According to Box Office Mojo, there were 725 films released in 2018. That’s an ocean practically designed to drown the film fanatic. Most movies that flopped into your fisherman’s net did so thanks to the tremendous financial heft of the studios. Yet, every year, dozens of high-quality entertainments float past your attention, gasping for air on the dry land of VOD. Like Quint from Jaws, our job is to fire a few barrels into those wonderous treats and help raise the beauties that didn’t deserve such driftwood treatment to the surface.
Below, you’ll find an eclectic collection of cinema. Some of them you may have heard about, but judging by fiscal reports, you chose not to partake. That’s ok. Better late than never, as the saying goes. If you’re attempting to fill out your own Top Ten list, and you’re looking to separate your picks from your Oscar-bait neighbor, several of these selections will gift you with a perception of the worldly and erudite.
Beast is a singular blend of terror, mystery, romance, and thrills. Writer/director Michael Pearce crafts a narrative I have not encountered before. A young woman named Moll (Jessie Buckley) falls for a scraggly man named Pascal (Johnny Flynn) who shows up in a tiny isolated town where there has been a string of unsolved murders. Naturally, his identity boils below the surface, with Moll unsure of whether it is there to lovingly warm her or eventually burn her alive. Why it didn’t blow up on the indie theatrical circuit is beyond me. It keeps you on your toes from start to finish, a masterclass in tone and creeping narrative structure. – Luke Hicks
Director Robert Schwentke and cinematographer Florian Ballhaus needed to escape the Hollywood system after plowing through the last batch of Divergent sequels. They found their creative relief in the closing days of World War II with a German soldier (Max Hubacher) seeking salvation beneath a dead captain’s jacket. The impersonation of rank saves his hide initially, but the masquerade quickly consumes the terrified man as the uniform’s emblems of hate poison his soul with power. The film steals its concept from the actions of a real-life individual, but Schwentke plays fast and loose with the facts, electing to push human truth above historical accuracy. The climactic implication does not point the finger at the sins of the past, but rather at its lingering presence in contemporary life. While beautifully shot in black and white, The Captain is an ugly accusation of a movie. One that doesn’t simply blame one people or one country, but exposes the possibility of evil in every home across the planet. – Brad Gullickson
The premise behind writer/director Mike P. Nelson‘s post-apocalyptic thriller couldn’t be any more generic — a young couple tries to survive a landscape overrun by lawlessness, violence, and cannibalism, but the goons of the world try to stop them at every turn. We’ve seen variations on this story before, but Nelson and his cast/crew prove themselves capable of turning the familiar into something truly tense and exhilarating. Kate Bosworth gets her best role in years and a strong performance follows suit, and the always great Lance Reddick does fantastic work with an atypical character as well. It’s not a showy film, but it is a suspenseful and thrilling one worth seeking out in a crowded field. – Rob Hunter
Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read the IMDb page. Stay away from any and all descriptions of the plot. I’ll acknowledge that there is a young woman (Abbey Lee) who marries a much older man (Ciarán Hinds) and the relationship hides violent emotional and physical treachery. Hmmm…maybe I’ve already said too much. Writer/director Sebastian Gutierrez drops his audience into a house and delights in withholding exposition. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Wait for it, wait for it… wait for it. The film eventually bursts with revelation and even allows viewers to get ahead of the narrative only to twist and flip and surpass condescending expectation. While you were so concerned with what genre you were experiencing, Elizabeth Harvest hits you with an emotional slap of character and performance. – Brad Gullickson
It’s not often a film introduces its female teen protagonist in the final throes of fellating an officer of the law, but Erica’s (Zoey Deutch) a firm believer in doing what you like. That’s the beginning of Flower, and it sets the tone perfectly for what’s to come as this is anything but your typical coming of age tale. Sex, love, and a healthy disregard for societal norms are all a part of her life, but the core of Erica’s journey is an attempt to reconnect with her father. Aww, that’s swee– nope. Don’t start this very funny, occasionally heartbreaking, and wholly entertaining movie looking for a traditionally sweet moment because you will be left dry. Instead, come for the sheer wonder that is Deutch’s performance and then join me in asking why she isn’t already a household name. – Rob Hunter
You think you’ve witnessed the pinnacle of the locked room cinematic experience. You’ve seen Buried, Locke, Phone Booth. Naw. Nice try. Valiant effort. The Guilty has them all beat. For his first feature, director Gustav Möller traps Jakob Cedergren and his audience behind the desk of an emergency call worker. Not only is his shift ending, but his tenure with this particularly punishing assignment is winding down as well. Then the phone rings. The woman on the other end has been abducted, and she’s pretending to call her child rather than the police. Cedergren must pull vital information through subterfuge. The Guilty is so extraordinarily descriptive in its language that in recalling the events to friends, you’ll have sworn you ventured through the phone lines towards the various scenes of the crimes. Möller miraculously rises to the challenge of shooting one face from every possible angle and close-up, leaning heavy into the transformative power of lighting. At no point does the film feel rote or expected. Even more shocking, the screenplay matches the narrative revelations to that of the cinematic. Here is a debut that guarantees an immediate loyal Möller fanbase. Bring on the second feature. – Brad Gullickson
The Kindergarten Teacher
Writer/director Sara Colangelo’s sophomore film, following the so-so Little Accidents (2014), is a bone-chilling bit of brilliance that cannot be missed. Colangelo adapted it from an independent Israeli film of the same name, written and directed by Nadav Lapid. It is truly one of a kind. Unless you’ve seen the original, I can guarantee that you haven’t heard this story before. It focuses on a kindergarten teacher, Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is desperately bored with the banality of her family and deeply dissatisfied with the world’s lack of interest in poetry. After hearing one of her students recite a poem he wrote, she develops a fascination with his talent that cannot be deterred. I won’t give any spoilers, but Gyllenhaal should be given the Oscar now for her perfect performance. It is one of the most bizarre, unsettling, and engrossing films of the year. – Luke Hicks
Lean on Pete
After Weekend and 45 Years, it’s safe to say that writer/director Andrew Haigh has solidified himself as a master of capturing subtle emotion. Lean on Pete is a resounding affirmation of that. I’ve heard several refer to this as “just another horse movie,” and I can’t begin to express how wrong that is. In this case, horses are a proxy for family, community, human connection, and the loss or lack of all traces of the three. Lean on Pete (along with The Rider) cannot be jettisoned as yet another empty, gushy horse movie. Charlie Plummer is remarkable in his tragic, soft-spoken, and secretly bold performance. And Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, and Steve Zahn are perfect fits in their respective atypical roles. – Luke Hicks