5 Films from 2018 You May Not Have Heard of But You Should Definitely See
WORDS: S. COLLINS
We are about waist deep in the race that is Oscar season. This is the season we pay full observance to the politics of film recognition established by Harvey Weinstein and Miramax (arguably the creators of the modern Oscar race). This is the company responsible for the wins of films such as Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. Yea, that happened.
Miramax created a movement in which art house independents poured massive portions of their financial resources into Oscar campaigns, advertising, and targeting Oscar voters. Vanity Fair reports that Weinstein spent as much as $5 Million on the awards season campaign for Shakespeare in Love. He even threatened to sue New York Magazine for reporting how much had been spent on this campaign. The strategy seemed to work (and still works - i.e. huge studio campaign dollars behind Bohemian Rhapsody [61% on Rotten Tomatoes] emerging victorious at the Golden Globes, and a massive billboard of Lady Gaga as Ally [her role in A Star Is Born] outside the Chateau Marmont). As fans of the art of cinema, we find ourselves drenched in a political system that is all too self-aware of the financial incentive of winning an Oscar.
So where do film lovers of every kind turn to find out which films belong to this year’s cream of the crop? I found myself yearning for good films after my annual MoviePass account expired.
This year, I developed an obsessive desire to go to the Landmark Theater on Pico on said MoviePass. The Landmark is one of those cool microcosms in which the cinematic age demographic seems to be either Film Studies college students or Angeleno retirees and hardly anyone in between. What I love about this phenomenon is that everyone, young and old, seems to share one thing in common: They love movies.
The Landmark spoils their attendees with a plethora of independents to balance out their blockbusters.
There was a period of this year where I saw so many good films in a row that I felt this was the year of an embarrassment of riches of great films. As Oscar season rolled in, I found myself curious how many films had gone unrecognized. Now, don’t get me wrong: I love the Oscars, always have and probably always will. Many films have been deservedly recognized. Shoutout: The Favourite, a personal favorite this year.
I also loved The Wife. Glen Close brought fireworks to the final act and brought me to tears.
I figured after seeing so many great films in 2018 on MoviePass I couldn't let that count for nothing. So, here is a list of a few films that went unrecognized this awards season that I believe absolutely deserve a viewing.
I was not paid to endorse any of these films, I sincerely love them.
1) We The Animals dir. Jeremiah Zagar
Based on the novel by Justin Torres, this film blew me away - everything about it. It was a darling at Sundance.
The DP work is exceptional. The cinematographer, Zak Mulligan, shot with near documentary style intimacy that immerses the viewer into both realism and the fantastical world of a young boy’s sketchbook. This docu-style of filming brought the actors to the forefront. With the camera inches from their faces: The child actors brought an immense and impressive level of soul to their roles (all three young actors are newcomers). This film follows a struggling family living near the poverty line. The three young sons are untamable and wild. The two older sons (Manny and Joel) worship their father (a problematic masculine figure), while the youngest, Jonah, is safeguarded by his Mother (beautifully portrayed by Sheila Vand). Better known as “Ma’” , she recognizes Jonah’s purity and sensitivity. He desperately attempts to keep up with his older brothers as they stampede though the barren tree lines of rural upstate New York. His true heart is in his writing and drawing.
These are personal passions that he feels deep shame for. Thus, he hides under his bed each night to let his true self pour out onto the pages of a notebook by flashlight. He guards and conceals his art with his whole being and as the audience we safeguard his secret too. Evan Rosado does a phenomenal job portraying the young Jonah as he starts to fall into the rabbit hole of the world of the adults around him.
His hopelessly lost father recognizes his almost feminine beauty and his young mother lacks education to understand his burgeoning sexuality. This film was a little slice of philosophy and humanity at its most raw. Exceptional, grounded, and realistic. Loved it.
2) Wildlife dir. Paul Dano
Based on the novel by Richard Ford, This film devastated me.
This cinematic experience was a wonderful blending of raw, emotional, and gorgeous.
Paul Dano steps into the directing role brilliantly and manages to find simple, timeless beauty in the midwest rural life. Joe Brinson (Ed Oxenbould) is the only child of two very dysfunctional parents (Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan).
While everyone holds their own in this film, Carey Mulligan rips you to pieces, patches you back together, then shreds you into tinier pieces. Paul Dano knows how to act (There Will Be Blood, Okja). So, watching him take the helm as a director and lead these three actors into new territory is truly glorious.
Mulligan plays Jeanette Brinson, an all too young mother desperately trying to cope with a depressed, unemployed husband. She finds herself in Great Falls, Montana with one son and very little opportunity for social mobility. She clings to her still youthful zest for life despite having no outlet to express her inner passions and steadily increasing discontentment. She is equal parts selfish and sympathetic. As her husband seeks employment fighting life threatening wildfires, she resorts to desperate methods to save herself and her son from financial ruin. There are moments when she stares deep into the camera so lost and so frightened that you can’t help but weep with her. I couldn't help but to detest and love her all the same.
Further, cinematographer, Diego García, creates some of the most beautiful images of the country side being ravaged by spreading wildfires that I have ever seen. This backdrop perfectly mirrors the slow burning flames of their expanding chasm of familial disconnect. Oxenbould does a fantastic job playing an only child and a voyeur observing his parents complete inability to parent. Absolutely brilliant.
3) Blindspotting dir. Carlos López Estrada
Wow. This film is just as emotionally resonant as it is stylized, current, and intelligent. Unfortunately, Estrada’s beautiful work came out the same time as two other films with similar subject matter so it got a bit obscured.
The juggernaut Spike Lee took home the recognition and accolades for BlackkKlansman (another wonderful film) and Sorry To Bother You came out at the same time. All three critically acclaimed films tackled racism head on and Blindspotting got overshadowed with less marketing publicity.
Regardless, I left this film buzzing. It transported me into the purest sense of empathetic anxiety for a protagonist that was impossible not to cheer for. Colin (Daveed Diggs) is about to conclude his probation and he finds himself questioning his friendship with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal).
Their interracial friendship complicates almost every frame of the film. Colin’s loyalty to Miles may lead him to ruin or salvation and as the audience we have no clue which one is the destination (you’ll find yourself tensing as you internally shout, ‘No, Colin NO!’).
Each moment of this film is crackling with tension and we cling to every ounce of hope for Colin’s safe passage out of probation as the gun sits just inches away in his best friend’s belt. Every turn leads us into unexpected territory and I left the theater better for it. Further, this film is a bright, neon love letter to Oakland and the diverse people who live there. Diggs and Casal are a dream team and this makes me excited to see what is to come from them. One of the year’s best and most original!
4) Three Identical Strangers dir. Time Wardle
This one begins as a joyful tale and swiftly turns into one of the best thought pieces I’ve seen in years. I think this should be required viewing. I don’t want to give too much away because each moment builds into one more strange and thought provoking than the moment before.
This film drops us in the middle of a beautiful and bizarre (and true) family reunion of three brothers and concludes as philosophical commentary on nature versus nurture that will make you question everything. I mean it. Everything. Your entire existence.
Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but at least it did for me. As we dive into each emerging new detail of information on the splitting and reuniting of three identical triplets, we dive into morality itself.
Further, this is a transformative call for more compassionate parenting. Humans become science experiments and even government conspiracies come into play. That’s all I’ll say. If I write anymore, I’ll say too much. And the most interesting part is it’s all true.
5) MCQUEEN dir. Ian Bonhôte
Another documentary. This film places us into the archives of the designer Alexander McQueen and brings us on a journey of watching his genius bloom like a dark flower of madness.
I enjoyed every second of this one. McQueen is bursting with personality and authenticity. Both his triumphs and flaws are on full display, and thus we see the human behind the genius. Once again, I won’t say too much on this one because it follows true events. What I will say, is this film involves a scene with moving robot arms spray painting a spinning woman in a dress that brought chills to my spine and tears to my eyes. Watching this film is like watching fully realized creativity coming to focused fruition: Ruthless, unapologetic, and inspiring. This documentary has all the drama and humanity of a Shakespearean play. You will leave a certain fan of Alexander and possibly even converted fan of the art form of fashion runways.
Very excited to see what 2019 has in store for us all.