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Best Movies of 2018 (That You May Have Missed)

This year was one of the biggest ever at the global box office, with movies like AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, BLACK PANTHER and INCREDIBLES 2 doing gangbusters business and putting butts in the seats - thus proving our undying loyalty to Disney. Yes, there were tons of blockbusters this year across a wide variety of genres, giving audiences all they could ask for at a night at the cinema. That being said, for every one blockbuster that becomes the talk of the week, there are about ten or so smaller movies that are also hitting theaters or digital platforms but are alas doomed to stay in the shadows.

Some of these movies are terrible, relegated to the dustbins of cinema history, and others are perfectly fine entertainment, but can't hold a candle to the studio brand of movie. But then there are the genius efforts, the masterworks that have critics raving and film fans seeking them out so as to scratch their itch for the little gems everyone seems to be ignoring. These can be the movies that stay with you long into the year and further into the next, and we here at JoBlo have combed through the piles of the unsung, underappreciated, underrated treasures of the year and assembled a list of 25 movies that you should hunt down with second-guessing us. 

Now, some of these movies you may have heard of, but simply haven't gotten a chance to watch. Or maybe you haven't heard of them at all, and will thus have your curiosity peaked. All in all, this is a list of movies that fall into one of two categories: Either they came out, got great reception, but everyone passed in favor of something more exciting or they came out, got good press and made a few bucks, but are not getting near as much attention as they f**king deserve. These movies were either ignored altogether by the masses when they hit theaters, scrolled past on Netflix in favor of binge session of THE OFFICE or were glossed over in favor of tentpole flicks. There are many, many movies out there that deserve more attention, but this list assembles 25 of the best of the year, placed in alphabetical order for convenience.

To clarify, we won't be including movies on this list that are currently having some major Best Picture boosts -- like THE FAVOURITE and IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK -- movies that aren't quite breaking the box office but are currently going through a theater expansion and are very much in play this awards season for the top awards (though you must be sure to check those out too). There were also a few that could have easily made the list, but we already gave them their due praise in the past with our Best Of the Year segments, so we will put links to them here so that other movies can take up slots on this new list:

Now for the main list:

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All About Nina

There aren’t that many great movies set in the world of standup comedy, the few that come to mind being LENNY with Dustin Hoffman, KING OF COMEDY with Robert De Niro and Judd Apatow’s FUNNY PEOPLE. Now ALL ABOUT NINA can be added to that list, telling the story of a comedian, Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has made a name for herself in this harsh industry with her bitingly honest and hilarious comedy. However, underneath all this apparent honesty she harbors some deep demons, and that pours over into her personal life as she struggles to cope with a drinking problem and while attempting (and failing) to have any sense of a normal romantic life. At the center of this equal parts funny and challenging movie is Winstead, turning in, by far, her best work yet with a complex, emotional and committed performance. Not only does she perform standup like she was born to it, but she effortlessly juxtaposes that funny side with a tragic, volatile personal side, and come the finale delivers an on-stage monologue that alone earns her an Oscar nomination. Eva Vives' unflinching direction and outstanding script are also highlights, and when paired with Winstead’s performance makes this an unmissable drama.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

American Animals

On the surface, AMERICAN ANIMALS looks like it could be a quirky, black comedy centering on an unbelievable (attempted) heist, but while this true story adaptation does have its quirks, it's far from a breezy watch. Combining an intense story and a true-crime documentary style, with actors Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan and more acting out the parts and the real-life participants being interviewed about the experience. All meshed together you get the best of both worlds: a captivating documentary and a gripping re-enactment that ensures the facts don’t get washed away in the Hollywood machine. Director Bart Layton does in impeccable job balancing all these elements, giving the real characters their chance to speak and then bringing to life the more exciting elements in an especially intense, engaging way. If you’re a fan of true crime, great thrillers or just incredible stories that have to be seen to be believed, AMERICAN ANIMALS has earned your attention.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Blindspotting

Like many of the movies on this list, BLINDSPOTTING is one that received buckets of praise, got attention out of festivals, is worthy of major awards, but has for some reason left the conversation entirely. It’s a shame because only a few movies this year provide the same level of intelligent commentary while blending it with style and humor – the perfect concoction for an absorbing cinematic gem. After being released from prison and then seeing an unarmed black man be shot and killed by the police, Collin Hoskins (Daveed Diggs) is struggling to figure out his place in a world that seems to be rapidly changing in front of him, primarily his hometown of Oakland, California becoming a haven for flannel-wearing, mustache-twirling hipsters. Right next to him is his best pal Miles (Rafael Casal, who co-wrote the script with Diggs), whose anger problems keep causing problems for Hoskins. The duo – friends and collaborators in real life – have infectious chemistry and a viewpoint on the world that’s as insightful and it is refreshing, crafting a movie that leans into its heavier themes with humor and energy but never sacrifices opportunities to dig into a rich, relevant story. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada uses the duo’s acting and writing gifts to excellent results, and altogether they made one of the bests of 2018.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Bodied

There’s only one thing that bums me out about the movie BODIED: that it’s on YouTube Premium. Like Netflix, the odds of this YT exclusive going onto Blu-ray are small, which is a shame because I would’ve bought it the second the credits rolled after my first viewing and would’ve made it an often rewatched entry to my collection. Like BLINDSPOTTING, this is an often hilarious, energetic, intelligent, expertly crafted movie that also manages to balance poignant themes, in this case, the issue of speech and accountability in a world that’s becoming increasing volatile against both. What gives BODIED a ferocity is its setting in the world of competitive battle rapping, a world that, more than something like standup comedy, is a world where anything you need to say to come out on top is up for grabs – no matter how incendiary. This kinetic environment crafted masterfully by Joseph Kahn (script by Adam Larsen) is the perfect playground for this sometimes silly, never-not-entertaining satire to play in, centering the tale on the seemingly innocent college student, Adam (Calum Worthy, AMERICAN VANDAL). There are several other movies on this list with rousing finales, showcasing tremendous performances, and BODIED’s is easily the best. The final 40 minutes or so take place during an intense, no-holds-barred rap battle, and it’s thrilling and shocking from start to finish, with the committed work from the cast (especially Worthy) should make stars of them all. Also deserving of star status is Kahn, who after the forgettable action flick TORGUE from years ago is now someone to look out for, with DC's SWAMP THING on his docket. Rapper Eminem produced the movie, which is ironic because his own starring vehicle from years ago, 8 MILE, has just been unseated as the best movie set in the rap-battle world. Get a free YT Premium subscription and watch this movie as many times as you can before the billing kicks in.

Available on: YouTube Premium

Burning

Is it too easy to say BURNING is a slow-burn? I mean, it is, and really that’s the best way to describe the pacing of this 150-minute South Korean epic. But, holy god, what an intoxicating journey this slow burn takes you on over the course of its length. A character study that morphs into an unsettling mystery thriller, BURNING is an engrossing drama that takes subtle, simple details and uses them to create suspense and uneasiness that make the movie nigh impossible to turn away from. Director Lee Chang-dong continues to show off his masterful ability to take human stories and turn them into something otherworldly. At the center of his story are three terrific performances from Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jeon and Steven Yuen, each of them playing three very unique characters, anchoring the various moods and tones in their work. If not for the behemoth that is ROMA this movie could be a frontrunner to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but still, a likely nomination should hopefully bring this movie more attention from the masses. It’s truly amazing what this movie accomplishes with so little, but it’s those deceptively simple methods that make BURNING such an enticing movie, and one you may find yourself going back to over the years.

Available on: Currently in (very, very) select theaters.

Cam

An unsuspecting little genre gem that would be easy to forget given its Netflix Original status, as you may not have seen this pop on your queue after being buried among all the other streaming service’s content. But dig this one out, pop it on at night, and prepare to remain glued to the screen for a solid 90 minutes. Centering on the worst possible case of stolen identity ever, a cam girl named Alice (Madeline Brewer) soon discovers that an exact copy of her is making the rounds online, taking her money, fans and free will and leaving her on insanity’s edge. An endlessly intense thriller written by former cam girl Isa Mazzei, CAM is a gripping, revealing look at the world of cam girls and all the dangers it entails, anchored by a star-turn performance by Brewer. In pulling back the curtain on this world the movie has the added benefit of taking the idea of sex work (and the workers themselves) and normalizing it in the modern world. By portraying Alice as a normal person simply trying to earn a living, only to suffer the same problems we all do (well, maybe not the exact same problems) it allows you to sympathize with her and look at the profession in a whole new way.  This could've also worked as an engrossing, compelling drama, but is instead a sexual, gripping and sometimes bloody thriller, and one of the best damn genre movies of the year.

Available on: Netflix

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy has shot into the stratosphere since 2011, becoming an undeniable queen of modern comedy – even if some of her movies (TAMMY, THE BOSS) aren’t, well, good. However, we must never forget how tremendous a performer she is across any genre, and she delivers her best work yet in the drama CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? based on the true story of literary forger Lee Israel. McCarthy masterfully captures Israel’s depression, aggression, wit, talent and curmudgeonly charm in this heartbreaking tale, told without frills or pomp by director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty. Most movies about grifters make for lively, entertaining movies – like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and WOLF OF WALL STREET – but this one is low-key, nuanced and all focused on McCarthy’s performance. Alongside her in an equally mesmerizing performance is Richard E. Grant as her pal, and later crime partner, Jack Hock. He’s charming, charismatic, but a secretly tragic figure, and it’s unlikely you will take your eyes off him every time he’s on screen. These two make for one of the best cinematic duos of 2018 (move over, HOLMES AND WATSON!), and CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? is required viewing for them alone.

Available on: Currently in select theaters.

The Death of Stalin

Between movies like IN THE LOOP and one of the best TV comedies ever, VEEP, Armando Iannucci is a modern master of political satire. On that note, THE DEATH OF STALIN is an absolute masterwork. Sporting an impeccable cast, including Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough, Paddy Considine, Olga Kurylenko and Michael Palin, the movie is based on the graphic novel "La Mort de Staline," which follows member of Joseph Stalin's cabinet struggling for political control after the leader of the Soviet Union dies. A hilarious mad-dash for power, Iannucci -- in his usual, perfectly precise manner -- showcases these characters with a biting irreverence, and the incredibly game cast works terrifically with one another. One of the best comedies of the year, hands down, this is an excellent showcase for every actor involved, and further proof that no one spoofs politics better than Iannucci.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and DVD (there is currently no Blu-ray available in the States).

Eighth Grade

Much like Jordan Peele with GET OUT, it’s hard to imagine where Bo Burnham goes from here as a writer/director, because his first outing is such a perfect, undeniable masterpiece that it may be impossible to top. Plenty of movies – even this year – have tried to capture the experience of what it means to be a teenager in the modern world, and in doing so better than any of them Burnham has crafted a movie so rooted in the psyche of adolescence that it can resonate with anyone that’s gone through or is going through puberty. There’s awkwardness, shyness, insecurity, awkwardness, doubt, confusion, awkwardness, fear, jealousy and, of course, awkwardness. All of that is bundled into the experience of a young girl, Kayla, on the precipice of going into high school and dealing with all the overwhelming anxiety of going into a more grownup world. Newcomer Elsie Fisher is a marvel in the role, a natural who has no trouble conveying Kayla’s inner turmoil and creativity. Unlike many of you readers, Kayla has never known a world where the internet couldn’t be accessed at the touch of her fingers, and as timeless as many of the themes Burnham explores here are, he makes the story relevant to this generation by digging into the internet age, highlighting it as a source of anxiety, especially for Kayla. Top to bottom, this is a perfect movie: Sweet, sympathetic, insightful, sometimes nerve-wracking and often hilarious. Coupled with Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD this is one of the best movies about growing up to come out in the last few years and it’s a shame this movie is not getting the same Oscar attention as that one did – despite similar levels of praise and box office. It remains to be seen if EIGHTH GRADE can break the Oscars, but no matter what I feel I have a duty to get as many people to watch this movie as possible, and if you haven’t yet you’re indeed missing out one of the absolute bests of 2018.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

The Guilty

Hailing from Denmark, THE GUILTY is one of those masterful thrillers that proves you don’t need much to elicit immense suspense and get the audience squirming in their seats. Set in one location, and focused on one man, Asger Holm (Jakob Cedergren), GUILTY centers on one police officer who is about to go on trial for an incident he was part of (don’t want to give that bit away), and in the meantime has been shackled to a desk answering emergency service calls. He soon gets one from a woman saying she’s been kidnapped, and instead of handing the reigns over to another detective he tries to handle it himself, forcing himself to eventually confront his own dark past. Riveting from start to finish, director Gustav Möller masterfully crafts the tension by keeping the audience in the dark as to what’s actually going on on the other end of the phone. This forces the viewer to fill the gaps themselves, requiring total investment in both the people on the other end of the line and Asger himself. Cedergen is excellent in a nuanced, low-key performance, sitting in suspense, planning his moves and having sudden outbursts of emotion. While comic book movies are filling the screen with action for 150 minutes, THE GUILTY takes you on this thrilling ride for a lean 85 minutes, done in real time, making you think you know what’s happening before a twist in the final act changes everything. Not a moment is wasted in THE GUILTY, a lean, slick thriller that acts as a masterclass of bare-essentials filmmaking.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu

Hearts Beat Loud

If THE GUILTY is an excellent example of how to make someone’s heart race for 80 minutes, HEARTS BEAT LOUD is an equally great example of how to make that heart balloon ten sizes and explode with warmth in the same amount of time. Centering on a man, Frank (Nick Offerman), whose life is drastically changing – his record store having to close and his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), going off to college – as he tries to keep his daughter around by starting a band with her. She’s got the pipes and a talent for songwriting, and the two make an excellent team, creating rich, vibrant, soulful music (written for the screen by Keegan DeWitt). Where HEARTS succeeds is in being both a poignant mid-life crisis story and a tender coming-of-age story, with Frank having to come to terms with where his life is going, having to let his daughter go and be her own person. Fleshed out by an impressive cast that also includes Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Sasha Lane and Toni Collette, this is a well-acted, funny and heartbreaking look at how music can bring people together and make lasting memories just when life is at it’s most difficult. The final performance with Sam and Frank is gripping and moving, being at all times energetic and heart-wrenching. This would be an easy movie to look at as a typical, indie family tale that meshes with all the rest, but there is so much about it that sets it above the rest, and will no doubt leave you with a serious case of the feels.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Leave No Trace

A rare movie with a 100% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with tons of reviews, you’d think Debra Granik’s LEAVE NO TRACE would be raking in the awards – namely for her tremendous work behind the camera and the performances of Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. But alas the awards outlets MUST save those slots for the likes of MARY POPPINS RETURNS, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and GREEN BOOK. Well, the lack of major awards does not change the fact this is one of the true gems of 2018, a compassionate, humanistic tale about a father and daughter trying to make it on their own in the wilderness – all before being forced to live among the rest of us after being found by authorities. Centering on McKenzie’s Tom as she discovers the bigger world around her, one filled with love, passion and art, she clashes with Foster’s Will, who wants to stay on the move and away from everyone else. The two actors convey a flurry of emotion and history with the faintest of glances, and Granik manages to get as much out of this deceptively simple tale with a deft, sensitive touch and intimate eye for detail. A fabulous showcase for all three of these individuals, LEAVE NO TRACE takes an understated approach in telling a big story about growing up and forging your own path, concluding with a gut-punch of an ending that’s as rewarding as it is challenging.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Minding the Gap

When I was starting this list there were a few more documentaries on the list, including RBG and WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – both exceptional movies about American icons. But those movies have gotten their due attention, doing well at the box office for documentaries ($14 million and $22 million, respectively) and benefitting from a much bigger spotlight than MINDING THE GAP, a tremendous debut entry from filmmaker Bing Liu. Like BOYHOOD with a documentary, Liu took footage he had been shooting of his friends – banded together by a shared love of skateboarding – for years, and telling an epic, cohesive story about where they’ve gone with their lives, and where they plan to keep going. A tale about manhood and class in a small town in Rockford, Illinois, the doc primarily follows Kiere Johnson, Zack Mulligan and Liu as it reveals their own anxieties, flaws and shaky upbringings. Trying to find something to live for in a world that hasn’t provided them with the best odds, this challenging portrait of friendship moves effortlessly between humble visions of righteous adolescence and searing drama, which is an incredible feat for such a young filmmaker. Picked by up Hulu a few months after a successful Sundance debut, this doc didn’t get to make the box office dollars as some others, nor did it get the same amount of press. But this powerful look at budding adulthood has managed to stay in the conversation thanks to a dedicated following, and if you pop on Hulu you can see why people love this thing so much.

Available on: Hulu

The Night Comes for Us

Have you ever watched a martial arts movie and thought, “You know, I’m loving all the kicking and punching, but there aren’t enough buzz saws or explosions of gratuitous violence and gore.” Well, if you’ve been left wanting, then THE NIGHT COMES FOR US will satiate all your needs for slick action and torture-porn levels of obscene violence. Sure, there are some profound dramas I could put on this list, but why would I waste a spot for more of those when NIGHT is an action flick I couldn’t recommend highly enough? Endlessly exciting from start to finish, this absolutely bonkers action flick debuted on Netflix, but of course never really broke out beyond the genre crowds, which I totally understand. This is a tough watch, purely given the level of violence, but there’s a ferocity, style and, yes, grace to it that makes it a ballet of limbs and wince-inducing blood-splatter. Starting off as a movie several years ago before being halted and adapted into a graphic novel, only to resume production as a movie, this obscenely violet and incredibly awesome action flick weaves between the blood a story of redemption, with a gang enforcer (Joe Taslim, THE RAID, FURIOUS 6) turning back on his bad ways to save a young girl. An up and coming gang leader (Iko Uwais, THE RAID, MILE 22) means to take him out, and must also compete with other top killers for the chance. Chaos ensues, and the result is like THE RAID meets parts of JOHN WICK 2, meets a violent horror flick – which means you have no reason not to head on over to Netflix, strap in and let that awesomeness wash over you as a proper bloodbath should.

Available on: Netflix

Revenge

In the 70s, at the height of exploitation cinema, the usage of sexual assault was all too common in horror films (I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, STRAW DOGS, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), using it as a motivator for revenge vehicles. Last year’s REVENGE followed in those movie’s footsteps only as a means of turning the approach on its head, with director/writer Coralie Fargeat approaching sensitive themes and jarring subject matter with a confident hand. After being sexually assaulted by one of her boyfriend’s sleazy pals, only for that boyfriend to leave her for dead afterwards, young Jen (Matilda Lutz) drags herself up from the dirt (literally prying herself off a small tree she was impaled on) and seeks her – ahem – revenge against these three simple-minded, weak-willed men. Gleefully violent without being garish (the assault scene, though necessary, is handled with sympathy and depth), and always making Jen’s journey a struggle to fight through, REVENGE is a genre flick with smarts to back itself up with, telling this brutal survival story through a feminist lens. With this gem, you can come for the blood and thrills, stay for the blood and thrills, but feel enriched seeing it all done with humility, thoughtfulness and a clear vision for what this movie needed to be, and an acknowledgment if the similar movies that came before it. Yes, it's tough to watch, and anyone who can't stomach certain kinds of violence will struggle to get to the end, but if you can fight through it you'll find the blood-soaked rewards were more than worth it.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

The Rider

People who live in very small, working-class towns in the Midwest don't often have much, and what traditions and passions they have they cling to with everything they have. But what happens when you can longer pursue your passions? What does it mean when you can't do the one thing you were born for, looking down the barrel of meaninglessness? Yeah, that's heavy shit. Chloe Zhao explores this grand theme with THE RIDER, a story about a horse rider who can no longer compete after a serious injury. Poetically told with first-time actors from the region (South Dakota), Zhao uses a glossless, realistic setting to tell a story about the difficulty of rebuilding your life in a harsh world where you only have one thing in your life that makes sense. Originally from Wyoming myself - a neighbor of South Dakota - I related to the barren plains and dirt-covered tracks of locations. Zhao captures the personality of the landscape and personality of the people who live there beautifully, with no agenda beyond telling an enriching story about the people who live so far out of our purview. Star Brady Jandreau is an obvious natural at rodeoing, giving the riding scenes that realistic, absorbing feel as Zhao lets him hop on and do his thing. There's a scene where Brady (also his character's name) breaks a new horse, and it's utterly compelling thanks to Brady's own skill and Zhao's trust and honest lens. A simple, minimalist movie that speaks multitudes about the human condition, THE RIDER may turn away viewers looking for a livelier drama, but the accolades (Best Film at the Gotham Awards) and the placement on countless top 10 lists are no fluke. You may find this movie resonates with you more than you thought, finding something to relate to all the way in the badlands of South Dakota. 

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Searching

For the most part, web-based thrillers have been used for straight, R-rated horror movies like the UNFRIENDED series, and there have been a few scares to come out of the format. But SEARCHING from director/writer (co-written with Sev Ohanian) Aneesh Chaganty and star John Cho takes the format to a whole new level to tell an affecting drama about a man having to hunt down his daughter, only to discover bitter realities around her disappearance. Going beyond the gimmicky approaches of other movies that have used the "FaceTime" approach, Chaganty uses modern technology to weave together a Hitchcockian thriller that always manages to keep the twists coming. To sound cliche, just when you think you know what's going on something takes a startling turn. Every newly-opened window or app has a new clue inside, forcing you to use your own well-honed skills of screen staring to dig deeper. At the center of the movie is Cho in one of his best performances to date, using the minimal space to convey tons of emotion as he seemingly starts to lose his mind, becoming more and more desperate to find his daughter. Anchored by a heartbreaking tale of a family torn by tragedy, the opening scene alone uses clever editing and now-ancient Windows software to tell the story of a family's early years, all before it comes crashing down. It's like UP, but with real people, and frankly, it's just as affecting. Come the end you'll be shocked and perhaps brought to tears, all after the movie tells an enriching, full-bodied story without ever leaving a desktop.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Sorry to Bother You

What do you think is the oddest movie of the year? If SORRY TO BOTHER YOU isn't near the top of your list then you are either a.) Wrong or b.) Not lucky enough to have seen this strange, hilarious, thought-provoking, wholly unique little movie. The talk of the town during the early summer, it didn't quite connect with audiences the way industry folks had hoped, and was soon out of theaters. Frankly, it's not too hard to understand why that happened. Telling a story about racism and consumerism, STBY from writer/director Boots Riley takes an absurdist approach by focusing on Cassius "Cash" Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a man just trying to earn enough money to live and takes a job at a call center. After not doing so well, he's told by a seasoned, black employee (Danny Glover) to use his "white voice" to sell more product. As he embraces the method (his "voice" done by David Cross) he soon achieves popularity and wealth in the workplace but risks his relationship with the artistic, brazenly confident Detroit (Tessa Thompson), alienating himself from his community. A movie told by a wildly creative filmmaker who knows exactly what story he wants to tell, how he wants to tell it and doesn't give a f**k what anyone else thinks about it, this movie goes places that are beyond nuts and sports a game cast, resulting in a movie that's as absurd as it is timely, and one that deserves to be seen and discussed for a long time. 

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

The Tale

Even in this day and age, movies that don't make it to theaters have a hard time breaking out - as the box office news and bevy of promotion don't keep it in minds for as long as a normal release. Had THE TALE from Jennifer Fox, which debuted on the festival circuit and was picked up by HBO, been released in theaters during awards season, the Best Picture and Best Actress race would be looking a lot different. An unflinching, devastating biographical story, THE TALE stars Laura Dern as Fox, who has made a career making documentaries and teaching students to do the same. When a news story about a man she once knew forces her to come to terms with her past, she soon learns that a relationship she had when she was 13 was not an early experiment in romance, but a clear case of assault and rape. Fox's skills as a documentarian make this an investigative thriller, and her uncompromising honesty gives it a gripping dramatic heft. Unafraid to go to the places it needs to, THE TALE is shocking in its depictions of major plot elements, then ultimately poetic in Fox's interpretation of what it all means. A fascinating, gut-wrenching look into what it means to be an assault survivor, THE TALE digs deep into the mind of a filmmaker who spent years telling herself one thing, only to comes to terms with the truth years and years later.  Beautifully acted by Dern who would no doubt be in Oscar talks for her work, THE TALE is just one more reason to invest in an HBO NOW account, like, now.

Available on: HBO

Thoroughbreds

Like AMERICAN ANIMALS, THOROUGHBREDS came out at the beginning of the year in limited theaters, and despite getting rave reviews struggled to find a market thanks to unconventional elements. Is it a quirky tale about friendship? A dark, murderous thriller? In reality, it's a bit of both, telling the story of two privileged young women (Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke) who plot to murder the father of Lily (Taylor-Joy). A twisted black comedy set in a posh, upper-class Connecticut setting, THOROUGHBREDS succeeds thanks to a witty, unpredictable script and strong direction by Cory Finley and two fantastic performances from the leading ladies. It even acts as one of the final performances from the late Anton Yelchin, who plays a drug dealer they hire to kill Lily's father. This is just a funny, weird, dark little movie that shows privileged people doing f**ked up shit made deeper as an exploration of friendships. Just go watch it. 

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Thunder Road

I defy anyone to point to any performance from an actor in 2018 as electric, eccentric, strange, hilarious and ferociously committed as Jim Cummings in the indie gem THUNDER ROAD. Once a short film from a few years ago that Cummings also starred in, directed and personally financed, the movie is expanded to feature length and tells the story of a cop, (also named Jim) trying to do right by his daughter after his mother passes away. Opening with an unbelievable one-shot sequence that finds Jim giving a eulogy for his mother, seamlessly moving between wildly over-emotional, deadpan serious, awkward and absurdly hilarious, THUNDER ROAD wastes no time throwing this anomaly of a man right in your face, and you can't take your eyes off him for one minute. Wildy hilarious at times while also being oddly thoughtful, you may find yourself feeling for this man going down a spiral of self-destruction, all because you know under the lunacy is a man just trying to get his shit together, only to constantly get in his own way. A lean, crazy little movie that's anchored by one of the best performances of the year, THUNDER ROAD is a triumphant debut by a talent we should all be watching out for.

Available on: iTunesAmazon Prime Video 

Tully

Director Jason Reitman has been hit or miss since his Oscar-nominated days of JUNO and UP IN THE AIR, and so has writer Diablo Cody.  Their last collaboration, YOUNG ADULT, was great, but like this entry, TULLY, it failed to get the recognition it deserved. Stranded in the first week of May to hopefully act as alternative content to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the movie failed to hit at the box office ($9 million domestic), and as a result, has been all but forgotten come awards season (sans a Globe nomination for star Charlize Theron). A funny and thematic look at womanhood and motherhood, Cody fills her script with clever observations and a strong central character, Reitman tells the story with an introspective approach, and Theron is excellent as a mother trying to regain some glimpse of her old self, which takes her down a weird road when a nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis) enters her life. Ending with a surprising twist finale, TULLY is a well-told examination of parenting and a woman in quiet crisis that utilizes humanist sensibilities and laughs over cheap gags and generalizations. This movie would've been destined for awards greatness if it had gotten a better fall release (perfect for December), but instead, it has to be one of those great little movies that need discovering under the pile other movies.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Upgrade

One of the biggest surprises of the year that still had a hard time breaking out given its unique premise, UPGRADE is one of those movies you likely heard about but just may not have gotten the chance to check out. Well, if you haven't seen it then be sure to fix that when you're done here, or else you're missing one of the best genre movies of the year - one that meshes the smarts of an above-average sci-fi movie with infectiousness zaniness and gore. After an experimental piece of technology, STEM, is placed inside a man after a car crash, Grey (Logan Marshall-Green), uses the advanced tech that gives him superior motor functions to take down the people who caused his crash and killed his wife. A sleek, fun, fast-paced thriller that doesn't skimp on the smarts is a terrific directorial effort from Leigh Whannell (SAW, INSIDIOUS), UPGRADE was inspired by the tech-thrillers of the 80s and 90s, and has enough pulpy thrills to spare. At the head is a great performance from Marshall-Green, who moves through STEM's actions like any confused man would when having his body taken over by a machine. In short, he looks terrified, which makes it fun for us to watch. If you have been ignoring all the people telling you to watch this movie then stop, rethink your actions, and remedy the situation.

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

Widows

At once predicted to be an Oscar favorite coming out of the festival circuit, the latest film from 12 YEARS A SLAVE director Steve McQueen settled for so-so box office among a ton of other November blockbusters, to the point where people in the industry have mostly forgotten it. That is a true shame because with WIDOWS you have one of the best ensembles of the year - including Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Carrie Coon, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya and Liam Neeson - working with a complex script by Gillian Flynn (the book "Gone Girl") and an assured director in McQueen. Favoring the exploration of character dynamics between the impeccable cast over heist-movie thrills (though there are one or two of those), WIDOWS is all about a group of women trying to carve out their own paths and define their own independence in a sea of men trying to push them around for their own benefit. They're trying to survive in a world of crime and corruption, and every one of the performances is excellent, particularly from Davis, Debicki and Kaluuya (who is better here than in GET OUT). WIDOWS is such a well-crafted movie, filled with tons of great performances, a script that juggles all of them wonderfully and a director with strong visual sensibilities and a knack for handling impressive casts. This is too good a movie on so many levels to be ignored the way it is, and even if it's $40 million box office is better than any of the movies on this list, we should all be talking about WIDOWS more than we are.

Available on: On Blu-ray February 5.

You Were Never Really Here

Last but certainly not least is Lynne Ramsay's unsettling, visceral, poetically-told thriller, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE. Anchored by an incredible, rich performance by Joaquin Phoenix, YWNRH tells the story of a hired killer who rescues kidnapped girls, and when the one of a senator gets him into more troubled waters, he goes out and exacts his revenge. On the surface, that's as complex as the story gets: Man is hired to rescue a girl, he is thwarted, and then he goes to get her back. Where the movie becomes fascinating is in Ramsay's stylistic choices, showcasing brutal, precise kills and showing Phoenix's Joe, a deeply troubled man, trying to simply exist in a world that doesn't really have a place for him. While this movie could've been much crazier and neon-drenched in the hands of someone like Nicolas Winding Refn, Ramsay's approach is delicate when it needs to be, and aggressive otherwise. It's a short character study that gives no easy answers to any questions it poses, and the quiet brutality is rewarding and absorbing, made all the better by one of Phoenix's best performances. There once again aren't many female directors in contention in any of the director races at any of the awards ceremonies, but Ramsay deserves some recognition for her work here, and one of the great crimes of 2018 is that she hasn't been getting it. 

Available on: iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu and Blu-ray

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There you have it, JoBlo readers. This has been one tremendous year for movies, with so many fantastic films coming from such a wide table of diverse, inspired talents. These are some of the best under-appreciated movies of the year, and yes, there are plenty more that didn't make the list. However, that's purely for space reasons. There are twice as many movies that could've made it on this list that demand your attention. Others include Paul Greengrass' 22 JULY; the graphic novel adaptation I KILL GIANTS; Netflix's THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER and PRIVATE LIVES; the documentary THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS; SUPPORT THE GIRLS with an excellent Regina Hall performance; WE THE ANIMALS and much, much more. There are even some bigger ones that should've done better at the box office, but are getting serious Oscar attention, like FIRST MAN, which is out on Blu-ray soon. We also can't forget HEREDITARY, a movie that was a box office hit (for an indie horror movie) and is one of the more talked-about movies of the year but is woefully being underlooked during awards season, especially for Toni Collette's work.

Be sure to check out all of these movies if you haven't, and sound off in the comments if there are some you want to suggest!

Source: JoBlo.com

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