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The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2018

Written by on December 20, 2018 

Summer 1993 (Carla Simón)

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I wish there was a way I could start this review of Carla Simón’s extraordinary Summer 1993 with its final scene. Not because there are eye-opening or plot-unravelling clues nestled inside it (like many other wonderful recent entries in the coming of age genre – think of Sean Baker’s The Florida ProjectSummer 1993 unfolds more like an episodic tale than a plot-thick, action-packed three-act drama), but because it crystallizes what makes Simón’s debut stand out as one of the most memorable in recent years: an effortless ability to capture what it is like to deal with a tragedy of the kind its young heroine undergoes – the way traumas can be compartmentalized, but may always resurface. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)

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It seems everyone is working two or three jobs these days to make up for the widening gap in wealth inequality for millennials. All the wealth in the entire world is tumbling from the sky into the large pockets of the same five or six men who control the biggest companies in the world. In the end it won’t rightly save anybody. We all live and die and these days we all work crappy jobs. The American dream is long-dead and been replaced with American exhaustion, and Andrew Haigh’s film is on the pulse of that very idea. That he manages to create something that is so full of life and celebration amid the decaying reality of an entire society of low-income class employees is something of a miracle. When all that’s left at the end of the day is a shrinking check and more bills all you can do is scream. It won’t make things better, but it can’t hurt. – Willow M.

Sweet Country (Warwick Thornton)

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Winner of the top prize at TIFF’s Platform section. Christopher Schobert said in his review, “What Sweet Country lacks in surprises is more than compensated for with emotional power and haunting images. The outback has rarely looked so harsh and unforgiving. Australian director Warwick Thornton, whose debut feature Samson and Delilah earned the Caméra d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, achieves something rather noteworthy here. He has created a film set in eerie, wide-open spaces that also feels utterly claustrophobic. There is nowhere for Sam and Lizzie to hide, and no place that feels the least bit welcoming.”

Thunder Road (Jim Cummings)

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Jim Cummings directs like an actor: the frame often wide with a zoom lens prowling in on its subject, his remarkable lead performance guiding the camera. This weight of distance between subject and camera endows his turn as an unhinged small-town police officer with an anything-could-happen sense of freedom and spontaneity. It’s also interesting how the lack of score/non-diegetic music in certain scenes helps in navigating that difficult tonal shift from comedy to tragedy. It’s a successful tactic more often than not, exceptions being an odd Sandler-esque attempt at bodily humor. What plays as tragedy to some might feel darkly funny to others. By mostly limiting the use of music to transitional sequences, Cummings imparts to his audience the same freedom with which the zoom lens endows his lead performance: just as there is no wrong way to grieve, as one character states early in the film, there’s no wrong way to digest these scenes. Laugh, cry… it’s all good on Thunder Road. – Tony H.

Tyrel (Sebastián Silva)

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Not giving into audience expectations and thus creating something more terrifying in its relatability, Sebastián Silva’s TYREL follows a testosterone-heavy weekend and the anxiety-inducing isolation one character is faced with. Jason Mitchell plays Tyler, the only black man invited to a Catskills cabin for a birthday weekend, the kind of place where an overlarge, inflatable Santa resides in the front lawn. As more alcohol is consumed and clumsy jokes are thrown around, Tyler’s feeling of ostracization balloons and, with a perceptive eye, Silva captures every miniscule jab, all deeply felt by our protagonist with almost no remorse from his cabin mates. – Jordan R. (full review)

Werewolf (Ashley McKenzie)

Writer/director Ashley McKenzie’s feature debut Werewolf picks up right where her 2012 short When You Sleep left off. We’re back in Canadian squalor on the poverty line with a couple barely staying afloat as society and addiction continuously seeks to drag them under into an abyss of forgotten souls. Frustration abounds as they hide beneath thick skins necessary to survive bureaucratic paper-pushers citing rules and regulations alongside a populace who’d rather ignore than lend a hand. Vanessa (Bhreagh MacNeil) looks defeated mostly, Blaise (Andrew Gillis) enraged with a fire of entitlement that does him absolutely no favors. They should be a team striving tooth and nail for more. But it’s not long before we understand the parasitic relationship masked by a heartbreakingly dangerous love at work. – Jared M. (full review)

Western (Valeska Grisebach)

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It is, undeniably, a bold decision to title one’s film Western: on the one hand, the word carries geopolitical weight and a cultural hegemony that the cinema is dominated by; this truth remains an important one at the Cannes Film Festival, where white men dominate the competition (Western opened in the sidebar program, Un Certain Regard). On the other hand, of course, Western implies a cinematic reference—a genre, in and of itself. A genre, to be clear, with tropes galore that are just as problematic as the industry that propagates them. In titling her film as such, however, Valeska Grisebach’s contemplative, brilliant film sparks a dialogue on all of these components, prompting us to think critically on their intersections. – Jake H. (full review)

Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu)

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So much of so many film festivals — Sundance especially — feel enormously focused on metropolitan life, New York City in particular. In Where Is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu finds fertile ground in this well-worn location. Starring an against-type and utterly fascinating Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular Kyra, the film narrows in on the tragedy of getting old in America. – Dan M. (full review)

The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico)

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Is The Wild Boy indescribable? On the most fundamental level, the directorial debut feature of Bertrand Mandico is certainly not: its structure and central conflict is more-or-less a direct cross between the rebellious coming-of-age story and the sea adventure. But it would be equally misleading to say that this film is in any way stale, rote, or conventional. For this is one of the more truly strange visions from narrative cinema in the past few years, one that dares and succeeds as much as it fails. To call it bizarre would be an understatement. – Ryan S. (full review)

Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

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Lucrecia Martel’s Zama is perhaps the most underrated comedy of the year. A post-colonial farce of Spanish Imperial officer Don Diego de Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho, in one of 2018’s best performances) mundane slights and daily routines within the colonial process. It’s bureaucracy as brutally tragic slapstick—not dissimilar, in terms of humor, from the Coen brothers’ Burn After Reading—Martel and cinematographer Rui Poças filming Zama’s series of crushing humiliations in fragmented compositions that create a bizarre sensation of sweaty, cramped anxiety where, even in in a position of power (one that allows him to impose his will on the Indigenous people of Paraguay), feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment prevail confirming that there is no happy ending for working people within this system. – Josh L.

Honorable Mentions

There are a handful of films on Netflix that deserve more attention, including Private Life, Happy as Lazzaro, and Land of Steady Habits–as well as one HBO film: The Tale. In terms of other overlooked indies, we also enjoyed Blame, PROTOTYPE, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, The Party, Hannah, Keep the Change, Ray Meets Helen, Nico, 1988, Museo, Sadie, and What Will People Say.

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