With the year coming to a close, it’s time to look back on some cinematic highlights from 2018.
These films did not smash-box office records. But that certainly doesn’t mean they are not worth checking out because numbers are not the only metric to which we place value on something.
Some of the films I have featured in my personally curated list, defy genre conventions and make radical social commentaries and critiques.
Additionally, while some of these films mark the directorial debuts for some well-known actors, other films listed are feature film debuts for emerging filmmakers.
These filmmakers I have listed have provided audiences with a broad scope of unique, bold and powerful stories that range from exploring skateboarding culture, the rap battling scene, the life of a shoplifting family, to a telemarketer who operates in an alternate reality.
Peep the list of directors who have made a serious name for themselves in 2018.
Bing Lui: Minding The Gap
Minding the Gap is more than a documentary about skateboarding culture. With footage that covers over a decade, Minding the Gap is a personal documentary that delves into the painful pasts of the filmmaker and his friends.
The documentary captures the group of young men navigating life in their Rust-belt hometown as they enter manhood and take on adult responsibilities. In doing so, Minding the Gap powerfully explores ideas of masculinity, race, and class in contemporary American life.
The documentary won the Best Feature Award at the 2018 International Documentary Association Awards. In addition, a first-time filmmaker, Bing Lui was awarded the Emerging Filmmaker Award. The film is currently available to watch on Hulu.
Boots Riley: Sorry to Bother You
Bay Area activist and musician Boots Riley made his feature film debut in a highly original, satirical, a blistering critique of capitalism with Sorry To Bother You.
Starring Lakeith Stanfield as a young telemarketer in Oakland, the film follows the protagonist as he climbs the ranks of his corporate company after realizing he can make more sales by speaking with a “white voice” (David Cross dubs these lines).
Though the film has an absurdist quality, the film is grounded through its unapologetic examination of race in America.
The notion of “the white voice” in the film is emblematic of the kind of racial performativity that characterizes everyday life and the kind of the code-switching that are at times necessary for Black folk to employ as a means of social and economic mobility.
In other words, sometimes you need to “use your white voice” to get ahead within a political-economic system that is dependent on exploitation in order to be sustained.
The film debuted at Sundance this year and has been hailed as one of the years best films.
Jonah Hill: Mid90s
Mid90s is the directorial debut for actor Jonah Hill who also wrote the script.
The coming-of-age film explores Los Angeles skateboarding subculture and nostalgically dials in on the specific era — laden with mixtapes, hip-hop, skate shoes, baggy jeans — yet, not leaving behind the struggles of formulating your identity as an adolescent kid.
Speaking on the film, Hill expressed,
“Mid90s, at its core, is about building a family outside of your home. In your adolescence, things are so extreme. The fun is so extreme. The pain is so extreme. The joy, the agony–it’s all very heightened. And skateboarding is a group of individuals and outsiders that come together to form a family.”
Hirokazu Koreeda: Shoplifters
This is the Japanese filmmaker’s fifth feature film. It won the Palme d’Or at this years Cannes film festival.
Like his previous Cannes prize winner Life Father, Like Son, Hirokazu’s latest film explores ideas of familial relationships and looks at the question of “what ties family together?” Is it contingent on biology or upon how much time we spend together?
The story centers on a family small-time crooks who exist on the fringe of Japanese society and take in an abandoned young girl who they find left outside in the cold.
Joseph Khan: Bodied
Joseph Khan is known for being a long-term collaborator with Taylor Swift, directing multiple music videos for the music artist. Though Bodied isn’t his first feature film, it has received rave reviews by critics in comparison to his relatively unknown previous feature films.
Bodied is a subversive part musical and part rap-battle satire that follows the story red-headed hip-hop enthusiast and grad student, Adam who after attending and performing at an underground rap battle event is inspired to write his thesis on the cultural phenomenon.
The film explores themes of race, cultural appropriation, and the implications when language and vernacular is appropriated and normalized.
Somewhat poking fun at the Rocky-esque storyline of 8 Mile, the film ironically has Eminem serving as a producer to the film.
Karen Kusama: Destroyer
Though a lot of media coverage on Kusama’s latest film is centered on the physical transformation of the movie star, Nicole Kidman, Kusuma’s directing and the film’s riveting storyline is worthy of more attention.
Destroyer centers on the story of a burnt-out and troubled police detective who reconnects with people from an old undercover assignment as part of her personal project of reckoning with her past.
Destroyer is Kusuma’s fifth feature film and in speaking on the film,
“What inspired me to do [the film] was the notion of how difficult it is to be accountable for our mistakes and how painful a process that can be.”
Paul Dano: Wild Life
In all likelihood, Paul Dano is most known for his acting role as the teenage voluntary mute in the dramatic comedy, Little Miss Sunshine (2006).
But the actor’s introspective quality translates in his latest project, Wild Life, a screen adaptation of a Richard Ford novel. Dano is a screenwriter and musician and now, he can director to his CV.
Set in small-town Montana in 1960, the film follows an adolescent boy (Ed Oxenbould) who watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate.
Though viewers watch as their marriage dissolves, the breakdown of the relationship operates on a larger scale and rather, shows the disintegration of the American Dream.
George Tillman Jr:The Hate U Give
George Tillman Jr. has served as director to the family drama Soul Food, Faster and later the Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious. He has perhaps found greater success as a producer, (Barbershop movie franchise and Mudbound).
But Tillman Jr. has tried his turn at the director’s chair again with the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestselling novel, of the same name.
The Hate U Give dials in on 16-year-old Starr whose life is bifurcated. She upbringing is comprised of living in a poor neighborhood and attending a somewhat elite high-school in the suburbs.
Her life is transformed when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend by a police officer. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this timely film is a powerful story of a young girl’s struggle for justice in the continuous climate of anti-Black policing.
Bo Burnham: Eighth Grade
A24 continues to prove itself as having a unique eye for finding talented emerging directors. Bu Burnham has the titles of an actor, comedian, poet, writer and can now add filmmaker to this impressive list.
Written and directed by Burnham, Eighth Grade is an honest and deeply moving look at the difficult and often awkward times of being a middle school student navigating adolescent life in the digital era of social media.
Jordana Spiro: Night Comes On
On the eve of her 18th birthday, Angel LaMere is released from serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Haunted by her past, she embarks on a journey of retribution for her mother that threatens to destroy her future.
After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Spiro’s first feature film is a visual declaration of her talent as a filmmaker and powerful storyteller.