Every year, on the Fixed In Post podcast, Pete Peterson and I do a special episode about our favorite films of the year, and every year I include some movies that make Pete say, “I’ve never even heard of that one!” One of the great joys for me is to look past the big box office movies and to find the ones that are a little harder to notice—films that require some digging to spot.
To accompany this year’s retrospective discussion, here’s a list of some of my favorites from 2019, hailing from Australia, the USA, Germany, Mexico, and South Korea. But you won’t have to cross any borders to find them—I’ve made it easy for you by including where they can be found. Another note: some of these films include adult themes and content, so be sure to do your research before hitting that “Play” button.
The Nightingale (dir. by Jennifer Kent)
The Nightingale, Jennifer Kent’s second feature (after 2014’s excellent The Babadook), tells the story of a young wife and mother who befriends an Aboriginal tracker in the 1825 Australian outback while hunting for the British soldiers that committed an unspeakable act of violence against her. If it sounds brutal, that’s because it is. This is a film about coming to terms with the idea of violence as redemption. Can it be? Can vengeance heal? Can something that’s been torn to bits be made whole again? Kent’s stunning depictions of the Australian wild, along with spell-binding performances from Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr, make for an enthralling commentary on justice.
The Nightingale is rated R. It’s available to stream on Hulu.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco (dir. by Joe Talbot)
This film, Joe Talbot’s feature debut, is difficult to summarize in a few sentences. On its face, it’s about a young black man who’s doing everything he can to make sure that the house his grandfather built in San Francisco doesn’t disappear. But this poetic film doesn’t work in straightforward ways. This is a movie about what it means to belong to a city, even if that city doesn’t particularly want you. And while it feels a bit like a love letter to San Francisco, it also works as an elegy to disappearing community. This movie feels a bit like the one Wendell Berry would make if he were from San Francisco instead of Kentucky.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is rated R. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Transit (dir. by Christian Petzold)
Christian Petzold, the director of Phoenix (2014) and Barbara (2012), does what he does best here. Transit, like his other films, refuses to follow a typical narrative line, but instead, it weaves a story that bends around on itself and holds you captive. On its face, Transit is about a German refugee living in occupied France during… something? Is it WWII? Maybe WWIII? Is this happening in contemporary times, or in some retrofitted past? It’s hard to tell, and the feeling we’re left with is that this could be any time, any country, any person. Georg learns he can escape the occupation by assuming the identity of a writer who has killed himself. What follows is a labyrinthine exercise that’s a mixture of espionage, dreariness, romance, and failure. Transit calls to mind the harsh duality of realism and fairy tale of a film like Children of Men, while also pointing to the sheer ridiculousness of bureaucracy that we see in Brazil.
Transit is Not Rated. It’s available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, and Apple.
Tigers Are Not Afraid (dir. by Issa López)
Sometimes this film gets lumped into the horror movie genre, and while that’s probably fair, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Tigers Are Not Afraid, a film by Mexican director Issa López, is a story about the children affected by drug cartel violence. Ten year old Estrella, orphaned by this violence, is given three wishes, and, like all good fairy tales, these wishes don’t play out like she wants them to. And so, joining up with a gang of kids in the same predicament, Estrella attempts to exercise her own agency, and the result is a dark tale of retribution, magical realism, and finality. Tigers owes a lot to the films of del Toro, and the fantasy that’s conjured here, much like his films, is indelible.
Tigers Are Not Afraid is Not Rated. It’s available to stream on Shudder, and can be rented on Google Play, Apple, and Vudu.
Parasite (dir. by Bong Joon-ho)
This is definitely the biggest name on this list, and it’s the one you’ll probably be hearing about on Oscar night. In a year when the overwhelming theme of cinema has been economic disparity, Parasite hits hard and true. Bong (the filmmaker behind Snowpiercer and Okja) tells the story of a family of unemployed con men and women who work their way into high society, only to find that it’s not what they expected and probably not what they wanted. This is not a glorification of the “little man” or an excoriation of the dangers of wealth. No, it’s far more complex than that. From the opening scene in which our “heroes” get some free fumigation, we, the viewers, are constantly asking ourselves, “Who is the real parasite here?”
Parasite is still in limited release in theaters.
John Barber is a music lover, film nut, husband, and father. Last year he set out to watch 365 films in one year, and he lived to tell about it. That means he's seen more bad movies than we even want to think about.