Tell someone that you haven’t heard of the latest Marvel blockbuster and they would be hard-pressed to believe you. Even if you are not be interested in watching it, the odds are you will have heard all about it, seen it advertised various times and driven past billboards showing its release date. Of course, any film would want the marketing budget of the latest blockbuster. Obviously for a lot of films, this will never be the case.
As well as not being able to afford a massive marketing campaign, there are various other reasons that a film may fly under the radar – not enough buzz surrounding it, bad buzz or simply just not being able to breakthrough next to the competition of bigger films.
But amongst the release of films that go on to become massive box office successes, there are many other great films worth your time. And often this is where a cinephile can find their next favourite film.
1. And Then I Go (2017)
Based on the 2004 novel Project X by Jim Shepard and directed by Vincent Grashaw, And Then I Go explores the struggles of growing up that can lead to school and gun violence. Sadly we all know how relevant this topic is, and And Then I Go feels incredibly current and topical.
The film takes a slightly different approach by being a deep character study of what might drive someone to resort to such extreme and horrific actions. But the film never asks the audience to sympathise or to judge; instead it simply lets us observe the boys’ lives. The tone of the film is quite sombre and the pace is slow – it steadily unfolds with not much fanfare.
In spite of its lack of flair, And Then I Go is compelling, unsettling, and keeps you guessing until the very end. The central performances are great, but special praise should go to Arman Darbo who is absolutely fantastic as 13 year old Edwin – he’s thoroughly engaging throughout.
Overall And Then I Go isn’t a particularly entertaining film, but then again it is not meant to be. Yet it has great merit in its subject matter and brilliant performances. And it will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
2. Eighth Grade (2018)
Director Bo Burnham began his career as a YouTube performer before going on to land a record deal, become a comedian, act, and eventually emerge as a filmmaker. Eighth Grade is his feature length directorial debut. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it was met with critical acclaim.
The film follows student Kayla Day as she completes her last week of eighth grade. Kayla suffers from anxiety and so she creates motivational YouTube videos for her channel ‘Kayla’s Korner.’ Everyone can relate to what it is like to be at school, and many people can also relate to being a shy and awkward teenager. Burnham’s Eighth Grade captures this feeling perfectly.
Coming of age films can be a bit hit and miss, with events and characters depicted often feeling slightly unrealistic. Eighth Grade is great because it feels so true to life and so relatable. The film is also elevated by great performances, particularly by Elsie Fisher who plays Kayla. Fisher was chosen from a casting of fifty girls. Burnham described picking Fisher because “she was the only one who felt like a shy kid pretending to be confident – everyone else felt like a confident kid pretending to be shy.” Fisher was also graduating eighth grade at the time so related well to the role.
3. Hearts Beat Loud (2018)
Sometimes you watch a film where nothing really happens in it and you wonder why you bothered. And then other times you watch a film where nothing really happens and it’s one of the best things about the film. The latter can certainly be said of Hearts Beat Loud. This comedy-drama music film is from director Brett Haley, with a screenplay by Hayley and co-writer Marc Basch.
It may be a low key film, but it will take a big piece of your heart if you let it. It’s only right that a film predominantly about music should have great music in it, and Hearts Beat Loud has a brilliant soundtrack. Of course, the music won’t be to everyone’s taste but then again, neither will the film.
This is an understated indie film with nothing much to boast about, and yet it’s so warm-hearted and inoffensive that you can’t help but thoroughly enjoy it. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its flaws, but those can be happily overlooked due to a great cast and good performances.
It is nice to see a father daughter dynamic explored, a dynamic which is less commonly portrayed in film. It is also great to see how the LGBT aspect to the film was treated – it wasn’t a plot point, it wasn’t a big deal, it wasn’t treated as an obstacle or as a character quirk.
A shining example of how to treat a same sex relationship on screen.
4. Leave No Trace (2018)
Director Debra Granik adapted Leave No Trace from Peter Rock’s book My Abandonment. The film follows a veteran father suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who takes his daughter to live in the forest. The film had a limited theatrical release but made a big impact on audiences who did see it – it received critical acclaim, with many critics calling it Oscar-worthy.
Granik is already an Academy Award nominated director. Her film Winter’s Bone, released in 2010, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. And it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise to see her nominated again for Leave No Trace. Granik has shown once more how effectively she can tell a powerful story, whilst also making it visually interesting and touching for the audience.
Leave No Trace is further elevated by terrific central performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. Much in the same way that Granik’s Winter’s Bone was a breakout role for Jennifer Lawrence. Leave No Trace looks set to be McKenzie’s breakout role. And the dynamic between the two leads is brilliant.
Leave No Trace is an understated and quiet film. Yet in the film’s tender approach, there is something breathtakingly powerful and deeply affecting about it. In contradiction to the title, this film will definitely leave its trace on you.
5. Three Identical Strangers (2018)
A film that proves that fact is often stranger than fiction, documentary film Three Identical Strangers tells the story of identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by three different families of different socioeconomic classes. Many years later they reunite in an amazing set of coincidences, but their incredible story doesn’t end there.
This film by director Tim Wardle examines one of the most frequently discussed psychological debates – that of nature versus nurture. The amazing story of the triplet’s reunion and the psychology that it examines makes Three Identical Strangers worth a watch alone. But Three Identical Strangers is not just a film that is heart-warming, it soon becomes harrowing too.
It is hard to know what else to say about Three Identical Strangers without giving too much away, because this film is best watched with as little prior knowledge as possible. Suffice to say, Three Identical Strangers is one of the most underappreciated films of the year.