These are the films that flew under the radar, but you should still seek them out.
Sometimes the best films of the year still have trouble finding an audience. For whatever reason—be it marketing or tough subject matter or just lacking an easily explainable hook—these movies struggle to do well at the box office regardless of their quality. It’s easy to tell people “Go see Black Panther and A Star Is Born!” and likely here, “I did!” Those films are certainly worth your time, but there are movies that flew under the radar in 2018 that you should make it a point to see in the weeks and months ahead if possible. The upside of the first quarter of the year being generally slow when it comes to worthwhile releases is that it gives you a chance to play catch-up, so find some times for these twenty films you may have missed in 2018.
Lynne Ramsay is something of a cinematic wizard, with one of the most profound eyes for detail in the history of filmmaking. In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ramsay transformed tomatoes into trauma with her singular eye for imagery, and in You Were Never Really Here, she translates moments of intimacy and vulnerability into pulverizing emotional violence through her portrait of a fragmented man in crisis. On a basic level, You Were Never Really Here is about Joaquin Phoenix‘s Joe, a child born into a violent home who found violence again as a soldier at war and leaned into it as a lifestyle when he returned home to become a fixer who tracks down kidnapped girls for a living. Ramsay shows us the moment all that violence comes to a head, when Joe takes on a case that leads him to a conspiracy, but You Were Never Really here has no interest in far-reaching plots of political intruigue, it’s about every blow that Joe gives and receives in this transformative moment of his life. Phoenix has never been better, Ramsay’s return was worth the wait, and in total, You Were Never Really Here is on of the most shattering, raw and human films of the year. — Haleigh Foutch
First Reformed is not an easy movie by any stretch, but it is one of the best movies of the year. Paul Schrader’s meditation on faith and despair follows a priest (Ethan Hawke) of a small congregation who is begins falling further into hopelessness as he attempts to council a pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried) and her activist husband (Philip Ettinger).
Schrader allows the audience to sink into the despair with its priest, but it’s never a punishing experience. Rather than try to emotionally eviscerate the audience with bleakness, First Reformed is almost a conversation with the elements that cause despair from global warming to institutions of faith that seem more designed for profit than for spiritual care. And yet despite its lofty ambitions, it’s never preachy or overbearing. First Reformed can be dark and disturbing, but there’s still light in the darkness. – Matt Goldberg
If you know Boots Riley, you knew you were in for something special and one-of-a-kind with his first film, Sorry to Bother You, but damn, this movie turned out weirder and wilder than anyone could have expected. An intentionally ridiculous but always pointed investigation of race, corporate culture and capitalism in America, Sorry to Bother You is a relentless demonstration of vision and humor that crackles with invention. This is an unusual movie, y’all. Some of you will straight-up dislike it. But if Sorry to Bother You is on your frequency, it’s one of the most exciting and surprising movies of the year that embeds wicked satire in surrealism and science fiction, with two dynamite performances from Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson. Sorry to Bother You may not ultimately be your cup of tea, but you’re better off if you drink it up, because there’s nothing else like it out there and if it’s to your taste, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime flash of genius. — Haleigh Foutch
If you’re in the mood for a horror film that will terrify you on a deep level, Hereditary is your jam. The feature debut from writer/director Ari Aster hails from A24, and it’s very much in the vein of that studio’s other critically hailed horror pic The Witch in that it uses the horror genre as a vehicle to tackle other issues. Toni Collette plays a woman whose somewhat-estranged mother has just died, and whose family begins to unravel as strange happenings start to occur. At heart, Hereditary is a family drama. A supremely dark family drama, but a family drama nonetheless. It’s certainly scary, and there’s definitely a horror element, but cinephiles will be delighted to find that this is a handsomely crafted film full-stop with striking cinematography and awards-worthy performances. Just don’t go in expecting a feel-good experience… – Adam Chitwood
What’s not to love about a zombie apocalypse Christmas teenage musical? Especially when it’s as well-done as this one. Anna and the Apocalypse has been making the festival rounds since it debuted at Fantastic Fest last year, wracking up good reviews and audience buzz (and lots of tweets about not being able to get the songs out of your head.) And for good reason, Anna and the Apocalypse is a delightful Christmas horror, with some of the catchiest songs you’ll hear this year and plenty of zombie action for the gore-loving crowd. Christmas spirit and carnage have long made for fine bedfellows in film, but they’ve rarely been so downright blissful. –Haleigh Foutch
Even if you’re not an Elvis fan, The King is worth watching to understand his place not only in American history, but how that history intersects with Elvis. When the film is focused on the trajectory of his life and career, it’s incredibly insightful, willing to invite conflicting viewpoints, and letting the audience figure out their own feelings on Elvis’ music and legacy. When director Eugene Jarecki expands his view to try and turn Elvis into a metaphor for America, the documentary becomes a bit more unwieldy, trying to find pat answers and comparison when the breadth and diversity of America make that nearly impossible through a single figure. The metaphor is at its most apt when it looks at Elvis through the lens of the American Myth/Dream and how he embodies both the best and worst that myth/dream has to offer. – Matt Goldberg
From the feedback I’ve been getting, a lot of you missed Suspiria because it wasn’t playing anywhere by you… which is one hell of a drag, because Luca Guadanino‘s reimagining of the seminal Dario Argento classic is one of the most special movies of the year. But patience pays off and the film arrives on digital, DVD, and Blu-ray in January, and it’s well worth the wait. Guadagnino transformed Argento’s style-over-substance masterpiece into a new masterpiece all its own; a haunting and unyielding meditation on psychology, generational conflict, fascism and art. Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson are perfection, Guadagnino is firing on all cylinders (as are his below-the-line team,) and Suspiria is ultimately one of the best movies of the year, not just in horror, but across the board. — Haleigh Foutch
Watching Three Identical Strangers is genuinely one of the most memorable viewing experiences I’ve ever had. This is one of those documentaries that’s better if you know as little going in as possible, but here’s the brief setup: Three 19-year-old men in 1980 discover that they are actually triplets separated at birth. Twists and turns ensue (boy do they), but if you’re at all interested in the “nature vs. nurture” debate, this is an easy must-see as these men were each raised in wildly different households. Director Tim Wardle brilliantly chronicles this experience in a way that feels organic but also cinematic, as the story begins with the tone of a Fast Times at Ridgemont High-like teen comedy before shifting into something much darker and more sinister. Steer clear of spoilers and see this one ASAP. – Adam Chitwood
My nominee for the most criminally under-watched movie of the year, Unsane is one of those films everyone seemed to care about right until it landed in theaters. There was some natural interest based on the talent and the gimmick — Steven Soderbergh shot a movie on an iPhone starring the girl from The Crown! — but Unsane is so much more than a weird experiment from the famously eclectic filmmaker. Claire Foy stars in a bracing and unrelenting performance as Sawyer Valenti, a woman forced to relocate and rebuild her life after falling victim to a stalker. But once she’s in her new home, she starts seeing him everywhere, and a quick trip to a therapist turns into a forced stay at a mental institution after she’s committed against her will.
Soderbergh makes the iPhone-shot film look impossibly good, using the intimacy and strange angles to heighten the ever-growing sense of anxiety, and for anyone who doubted the filmmaker was going to go the distance with his psychological horror, nope — this one gets brutal in the third act. Soderbergh has a lot to say too, tackling the perversions of a capitalistic mental health care system and digging into deep-seated, toxic gender dynamics. It’s a fascinating, truly wonderful and weird little film with some of the best, most sickening use of anxiety and dread in film all year.
Think of Teen Titans Go! To the Movies as a family friendly version of Deadpool. It’s as meta and self-aware as the R-rated superhero movie, and it’s just as hilarious. The film follows the Teen Titans—Robin, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, and Cyborg—who are on a quest to get their own movies so that they’ll be taken seriously as superheroes. When they’re rebuffed, they figure that in order to get a movie, they’ll need an archnemesis, so they settle on Slade, but have more misadventures along the way as they try to make it to the big screen. The movie is consistently hilarious with some surprising bits of dark comedy that will likely fly over the heads of younger viewers. – Matt Goldberg
Leigh Whannell is best known for writing and co-starring in his James Wan collaborations Saw and Insidious, but with Upgrade the writer-director fully steps into his own as a filmmaker and it’s a hell of a thing to behold. A throwback sci-fi thriller set in a familiar near future, Upgrade follows Logan Marshall-Green as a man left widowed and paralyzed after a horrifying assault, but when a tech mogul offers him a bio-implant called STEM, he gets the chance for revenge. And STEM doesn’t just let him walk again, it gives him super-human abilities, including spectacular feats of ass-kicking that drive him deeper into the darkest corners of criminal underworld on the hunt for the men who destroyed his life. Whannell’s script is a banger, reminiscent of the hard-R sci-fi action that was so popular in the 80s and 90s, and he shows a real knack for directing action, delivering a number of the best and most brutal fight scenes of the year. If you miss the classic man-on-a-mission action yarns from the days before blockbuster dominance, Upgrade is a very welcome kick in the ass. — Haleigh Foutch
Tackling race relations is a very tricky prospect, but filmmaker Carlos López Estrada’s explosive feature film debut Blindspotting manages to bring something new and insightful to the table. The Do the Right Thing-esque story centers on two best friends, Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal), who navigate the ins and outs of Oakland against the backdrop of an officer-involved shooting. With a terrific script by Diggs and Casal, the film digs deep into universal truths about prejudice and how judging someone based on how they look affects how they interact with the world, but it does so in a way that avoids coming off as preachy or rote. This film is vibrant, dynamic, and at times extremely funny. – Adam Chitwood
Between this film and Ida, I love what director Pawel Pawlikowski is doing: making rich, deep, complicated, emotional movies that are less than 90 minutes. Some filmmakers labor under the belief that a heavy movie requires an epic runtime, but Pawlikowski’s economy of storytelling is so brilliant that he gets everything he needs packed into a single scene or a single moment. In Cold War, he explores a tortured love affair that spans 15 years and has you rise and fall between composer Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) in post-war Eastern Europe. The core of the movie are two people who can’t be apart and can’t be together, and yet the emotional richness always shines through without ever feeling overwrought. Cold War is an anti-romance that’s never bleak or nihilistic. – Matt Goldberg
I don’t know if it was the release date or the runtime or what, but it boggles my mind that more people didn’t turn out for Bad Times at the El Royale based solely on the fact that it was the next film from The Cabin in the Woods co-writer/director Drew Goddard. With Bad Times, he crafted a compelling, twisty, and surprisingly emotional mystery as four strangers converge at a secluded, unique motel on a stormy night in 1969. Revelation after revelation not only shocks but further complicates the various pickles these characters are already in, and the performances—especially from Cynthia Erivo and Jeff Bridges—are stellar. But it’s Goddard’s attention to character detail and commitment to grounding the entire story in emotion that really elevates Bad Times at the El Royale from a fun thriller to one of the best films of the year. – Adam Chitwood
The marketing on this one was a tough sell, because how do you push a film like this without it coming off as corny and contrived? Thankfully, director Sean Anders drew from his own experiences as a foster parent and turned Instant Family into one of the most surprising and refreshing movies of the year. The plot follows a couple (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) who feel like they’ve fallen into a rut and decide to adopt three foster kids. What makes the film so remarkable is that it never shies away or softens how hard fostering is, but it also never loses sight of the comedy or joy. It’s an incredibly balancing act that also has a great message about the importance of fostering. If you skipped this one, I understand, but you should really give it a chance. – Matt Goldberg
How this delicious, debauched and oh-so-stylish little thriller flew under the radar, I will never understand. Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, the genuinely under-appreciated The Heat, delivers his sharpest, most surprising movie yet. Transporting his love of female-driven comedy to the mystery thriller genre, Feig leans on his impeccably cast leading duo, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two suburban mom BFFs, whose friendship sets up a web of as many dark secrets as it untangles when one of them goes missing.
Blake Lively is, no joke, a revelation in this film, and huge credit goes to Feig, who has a gift for seeing something in female performers that other people don’t. Think Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids; you may have loved them before that movie, but the industries concept of them as performers was permanently altered by that film. Feig does the same for Lively here, who doesn’t just play against type, but shatters all preconceived notions of her type entirely (except that she is, as always, eminently stylish) in a forcefully charismatic, bawdy performance.
I know, I’ve written a really long blurb about a film most of you likely forgot came out this year, but this is a special, deeply fucked up and bravura film. Mysteries don’t get more delicious and downright naughty than this one (speaking of which, Crazy Rich Asians breakout Henry Golding cements his heartthrob status here), and that kind of slyly transgressive filmmaking should never go under-praised. — Haleigh Foutch
Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are outstanding in Tamara Jenkins’ portrait of a New York City couple that have been consumed by trying to get pregnant. In a last ditch attempt, they try to woo their niece (not blood-related) to be their egg donor in order to increase their chances of conception. Jenkins never shies away from the rollercoaster of two people trying to have what for others seems so easy and normal—trying to have a kid. At times the picture Jenkins paints is absolutely heartbreaking, especially thanks to Hahn’s Oscar-worthy performance, but Private Life is never so gut-wrenching that it loses sight of honest moments of humor, love, warmth, and understanding. Private Life is a film that will change the way you look at conception, and the way we approach people who are struggling to conceive. – Matt Goldberg
While Bradley Cooper is deservedly basking in praise for his directorial debut A Star Is Born, another actor made his directorial debut this year to similarly stellar results: Paul Dano. Dano and Zoe Kazan wrote the script for Wildlife, an adaptation of the Richard Ford novel of the same name that chronicles the dissolution of a family in 1960 Montana. Where Wildlife shines, however, is in depicting this story from the eyes of the central couple’s teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould), which in turn strikes a heartbreaking chord as this young boy begins to see his parents as individualistic human beings rather than his infallible caretakers. It’s strikingly true to life, and Dano captures it all with such confidence it’s hard to believe this is his first film as a director. Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Camp deliver stellar supporting performances, but it’s Carey Mulligan’s turn as the matriarch of the family that will break your heart into a million pieces, with the actress turning in the best performance of her esteemed career thus far. – Adam Chitwood
Somehow, against all reason, this J.J. Abrams-produced spectacle film just didn’t hit with with audiences the way it should have. Maybe they should have made it a Cloverfield movie, after all. Directed by Julius Avery, Overlord follows a troupe of American soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II, where they set out to destroy a radio tower in time to save D-Day and discover a mad scientist lab filled with ungodly Nazi experiments. Avery is equally invested in making a war movie as he is a horror movie, and the result is a thrilling, action-packed adventure that sours into a grotesque monster mash.
The action scenes are great, especially the opening aerial combat sequence, which follows the troupe through the horrors of war in the air, when their drop ship is attacked, and eventually down to the ground, where their landing goes horribly wrong. Avery eye for action is matched by a knack for disturbing creatures (I just wish there was a little more of the monster madness to go around), and when they finally make their way inside the Nazi lair, the horrors lying in wait are a grisly sight to behold. This should have been a box office banger and a huge success — it’s a wild and fun romp through a land of Nazi mutants with big, bold B-movie personalty. As consumers, we did Overlord dirty, so make sure you seek it out when the film lands on Blu-ray. — Haleigh Foutch
I was absolutely floored by how much I loved this movie. George Tillman Jr., working from a script by Audrey Wells based on the Angie Thomas novel of the same name, crafted a brilliant coming-of-age movie that dives headfirst into racial conflict in America. The story follows Starr (Amandla Stenberg in a stunning performance), a young woman who code-switches by acting one way in her mostly black neighborhood and another way when she’s at her mostly white prep school. When she witnesses her close friend Khalil get shot by a cop during a traffic stop for reaching for a hairbrush, Starr must decide what kind of person she wants to be and what she stands for. The Hate U Give is a tightrope act where the script is constantly handling serious issues, and yet the film never feels like an after-school special or that it’s preaching to the choir. It always keeps Starr’s arc at its core, and by following her journey, we’re forced to consider all the social issues that surround us. – Matt Goldberg
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Best Movies You May Have Missed in 2018 – Collider
These are the films that flew under the radar, but you should still seek them out.