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A LOOK BACK AT 20 OF THE BEST 2018 MOVIES YOU (PROBABLY) MISSED

 

 

All the violent thrillers, eccentric comedies and eye-opening dramas that you should have seen this year… but probably didn’t.

 

Over 700 movies were released theatrically in 2018, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. When you factor in the many home video and streaming debuts and international films that didn’t get an official release in the states, there’s no way everyone had time to see them all. But that’s what we have critics for!

We’ve compiled twenty of the most impressive motion pictures that got overlooked by the mainstream, for one reason or another, and which deserve to find a big audience all for themselves. We’ve got beautiful and eloquent dramas, blisteringly funny comedies, ultraviolent thrillers and eccentric genre-bending musicals, and an adorable kids film about a dog, just to cover all our bases.

There was something for everyone this year… if you knew where to look. How many of these films have you seen?

 

 

Anna and the Apocalypse

The best Christmas movie of 2018 was also a teen zombie musical! Ella Hunt leads a cast of charming, believable teens whose plans for the future are derailed when zombies attack during the holidays. So they sing their hearts out, deal with their baggage and cave in the undead heads with giant candy canes. It’s a cult film in the making, and you should get in on the ground floor now.

 

 

 

Benji

Netflix Original films sometimes get huge marketing campaigns, and others come and go with hardly anybody noticing. That’s a shame, because the reboot of the Benji franchise deserved better. This charming kids flick will turn on the waterworks within the first few minutes, and then it transforms into an unexpectedly suspenseful kidnapping thriller, with a small dog desperately trying – and failing – to tell a single mother where her kidnapped kids are.

 

 

 

Blindspotting

Carlos López Estrada’s excellent buddy drama Blindspotting stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also wrote the screenplay, as young men who grew up together, but whose one-sided relationship is coming to a boiling point. When Diggs witnesses a police shooting, the experience changes him in ways he can’t fully explain. Blindspotting is angry, but also empathetic, with an infectious sense of humor and a stellar soundtrack.

 

 

 

Damsel

Robert Pattinson wanders the frontier with a miniature horse and a drunk pastor, on the hunt for the man who kidnapped his one true love, played by Mia Wasikowska. His journey doesn’t go where he, or anyone else expects. This eccentric comedy from directors David and Nathan Zellner reframes the entire western storytelling tradition from a modern perspective, with jokes that are just as frustrating as they are hilarious, and career-highlight performances from both Pattinson and Wasikowska.

 

 

 

Eighth Grade

Comedian Bo Burnham makes his directorial debut with a drama about the eighth grade experience, told through the eyes of a girl who wants to be grown up but has no idea how. Elsie Fisher is a revelation, making every scene feel completely natural, to the extent that anyone who lived through the same age range is bound to recognize at least some parts of themselves. Josh Hamilton, playing her well-intentioned dad, gives one of the sweetest supporting performances of the year.

 

 

 

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke stars as a Catholic priest who, while trying to help a person wrestling with thoughts of suicide, becomes convinced that the troubled young man has a point. Hawke handles that inner turmoil beautifully, and gives one of his finest performances, as First Reformed takes him through some incredibly disturbing thought processes that will challenge and disturb you.

 

 

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas’s 2017 novel, about a black teenager whose life turns upside after she watches a childhood friend murdered by the police, has been adapted into one of the most potent dramas of 2018. Amandla Stenberg stars, and watching her wrestle with complicated moral and ethical conundrums – often in impossible social situations – is one of the most compelling cinematic experiences this year. Anchored by a spectacular supporting cast and a smart script that explores every aspect of a controversy, The Hate U Give seems destined to become an important coming of age film as time goes by.

 

 

I Am Not a Witch

 

An 8-year-old girl is accused of witchcraft and sent to an isolated community, where “witches” are tethered with a giant ribbon and warned not to cut it off, or else they’ll turn into a goat. Writer/director Rungano Nyoni’s film is a grim and astounding satire about systemic oppression, and the foolishness we believe because it’s presented with tradition and authority. Vicious social commentary, in a film that plays like a bitter, but tragically funny fairy tale.

 

 

Leave No Trace

Ben Foster is a veteran suffering from PTSD who retreats into a survivalist lifestyle, living in national parks and avoiding human contact. But his teenage daughter, played by the excellent Thomasin McKenzie, is growing up and discovering that his emotional baggage doesn’t apply to her. Sensitively directed by Debra Granik, Leave No Trace is an absorbing, humane drama about how our pain gets passed along, and the difficult measures we have to take in order to break the cycle.

 

 

Let the Corpses Tan

One of the fiercest action movies of 2018 is also one of the most complicated art house experiments. Let the Corpses Tan is the tale of a group of ultraviolent criminals hiding out with an eccentric artist, who turn their retreat into a war zone when two police officers unexpectedly arrive to investigate their latest heist. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s film transforms into one long, complicated, stunningly photographed shootout, which highlights just how beautiful shocking violence can become when viewed through the right lens.

 

 

Lu Over the Wall

There weren’t any other films like Lu Over the Wall in 2018. This exceptionally loose anime adaptation of The Little Mermaid is the story of a shy teen musician whose band accidentally summons a tiny water sprite who becomes obsessed with them, and accidentally unleashes zombie fish and her giant businessman shark father on their gloomy coastal town. Imaginative to the nth degree, and almost exhaustingly energetic, Lu Over the Wall grabs you and shakes you until you admit this weird cinematic confection is charming as heck.

 

 

Mandy

Nicolas Cage gives one of his most unhinged performances – and that’s saying something – in Panos Cosmatos’s overwhelmingly stylish horror-fantasy. It’s the story of an idyllic pair of metalhead lovers whose home is invaded by hippie cultists, and the unthinkable, epic path of revenge Cage has to take after everything gets taken from him. Mandy plays like an ode to the epic darkness of the best heavy metal music, as its heroes fall prey to wimpy folk villains and eventually exact brutal, mind-expanding revenge.

 

Mirai

Mamoru Hosoda’s films are overwhelmingly emotional fantasies, and Mirai is no exception. His latest tells the story of a very young boy struggling with pangs of jealousy and anger when his parents bring home a baby sister, Mirai. But then he’s visited by a future version of the interloper, and an anthropomorphic version of his dog, and then he falls backwards in time. Hosoda’s enchanting, soul-searching film brings the difficult transition from infancy to childhood to life, as a boy’s mind expands to make room for empathy, respect and the value of history.

 

 

The Other Side of the Wind

One of the best films of 2018 was made way back in 1976, when master filmmaker Orson Welles completed production on a sprawling and confessional satire of Hollywood and its obsession with auteurs (like Welles himself). For reasons explored in the fantastic documentary companion piece, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Welles’ film remained unfinished for decades. Now it’s here, and it’s a wild explosion of artistic ambition, shot and edited and acted with the zeal of a brilliant filmmaker who’s laying it all on the line.

 

Searching

Aneesh Chaganty’s impressively Hitchcockian thriller Searching takes place entirely on the computer screens of a single father, played by John Cho, who’s trying to find his missing daughter. As he delves deeper into her social media accounts, her contact lists and her diaries, he discovers he never really knew his little girl, and that something sinister may have transpired. Cho is captivating, often carrying the whole film with little more than a forlorn expression, and the script and editing are so impeccable that you’ll forget that you were ever watching a gimmick movie.

 

A Simple Favor

 

The cleverest, funniest thriller of the year stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two moms who couldn’t be more different, but when the rich and alluring Lively mysteriously disappears and the seemingly wholesome Kendrick is left taking care of her kid, the movie spirals into unlikely directions. The best thrillers don’t just put people in jeopardy, they explore the reasons why people get themselves into those shocking situations, and Paul Feig’s impressive genre-bender delves smartly into the sticky realms of affluent facades, sexual yearnings, and what some people get out of letting themselves be used.

 

The Sisters Brothers

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix give fantastic comedic performances as wild west goons who are hired to hunt down a scientist with a newfangled way to mine gold. Along the way they save each other’s lives, get wickedly drunk, kill a whole lot of people, and wrestle with they have about their very unusual lives. Jacques Audiard directs this splendid comedy with an eye for historical detail, a sense of humor about western movie tropes, and a genuine affection for every single character.

 

Tully

 

Charlize Theron is at the end of her rope in Tully, playing a mom straining to keep a family together and care for a newborn while her husband goes to work and thinks that’s the end-all, be-all of his responsibilities. Into her life comes a night nanny, played by Mackenize Davis, who takes over for Theron and gives her an opportunity to feel normal again. What appears at first to be a very well-acted, but potentially schmaltzy drama takes a different path before it reaches the end, revealing the unsettling truth behind these kinds of parental fantasies. And one thing’s for sure, Charlize Theron delivers one of the most incredible performances of her career.

 

Upgrade

The writer of Saw and Insidious shifts gears into the realm of badass action and intelligent science-fiction, with an astounding lead performance by Logan Marshall-Green as a quadriplegic man who gets a cybernetic augmentation that restore functionality in his body, but introduces an artificial intelligence into his brain. Together they try to solve the murder of his wife and kick astounding amounts of butt, in brilliantly choreographed fight scenes. Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade is the real deal: a low-budget, high-concept, extremely entertaining sci-fi thriller.

 

You Were Never Really Here

 

Lynne Ramsey removes all the artifice from the thriller genre, leaving behind only the violence and its traumatic after effects. You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix as an extraordinarily damaged human being, who violently rescues kidnapped children for a living. But when his latest case goes very, very wrong, he’ll have to overcome his own, overwhelming inner torment to save an abused young girl. Few films understand despair the way You Were Never Really Here does, and the final scene is a perfect encapsulation of all that pain.

 

 

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