterranean adventure because he probably has nothing better to do. Sam’s epiphanies about his privileged circumstances matter more than any of the breadcrumbs he chases through a loopy plot that takes its time to wander across two hours and 20 minutes. It’s a bizarre and outrageous drama grounded in the consistency of Garfield’s astonishment at every turn.” Read IndieWire’s full review here.

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