In a short while, I’ll name my top movies of 2018, but in the meantime, I wanted to spotlight a certain kind of 2018 movie — the small, unseen movies, movies that in many cases you probably haven’t even heard of.
Some of the following titles will make it into (and even at the top of) my best-of-2018 list, but some will not. In any case, I wanted to highlight them. These are the films you might have missed and that you should now check out, as they’re easily accessible on various streaming services.
Note: I’ve highlighted the subscription services where each movie is available to stream, but the majority of them are also available to rent on various video-on-demand storefronts (iTunes, Vudu, etc.)
“Cam” (Netflix) An inventive and unnerving psychological thriller about an online cam girl named Alice (an excellent Madeline Brewer, of “The Handmaid’s Tale”) whose account is taken over by a doppelganger. Alice 2.0 is a better and more popular version in every way, but Alice means to take back her persona. “Cam” is a tight and suspenseful movie that gives us a look behind the curtain of the cam-girl industry, while also offering some trenchant commentary on the Internet, social media, exploitation and the merging of physical and digital identities IRL.
“Crime + Punishment” (Hulu) An engrossing (and often infuriating) documentary about the black and Latino whistleblower cops who spoke out against the NYPD’s illegal arrest quota policies, which target young minorities. Much more than a talking-heads doc, “Crime + Punishment” embeds itself in the lives of these officers, showing not only what they’re fighting for, but what it’s cost them.
“Fighting in the Age of Loneliness” (SB Nation) SB Nation is, of course, not a streaming service, but a sports media brand. But there was at least one great movie it made this year. Mad genius Jon Bois and “Chapo Trap House” co-host Felix Biederman tell a five-part tale of the development of mixed martial arts, contextualizing it in a larger story of how neoliberalism has created a meaningless world, wherein punching and kicking a man in a cage is the best way to feel alive. Note: video contains profanity.
“First Reformed” (Amazon Prime) Ethan Hawke stars as a despairing reverend gradually pulled into an act of unspeakable violence. Asks and answers the question: What if “Taxi Driver” were set at a small church in upstate New York and the movie were really about climate change?
“Gemini” (Hulu) Steely and stylish L.A. noir in which the assistant (Lola Kirke) to a movie star (Zoe Kravitz) is falsely accused of murder and on the run. The story is good enough, but “Gemini” is all about letting the details of the plot pass on by as you bask in the neon glow of the film’s aesthetic.
“Lean on Pete” (Amazon Prime) Boy meets horse. Boy steals horse. Boy and horse set off on a heartbreaking quest to find a place to call home. Along the way, they’re met with indifference, exploitation and cruelty, but also just enough kindness to keep moving. Pummeling and beautiful.
“Mandy” (Shudder) If you’ve ever wanted to see a pantsless Nic Cage down a whole bottle of liquor while rage-crying in the bathroom. If you’ve ever wanted to see Nic Cage get into a chainsaw duel with a drug-addled cult freak. If you’ve ever wanted to see a righteously metal phantasmagoria whose opening title card doesn’t bleed across the screen until halfway through the movie, then “Mandy,” “Mandy,” “Mandy” ...
“Minding the Gap” (Hulu) In what was a great year for documentaries (which also included “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “RBG,” “Free Solo” and “Three Identical Strangers”), “Minding the Gap” was the best. Directed by Bing Liu, the movie follows several years in the life of his best friends, focusing on the family trauma they’ve endured and, in one case, are now perpetuating as they start their own families. It might’ve been too bleak to bear were it not for all the skateboarding. The segments of the movie are interspersed with the guys skating around town, and you can see the burdens of their lives lifted, however briefly. No movie this year so intimately captures the lives of everyday Americans struggling for a better life.
“The Night Comes for Us” (Netflix) In this Indonesian martial arts masterpiece ... an assassin uses a razor-wire yo-yo to flay flesh from bone. A Nordic-looking sociopath chops through a room full of heavies so gracefully it looks like she’s dancing. A big, nearly unkillable cokehead named White Boy Bobby finds horribly creative uses for everyday objects. A fight at a butcher’s shop employs meat hooks, table saws and the pointy end of a broken bone. And that’s just the first 30 minutes!
“The Rider” (Starz) In this lyrical drama that resides somewhere between documentary and Western, a young cowboy suffers a head injury that prevents him from doing rodeo, the only thing he knows. Now, he’ll decide: risk his life riding, or try to forge a new identity in the American heartland? Using unprofessional actors, writer/director Chloé Zhao tells a sensitive and moving story with a wallop of a third-act catharsis. This was, on reflection, a great year for horse movies.
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Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, “Molly’s Game,” is a slick and breezily entertaining example of all the ways the Oscar-winning writer is great and a few of the ways he’s not. Read more
The enjoyably batty biopic “I, Tonya” asks and answers the question: What if we remade the life of disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding as the third act of a Scorsese movie? What would that look like? Read more
The clothes, hairstyles and newsroom typewriters of Spielberg's "The Post" might belong to 1971, but the themes and sentiment are aimed pointedly at 2018 — at the current presidential administration and its combative relationship with the press. Read more
“Paddington 2” is one of those rare sequels (and very rare children’s movie sequels) where the second installment improves on the first. The follow-up to the 2014 film is warm, charming and visually inventive in all the ways of its predecessor but just a bit more so in every department. Read more
“Call Me By Your Name” is a movie that values atmosphere over incident, and its deliberate pace will prove plodding for some. But if you allow yourself to get caught up in the love story, you’ll find a film with a wealth of feeling too big for words. Read more
Though it’s gushing with high drama, "Phantom Thread" maybe works best if you look at it as a kind of comedy — a bone-dry comedy of manners in which a strong-willed woman attempts to tame a shrew. Mileage will vary on how funny or creepy or even romantic you find "Phantom Thread" to be. Read more
If "Heat" smelled like a strip club and replaced Pacino/De Niro with Leonidas/Pornstache, it might look (and smell) a little something like "Den of Thieves." And if you’re wondering whether I mean that as an insult or a compliment, my answer is yes. Read more
"Maze Runner: The Death Cure"
“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” starts with a show-stopping train heist that’s as exciting and well-executed as these movies get. Read more
Even Cormac McCarthy fans might struggle with the unrelenting pain of “Hostiles,” a grim ’n’ grimy new Western from professional sadist Scott Cooper. Read more
It’s not a truly bad film. I can get behind a truly bad film. “Winchester” is worse than bad. It’s just deadly boring. Read more
Inept, meandering and anticlimactic, “Fifty Shades Freed” does at least one thing that’s extraordinary: It brings the “Fifty Shades” series to an end. Read more
Nominated for seven Oscars: Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
The best possible thing that could be said about “Black Panther,” the 18th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is that it’s the first Marvel movie that doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie. Read more
The trippy and challenging “Annihilation” is a sci-fi Franken-film — a cellular fusion of “Stalker,” “The Thing” and the last 20 minutes of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Read more
“Red Sparrow” is the rarest of things: an honest spy movie, even amid its twists and turns, deception and subterfuge. Read more
I take no pleasure in saying this ...
But Ava DuVernay’s big-budget adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s book “A Wrinkle in Time” is a clumsy, clunky mess and one of the most disappointing movies of this still-young year. Read more
“Tomb Raider” is fairly generic and overlong, and yet it is — by some margin and by virtue of the sorry state of its genre — the best movie ever to be adapted from a video game. Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
"Ready Player One" is a bucket of Lucky Charms with two cups of sugar on top ... and high-speed Wi-Fi. It’s every geeky subreddit shouting at once. It’s too many tabs open on your Chrome browser window. It’s the Internet. It’s the whole Internet. Read more
Based on the French graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, “The Death of Stalin” is an ideal vehicle for Iannucci, who thrives in the milieu of petty office politics. The dark joke of “Death of Stalin” is that a minor workplace infraction or inappropriate joke can get you not just fired but killed. Read more
It quickly becomes apparent that the star of the L.A. murder mystery “Gemini” isn’t the femme fatale or the falsely accused heroine, but instead the neon haze of the city itself. Read more
Nominated for two Oscars: Best Animated Film and Best Original Score.
Here’s a film in which Tilda Swinton voices a pug named Oracle. The other dogs think she can see the future, but she’s really just the only dog who understands TV news. Here’s a film in which an authoritarian government has developed tooth-and-tail recognition software to better track and catch subversive strays. Here’s a beautiful film and a ridiculous one, and one we don’t deserve. Read more
The stakes are established (brutally). The family in danger is immediately lovable. And you won’t be able to breathe normally for the remainder of the film (which, not including credits, clocks in at an amazingly lean 82 minutes). Read more
Casting notorious hothead Shia LaBeouf as notorious hothead John McEnroe was admittedly an inspired choice. It’s the first one, last one, only one that “Borg vs. McEnroe” makes. Read more
Clocking in at 1 hour and 47 minutes, “Rampage” — a loose adaptation of the classic arcade game — is about 1 hour and 47 minutes too long. Read more
The problem with the new Amy Schumer comedy “I Feel Pretty” is not that it is offensive (as the backlash to its trailer would suggest) but that it is bland. It’s a stretched-out comedy sketch, a wafer-thin movie spackled together with a vanilla compound of sitcom beats and romcom music cues. Read more
There’s an irresistible hook at the heart of “The Endless” — the new indie horror movie from filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (“Spring,” “Resolution”). The hook involves time loops, Lovecraftian monsters and UFO death cults. Read more
A heartbreaking bruise of a movie, “Lean on Pete” takes the hoary templates of the coming-of-age drama and the boy-and-his-horse adventure and subverts them again and again. What we’re left with is something sturdy and hurtful — a modern-day Western that canters along at a deliberate pace while slowly building up to explosions of suspense and violence. Read more
"You Were Never Really Here"
On paper, this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. In execution, it’s ... I don’t know. Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
“Avengers: Infinity War,” the biggest and overstuffed-est Marvel movie to date, is only half a story. Following its shocking finale (I won’t spoil anything), it ends on a note of irresolution, its actual conclusion to be hammered out next year in the fourth “Avengers” movie. I guess we’ll all just wait a year. Read more
PG-13 movies, at most, get one F-bomb, and “Breaking In” spends its single use of the word well. In the finale, the film’s star, Gabrielle Union, drops the solo **** at just the right moment for maximum, crowd-pleasing impact. There will be applause. Read more
The good news is that if you loved “Deadpool,” you’ll love “Deadpool 2,” too. The better news is that if, like me, you did not like “Deadpool,” you still might sort of enjoy the sequel. Read more
"Solo: A Star Wars Story"
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Visual Effects.
If you want to know how Han met Chewie, and if you want to know more about the 12-parsec Kessel Run, and if you just want to be generally entertained for two-ish hours this weekend, then, yes, of course, see the new “Star Wars” movie “Solo.” Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Original Screenplay.
As the ecological apocalypse approaches, a man sits alone in the room of an old church — drinking, praying, wondering if God can forgive us. He is also, ever so slowly, making a plan. Read more
I’ve seen a 2018 horror film about a troubled family. And it’s a thrilling crowd-pleaser, full of suspense and heart. Scary but not too scary, violent but not too violent, with lovable characters everyone can root for. Everyone’s gonna like it. Fun for the whole family! Read more
Get a carefree screenplay. Pair it with a bunch of movie stars and a competent director. Add a Kim Kardashian cameo. Shake it. Stir it. Let it sit ... voila. You’ve got “Ocean’s 8,” 110 frothy minutes of diversion (and with a side of air-conditioning!). Read more
Nominated for one Oscar: Best Animated Film.
It’s been 14 years since the first “Incredibles” movie. Was the sequel worth the wait? Definitely. It’s not quite as fresh or inventive as the first film, but it’s close enough. Read more
"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"
At this particular moment, Fred Rogers’ message of love and kindness, dignity and respect and equality and, most of all, his reverence and wonder for childhood ... at this particular moment, that message hits so hard it hurts. Read more
"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"
Cash-grab movie franchises are a lot like leftover Applebee’s chicken tenders.
Warm ’em up in the microwave after the right amount of time has passed, they’re still pretty good. If you’re lucky, reheating the meal might even extract some heretofore untasted flavors.
But if you double-dip. If you re-refrigerate your leftovers and some time later head back in for a sequel to your better-than-expected reboot, well, you’re just asking for trouble, my friend. Read more
"Sicario: Day of the Soldado"
“Day of the Soldado” has about the same number of action set pieces as the first film, and they’re well-executed and suspenseful. Just not as well-executed and suspenseful as those in the first film. Read more
The summer of “Eh, it was alright” continues with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a film that feels like — and, in fact, is — the 20th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read more