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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
“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)
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)
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)
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)
“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)
Cocote (Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
The Great Buddha+ (Huang Hsin-yao)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
“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)
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.
Lu Over the Wall (Masaaki Yuasa)
Japanese animation director Masaaki Yuasa, long a cult figure in the U.S., is getting new exposure this year. Following up on Netflix’s release of his series Devilman Crybaby, GKIDS has picked up three of his films for distribution this year. One of these, Lu Over the Wall, demonstrates everything that makes Yuasa one of the best contemporary anime filmmakers. It’s an energetic, frequently hilarious, always visually riveting ride. – Dan S. (full review)
Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker)
While many breakthrough directors achieve such a status by helming one feature, Josephine Decker achieved acclaim with two films, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely and Butter on the Latch, which received theatrical releases simultaneously in 2014. Marking her return to narrative feature filmmaking at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Madeline’s Madeline is a drama of boundless spontaneity as Decker deftly examines mental illness and the potentially exploitative lines a performer may cross when pulling life into art. – Jordan R. (full review)
Milla (Valérie Massadian)
Director Valerie Massadian’s intimate and honest depiction of poverty distances itself from conventional Hollywood theatrics–these are not “movie protagonists” as we know them, they just are. Both stunningly ethereal and brutally real, Milla patiently earns every one of its emotions. Comparisons to the work of Barbara Loden and Chantal Akerman are apt, but don’t be mistaken–this work is still startlingly unique. – Jason O.
Mrs. Hyde (Serge Bozon)
Serge Bozon adapts “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” to the French education system and properly criticizes the universal failings of one-size-fits-all public education and the bureaucracy thereof, applying his wonderfully absurd sense of humor, a brightly-hued eye-candy color palette shot on film, and a charmingly goofy performance from the legend of the cinema herself, Isabelle Huppert. It doesn’t have to take itself seriously–it still says a lot. – Jason O.
NANCY (Christina Choe)
Rare is it that one gets to see a performance as strong as Andrea Riseborough’s in NANCY. Written and directed by Christina Choe, the film concerns a thirty-something woman living in Oswego, New York who begins to suspect she was abducted when she was a child. Following the death of the woman that raised her (Ann Dowd), the titular Nancy reaches out to a couple (J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi) whose daughter disappeared thirty years prior, as she learns from the local news. Cautious but hopeful, they take in the young woman while they attempt to confirm she is their long-lost child. What they don’t know about her will soon cloud circumstances and complicate the visit. – Dan M. (full review)
November (Rainer Sarnet)
What is the point of having a soul if everyone around you doesn’t? That’s the central question asked by Rainer Sarnet’s November, a bleakly told Estonian fairy tale tragedy adapted from Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp. At its core is romance — the kind based in unrequited love that will never bear fruit. Liina (Rea Lest) is a peasant girl trying to catch Hans’ (Jörgen Liik) eye while his sights are affixed well above his social stature upon the German Baron’s (Dieter Laser) visiting daughter (Jette Loona Hermanis). They each leave their homes at night to watch the objection of their affection, the latter hiding in the shadows behind the Baroness as she sleepwalks and the former transformed into a wolf so she may spy in plain sight. – Jared M. (full review)
Personal Problems (Bill Gunn)
“The attempt to bury Bill Gunn began in his life,” wrote Greg Tate of filmmaker Bill Gunn (Ganja and Hess) in a Village Voice piece in 1989. Gunn, who scripted Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, passed away that same year, leaving behind a stunning catalogue of work, including the unreleased erotic melodrama Shop. His masterpiece may be the sprawling shot-on-video epic Personal Problems, originally produced in 1980 with the intention of airing on public television. That never happened. Now, nearly 40 years later, Gunn’s collaboration with novelist Ishmael Reed finally hit screens, and it’s a revelation. Following a Harlem nurse whose life changes after she learns of her husband’s infidelity, Personal Problems is half soap opera and half kitchen-sink melodrama. Textured by a Brechtian layer of motion ghosting, complete with falling boom mics, the film is not only a one of a kind work of aesthetic boldness and emotional sincerity, it’s also an essential entry in the filmography of an unfairly forgotten pioneer of African American cinema. – Tony H.
Revenge (Coralie Fargeat)
Sometimes we need a good slap in the face. One of this year’s most refreshing and frankly needed slaps comes courtesy of writer-director Coralie Fargeat. Revenge is a ferocious film, unflinching yet startlingly entertaining. Fargeat apes the male gaze, then obliterates it with sledgehammer intensity. In almost every way, Revenge is accomplished; a full-blown fable, Fargeat conjures pure elemental imagery and cuts every moment together with panache. Horrific psychedelic dreamscapes, impossible (and impossibly awesome) tattoos, and men screaming in pure bloody anguish (a joy, I promise) are all tied together by the absolutely righteous quest of one determined woman. If that wasn’t enough, ingeniously labyrinthine geography propels Revenge’s climax, a nerve-wracking and awe-inspiring decision that solidifies Revenge as a new horror classic, just as it heralds in a new voice in cinema, and signals that star Matilda Lutz is not to be fucked with. – Mike M.
Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude)
A few years after its initial premiere at the Locarno Film Festival, Radu Jude’s drama finally arrived in theaters this summer. Back then, Ethan Vestby praised it, saying in his review, “Like another two-and-a-half-hour Romanian dry comedy about the medical process, Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Scarred Hearts plays up the control doctors hold over us in a critical state for maximum absurdity, of course the joke of antiquated health care emphasized in director Radu Jude’s case.”
Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle)
For her breakthrough documentary The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle discovered a group of sheltered brothers in NYC’s Lower East Side and captured their passion for filmmaking. With a muddled style and questionable directorial choices, it didn’t quite live up to the film’s initial hook, but Moselle clearly showed talent for making a connection with the youth of the city. That latter quality continues with Skate Kitchen, which uses a narrative backdrop to place us in the center of a female teen skater group–who Moselle discovered on a subway ride–all of whom exude a care-free independence as they make NYC their playground. It’s such a step-up in vibrancy, scope, and emotion that it feels like the introduction of an entirely different, more accomplished filmmaker. – Jordan R. (full review)
Summer 1993 (Carla Simón)
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 Project – Summer 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.