12 brilliant under-appreciated movies you might have missed in 2018

Sam Ashurst
Contributor
The Witch In The Window, A Prayer Before Dawn, Thoroughbreds

We get it, it’s impossible to watch everything, and 2018 has been such a great year for movies there’s so many films jostling for your eyeballs’ attention. Just like last year, we want to help you fit in as much as possible before 2019, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the masterpieces released in the UK this year that might have passed you by.

Here’s 12 essential movies to catch up on as soon as you can.

The Rider

The Rider (©Highwayman Films)

Currently standing at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, The Rider came and went from UK cinemas in September, with barely anyone to witness it.

It’s a shame, this powerful story of a rodeo rider forced to build a new life for himself after an injury is a modern-day western with real heart, stunningly shot.

Lucky

Another indie movie with a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, Lucky was an emotional tribute to Hollywood legend Harry Dean Stanton (Alien/Avengers/Paris, Texas).

The writers transcribed the actor’s personal philosophies, turning them into a script about triumphing in the face of the various horrors life throws our way. Funny and moving, this is one of the most touching cinematic tributes to an actor ever made.

First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s directorial comeback after the disastrous Nicolas Cage movie Dog Eat Dog (with the awful Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Canyons still fresh in the memory) proves that class never truly goes away, with Schrader returning to the heights of his earlier work, movies like Taxi Driver and Hardcore. Here, Ethan Hawke gives a career-best turn as a conflicted priest, struggling with his faith, whose life pivots when he counsels a young couple. One to add to your watch-list before you make your end-of-year top 10.

Leave No Trace

We interviewed the director Debra Granik, going in deep on a film that seems to leave a mark on whoever sees it. The high concept – a teen girl and her dad live in a forest, but are forced to integrate into society after they’re discovered – is used to tell a universal story about family and community. Beautifully performed, there’s a good chance that star Thomasin McKenzie is the next Jennifer Lawrence.

You Were Never Really Here

“You Were Never Really Here” is a four-time Independent Spirit Award nominee, but it really deserves a shot at Oscar glory.

You’ll have heard of You Were Never Really Here, but there’s a chance you still haven’t actually sat down to watch it. It’s currently available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers, so you’ve got no excuse not to check out this modern-day Taxi Driver, featuring a bloated Joaquin Phoenix as an updated Travis Bickle… if Bickle was a bit more soulful.

It seems the people who nominate for awards have also missed it, it’s not really in the conversation – yet. We predict some Oscar nominations for this one. Learn more about it in our interview with director Lynne Ramsay.

Thoroughbreds

Tonally, Thoroughbreds is like Heathers meets film noir, often feeling like some lost ‘90s thriller. It’s an exploration of the narcissism of teenagers, with two mismatched girls bonding over a potential crime that could change both of their lives. Featuring a great cast, led by Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy, and featuring Anton Yelchin’s last performance, Thoroughbreds will shock, surprise and fascinate you.

Lean On Pete

Lean On Pete: a piercing and wistful tale of one boy and his horse

At 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, Lean On Pete is another critical darling that didn’t find its audience as much as it definitely should have.

That’s possibly because it goes to some deeply dark places, but the stunning central turn by Charlie Plummer (whose roles in All The Money In The World and murder thriller The Clovehitch Killer demonstrated real range this year – this kid is going to be huge) is worth the pain.

It’s about a boy’s bond with the titular horse, and would probably make a great opener in a triple-bill with Leave No Trace and The Rider.

A Prayer Before Dawn

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s film is a physical one, streaked with blood and bruises.

Star Joe Cole won the BIFA for Best Actor earlier this year, and if there’s any justice he’ll be in the Oscar conversation next year. His performance is as transformative as they come, as we follow the true story of Billy Moore, a young English boxer locked up in two of Thailand’s most notorious prisons.

Despite the fact it’s mostly dialogue-free – unless you can speak Thai – this is an experience up there with Creed in terms of how boxing is used to explore compelling characters. The naturalistic shooting style and intense sound design combine to create an immersive world so complete, you frequently feel like you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with Billy.

Mandy

Mandy actually has a fairly solid following amongst cult film fans, but it hasn’t broken into the mainstream in the same way as something like Face/Off or Ghost Rider might. Which is a shame, as this is Nic Cage’s best performance in years, the driving force of a revenge narrative that’s surprisingly simple to follow – especially when you consider how strange the shooting style / some of the characters are. This is a film that doesn’t deserve to be stuck in the cult wilderness, it should be seen by everyone who loves cinema.

The Witch In The Window

Despite festival praise, The Witch In The Window didn’t receive as much buzz as something like Heredity, but its slow-paced and sorrowful story makes it equally as essential. Window’s smart use of horror tropes creates an increasingly creepy atmosphere, as a man and his son realise they’re not quite as safe in their new home as they thought they were. Stream it on Shudder this Christmas.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

Described as Pan’s Labyrinth in the inner-city, with street children encountering fantastical situations as they try to survive their gang-infested environment, Tigers has won much praise from the festival circuit, which didn’t translate into mainstream success.

It’ll almost certainly be ignored by the major awards next year, but with director Issa Lopez teaming with Guillermo del Toro for her next project, expect this one to be discussed for years to come.

Pyewacket

The horror genre found plenty of terror in family dynamics this year, with Pyewacket’s mother-daughter story being one of the most disturbing. The set-up is simple, an angry teenager puts a curse on her mum, then instantly regrets it and tries to save her. But from this premise comes a psychologically rich scare story that culminates in one of the most memorable final acts since Se7en.


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