With the glaring exception of Vice, the utterly abysmal Dick Cheney biopic, it’s been a fruitful year for cinemagoers, offering audiences everything from subversive superheroes (Black Panther) and dazzling musicals (A Star Is Born) to eye-opening documentaries (Three Identical Strangers) and frighteningly accurate cultural commentaries (Eighth Grade).
But with a whopping 724 feature-length films released in 2017—and even more hitting theaters/streaming services this year—you were bound to miss some gems. So without further ado, here are the most overlooked films of 2018.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
OK, I’ve already written about how Joaquin Phoenix is, in this writer’s opinion, our greatest living actor (in their prime), and as a PTSD-afflicted war veteran-cum-bounty hunter who’s paid to extract little girls from the clutches of sex traffickers, he delivers his best performance since The Master—a nonverbal tightrope of a turn, all perverse posture and tormented gazes. And Lynne Ramsay’s direction is as precise as ever, including an early sequence of Phoenix’s hoodied, hammer-wielding hero razing a creepy Manhattan brothel, captured mostly on security cams, that will leave you breathless.
It’s unconscionable that the various movie awards’ voting bodies have thus far failed to properly recognize Kathryn Hahn’s masterful turn in this, filmmaker Tamara Jenkins’ first movie since 2007’s The Savages. She’s in similar two-hander territory here, with Hahn and Paul Giamatti portraying a quibbling middle-class Manhattan couple in their 40s who are desperately trying to conceive through IVF—and ultimately hatch a plan to inseminate their twenty-something niece (Kayli Carter, superb). But this is Hahn’s show, and her performance is nothing short of heroic as a woman betrayed by her body who will stop at nothing to bring her dream of starting a family to fruition. Do the right thing, Academy!
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
In a year where many, particularly in the journalism biz, lost their jobs to anti-union thugs, Boots Riley’s debut feature felt like a rousing call to action. While it’s very much a first film, replete with narrative digressions and some big swings that don’t quite land, it’s bursting at the seams with creativity, big ideas and several standout turns, including Lakeith Stanfield’s white-accented, lost-in-the-sauce telemarketer; Tessa Thompson’s boundary-shattering performance artist; and Steven Yeun’s sign-spinning labor organizer. That a problematic film like BlacKkKlansman is receiving all kinds of awards plaudits while this one’s getting overlooked is a damn shame.
THE DEATH OF STALIN
Is there a more thrillingly inventive political satirist than Armando Iannucci? I doubt it. And here, the man behind The Thick of It and In the Loop has whipped up a blistering yarn about the chaos that ensued in the Kremlin following the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Matching Iannucci’s quippy, lightning-fast dialogue is a top-notch cast—most notably Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev, Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria, and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov. Given all the Russian machinations in the news, too, this whirlwind of a film couldn’t be timelier.
Despite all his rage he is still just a Nicolas Cage, and in the latest psychedelic thrill ride from Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), he ramps things up to 11. After a cult leader burns the love of his life (Andrea Riseborough) alive, Cage’s Red Miller unleashes a roaring rampage of revenge the likes of which we’ve never seen, sending the members of a demonic biker gang to hell one by one via crossbow, scythe and—fuck, yeah!—chainsaw. In one scene, Cage dodges a demon’s dick-sword before slashing his throat with a box cutter, maniacally cackles, and, his face covered in blood, grabs a piece of broken glass and huffs a line of coke. What more could you ask for?
MINDING THE GAP
It’s truly been a stellar year for documentaries, with the Mister Rogers flick Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the eye-opening Three Identical Strangers, and RBG, about the life of trailblazing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, raking in millions at the box office. But one doc that’s been overlooked by the general public is filmmaker Bing Liu’s impressive portrait of a trio of Rust Belt skater-boy teens whose lives have been upended by abuse. Shot over 12 years, it’s a thorough—and unforgettable—examination of toxic masculinity, and how it’s crippled the lives of America’s young men.
The latest from South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine) has, among my group of cinephile-friends, inspired the most debate of any movie this year; few questioned its high quality, which is unimpeachable, but rather the motivations of Ben (Steven Yeun), a suave, sadistic rich fella who’s captured the attention of Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), the apple of introverted Lee Jong-su’s (Yoo Ah-in) eye. As Jong-su’s infatuation with Hae-mi grows, he becomes increasingly suspicious of Ben. Is he as notorious as Jong-su feels he is, or is our unreliable protagonist’s mind playing tricks on him—and by extension, us? A meticulous assessment of first love, and the agonizing burst of feelings that springs forth from it.