Biggest surprises of 2019

Okay, okay, everyone has an opinion about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and yes, we know Cats is a hairball of an experience. Social media has hit saturation point in these discussions and it is getting painful to read the vitriol on these two films. Interestingly, the ninth instalment in the official Star Wars franchise is still going to clear $1 billion world-wide by the end of its box office run. Putting all of those pseudo-fans who rank it as one of the worst, (really, worse than the prequels, come on!) a laughing stock to the Disney team who has managed to justify their purchase from George Lucas. 

The Reel Dialogue alternative: Instead of jumping on the negative bandwagon, the Reel Dialogue team thought we would have some fun. We had a look at the films that were surprise hits and fan favourites in this year of Disney domination. 

What films managed to defy the critics and surpass even the studio expectations in 2019? 

We will use world-wide box office results and critic reviews to compile our list. Reel Dialogue will provide a short critique of the top surprise films and invite our readers to share their favourite films of the year. 

To clarify, this will not include the likes of Avengers: Endgame, Frozen II or The Lion King, all films that were foregone conclusions to be hits. This list will be for those movies that went beyond expectation and grabbed audiences attention in 2019. This is not a ranking, but the list will go from 10 to 1 to build some momentum. 

Have fun reading through the movies and send us your comments and favourites. Please keep your comments about Star Wars and Cats to a minimum. (Ugh, really worse than the prequels?)

10. Aladdin 

What happens when Guy Ritchie is let loose in the Mouse House?

‘The one Disney film that makes the list, but it is the best of the live-action remakes on the roster for the year. To put the minds of fans of the original at ease, it is worth addressing some of the most significant issues that come from this film. Will Smith is a massive star, but to fill the Genie’s shoes after being vacated by Robin Williams is no easy feat. To Smith’s credit and to Guy Ritchie’s direction, they make this character their own, by paying homage to William’s masterwork with nuances that give it a fresh spin as he exits the lamp. The CGI is quite cartoonish and does not set any new standards, but it merely complements the story and does not diminish the performance.’ Full review

9. Parasite 

Is this the best film of 2019?

‘This twisted tale is difficult to classify, being part dark comedy and part thriller. It turns into an engaging and disturbing pathway into the human experience. Bong Joon-ho manages to tap into the moral juxtaposition of humanity through a parallel journey of two families, despite their differing financial positions. Proving that having or not having wealth does not mean the human heart is any less depraved and that the legacy of bad parenting can happen in any socio-economic class.’ Full Review

8. The Farewell 

Awkwafina… we love ya!

‘For those who enjoy a story that engages with the nuances of modern cultures, The Farewell is a fascinating study of micro-cultures within humanity. Despite being an American production, the majority of the film is subtitled and focusses on the Chinese experience. The film is a methodical telling of the tensions and passions that only can be seen within the context of a family on the topics of grief, death and the value of life.’ Full Review

7. Downton Abbey

The people wanted more of the Crawley family

‘For everyone who was able to follow this brief synopsis of the latest episode of Downton Abbey, this is the conclusion you have been waiting to see. The creators of the series stay true to the original historical story and provide a satisfactory continuation of the Crawley’s story. This version offers an expansive canvas to paint the pastoral gardens and beauty of the English landscape against. The larger screen does provide a fresh feel despite it being a mere continuation of this familiar yarn of British aristocracy.’ Full Review

6. Yesterday 

What would life like be without the Beetles?

‘One thing that has been lacking in cinemas throughout 2019 is originality and joy. It can be argued that Yesterday is not a perfect film, but it does blow into theatres like a refreshing breathe of fresh air. An original and joyful adventure that will leave audiences smiling, singing and longing for more films like this for the future. Danny Boyle gave up the opportunity to direct a James Bond film to take on this love story wrapped up in a fantasy and it was worth it. Instead of getting pulled into another well-worn franchise, Boyle and Richard Curtis manage to deliver one of the most enjoyable films of the year.’ Full review

5. Ford v Ferrari

High-octane fun

‘Unlike many films that show how individuals attain their goals in life by merely believing in themselves, director James Mangold (Logan) has brought out a film that shows that the greatest achievements in life are forged through fire. We hear of the legendary tales of greats in industry and disciplines like Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles after they have already achieved their goals in life.’ Full review

4. Knives Out

No mystery, this was great fun

Knives Out makes it fun to go back to theatres again and gives hope to an industry that has suffered from the talent drain caused by streaming services. Johnson manages to masterfully weave together a story that takes more twists and turns than a Harlan Thrombey novel. The perfect balance of mystery, humour, and drama to make any fan of cinema hang on until the final reveal. Keeping everyone on the hot seat as possible suspects while keeping audiences off balance with the prospect that this is the death of a crime novelist. Did it really happen?’ Full review

3. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum 

Is it possible to make violence beautiful?

‘This film is meant for a select audience who appreciates the dark world and skilful filmmaking within this genre. For the fans of this franchise, this will satisfy everything that audiences have come to expect from Wick and company. The journey is entertaining, engaging and exhausting despite some lulls in the action, but these respites are merciful in light of the massive scale of each action sequence.’ Full review

2. Shazam! 

The Reel Dialogue team was not swept away by Shazam, but fans loved him

‘Devout DC fans could argue that Shazam! exists outside the world of the Justice League, but director Peter Segal (Grudge Match) capitalises on a multitude of the legendary comic characters to support his story and has his hero land squarely in the thick of the DCEU. Even though he uses themes from Big, Goonies, Power Rangers and even The Greatest America Hero (dated reference – look it up) as a means of lightening the overarching dark tone of this franchise, his use of excessive violence and other mature themes pulls this whimsical character back into the dark realm of its predecessors.’ Full review

1. Joker

‘Can you say, $1 Billion?’

‘Todd Phillips has managed to prove that he can evolve as a writer and director while building upon the iconic character of the Joker. This is the first MA 15+ (R rating -US) of a film about this DC character. A warning to all who attend that this is a graphic novel adaptation that is for mature and discerning audiences only. In sharing this aspect of the film, it is worthy of all of the acclaim for its director and lead actor. ‘ Full review

Were you surprised?

What films were your favourites or biggest surprises in 2019?