The Playlist has never met a year we couldn’t exhaust with the endless examination, analysis, and decoding; it’s not that we love lists, it’s just in many banner years of cinema, there’s so much to pour over. 2018 was a stellar year for film and there were amazing movies to shout out, performances, new directors, breakout actors and actresses, documentaries, all kinds of new exciting talents and we genuinely can’t stop talking about them, honestly.
So, here we are again with one last reminder about 2018. You’ve seen our list of the Best Films Of 2018 as voted by over 40 Playlist contributors, you’ve seen our Worst List and our 100 Most Anticipated Films of 2019, but we wanted to highlight—now that we’re officially in 2019—the films that might have fallen through the cracks; the gems you might have overlooked while being bombarded by marketing from all sides of media.
So yes, there will be overlap and crossover, but, maybe if you’re exhausted about hearing about what was “best”—and perhaps caught up with a lot of these movies—here’s a secondary list of overlooked, unsung, little-seen jewels of movies that should see and adore if you don’t already.
Last year’s Palme d’Or winner, a current Oscar contender, and proudly carrying a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes, “Shoplifters” isn’t hurting for attention. However, released in the annual year-end crush, it’s certainly possible you might’ve put off seeing the arthouse charmer between year-end blockbusters and holiday binge-watching. Well, start the New Year right by seeking out this graceful and moving about the families we’re born into, and the ones that find us. This isn’t necessarily new territory for director Hirokazu Kore-eda, but this might be the finest distillation and refinement of the themes and stories the filmmaker has tackling throughout his career. If you haven’t seen the trailer, I recommend skipping it because it gives the whole thing away; walk into the cinema knowing as little as possible, and walk out with your heart just a little bit warmer. — Kevin Jagernauth [our review]
Despite rave reviews (including one from our own Oli Lyttleton) and a limited theatrical release, Cory Finley’s “Thoroughbreds” was so brilliant that I’m reserving the right to be salty about its paltry $4 million box office pull. Originally intended as a stage play, this whip-smart black dramedy follows teen sociopath Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and uber-sweet perfectionist Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) as their unlikely friendship blossoms into a murder pact. Fans of “The Witch” already know Anya Taylor-Joy is built for the kind of subtle, heartfelt indie performance this film demands, but Olivia Cooke is a revelation as Amanda. Though her name got pumped into Hollywood’s CGI-clogged arteries via the nauseating “Ready Player One,” to miss her in “Thoroughbreds” was to miss her greatest 2018 performance. A tender tale of teen girl compassion, darkness, and brutality, “Thoroughbreds” offers two female characters cinema has never seen before. The constant comparisons of “Thoroughbreds” to “Heathers” are dubious at best, but “Thoroughbreds”—despite swapping frothy teen aesthetics for Connecticut cyanide—deserves proportional cult status. —Lena Wilson [our review]
In a year with a whole bunch of craftsmanship all-rounders, from “First Man” to “The Favourite” to “If Beale Street Could Talk,” perhaps it was inevitable that something like the second film from Alonso Ruizpalacios, about a 1980s robbery at Mexico’s Museum of Anthropology, would get overlooked. But any other year, even if we weren’t talking about the zany sorta-true “Museo” story and the brilliant performance from Gael García Bernal (there’s a bit where his character gets mistaken for “that famous actor” which is one of the best meta-movie moments of 2018), we would surely be talking about its dazzling filmmaking. From Damien Garcia’s elastic cinematography, that is always beautiful even when comedic (here it is on our Best Cinematography list) to Tomas Barreíro’s fabulously variegated score that goes from Bernard Herrmann to Tom ‘n’ Jerry with absurd ease, to a script, co-written by Ruizpalacios and Manuel Alcala, that won the Best Screenplay prize in Berlin, every aspect of this rambunctious and surprisingly touching film feels like someone’s A-game. But of course, the lion’s share of the praise must go to Ruizpalacios’ direction, which combines all these departmental contributions into one of the most inventively staged, sympathetically played, purely entertaining films of the year. “Museo” is a sweet-natured, cock-eyed, broken-hearted portrait of a dogged friendship tested to its limits by the regular old stuff, like growing apart, parental influence and not being able to agree on what to do with the 140 unfenceable pre-Hispanic artifacts you stole from a Mexico City Museum on Christmas Day in 1985. – Jessica Kiang [our review]
“The Kindergarten Teacher”
Lost in the endless shuffle of Netflix original films, Sara Colangelo’s “The Kindergarten Teacher” (itself a remake of Nadav Lapid’s 2014 Israeli film of the same name) was an underseen indie that deserves more attention, specifically for the amazing Maggie Gyllenhaal performance as Lisa that anchors it. A women stuck in a numbing routine with an indifferent family and a not-quite-fulfilling job, she discovers that one of her students may be a prodigy, with his ability to come up with poetic fragments seemingly out of nowhere. This exciting unearthing sparks Lisa out of her existential stupor, truly provoked by the boy’s talents and yet, she attempts to pass the poems off as her own— only the beginning of the film’s complicated questioning of student/teacher relationships and poetic worth, as the film so often gently interrogations Lisa’s motivations, her empathy towards the child and the disturbing notions behind her complex impulses. In a less crowded year, and maybe with a different distributor, one can imagine Gyllenhaal’s name in the conversation for awards. Yet the one upside to Netflix’s distribution is that you have no excuse not to watch this great little film, it’s only a click away. – Christian Gallichio [our review]
“Support the Girls”
Andrew Bujalski’s “Support the Girls” is a refreshingly empathetic look at a workforce normally looked down upon. Rather than taking a condescending look at the women of Hooters-surrogate restaurant “Double Whammies,” Bujalski zeroes in on the day-to-day perseverance required by these women, particularly general manager Lisa (Regina Hall, in one of her best performances) and waitress Maci (a radiant Haley Lu Richardson) to make it through shifts that can be filled with challenges, from sexual harassment, unsubtle misogyny, and difficult bosses. The end result is an intimate, sneakily humanist portrait of a unique community. Bujalski and his cast effectively carve out a clear vision of the kinship that forms between the workers of a seemingly thankless job. As the day comes to a close, Lisa, Maci, and Danyelle (rapper Shayna McHayle, otherwise known by her stage name Junglepussy, in a revelatory acting turn) take turns screaming their lungs out. Bujalski frames it as a moment of camaraderie; that these women have each other to scream with makes remedying the pains of every day easier. – Ted Silva [our review]