What classifies a film as a “cult classic?” First and foremost, it must stand the test of time. Cult classics only become such after years, even decades, of sustained viewership from fans who are, generally, more invested in non-mainstream movies. This includes films that are often reviled when they premiere only to be praised at a later date. A few of the most notable filmmakers with cult followings include Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining), David Lynch (Eraserhead, Twin Peaks) and John Waters (Pink Flamingos) among others.
Today there are several directors whose work is, without a doubt, headed for cult classic status such as Ari Aster, Robert Eggers and Bong Joon-ho. From psychedelic drugs to doppelgängers with laryngitis, here are the top ten films from 2019 that, odds are, will one day be considered cult classics.
(Note: The films in this list recognize U.S. release dates as identified on Rotten Tomatoes)
10. High Life
Claire Denis crafts an erotic cocktail of impending death and artificial insemination in her dystopian sci-fi High Life. As an alternative to life in prison, death row inmates are sentenced to interstellar suicide as hell-bent guinea pigs. But when the misfit crew is subjected to sperm sampling and fertility tests for reproductive research, Monte (Robert Pattinson) abstains. It isn’t until his hand is forced when a biological breakthrough ensues. Soon Monte and his daughter Willow (Jessie Ross)—sole survivors of a controversial mission—hurdle headlong toward an open-to-interpretation ending.
With the spectrum of outer-space oddities ranging from artificial intelligence such as HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) to extraterrestrials including Alien and War of the Worlds, High Life suggests that humans are much more horrifying. Co-starring Juliette Binoche and André Benjamin (a.k.a. André 3000), Denis’ cast find chemistry amidst violence and hopelessness. As intoxicating as it is amorous, High Life lets viewers decide for themselves whether space is a frontier or a tomb.
9. Motherless Brooklyn
A P.I. suffering from O.C.D. and tourettes—“tits on a Tuesday!”—must avenge his boss’ death in Edward Norton’s attempt at directing Motherless Brooklyn starring himself. After respected investigator Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) is gunned down for reasons unbeknownst to Lionel Essrog (Norton), or Bailey as he often calls himself, Essrog pledges to finish what Frank started.
Posing as an investigative journalist with stolen credentials, Lionel identifies Moses Randoplh (Alec Baldwin), a powerful property developer, as the mastermind behind Minna’s murder and the head of a city-wide conspiracy. With nothing but Frank’s fedora and a photographic memory to uncover clues, Lionel must intercept Randolph’s plans lest Brooklyn be irreparably divided.
Based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name, the first-time director takes many creative liberties to retell this who-done-what chapter of New York City’s unpleasant past. Deeply entrenched in urban renewal and racial descrimination, Motherless Brooklyn is a poignant period piece set in the 1950’s. Combining a jazz-cat score with an uncomfortably long run time, Norton’s neo-noir crime film features supporting performances from Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
Though his abilities as a director are, at times, convincing, Edward asks us if—“if, IF!?”—Motherless Brooklyn has what it takes to age into a cult classic or if it will continue to recede out of the limelight.
8. The Beach Bum
Harmony Korine first dropped audience’s jaws with his screenplay for Kids (1995); a day in the life depiction of several sexually active preteens in New York City. Two years later we got Gummo, Korine’s directorial debut which portrays the lives of impoverished Ohioans in the aftermath of a devastating tornado. Fast forward twenty-two years and we arrive at The Beach Bum, a stoner dramedy starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog; a pot-smoking poet living in the Florida Keys.
When his wealthy ex-wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) dies in a car crash, free-spirited Moondog is entitled to half of her inheritance on the sole condition that he must finish his work-in-progress novel. Seeking solace from R&B singer and Minnie’s former fiancé Lingerie (Snoop Dog) as well as a pyromaniac (Zac Efron) and a maritime tour guide (Martin Lawrence), Moondog must decide for himself whether or not getting high and honoring his ex-wife’s wishes are mutually exclusive.
Sporting outrageous outfits throughout the film including matching button-ups and board shorts, pink kimonos and feather boas, Moondog’s hedonistic charisma has cult classic written all over it. While The Beach Bum deviates heavily from the skin-crawling cinematography of Korine’s earlier work, McConaughey’s goofy giggle and magnetic presence on-screen may be enough to achieve a cult following.
Stand-up comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele stole horror fan’s hearts with Get Out (2017) which documents a black man’s conspiratorial encounter with his girlfriend’s racist relatives. Two years later he turned his cast on themselves as jumpsuit-wearing doppelgängers in Us. Once more taking place on a getaway-gone-wrong, Us follows a family of four to Santa Cruz, California where could-be-clones terrorize them with scissors and sore throats. Culminating in a farfetched face-off beneath the boardwalk, Us’ awkward voice acting and overly-audacious ending struggle to comment on the fabric of society, ultimately unravelling at the seams.
Six years after winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role as cotton-picking Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013) Lupita Nyong’o outacts her antagonist self as a mom on a mission. Featuring a gender bender dad in distress (Winston Duke) and Elisabeth Moss as a family friend, Us’ ambition exceeds its ability. A classic example of a sophmore slump, Peele’s second film might still be a cult classic in the making.
6. Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler delivers the performance of a lifetime in Benny and Josh Safdie’s Uncut Gems. Set in New York City’s Diamond District, Howard Ratner (Sandler), a Jewish jeweler and gambling addict, gets his hands on an incredibly rare black opal. But when NBA All-Star Kevin Garnett (played by himself) wants to buy the gem for less than it’s worth, Howard finds himself between a rock and an impossible place. Gaining momentum every step of the way, Uncut Gems is an avalanche of deals gone wrong and high-stakes anxiety.
To capture Sandler’s manic movements throughout the film, director of photography Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, Seven) invested in highly-advanced focus-pulling software from Preston Cinema Systems which allowed the Safdie brothers to keep their protagonist in focus with an ever-changing depth of field and an excess of extreme close-ups. Tracking between Howard’s house, showroom, downtown apartment and other interiors such as night clubs and basketball courts, Sandler is undoubtedly the Safdie’s new MVP.
Given that Sandler’s experience as a dramatic actor is few and far between i.e. Punch Drunk Love (2002) and Reign Over Me (2007), Uncut Gems is a diamond in the rough in a career dominated by obnoxious comedy. Stress-inducing and justifiably vulgar (featuring the fourth-most amount of F-words in movie history) Uncut Gems proves that a typecasted actor can rise to the occasion given the right script and direction.