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The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2018

Written by on December 20, 2018 

The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-yao)

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Huang Hsin-Yao is a new voice in independent Taiwanese cinema, and his first narrative feature–an adaptation of his short film The Great Buddha–carries itself with all of the vitriol that one would expect from somebody angry at the state of the Taiwanese film industry and government. This is apparent from the outset of The Great Buddha+, when Huang speaks to the audience as the credits roll, speaking harshly about the producers and delivering a personal statement. This anger remains throughout–a character named after the producer that Huang is particularly dissatisfied with is even killed off in a darkly humorous manner. – Jason O. (full review)

The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

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The Guilty is an exhilarating, minimalist thriller that effectively sinks its hooks in, despite its bland, melodramatic title. In the vein of Locke and My Dinner with Andre, it isn’t exactly a one-man show fronted by Jakob Cedergren, but works as well as it does thanks to director Gustav Möller’s taut editing, voice cast, and sound effects that create a haunting scene halfway through the film without a drop of onscreen blood. – John F. (full review)

Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian)

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Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day won’t be mistaken for anything less than an utterly contemporary piece of Chinese filmmaking but, as the title might tell you, it’s also a film seeped in 1990s American pop culture. Channeling the Coens, Quentin Tarantino, and Cormac McCarthy, Jian’s film has the swagger, dedication to homage, and effortless cool of that decade’s cinema but with plenty of things to say about present-day China. The story revolves around a very McCarthy-esque setup: a bag of money has been stolen for decent reasons by an apparently otherwise decent guy and — as tend to be the case in McCarthy’s novels — a selection of somewhat less-decent people (each with their own motive) end up hunting him down. – Rory O. (full review)

I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni)

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Recalling the polemics of Ousmane Sembène, Rungano Nyoni’s Zambian film I Am Not a Witch is an impressively crafted comedy of manners turned tragedy. The film centers around the accusation that an 8-year old girl, Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is engaging in witchcraft solely because people in the town say so, and because the girl refuses to confirm or deny whether she’s a witch. – John F. (full review)

Ismael’s Ghosts (Arnaud Desplechin)

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Ismael’s Ghosts is radical and overwhelming cinema. Directing with a radical spontaneity that matches the energy of each of the five central performances, Arnaud Despleschin frantically balances the comedy, melodrama, and thriller genres within this film and the film-within-the-film. The intense, passionate feelings that it inspires makes the messiness all worth it. – Jason O.

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont)

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It’s easy to imagine the “old-school” Bruno Dumont Joan of Arc film; faith, martyrdom, and the landscape of the French countryside intermingling to a wrenching finale, with Bresson and Dreyer certainly paid their transcendental cinema due. Though perhaps realizing their films weren’t the be-all, end-all in terms of representing the French icon, even if Preminger, Rivette and uh, Besson, had also offered their own takes that showed a portrait beyond the trial and subsequent burning at the stake, he finally set about making it, but as a new artist. – Ethan V. (full review)

Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

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The latest from French filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears) is a total fetish filmmaking delight — an arthouse, grindhouse nightmare assault filmed almost exclusively in textured, close-up inserts and editing into a mesmerizing 16mm frenzy of leather and gunfire. How something as delirious and bloody as Let the Corpses Tan, a total exploitation riff on the heist/siege film (featuring the kinds of zooms and whip-pans that would make Tarantino swoon) went largely unnoticed this year is kind of insane. – Josh L.

Life and Nothing More (Antonio Méndez Esparza)

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Antonio Méndez Esparza’s sophomore feature is a social-realist triumph and one of the year’s true hidden gems (it came and went quickly during the fall festival circuit, where only a handful of critics caught it). Taking place in northern Florida, it follows single mother Regina (Regina Williams, in one of the year’s best performances) as she tries to hold down a job at a diner, deal with her rebellious teenage son, and raise her four-year-old daughter while staying afloat. Esparza directs with a simple approach, keeping the camera locked down and providing brief impressions of his characters’ lives to evoke the daily struggle of their existence (the editing, using elliptical cuts to emphasize the way characters inhabit spaces over temporal concerns, is phenomenal). – C.J. P.

Love After Love (Russell Harbaugh)

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“It’s shitty how easy it is to get over someone dying,” says Chris (James Adomian) as a part of a standup routine that gets personal when he starts talking about his dad, who passes away near the start of Love After Love. The death is the centripetal event around which the film’s other dramas revolve; chief among those characters who are pulled into orbit are Chris’s brother Nick (Chris O’Dowd) and their mother Suzanne (Andie MacDowell). Judging by the visible pain that Chris experiences while trying to navigate the dad-centered part of his routine, not to mention the emotional strain that infuses almost every moment in the film leading up to this one, the movie clearly acknowledges that getting over the death of a loved one is anything but easy. – Jonah J. (full review)

Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)

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Less that no other film this year was so free of superfluity, more that it angles this economy of ideas and feelings towards the worst period any normal person will endure at some time or another (and then another, and then another, and then…). But Lover for a Day is not masochistic viewing, not even close: if Garrel–and I don’t know a non-insufferable way to say this–makes movies about what it’s like to feel alive in a given moment, there’s great wisdom imparted to the viewer who looks from a distance. Forget heartbreak. This is how it is to walk down a street with a secret swimming in your mind; this is the way someone with a whole life before them perches on an open windowsill; this is why someone disregards a person they love. Maybe. Garrel’s spent half a century telling us we’re nothing but immensely complicated. – Nick N.

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