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The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2018

Written by on December 20, 2018 

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There are a multitude of reasons why any film may get unfairly overlooked. It could be a lack of marketing resources to provide a substantial push, or, due to a minuscule roll-out, not enough critics and audiences to be the champions it might require. It could simply be the timing of the picture itself; even in the world of studio filmmaking, some features take time to get their due. With an increasingly crowded marketplace, there are more reasons than ever that something might not find an audience and we’ve rounded up the releases that deserved more attention.

Note that all of the below films made less than $500K at the domestic box office at the time of posting–Netflix/VOD figures are not accounted for, as they normally aren’t made public–and are, for the most part, left out of most year-end conversations. Sadly, many documentaries would qualify for this list, but we stuck strictly to narrative efforts; one can instead read our rundown of the top docs here.

Check out the list of 50 below, as presented in alphabetical order and, in the comments, let us know the 2018 films you loved that aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. A great deal of the below titles are also available to stream, so check out our feature here to catch up.

One can also follow the list on Letterboxd.

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)

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A push-pull experience par excellence: beautiful in its still backgrounds but roughshod in superimposed effects; statically framed but open to variables, experimentation, “accidents” that are all maybe part of a larger plan, depending on what production story you’re getting; and thrilling for its imagination but also a bit boring in its follow-through. Which, good: the mind needs more time to sit, wander, think for itself in the face of so much stimuli that render the likes of 24 Frames all the more a product from some place far-flung. Woe betide the audience saddled with the final work of master filmmaker–arguably the greatest living in his time–but look and listen to its very end. Could the last moments have been any better? – Nick N.

A Bread Factory (Patrick Wang)

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With a small theatrical release and its runtime of four hours (split across two parts) it’s not particularly surprising that Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory went overlooked this fall, but one should seek it out. One of the best American indies of the year, it is a Rivettian look at an upstate theater company that takes both an authentic look at the mechanics of survival in the arts and a fanciful approach at showing the joy of performance. I don’t imagine the entire thing will work for everyone, but there are too many delightful bits to let it pass by. – Jordan R.

A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano)

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Director Jonas Carpignano returns with his first film since Mediterranea (which broke out from Cannes Critics’ Week sidebar two years ago) to remind us that alpha male pecking orders are unavoidable in some parts of the world and that life is still incredibly difficult for Italian Romani. Examined through the microcosm of a four-generation strong family in a small settlement in Calabria in Southern Italy, A Ciambra follows the compelling coming of age story of a young man named Pio (Pio Amato) who is thrust into adulthood when his father and brother are locked up. – Rory O. (full review)

Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu)

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One of our festival favorites from last year, Angels Wear White got a small theatrical run this past summer. “Let’s think about the title to Vivian Qu’s sophomore effort Angels Wear White because the meaning goes far beyond the words themselves,” Jared Mobarak said in his review. “On the surface it’s simply describing religious iconography and the idea that angels wear flowing white linens with halos on heads and harps in hands. But we’ve taken this concept and brought it into real life too. “White” has become synonymous with purity, trust, and expertise. We see a white lab coat on a doctor and automatically provide him/her a reverence built on nothing but an article of clothing. We don’t know them. We merely assume they have our best interests in mind. That white sheen doesn’t mean they’re incorruptible, though. Anyone can be bought or sold despite appearances. Everyone has a price.”

Araby (Affonso Uchoa and João Duman)

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“I’m like everyone else,” writes about himself Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), the working class hero at the center of Affonso Uchoa and João Dumans’ Araby, “It’s just my life that was a little bit different.” Calling that an understatement would be a euphemism. An average-sized and average-looking factory worker in the Southern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Cristiano is an everyman par excellence. Neither charismatic nor particularly striking – at least not on a first look – he seems so ordinary it takes us twenty minutes to understand he’s Araby’s protagonist, and not some flickering extra. When we first meet him, he is given a lift to his steel factory; up until then, Uchoa and Dumans had followed Andre (Murilo Caliari), a pensive and bookish teenage boy living with his aunt Márcia (Gláucia Vandeveld) in a derelict house close to the hellish steel mill. By the time we next hear about him, Cristiano has suffered an unseen work accident, and is stuck in a coma. Asked by Márcia to collect his belongings, Andre arrives at Cristiano’s place, and happens upon a spiral-bound notebook which the man has used to transcribe a decade’s worth of memories. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Ava (Sadaf Foroughi)

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Sadaf Foroughi’s fulminating debut feature, Ava, may strike a few chords among Persepolis enthusiasts. A role-model schoolgirl turned rebel, its eponymous teenage girl is a rollicking blend between Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s black-and-white punk teen and The 400 Blows‘ Antoine Doinel – a heroine fighting to reassert her freedom in the face of an ultra-conservative environment. Tehran-born, Montreal-based writer-director Foroughi draws from her childhood memories to conjure up a gripping coming-of-age story where the claustrophobic relationship between an overprotective mother and her teenage daughter acts as a synecdoche to expose a patriarchal society eager to chastise whatever falls outside its rigidly policed norms. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

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Consensus-best is, needless to say, a horrible metric, but it’s only logical that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish is the consensus-best since 2008’s masterful Tokyo Sonata: within its ever-moving widescreen walls are an ideally familiar-but-surprising angle on the alien-invasion film, conceits never entirely explained just as their danger is forever felt, sans too much emphasis on what-it-means-to-be-human angles that hobble many of its ilk. Is the deepest thing under the skin love? Of course not. – Nick N.

Bodied (Joseph Kahn)

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Joseph Kahn’s music video background has colored his relentlessly kinetic, blistering pop ADD filmmaking, one that is the closest the movies have ever gotten to resembling what the navigation of thoughts and spaces by the Extremely Online Millennial feels like—I, unfortunately, know this from experience. Bodied takes that style previously established in his post-postmodern teen slasher riff Detention a step further by situating it in the current discourse of identity politics; taking pot-shots at but also often considering the modern arguments surrounding free speech and performative wokeness. It sounds obnoxious and horrifying, and there are times where it is, but it’s also very clever and funny with how it both presents and digests the range of thoughts on the subjects (personally and politically), and ultimately Kahn uses it to draw a compelling formal ouroboros of how impossible it is to fully comprehend (and by conscious of) the consequences of your words but that that does not at all exempt you from them.  – Josh L.

Border (Ali Abbasi)

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“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” At a glance, you might conclude that that line from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has provided the foundations for pretty much every decent monster movie since James Whale adapted the text back in 1931; perhaps even before. This delightfully grungy and ethereal contemporary horror from Iranian-born, Denmark-based Ali Abbasi concerns a romance between two creatures who happen to be feeling out those opposite warring sides. One is attempting to satisfy a craving for love while the other indulges the violence (incidentally, could Abbasi’s debut Shelley be named for the 19th century writer?). Border, like Frankenstein, is a work about the “Other” and how that Other might operate if it was raised against its nature, only knowing human society. – Rory O. (full review)

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