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The 50 Best 2019 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 7, 2019 

High Life (Claire Denis; April 12)

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While High Life has understandably drawn all kinds of comparisons to the 60s and 70s cerebral sci-fi canon (notably Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey), for both its abstract use of space imagery and its minimalist ship design which more often than not resembles an artificially-lit hospital filled with dated technology, its soul is firmly in the sensibilities of its filmmaker, French master Claire Denis, who mines the genre for a deeply sensorial and moving portrait of the misery and horror parents are willing and perhaps responsible to endure so their children might not have to. – Josh L. (full review)

Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell; April 19)

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David Robert Mitchell is a nostalgic. His debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover, paid tribute to such teenage dramas as American Graffiti and the work of John Hughes. Its follow-up, the terrific It Follows, ranks amongst the smartest and most effective specimens in John Carpenter’s vast and variegated suburban horror legacy. Mitchell has now tried his hand at an L.A. noir with Under the Silver Lake, which owes as big a debt to The Long GoodbyeMulholland Drive, and Inherent Vice (to mention but three of the most conspicuous referents) as it does Thomas Pynchon’s labyrinthine, paranoia-laden narratives. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

The Third Wife (Ash Mayfair; May 15)

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It’s 19th century Vietnam and fourteen-year-old May (Nguyen Phuong Tra My) has just been married to a wealthy landowner named Hung (Long Le Vu). She wears a genuine smile on her face, this next chapter in life as hopeful as it is scary. She has two other women to help steer her through womanhood, motherhood, and sexual pleasure (Nu Yên-Khê Tran’s first wife Ha and Mai Thu Huong Maya’s second wife Xuan) and a future of comfort awaiting her with but one goal: bearing a son. A bloody sheet is displayed to represent consummation; a growing belly to prove no time was wasted for conception. And as the days progress with less and less to do thanks to servants, May’s eyes and mind begin to gradually wander. – Jared M. (full review)

Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja; May TBD)

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The title shares its name with a city-size spacecraft ferrying humans from Earth to Mars in barely three weeks. It’s a routine trip that’s never run into problems with many passengers already having family on the red planet to greet them upon arrival. But there’s a first time for everything as a small field of debris forces Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) off course. Unfortunately a screw breaches their hull anyway, pushing their nuclear fuel supply to critical mass. Expelling it may save them for the moment, but without it they cannot steer. So despite having enough self-sustaining electricity and algae (for air and food), there’s no way to return onto their necessary trajectory. Either a celestial body interrupts their path to slingshot back or they simply drift forever. – Jared M. (full review)

Awaiting Release Date and/or Distribution

All Good (Eva Trobisch; Seeking Distribution)

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What immense health German cinema has found itself in lately. Since the turn of the decade, audiences of a certain ilk have grown accustomed to seeing names like Ade, Petzold, Grisebach, Schanelec, and Köhler show up on art-house and festival screens. We may soon need to add Eva Trobisch to that list. Yes, if All Good (Alles ist gut)her snare drum taut and timely feature debut–is anything to go by, the East Berlin-born writer-director should provide that rich vein of deutsche Regisseure will its latest transfusion. – Rory O. (full review)

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack)

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A time capsule that’s as fresh and powerful an experience as it must have been when recorded live in Watts in 1972, Amazing Grace is arguably one of the year’s most-anticipated films arriving after years of litigation and a fetal technical glitch that was resolved thanks to digital workflows. The film that exists, finished by producer Alan Elliot, bursts with intimacy and immediacy capturing a captivating and sublime performance by Aretha Franklin. In between the incredible artistry we discover and are introduced to several influences of Franklin’s including her father the minister and civil rights activist CL Franklin who provides a moving context for the performance along with commentary provided by Reverend James Cleveland. Amazing Grace is a rousing performance lensed with simple, raw, intimate filmmaking that’s unforgettable and nourishing for the soul. – John F.

Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

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Following his riveting five-hour-plus drama Happy Hour, Ryusuke Hamaguchi is back with Asako I & II, in which he employs more stylistic flourishes in an absorbing riff on Vertigo. Based on Tomoka Shibasaki’s novel Netemo Sametemo, it follows a woman who falls in love, but her significant other disappears. Two years later, another man appears with a striking resemblance to her former lover. Less melodramatic than that plot synopsis sounds, Asako is fascinating in its use of surreal touches and enveloping playfulness, making for one of 2019’s most delightful cinematic experiences.

Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg; Seeking Distribution)

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“Do you feel like the story is exploitative?” a journalist asks actress Mabel (Jess Weixler) about the new film she’s starring in, early into Aaron Schimberg’s brilliant second feature Chained for Life. In a meta-melodrama that constantly seesaws between fiction and reality, sprawling across a labyrinthine and multi-layered narrative that seamlessly jumps from one textual plane to another, I found myself wondering whether the question was in fact leveled at Schimberg’s own work. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt)

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If the protagonist of Diamantino reminds you of a certain celebrity it is, as we can only presume, not accidental. The character in question–for whom this hallucinatory tale is named after–is a professional footballer who plays up front for the Portuguese national team. He sports diamond stud earrings (one in each ear), has a glow best described as maintained bronze, and apparently has yet to find a greater joy in life than pulling off his jersey after scoring a winning goal in order to better share with the world his rippling abs. Are we there yet? – Rory O. (full review)

Donbass (Sergei Loznitsa; Seeking Distribution)

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Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass forms a rough trilogy with two of his previous features, My Joy (2010) and A Gentle Creature (2017), offering another social allegory that functions as a bitter criticism of Russia’s contemporary politics. This time, instead of an unidentified Russian setting, the action takes place in the eastern Ukrainian region that gives the film its title, where a Russian-supported war has been ongoing since 2014. Given that Loznitsa is Ukrainian, this change of scenery might explain the added ferocity of his critique, which is extreme enough to make for an acutely oppressive viewing experience. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

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