The Underrated Films of 2018
Yesterday were the overrated films, today is the underrated films. What makes a film underrated? No idea. But I’m going for it.
I guess for me underrated means, easily dismissed for whatever reason. Either they think, “Oh yeah, that’s just that kind of movie,” and I’m thinking, “No, but there’s a lot more going on there that you’re not paying attention to.” Or it’s just, “This came out, no one really saw it or they let it slip under the radar, but trust me, this is great.” I have a very good track record on movies like this. I’ve noticed a lot of movies that I championed right from the start have slowly grown fan bases over the years. Other times I just want people to know — it’s okay if you still don’t like this, just don’t dismiss it as easily as you have.
Here are my picks for the most underrated films of 2018:
It’s underrated because it’s one of the three or four most important films of Spike Lee’s career. And because it’s gonna be nominated for a bunch of awards but win absolutely none of them. I feel like this is being underappreciated. Spike made a comedy that is both funny and tells a serious message. Those last five minutes of the movie really cannot be overpraised.
2. First Man
This movie feels like it’s gonna age well. What most people are going into this for is the subject matter. What makes this underrated is the fact that it’s so well directed. The space scenes in this movie and the flights scenes in this movie are incredible. And I don’t think that’s getting enough due. I feel like everyone is focusing on the story, who it’s about, and the actors and not the technical aspects of the film, which are the real draw here. I feel like people are not paying enough attention to that. And also — it’s a really solid movie that feels like it just kind of came and went, ho hum. But the fact that it’s really solid and Damien Chazelle followed up La La Land with something safe and managed to elevate it — that’s impressive and should be noted.
3. The Front Runner
This should be in serious awards contention. Jason Retiman not only made a movie about an event thirty years ago, but he made a movie about today. Plus, it brought his career back from the brink, basically. Tully gave him a pulse, but this gave him life. He really came back with this. This is an incredible effort that really gives you so much to watch and lets you choose how you want to view it. It’s making statements about then, now, and how then led to now. It’s really fantastic how he weaves that all together. And this movie just didn’t even take off. It came out on Election Day, and almost no one noticed. And it got no awards attention, which means it’s now slid under the dresser of history for people to maybe uncover eventually. This is definitely one of the two or three most underrated movies of the year. It’s really good, and it’s so much more than you think it’s gonna be going in.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
Perhaps the most underrated movie of 2018. The fact that this has a chance to not be nominated for Best Picture is stunning to me. This movie makes a legitimate case for itself to be as good as Moonlight. Do you know how difficult that is to pull off as a follow up? Not to mention, this is the kind of movie whose reputation is only gonna grow. There’s so much going on here that has grown on me since I first saw the movie (and I loved the movie when I first saw it). I already know not enough people have seen this movie (and it’s still out, SO GO SEE IT. Stop reading my bullshit and go see this movie), which means until that isn’t the case, this will be underrated. This movie is absolutely beautiful. It’s about so much. But most importantly, it’s about love. And I just don’t think enough people are seeing that.
5. The Hate U Give
It’s underrated because everyone (including myself) expected a generic YA movie that was adopting a modern issue and would use it in a haphazard way. No, no… this is a movie that adopts the YA tropes and uses them to further target its message about the modern issue. That’s it right there. That makes it underrated. We’re done. We’re done right there. This movie starts with a father telling his kids about what to do when pulled over by the cops so they don’t get killed. THEN it does the, “My name is this… I go to this school…” YA narration. This is a movie that gives you vegetables under the guise of junk food, and then makes you enjoy them. And it’s not doing anything underhanded. It’s just giving you the information in a way that’s not hitting you over the head with them. I’m so in awe of how this movie did what it did. And the most interesting part? It’s not even great. It’s just really good. It’s got a bunch of issues. But honestly, the fact that it 80% pulls off what it’s trying to is more impressive than what most other movies try (if they try).
6. The Old Man & the Gun
The fact that it might be Robert Redford’s final film alone makes it underrated. But that aside (and that’s a pretty big aside) — this movie is quite good. And it doesn’t do the thing you’d expect it to do. This movie builds to a giant heist in the center of the film that it just doesn’t show us. It doesn’t give you the usual “dedicated cop chasing after the criminal” narrative you’d expect. The cop’s got his own shit going on. It’s not intriguing. It’s boring. And the robber? He’s got his own stuff. He’s not just obsessively robbing banks. He’s doing it because he likes it. That’s it. I love this movie so much, and I know this is underrated because most people know this came out but haven’t seen it. And even those who have seen it really don’t seem to appreciate the lefts this takes when most films would take a right. And it’s a tight movie, too. It gets in and out in 90 minutes. This is efficient, it’s refusing to box itself into genre norms, and it’s a beautiful tribute to a cinema legend in what might be his final performance. This deserves a wider audience (and more acclaim for what it does).
A documentary! I know, right? But the movie just came out and it’s hard to tell what that’s gonna be, so we’ll stick with this. Because I feel like this woman’s story is hugely important, for both gender equality and for the current political situation, and I feel like people should know about it. That’s it, really. I think the story of someone who achieved what she’s achieved should be seen by more people. I would honestly urge teachers to show this to every young girl in schools. This film is important.
8. Set It Up
Another one that’s a bit overrated and underrated at the same time. But for me — the rom com genre is dead. Completely dead. Any time they try to make one now it either comes off as too corny because it’s too romantic and sappy, or it veers too much into “comedy” nowadays, which is infantile male humor and people driving cars off of bridges or whatever. And here’s a movie that did it right. Charismatic leads with good chemistry, plucky writing and just a fun story. Truly, this movie could have been made 70 years ago. You could see Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn doing something like this. And they just do not make them like this anymore. Or even think of 15 years ago. People my age grew up with the last bastion of romantic comedies — How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, or 13 Going on 30 (that’s a rom com, right? Or is that a com with some rom thrown in?). After that it became the Heigl era, which is like Michael Jordan with the Wizards. It’s not the same. This movie helped bring back a dead genre. That cannot be undervalued. And it’s actually kinda good! And you know how I know it’s good? Because people who saw this didn’t want to like it. That’s a rom com. You think I liked those other rom coms when I was 13? I hated them. Now? They’re awesome. This is right there in that rom com wheelhouse, where in ten years, this will be a staple of the genre. And really the only proper one that’s out there (unless we’re counting those Netflix Christmas movies, which are a pale imitation — Lifetime level quality — of what the genre should be).
9. Sorry to Bother You
For a minute this was reaching the point of people going too hard on it. But I don’t think it could ever have been overrated. MAYBE if we started getting to legitimate Best Picture win talk. That might be the only way. But short of that, this movie is underrated. Because it’s a giant fuck you to capitalism and modern society. And it got made for like, no money. And people saw it! And talked about it! Based on the internet, you’d have thought this movie was a monster hit. Sure, it made five times its budget back in theaters, but still, it only made $17 million total. But despite all that — this is a movie that does its own thing, plays by its own rules, manages to be weird and fun and entertaining while also having a voice and a mind of its own. Oh, and it’s completely permeated the culture in what seems to be a possibly lasting way. I don’t think you can overrate that.
10. A Star Is Born
Okay, now hear me out. Yes, this could easily have gone overrated, especially since, from the minute it came out, it was positioned to win all the Oscars. (How’s that looking now, after the Globes?) BUT… I will counter with this. And this, by the way, is somewhat prefaced on me looking slightly into the future and assuming this movie will end up the way all the other Star Is Born movies have gone. 1937 — nominated for 7 Oscars, won for Screenplay only. Or more specifically, Story. But same deal, essentially. 1954 — 6 nominations, won nothing. 1976 — 4 nominations, won for Original Song. Assuming this goes that way, and ends up with one, maybe two wins, I can put forward this underrated theory more fully. And that’s — this movie was made three times already (four, if you count What Price Hollywood?). It’s hard to remake it and make it stand out/make it good. You can make it solid, but making it good is a tall order. And they made it good. Bradley Cooper directed the hell out of it. Lady Gaga gives quite a good performance. The songs are incredible. Truly, most people who only know the stars and maybe have heard of the story won’t understand what was accomplished here. This is almost like covering a Beatles song. You can do it okay, but to do it in a way where people go, “Oh, wow, that’s really good”… that’s tough to pull off. So yeah, this is being overrated in the moment, but over time I think people need to realize just how impressive it is they pulled off a Star Is Born sequel that stands along with the other ones.
Another year, another underrated Steven Soderbergh movie. Never fails, really. Every time he comes out with a film, not enough people see it and it flies under the radar, despite being one of the better movies of the year. That all stands true for this one, with one minor difference — he shot this entirely on an iPhone. And you expect a certain thing from a movie like that, but this one… it feels really intimate and the way he shoots it helps the movie feel more claustrophobic and unsettling. It’s almost like the man can’t catch a break, because his movies are so good, and yet they just never make any money and every time you bring one of his movies up, either people haven’t seen them, or they discovered them several years after the fact on cable.
12. White Boy Rick
This has to be underrated because it was completely dismissed before it even came out. I don’t get why people didn’t like it. Seems like it was one of those, the critics decided they didn’t like it, they buried it, and then audiences didn’t go and just assumed it was bad. I’ve been saying since I saw it — this is exactly what I thought I was getting out of this movie, and I had legitimate hopes for it to be good. McConaughey is really good in it, the kid (who never acted before this) is really good, Bel Powley is really good — the whole movie is well put together, engaging, and honestly I still can’t fathom why this has been so overlooked. I can’t really point to a specific reason why I think this is underrated except — it’s good and no one seems to recognize that it’s good. I guess that’s really all you need.
Why is this not one of the most celebrated movies of the year? I feel like every year, there’s one movie that I see early that I start talking up because it’s amazing, and then when it comes out, no one sees it and it flies totally under the radar during awards season, meaning no one will really come around to it until it makes the streaming/cable rounds. Which is awful. Look at the cast, and look at the director. Steve McQueen has never made a movie less than very very good. He might not have gone below great. And yet… I feel like I have to start explaining what this is before people go, “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” And it’s amazing. This movie could have been 45 minutes longer with all the interesting subplots going on. This is destined to be like all those other movies I loved that will take people several years to get up to speed on (see: Speed Racer, The Adjustment Bureau, Killing Them Softly, About Time, A Most Violent Year).
14. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
It is impossible to overrate the impact Fred Rogers had upon the world. This film is a winning testament to the man’s ethos, and honestly, what should be the ethos of the world. Truly, the world is filled with such hate and divisiveness, and here is a film that teaches us that we’re all the same. This may be the most important film of 2018, and even though everyone knows about it, I don’t think it’s fully appreciated as it should be. This is the movie we needed right now.
15. You Were Never Really Here
This movie is insane. This, with a different director and star, would have been just another generic thriller. And the last thing we need nowadays is another generic thriller. That’s the progression. Shitty movie < generic thriller < generic thriller with Liam Neeson < generic thriller with an all-star cast < solid thriller < elevated movie by a great director. And we had two of those this year. One is Widows, and this is the other one. Both are movies that, with someone else, would not have been nearly as good. Because this is a movie that focuses on all the stuff you don’t see in these kinds of movies. Hell, there’s a good chunk of the film dedicated to the main character’s relationship with his mother! And while that might seem like something you might see… not like this. Some of the action sequences (including the climax) aren’t shown! Lynne Ramsey really directs a hell of a movie, and while it might not seem like much now (and while it may have rubbed some people the wrong way who were expecting a different kind of movie), this, to me, is a huge deal for cinema. It shows that you don’t have to make a movie the way it’s written or may seem on paper (see also: Mandy) and can have it be great. THAT is why this movie is underrated, and the fact that it’s still totally almost under the radar is the other.
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