News

Best Movies Off the Radar 2018

A selection of 11 staff favorites that might not have played at your local multiplex.

by | December 31, 2018 | Comments

It’s hard enough for those of us who make our bones watching and writing about movies to keep up with everything that’s released in any given year, so we’re acutely aware that it’s frequently even more difficult for general audiences. A lot of smaller films open in just a few theaters in just a few cities, and they generate so little publicity that even when they make their way to the home entertainment market, few people know to look for them. With that in mind, we’ve asked the RT staff to offer up their favorite movies that largely escaped mainstream attention, either because they weren’t widely available or because audiences might have forgotten they existed completely. From feelgood dramas and off-kilter comedies to fascinating documentaries and psychological thrillers, here are 11 staff favorites from 2018 that you might not have seen.


Big Fish & Begonia (2016) 91%

Inspired by ancient Chinese folklore, Big Fish & Begonia is a big hearted, beautifully rendered blend of 2D and 3D animation. It tells the story of Chun, a teenage girl from the land below our own. After embarking upon a traditional rite of passage for girls her age, Chun finds herself secretly taking care of the soul of a mortal boy named Kun, who must live as a dolphin on her supernatural plane. The closer the pair get, the harder it is for Chun to keep Kun a secret, forcing them to fight against everything Chun has ever known. Visually it’s stunning, the blend of animation styles creating a vibrant, dynamic viewing experience. And though Big Fish & Begonia’s fish tale may borrow from multiple Chinese myths, the heart of the film is as universal as storytelling itself; the only way through adversity is together. — Haña Lucero-Colin

Available on: Amazon, FandangoNOWGoogle PlayVudu


Burning (2018) 95%

South Korea has produced some of the most exciting filmmakers of the past couple of decades, and though he hasn’t generated the same headlines as some of his contemporaries, Lee Chang-dong (Secret SunshinePoetry) certainly belongs in that group. Since his debut in 1997, Lee has grappled with the nature of grief, regret, aging, forbidden love, and even Korean history in five fantastic films, earning festival recognition and establishing himself as a filmmaker to watch. This year’s Burning, a deliberately paced psychological drama, might just be his masterpiece. The story centers on delivery man Jong-soo (Yoo Ah-in), who reconnects with free-spirited childhood friend Hae-mi (Jun Jong-seo) by chance and agrees to catsit for her while she vacations in Africa. When Hae-mi returns with a new friend, the wealthy, polished Ben (Steven Yeun), a subtle rivalry ensues until Jong-soo begins to suspect there’s more to Ben than he’s letting on.

If this all sounds like a boilerplate melodrama, that’s by design, as Lee establishes the story in fairly conventional fashion before dropping odd details into the narrative, like a pianist intentionally hitting an off-key note every now and then to throw you off. After a while, though, the entire experience becomes a symphony of off-key notes all its own, and you’ll be scrambling to figure out why it’s so unsettling but so beautiful at the same time. All three of the leads are spectacular – you’ll never see Glenn from The Walking Dead in the same light again – and the cinematography floats between stark realism and dreamlike reverie effortlessly. This is not a conventional thriller by any means — it’s a slow burn, but it’s hypnotic and enthralling every step of the way. — Ryan Fujitani

In Select Theaters


Hearts Beat Loud (2018) 92%

If you only know Nick Offerman as the personification of masculinity himself — Parks and Recreation’s mustachioed, bacon-and-eggs-loving Ron Swanson — then you’ll be especially surprised by his portrayal of Frank, a gruff-but-sensitive widower whose only daughter is about to leave for college. The Brooklyn record store owner and his UCLA-bound offspring, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), begin to rethink their future plans when a song they recorded together goes viral. Offerman and Clemons’ performances (and incredible father-daughter chemistry) keep the earnest, feel-good film from being too cloyingly sweet, and there’s no question that Clemons is a star. Bonus: the titular song is GOOD. — Jean Bentley

Available on: Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu


Madeline's Madeline (2018) 88%

2018 was an absolutely stellar year for young actors. Elsie Fisher and Thomasin McKenzie may have grabbed the most headlines (and accolades) but Rohan Chand (Mowgli), Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time), Julian Dennison(Deadpool 2), and Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds(A Quiet Place) equally impressed critics and fans. In the midst of such company, we could almost forgive you for missing Madeline’s Madeline and its breakout star Helena Howard’s performance. Almost. A vibrant visual feast, Josephine Decker’s “story-within-a-coming-of-age-story” mash-up sets itself apart from just about everything screened in 2018. The audacious and avant-guard Decker experimented with the boundaries of traditional cinema, and the results are breathtaking. In her debut performance, Howard plays Madeline, a young, mentally troubled performer workshopping a new play with her rag-tag theater group as she hopefully awaits acceptance to Julliard. The film seamlessly shifts focus between the dance troupe’s performance and Madeline’s real life, with Madeline’s mental illness and general weirdness wreaking havoc on both. In real life, Madeline is an outsider continuously torn between her biological mother Regina (Miranda July) and her adoptive mother/theater director Evangeline (Molly Parker). Every frame and movement is amplified because it’s translated through the mind of a crazy person. Though difficult to conceptualize, trust us when we say all this madness culminates in a stunning ending that leaves the audience in a daze and thinking about it long after the credits roll. — Jacqueline Coley

Available on: Amazon PrimeFandangoNOW, Google PlayVudu


Night Comes On (2018) 98%

Director Jordana Spiro and co-writer Angelica Nwandu’s debut film is impressive, but it’s Dominique Fishback’s quiet performance as Angel LaMere that gives Night Comes On its power.  After Angel (Fishback) is released from juvenile detention, she meets with an indifferent social worker and then goes about her original plan: to kill her father, who murdered her mother and escaped punishment on a legal technicality. First, Angel must find out where he lives from her younger sister, Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who is currently in foster care. Abby can’t remember the exact address but swears that it’s by the ocean and that she will know how to get there once they arrive. This is the start of a journey that forces them together and provides glimpses of the stable households and nurturing families that could have taken their lives down a very different path. The film doesn’t objectify poverty and lack of privilege as much as it magnifies the siblings’ loneliness, which is never felt more keenly than when the two sisters are together on the screen. Night Comes On builds tension slowly, and Angel’s confrontation with her father is an understated showdown. Instead, the drama comes from Abby’s longing for some kind of connection butting up against Angel’s desire for revenge. Night Comes On avoids the kitchen-sink melodrama this type of film could have veered into, instead seizing the viewer with a disarming sincerity. — Sara Ataiiyan

Available on: Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu


Private Life (2018) 93%

Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life is deeply personal — a subtle love letter to creatives, to New York City, and in solidarity with families struggling to conceive. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti star as Rachel and Richard, a couple of writers (one a novelist, the other a playwright) attempting to have a child. Some have called Private Life cynical, but it’s not marred by cruelty or resignation. Instead, it’s so vulnerably honest — brutally so, even in the face of the couple’s resilience — that it’s impossible not to empathize with the guilt and victimization they feel when they can’t get pregnant on their own, nor with help from a doctor. For Rachel, the circumstances feel unfair. For Richard, it is what it is. Their relationship becomes distant, even volatile at times.

What’s particularly special about Jenkins’ film is that it gives attention to the ways that women of different generations and social classes expect different outcomes for their adult lives. While Rachel takes her infertility as a personal failure, her young niece Sadie (played pointedly by Kayli Carter) has already decided she doesn’t want to have children if it means sacrificing her career. Sadie learned this philosophy from her mother, who repeatedly complained that she couldn’t possibly “have it all,” couldn’t have children and a career, had to choose one or the other, and chose having Sadie over having a job she loved. The nuance and depth of Private Life makes it one of the year’s best, and most underrated. — Sophie-Marie Prime

Available on: Netflix


Revenge (2017) 93%

This year has boasted a higher-than-usual ratio of terrific action thrillers and horror films alike, but the one gem where both genres formed a harmonious covalent bond was French writer-director Coralie Fargeat’s feature debut, Revenge. From the outset, Fargeat demonstrates a mastery over tempering audience expectation before delivering escalating shocks to their system. Revenge begins with such a dreamy sensuality that viewers would be forgiven for believing that they’ve embarked upon a soft-core travelogue until the film segues into a nightmarish chronicle of sexual violence, only to further unfurl into a supremely satisfying tale of reprisals and survival. This is exploitation cinema told with elegant style and an enthralling intimacy, laced with damning critiques of aggression and entitlement. Coralie also displays a keen eye for iconography, methodically bedecking star Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz in pink star earrings, a comically oversized rifle on her shoulder, and an eagle-shaped brand forged across her stomach: an action hero whose insignia is scar tissue created just to staunch the trauma. Revenge is agonizingly playful in indulging its genre trappings, but takes its heroine deadly seriously. It’s bold, nauseating, and vicious. It’s the most deft melding of horror and action thriller in 2018. — Robert Fowler

Available on: AmazonFandangoNOW, Google PlayVudu


Shirkers (2018) 99%

If director Sandi Tan’s documentary Shirkers was simply the story of three wildly talented Singaporean teenagers who spent the summer of 1992 making a movie together, it would be extraordinary in its own right. But Shirkers is so much more: a poignant character study, a meditation on a changing nation, and a twisty detective story. In 1992, Tan and her friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique made a Goddard-esque road movie called Shirkers which was filled with local color, surrealistic touches, and affecting autobiographical details. But when the trio left for college, the movie was more or less held hostage by their filmmaking mentor, the slippery, enigmatic Georges Cardona. The glimpses we see of the film are startling (Straits Times critic Tay Yek Keak said it could have changed the course of local indie film), but what ultimately makes Shirkers so touching is the bond between these three friends, who’ve never forgotten about the amazing thing they made together. — Tim Ryan

Available on: Netflix


Support the Girls (2018) 91%

Those familiar with writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s work will recognize some of the “mumblecore” master’s trademarks in Support the Girls. The slice-of-life kinda-comedy, which takes place over the course of a day at a Hooters-style restaurant named Double Whammies, is disarmingly low-key, devoid of any big belly laughs or sweeping emotional moments, and yet somehow always gripping and, in the end, incredibly moving. (You too will want to scream from a rooftop.) The story, such as it is, centers around Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall), Double Whammies’ manager, and her efforts to raise money for one of her out-of-luck waitresses, all as customers, fellow staffers, and her boss get in her way. Hall was named Best Actress by the New York Film Critics Circle for Support the Girls, which was a surprise only to those who’ve not seen the movie – she delivers the kind of natural, lived-in performance that should be drawing awards buzz. She’s well supported by Haley Lu Richardson (incredible as an only-seemingly ditzy waitress), and newcomer Shayna McHayle. Bujalski’s next move is something of a surprise: He’s penned the screenplay for Disney’s live-action/CGI remake of Lady and the Tramp. His attachment instantly makes it one of the Mouse House’s most interesting upcoming projects. — Joel Meares

Available on: AmazonFandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu


Thoroughbreds (2017) 87%

Actor Anton Yelchin died in a tragic auto accident in 2016 at age 27. He left behind an impressive legacy – including his role as a young Pavel Checkov in the Star Trek franchise – and broad-reaching anguish over his loss as both a beloved friend and colleague and for the many roles he would not perform as one of his generation’s most promising actors. In his final role as drug dealer Tim in Thoroughbreds, Yelchin teamed with two other great acting talents of that same generation: Anya Taylor-Joy as Lily and Olivia Cooke as Amanda. The feature film debut from writer-director Cory Finley is based on his own play about two suburban girls – one rich and polished, the other smart but a social outcast – who rekindle their childhood friendship and find a deadly purpose in their unlikely bond. Thoroughbreds impressed on the festival circuit, where it was frequently nominated for top awards. The film is Certified Fresh on 140 reviews, with critics praising it as a refreshing take on the teen thriller genre. — Debbie Day

Available on: Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu


Thunder Road (2018) 96%

Officer Jim appears unprepared for any of life’s expectations — not from the creative expectations of his mother, not from a marriage which is ending in divorce with an ex-wife who hates him and a daughter who (probably) does too, and not from the violent vagaries of his cop job. And he’s utterly unprepared when those expectations are removed unfulfilled. Jim’s mother has died suddenly and the movie opens at her funeral, a solemn event Jim has chosen to express his grief through a silent pantomime to NOT Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” (the cherry-pink boombox he brought malfunctions). A video of this exhaustively practiced, poorly choreographed dance is shown at a perilous custody hearing. The aftermath results in Jim getting fired from the force. Every moment into and out these scenes of social dysfunction see Jim twisting the knife even further into his own gut, and actor Jim Cummings (who also wrote and directed) finding new expressions of bald, naked emotional breakdown — and sometimes physical, down to the undies. This is a soulful and wretched performance, captured with crushing long takes in a tragicomedy that expertly gauges how much a scene, and the people watching, can endure. Thunder Road is the kind of movie that rides up to the edge of reason, looks back with a smirk, and jumps off, limbs akimbo. Then it re-appears behind you with a tap on the shoulder, no promise that it won’t take you down with it the next time. — Alex Vo

Available on: AmazonGoogle Play

Tag Cloud

dragons Creative Arts Emmys spanish language social media TV movies Paramount Fox News nfl hist rotten movies we love Apple TV+ werewolf YouTube best pirates of the caribbean gangster BBC El Rey thriller RT History toronto Logo jurassic park VICE breaking bad cults Certified Fresh cartoon USA Network Arrowverse deadpool Music Legendary book blockbusters mutant TCA Awards First Look sports American Society of Cinematographers directors television 71st Emmy Awards crime Polls and Games A&E feel good 20th Century Fox obi wan australia rt labs President all-time young adult romance streaming movies scary Action universal monsters Photos TNT Trophy Talk Sci-Fi Discovery Channel scary movies cinemax Holiday WGN adventure kong scene in color Spring TV genre Pacific Islander godzilla Tarantino video 79th Golden Globes Awards worst movies cars sopranos obituary technology Pet Sematary south america Hear Us Out Year in Review parents Pop TV remakes disaster japanese archives 72 Emmy Awards Neflix 2015 golden globes Apple TV Plus Columbia Pictures ITV Starz vs. period drama adaptation blockbuster Character Guide rt labs critics edition comiccon BAFTA San Diego Comic-Con Anna Paquin Pixar cancelled TV shows Best Picture Black History Month telelvision aapi composers Infographic Star Wars Adult Swim cancelled National Geographic cats laika Rocky award winner Writers Guild of America Summer miniseries indie Esquire Walt Disney Pictures Star Trek YouTube Red psycho 2019 Universal casting The Purge Video Games biography SXSW 2022 NBC strong female leads razzies new york HBO Ovation spider-man Sneak Peek Mary poppins DC streaming service South by Southwest Film Festival wonder woman hispanic high school Podcast halloween Rocketman Valentine's Day diversity Sony Pictures E3 Calendar Shudder quibi documentaries Mystery Academy Awards Netflix Christmas movies LGBT Baby Yoda asian-american mockumentary Crackle Image Comics saw Classic Film stand-up comedy live event GoT TV renewals elevated horror travel indiana jones films Thanksgiving Instagram Live Paramount Network RT21 reviews chucky SDCC canceled TV shows ID 21st Century Fox Mary Poppins Returns james bond animated sag awards Ghostbusters CBS richard e. Grant Pirates science fiction Oscars USA black comedy kids Best Director ESPN DirecTV crime thriller robots slashers comics unscripted MSNBC police drama NYCC BBC America rt archives TCA festival See It Skip It spider-verse kaiju Tubi Set visit TCA Winter 2020 comic books 2017 nbcuniversal witnail documentary ViacomCBS transformers E! Awards HBO Go Best Actress franchise IMDb TV ratings dceu CNN suspense Christmas boxing BBC One jamie lee curtis Extras Tumblr Amazon zombies TIFF Freeform doctor who international trophy Nat Geo SundanceTV Song of Ice and Fire news Interview cops Cosplay fast and furious Sundance TV spanish art house crime drama king kong hidden camera Disney Channel The Walking Dead spy thriller The Arrangement natural history Prime Video supernatural Apple streaming Film Festival Britbox biopic game of thrones sequels Winter TV IFC space Amazon Prime Video name the review dogs independent 99% vampires Emmy Nominations Emmys Best Actor marvel cinematic universe TBS screenings historical drama Spike Spectrum Originals ABC Family criterion Amazon Studios The CW versus comic book movie Winners Comic-Con@Home 2021 Fall TV Avengers halloween tv Cannes Bravo Elton John Sundance Now DC Comics what to watch Grammys Nominations hollywood DGA lord of the rings Western VH1 die hard Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Women's History Month true crime Nickelodeon reboot anime festivals Reality Competition Marathons foreign Toys Shondaland 94th Oscars Travel Channel Marvel Film Hallmark Christmas movies comic book movies Acorn TV Election Television Critics Association women A24 AMC Plus Pop Chilling Adventures of Sabrina mcc Pride Month leaderboard slasher cooking Schedule Disney streaming service Showtime History Peacock concert facebook Opinion mission: impossible Fargo Lifetime Christmas movies BET Awards Awards Tour emmy awards basketball rotten Box Office live action Disney Plus venice football WarnerMedia Country Rom-Com batman fresh zombie trailers Kids & Family know your critic PBS Masterpiece 90s APB worst classics japan revenge BET finale The Walt Disney Company FXX Marvel Studios Rock black YA serial killer Disney+ Disney Plus 73rd Emmy Awards posters Wes Anderson Fox Searchlight FX Fantasy Cartoon Network sitcom sequel dreamworks action-comedy scorecard discovery Epix french OWN Disney NBA Endgame spain Alien binge 007 GLAAD Lifetime TLC GIFs psychological thriller boxoffice Netflix MGM video on demand Sundance Lionsgate tv talk Universal Pictures toy story MTV LGBTQ Food Network Tomatazos DC Universe streamig twilight Martial Arts dramedy Exclusive Video Oscar 2016 AMC 2021 Comedy Central critic resources cancelled TV series Mindy Kaling CMT Tags: Comedy 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards war 2020 joker 1990s 2018 The Academy Paramount Plus Horror Comics on TV TV nature VOD HBO Max movie FOX PlayStation FX on Hulu crossover 45 Funimation Teen Ellie Kemper Hollywood Foreign Press Association Mary Tyler Moore spinoff Comic Book dexter based on movie ABC Signature Crunchyroll Captain marvel Best and Worst king arthur Watching Series adenture Biopics medical drama Hallmark Animation canceled blaxploitation comic dc superhero child's play Family Holidays First Reviews cancelled television Syfy The Witch Super Bowl mob TCA 2017 HFPA justice league Trailer dark docuseries aliens Musicals Mudbound Quiz marvel comics 93rd Oscars SXSW olympics singing competition christmas movies critics YouTube Premium prank superman comedies Marvel Television Black Mirror debate Television Academy Binge Guide TruTV green book movies TCM Drama Comedy zero dark thirty Turner OneApp stoner series Reality hispanic heritage month game show Lucasfilm Countdown satire rom-coms a nightmare on elm street ghosts popular renewed TV shows TV One theme song Musical Turner Classic Movies TV Land latino Hulu golden globe awards docudrama New York Comic Con 24 frames Broadway Tokyo Olympics MCU 4/20 target Superheroes free movies IFC Films Superheroe screen actors guild italian new zealand ABC monster movies Warner Bros. talk show royal family Amazon Prime Heroines heist movie Premiere Dates harry potter X-Men politics Red Carpet Trivia Dark Horse Comics book adaptation legend Chernobyl Vudu CBS All Access PaleyFest new star wars movies children's TV political drama teaser romantic comedy Stephen King CW Seed stop motion Brie Larson anthology