While looking back at 2018, it became immediately apparent this was a year where so many small, great movies slipped under the radar—the reality these days being, if you're not on Netflix or part of the Marvel universe or you have Lady Gaga in your cast, how do you get someone to see your modestly budgeted gem? Some of these under-seen films marked the directorial debuts of fresh new voices (like political rapper Boots Riley in Sorry to Bother You), and others had pushes from major studios but seemed to be released at a strange time in the middle of awards season (Annihilation, we see you). One featured an on-point performance from veteran period actor (Keira Knightley, in Colette); another highlighted the quotidian lives of non-actors, who were just as effervescent as their Hollywood counterparts (Skate Kitchen). Here, the most underrated films of the year to stream before 2018 is over.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Set in the early 1990's, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an adaptation of the novel of the same name directed by Desiree Akhavan, stars Chloe Grace Moretz as a queer teen who checks into God’s Promise, a Christian camp that specializes in gay conversion therapy. Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased covered similar territory, but The Miseducation of Cameron Post opened up space for a poignant discussion about female sexuality, and tapped into the teen psyche in a way that felt real and genuine (and the Sundance jury agreed—the film won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Drama).
Keira Knightley, patron saint of period dramas since the mid-2000's, stars in Colette as the turn-of-the-20th-century French literary figure Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The film demonstrates how Colette's husband, Henry Gauthier-Villars, poached her talent for the best selling Claudine novels he published under a pen name, only for Colette to escape his shadow and rise to stardom on her own. Colette's life was triumphant and colorful; she made a living not only as a writer but also as a vaudeville performer, once sharing a controversial kiss onstage at the Moulin Rouge in 1907 with one of her lovers, the Marquise de Belboeuf. Her life inspired her work, and Colette is as informative as it is inspiring.
Skate Kitchen employed real skaters, not actors, to tell the story of a shy suburbanite named Camille, who sneaks out to the city every weekend to skate with a new crew comprised of all girls. Coming-of-age movies about teen girls rarely get enough shine, but Crystal Moselle’s approach to the subject is fresh and genuine, and the street style looks on display are downright inspiring. Plus, an appearance by Jaden Smith doesn’t hurt.
Sorry To Bother You
How does one begin to describe what Sorry To Bother You is really about? In one of the year’s most unique tales, Boots Riley puts out a platter of big ideas—analyses of capitalism, neoliberal workplace practices, and warehouse labor conditions, the limits of arts activism, absurdist humor, slavery—and uses Hollywood’s most talented young performers (Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Kate Berlant) to translate them in a film that is loosely about a guy (Stanfield) who employs his “white voice” to hawk products over the phone.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Though Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant scored Golden Globe nominations for their performances in Can You Ever Forgive Me? the film’s director Marielle Heller seems to have been all but snubbed by critics. Based on the true story of Lee Israel (McCarthy), a celebrity biographer who forges and sells letters “written” by late writers like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, Can You Ever Forgive Me? paints a moving portrait of creative labor, desperation, friendship (between Israel and her confidante-slash-co-conspirator, Jack (Grant)), and an early 1990s New York landscape. Heller’s directorial debut, Diary of a Teenage Girl (based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel of the same name), struck a chord with critics across the globe, and Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a sharp follow-up deserving of the same acclaim.
Twenty-eighteen has felt so long and unending that if feels like Annihilation was released years ago. Alex Garland’s adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer sci-fi novel, though, was overlooked by many, even if the critical response was generally positive. One might posit that Annihilation was released too early in the year to compete with the end-of-summer and autumn awards fodder like A Star Is Born or The Favourite, but Black Panther came out the same month and was just recently nominated for multiple Golden Globes. Maybe the subject matter was just too impenetrable, or maybe it was just too ahead of its time.