Best films of 2019 that you might have missed

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Cannes Film Festival hit <i>Portrait of a Lady on Fire.</i>

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Cannes Film Festival hit Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Photo: Lilies Films

It’s been a mammoth year for film – and it’s not over yet.

From the sweet (snuggly labradors being trained up in Pick of the Litter) to the sour (Pennywise returning to terrorise the ‘Losers’ Club’ a little more in It: Chapter 2) to the downright silly (I’m looking at you Rambo: Last Blood), 2019 has served up something for everyone.

But what did you miss?

Here are six gems from different corners of the globe that might have slipped by you.

The Nightingale

The runaway winner at December 2’s AACTA Awards, this darkly macabre tale sees Australian director Jennifer Kent present us with a horrifying rape revenge narrative set in 19th century Tasmania.

A young Irish woman and an Aboriginal tracker become an unlikely team against a dangerous and violent gang of colonists.

You might have heard of Kent’s debut feature, the wonderfully-crafted domestic horror The Babadook, but this is a far superior film that doesn’t shy away from the violent reality of Australia’s past.

Yes, it’s super violent but necessarily so – and definitely not gratuitous.

Happy As Lazzaro

This is a wonderfully strange film from Italian director Alice Rohrwacher that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

On the surface, it’s about an unexpected friendship between a young farm worker in a remote village and the spoilt son of a wealthy land owner but there’s so much more to it than that.

It’s a sharply observed interrogation of privilege and exploitation through a magical-realist lens – and also a wonderful reflection on the strength of the human spirit in the face of great adversity.


Based on a short story by Haruki Murakami called The Elephant Vanishes, Burning is a psychological thriller from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong that will have you on the edge of your set for all 148 minutes.

It’s a curious mix of slacker romance and sexy suspense starring Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, and the exceptionally attractive Steven Yeun (from The Walking Dead and last year’s screwball comedy Sorry To Bother You).

This is definitely a film that will stay with you long after the end credits roll.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

In this French drama set at the end of the 18th century, a young painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to secretly sketch a wedding portrait of estate owner’s daughter, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) without her knowledge.

It’s a beautifully tactile film that masterfully captures the tenderness and vulnerability of desire.

Directed by Céline Sciamma, it won the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – a first for a female director.


German director Christian Petzold (Barbara, Phoenix) breaks with tradition in this existential romance drawn from 1940s Marseille and presented through a distinctly 21st century lens.

Despite this strange temporal displacement, there’s nothing gimmicky about Petzold’s approach.

Adapted from a 1944 novel by anti-fascist writer Anna Seghers, Transit is a nuanced and philosophical love story that explores the loneliness and peculiar stasis of a transitory refugee experience.

Pain and Glory

Acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar returns to the screen with one of his most inventive and personal films to date.

Teaming up with his long-time favourites Antonia Banderas and Penelope Cruz, Almodovar offers a wonderful insight into his own creative processes and life experiences through the character of Salvador Mallo.

A touching and darkly funny reflection on the richness of lived experience in all its pain and glory.

Other notable mentions include Melbourne-based writer and director Thomas M. Wright’s Acute Misfortune; Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out, the politically-charged horror Us; and finally, the film that is almost definitely going to win every award (or at least should!) South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s clever masterpiece, Parasite.

Catch them while you can.

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