Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film critics a question pertaining to the contemporary movie landscape.
This week’s question: What’s a criminally under-appreciated 2018 movie that people should be sure to watch before the end of the year?
Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM), Solzy at the Movies/Freelance
Even though it’s certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, “All About Nina” is criminally overlooked for the mere fact that the indie dramedy only played in 54 theaters in its widest release. I first saw the film during Tribeca, where I was impressed with Eva Vives’ screenplay and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance. I had the opportunity to speak with Eva Vives when the film came out in late September. I especially praised Winstead’s performance in the film in my review this past April. Winstead strongly delivers as stand-up comedian Nina Geld. Whether it’s playing across Common or commanding the stage, Winstead is in complete control of the film. Vives’ screenplay couldn’t be more timely or relevant in that the film delves into #MeToo territory. The Orchard is releasing the film on DVD later this month on December 18, 2018.
Carl Broughton II (@Carlislegendary), FilmEra, Film School Rejects
Picking just one movie is the hardest task possible because there are so many great overlooked indies this year, but if I had to go with one it would be “Angels Wear White” directed by Vivian Qu. If it wasn’t for Sean Baker’s recommendation via twitter I never would have heard of it. “Angels Wear White” is a 2017 Chinese movie that was officially released in English speaking territories earlier this year. What makes it so special is how the director addresses the “me too” movement set in China but from a young person’s perspective. From the first ten minutes we the audience are shown a scene of sexual abuse between a middle-aged man and two 12-year-old school girls in a hotel. What makes this event even more shocking is that one of the young hotel workers watches the whole event through security camera footage. After the event, we follow the aftermath through one of the victims, and the bystander who watched.
This movie has numerous layers as Vivian Qu addresses the problematic issues about sexual abuse in her home country on every level possible. We see it from a family, school, medical, and finally government level. It is crazy to believe that some people think that a girl being raped makes her tainted and unfit to marry, and it is even crazier what they do to cover up the incident.”Angels Wear White” is not only one of the most relevant movies this year but also one of my favorites. Vivian Qu has been nominated and won several director awards for this powerful movie, which is now available on Amazon Prime.
Stephen Whitty (@StephenWhitty), Freelance
Imagine a dark, violent, ’70s-style Western – one with a silent avenger crisscrossing his own colonized country, executing the invaders who’ve subjugated, and starved and slaughtered his people. Now move it to Ireland in the time of the Great Hunger, and make its hero not a Native American vigilante, but a Celt determined to bring Britain to justice, one man at a time — and you have “Black 47,” Lance Daly’s bracingly brutal film about genocide, guilt and obsession. Largely in Gaelic – enough so that I hoped it might get some critics’-guild attention as a best-foreign-language nominee – it didn’t make much of an impression on American audiences. But as someone whose Irish family lived through all of that, it made an impression on me. Always stark, sometimes surreal and – refreshingly – unforgiving. On Amazon Prime.
Candice Frederick (@ReelTalker), Harper’s Bazaar, Teen Vogue, The Week
“Blindspotting.” I remember seeing this movie months ago and it’s stayed in my mind ever since. At its core, it’s about two very different men (Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) in the Bay Area, one white and one black, who only have in common their friendship. The neighborhood’s gentrification exposes how they both have been affected–one has been made to look like a criminal in his own home and the other benefits from appropriating blackness with a palatable white face. This becomes a hard fact for especially Collin (Diggs) to reconcile and highlights the human impact of gentrification through the relationship between two people in the realm of Medicine for Melancholy. The realistic dialogue and Diggs and Casal’s spectacular lead performances make this an absolute must-see.
Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant
Without a doubt, my choice is “The Clovehitch Killer” — Duncan Skiles’ eerie, atmospheric, and surprisingly substantive chiller about a teenage boy who comes to believe that his pillar-of-the-community father might actually be his small town’s never-caught serial killer who tortured and murdered ten women. While it may sound like mere exploitation on the surface, the movie is anything but. A smart screenplay continually keeps you guessing as to whether or not the kid is right, and there are fascinating themes related to family unity and social status running underneath the plot. Charlie Plummer is outstanding as the boy, and Dylan McDermott gives the father character just the right amount of ambiguity. “The Clovehitch Killer” is an intelligent, engrossing, chilling tale about an adolescent facing the idea that the parent he’s long looked up to might be fatally flawed.
The film is available on demand from IFC Midnight.
Courtney Howard (@Lulamaybelle), Freelance for Variety, FreshFiction
Writer-director Xavier Legrand’s “Custody (Jusqu’à la Garde)” was the first thriller of 2018 to rob me of my breath. Building off the foundation he laid with his Academy Award-nominated live-action short, “Just Before Losing Everything,” the filmmaker returns to the on-going saga of the same family still in crisis, suffering from the effects of domestic violence. Though this is not a horror film per se, it certainly plays like one – a riveting, sweat-inducing one at that. It’s like “Kramer Vs. Kramer” meets “The Shining.” Legrand does an excellent job highlighting the intimacy and immediacy of the narrative without ever being exploitative. His technique in capturing the intensity and anguish of this family’s struggles – and the blast radius of their explosive travails – is beyond compare. The ensemble is incredible, playing their roles with achingly real humanity, honesty and heart. It’s top notch filmmaking and a gem that was sorely buried in the busy Summer release schedule. Now that it’s available for rent (or purchase) on demand, iTunes and Amazon Prime, I urge you to catch up with it.
Anne McCarthy (@annemitchmcc) Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, Bonjour Paris
One 2018 film which was — somewhat understandably, as it was not a domestic film — overlooked was French actor-turned-director Gilles Lellouche’s charming, and surprisingly poignant, “Le Grand Bain” (“Sink or Swim”). The ensemble dramedy (and Lellouche’s directorial debut) had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May. I was hoping for an “Amelie”-like splash into the U.S. film market, but sadly, this film did not break through in the way I’d hoped. This is the story of a sad-sack, Bertrand (Mathieu Amalric), who loses his job and whose life is a depressive shambles. He is brought back to life when he joins an all-male synchronized swim team. Guillaume Canet and Virginie Efira both give powerful performances peppered with the perfect mix of drama and humor. Strong dramedy performances tend to be such a delicate balance, which, when done well, can be so powerful and moving; see: Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting.” If you have a chance to see it, “Le Grand Bain” will leave you in stitches, and in tears — I recommend it with my whole Francophile heart.
Don Shanahan (@casablancadon), Every Movie Has a Lesson
This past summer director Brett Haley made a living and breathing movie in “Hearts Beat Loud” with sincere guts, sentimental conflict, and the attractive glow of dream fulfillment. One winning quality of many that makes the movie so perfectly endearing is fleshed out by its very title. It has a deeply personal pulse is nourishment to the soul. Emotive and approachable relationship challenges written by the team of Marc Basch and Haley and a stirring soundtrack by Keegan DeWitt combine to make this shiniest of indie gems the anti-blockbuster. Showing unforeseen range (that’s really him on guitar) and tender softness under his bristly facial hair, this performance is undoubtedly Nick Offerman’s best to date. With every performance flourish, Kiersey Clemons is the contagious vibrancy of this film. Performing together, I’ll take their soundtrack fo Cooper and Gaga’s from “A Star is Born.” Absorb this film, with your eyes and ears open, and let its essence revitalize you the way it does its own characters.
Haley’s film deserved better than its maximum reach of 170 screens and $2.5 million-and-change in box office earnings this past summer. “Hearts Beat Loud” is streaming currently for free on the Kanopy app (right there next to the pedigree of the A24 catalog) available through the public library system. It is also a 99 cent digital rental at the moment on Amazon Prime Video and Vudu.
Aaron White (@FeelinFilm), Feelin’ Film Podcast, FeelinFilm.com
When it comes to overlooked or underappreciated films, I could easily name a dozen in what has been an incredible year at the cinema. The one movie that sits highest atop my year-end list, though, is Brett Haley’s emotionally stirring and endlessly charming “Hearts Beat Loud”. I’m a sucker for heartwarming father/daughter dynamics, as well as for simplified coming-of-age stories that take place over a short period of time and focus on the growth of relationships without requiring a huge epic conflict. I also adore movies with music at the center of them and/or people singing frequently. “Hearts Beat Loud” checks all of these boxes in a very efficient, sweet, wholesome way, and is anchored by one of the best (and most surprising) performances of the year from Nick Offerman. Ever his equal is young star-in-the-making Kiersey Clemons, whose familial chemistry with the beloved comedian is off the charts. This is feel-good dramedy at its very best and will have you smile-crying through the entire film then swiftly downloading the soundtrack to play on repeat the next day. It’s a shame the film didn’t see more love during its theatrical run but it can currently be rented on YouTube or Amazon (for only $1!) and is worth every penny.
Sarah Welch-Larson (@dodgyboffin), Bright Wall/Dark Room, Think Christian, Freelance
Early this summer I knocked off work a little early on a Friday and walked to one of the theaters near my office in the Chicago Loop. I had a couple of movies I wanted to see, but the one I ended up picking at the box office just before showtime was “Hotel Artemis.” I don’t think I’d even caught the official trailer at that point, just a few gif ads on Twitter, so all I knew about it was that Jodie Foster and Dave Bautista ran a hotel/hospital for criminals, and that Sofia Boutella wore a red dress and combat boots, and that it was set in the not too distant future. There really isn’t much substance to the movie beyond those details; the plot is much less interesting than the characters butting heads. It’s a weird, pulpy, star-studded wannabe neo-noir, set almost entirely in a single building in one evening. It’s almost too idiosyncratic and it falls apart in my head whenever I think about it, but as a summer air-conditioning movie and a palate cleanser, it more than delivered what I was looking for. “Hotel Artemis” isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and it certainly isn’t the best underseen movie I’ve watched all year, but it is one of the weirdest, and it brought me considerable joy that summer evening alone at the movies. If you’re looking for a beach read of a movie as we close out this strange year, I’d recommend going with “Hotel Artemis.”
Chris Feil (@chrisvfeil), Freelance, This Had Oscar Buzz podcast, The Film Experience
Earlier in the year John Cameron Mitchell’s take on Neil Gaiman and punk era sexual fluidity “How To Talk To Girls and Parties” barely arrived in theaters mere days before being dispatched onto streaming platforms and dying immediately. What audiences missed was something like if Mitchell’s “Shortbus” had been launched into space, fell into a time warp, and returned to earth as a teenaged incarnation of its horny self. They also missed a bizarrely sweet antidote to recent teen romances and some of costume designer Sandy Powell’s most playful work. Of the four performances we got from Nicole Kidman this year, this one is the looniest (and best).
Pedro Strazza (@pedrosazevedo), B9
I think there aren’t enough people talking about “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection”. It’s the kind of film that perfectly fits de “hidden gem” category since Julien Faraut’s sophomore movie begins from a premise that is not so much exciting, as it dives in a bunch of French educative films about tennis made in the 80’s by documentarian Gil de Kermadec during Roland Garros and centered on tennis star John McEnroe.
The thing is: the movie is fantastic. Enjoying from the perspective of a man who was dedicated on his job of having a unique point of view on tennis matches (Kermadec literally fought with Roland Garro’s organization to use his own set of cameras when the tournament began being televised), Faraut does an exciting deconstruction of the way we usually watch sports by shifting our point of interest from the game and its goals to the behavior of tennis players during it – and McEnroe is a fantastic subject in these conditions, since he was always “venting his emotions” in the courtyard regardless of winning or losing. The narrative is really well conditioned to do this reeducation of our notions step by step, and Faraut at the same time deliver some ideas that hints to approximations between cinema and sport and the reason why prominent figures of cinema were so interested in tennis, all of which is translated in a Jean-Luc Godard’s quote that introduces the film: “Cinema lies, sport doesn’t”.
That sentence is also what drives “In the Realm of Perfection” towards its climax, which retells the 1984 Roland Garros’ final match that specialists consider the one McEnroe was in his best form – and, by irony of destiny, was a tournament he lost. The game itself is electrifying, but the movie expand these thrills to something else as it centers on McEnroe’s behavior to show in what moment he began to lost the trophy – and the process is savage, with the player’s emotional unbalance that almost always guarantees his dominance starting to corrupt his own control of the fate of the final. It is an apotheotic moment that only exists for the audience thanks to Kermadec’s material and Faraut’s montage, in a movie that once again proves how cinema can be a transcendental art form.
Daniel Joyaux (@thirdmanmovies), Freelance contributor for Vanity Fair, The Verge, MovieMaker Magazine
As we start to get fully entrenched in Awards Season, the phrase “criminally overlooked,” to me, means a film that sadly won’t be a factor in that season. So even though the two films I most wish more people would watch from 2018 are “Minding the Gap” (it’s on Hulu!) and “Private Life” (it’s on Netflix!), I consider them ineligible for this question and I actually have reasonable Oscar hope for both. Instead I will look to a beautiful, heart-wrenching film that came out last Spring and has barely been spoken of since: Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete,” which somehow wasn’t even the most lauded “poor boy and his horse” movie of its season (an honor that went to “The Rider”).
The annual building of coalitions and consensus during Awards Season can be a strange, ephemeral thing. Haigh’s previous film, “45 Years,” with its powerful lead performance by Charlotte Rampling, made it all the way to the finish line, securing nominations from both the Oscars and the BAFTAs. But while that film was undeniably well-crafted, it left me cold. It’s emotions were too expertly suppressed.
“Lean on Pete” goes firmly in the other direction. I went into the theater expecting another film that I respected but felt distant from, and instead two hours later I numbly shuffled out of the theater a blubbering mess. The film manages to get at nearly all of the ways life can just sort of go wrong for someone without ever feeling like the screenplay was methodically trying to check off various tragedy boxes. And yet at its end, despite all that has happened to this character and despite the viewer not really having a cogent reason to feel any hope, the film puts it there anyway and it somehow feels right. Like the classic final shot of Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” “Lean on Pete” magically finds hope where there shouldn’t be any.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough), Vague Visages, RogerEbert.com, Fandor, Crooked Marquee
By the end of 2018, Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” (Vudu, Amazon) will likely remain overlooked as late streamers flock to Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy” (Shudder) and board the hype train for Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” (Amazon). In comparison to those loud and fantastic films, “Leave No Trace” has a more naturalistic feel, as a traumatized war veteran widower and his curious teenage daughter attempt to maintain an off-the-grid lifestyle in Oregon.
In the lead roles, American actor Ben Foster and New Zealand native Thomasin McKenzie have exceptional on screen chemistry, almost like they were plucked from the street. Because of this neorealistic touch, there’s an underlying intensity throughout. Granik acknowledges the father’s flaws, but she doesn’t necessarily portray him as a ticking time bomb; Foster’s mannerisms and facial expressions are more telling than his words. And McKenzie is the film’s wildcard, as she imbues her character with quiet confidence and acute self (and social) awareness. Granik’s organic direction complements the beautiful outdoor visuals, but the film’s strong point is the screenplay and how the leads find clarity while chaos looms.
Andrea Thompson, @ areelofonesown, The Chicago Reader, The Young Folks, Cultured Vultures
Before 2018 ends, check out the indie “Little Woods.” Westerns are having a moment, and this one is a fantastic addition to the genre. The film explores the life of two sisters, played by Lily James and Tessa Thompson, who find themselves in desperate circumstances in their small North Dakota town. When James’s situation goes from desperate to dire, Thompson reluctantly decides to once again start smuggling prescription drugs from Canada, even though she’s a mere few days away from the end of her parole and beginning a new life in Spokane. Thompson gives an especially impressive performance, and it’s also a relief to see James as something other than the ingenue and convincingly play a single mother on the verge of losing even the tiny corner she’s managed to cling to.
“Little Woods” is also the feature debut of writer-director Nia DaCosta, who expertly incorporates a number of issues in a deeply empathetic female-centric story. It’s not often that a drug run also includes an attempt to get an abortion, but it’s the kind of juggling act the sisters have to pull off as they make their way to Canada in an effort to pull off the kind of big score that could put them on tenuously solid ground. If the sisters do manage to find a kind of safe haven, it’s only after they barely manage to claw themselves up, despite the bleakness of their surroundings. Here’s hoping “Little Woods” marks the beginning of a long career for DaCosta.
Ally Johnson (@AllysonAJ), TheYoungFolks, CambridgeDay, ThePlaylist
Painfully, bitterly raw in its depiction of grief and how everyone processes it differently, Russell Harbaugh directed an understated, masterful character study with “Love After Love.” Premiering at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, the film is rich in how familial relations are depicted in all their unforced warmth and potential for ugliness. Following the death of the family patriarch, the remaining members must deal with the fallout of that instability, drawing forth tremendous performances by Andie MacDowell as the grieving widow and especially Chris O’Dowd performing a career best as the temperamental and codependent son. Drawn from the personal experiences of Harbaugh and co-writer Eric Mendelsohn, the film’s brutally honest depiction of humans at their least guarded is only half of what makes it such an engrossing watch. Harbaugh’s talent is undeniable, capturing shots that elicit feelings of familiarity, rendering the healing process in all its various forms beautifully and tragically universal. A carefully guided, and visually mesmerizing reminder that death isn’t an end or beginning for those left behind but an instance that sets us upon our inevitable path of next, “Love After Love” is a startling and poetic meditation on our faults, failures and need for compassion. You can watch on Hulu/iTunes/Amazon.
Carlos Aguilar (@Carlos_Film) The Wrap, MovieMaker Magazine, Remezcla
Despite debuting in the Biennale College – Cinema section at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival and having its North American Premiere at SXSW this year, “Martyr,” an evocative Lebanese drama by Mazen Khaled, has been mostly ignored by trade publications, thus lacking major coverage and visibility (even in the form of standard reviews).
That’s nothing short of a criminal oversight since the film is a sublimely potent meditation on masculinity and the sanctity of untimely deaths—seen in the context of religious traditions not as tragic fortuities but ordained mandates that must not be question. Male friendships, a core story element here, are also observed with tenderness and fragility rarely seen in Western portrayals of similar relationships.
One sunny day in Beirut, a group of disenfranchised and mostly out of work young men head to the beach in an effort to escape, if only momentarily, their uncertain futures. Calamity strikes and one of them drowns, leaving his fellow men in shock and tasked with informing his family. What ensues is the preparation of the body as loved ones mourn, and a series of parallel sequences in a metaphysical realm where the deceased gets to interact with those that survived him in the form of dance-like performances. Spirituality and longing manifest in physical demonstrations of pure affection for a melancholic result.
“Martyr” is currently playing in theaters in Los Angeles and will open in NYC on December 14, when it’ll also be available on VOD.
Joanna Langfield (@Joannalangfield), The Movie Minute
My go-to answer for this question for months has been “Minding The Gap”. I’ve been begging people to watch it (now on Hulu, by the way). But now that my esteemed fellow critics at the New York Film Critics Circle have named it Best Documentary, I guess my overlooked gem may not be overlooked at all.
Oralia Torres (@oraleia), Cinescopia
“Roma” is this year’s biggest Mexican film, both for its director’s prestige, its beautiful storytelling and its distribution method. However, a strong contender to best film of the year, both at a national and international level, is Alonso Ruizpalacios’ “Museo” (“Museum”), starring Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Ilse Salas and Simon Beale Russell.
Set in Mexico City during december, 1985, after the biggest earthquake endured by the city, the film focuses on two best friends, both college dropouts, who decide to rob over 140 archaeological pieces of the National Anthropology Museum. The film doesn’t give a concrete explanation on the motives behind the robbery, focusing instead on the drive each character has and their will to act, the question of what makes a museum and what does it take to create one, and building a national identity through culture and art. “Museo” also comments masterfully on some of the biggest questions of our time -what is the truth and what version of the truth is the one we can trust-, and gives a fresh and organic possible answer. Ruizpalacio’s direction is more ambitious, controlled and clear, taking creative licenses on the real story while breaking, from time to time, the fourth wall. On the other hand, García Bernal gives, perhaps, his best performance to date.
“Museo” got a quiet opening in Mexico, and won both the Silver Berlin Bear for best screenplay and the Director to Watch award at the Palm Springs Inetrnational Film Festival this year. I highly recommend looking for it online.
Caroline Madden ( @crolinss ), Screen Queens, Fandor
The psychological thriller “Nancy” compellingly probes the internal geography of the title character’s unhinged mind, brought to magnificent life by Andrea Riseborough. Nancy is a childlike empty vessel of depression and loneliness that spins theatrical lies to co-workers and gullible online friends in order to manufacture a fascinating life like the ones that flicker on her social media feeds. Steve Buscemi and J. Smith-Cameron give delicate, moving performances as Nancy’s most vulnerable victims: two parents whose daughter Brooke has been missing since she was five years old. Nancy poses as Brooke who has come to reunite with them thirty years later. Buscemi and Smith-Cameron deftly balance the alchemy of desperately wanting to believe Nancy is truly their daughter and knowing deep inside that she is not.
Our gut-wrenching anticipation of whether or not the truth will be revealed underscores the tense scenes where the trio awkwardly tests their relationship with one another. Director Christina Choe shows her keen visual eye by confining the film’s first act in a 4:3 ratio, expressive of Nancy’s oppressive and isolated world, and expanding the image at the precise moment she meets the mourning parents, revealing the cozy, Kinkaidian snow scene that surrounds the loving family home so unlike her own. Zoe White’s dark cinematography infuses every frame with a quiet melancholy and atmosphere of longing. The heart of the film lies in Risenborough’s towering performance as this Travis Bickle-esque farrago of antipathy, jittery uncertainty, acute loneliness, and empathetic woe. Choe’s mesmerizing mystery drama artfully draws you into the claustrophobic confines of Nancy’s bleak world. A gloomy, taut film about humanity’s fervent search for connection in the modern world, “Nancy” is one of this year’s overlooked best. Available on YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Google Play.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@chrisreedfilm), Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today
Christina Choe’s “Nancy,” which came and went in a heartbeat after a limited release in the spring (and has since continued to make the rounds of international film festivals), was the well-deserved winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance this year. It stars Andrea Riseborough in the title role, and she delivers one of the most moving performances of 2018, playing the part with a low-key intensity that holds one’s attention throughout. Nancy is a lonely thirtysomething who becomes convinced she may be the grown-up version of a long-ago-abducted child. J. Smith-Cameron and Steve Buscemi – both equal to Riseborough – are the mother and father of that kid and are understandably skeptical about Nancy’s claim. The film follows all three characters’ awakening from a deep emotional slumber in a fascinating pas de trois. This is writer/director Christina Choe’s feature debut, yet she helms the drama with supreme confidence and skill. “Nancy” is not just my pick for best overlooked gem, but also one of my favorite films of the year.
Ethan Warren (@ethanrawarren), Bright Wall/Dark Room
“Never Goin’ Back” feels like Richard Linklater’s “Broad City.” It’s the most cathartically joyful watch I’ve experienced all year. The fact that it was unceremoniously buried by A24 is one of 2018’s greatest mysteries. It’s free to stream on Amazon Prime now, so hopefully more people will have the privilege of experiencing it like I did: by stumbling on it with zero expectations, and then experiencing 85 minutes of crass, humanist, degenerate bliss.
Sean Mulvihill (@NotSPMulvihill), FanboyNation.com
There’s only one answer for me here: “Paddington 2.” While the good man who compiles this here survey, David Ehrlich, recently wrote a great piece on why Paul King’s sequel should be up for many awards, the film doesn’t seem to have broken through to the general public. Despite months and months of singing its praises – and quite loudly – I still get a side-eye look whenever I mention that “Paddington 2” is pure magic and the best film of 2018.
Perhaps the problem that “Paddington 2” faces with larger audiences is the fact that it’s perceived as an unserious movie, a frivolous little film for children. That’s just patently absurd as “Paddington 2” goes beyond any simple genre classification. The film is a comedy, an action adventure, a musical, and lovely tale of kindness wrapped in a meticulously crafted work of brilliant artistry.
To my colleagues who have never stopped talking about the greatness of “Paddington 2,” thank you and keep up the good work. To those out there who haven’t given the little marmalade loving bear a look, take some time to see “Paddington 2” before compiling your year-end list. You won’t be disappointed.
Siddhant Adlakha (@SidizenKane), Freelance for Polygon, Slashfilm
With online criticism so utterly bottlenecked and focused on the West, it’s no wonder politically charged Filipino Hip-Hop film “Respeto” has only a single review on RottenTomatoes. “Criminally overlooked” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Treb Monteras’ vigorous, scrappy piece contextualizes political violence as generational trauma. Hendrix (played by rapper Abra) is a young Pinoy battle rapper with little by way of substance. After getting himself into hot water with the law, he finds himself under the employ of the aged Doc (Dido de la Paz), a retired Balagtasan poet whose hidden work bleeds political fury. As a boy growing up under the boot-heel of Rodrigo Duterte, Hendrix learns the way of the street in his colourful slum locale; by day, he’s surrounded by vivd graffiti; by night, the halogen street-lamps make his world feel sickly as he escapes assailants. He’s drawn to anti-authority protests by his sister (and to drug dealing by her crappy boyfriend) however Doc — whom Hendrix neither respects nor understands at first — has already seen the worst these surroundings have to offer. After all, he lived and suffered under Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s.
Scribbled pages of lost poems fill the corners of Doc’s dreams. Nightmares of murdered loved ones, scored by old news debates about how Marcos would be remembered in death, a whitewashed legacy that fails to mention the lives he destroyed. As Doc contends with an adult son who’s now part of the Philippines’ authoritarian fabric, he also wrestles with the responsibility of mentoring a young boy whose familiar anger has no outlet. Hendrix tries to steal and adapt Doc’s lyrics for his battles, but neither he nor his artist friends understand the weight of Doc’s words and experiences. This becomes all too clear to Hendrix when Doc himself steps into club to school him through verse — a hilarious and thrilling encounter.
The tragedy of “Respeto” is kids being forced to experience the same violence as Doc did, decades later and at the expense of following their dreams. It’s the failure of the old guard made tangible through rhyme, as Hendrix & co. finally recognize the generational blinders forced upon them — the kind rest of us are only now beginning to notice. Through art, or through divergent art forms with a common through-line, the film explores how the more things change, the more they stay the same when we refuse to examine the past. In the process, we throw new generations to the wolves amidst cycles of violence, which trickle down from the state and fester among the economically oppressed.
“Respeto” is an energetic and timely Hip-Hop cautionary tale, striking at an increasingly frayed generational disconnect as the world tilts right. In the film’s most potent and abstract scenes, the pages of Doc’s journal are strewn about, filling the air like rain, falling around violent acts perpetrated by those who refuse to learn from history. (Our collective failure to canonize this gem is almost too fitting)
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG), Contributing Editor of Wicked Horror, freelance for Birth.Movies.Death, Vague Visages, The List
It’s tough, because this has been such a strong year for movies and I feel like so many deserve more attention than they got. Even off the top of my head, “Set It Up,” “You Were Never Really Here,” “Leave No Trace,” “Assassination Nation,” and “Widows” (which is still in theaters!) deserve way more attention than they got. But, for me, nothing even came close to “Revenge” this year. It’s such a visceral, and crucially female, experience, with the female gaze expertly communicated throughout. Gory, intense, unique, and super cool, it turned the entire rape revenge sub-genre on its head and finally gave women a proper Final Girl to get behind (no disrespect to Jamie Lee, Neve, Caroline, or anybody else who came before).
I think “Revenge” was really embraced by (most) horror fans, but there’s a whole subsection of people out there who don’t even know what it is, which is such a shame. Those people are in for a real treat, though, so I’m also kind of jealous of them. I wish I could watch it for the first time again, ’cause it’s like a shotgun blast to the face of neon colors and music video sensibilities and…blood. That sounds horrible but it’s actually a very special feeling that only comes courtesy of really great horror movies. “Raw” had that effect last year, and “Revenge” is a great companion piece to it. Plus, they’re both French, both written and directed by women, and both gory as all hell.
You can watch “Revenge” online right now or buy it if you’d like to own it yourself (and you should), so no excuses.
Deany R. Cheng (@dennynotdeeny), Barber’s Chair Digital, Freelance
I’m convinced “Shirkers” is one of the best films of 2018, so I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that everyone seems to have forgotten about it only a month after it came out. There was a weekend where it seemed like everyone was talking about Sandi Tan’s thorny, intricate kaleidoscope of non-fiction cinema, and then after that, the film seemed to evaporate into the thin air, replaced by some other piece of content du jour. It deserves better than that, honestly. Less a documentary and more a smattering of memories loosely fashioned into a narrative collage, “Shirkers” goes through many transformations over its brisk 96-minute run time, and often, the film is two or three vastly different things at once, without ever seeming overstuffed or confused. It is a document of Singapore’s nascent counterculture movement in the 80’s, certainly, told in punk rock tapes and underground zines, but it is also the story of three women, whose unfortunate association with an older male mentor would come to bind them even decades later. It’s niche as all hell, but that’s all the more reason to celebrate it. We need the niche as hell stuff, because it’s the niche as hell stuff that’ll ring the most true to someone somewhere. “Shirkers” is Sandi Tan’s truth, and I found a little bit of my own in it too. If you’re Asian or female or an artist or all of the above, I guarantee you’ll find a little of yourself in it too.
The film is on Netflix, so it’s not as if it’s all that hard to find. Before the year ends, I suggest you find the time to acquaint (or re-acquaint) yourself with one of 2018’s great exercise in remembering, in taking the murkiness of memory and fashioning from it some sort of narrative, littered with loose ends and open loops, the sort of beats that tell you this is a story about something real.
Brianna Zigler (@briannazigs), Screen Queens, Film Inquiry
I just watched “Slice” on Friday night and I’ve gone ahead and appointed myself the official “Slice” hype woman. I’m shocked by the amount of people that seemed to genuinely hate it. It was hyped up before it released, then public consensus deemed it “stupid” and just let it get buried. I, of course, foolishly allowed that consensus to dictate my overdue watch of it (as stupid movies tend to take up my entire taste). It’s goofy, self-aware, spooky, and incredibly fun. It’s got ghosts that are just people with white face makeup on! It has a wickedly cute and creative opening credits sequence! I wouldn’t call it an embodiment of absurd or surreal humor, but I’d recommend it for anyone who typically enjoys that type of comedy. I mean, there’s a gateway to hell in a pizza shop. “Hereditary” whom??
Joel Mayward (@joelmayward), Cinemayward.com, Freelance
Carla Simón’s feature debut “Summer 1993” is a remarkably beautiful Spanish film about childhood, grief, and the transcendence of love. A cinematic memoir/memorial about a young girl dealing with the loss of her parents to AIDS, Simón imbues each image with such rich subtlety and authenticity that it never feels conventional or emotionally manipulative. I found the languid meandering of the narrative pacing to be perfectly affecting, allowing one to fully appreciate the fullness and detail of the mise-en-scène. Presently at 100% at Rotten Tomatoes, you can currently stream the film via Kanopy or Amazon Prime in the US, and I highly recommend you do. I’d also recommend two indie gems which made the festival circuit this year: Abbie Reese’s “Chosen: Custody of the Eyes,” a wonderful, humble documentary about a young woman’s vocational journey towards becoming a cloistered nun, and Joshua Overbay’s “Luke & Jo,” a meditative indie tale about artistic collisions and new life paths as two artists at low points in their lives sense a connection.
Dan Kois (@dankois), Slate
Its victory last week at the New York Film Critics Circle notwithstanding, I’m worried that too many movie lovers have missed out on “Support the Girls.” Andrew Bujalski’s understated comedy about a Hooters-esque breastaurant and the women who work there is anchored by Regina Hall’s award-winning performance as Double Whammies’ harried, immensely capable manager, but Hall is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, all of whom craft vivid, individuated characters who feel like actual people. Underneath its cheery, light-comedy surface it’s a movie with smart things to say about economic inequality, labor relations, imposter syndrome, sisterhood, and how bad it is to get stuck in a drop ceiling. I loved it, and I want everyone reading this who might not be a New York Film Critic to see it, please. It’s on VOD.
Fran Hoepfner (@franhoepfner), Bright Wall/Dark Room
I doubt I’ll be the only critic out here beating the drum for Andrew Bujalski’s “Support The Girls,” but to me, it’s the film that has best captured the tragicomedy of womanhood in 2018. Regina Hall, in a tremendous leading performance, plays Lisa, the manager of a Hooters-esque restaurant named Double Whammies, and the film is almost entirely funneled down to a particularly difficult day for her. To watch Lisa approach so many situations––rude customers, a belligerent owner, absentee employees, a thieving cook––with patience and empathy and humor and generosity and have it amount to so little is uniquely heartbreaking and yet somehow inspiring. The enduring thanklessness of food service jobs often robs those of their humanity, and yet “Support The Girls” does nothing but humanize the women of Double Whammies. It’s a a very worthy watch: funny, sometimes, yes, but important too in its own quiet way. It’s available to rent on Amazon, and also Junglepussy is amazing in it!
Clint Worthington (@alcohollywood), Consequence of Sound, Alcohollywood
In a year where “Game Night” reinvigorated the ensemble studio comedy, it’s easy to overlook and lambast its competitors, especially when they feature premises as seemingly uninspired as “a group of adult men maintain a game of tag well into middle age,” and also star Ed Helms. Nonetheless, “Tag” was a lot sweeter and more entertaining than people gave it credit for, a charming lark with a great cast of comedy bros playing delightfully to type. The real draw, however, is Buress beaming through his typical bug-eyed space alien routine (which he can keep up for the rest of his career as far as I’m concerned). Its visual style isn’t quite as assured as “Game Night”, but it still takes some time out to look good, especially when it apes from horror films and Bourne films for its over-the-top tag setpieces.
More substantially, however, “Tag” also happens to feature one of my pet topics of late: positive depictions of loving platonic relationships between adult men. That might seem like a lot of Cultural Importance to hang on a movie where Jeremy Renner flails about with CGI-ed arms, but “Tag” nonetheless manages to work in some sweet messages about the ways that the friendly competition of games keeps us young and forges lifelong friendships that carry significant importance to our lives. Sure, these guys are manchildren, but they act that way because they’ve allowed this game to become a conduit for their friendships, which comes across as deeply sweet and earnest. In an era where we should be teaching men and boys some better ways to relate to themselves and each other, “Tag” might just manage to sneak in some nice messaging among scenes of Brian Dennehy ripping some sweet bong hits.
Hannah Woodhead (@goodjobliz), Little White Lies
I’d like to shout out Jim Cummings’ debut feature “Thunder Road”, which might have passed people by as it only had a small US release and is yet to be released in the UK/rest of the world as far as I know. It’s an exceptional film, expanded from Jim’s much-lauded 2016 short of the same name, about a small town Texan cop named Jim Arnaud, who struggles to come to terms with the death of his mother. There’s an absolute knockout performance from Cummings, who plays this decent, flawed individual with such care and attention to detail – in the film’s first scene he gives a eulogy at his mother’s funeral that is almost equal-parts hilarious and horrifying, and the way he subsequently unravels over the course of the film is entirely compelling. It’s not only one of the most affecting, honest portrayals of grief I’ve seen all year, but also a thoughtful examination of masculinity, in particular male friendships and fatherhood, that I don’t think we get to see that often in cinema. 2018 is the year of the cinematic dad (see also: “Eighth Grade”, “Shoplifters” and “Hearts Beat Loud”) and there’s something so tender about the relationship develop between Jim Arnaud and his young daughter Crystal, who he desperately wants to be a good father to despite their false starts. I’m convinced Jim is going to go on to do huge things (he wrote, directed, and starred in this one!) so get in on the ground floor while you can.
Luke Hicks (@lou_kicks), Film School Rejects, Birth.Movies.Death., Bright Wall/Dark Room
Chilean writer/director Dominga Sotomayor Castillo’s “Too Late to Die Young” is an absolute wonder. It’s a coming of age story that follows the 16 year old Sofía who lives in the woods amongst a group of families that has fostered their own little society. It’s a slow, smoky, dreamy film bathed in glorious shades of gray light (courtesy of cinematographer Inti Briones), the shoestring vibes of Mazzy Star, and familial woe. As of right now, it’s not available to stream, but keep your eye out. It’s a tender treat.
Lindsey Romain (@lindseyromain), Nerdist, /Film, Vulture
I adored “Tully,” a brilliant and heartbreaking film that was beloved in certain circles of film criticism but never got the attention it deserved. When Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman team up, they create magic. “Juno” may have ostracized some for its quirky cutesiness (though I happen to love it), but the pair brought panache to “Young Adult,” another underrated, perfectly rendered story about a difficult woman navigating adulthood. “Tully” feels like a spiritual sequel to that film, and is about a woman’s struggles with being a mother. It’s a warts-and-all look at parenting that’s rarely seen on camera, and Charlize Theron is excellent in the main role, opening up for Reitman in ways actresses so rarely do. Mackenzie Davis is equally fantastic as the titular Tully, a night nanny who helps Theron get some much-needed rest and reevaluate her life. There’s a twist near the end that turned some critics off, but I love how it deepens the bond between the two women and what it says about how the past and future intertwine to make an imperfect life.
Max Weiss (@maxthegirl), Baltimore Magazine
Film Twitter seems to shit all over Jason Reitman for reasons unknown so I want to give a shout out to his witty, compassionate, deeply weird “Tully.” It’s hard to really describe the film without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that Charlize Theron absolutely crushes it as a frazzled-to-the-breaking-point mother of three who hires a manic pixie dream nanny, played by the always welcome Mackenzie Davis. You think you know where this film is going, but trust me, you don’t. The film, with its empathic, sneakily feminist script by the great Diablo Cody, suggests that motherhood is a shedding of self—of your old body, your old freedom, your old dreams. It also suggests that it’s well worth the sacrifice.
Robert Daniels (@812filmreviews), Freelance
Adorning 2018, have been films summoning memory and dripping with poignancy. Two, “Roma” and “Cold War,” were shot in black and white. However, a lesser known film was documented in grainy, yet impressionistic 16mm. Though overlooked in the public consciousness, director Jeremiah Zagar’s evocative “We The Animals” has never left my mind.
The fragmented and potent memories of Justin Torres, a mixed-race 10-year old, are confined to less than a year. With two brothers, Manny and Joel, he’s part of a rambunctious tribe bound by blood. Torres’ Ma and Pop, intertwined in a volatile marriage, work at a bottle factory and as a night watchman, respectively. Occupying near-poverty, Torres and his brothers become feral children after their mother suffers more physical abuse in her tumultuous marriage. The film’s view of poverty—from a child’s perspective—finds comparison with Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project.” Raised in a Black and Hispanic household, on the West side of Chicago, I’ve seen my share of poverty to know that “The Florida Project” and “We The Animals” find the humanity in eking out an existence without exhibiting judgment or scorn. Both films also discover the camaraderie and revelry among children, even in the most destitute state. Believe me, imagination, spontaneity, and dysfunctionality all grow fertile, each at varying rates, when impoverished.
In “We The Animals,” Zagar also dissects masculinity with regard to queerness. The othering of Torres from his once close brothers, as he confronts his attraction with the opposite sex, is delicate and compassionate. Zagar builds to Torres’ sexual awakening through interspersing animation of the fierce, yet archaic sketches and journals the boy hides under his bed. Throughout, Evan Rosado delivers an authentic and gripping performance.
The score, playful, pulsating, and euphoric, is marked with shades of Brian Eno-eque swells, while Zak Mulligan’s hazy and vibrant cinematography drips with shades of memory. When every element of the film is combined, a poetic and euphoric expression of finding oneself in the most turbulent period of our lives, adolescence, is created. Wretchedly overlooked, “We The Animals” offers ruminations of poverty, masculinity, and sexual orientation. If not discovered yet—I promise you—you’ll love this film dearly.
Katey Stoetzel @kateypretzel The Young Folks
When “The Wrong Todd” first started playing, I thought “what the hell did I get myself into?” It was one of those don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover moments, except this was more like don’t-judge-a-film-by-its-low-budget-sci-fi-production. It’s one of those things you just kind of have to roll with because once the story gets going, that’s all that matters. The film follows Todd, who has just gotten into an argument with his girlfriend Lucy, and instead of talking things out with her, Todd mopes at Lucy’s slacker brother Dave’s house. In meantime, the Other Todd from a different universe has figured out dimension hopping and enters Todd’s universe to take his place by Lucy’s side. To avoid confusion, Other Todd sends Todd to his universe, which is basically the same in geography but not in people.
One of the best parts of “The Wrong Todd” is the way each actor plays their two different characters with just the slightest bit of difference that ultimately turns them into entirely different people who have gone through different circumstances. It’s also incredibly funny and really gets at the heart of friendships and relationships, and what it takes to maintain both.
It’s written and directed by Rob Schulbaum and stars Jesse Rosen, Anna Rizzo, Sean Carmichael, Derek K. Moore, and Erin Rose. The film premiered in September at the LA Film Festival and will play at the Other Worlds Austin festival this week. Here’s to hoping it finds a home somewhere so I can watch it as many times as I want.