Nearing the end of 2018, there will be plenty of lists on the best movies of the year as well as films being pushed for Academy Award nominations. In the heat of Oscar season, it can be easy to forget about some great films that may have been buried at the box office or received little attention online. So while you start forming your own recollection of the year’s best films, consider these smaller ones that may have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane is a claustrophobic thriller of one woman doubting her sanity. Claire Foy plays a woman on the run from her stalker, only to find herself mistakenly locked up in a mental institution where she fears one of the orderlies is her deadly stalker. Intensely shot, this is a thriller that may reveal its twist too early but is still a terrifying ride throughout.
A Futile and Stupid Gesture
Will Forte stars as Doug Kenney in the tale of his rise and fall as the prolific comedy writer of National Lampoon. David Wain directs this comedic and dramatic tale with great wit and tragedy. It’s worth watching if not for the astoundingly irreverent story than for the strong casting of Domhnall Gleeson, Martin Mull, Joel McHale, Thomas Lennon, John Gemberling, Matt Walsh, and Seth Green as many notable names of the Lampoon story.
You Were Never Really Here
The story of a hitman fighting his way towards saving a little girl doesn’t sound like the most original film but director Lynne Ramsay makes her movie anything but conventional. Joaquin Phoenix plays the hitman on a mission but he’s a mostly quiet man, revealing bits and pieces of his backstory in terrifying and brief flashbacks. The many kills are surprisingly subtle and thoughtful, either hiding them off camera or giving them great focus on the aftermath of death. Think of it as the artistic pinnacle of action revenge pictures, the very brooding and contemplative movie that one longs for from simpler action pictures. Here, there are some brains behind the bullets.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson has crafted another quirky and darkly comedic film, this time once more in the form of stop-motion animation. The story takes place in a retro-future Japan where all dogs have been banished to a garbage island and there’s a conspiracy afoot. The Japanese characters speak in Japanese while the dogs are voiced in English by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, and Billy Murray among others. Similar to how Anderson directed The Fantastic Mr. Fox, this is another rustically animated film of great humor both dark and sweet.
Ethan Hawke plays a reverend who doesn’t quite feel right in the world. Having learned of an environmental terrorist in his community, an unshakable sense of helplessness washes over him, desperate to do something. Written and directed by experienced filmmaker Paul Schrader (Raging Bull), First Reformed features a remarkable performance by Hawke as the terror slowly sets in with the clashing of religious values and the environment.
A chaotic California of the future where the water supply is managed by big business leads to much crime. And when those criminals are injured, they seek treatment at the Hotel Artemis, a makeshift hospital servicing questionable characters for the right price. Jodie Foster plays the local no-questions-asked doctor and her muscle is Dave Bautista. The colorful and clashing characters of the hotel include the likes of Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, and Charlie Day. Armed with snappy dialogue and plenty of thrilling action, it’s a unique sort of action picture with lingering sci-fi elements that shouldn’t go overlooked.
Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrists is the most cage-rattling of pictures when it comes to feminism. Set in modern-day Germany (or Ger(wo)many as the credits state), it’s the tale of a feminist commune that secretly plans to overthrow the men in society via studies, pornography, and violent takeover. But the presence of a man on their grounds sends them into a bit of confusion with conspiracy as secrets spill out. An odd mix of satirical humor and blunt displays of sexuality and violence, The Misandrists is a film that’s so hard to pin down it’s worthy of rewatching if only to dissect it further.
Sorry To Bother You
Sorry To Bother You not only has the most biting commentary on the flaws of capitalism but also the wildest twist of any movie in 2018. To speak too much of its plot would spoil the biggest surprise that will no doubt shock upon first viewing. All we’ll say is Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius as a telemarketer that has mastered the art of his “white voice” to attain wealth and status. Where he goes from there is so unbelievably absurd and frightening that it’s on the same level as They Live when it comes to social commentary.
How could a film about competitive puzzle players possibly be a meaningful and romantic drama of finding one’s self? It’s because of the strong performances by Kelly Macdonald as a quietly frustrated mother and Irrfan Khan as the puzzle expert who woos her. There’s real romantic tension between the two and an ending that doesn’t come off as predictable, given that Macdonald’s family is more complicated than just a constraint to break in finding herself.
We The Animals
Jeremiah Zagar’s adaptation of Justin Torres’ coming-of-age novel takes a personal and surreal approach to one boy growing up in squalor. His father absent, his mother depressed, and his brothers violent, little Jonah struggles to understand his broken and limited life through his secret drawings and intimate encounters with the neighborhood bad boy.
Ethan Hawke directs this biopic on country music legend Blaze Foley with affection and ease. Ben Dickey does a sensational job playing the quiet, drunken, and frustrated Blaze with ambling in his voice and a stumbling in his step. The smaller moments when he strums his guitar alongside his lover Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat) are some of the sweetest scenes for the music and the gentle emotion.
Nicholas Cage is at his best when he’s gone nuts and is perfectly suited for the bloody and bizarre world of Mandy. Cage plays Red Miller, a man out for revenge when his girlfriend Mandy Bloom is murdered by a sadistic cult. Filled with gruesome violence and a killer 1980s vibe, it’s hard to forget such a phantasmagoric trip as Mandy.
Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn play a middle-aged couple struggling as hard as they can to have a baby. It’s not a pleasant path, filled with much heartbreak and deceptive practices too good to be true. They are so desperate that they go to a family member for their eggs to help in the process. And what starts off weird slowly turns into an intimate relationship in this engaging and charming tale of complicated adults.
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria is anything but a retread. Taking place at a dance academy in 1970s Berlin, Dakota Johnson plays the latest young dancer taken into the academy and under the wing of a teacher played by Tilda Swinton. Little does Johnson’s character know that she is being bred for a ceremony by a coven of secret witches. Played up with great atmosphere, gruesome horror, and a powerful score by Thomas Yorke, Suspiria has the perfect amount of creepiness to unease even the most jaded of horror viewers.
There have been plenty of films that try to concoct tense thrillers around the subject of Internet streaming. Cam may be the first to get it right with a story that remains more focused on the psychologically draining aspects than the technicalities. Madeline Brewer plays a woman who makes a living with streaming as a cam girl but finds her account stolen and streaming with someone who looks and sounds exactly like her.