The 2019 Watchlist
It seems like the new year just began, and yet, we are already staring down a cresting wave of incoming film releases. As far as the box office is concerned, 2019 will be absolutely dominated by Disney. Avengers, Captain Marvel, Star Wars, Toy Story 4, Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, and Frozen 2 are all coming out this year. It’s like there’s a horrifying new paradigm forming where a single studio swallows up the competition until nothing stands in its way.
Meanwhile, there’s a massive crop of exciting work coming from filmmakers old and new. I’ve been spending the last two weeks combing through the upcoming releases and the latest reviews from Sundance to pick out ten films that I think are most worth your attention.
As the year rolls on these will be updated with release dates, and possibly reviews. Think of this as your guide to some of the most intriguing films headed our way this year. For easy future reference here is a link to the complete list on my Letterboxd.
(dir. Mia Hansen-Løve)
I’m always a bit suspicious when a great filmmaker is invoked by another film in a self-aware way. This really hasn’t stopped me from being thrilled to see what Hansen-Løve has in store with her new film. What little of the plot is known sounds appropriately Bergman, a couple travels to the island where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot a number of his films, in hopes of drawing inspiration in their writing, at which point “the lines between reality and fiction blur”.
Add to this Mia Wasikiowska and Vicky Krieps, who was absolutely stellar in Phantom Thread, and you have something quite interesting brewing.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Clea Duvall)
It’s amazing to see rom-coms coming back in a big way. Last year was an amazing year for the genre with the great Crazy Rich Asians deservedly crushing the box office. Even more amazing than the revival of rom-coms has been watching Kristen Stewart continuing to grow and evolve as an actress. She was phenomenal in Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. Given all of this, it’s exciting to see her appearing in a rom-com, and a queer rom-com at that!
Then to top it all off, add Mackenzie Davis from last year’s surprisingly excellent (until the ending) Tully, and you basically have a perfect storm on your hands. The plot revolves a woman planning to propose over the holidays, only to realize at the last possible moment that her partner hasn’t yet come out to her parents.
Release Date: Summer
Hotel by the River
(dir. Hong Sang-soo)
I love Hong Sang-soo, and if you need an introduction to this amazing director you could find one here, as he made one of my favorite films of last year: The Day After. Both that film and his hour long Grass felt like a push in a bold new direction and word from critics is that this could be one of his very best yet.
The story revolves around an aging poet inviting his estranged sons to visit him at a hotel at which he’s staying. Their stories intertwine with those of the other guests. This type of set-up is exactly where Hong’s apparently simple but emotionally dense and structurally complex talkies shine brightest.
The film opens in New York on February 15th, which I’m sure will be followed by additional screenings.
(dir. Robert Eggers)
A new film from the director of The Witch is just exciting on its own. In fact, it’s nothing short of incredibly that the directors of all three The Witch, The Babadook, and Get Out, have brand new films this year. These three are some of the very best horror films in the last decade. It’s an amazing resurgence in the genre, and why not, we do live in horrifying times.
This time Eggers is taking on the subject of ‘seafaring myths’, which sounds like a wonderful change of pace. The story revolves around a lighthouse keeper played by the none other than Willem Defoe, and features Robert Pattinson who if you don’t know, gave a career defining performance in Good Time just the other year.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
You could easily make the argument that Weerasethakul (‘Joe’) is in the very top tier of directors working today. From Tropical Malady, Uncle Boonme, to Cemetary of Splendor, his films are majestic in his own quiet way, and are pretty much unlike anything else you’ll see. This guy took a break between making films to design an interactive hotel art exhibit where a 120 hour film plays while you sleep.
With his latest project he is teaming up none other than Tilda Swinton, and leaving his home country of Thailand to shoot in Colombia. Apparently him and Swinton wanted to choose a country that neither of them had experience with yet. It’s hard to know what to expect, but this could be one of the most interesting films of the year.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Jennifer Kent)
As mentioned earlier The Babadook is in a revered category of horror films and is on its way to becoming a modern horror classic. It has been five years of diligent checking since The Babadook first came out to see what the director Jennifer Kent has been up to. And now, finally we are going to get to see her next film.
The Nightingale has been causing a stir at Sundance, and while I’ve heard the words: violent and controversial come up, I have also heard brilliant and stunning. The film is set in Tasmania with the plot revolving around a young woman chasing down an officer for revenge. While I’m not fan of violent film or revenge stories, I have a sense that the mind behind The Babadook’s complex psychological terrors has something much deeper in store.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Josephine Decker)
When I was putting together my top ten I spent a lot of time considering whether I would end up ranking the choices, eventually deciding against it. However, to give you a sneak peek into how it might have looked I can tell you firmly that Josephine Decker’s absolutely riveting Madeline’s Madeline would definitely be in the top three. Having now seen her two other films I am more intrigued than ever. I dig deeper into explaining Decker’s unique film-making style in the top ten list, but suffice it to say that she is a idiosyncratic and fascinating voice.
Add to this that she is making a film about Shirley Jackson, the horror master behind The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery. The final touch here is that Elisabeth Moss is playing Jackson, and that’s pretty much all the convincing I need. I don’t think this will be a horror movie per-se, but Decker has a way with melding genre in surprising ways so nothing is off the table.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Joanna Hogg)
As the reviews from Sundance begin piling up, it’s becoming clear that this might be the one film to keep an eye on out coming from that festival. A lot of critics are referencing Phantom Thread when talking about this film is a great start, but I’ve also heard critics references jump from the plays of Noel Coward to Antonioni, peaking my interest even more.
The story revolves around a young aspiring filmmaker entering an unstable relationship. Perhaps most interesting is the starring role played by Honor Swinton-Byrne daughter of Tilda Swinton who plays her mother in the film as well. A24 has already secured the rights so even if this doesn’t live up to all of its hype, don’t be too surprised when it shows up in that Best Picture category a year from now.
Watch the Trailer
Release Date: May 17th
(dir. Hirokazu Koreeda)
My introduction to the beloved Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda was absolutely rocky with his After the Storm, which I flat out disliked. While I haven’t yet had a chance to explore more of his filmography, I trust my close friends uniting with the broad critical adoration of his latest Shoplifters. This wouldn’t usually be enough to get me excited for a film but the cast assembled here is outright bewildering:
Catherine Denueve plays Juliet Binoche’s mother, with Ethan Hawke as Binoche’s husband. This script is based on a play that Koreeda had written 15 years ago and had never published, and it really seems that all depends on how good it is, because all the other pieces seem to fit perfectly for something downright magical.
Release Date: TBD
(dir. Jordan Peele)
Just on the off-chance that you still haven’t seen Get Out, let me reiterate that it is one of the most clever and incisive horror films of the last decade. We are now reaching an incredible moment for director Jordan Peele who is about to launch a brand new Twilight Zone in April, and it’s been a real guessing game as to where Peele takes us next, but now with the trailer out a lot things have become clear.
The plot revolves around a family vacation to a beach house goes horrifying awry. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke, who was fantastic in Black Panther, are playing the parents. I love the setting and evocations of Hitchcock the trailer shows off. And while I’m not a fan of how this seems to be more jump scare reliant than Get Out, I have a lot of faith in Peele to deliver a clever, well executed mystery/horror film.
Watch the Trailer
Release Date: March 22nd
It was a challenge to keep this list pared down to just ten, but in case you’re looking for more there are a number of additional films I considered adding. Three more that came to my attention from Sundance are: The Farewell, a bittersweet family comedy, The Last Black Man in San Fancisco, a film that tackles gentrification in surprising and strange ways, and The Sound of Silence, an odd film about a man that calibrates sound in people’s New York apartments.
Meanwhile, the Berlin Film Festival will be starting up next week where the incomparable, mother of the French New Wave, Agnès Varda will be debuting her new film Varda by Agnès, within which she will be looking back on her astounding career. Also playing in Berlin is Who You Think I Am, a film where Juliet Binoche plays woman catfishing a younger man online. This combines two things I will always watch movies about: Juliet Binoche and catfishing.
Also, Jim Jarmusch has a zombie comedy coming called The Dead Don’t Die and as much as I don’t care about zombies, what he did with vampires in his wonderful Only Lovers Left Alive proved no genre can contain him. He’s also bringing back some of the best actors who have worked him from Adam Driver, to Bill Murray, to Tilda Swinton, so I am staying optimistic.
Last but not least, the trailer finally dropped for Pedro Almadóvar’s latest, which has the feel of something majestic from an already majestic filmmaker. Pain & Glory stars his frequent collaborators Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, and has a very 8 1/2 feel, being about a director reflecting on his life during a troubled production.
As always, thank you for reading, and I can’t wait to hear about which films you’re excited for!
Kelly Reichardt’s film about old friends on a weekend camping trip is a perfect showcase of her mastery of pace and tone, and a great entry point into her filmography.
James Gray follow up to The Lost City of Z is a brutal sci-fi film that captures the inter-generational conflict over climate change.
A review of the startling Styx (2019). This taut moral thriller explores the costs of inaction in the face of crisis.