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20 Criminally Underrated Films of 2018

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10. Shirkers | Sandi Tan | USA

Shirkers [2018] Sandi Tan, Courtesy @IndieWire
Shirkers [2018] Sandi Tan, Courtesy @IndieWire

Shirkers is a strange and heartbreaking film. Meet Sandi Tan, an ‘offbeat’ Singaporean cinephile in the land of misfits, who battles her loneliness over watching the films. As the days go by, her interest piques in writing about films, and she starts writing stint under a pseudonym for culture magazine ‘BigO’. When she turns 18, she becomes the film critic for the Straits Times. Soon she joins an evening class in film production taught by an American named Georges Cardona. As expected, she starts developing her first feature film along with her friends, under the mentorship of Georges.

This is a typical road a cinephile embarks on. Now, here comes the heartbreaking part, before she could finish her first feature film about a serial killer ‘S’ on a road trip which also happens to be the first film in Singapore,‘Shirkers’ is stolen. Her life comes crashing down. How you deal with life when someone robs your dream? Shirkers is a documentary about the stolen film which she miraculously recovers after two decades. The film is a collection of interviews – from past and present, parts from the original film, and several images. It opens a time portal for ‘Tan’ where past and present co-exist, and the unsettling quirky score makes it even more interesting to see this intimate story of a ‘method film-maker’ who is dumbfounded like a kid.

9. Thunder Road | Jim Cummings | USA
Tragic Comedy

It’s impossible to talk about Jim Cummings’s debut feature without talking about it’s 10-minute-long single take opening scene. It is a static shot that slowly glides onto the protagonist Jim Arnaud (played by Cummings himself), a 30-something cop standing in front of a memorial service for her mother trying to make peace with her sudden passing. The man stands with his daughter’s pink boombox struggling to play his mother’s favourite track by Bruce Springsteen.

Based on the 2016 short film of the same name, “Thunder Road” is about Jim, a moustached motor-mouthed cop who is more confused about his ability to perceive things than understanding emotions. Jim Cummings, who wrote, directed and acted in the film deserves a pat on his back as he manages to channel out a very assured, matured and understated character sketch of a broken man on the verge of mental breakdown. His understanding of the process of grief pits this little indie as one of the best debut films of the year. You can read the complete review of the film here. 

8. The Heiresses |Marcelo Martinessi| Paraguay
Romantic Drama

Driven by an incredibly heartfelt and the tour de force performance of Ana Brun, The Heiresses is an original and piercing romantic drama in the lives of the Quinquagenarian women amidst the financial crisis that has hit them hard. Chela’s (played gracefully by Ana) personal and social life comes crumbling down after the incarceration of her lover due to bank debt.

The Heiresses is a debut feature film of the Paraguayan filmmaker Marcelo Martinessi who wrote the script five years back, largely inspired by his personal observation of the surrounding in his childhood. The film feels like a meditation on the romance between two middle-aged women without making it look awkward or calling for pithiness. The underlying social- political commentary and economic ruins of the country are subtly weaved in the central plot. That makes it unarguably a must watch.  You can read our review of the film covered at MAMI – 2018 here.

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

7. Minding The Gap | Bing Liu | USA

It is ironical that the essence of the American spirit and living the dream has been captured by non-American film-makers in two different films, one is ‘Minding the Gap’, and the other one is Chinese origin film-maker Chloé Zhao’s ‘The Rider’. To think of ‘Minding The Gap’ is a film about the camaraderie of three young kids in Illinois – loosely connected with a passion for skating – would be a horrendous mistake undermining the courage and effort of Chinese born film-maker Bing Liu.

It is a semi-autobiographical film as Bing Liu comes in the foreground of the camera to have his skin in the game, and recounts his life, along with his two friends, from care-free adolescence to a troubled adulthood. The film delves into all kinds of complicated issues buried just below the surface, as well: masculinity, alienation, the pressures of early adulthood, growing up in violent homes, an experience that Liu also shares. By the end of the film, I found myself choking up. Their acceptance at the end of who they really are really hit me hard. It invigorated a kind of a feeling that rarely I am in touch with. You can read IndieWire’s review of the film here.

6. Closing Time | Nicole Vögele | Switzerland

Closing Time opens a time portal to the lyrical mundanity of quotidian characters in the stillness of the night. Highly meditative and sedately paced, Closing Time is a poetry in motion, an intense mood piece. It’s an awe-inspiring travel through the passage of time, where the sky has turned purple. The cloud has cracked open and cantankerously torrenting rains has compelled the stillness of night to dance to its tune. The insomniac roads have sprawled in the heart of Taipei, and dreams, well, they should be left untouched.

The film asks for absolute patience on the audience part, as the narration of “Closing Time” is driven by quotidian visuals that are sprinkled with frivolous conversations at long intervals.  The third act gives a whole new dimension to the film, also acts as a wake-up call for us who are embroiled in our real life. Nature and the world have so much to offer, and instead, we have tricked ourselves in an ordered time loop of modern slavery to make it our own reality. You can read the complete review of the film here. 

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