Every year, we recognize those films that did not come out in theaters in the U.S. for a full theatrical run. All of the below films had no announced U.S. distribution at press time, but the spotlight awaits (and you can keep an eye out for more coverage in a future Film Comment...).
The top 10 entries for both our released and undistributed films feature original appreciations from our favorite critics. The full top 20 list also includes links to features, reviews, and interviews from across the year, as well as links to other work about the films and directors.
For the best films that received a theatrical run in the U.S. this year, here’s the Best Released Films of 2019 list.
Peruse the poll results of yesteryear.
And listen to our podcast discussing the results.
State Funeral gathers that raw material, shot on both black-and-white and color film stock, into an effectively linear synchronicity of disparate shoots all witnessing a similar procession of reverence and solemnity: from workers emerging out of an oil rig hoisting Stalin’s portrait—presented as if it were a religious icon—to the actual funeral procession into Moscow’s Red Square. "
The film’s materialist approach, which evokes the works of Straub-Huillet, builds upon this series of near-vignettes—brief portraits of Spanish civilians reflecting on their lives before, during, and after the war, connected only by Anxo’s journey and the unshakable weight of fascism. "
If you’re more familiar with Kurosawa’s sci-fi thrillers, like Creepy or Foreboding, the film is a surprising change in pace. The director of the variety show marauds around the towns and lakes of Uzbekistan, looking for what he thinks the audience wants—exotic, energetic plot-oriented footage—and Kurosawa is interested in the direct opposite. The film is a meditation and an excavation, not of foreign lands, but of the fantasies that we map on to them. "
With quiet resolve and empathy, Bohdanowicz and Campbell investigate Audrey’s longing; together they’ve cultivated a character that at this point can’t simply be read as a surrogate (if it ever could), but as a complex and ever-evolving figure in her own right. Through her, Bohdanowicz and Campbell manage to open a space for thought and introspection that precious few films afford. "
One thing that’s striking about Oh Mercy is the way it shows us just how much performance goes into police work. Many of the interrogation scenes here are built around a traditional good cop/bad cop dynamic, with one or more coppers losing their temper, or feigning to, while another, usually Daoud, remains the voice of compassionate calm, the one who decides when a pause for breath is needed, offering a coffee or a cigarette. "
Shot on low-grade digital video in and around Ferrara’s own apartment and co-starring his wife, actress Cristina Chiriac, and their 3-year-old daughter Anna, Tommaso looks and often feels like the director’s recent forays into nonfiction filmmaking; with rough-and-tumble grit, Ferrara’s camera follows the title character with an energy bordering on the obsessive. "
Shot in black-and-white and on 16mm, the film’s sharp lines and aesthetic austerity isolate Martin within the hardness of manual routine. But Jenkin also animates Martin’s psychological intensity through hyperreal sound design—a percussive accent registers as though underwater—and disjointed montage, evoking the post-traumatic dread of Nicolas Roeg. "
In their winsome documentary Midnight in Paris—so named for prom’s theme that year—Roni Moore and James Blagden wisely revel in that tense, sanguine, altogether thrilling moment on the precipice of adulthood and leave the broader social connotations for the audience to sort out, or not. "
A shape-shifting interpolation of Ronald M. Schernikau’s novel So schön, So Pretty centers on a small LGBTQ+ community in Brooklyn. Between social gatherings, political demonstrations, and outdoor literature readings, the group commingle in various domestic spaces, their activities mapped less by a narrative than a sense of resistance and shared experience. "