Sometimes a film just sneaks up and wows you at being far better than what the previews implied. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a film you agreed with in the court of public opinion. These are the movies that didn’t appear like much at first, but to us at mxdwn, revealed a bit more ingenuity hiding beneath the surface. And just poor marketing in general:
Blinded by the Light
Partly inspired by the life story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, Blinded by the Light follows the story of Javed Khan, a young Pakistani immigrant living in Britain during the late 1980’s. Not only is he surrounded by the racism of the 80’s, but he is also forced to deal with an overbearing father and money troubles too. Javed is depressed with his life and, as an outlet, writes song lyrics until he meets a Sikh who introduces him to the music of the Bruce Springsteen. Despite the fact that Springsteen is a white guy from New Jersey, his music connects with Javed and inspires him to become a better writer. Blinded does an excellent job showing how powerful art is and how music with a universal message can inspire and connect with people all over the world, as well as make you care about Javed’s situation. While my dad more of a Springsteen fan than I am, this movie made me understand why people like the Boss’s music.
– Arden Terry
Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart deserved more attention than it got. At first appearing to be a gender-flipped Superbad, what we got was instead a touching and well-crafted tale of female friendship and growing up. It’s the right blend of raunchy and touching without becoming neither self-centered nor dependent on hormones to make its laughs work. This film is guaranteed to become a classic amongst the coming of age genre.
– Ben Wasserman
Dolemite Is My Name
Dolemite Is My Name caught me off guard because Eddie Murphy had been absent from the big screen for over nine years. The films he made in the 2010s were mostly critical and commercial flops and there was zero indication that he would be returning to his raunchy roots from the 1980s and 1990s. That changed with Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name in October. Not only did Murphy produce the film and showcase his trademark comedy skills, but he did so with a figure that he himself was inspired by: Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy captured the foul-mouth essence of Moore and illustrated how his talents as a dramatic actor can go hand in hand with his comedic skills. This film is not only hilarious but endearing, adding to the notion that great comedians never lose their touch.
– Drew Mattiola
Somehow Downton Abbey‘s plot, characters and charm impossibly justifies its existence beyond a simple cash grab, even though the idea of a movie following the acclaimed TV series never really made sense.
– Raymond Flotat
While Hustlers is the most obvious pick for Most Surprising Movie, Ang Lee’s Gemini Man is a more interesting choice. Sure, the premise of Will Smith fighting a younger, stronger version of himself feels like it’s from 1997—because it is—and the de-aging effects are hit-or-miss, but Gemini Man wasn’t bad. Smith is genuinely engaging alongside enjoyable performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong. The high frame rate and 3D experience won’t be for everyone, but I admire Lee’s ambition and desire to experiment with film technology. Plus, it made the action scenes look pretty cool.
– Alicia Devereaux
I really thought Hustlers was going to be this very basic, comedic movie that just showed characters stripping and making fun of the fact that they were stealing money from people. Instead, it was actually a really insightful and mature discussion about class, power, and right vs. wrong, with stellar performances by Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu to back up the storyline.
– Avalon Allen
Hustlers was advertised as women stealing money while stripping, knowing that audiences would flock to see it. What Hustlers delivered though was a high stakes crime told by two friends who got in over their heads. The direction by Lorene Scarfaria almost seemed fitting for a spy genre, but let every woman shine in their roles both on and off the stage. Hustlers is a perfect example of selling low and earning high.
– Ryan Sterritt
I didn’t know what to expect with Rian Johnson’s newest film Knives Out, especially after the mixed bag that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Fortunately, not only was Johnson able to make a film that was more consistently good, but possibly his best film yet. Knives Out is filled with so many great surprises that make it one of the most engaging narratives I’ve seen all year. Add in a fantastic cast delivering so many great lines and moments throughout the film’s runtime, and you have yourself one of the most memorable movie experiences of 2019.
– Ryan Pineda
Most horror films occur during the nighttime, but Ari Aster managed to terrify us during the daytime. Midsommar unquestionably takes it’s cues from The Wicker Man and manages to get under our skin despite the fact that we are familiar with films of this nature. With great performances, a haunting soundtrack and an unforgettable ending this is an impressive second film from Aster. In terms of a sophomore film from a new director, this was more intense and impressive if not more memorable than Jordan Peele’s Us.
– Rick Rice
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Fans are very split about the last few Star Wars movies, and as one of the fans who was not fond of The Last Jedi, I went into this one with low expectations, ready to be let down. But surprisingly, The Rise of Skywalkerrekindled my love for the series and reminded me why I was such a big fan in the first place. It felt like a solid closing statement with loose ends wrapped up and hints of new opportunities to come.
– Leilani Reyes
Going into The Lighthouse, I didn’t really know what to expect. The film was a black and white period piece about two caretakers of an isolated lighthouse in the 19th century Northeast. I did not expect the film to deliver such an interesting and captivating plot that embodied the artistic qualities of independent film. The movie was truly disturbing in a way I did not anticipate, and Robert Eggers’ composition was very well done and engaging even for an audience used to technicolor pictures.
– Natalie Holderbaum
Toy Story 4
I was fully expecting Toy Story 4 to be a total cash grab. And, while it was partially that, the story still felt so unique and heartfelt. The movie wasn’t cheap and you can tell real effort was put into it from the people at Pixar, despite having already made a perfect trilogy. It was truly a beautiful experience witness the sendoff of all these amazing characters from the Toy Story franchise.
– Noah Pfister