— by Renard N. Bansale —
Potential spoilers below
It is never the films themselves, but rather the perception of them that is overrated or underrated.
Once more, a brief glance at the opposite end of the spectrum:
Renard’s 10 Most Overrated Films of 2018:
- Aquaman (dir. James Wan)
- Avengers: Infinity War (dir. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo) (review here)
- Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) (review here)
- Blockers (dir. Kay Cannon)
- First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader) (review here)
- Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster) (review here)
- Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King)
- RBG (dir. Julie Cohen & Betsy West)
- The Rider (dir. Chloé Zhao)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman) (review here)
Perception, not the movies themselves.
I sympathize with the new releases each year that receive little to no fanfare. That is why, soon after my top ten films and right before my top ten scenes and Oscar picks articles, I list what I consider the most underrated cinema fare of each year (previous years’ underrated lists here). I consider these 2018 releases underrated for various reasons. Audiences may have overlooked some of these films upon their release. They may have liked some of these movies when they actually deserve more than being merely liked. Elsewhere, there may be films with atrocious reputations I still feel they never truly deserved—the phrase “it’s not that bad” comes to mind.
(listed in alphabetical order)
(dir. Albert Hughes)
Pushed films are almost never a good sign. I presumed that was the case with Alpha, whose original release date was September 2017. Eleven months later, it finally saw the light of day and the result was an unexpectedly harrowing and no-nonsense origin tale about how humanity and canines first became friends. Star Kodi Smit-McPhee leads this historical adventure with surprising resilience and sturdy command of the fictional language invented for the movie. Director Albert Hughes (of the Hughes Bros.) and d.p. Martin Gschlacht, meanwhile, utilized IMAX 3D to capture striking images like the one above. Time was wise to show kindness to Alpha and I hope time will continue to show kindness to it and to the artists who made it.
(Parental Note: Alpha has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for some intense peril”. It has also been rated 12 by the BBFC for “moderate threat” and “injury detail”, and rated A-II (Adults and adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “moments of intense peril.”)
(dir. Bart Layton)
Among my top 10 for 2018, and yet…less than $2.9 million in N. America and around $640 thousand in the rest of the world. I guess having MoviePass as a distributor did not help, either. Such a shame, given American Animals’ seamless genre mix of serious heist thriller, innovative docudrama, with a touch of college spirit to keep scenes from getting too dark and serious as well as the best film editing I saw in all of cinema in 2018. Regardless of your knowledge (or lack thereof) about the events depicted, writer-director Bart Layton’s narrative debut grabs you from its opening images and never lets you go until you have become a speck in its rearview mirror.
(Parental Note: American Animals has been rated R by the MPAA for “language throughout, some drug use, and brief crude/sexual material.” It has also been rated 15 by the BBFC for “strong language, threat,” and “drug misuse”.)
(dir. John Curran)
To this day, I continue to have much admiration for Chappaquiddick. By stepping out of the crowded 2017 awards season and into 2018’s quiet and casual pre-summer blockbuster season, it managed to neither undersell nor oversell its definitive dramatization of a most enigmatic historical episode. Jason Clarke would have entered Best Actor conversations in another year, while I remain pleased any time Ed Helm’s takes a detour from his obnoxious, post-Office and Hangover comedy roles. Most importantly, the haunting score by Garth Stevenson remains one of the more underappreciated surprises my ears have heard in 2018.
(Parental Note: See end of my review)
(dir. Antoine Fuqua)
Director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington have made two movie adaptations of the 1985-1989 CBS series so far. While the sequel’s worldwide box office gross feel just short of that of its predecessor, I consider the sequel the superior entry so far. Its revenge plot fits more comfortably compared to the first feature’s overblown plot of saving a prostitute while taking on the Russian mafia. The mentor-mentee scenes between Washington and Ashton Sanders work quite well. Most of all, the climactic coastal town showdown is simply spectacular, to the point that I have actually recommended to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts in a tweet to watch and take notes on the sequence for his Metal Gear Solid film adaptation. Keep the Equalizer movies going in this direction, Fuqua and Washington.
(Parental Note: The Equalizer 2 has been rated R by the MPAA “for brutal violence throughout, language, and some drug content”. It has also been rated 18 by the BBFC for “strong bloody violence”, and rated O (Morally offensive) by the Catholic News Service for containing “excessive gory violence, including torture, vigilantism, at least one mild oath, and frequent rough and crude language.”)
(dir. Kevin Connolly)
I know, I know, my token bad entry of my 2018 underrated list is the trendy “worst film of 2018”. Yet that is precisely why Gotti is on here—it is such a trendy pick, to the point that I suspect the majority who rank it their bottom two for 2018 have yet to even see the supposed garbage heap. When the feature ended, all it left me thinking was, “That was just an adorably mediocre Godfather / GoodFellas wannabe.” Granted, I would never call it “a good movie”—every scene has something off about them, from the dialogue to the execution, which I suppose makes for a fair education on how not to make a film. A film has to do more than be just adorably mediocre to land in my yearly bottom ten (see start of here).
Any 2018 ranking that puts the horrendously mediocre Slender Man anywhere above Gotti will strike me as laughable for many years to come.
(Parental Note: Gotti has been rated R by the MPAA “for strong violence and pervasive language”. It has also been rated 15 by the BBFC for “strong bloody violence” and “language”, and rated A-III (Adults) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much gun and physical violence and pervasive rough language.”)
(dir. Masaaki Yuasa)
Any filmmaker or film craftsperson who puts out two or more commendable efforts in the same year deserves much respect. Masaaki Yuasa directed two 2017 anime features that received their North American release in 2018. One of them, Lu Over the Wall, is cute and dependable family-friendly fare, while the other is…my goodness, one of the most spectacular animated features of the 2010s (it and Isle of Dogs). Once you invest in The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl’s* four starting characters, you are in for quite the bullet train ride—feeling every bump, cocktail, rolling hill, seemingly impromptu musical number, and windstorm, until it pulls smoothly into its end titles theme.
Mark my words: The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl and American Animals (discussed above) both offer more for college-aged viewers than any lowbrow, obnoxious, and vomitous college comedy ever will.
*The informal Hepburn romanization of the movie’s original Japanese title is “Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome”, which literally translates to “The Night Is But Short, So Walk on, Maiden” (other international title renderings here).
(Parental Note: See end of my review)
(dir. Mimi Leder)
I saw the RBG documentary early in 2018 and found it adequate yet incredibly conventional and overdone in how it singles out U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a real-life superhero (true in many cases, dubious in others). Needless to say, I began to anticipate the same for Mimi Leder’s biographical legal drama, which arrived late in 2018. Throughout my viewing of On the Basis of Sex, however, I was experiencing the same sensation that I did when watching 2017’s Marshall. Ms. Leder’s direction of Daniel Stiepleman’s original screenplay is surprisingly deft and clear, without undercutting most of its meaning. Felicity Jones embodies the pre-Justice RBG with unwavering sturdiness, while Armie Hammer’s laidback self lends well to portraying husband Martin. In a different year, I would have inserted Justin Theroux as ACLU lawyer Mel Wolf into some Best Supporting Actor conversations. (Sidenote: Theroux had quite the 2017 and 2018, and he still has voicing Tramp in the Lady & the Tramp remake ahead of him.)
My, my, I wonder how this all would have turned out had the drama came out before the documentary—an immediate demonstration of time as the ultimate judge of art.
(Parental Note: On the Basis of Sex has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for some language and suggestive content”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “infrequent strong language”, and rated A-III (Adults) by the Catholic News Service for containing “a scene of marital sensuality, at least one use of profanity, a couple of milder oaths, and a single rough and several crude terms.”)
(dir. Peter Segal)
I Feel Pretty so desperately wanted to be this movie.
If there was ever a mainstream 2018 new release that dares you to judge it by its cover, it was Second Act. Yes, it is a Jennifer Lopez star vehicle, which has become a cinematic endangered species as of late. Yet much to my surprise, this Peter Segal-directed feature exudes a refreshing energy right from the start, in both its cute premise and its execution (less romantic comedy, more workplace comedy). Then, right when you think Second Act has grown stale, it quietly drops a twist onto the audience’s lap that, with genuine heart, carries the film through to its end credits. Consider this my 2018 chick flick recommendation, ladies and romantic couples everywhere.
(Parental Note: Second Act has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for some crude sexual references and language”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate sex references” and “infrequent strong language”, and rated A-III (Adults) by the Catholic News Service for containing “references to sexual activity and an out-of-wedlock birth and some crude language.”)
(dir. Jacques Audiard)
As “America’s genre”, the western has largely run its course ever since Clint Eastwood provided its epilogue with 1992’s Unforgiven. Any western since then has either been a throwback or a parody. The Sisters Brothers from writer-director Jacques Audiard, on the other hand, feels like a bona-fide western, with touches whose inspirations range from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre to even Pulp Fiction in its bounty element. Its fabulous lead duo (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, the latter in his third great and unheraled 2018 outing) is matched by its impressive supporting duo (Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, a mini Nightcrawler reunion!). From its night shootout opening to tender closing long take, The Sisters Brothers is a 2018 hidden gem that deserved far more than its meager $10.7 million worldwide box office take.
(Parental Note: The Sisters Brothers has been rated R by the MPAA “for violence including disturbing images, language, and some sexual content”. It has also been rated 15 by the BBFC for “gory images, strong violence,” and “language”.)
(dir. Andrew Dosunmu)
Last, but most certainly not least: If I had ranked this list rather than alphabetized it, then Where Is Kyra? would easily hold the title of “Renard’s Most Underrated Film of 2018”. This bleak and smoldering drama from director Andrew Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult (story credited to both Dosunmu and Picoult) stopped me in my tracks like a bolt of lightning when I first encountered it in mid-April that I just had to see it again. I wish the absolute best for veteran star Michelle Pfeiffer, d.p. Bradford Young, director Dosunmu, writer Picoult, and the entire cast and crew. May they know that, for any accolades they may win for the many projects I hope lie in their respective futures, they have already won them in my book with this searing and unforgettable picture.
Underrated Films – Honorable Mentions: (ordered alphabetically)
- Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland) (review here)
- Beast (dir. Michael Pearce)
- Den of Thieves (dir. Christian Gudegast)
- Forever My Girl (dir. Bethany Ashton)
- Ramen Heads (dir. Koki Shigeno)
- A Simple Favor (dir. Paul Feig) ***Listen to compilation soundtrack here***
- A Whale of a Tale (dir. Megumi Sasaki)
- What They Had (dir. Elizabeth Chomko)
- Widows (dir. Steve McQueen) ***Listen to score here***
- Wildlife (dir. Paul Dano)
Godspeed and Farewell, Cinema of 2018!
Welcome, Cinema of 2019!
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.