2018 had more than its fair share of blockbuster releases, from Marvel and DC superheroes smacking each other around to Star Wars spin-off space operatics unfolding with seemingly limitless budgets and big name stars. And while such large studio fare gets most of the attention when it comes to audiences plaudits, lots of foreign-language films are largely ignored, as are indie-derived pictures, genre entrees, and arthouse fare.
Without further ado, please enjoy this list and be sure to add other overlooked 2018 films in the comment section below.
20. One Cut of the Dead
This Japanese horror-comedy from Ueda Shinichiro, described as a “gonzomedy”––that’s gonzo +zombie + comedy––will absolutely appeal to the midnight movie crowd. Opening with an already much admired and discussed single take 37-minute shot, One Cut of the Dead is a genre mashup of sympathetic character study and showbiz satire with ample amounts of plasma and viscera.
Fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films and Edgar Wright’s genre-savvy Shaun of the Dead are sure to enjoy this inventive zombie apocalypse miasma, and everyone else can just get out the way as we lap it up.
19. How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Admittedly the latest from John Cameron Mitchell, like his best known works––Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), and Shortbus (2006)––is an acquired taste that will only appeal to niche audiences looking for their next cult film fix. To that end, Mitchell’s got an ace in his sleeve in that his gloriously goofy sci-fi rom com, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, is an oddball adaptation of a celebrated 2006 short story from iconic comic book/sci-fi and fantasy scribe Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, American Gods, Coraline). So there’s a lovingly loopy fanbase already waiting in the wings.
Mitchell doesn’t disappoint, and this is the sort of late-at-night, punk-addled, quip-fuelled foray that will have fans of subversive musicals like Phantom of the Paradise (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), or Mitchell’s aforementioned Hedwig.
Enn (Alex Sharp) is a shy teenager on the fringes of the punk scene in 1970s London where he meets Zan (Elle Fanning), a charismatic young lass who rolls with a bizarre group of otherworldly girls at one of the most energetic and gonzo parties that Enn has ever been to. Soon there’s a showdown between punks and aliens –– with Nicole Kidman in the mix as an old school punk priestess named Queen Boadicea.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a mixed bag in places (the punk rock musical aspect may be the film’s weakest link), but when it’s a teen love story with sci-fi interludes and funny performances from the two leads, it’s a pretty fantastic distraction and a joyful journey of youth in revolt.
18. The Man with the Magic Box
For North American fans of Polish filmmaker Bodo Kox (The Girl from the Wardrobe ), his latest film The Man with the Magic Box, is a very challenging film to track down. While it did the fantastic film festival circuit throughout 2017 and 2018, it’s yet to get any kind of proper release here, and it’s a crying shame.
Unspooling like the bastard son of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and Terry Gilliam’s speculative fiction satire Brazil (1985), Kox’s The Man in the Box is a stylish, bleak, comedic, low-budget and high-concept coup de grâce on the dystopian thriller subgenre. Set in an oppressive Warsaw in the year 2030, Kox wastes little time putting our likeably pathetic protagonist Adam (Piotr Polak) in dire straits.
With his memory wiped-out by the secret service, Adam is assigned janitorial duties and a low social ranking but little does he care as he’s soon smitten by Goria (Olga Boldaz), a woman from a higher social class and very dreamy eyes. When Adam uncovers an old 1950s radio at work he also finds a way to time travel to Communist Poland some eighty years hence and that’s when things really start to unravel.
It’s a twisted love story as well as an artful homage to so many sci-fi favorites (from Spielberg to Tarkovsky and beyond) and it’s also a fine introduction to Kox, a genre director with vision, craft, and a decidedly off-kilter sense of humor.
17. Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot
Gus Van Sant’s refreshingly cliché-free inspirational biopic on the late cartoonist John Callahan was barely in theaters and it’s a crying shame that more people didn’t get to see this generous and joyful story of tragedy turned around.
After a near-fatal car accident renders hard-drinking Oregon slacker John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix, fantastic as ever) paraplegic he decides it’s high time to kick his supremely unhealthy guzzling habits to the curb. Aided by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and a supportive sponsor (Jonah Hill), Callahan finds himself in a treatment and recovery program where he also develops his illustrative knack. It’s via his newly formed artistic skills that he crafts his own singular style and creates cartoons full of irreverence and spitfire that soon resonate with a large and devoted rabble of followers.
Fans of Callahan, who passed away in 2010, get a real insight into the man, and for anyone who’s struggled with addiction, drinking, and self-worth will find added resonance here, too. Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far On Foot is definitely top-tier Van Sant, and while the film occasionally splashes in some maudlin waters, it’s a moving and amicable tale of an artist deserving of a wider audience.
Possibly the best visual in the ambitious sci-fi thriller Freaks is Bruce Dern dressed as a creepy Mr. Snowcone ice cream man, but the writer-director duo of Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein also have some serious world-building ideas in mind for audiences, too.
Freaks presents a dystopian near future/alternate present wherein genetic “freaks” with X-men-like super powers are hiding amongst us in plain sight, fearful of being collected by the government and essentially euthanized for the betterment and safety of all. And that’s why an overprotective and rightly paranoid dad (Emile Hirsch) is concerned that his daughter, Chloe (Lexy Kolker, excellent), will become self-aware of how potentially powerful she is as nosy neighbours, encroaching government agents, and yes, that ominous old guy peddling soft serve, keep creeping closer to their inconspicuous home hideaway.
Comic book fans, and those who like the angst-y and maudlin genre fare that the Divergent and the Maze Runner films offer might really like Freaks, and it tries awfully hard to please its audience. The promise of a franchise is highly touted, and considering how great this picture looks for such a shoestring budget, let’s see more of these non-Marvel superheroes playing havoc and having their revenge on those so deserving.
15. Blue My Mind
Swiss actor-turned-writer/director/director Lisa Brühlmann delivers a singularly strange coming-of-age body-horror fantasy for adults in her directorial debut, Blue My Mind. Having made a considerable splash on the genre film festival circuit, this film’s sometimes surreal focus hones in on 15-year-old Mia (Luna Wedler), the new kid in school whose desires to fit in seem to orbit somewhat around wild-child cool-kid Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen).
Before long Mia finds that she’s going through more changes than just a new school, a new clique of gal pals, and the no longer so lingering glances of boys, an overwhelming transformation of sorts is finding her body going through radical changes, as if a literal Kraken has awakened within her.
As a dark fairytale of transformation and innocence list, Blue My Mind is further strengthened by cinematographer Gabriel Lobos’s often elegant lensing and the cold blue aqueous color palette that suggests what watery terrors are to come. Brühlmann’s film may feel like a first outing here and there, but it shows considerable promise and is an often ingenious reworking of particularly splashy Hans Christian Andersen work. Recommended.
14. A Private War
Based on Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article “Marie Colvin’s Private War” this film stars Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl ) as Marie Colvin, a fearless war correspondent for The Sunday Times with a reputation for bravely plunging herself into the frontlines of deadly war zones across the globe in Cartel Land (2015) director Matthew Heineman’s narrative debut.
Pike gives a ferocious performance, leaving the rest of the ensemble cast (including Jamie Dornan, Faye Marsay and a wonderful Stanley Tucci) breathless to keep her pace.
Aided by celebrated cinematographer Robert Richardson (Hugo , Inglourious Basterds , Casino ), this gritty, chaotic, and impassioned film couldn’t be more timely when considering the Trump regime’s war on journalism. While didactic at times, A Private War is nonetheless a gripping tale of a heroic and larger than life woman.
13. Double Lover
The always unpredictable and deftly handed director François Ozon (8 Women , Swimming Pool ) turns once more towards the erotic thriller with Double Lover, offering up a menacing psychological quagmire that fans of Brian De Palma will rightly go ape over.
Chloé (Marine Vacth) is a fragile and susceptible young woman, who falls for her psychoanalyst, Paul (Jérémie Renier). Soon she’s moving in with him, but begins to suspect he may be concealing something from her. Is it another side of his personality, or something altogether more effed up?
Ozon’s inspired adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 1987 “Lives of Twins” embraces the idea that we’re all potentially very multifaceted when it comes to desire, and the results, writes Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty, “is like Dead Ringers meets Body Double with a kinky, winking full-frontal Gallic twist.”
12. Mori, the Artist’s Habitat
The little seen new film from genre-defying director Okita Shûichi (The Mohican Comes Home , The Woodsman and the Rain ), Mori, The Artist’s Habitat is a very singular viewing experience.
A completely exquisite and offbeat comic affair, the film’s subject is the late reclusive artist Kumagai Morikazu (1880-1977), “Mori” for short, played to perfection by Yamazaki Tsutomu (Tampopo), ably backed by Kiki Kirin (Shoplifters) as his wife, Hideko, as we spend approximately 24 hours with the couple at their home in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.
Perhaps the less said about the events in the film, the better, as the film veers into any number of completely unpredictable, artful, and often lowkey hilarious instances. Suffice it to day that appearances from art fans, felines, praying mantises, the yakuza, and a transdimensional alien intelligence are amongst those who wish to take an audience with the artist and his delightful wife.
Utterly uncynical, and a delight from start to finish, an evening with Mori, The Artist’s Habitat is time gloriously spent.
Gareth Evans proved his mettle in the action genre with The Raid (2011), and The Raid 2 (2014) and hinted at a gift for horror with his segment in V/H/S/2 (2013), and with the nerve-jangling nightmare Apostle he cements it, he can direct the scary stuff with the best of them.
Set around the turn of the last century in 1905, Apostle finds a desperate Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) in search of his missing sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys), believed kidnapped by cultists after a ransom. Thomas’s investigation brings him to a remote Welsh island where adherents worship a dark goddess.
Evans, who also wrote the film, takes his time letting this dark and enveloping tale set a sinister tone and a detailed cosmology, and by the time a hand-cranked skull drill is deployed on one of the film’s most sympathetic characters, you’ll be lost in the carefully constructed and deeply mysterious world on screen. In fact, the only real stinger for fright fans here is that Apostle only did a few festival screenings before landing on Netflix (Matt Flannery’s lovely lensing and Tom Pearce’s peerless production design beg for the big screen), but this absorbing, harrowing, and intense occult fable is of fine pedigree.