While it is easy to spot the movies that were great and the anticipated ones that met our expectations, every year is bound have gems that were undiscovered or met beyond our expectations for them.
Alita: Battle Angel
As some of them turned out to be some of the best that 2019 had to offer, local audiences may have been surprised by some of these that had a lot more love and effort put into making them, turning them into surprising delights.
So before the year ends, maybe there is still some time to come back to these or give them a second chance so that you didn't miss out 2019.
A pet project of James Cameron for decades before he handed off this manga-adaptation to Robert Rodriguez, "Alita: Battle Angel" may only had spark and sizzle, without a throbbing substance. While having a project under the technical supervision or support of someone as daring as Cameron should would come out anything less than spectacular on the visual front (and it is in the running for the VFX Oscar), "Alita: Battle Angel" does use it visuals for some narrative effect. Between the cybernetic showdowns and an exhilarating Motorball sequence, "Alita: Battle Angel" does stand out to have heart in its titular angel with plenty of plot threads left to weave a series of sequels, if only fans and those who didn't watch it, give it that chance.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Since his breakout directorial debut with 2011's "Attack the Block", there was surprisingly little fanfare for director Joe Cornish's sophomore work. Despite a child cast headlining, that hasn't tarnished his capabilities as a director (who also writes) to make compelling story with a simple premise. Cornish's child-like re-purposing of Arthurian legend with kids-on-a-bike tropes (and small helpings of family-friendly lessons) turns out to be a much more exciting adventure than recent attempts to bank in on the Arthurian myth. Although still a box office flop, it should not be a discredit to Cornish to spin bankable tales.
2019 is certainly another year that has harped on the #MeToo movement and women empowerment, but if there is one movie this year that has managed to meet those agendas while skirting from the common backlash opponents see in the arguments made in these kinds of movie, it would be "Late Night". Director Nisha Ganatra's coupling with Mindy Kaling's writing, launched by a Golden Globe worthy performance by Emma Thompson that is her Miranda Priestly, is where "Late Night" goes unappreciated, at the same time remembering to be funny with wit, rather than being pretentious and hip.
When you see a love comedy with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, you only see a love comedy with Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. But at the hands of Jonathan Levine, he turns that 'out-of-your-league' pursuit into a love comedy that also tackles power and integrity, both in politics and in love. Made all the better by the reverse chemistry between a flawless Theron and a flawed Rogen, "Long Shot" puts a twist that love can gross but honest for the good reasons.
It was easy to dismiss "Crawl" as a B-grade budget horror upon seeing the trailer, but Alexandre Aja is not quite the budding director who is still trying to breakout from trashy horror flicks (being responsible for some of the trashiest the 2000s has to offer). Not since "The Shallows" have we seen a microbudget horror that has the right elements fit so well together in a short runtime. Compact in pace, condensed with tension (and surprising tenderness), and just being self-aware enough that it's a survival horror with an alligator but can still be told well. For this to be one of Quentin Tarantino's favourite films of 2019, you might be missing out some of the best that 2019 had to offer.
Fighting With My Family
The WWE have been renting out theirs star wrestles to productions or even making some of their own as vehicles for them to star on, but "Fighting With My Family" makes a case that the story should be about the stars themselves. While basing it on one of the rise-to-fame stories of its female wrestler is an inspiring starting point, director Stephen Merchant, tag teaming with the organization most recognized names (Dwayne Johnson appearance as himself is more imposing here than his movie personas), manages to clotheslines what could have been a marketing and recruitment gimmick, to one that has heart, laughter and dreams.
While the many walks outs are understandable, especially for how the movie marketed itself, but for anyone who are looking for something more contemplative with the resurgence of space films, they would be glad to add James Gray's "Ad Astra" in the list with Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris". With another strong performance by Brad Pitt on the dark side of Hollywood, "Ad Astra" is the natural step (coming back full circle) in space films, to contemplate about existential questions about our place in the universe, with the hindsight that space travel is much closer to a reality than it was when "Ad Astra"'s predecessors asked the same questions.
Standing against the tide of high-powered computer-generated graphics, Laika once again shows that the magic of stop-motion animation is still alive and evolving. While the competition was stronger that caused it to be overlooked, "Missing Link" is a step up for Laika with more colors, innovations, and grander voice cast to keep the charms of a medium that isn't slowing down, despite the odds.
Dua Garis Biru
For a movie trying to tackle a serious social issue such as teen pregnancy, it could have easily gone either being a self-righteous preach-aton or a ham-fisted story with unrealistic resolutions and happy endings. Starring an idol pop-star, it gave the confidence that "Dua Garis Biru" was going for a much lighter tone just to capitalise on their stardom. However, this directorial debut of screenwriter Gina Noer instead comes out matured and nuanced in showing the complications that comes with teen pregnancies, in the context of a predominantly Muslim country and its values and moral effects. While there's plenty of grounds for melodrama, all the tears, heartbreak and disappointment are earned through by exploring all the honest and hard reality of the young, confused and scared parents, and those involved in determining their young lives (and the life soon to be born). "Dua Garis Biru" does what would not have worked if done in Malaysia.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
When a screen adaptation of the infamous child explorer was announced, it is only natural to expect that it would come out as a borderline joke or parody to its educational counterpart. Rather, Paramount Pictures decided that it should be a bona-fide adventure that not only has a central character to root for, but transform her into a likable character that could sustain a series. While the characters are admittedly meant to be digestible by someone just passed their toddler years, Isabela Moner's backpacking explorer doesn't play it on the nose, but transforms Dora into a Tomb Raider with innocence. If they keep up with the intense and fun daring-do sequences, this could be a wholesome series for the family.
Cinema Online, 28 December 2019