Under-appreciated Movies You Already Missed in 2018
In a perfect world, movie lovers’ pockets would always be lined with enough cash to buy tickets to every single film that ever screened in theaters, and all the blood, sweat, and tears writers, directors, and actors pour into making said movies would be recognized, applauded and never under-appreciated. Unfortunately, we live in the decidedly flawed reality that makes seeing and appreciating every movie pretty much impossible. And with blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Venom, and the Halloween reboot grabbing everyone’s attention in 2018, it can sometimes seem difficult to even head to the cinema to catch something that isn’t a big-budget bonanza.
Year after year, a ton of incredible films are released only to end up going largely unnoticed, and 2018 is no different. But don’t worry about missing out on all the future classics slipping under the radar — we’ve got the scoop on the very best. Here are some of the most underappreciated movies you’ve already missed in 2018.
I Kill Giants
Adapted from writer Joe Kelly and artist J. M. Ken Niimura’s graphic novel I Kill Giants, Danish director Anders Walter’s adaptation stars The Conjuring 2 actress Madison Wolfe as the pint-sized but plucky Barbara Thorson, an oddball outsider who constantly has her head in the clouds, a pair of bunny ears on top of her blonde mop, and a Norse war hammer in her bag. You see, Barbara fancies herself a killer of giants, and is convinced that a horde of them — along with a flurry of other fantasy creatures — are coming to Earth and that she’s the only one who can vanquish them when they arrive. But Barbara’s introversion, middle school ostracism, and obsession with Dungeons & Dragons aren’t the only things that foster her overactive imagination. The young dreamer uses her world of fantasy as a means of escaping the difficulties she faces at home.
Blending together an impactful coming-of-age tale, themes of grief and denial, gorgeous magical realism, solid CGI, and captivating performances from Wolfe and supporting actors Imogen Poots, Zoe Saldana, and Sydney Wade, I Kill Giants is a magnificent monster movie that’s monstrously moving. Critics have applauded it as “never less than engrossing,” and you’ll agree.
Murder is on the menu in writer-director Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds, a black comedy thriller that centers around childhood friends Lily (The New Mutants’ Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Ready Player One’s Olivia Cooke) reuniting to cook up a devious plan. Though both are suburban born and raised, Lily’s years at boarding school and an illustrious internship have turned her into a prim and proper goody-two-shoes, whereas Amanda’s unidentified mental disorder has turned her into an emotionless outcast with a smart mouth and stinging wit. Opposites attract in this case, and the two end up fueling the worst in one another as they bond over a shared contempt: They both hate Lily’s tyrannical stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks), and resolve to bring him to a grisly end. Lily and Amanda’s scheming leads them to recruit drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin, an actor we sadly lost in 2016), whom the girls manipulate into becoming their personal hitman. The murder mission takes more than a few unexpected turns, arriving at an end you likely won’t see coming.
Rarely do first-time creatives get their debut as right as Finley did with Thoroughbreds, a darkly alluring, “delectable chocolate-covered razor blade” that “drip[s] with malice and deadpan wit.” Most everyone agrees that Thoroughbreds has the potential to be a classic, and despite the film’s lack of big-budget promotion and pre-release hype, the handful of viewers who did see it in theaters were left “squirming, laughing, and gleefully entertained.”
If a “Certified Fresh” label on Rotten Tomatoes is hard to come by, a 100-percent approval rating is a near impossibility. The Endless snagged that coveted score after it opened in a limited run on April 6, but was buried by its box office competition, John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, which debuted to $50 million that same weekend.
The fourth collaboration between filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who follow up their Lovecraftian cult classic Spring, The Endless is a perception-twisting thriller that takes one terrifying moment — brothers Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) receiving a cryptic video from members of a UFO death cult they were once a part of — and springboards into the insane.
Rather than burning the tape (a decision the dim-witted characters of The Ring would have benefitted from) and getting on with their lives, Justin and Aaron decide to head back to the exact place they narrowly escaped a decade earlier in hopes of finally getting the closure they couldn’t in their youth. Upon arrival, the siblings are affronted with more than just the reminder of their past; as incomprehensible horrors start surrounding the camp, Justin and Aaron are forced to reconsider if the cult was actually preaching truth.
A slow-burning horror that shocks in its second half but frightens the whole way through, The Endless is Edge of Tomorrow meets Annihilation meets 10 Cloverfield Lane, and is an underappreciated movie you’ll wish you had paid more attention to before learning about it here.
Lean on Pete
Toplined by burgeoning young star Charlie Plummer as 15-year-old Charley Thompson, director Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete takes everything that made Willy Vlautin’s touching novel of the same name so touching and spreads it beautifully across the silver screen for the world to see. Well, at least for some people to see, since most mainstream audiences missed out on Lean on Pete due to it being released at the same time A Quiet Place crept into theaters. It’s a film festival darling and a favorite among critics, but has gone seriously underappreciated by casual moviegoers.
Lean on Pete follows Plummer’s Charley and his onscreen father Ray, played by Travis Fimmel, as they settle down in rural Portland, yearning for a clean slate and a bandage from the wounds of the past. As Ray spirals further into himself, Charley discovers companionship and camaraderie at a racetrack, where he becomes the new attendant to a weathering racehorse named Lean on Pete and befriends the horse’s owner, Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi), and his jockey Bonnie (Chloë Sevigny).
But don’t let the premise fool you: Lean on Pete is no light-hearted movie about a young boy and the love he feels for an aging horse and his new pals. As critics have proclaimed, the film is a “haunting tale of survival,” a “heartbreaking look at a marginalized America” that’s “likely to leave you in tatters.”
Take everything you’ve learned about Australia from Crocodile Dundee, internet jokes about riding (surprisingly hostile) kangaroos to school, and the throw-a-shrimp-on-the-barbie restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse and toss it in the bin. Goldstone, from multi-talented writer-director-composer-cinematographer Ivan Sen, presents the Australian Outback in an intimate, thrilling new manner.
Set in the titular town of Goldstone, the movie follows Indigenous Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) as he rocks up to the tiny mining outpost (all that seems to be there is a diner, a jail, and a brothel) to aid young policeman Josh (Alex Russell) and Goldstone’s mayor (Jacki Weaver) in investigating the disappearance of a Chinese tourist who vanished from the bordello many believe she was being held at against her will. An already complex case turns tense when Jay’s identities as an Aborigine and as a law enforcement officer ruffle the feathers of both the racists of Goldstone and the town’s Aboriginal residents, who resist officials of color. And when Jay discovers that Josh and the Mayor may not be as innocent as they’d like others to believe, the gripping noir narrative takes yet another unexpected turn.
Released to high praise but underwhelming box office Down Under in 2016, Goldstone made its theatrical debut in the United States in March of 2018, where it performed much the same: while critics adored it, the raw, sun-blasted pic didn’t get as much attention as it deserved.
Neon’s neo-noir thriller Gemini lives up to the split personality implication of its title, as you’re never really sure of the true intentions of its leading lady. The woman in question is Jill LeBeau — portrayed by Gone Girl and Mozart in the Jungle actress Lola Kirke. LeBeau is the assistant to Hollywood It girl Heather Anderson, played by Mad Max: Fury Road and Big Little Lies star Zoë Kravitz. One evening, Jill discovers Heather dead from a gunshot wound, slumped in pool of blood in her otherwise immaculate multi-million dollar mansion, and she decides to embark on a mission to dive deep into the mystery of her former boss’ murder — and into her own petrifying demons that draw a wave of suspicion and a ton of pointed looks her way. Can Jill stay a step ahead of the relentlessly determined Detective Edward Ahn, played by Star Trek franchise star John Cho, who senses she’s the one who committed the heinous crime, or will the skeletons Jill has long kept shoved in her closet finally break free?
Written, directed, and edited by award-winning independent filmmaker Aaron Katz, Gemini has found a predominantly positive audience with critics, who’ve dubbed the kaleidoscopic film “a piece of clean, confident visual storytelling” and a “shimmering puzzler” that “warp[s] into an unlikely detective story in the Cold Weather vein.” If that description doesn’t entice you to catch this seriously underappreciated movie, we aren’t sure what will.
One part pulpy crime story, one part heart-grabbing drama, Bomb City is a brilliant little film that made a bang without the general public even noticing. The Jameson Brooks-directed film follows Brian (Dave Davis), a punk music-obsessed teen from Amarillo, Texas who sticks out like a mohawk-adorned thumb in his conservative town. Thankfully, there are a number of other punks out there, who view Brian as a sort of mouthpiece for the movement. Sadly, there are an equal number of jocks — preppy football players that basically moonlight as bullies — who regularly clash with the punks. Tensions bubble below the surface, then explode in a violent altercation that comes with a fatal consequence.
A native of Amarillo, nicknamed “Bomb City” for having one of the United States’ only weapons assembly and disassembly plants, director Brooks based Bomb City on the real-life story of 19-year-old Brian Deneke, a punk who was killed in a furious fracas with the Texas town’s seemingly clean-cut jocks. Not only does the film present the tragedy of Brian’s death in a truthful and harrowing light, it also serves as a reminder that the American justice system isn’t always moral and that not everyone is as unassuming or as aggressive as their outward appearance may suggest. As Danielle White of The Austin Chronicle aptly puts it, “The film’s message, which it wields like a war chain, is a timeless one: Don’t be such a d*** to people because they look different from you.”
You may think you know director Steven Soderbergh, but you’ve never seen him like this before. The mind behind films like Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Logan Lucky, and the hidden ’90s gem The Limey casts aside the traditional trappings of filmmaking and embraces B-movie mojo with Unsane, a psychological horror-thriller pic shot entirely on an iPhone 7 Plus.
The Crown actress Claire Foy leads the ambitious film as Sawyer Valentini, a financial analyst who moved away from her hometown in an attempt to evade her longtime stalker, David Shrine (Joshua Leonard). Even hundreds of miles away from one another, Sawyer is still experiencing the effects of David’s torments, and admits to her therapist that she’s had self-destructive thoughts. That confession grants Sawyer a one-way ticket into a mental institution, where she’s held for 24 hours of observation. As if inadvertently checking herself into a psychiatric hospital wasn’t nightmarish enough, Sawyer is soon forced to confront her darkest fear while trapped inside the institution’s walls. The only question is: Is the fear real, or just a product of her paranoia?
For as disturbing as the experimental Unsane is, it didn’t drum up as much buzz as you’d expect, especially given that it’s a Soderbergh film. Still, though it’s underappreciated by the masses, it hasn’t gone without critical praise. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody calls Unsane “one of [Soderbergh’s] best movies … the very spark of his artistic passion” — all the more reason to see it yourself.
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix is in top form in You Were Never Really Here, writer-director Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novel of the same name. Phoenix gives a darkly fervid performance as Joe, a former law enforcement agent and combat veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder but never shying away from violence. Joe lives out his post-FBI days as a hired gun, earning cash to support himself and his ailing mother (Judith Roberts) by locating missing and trafficked young girls. But he also experiences intense suicidal fantasies, one of which almost becomes reality before his boss (John Doman) snaps him back to the surface world and tasks him with finding 13-year-old Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), the daughter of New York State Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette), who offers Joe a sizable sum of cash to discreetly bring Nina home.
Though Joe is properly equipped for the job — he’s got a ball peen hammer in tow to help bust Nina out of the Manhattan brownstone she’s held captive in and perhaps break the knees of the men holding her there — what he isn’t prepared for is the triple-layer twist and searing horrors that await him.
Touted as “stark, sinewy, [and] slashed-to-the-bone,” You Were Never Really Here is a “masterclass in filmmaking” more than worthy of the type of global adulation its heavily-promoted cinematic counterparts have received this year.
Another blistering drama out of Australia, Sweet Country centers around middle-aged Aboriginal farmer Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), who works for a preacher in the Northern Territory. Sam and his family are sent to assist a cruel, ill-tempered war veteran named Harry March (Ewen Leslie) in renovating his cattle yards in Alice Springs, but as the two work together to build the yards up, their relationship quickly deteriorates, coming to a chaotic head when Sam fatally shoots Harry in an act of self-defense. Murder is by no means a crime that should go unpunished, but in 1920s Australia, when a man of color kills a white man, it could cost him his own life. As Sam flees across the unforgiving and gorgeously arid Australian outback to outrun Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and his hunting party, the truth behind the killing comes out, and the pair’s community begins questioning whether they can deliver justice to the man who really deserves it.
We suspect most skipped out on the limited release of Sweet Country in favor of the widely launched A Quiet Place, which made its massive debut on the same day (April 6), and that’s a shame. Beyond its engrossing visuals and rhythmic pacing, Sweet Country has captivated those who did see it with its powerful — and surprisingly universal — story that lingers long after the credits have rolled.
Writer-director Chloé Zhao’s The Rider is breaks the barriers of true-story tale boilerplate. It’s an equal parts plaintive and profound docu-drama that centers on a rising rodeo star who suffers a tragic accident — and stars the man who lived through the trauma. Real-life South Dakota rodeo rider Brady Jandreau leads as Brady Blackburn of the Sioux Lakota Indian tribe, a faintly fictionalized version of himself, and recounts the horror of the moment a horse trampled him and the hardships he faces in the incident’s aftermath. Though shaken and stripped of the very thing that gave him purpose, Brady refuses to succumb to sorrow and journeys across the badlands to find a new identity and to restructure both his notions of the outside world and the person inside himself.
Jandreau’s performance comes across nuanced and naturalistic, gorgeously complemented by cinematographer Joshua James Richards’ shots of the South Dakota sky, and transforms this softly stunning indie pic into something bolder than its limited theatrical release would suggest.
Hailed as “subtle, elemental, and powerfully beautiful,” a “luminous film, and one of the year’s best,” The Rider is as much about the broken cowboy at the center of its story as it is the fractured parts of the States and the American myth most may not know of. On the whole, the film’s ability to deliver its dizzying narrative in a sweeping, swelling package and its slip-under-the-radar move at the box office makes it critically acclaimed but unfortunately underseen.
In Academy Award-winning director Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience, wanting what you can’t have isn’t a simple taboo. No, forbidden love in this searing drama pushes past being wrought with tension and dives into the dangerous, the dire, and the indefinite. Based on British author Naomi Alderman’s 2006 novel of the same name, Disobedience stars Rachel Weisz as Ronit Krushka, a non-practicing Orthodox Jewish woman who returns to the buttoned-up London community from which she was shunned decades earlier after her teenage romance with a female school friend was found out. The other woman in question? Rachel McAdams’ Esti Kuperman, who still holds the fervid passion for Ronit in her adulthood that she did in her youth. Once reunited, the two fall into their feelings once more — a dynamic made more complicated (and more unspeakable, too) when Esti’s husband Dovid, played by Alessandro Nivola, turns their love line three-sided.
Balancing risky — and risque — dramatic material with a poignant rumination on centuries-long values, director Lelio, who took home the best foreign language film win at the 2018 Oscars for his Chilean drama A Fantastic Woman, creates a film that swirls with its friction-filled strifes as intensely as it stupefies with its eventual truths. Critics have flocked to the film toplined by two famous Rachels, with one praising the seriously underappreciated Disobedience as setting its strengths in “soulful reflections on collective faith and individual freedoms” that crawl under viewers’ skin and “continue to resonate after the end credits have rolled.”
And Then I Go
We all remember the “joys” of junior high: the terrible skin, the braces, the awkward romances that aren’t really romances because, well, you’re 14 and constantly sweaty. Working through the weirdness of adolescence is never easy, but for middle school student Edwin (Arman Darbo) in Vincent Grashaw’s And Then I Go, it’s a new brand of difficult, as he all but capsizes his proverbial boat when attempting to navigate the rocky waters of the world’s social hierarchy.
Adapted from Jim Shepard’s psychological fiction novel Project X, And Then I Go chronicles Edwin’s mounting stress — at school and at home, with peacemaker mom Janice (Melanie Lynskey) and hard-headed dad Tim (Justin Long) — that snowballs into insomnia and anxiety, consequences he doesn’t speak a word of to anyone, not even his best friend Flake (Sawyer Barth). Edwin’s world changes after Flake suffers a particularly humiliating encounter with a bully and suggests that he and Edwin silence their tormenters. What unravels after Flake’s flashbulb idea is an intimate look into the troughs of pain and peaks of violence Edwin rides through, and how the two boys’ suppressed fury fuels their terrifying, life-or-death plan to finally be accepted.
And Then I Go came and went without making much of a commercial impact, but its haunting subject matter and twisty ending have critics on their feet. Applauded for its “essential and insightful perspective,” the film is harrowing and humanizing, “a vital work of art, and a must-see movie for our time.”
Ethan Hawke gives the performance of a lifetime in First Reformed, the mesmerizing loss-of-faith drama thriller from writer-director Paul Schrader. The Oscar-nominated actor portrays Reverend Ernst Toller, a middle-aged parish pastor who works at the near-250-year-old Dutch Reform church that draws in more tourists than it does parishioners. Toller — grappling with the death of his son, his crumbling marriage, and a dependence on alcohol — faces a harrowing new challenge when he meets pregnant parishioner Mary (Amanda Seyfried), who asks him to counsel her suicidal husband Michael (Philip Ettinger). Michael’s radical beliefs compound Toller’s spiritual crisis — which leads to his final, violent trial.
First Reformed bowed in a tiny limited release against Deadpool 2 on May 18, leaving it to go undetected by mainstream audiences. Despite not reaching a wide audience and not recouping its production costs ($1.8 million against a reported $3.5 million budget), it worked its way into the hearts of countless critics, who call the underappreciated movie “the quintessential Schrader film,” a “haunting and meditative work,” and the “rare type of film that leaves us with questions left to answer and for many, a desire to dig into it deeper through a second viewing.”
This isn’t your mama’s movie about parenthood. From director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air) and writer Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer’s Body), Tully stars Charlize Theron as Marlo, a struggling mother of two who is pregnant with her third (unplanned) child. At Marlo’s baby shower for the daughter she later names Mia, her wealthy brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to gift her a night nanny, a young woman named Tully (Mackenzie Davis) who can help remedy Marlo’s exhaustion. Though reluctant at first, Marlo later agrees to Craig’s proposition, and she, her husband Drew (Ron Livingston), and Tully embark on a meaningful, mind-bending journey that marries humor with surprising sincerity.
What Tully didn’t stir up at the box office and with everyday moviegoers when it debuted on May 4 in the midst of Avengers: Infinity War madness, it more than made up for with critics who fell in love with it, harboring particular fondness for Theron’s “masterful” performance, Reitman and Cody’s groundbreaking portrayal of motherhood (and everything mothers wish they would have known about having children ahead of time), and the film’s complex, “somewhat shocking” ending.