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20 Criminally Underrated Films of 2018

15. Relaxer | Joel Potrykus | USA
Fantasy Drama

Relaxer [2018]

Joel Potrykus returns with a wacky, quirky film ‘Relaxer’ starring his frequent collaborator-actor ‘Joshua Burge’ after completing his satirical black comedy ‘The Animal Trilogy.’ He declined scripts for sequels to films he was offered, in order to pursue what he believed in. And the end result is one of the most original films of 2018 – Relaxer.

An allegorical fart in the face of GenX who have challenged themselves to not look away from the small screen in their hand. ‘Relaxer’ is a showdown between sacred level 256 of PacMan and a man-child. It’s a story of a man sitting on a sofa and attaining nirvana. It’s a castaway on the gamer sofa. It’s a story of tasting the delicious pizza slice after nothing is left, the earth is probably doomed, and capital has turned into ashes. It’s also a story of a nerd gamer who would eat cartridges, faeces, and crow in order to fulfil the rules dictated by his knockabout elder brother. It’s also a metaphorical story of an American bourgeois trapped in a capitalist dream. You can read ‘Relaxer’ review on IndiWire here.

14. Happy As Lazzaro | Alice Rorhwacher | Italy
Magical Realism

Happy as Lazzaro (2018) Courtesy @Cannes
Happy as Lazzaro (2018) Courtesy @Cannes

Alice Rorhwacher has established herself as a talented auteur with his third film, Happy as Lazzaro that competed for the Palm d’Or this year. Though it lost the Palm d’Or to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, she did win the best screenplay award at Cannes. It has put Alice on the world cinema map along with the young talented film-makers like Bi Gan, Xavier Dolan, Yukun Xin, Josephine Decker and many more.

Alice layers the narrative of ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ with socio-economical exploitation, consumerist ideology and classism shift in Italy, neatly wrapped up in magical realism. In the film, where everyone is exploiting someone, the lead protagonist, Lazzaro – naive, duteous young boy who can not say ‘no’ – lies at the bottom of this exploitative pyramid, he becomes the personified figure of goodness that this world needs more than ever. You can read our complete critical piece here.

13. Madeline’s Madeline | Josephine Decker | USA

Madeline's Madelin (2018) Courtesy @LATimes
Madeline’s Madelin (2018) Courtesy @LATimes

Josephine Decker’s ‘Madeline’s Madeline’ is the most frustrating and equally disorienting sensory experience that would be impossible to summarize unless you take the film at its face value. There can not be one single interpretation to it, as the film sits in your mind and you peel off each layer, the film becomes a multifaceted self-exploratory object. It’s a singular meta-exploration of an impulsive and reckless girl, Madeline (played by Helena Howard perfectly to the teeth), who finds her spirit more accommodating in the physical acting theatre than the world outside of it.

But Decker isn’t just interested in artistic catharsis, she goes beyond what meets the eye to carve an artistic expression out of confounding personal and familial conflicts. In a way, she embodies herself in the character of Madeline and the theatre director, Evangeline (played remarkably by Molly Parker), as if she explores her artistic vision through the character of Evangeline and finds liberation in Madeline’s rebel. You can read David Ehrlich’s review here.

12. The Cakemaker | Ofir Raul Grazier | Israel
Romantic Drama

Just like dough, the characters in Ofir Raul Grazier’s impressive debut film ‘The Cakemaker’ are both – delicate and tender, in dire need of love and warmth. The two leading characters, a German cakemaker and an Israel woman, look so frail, lost and broken in their shared grief for the same man they loved that you want to hug them and comfort them. Ofir draws two beautifully written characters in the novelistic narrative that is smartly structured and minutely nuanced.

Unhurried in its pacing, ‘The Cakemaker’ is kinder towards handling the grief than delving into unsettling sombre tone as if life has come to stand still, and still, it retains emotional naturalism to move its audience in a way that you admire their courage for rebuilding themselves than pity them. The minimalistic production design in the interiors coupled with muted photography helps to capture the intricate details of the ongoing emotional state of the characters and their dynamics whenever they are together.

The Cakemaker is Israel’s official selection for Best Foreign Langauge Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

11. Who We Are Now | Mathew Newton | USA

Actor-turned-Director Mathew Newton returns to filmmaking after his last critically acclaimed earnest drama ‘From Nowhere.’ Drenched in hopelessness, “Who we are now” is a torrenting rain of despair, with each passing second, the ruptured clouds of hope get darker & turn blue. There is not even a moment of respite, not a moment of joy in the lives of characters, no silver lining, it’s a contest of who suffers the most. It’s a devastating drama that might make you feel a little better if you thought you are lying in the womb of despondency.

Life gets complicated for both, it gets messier, deafening silences warms the day, and nights are burdensome. Newton doesn’t provide easy answers for both the characters, but he ends the film on a note that is heart-wrenching but equally hopeful that there is, after all, something good left in the society, even if that demands a sacrifice that could alter the course of life. You can read the complete review of the film here.

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