January 16, 2019

No Film School's 24 Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Our list for 2019 crosses genres and platforms, what did we miss?

There's no doubt about it: 2018 was an insanely good year for movies and will be a very difficult one for cinema to top. The brains at No Film School, however, are here to give you hope.    

There's been a change in guard since we selected our 28 most anticipated films last year, and we've got a whole new range of voices in the mix to share what we believe are the releases you should be most hyped for this year. The list spans indies, blockbusters, and everything from Harmony Korine to Cats.

As always, there's sure to be plenty of surprises along the way. A few of our selections are actually movies we saw and loved on last year's festival circuit and are now headed to theaters for everyone to enjoy. We'll get our first taste of what 2019 has to offer at the Sundance Film Festival starting next week, but in the meantime, here are the films we're most excited about, in alphabetical order:

1. 1917

Director: Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes is an interesting filmmaker to watch. American Beauty more and more strikes me as a unique product of its time. Can you imagine a movie like that getting a major release in today’s world? What would the pitch even sound like? 

“It takes place in a suburban home, an upper-middle-class family, each character going through something of an identity crisis...”

The late 90’s feel like a far cry from today.

Road to Perdition, Mendes follow up, was underrated in hindsight. Mendes moved into the big franchises with Skyfall- a solid and unique entry into the massive Bond movies library.

1917 is something new. It's an original screenplay Mendes worked on as well, about World War 1. Producer Steven Spielberg referred to it as “hugely daring and ambitious.” I’m 100% onboard for any movie that is hugely daring and ambitious so let’s hope that isn’t just hyperbole. — George Edelman

2. Avengers: Endgame

Directors: The Russo Brothers

And with the snap of a finger, the whole universe changed. Not since the Big Bang has anything echoed across all eternity the way Thanos's actions have impacted the fate of existence. Look, I know this is a fictional movie, but I am HYPED about where it's going. Marvel is executing movies on a level previously unseen outside of Pixar. Think about their unmitigated success so far. It's uncanny. I am so happy to be alive during the age of superhero movies. Knock them all you want, but Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of my collecting comics, of my pursuit of storytelling, and of what it feels like to be ten and have limitless imagination. The summer movie season cannot come soon enough. .— Jason Hellerman

3. The Beach Bum

Director: Harmony Korine

I fucking love Harmony Korine. I fucking love his twisted mind and his untreated creativity. Spring Breakers was a masterpiece and I don’t care what anybody has to say about it...James Franco in cornrows and grills is exactly the type of douchebag I’d expect my kid to encounter if she ran off with her dumbass friends to spend Spring Break in Florida.

The Beach Bum looks to contain all of those Korine hallmarks that I love: excess, kaleidoscopic cinematography, and characters that I hate because I’m too afraid to be them. Matthew McConaughey plays a “rebellious stoner” named Moondog who lives life on his own terms. — V Renée

4. Birds of Passage

Director: Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra

Birds of Passage is a spectacular reclamation of the drug-war genre by first-time Colombian filmmaker Cristina Gallego & 'Embrace of the Serpent' helmer Ciro Guerra. In a media climate that's awash with Narcos spinoffs and Scarface rip-offs, it's truly an exhilarating experience to watch a period drug trafficking story told from the perspective of an indigenous Colombian.  It's 'Godfather' meets 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' level good.— Jon Fusco

5. Cats

Director: Tom Hooper

They’re making a movie of Cats. Granted, I’ve never seen Cats the musical, but as a child of the 80’s I was plenty aware of it. The funny thing is, I never really knew what it was about. I just figured it was a play about cats.

If you want to know why I’m curious about this movie to read the Wikipedia entry on Cats

Are you back? 

How crazy is that?

How did that strange collection of T.S Eliot poems ever become a play let alone a massive Broadway hit? What is going on and how did I not know all these years how completely insane Cats was?

I can think of no other explanation for Cats then that the 1980s were fueled entirely by cocaine. —George Edelman

6. Climax

Director: Gaspar Noe

Get ready to throw up! Or just maybe be sure and take some Dramamine before heading into this one, because the camera movements are even more insane than the grooves provided by Climax's cast of insanely talented dance troupe. Gaspar Noe is one of the great provocateurs of modern cinema, who can forget when he ejaculated all over audiences through the magic of 3D in his 2015 release Love, and Climax is no exception.

The film follows a group of dancers who quite literally go insane and begin to attack each other when they learn their sangria has been spiked with a fair amount of a certain hallucinatory drug. In fact, this could be considered the third in a "love and other drugs trilogy", with Enter The Void's focus on DMT, Love on the dangers of, well, love, and Climax on the horrors of LSD. I don't know what kind of acid Gaspar Noe's taking, but it's not the good kind, it's the bad kind. The really bad kind. The really, really bad kind. This movie is wild.  By the end, the only thing screaming louder than its cast of characters will be the nerve endings in your brain.—Jon Fusco

7. Dumbo

Director: Tim Burton

While the recent slew of Disney's animated-to-live-action remakes has proven a mixed bag (what on Earth will The Lion King bring us later this summer?), Tim Burton feels like a good fit to tackle the subject of a flying elephant, by my count the most famous flying elephant of all time. Also exciting is that Burton will be reteaming with his Batman Returns co-stars Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito for the project. While Burton has gone a little "softer" in his approach to film projects over the past decade, this one feels like it will be a mix of his specialty: magical joy with an undercurrent of danger. The Ring screenwriter Ehren Kruger pens the screenplay. — Erik Luers

8. First Cow

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Wendy and Lucy was the first indie film I went to go see in my local art house theater and was probably the first film that made me truly love the art form. Kelly Reichardt has always been one of those directors that I greatly admire because of her ability to surprise me with seemingly underwhelming things. 

Her follow-up to Certain Women, First Cow, is set in 1820 Oregon and China and follows the story of Cookie Figowitz, a cook for fur trappers trekking through the Oregon Territory, who “joins up with the refugee Henry Brown” on an adventure from the West to China (and back again). — V Renée

9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Director: Dean DeBlois

The final installment to the Dragon series is almost here, and I am ready and willing to put what might be our best trilogy of the 2010s directly into my eyeballs. These movies have everything you want. heart. Action. Excitement. And breathtaking scope. The vocal cast is diverse, interesting, and bring humanity to the elegantly animated characters.
 
As an animal lover, these movies take everything I feel about my dog and put them into a dragon. A lot of time we push animation into the realm of children, but there's a sophisticated quality behind these movies that elevate it to any audience. How To Train Your Dragon was about first impressions and expectations. The second installment was about forgiveness and reconciliation. I have no idea what's in store for the third movie, but I am ready for the rest of the adventure. Bring tissues.  — Jason Hellerman

10. Hobbs & Shaw

Director: David Leitch

Yeah, do I really need to say more than The Rock and Statham? I love the Fast franchise. But I have to admit that my favorite parts of the series have been the addition of the Rock and bringing back Statham. Their chemistry is undeniable. Even if it means no justice for Han.

Sorry Han.

Their team-up movie promises to have a ton of action, a ton of one-liners, and a metric ton of kicking ass. While we don't know much about the plot, I don't really care. It costs $20 to see a movie in Los Angeles. I need to see something explode on the biggest screen possible for that kind of price. This movie promises that and more just with its title.  —Jason Hellerman

11. The Irishman

Director: Martin Scorsese

While any new film project from Martin Scorsese demands a cinephile's unwavering anticipation, one that reunites the famous New York auteur with Robert De Niro (for the first time since Casino in 1995) is a cause for celebration. And one that finally, for the first time ever, unites the filmmaker with the great Al Pacino is a cause for unlimited hyperbole. Casting the two greats in a story related to the mafia is just icing on the cake, that is, if the icing on the cake wasn't already casting Academy Award winner Joe Pesci as a character named Russell Bufalino. When Netflix releases the film later this year, I will be streaming it on loop.  — Erik Luers

12. John Wick 3: Parabellum 

Director: Chad Stahelski

I remember the feeling I had during the first John Wick. I was living in a slum of an apartment on Grace Avenue in Hollywood. It was a horrific place. But I could walk to the Arclight. I left John Wick at a late showing, and I felt alive. It gave me a world I never knew I wanted, and outside of The Matrix, it used Keanu Reeves in a way that allowed him to excel in every scene. As a fan of John Wick 2, the third installment gives me hope that the legend will continue. Maybe this time John will really retire. Or maybe not. Gentlemen, load your weapons! — Jason Hellerman

"Joker" Credit: Warner Bros.

13. Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

To be honest, I'm not really a big comic book movie fan. It may be based on disappointment and fatigue from trying to follow the trend in the early 2000s when Hollywood began pushing the first wave of superhero movies, but even now I find it hard to stay engaged with the modern Marvel and DC franchises.

However, I have always enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Batman's and have very fond memories of Heath Ledger's iconic performance in The Dark Knight. I'm excited to see Joaquin Phoenix' take on the titular character and just how dark he can take it. If anyone saw Phoenix' work in last years You Were Never Really Here, you'll understand my anticipation for just what a powerful and brooding anti-hero we could have in front of us next fall. — Jourdan Aldredge

14. Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig

Based on the famous novel by Louisa May Alcott, this latest adaptation of Little Women comes with some amazing talent both in-front-of and behind the camera. Director Greta Gerwig follows up her awesome Lady Bird (one of my favorite films of 2017) with this retelling that's destined to be an awards contender in the later part of the year. Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern, and Timothée Chalamet co-star, and DP Yorick Le Saux (High Life) lenses the film. Even if you're not a fan of period pieces, something tells me that this one, with a script by Gerwig as well, will be a potential gamechanger. — Erik Luers

15. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Director: Quentin Tarantino

My favorite quality of Quentin Tarantino’s films is that they are always fun. Even Quentin Tarantino’s missteps entertain me. He blends drama, action, humor, and horror elements seamlessly. He pushes the envelope. He makes each movie count. Most of all, you can tell he’s having fun. 

I’ve loved watching him experiment over the years, honing his voice and style. Both Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained felt like my Christmas present in their respective release years. And while I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm for Hateful Eight, on the whole, I loved the roadshow 70mm experience QT curated, and Morricone’s score was phenomenal. 

Tarantino is just a dying breed. He gets large budgets and major stars to play within his sandbox. He is a throwback to another era of movies and movie-going. Everything he does is a love letter to cinematic history, good and bad. He is never formulaic or chained to the demands of markets, brands, or IP. He’s just a good writer/director interested in telling the stories he wants to and taking chances. 

The story focuses on an actor and his stunt double in 1969 Hollywood looking for fame and brushing with the Manson murders. QT’s longtime cinematographer Robert Richardson said of the movie to Indiewire, “I think the tone of it is – it’s difficult to describe because it’s very fresh, but it oscillates between humorous, serious, spooky; it’s playful. It’s not easily describable." Sounds perfect. — George Edelman

16. Pet Sematary

Directors: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer

With Mary Lambert's original cinematic offering of the classic Stephen King novel turning 30 this year, I suppose a remake was in order. Directed by horror up-and-comers Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Pet Sematary (2019) looks like a modernization of the original story, while keeping (and ramping up) the original elements already in place. Yes, there's still a cute baby who wanders too close to the road, yes, there's a creepy elderly neighbor who knows more than he lets on, and yes, there's an Indian burial ground that, if you've seen any horror movie over the past 50 years, could never offer anything wholesome to its inhabitants. I've given up dreading remakes and have begun attempting to embrace them. Let's see if this one works. — Erik Luers

17. Pokemon Detective Pikachu

Director: Rob Letterman

This is the movie my inner eight-year-old has been asking for since the fifteenth time it kicked the Elite Four's ass in Pokemon Blue. With all the other nostalgia porn around these days, I honestly can't believe its taken this long (twenty years?) for us to get a live action Pokemon movie. And somewhat unbelievably it looks like it's not going to suck.

The "realistic" character designs are sourced from DeviantArt artist RJ Palmer, whose work had been delighting internet nostalgists for years prior to his hiring. With what seems a special emphasis on the original 150 creatures, Nintendo is doing what it does best and really tapping into a certain 25-40-year-old audience with this one, while still keeping the material light and fresh enough for kids to lose their little minds over. I really hope I'm not wrong about this one. — Jon Fusco

18. The Rhythm Section

Director: Reed Morano

After winning an Emmy for her work The Handmaid's Tale, and on the heels of the fantastic I Think We're Alone Now, Reed Morano has absolutely established herself as one of the best directors working here in 2019. The DP-turned-director knows how to craft visually compelling, and surprisingly titillating, scenes and characters that pop off the screen.

The Rhythm Section teams Morano with Blake Lively and Jude Law in an action spy thriller featuring Lively as a deadly assassin. Which, as a huge fan of the action movie's modern resurgence, looks absolutely like one of the butt-kicking bests of 2019. —Jourdan Aldredge

19. Rambo 5: Last Blood

Director: Adrian Grunberg

Along with my role here at No Film School, I also run the Ultimate Action Movie Club - a community page dedicated to honoring 80s and 90s action movies. As such, I, of course, have a soft spot in my heart for Sylvester Stallone and his iconic Rambo franchise.  Yes, Stallone might be 72 years old, but it doesn't mean that this next John Rambo performance (and what will very well be his last) doesn't look downright... ultimate! Set along the US-Mexico border, Rambo will undoubtedly deliver the hits as much as his aged body can handle.  But based off the strength of Rambo (2008) and Stallone's recent work assuring his Rocky legacy will live on with the Creed series, it's a safe bet that Rambo V: Last Blood will be the sendoff this ultimate action movie legend deserves. — Jourdan Aldredge

20. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek

Director: Henry Dunham

Technically I saw The Standoff at Sparrow Creek in Austin, Texas at Fantastic Fest 2018, but the film's official digital release is Jan. 18th, so I'll give it a 2019 boost. Sparrow Creek is a razor-sharp boiler room thriller in the vein of Reservoir Dogs. James Badge Dale leads a brilliant ensemble cast of suspicious militiamen staked out together in the light of a mass shooting trying to figure out which one of them committed the crime - and what they should do about it. Written and directed by newcomer Henry Dunham, Sparrow Creek is a tight white-knuckled 90-minute who-dun-it that could very well be on several best of the 2019 lists this time next year.— Jourdan Aldredge

21. Star Wars Episode IX

Director: JJ Abrams

I’m Star Wars obsessed, but like any overgrown fan-boy, I have a lot of opinions when it comes to Star Wars. Probably too many.  The first two entries in the “sequel trilogy” have made me look more fondly on the bizarre mess of the prequels. At least they were… weird… bad… at least they were fresh. 

The truth is when it comes to Star Wars movies, I’m not really looking forward to the movie itself- I expect it’ll be a letdown. You just can’t top those first three movies in my book, and I’m not sure the creative juices are even there. The money sure is though. I’m looking forward to the barrage of hot takes, complaints, cameos, concerns, and defenses of whatever Star Wars Episode IX is. I’m also looking forward to Billy Dee Williams playing Lando again. That’s just so weird. 

More than anything else, I have a 4-year-old who lives and breathes Star Wars, and I just can’t wait to get into the theater with him and watch him experience it. Whatever I think of it, his reactions will be the real joy for me. — George Edelman

22. Uncut Gems

Directors: The Safdie Brothers

I've lived in New York City for the past ten years, so as an official New Yorker, I can officially say there are no more authentic living New York City Filmmakers then Josh and Benny Safdie. Their whip-smart blend of action, comedy and drama make the brothers an easy comparison to a pair of new age Scorseses, the main difference being Scorsese never grew up in an overstimulated world where people are subject to 24/7 sensory assault. 

For their new project, produced by A24, and internationally distributed by Netflix the brothers are teaming up with another New York legend, Adam Sandler. It’s hard to expect we’ll get anything less than vintage PTA Sandler here, as Adam seems a far cry from the days of The Ridiculous SixAll we really know about the film is that it is an “American Crime Drama”, which isn't much of a surprise when you consider the Safdies' previous films Heaven Knows What and Good Time.  The cast is rounded off by Lakeith Stanfield, Judd Hirsch, Idina Menzel, Pom Klementieff, and former NBA big man Kevin Garnett. —Jon Fusco

23. Us

Director: Jordan Peele

Get Out solidified Jordan Peele as the director whose work I’m most excited about, so clearly, his upcoming horror flick is the one I can’t wait to go see. Us, whose trailer dropped just in time for Christmas, follows the story of a young family of four who takes a vacation at their beach house only to be unexpectedly visited by their seemingly evil doppelgangers. Peele knows how to tap into our innermost fears, so his comments at the trailer release for Us left me with all types of anxiety: “We are our own worst enemies.” — V Renée

24. Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Director: Richard Linklater

As much as I loved Birdman, I still think Richard Linklater was robbed of at least one friggin’ Oscar for his amazing work on Boyhood. I admit I wasn’t all that excited about his last two films, but Where’d You Go, Bernadette seems like a return to what I admire most about Linklater’s work: honest reflections of family life, with all the drama, pain, and laughter that comes with it. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an adaptation of Maria Semple’s best-selling 2012 novel in which an agoraphobic wife/mother goes missing before a family trip. — V Renée

Which film is your most anticipated for 2019? And given the number of movies making their way to theaters (and digital devices) over the next twelve months, perhaps we missed a few? Let us know in the comments below.     

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