Tons of movies come out every year, and 2018 was no exception. Thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, the amount of films released every year just continues to pile up, and it can be easy to not have the time for a good chunk of them. This list is a collection of great films that many people may have missed this past year, but should definitely go back and catch up on.
Assassination Nation got a raw deal. With little to no marketing surrounding it, it came and went in the blink of an eye, and critical response was lukewarm at best. But this incredibly stylized approach to tackling topics like sexism, abuse, and the loss of privacy in the digital age is a home run – it’s a fun, wild revenge fantasy, for sure, but it also isn’t afraid to speak the truth that violence (which it never shies away from) is horrific, no matter how desensitized we may become to it. It’s a small group of girl friends against the unleashed misogyny of their all-American town, and it’s no secret who should come out on top.
White Boy Rick
White Boy Rick is the true story of Richard Wershe Jr., a teenager living in Detroit in the 1980s at the height of the crack epidemic and the War on Drugs. Rick becomes an extremely young undercover informant for the FBI as well as a drug dealer, while his sister struggles with addiction and his father attempts to stay out of trouble with the police. White Boy Rick makes attempts to become Oscar bait as often as it can, and while it doesn’t quite reach those heights, it certainly does flirt with them. It’s a somber look at what life in poverty is like in the United States of America, and how that often leads people no choice but to commit crimes in order to survive. There’s not too many surprises, but the direction is great and the performances from the main cast are worth the watch.
Bumblebee holds the lowest opening of any Transformers film to date, signaling the fact that audiences seem to have finally, finally gotten tired of the Michael Bay-led, robot-fighting franchise. The timing couldn’t be worse – Bumblebee is easily the best of the series. It’s not just a watchable Transformers flick, it’s a genuinely great standalone film. Michael Bay is completely gone, and in his place is Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), someone who actually has an understanding of story and character. Bumblebee is very much restrained and stripped back compared to the previous films, with the focus remaining on the characters and their relationships to each other rather than the giant robot action. It’s basically a live-action Iron Giant, and that’s a high compliment. Bumblebee himself is a wonderful feat of visual effects, and Hailee Steinfeld’s ability to carry an entire film by interacting with something that isn’t actually there in front of her is impressive, and necessary to sell the magic. It’s what Transformers should have always been: Wondrous, fun, and heartfelt.
Perhaps it was the marketing not knowing exactly what to sell the movie as, but Steve McQueen’s (12 Years a Slave) latest project floundered at the box office this past year. Set in modern day Chicago, Widows is the story of a group of women who’s husbands are killed in a heist gone wrong, and it’s up to them to finish the job and forge a new future for themselves, by themselves. The premise is fun enough, and the action is thrilling, but what sets Widows apart is its boldness in being about much more than just a heist. The crime itself is limited to just a single scene as the film’s climax, the rest is the emotional turmoil of the women and their journey of self-discovery and confidence, as well as a bit of a sprawling political saga surrounding the city. It also boasts stellar performances from its all-star cast, particularly from Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Daniel Kaluuya (who plays a murderous psychopath, so, yeah. Watch it.).
Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is an extremely personal and contained story. It’s about Stevie, a tiny, 13-year-old boy who’s growing up in 1990s Los Angeles. Between a mostly absent single mother and an abusive older brother, Stevie seeks solace in a new group of friends – a misfit crew of skateboarders who have struggles of their own. Shot entirely on 16mm film, Mid90s looks like old home video footage, and thanks to the performances from the young and inexperienced cast, it feels like it as well. Everything about it just feels real and raw, unpolished and imperfect, which is exactly what makes it great. It serves as an examination of class, race, and privilege, and the boys’ desperate desire to escape from the harsh realities of their lives as often as possible. It’s a niche film, but a special one.
Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You is the debut film from the multi-talented Boots Riley, and it’s a hell of a way to make a first impression. It’s a biting satire of America’s obsession with corporate greed and success, coupled with how whiteness dominates those very things. Set in Oakland, the story follows Cassius Green, a telemarketer who discovers the key to success: being white. Or at least acting like it. Using his newfound “white voice”, Cassius rises to the top of the company, gaining power and money as his colleagues continue to struggle to make ends meet. Cassius loses his partner and his friends as he shoves relationships aside in order to amass wealth and status by selling morally abhorrent products and services. As his colleagues form a union to attempt to somewhat improve their miserable jobs, Cassius eventually finds himself in the middle of a sinister plot to create the world’s perfect, subservient workforce. Hell no that’s not subtle, because it’s not supposed to be. Sorry to Bother You goes for all of it – it’s hilarious yet cynical, a call to action under the guise of a wacky comedy. It’s a downright necessary film for the times we’re living in, and it deserved a little more time in the limelight.