Reel Talk: The most underrated films of 2018

Graphic by Ugen Norbu Yonten

Award season is upon us, meaning that it’s time to root for the best films of the year, grumble about films that are showered with unearned praise, lament over the inevitable snubs and argue with everyone you know about which films belong in each of these categories (at least that’s what I do).

The two biggest awards shows, the Oscars and the Golden Globes, have delivered a list of nominations that is puzzling at best and embarrassing at worst, favoring mediocre remakes like “A Star is Born” and poorly made, pedophile-directed biopics like “Bohemian Rhapsody” over some of the most inspired and moving films of the year.

The following list contains the best films of 2018 that I feel are being gravely underappreciated.

“First Reformed”

2018 was a big year for Ethan Hawke, who wrote and directed the biopic “Blaze,” a drama based on the life of musician Blaze Foley. Hawke’s greatest achievement of the year by far, however, was his performance as Reverend Ernst Toller in Paul Schrader’s deeply unsettling drama “First Reformed.

Toller — an alcoholic healing from a family tragedy, whose physical health is quickly deteriorating — runs the historic First Reformed Church in upstate New York, but begins to unravel after a troubling encounter with a tortured environmental activist (Philip Ettinger) and his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried).

“First Reformed” is a dense rumination on faith, politics and despair, wrapped sharply in a haunting character study. Its stunning conclusion is the best ending of the year.

“Leave No Trace”

It is disappointing that no women were nominated for best director, but this oversight is especially shameful given the existence of Debra Granik’s quietly brilliant “Leave No Trace.” Centered on the relationship between a war veteran plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder (Ben Foster) and his young daughter (Thomasin McKenzie), the film follows the two as they are uprooted from their isolated life in the forest and struggle to find a home.

McKenzie delivers an outstanding, confident performance, and the two actors expertly convey all the love and tension of the father-daughter relationship despite a minimal script. While many of us have fantasized about dropping everything to live off the grid, the film exercises remarkable restraint and avoids romanticizing their lifestyle. Instead, it functions as an incredibly thought-provoking mediation on the ways we choose to live, and what it means to be home.

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“If Beale Street Could Talk”

If “Moonlight” wasn’t enough to convince you that Barry Jenkins is truly a genius, his adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” will. This deeply affecting celebration of love tells the story of a young pregnant black woman named Tish (Kiki Layne), who seeks to clear the name of her fiancé Fonny (Stephan James) after he is imprisoned on a false accusation of rape.

Jenkins’s depiction of 1970s Harlem is glowing and drenched with color, and the film is full of beautiful and heartbreaking close-ups in which Layne and James shine. Composer Nicholas Britell’s aching and euphoric score is the best of the year.

“Sorry to Bother You”

Contrary to its name, “Sorry to Bother You” is a confident and wickedly creative directorial debut from Boots Riley that will leave you shaken to your core. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius “Cash” Green, a black telemarketer whose career takes off when he begins speaking in his seemingly impossibly “white voice.”

Tessa Thompson is a marvel as Cash’s girlfriend and aspiring artist Detroit, and Armie Hammer also makes an appearance as a fanatical coke-snorting CEO. There’s a lot going on and at times the film lacks focus, but “Sorry to Bother You” is so utterly entertaining from start to finish that it is impossible not to applaud its ambition, or to get it out of your head once it ends.

“Burning”

Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami, Lee Chang-dong’s “Burning” is a deliciously thrilling and atmospheric mystery that has all the elements we’ve come to expect from Murakami’s stories — mysterious women, things (or people) vanishing without a trace, and, of course, cats. All three leads — Yoo Ah-in as aspiring writer Lee Jong-su, Jeon Jong-seo as his childhood friend Shin Hae-mi and Steven Yeun as the inexplicably wealthy Ben — are excellent, and the ending presents an incredibly satisfying release of tension that smolders throughout the film.

If nothing else, watch it for an absolutely mesmerizing weed-induced dance scene set to Miles Davis, placed against the backdrop of a fiery sunset — without a doubt the best scene of the year.

Honorable Mentions

“Paddington 2”

“Eighth Grade”

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

“Shoplifters”

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Rachael Diamond SC ’21 is a philosophy major. She enjoys ranting about movies to anyone who will listen.

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