Great Movies of 2018 You Might Have Missed
This year has been an enormous success for filmmaking. Not only have big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Black Panther, Avengers, and Incredibles 2 taken over the box office, but many independently produced and smaller films such as A Quiet Place, Crazy Rich Asians, and A Star is Born have gone on to tremendous international financial and critical success. Additionally, a fair amount of documentary feature films such as Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers, and RBG have been box-office success — an occurrence that is typically unusual for most documentary films.
However, for every A Star is Born or Black Panther, there were a handful of movies that went largely under-appreciated and un-watched by general American audiences. Here is a list of six great films that might have slipped your radar (but that you should absolutely make sure to check out). Keep in mind that this list is somewhat incomplete, as the next two months of the calendar year will most likely feature some of the best films of the year, so make sure you continue to keep an eye out on what’s coming out in theaters.
First Reformed is the latest movie by long-time filmmaker Paul Schrader, who is famous for writing the Martin Scorsese classics Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. However, he also has gone on to direct movies such as American Gigolo and Light Sleeper. His latest project stars Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) as a reverend in charge of a declining church that is a scarcely-visited tourist site. One day, a pregnant church member, played by Amanda Seyfriend (Mean Girls, Les Misérables), reveals to Hawke that her husband, a radical-environmentalist, wants her to have an abortion because he does not want to bring a child into a world that will soon be destroyed by climate change.
This encounter sparks a series of difficult philosophical questions that the reverend must grapple with — all of which slowly make him question his own faith. First Reformed is a gripping and extremely dense film that challenges the viewer to reflect and rethink how they analyze the environment, politics, and religion. It intentionally evokes and pays homage to films such as Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light as well as Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priset. Not to mention, the film boasts Ethan Hawke’s finest acting of his career, as he gives a performance that is equal parts introverted, simple, and yet undeniably visceral. While it’s still early in the awards season, Hawke is without a doubt the current frontrunner of the Best Actor race and should undoubtedly be nominated for the award.
The Death of Stalin
The Death of a Stalin is a Coen-Brothers-esque dark comedy directed by Armando Lannucci (creator of the TV show Veep) that satirizes the events leading up to, and following, the death of Soviet Union Secretary General Josef Stalin in 1962. The movie depicts Stalin and the members of his interior ministry as incompetent and clumsy buffoons who come up with various schemes to plot against each other. The movie is a hilarious parody filled with nonstop quotable lines and scenes that also create a historically accurate (although exaggerated) recreation of historical events. While the movie is chock full of laughter-inducing moments, make no mistake — the movie does not forget to describe the various human rights atrocities and crimes committed by individuals such as Lavrentiy Beria and Stalin, and can be difficult to watch at times.
The movie stars a whole assortment of fantastic character-actors such as Steve Buscemi (Fargo, The Big Lebowski), Michael Palin (Monty Python), Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter), Simon Russell Beale, and Andrea Risenborough. Another brilliant touch is that when making the movie, Mr. Iannucci decided to have all of his actors speak in their native accents instead of attempting a Russian one. This decision leads to extremely funny and jarring moments in the movie — for example, Josef Stalin (played by Adrian McLoughlin) speaks with a Cockney accent, while Nikita Khrushchev (played by Steve Buscemi) responds in a Brooklyn one. The Death of Stalin is a movie that gets funnier, more entertaining, and smarter upon every viewing and provides a history lesson in an engaging and unique way.
Support the Girls
Support the Girls is a comedy written and directed by Andrew Bujalski. It stars Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Scary Movie) as the manager of a Hooters-like highway-side sports bar in Texas named ‘Double Whammies’. The owner of Double Whammies firmly maintains that this is a “family place,” but at the same time the waiting staff is made up of younger women who are forced to wear revealing outfits in order to attract business. These women frequently get into relationship and financial problems, and the majority of the film depicts Hall as she scrambles around to solve said never-ending avalanche of problems. Hall gives a career-best performance where she not only portrays a gentle and caring mother-figure to the girls, but is also able to switch in seconds to a stern and infuriated boss. Additionally, the movie successfully discusses themes like female empowerment and sexism, bringing a significant weight and seriousness to what would otherwise be a light comedy. While the movie is imperfect and could certainly benefit from a longer run-time, it is a fun and sweet story, boosted by a fantastic lead performance.
Searching is a thriller/mystery/whodunit film co-written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty, starring John Cho (Harold & Kumar series, Star Trek). On the surface the movie has a pretty simple plot: a single father’s teenage daughter suddenly goes missing and he takes it upon himself to find her. However, the movie is shown entirely through computer and phone screens, and this gimmick provides an extremely unique and entertaining viewing experience. While other films, such as Unfriended, have previously attempted to pull off the same shtick, Searching is by far the best of the bunch when it comes to testing the boundaries of the thriller genre.
While the film’s plot may be somewhat straightforward, it’s form can sometimes get in the way of realistic storytelling. For example, there are moments when there’s a forced FaceTime call in order to see the actor’s face. However, the film gets the better of all that thanks to a very strong and emotional lead performance by Cho — which must have been extremely difficult to pull off, as he was basically acting with computer and phone screens. Furthermore, the script is very tightly written, as the screenwriters Aneesh Changanty and Sev Ohanian add so many little details that not only create a very authentic and relatable experience for audiences, but also lead up to an extremely satisfying and surprising “oh sh*t” moment that's very rewarding to viewers. Searching is a thriller movie in every sense of the word, and will absolutely surprise you with how engaging it actually is.
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a documentary directed by Matt Tyrnauer that tells the story of Scotty Bowers, a WW2 vet who, after coming back to the U.S, decided to move to Hollywood, where he starts working as a sort of pimp for the biggest movie stars of the 40’s and 50’s. Celebrities, both male and female, would contact Scotty and ask him if he could secretly arrange to send a group of attractive young men or women (or even both) to various confidential locations around Los Angeles (I’m sure we all know what would happen next). Eventually, Scotty became so successful and popular that he was the go-to confidant. The documentary follows Scotty, who is a surprisingly spry 92 year old man, around for over a year as he recounts in great detail all the elaborate schemes he used and the wild parties he would attend. Scotty describes how his services provided job security and privacy to many gay and lesbian celebrities of those eras that allowed them to freely express themselves.
Scotty is held together by a fascinating story, as well as the charming and extremely entertaining presence of the film’s main subject, whose stories and eccentric behavior constantly throw curveballs at the audience. Additionally, Tyrnauer brings up the very interesting point as to whether Scotty’s behavior today constitutes an invasion of privacy towards the various celebrities he mentions — who have already passed away and have no chance to speak for themselves or respond to Scotty. Ultimately, it’s up to the audience to decide for themselves if they want to believe Scotty’s stories and whether they present ethical dilemmas.
BlacKkKlansman is the newest feature film from the legendary director Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing). It tells the story of the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police force, played by John David Washington (the son of Denzel Washington). The detective, with the help of his partner, Adam Driver (Star Wars), attempts to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. BlacKkKlansman is probably the biggest name of all the films in this list, and I would expect most people to have heard of it. However, judging by the movie’s mediocre box office success (it only grossed $48.3 million domestically on a budget of $15 million), it seems to me that not nearly enough people went to go see a movie that should have absolutely been a worldwide hit. BlacKkKlansman finds Spike Lee in his best form since Malcolm X, and is a truly incredible film that combines the raw experimental energy of Spike Lee’s filmmaking with humor, fantastic acting from everyone, and a jaw-dropping final scene. However, most importantly, BlacKkKlansman is a movie that provides biting and absolutely necessary racial and social commentary. While the movie’s various experimental, and inventive, visual imagery may give the illusion of fantasy, Spike Lee’s confident and stubborn directing grounds the film in reality, creating the most politically relevant movie of the year.