The Underseen Films of 2018

We did Overrated. We did Underrated. Today is Underseen.

This one is simple — a list of “Maybe you know about it, maybe you don’t. But this movie needs to be seen by more people.” That’s it. A list of movies that need a wider audience. Could be double this, could be triple this. The point is, we’re telling people these movies need to be seen. That does not preclude the films talked about over the past two days, but I do try to keep the lists separate so as to talk about more films.

My goal is to get people to see even a few of these, and then maybe they start telling other people, “Hey, this is pretty cool.” And then maybe these things start to get fan bases. It’s really just about getting people to see more movies. Especially the ones that deserve it.

Here are some of the most underseen films of 2018:

1. American Animals

I’ve had friends who are casual/casual-plus moviegoers (as in, they go see stuff a bunch, but they’re not insane like I am, but they’re also not “go six times a year for the big stuff” people) who said this was their favorite movie of the year. So some people know about it. But I know for a fact that not enough people know anything about this. This movie is fantastic. It’s a very serious heist movie that does some really intriguing things with its narrative and storytelling, along with an incredible first-time directorial effort by Bart Layton. I feel like this is one of those movies that people who did see it really like, but I’m not sure it’s got enough overall love to get out there in the right way. More people ought to see this, because it’s pound for pound one of the better (if not best) movies of 2018.

2. Anna and the Apocalypse

It’s a ZOMBIE MUSICAL! Shaun of the Dead with show tunes! It’s got zombies and song and dance! Even if you hate zombie movies or musicals, how does this not sound more interesting than most of the same old tired crap that comes out? What, you’re gonna go see Holmes and Watson and pretend like it was watchable because it’s a safer choice than something like this? This movie is delightful. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure bedazzles the shit out of it. This deserves more of an audience because, for every 50 people who see it, maybe 10 will hate it, another 10 will be fine with it, and the other 30 will be the ones who will either love it, or appreciate it enough to show it to more people. That’s how movies attain cult status and grow fan bases. And if anyone deserves one, it’s this one. They made a zombie movie and gave it musical numbers. Come on, now, guys! This is what we dream of when we grow up wanting to make movies, being able to make something weird and fun like this. Stop being all self-important and live a little!

3. Blindspotting

This movie be the single most underseen movie of 2018. Because people know what this is. They just haven’t seen it. Which is a travesty. This is legitimately one of the best films of the year. This is the kind of movie that will entertain anyone who watches it. Because it’s smart, it’s well-acted, and while the message of the film is written all over it, it’s not oppressive to the viewer. It’s just there. And you get it without having to focus on it. It’s a buddy movie. A buddy comedy at that, most of the time. I really love how movies like this and The Hate U Give are getting their messages across. This, to me, harkens back to the studio era, when filmmakers couldn’t quite say what they wanted to say, so they found other ways to get what they wanted to say across without perfectly spelling it out. Of course, there’s no censorship here, so the movie says what it wants to say. But it manages to not turn off the viewer while doing it, which is so impressive, because I’m someone who will almost immediately turn off the minute I feel a movie preaching to me. And I embraced the shit out of this one. This is one of the best movies of 2018, and more people need to have seen it.

4. The Christmas Chronicles

Because it’s fucking insane! And it’s on Netflix, so you have no excuse to not just check it out. This movie handles Santa better than most movies I’ve ever seen. And I mean, Santa Santa. Not like, Tim Allen who becomes Santa, or Billy Bob Thornton, who is just working as a Santa. This is the real dude. And Kurt Russell is awesome as him. It’s the first time I’ve seen Santa straight up just be open about who he is. Not hiding any of it. Not trying to keep the magic. None of that. “Hey, Billy, haven’t seen you since you were seven?” “What?” Yeah, don’t you remember, you asked me for that bicycle set? Then you went and stole Timmy Jones’s bike en route to a life of hard drugs and crime.” That’s what he does! And it’s amazing. Especially because it takes place in a current society where everyone’s like, “Who is this crazy person? Did he hack my computer or something?” No one believes this is Santa, and they’re all freaked out. And it’s wonderful. Plus, he has a chase through Chicago with the police in a stolen car, there’s a musical number in jail with the E Street Band, and there’s a scene where an elf is gonna take a chainsaw to a guy’s nuts. That all happens in this. And I guarantee you almost no people know about this movie. Maybe you know, “Oh yeah, a Kurt Russell Christmas movie,” and may have heard of it. But I know nobody’s really seen this. And it has been my mission to show this to people over the past month, even going so far as to pull up clips from it, because that’s the only way I knew I’d convince the people who were on the fence about it. This one’s worth it, guys. It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it’ll entertain the shit out of you for 100 minutes.

5. Damsel

This is the followup film to Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter by the Zellner brothers. I haven’t gone back to check, but I cannot imagine that movie did not make my underrated/underseen/hidden gem list for 2015. I will once again stress that you watch that movie, because it’s incredible. That said, their followup to it is just as interesting and just as weird. And it’s a western. This is a western designed to turn every western trope you know on its head. And not in an overt comedy way. This feels like a straight western for a while. A weird one, but it feels like it’s sticking within genre norms. Except it’s not. It takes a few turns that you just are not expecting, and then it becomes a completely different movie. Not in a way like From Dusk Till Dawn, where there are zombies. Or the way Sorry to Bother You becomes a different movie. This one becomes different in the sense of, it gives you a different perspective on the scenarios you’ve see in the western a million times. And it’s refreshing. It is deliberately weird, though, so that might turn a few people off. But even so, it’s worth seeing because it has a very refreshing take on a well worn genre. And because Mia Wasikowska still feels like an eternally underrated actress.

6. The Death of Stalin

Because this is one of the funniest movies of 2018, if not the funniest. It came out everywhere else in 2017, but it didn’t come out in the U.S. until this year, and no matter what year it came out, more people deserve to see it. It’s so goddamn funny. If you saw The Favourite and thought it was funny, watch this next. Oh, and it’s by the guy who did In the Loop and Veep. So it’s that kind of humor. Absolutely hysterical. You’d think this was a drama based on the subject matter. Oh no. No it’s not. Steve Buscemi is Nikita Khrushchev. Trust me, this is worth your time. I guarantee you this movie will have you laughing within the first ten minutes. It’s that good and that funny. Please, I implore you. Watch this movie. It is funnier than any studio comedy you have seen this year.

7. Hearts Beat Loud

Because it’s lovely. It’s just a nice little indie with fun music and cool performances. Those sorts of movies ought to be championed. I thought about other stuff here, that maybe I liked a little bit more. But they didn’t need it. This movie could use it. It’s by the guy who did I’ll See You in My Dreams and The Hero, and it’s about Nick Offerman as a widowed father who owns a failing record store. His daughter, Kiersey Clemons, is about to go to UCLA for med school, and has her shit together way more than he does. But the one thing they still do is jam (which he takes more seriously than she does). And it’s just a nice movie about a father and daughter starting a band. It doesn’t go anywhere crazy (they don’t get signed to a label or become rock stars). It’s a nice movie about these two people, and it’s the kind that doesn’t do much more than put a smile on your face. We need more movies like that and this is just a really sweet and charming movie that ought to be seen by more people.

8. Leave No Trace

This is such a good movie. I feel like Winter’s Bone was a bit underseen when it came out, but that got more views over the years by having Jennifer Lawrence be nominated for Best Actress for it. This doesn’t seem like it’s gonna have that, so it’s gonna be relegated to the “hey, wasn’t that a really good movie?” bin. Where there are hundreds of great movies, where only people like me will sit there and say, “These. These are the ones you need to pull from here.” Ben Foster is, as usual, terrific, and Thomasin McKenzie is also incredible as his daughter. It’s mostly a two-hander, and is a movie that really just works on every level. This is the kind of movie that will be on most people’s lists of top 30 or so movies of the year. You will see this appear on most people’s lists who have seen enough movies and generally watch enough movies each year to really know what they’re talking about. The thing that I notice, though (and I’m guilty of it too), is that this movie is further down, on the “also mentioned” list. It doesn’t get the photo and the nice write-up. It gets the “and this is great too.” Which is not conducive to getting more people to see it immediately. So I knew it had to go here. So for the tens of you who are gonna read this, go see this movie. It’s great.

9. Mandy

Just because. You think I was gonna let this movie slide all the way through my lists? I was surprised when I went home and visited with friends over New Years. I’m, of course, the Cage connoisseur of the group. But all of them are very much into the brand of insanity the man puts down, when he puts it down. But I was shocked how few of them even knew what this was. You know what I got? “Oh, is that the one with the kids?” No, that’s Mom and Dad. I had one person who was like, “Are you excited for the one with him and the ghosts?” Which is Between Worlds. Both of which are appropriately nuts and have crazy moments in them (specifically Between Worlds, which features a scene where he’s having sex with his dead wife’s ghost in the body of his girlfriend’s daughter, while reading from a Nicolas Cage memoir), but none of them hold a candle to this. Even the people who look for Cage stuff didn’t know about this. Of course, all you really need with this is a trailer and maybe one clip (mine is usually the bathroom scene where he’s drinking and screaming for a minute and a half straight), and you can sell most people. But still — I’m shocked that so few people know what this is, especially the ones who like when Cage goes crazy in stuff. This is in the pantheon of Bad Lieutenant in terms of him going nuts in recent years. (Bad Lieutenant turns ten this year, by the way. Which is insane.) The one difference? The movie matches him in being nuts. The fucking Cheddar Goblin? This movie is a treasure trove of greatness. And no matter how people are gonna respond to it, it needs to be seen.

10. Never Goin’ Back

Probably my #2 most underseen movie of the year. I loved this movie so much. This is, to me, right in that realm of Slackers, Dazed and Confused, Clerks… those movies about young(er) people hanging out and figuring shit out. This one in particular I like because it’s following that Inside Llewyn Davis narrative that’s been popping up more and more over the past few years. Which is, a week in the lives of these characters, wherein you get the sense that all their weeks go a lot like this. I had a joyous time watching this film, and apparently this entire family has trouble getting their movies the right amount of eyeballs, because the director is Augistine Frizzell, who is married to David Lowery, director of The Old Man & the Gun. Both of them are fantastic (and fantastically underrated and underseen) movies.

11. The Other Side of the Wind

It’s Orson Welles’ final film, and it’s right there on Netflix for everyone to watch. By all means, don’t watch it before you watch Citizen Kane, but for anyone even remotely interested in film, how can you not feel like you owe it to yourself and your film education to watch this movie? It’s bold, experimental, and it shows a type of filmmaking you just don’t see anymore. And, to Welles’ credit, a type you didn’t see at the time, either. He was making this in the early-to-mid 70s, and even for that era, where the auteur was kind and they tried some really interesting stuff, this pushed the boundaries. But that’s Welles as a filmmaker, always trying to see what he could do and would never give you the kind of movie you thought you were getting based on the subject matter. I feel like everyone owes it to their education as a filmgoer to give this one a shot. It might not become your favorite movie, but it’ll show you just how much of a visionary and iconoclast Welles was, and how enduring his films remain even after all these years.

12. Revenge

So if Blindspotting is the most underseen film of 2018, this is the underseen film of 2018 I most want to recommend to people. This is that movie that fits the bill of “give me a really awesome movie I don’t know about but will enjoy the shit out of.” I cannot stress highly enough how crowd pleasing this movie is. It’s a rape-revenge movie, but without the camp or horror. Put it this way — woman gets raped and left for dead. She survives, and then for twenty minutes the movie becomes The Revenant. Then… she is out for (insert title here), and then she starts killing motherfuckers. And it’s awesome. All the violence is totally realistic, and the third act is so bloody it’s almost comical. This movie is just awesome on every level. It feels like it might be a “guy” movie on the surface, but no… it’s for everyone. And trust me, is there anything better than watching asshole dudes get their comeuppance on screen?

13. The Sisters Brothers

This movie grossed just over $3 million at the box office. You haven’t seen it. And if you have, I bet your five closest friends who like movies probably all haven’t. And that’s why this is here. We need to get the word out on this. It shouldn’t have been hard. John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed. This should have done so much better on that alone. It’s not like people have aversions to westerns, because they get views when made right. And this one was made right. So I don’t get it. Sure, it tries to avoid all the cliche scenes you’re used to, but it’s really well done, very entertaining, and very funny. There are such great bits of humor that happen here, especially in some horrifying circumstances (the spider?). This is one of those movies that I can’t believe everyone just overlooked. I was gonna put it on the underrated list, but I think it was properly rated. Everyone felt this was a really solid and entertaining movie. It’s just that no one saw it. And that’s the problem.

14. Suspiria

It’s very much a love it or hate it kind of movie. But you won’t know which it is until you see it. I feel like when this came out no one knew what the hell to make of it, or went, “Well that wasn’t like the original at all” and just dismissed it because they didn’t know what to do with what they were given. But I think there’s a really terrific film here that should at least have more of an audience. Because 1) Tilda Swinton, 2) it’s all women. There are, I believe, only three speaking roles for men (played by men) in the entire movie, and 3) it takes the Suspiria story and instead gives you a movie about sisterhood and overcoming trauma. And somehow it works. Also, that third act. Holy shitballs. I want as many people as possible to have seen this movie. The more who’ve seen it, the more we can talk about it.

15. Tully

We have one underrated Jason Reitman movie, one underseen. This one, I feel, came out, was kind of noticed, but no one actually went to see it. And I think it’s a really strong movie. Like Young Adult. Though where that one might have turned people off because of its very unlikable protagonist and bleak view of the world, this one is more about motherhood and is just a really well put-together movie. Charlize Theron gives yet another great, under-heralded performance. Mackenzie Davis shows yet again why she should be in everything. And Diablo Cody caps off a very interesting trilogy, between Juno, Young Adult and this. I think it’s just one of those really solid movies that’s worth seeing. Not everyone’s gonna love it, but it’s got better odds than most of the crap that’s out there.

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