6 Hidden Gems of 2018 (So Far)

As with just about every year, 2018 has provided a ton of amazing films that are not only entertaining, but innovate and progress the very art of filmmaking. Having just reached the hallway mark of the year, there has already been several films that I would absolutely give a perfect score. That being said, this list won’t be a “best of” like the ones I’ve posted prior, but rather a list of films that I feel haven’t gotten the attention they deserve (and may or may not make the Top 10 end-of-year list). Sure Infinity War and Incredibles 2 are fantastic pieces of entertainment, but those films are essentially money making machines, hardly in the need of any more exposure.

These movies will not be ranked, so their placements on the list won’t represent their superiority or inferiority to other films.

 

Isle of Dogs

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Rex: To the North; a long rickety causeway over a noxious sludge marsh, leading to a radioactive landfill polluted by toxic chemical garbage. That’s our destination. Get ready to jump.

I know I’ve already written a review for this, but damn if I don’t love Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson’s latest oddity is yet another original, quirky, and offbeat adventure that is an absolute delight from beginning to end. Armed with the underappreciated method of stop motion animation, Anderson and co. deliver a beautifully animated visual fest that is still the year’s best animated film (sorry, Incredibles 2). Whether it be the reliably odd dialogue, perfectly framed shots or its ridiculously star-studded cast, Wes Anderson’s fingerprints are all over this project, reminding us of his natural instinct to deliver films that are aimed to please and charm. Also, who doesn’t love dogs?

 

You Were Never Really Here

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Nina: Joe, wake up. It’s a beautiful day.

Arguably the most simply plotted film of the list, as well as the most divisive, You Were Never Really Here is a character piece at heart, and a disturbing one at that. Depicted here is Joe, played effortlessly by Joaquin Phoenix, a hitman of sorts who specializes in saving abducted young girls. Make a long story short, a job goes wrong, and we learn more of Joe and his tortured past in the process. While it may be initially jarring to see what that pasts ultimately consists of, and how it’s taken a toll on his psyche, this is a textbook character study at the highest degree. This sort of dark, disturbed territory is familiar footing for writer/director Lynne Ramsay, making a film that is so subdued yet invitingly cavalier with its flirtations of the violent and demented. You Were Never Really Here might prove to be an uneasy viewing for some, if not most, but is easily one of the most well realized and chaotically focused look at the combustible tendencies of its protagonist.

Unsane

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Sawyer: I’m not fucking crazy!

Not an incredibly quotable film, but just the way Unsane was made deserves a viewing. Steven Soderbergh’s latest film post-retirement sees a woman wrongfully admitted to a mental institution after a simple therapy session. Later on more is revealed about the woman, played by the excellent Claire Foy, as she starts to uncover the true motives of the institution, if there is any. While the premise may leave a bit to be desired, the fact that the entirety of the film was filmed on an iPhone 7 Plus camera is such an intriguing method of filmmaking, especially for a director of Soderbergh’s caliber. I’m sure that a ton of indie films filmed on a cell phone already exist, but for an Oscar-winning director using that avenue of filmmaking is commendable, and it’s quite impressive to see what’s captured. Though it’s instantly noticeable that we aren’t looking through the lens of an IMAX camera, Soderbergh works magic with the phone camera, presenting a story that is told through a filter and lens that we are all familiar with, outweighing Unsane’s familiarity with an intimate sense of dread.

Tully

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Marlo: Your twenties are great, but then your thirties come around the corner like a garbage truck at 5:00 a.m. 
Tully: Girls heal
Marlo: No, we don’t. We might look like we’re all better, but if you look close, we’re covered in concealer.

An ode to hardworking and overworked mothers, Tully is just wonderful. Wonderful performances, music, writing, directing, and I think that was what Jason Reitman wants the viewer to see. Beginning with the birth of her third child, Charlize Theron’s Marlo is mentally destroyed with the difficulties of motherhood, parenting three children who are each at a differently difficult part of their childhood. She finally submits to hiring a night nanny, the title character played by a miraculous Mackenzie Davis. Marlo finally has time for herself, whether it be to sleep, or even interact with people who she didn’t birth. This renewed sense of wonder and optimism is contagious, with Theron and Davis having lovable chemistry with one another, making their interactions with each other compelling and endlessly enjoyable. Tully is Reitman’s best film in years.

First Reformed

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Michael: Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?
Toller: Who can know the mind of God?

Christian films have a tendency to, uhh, shall I say, suck. Even more so than horror films, the margin of error for Christian films is so huge that it’s practically impossible to make a competently made Christian film that has fewer holes in its logic than Swiss cheese. They’re never made to convince or convert cynics into believers, being the epitome of preaching to the choir.

First Reformed, however? This could be the greatest faith-based film ever produced. I’d rather not delve into the story details of the film, but I will say that the most refreshing aspect of this film is that while there is certainly a protagonist to this story, the idea of there being a hero is entirely moot. Where other films celebrate the idea of Divine Intervention, First Reformed instead asks the questions that many believers are trialed with. How can someone look at the horrors that engulf this world and not question a few things? To tackle religion in a film requires complexity and sensitivity, which the vast majority of faith-based films disgracefully lack. Paul Schrader, whose penmanship is responsible for some of cinema’s most influential and essential films, once again delivers a story of conflicted faith, not out of flirtation with the devil, but out an urgent assurance of one’s faith.

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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 Fred Rogers: “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Well, I suppose it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you.

 

We end on the highest of high notes. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers and his show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, one of the most iconic and beloved children’s shows ever made. The trailer alone is a tear-jerker, and the film is 95 minutes of pure wholesomeness in the best way possible. While it may be seen as a tribute to Fred Rogers, the film does not have a case of hero-worship. The documentary offers insight into Rogers’ personal life, and some of the inner turmoil he carried with him throughout the show’s production. In a time where so many celebrities and actors are being ousted for outrageous and egregious behavior, it is a godsend that Fred Rogers remains a figure of kindness and empathy, now more than ever. He viewed children as human beings, people who may be unfamiliar with complex emotions, but are still burdened with them nonetheless. He never talked down to children, often viewing his child guests and the viewer as his equal. Won’t You Be My Neighbor is such an uplifting delight, a glimmer of sunshine in a world that has only known rainy days.

 

 

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