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The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2018

Written by on December 20, 2018 

Cocote (Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias)

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Fans of fierce, challenging indigenous cinema rejoice. It’s not every day that you see a film from and depicting the life in the Dominican Republic, let alone one as intriguing as Cocote. Writer/director De Los Santos Arias’ feature debut shines a light on an underrepresented part of the world and casts a truly outlandish spell that confounds and overwhelms. Fair warning: sheer cultural divide would most likely prevent a deeper appreciation of the film, but the authenticity and intensity of its voice alone proves excitingly – if also gruelingly – memorable. – Zhuo-Ning Su (full review)

Custody (Xavier Legrand)

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A riveting sequel to Xavier Legrand’s equally tense Oscar-nominated short Just Before Losing Everything is the type of film that leaves you speechless—a fact only augmented by its lack of score and deafening cut-to-black silence. In my mind Custody is the most accomplished and assured directorial debut of the year with Legrand’s skill at coaxing heartrending performances from veterans (Léa Drucker and Denis Ménochet) and newcomers (Thomas Gioria) alike matched only by his technical prowess to construct the type of edge-of-your-seat terror this raw depiction of domestic abuse horror deserves. He puts you into the desperate mindset of a family struggling to escape a monster. As they hold their breath in a permanent state of anxiety, so too do we. – Jared M.

Damsel (David and Nathan Zellner)

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As the best Coen Brothers(-esque) western to hit screens in 2018, Damsel is a fitting follow-up to 2014’s more Coen-adjacent Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. With the same bone-dry wit and several helpings of salt, the Zellner Brothers’ wonky oater pits an exasperated Mia Wasikowska against the West’s most devastating killer: the patriarchy. Subverting expectations any which way it can, and perfectly utilizing Robert Pattinson’s goofier nature, Damsel’s charm are on full display with its claws. – Conor O.

The Day After and Claire’s Camera (Hong Sang-soo)

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Moving through Hong Sang-soo’s filmography in strictly chronological terms leaves me inclined to think of these as a logical one-after-the-other step: we start bright, sunny, funny, slowly warping out of a well-defined space and time until hitting a deep, dark ebb from which the color, life, is drained, and our mistakes meet us time and again in a perpetual feedback loop. But through this is an ever-vibrating pleasure, Hong’s images still so thoughtfully arranged for distance, how actors fill frames, when body language really controls everything, and why the hardest failures, on a long-enough timeline, are ultimately kind of funny. I hope he never stops. – Nick N.

Double Lover (François Ozon)

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L’amant double is the sort of film you wouldn’t mind seeing Roman Polanski take a stab at. Shot in chic but soulless Parisian interiors, it’s the type of thing that controversial figure tends to relish: all claustrophobia, body horror and pseudo Freudian sexual nightmares. Instead it’s in the hands of its writer-director François Ozon, who never quite manages to lift his material above the realm of psychosexual camp. Then again, perhaps his aim isn’t any higher. It’s the story of a beautiful young woman who loses herself in an erotic love triangle with a pair of opposing twins, both of whom are psychoanalysts. Depending on what you’re into, it’s about as fun as that sounds. – Rory O. (full review)

En el Séptimo Día (Jim McKay)

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Discussing the ways in which fiction films shift between their linear, wholly narrative impulses and something approaching ethnography is among the most illuminating aspects of movies so deeply tied to a specific time and milieu. En el Séptimo Día, written and directed by Jim McKay, is particularly upfront about this. Near the beginning of the film, a set of onscreen text locates the events of the narrative as Sunset Park, Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, discretely divided into the days of a single week (beginning on Sunday) and the following Monday. With the sole exception of one shot — a cybercafé in Mexico — the movie never leaves this setting, exploring the seemingly endless maze of streets and the establishments and restaurants just off the beaten path with careful detail and an almost unerring eye. – Ryan S. (full review)

Five Fingers for Marseilles (Michael Matthews)

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Director Michael Matthews and writer Sean Drummond were drawn to the landscapes of South Africa’s Eastern Cape while traveling their homeland, especially the echoes of classic cinematic western environments. Learning about how its current towns arose — from the ashes of Apartheid-era cities mimicking European capitals by name — only cemented the comparison, each a product of the locals taking control once their oppressors left after their government changed hands and the train lines shutdown. This new frontier became the pair’s setting, their story gelling after seven years of research and development to do right by the inhabitants’ history and struggles. Sprinkle in a bit of legend and lore to create an antihero hidden beneath rage and Five Fingers for Marseilles was born. – Jared M. (full review)

Gemini (Aaron Katz)

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Gemini is also a fantastic neo-noir set in the Thief-inspired Los Angeles of Drive, an upside-down city, as captured in the surrealistic opening credits by cinematographer Andrew Reed, where morals have all but vanished, leaving behind only a group of ghostly beings trapped in the limbo of their crushed dreams and dissatisfaction. (James Ransone’s paparazzo is especially wonderful.) We wonder, for example, why the intelligent, perceptive Jill wound up as the personal assistant / henchwoman of spoiled movie star Heather Anderson (Zoë Kravitz) who uses her to conduct dirty work under the pretense of being more than her employee, but also her “best friend.” – Jose S. (full review)

Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry)

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A lot of the benchmarks of a good Alex Ross Perry flick are present–expect a lived-in characterization of Brooklyn, witty dialogue, and subtle-but-emotive performances–but Golden Exits is also unmistakably different. Masquerading as a dismal tragedy about the fragility of the male ego, the work eventually reveals itself to be uncharacteristically optimistic. As the ensemble cast unravels, it becomes clear: the trajectories between obnoxious characters and redeemable ones are not set in stone, and it is possible to still learn from the mistakes of the past even if they aren’t ours. – Jason O.

Good Manners (Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra)

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Contrasts abound in Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra’s terrifyingly captivating Good Manners, a horror-meets-children’s-movie that uses all the tropes at its disposal to conjure up a piercing discussion of class, race, and desire in present-day Brazil. Six years after their collaborative debut, Hard Labor (2011), the writer-directors return to the theme of social divisions, this time to tackle it through the unconventional lens of werewolf mythology in a fantasy-fueled melodrama that should inject a much-needed revitalizing serum into a stagnating genre. – Leonardo G. (full review)

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