The 20 Best Little-Known Movies of 2018

You’ve probably already started seeing them everywhere. Lists like this one have become an integral part of the festivities. I know people who are more excited about the end of year Spotify list than actual Christmas.

But the movie ones get boring pretty quickly. Yes, we’ve all seen A Star is Born, couldn’t The New York Times, Vulture, The New Yorker, and whoever just issue a joint statement or something? Instead, big media is repetitive, and yes, I said it, boring.

(Seriously though, if you haven’t seen A Star is Born yet, go watch it, it’s freaking amazing).

What was I saying? Ah yes, instead of sending more people to watch Black Panther (who hasn’t seen Black Panther at this point?), there are movies that have been left out of the public eye – and undeservingly so.

I hope this list will help balance things a little bit, and that it would be a reference for some of you to catch-up on the amazing gems 2018 has given us. Yes, that, and don’t forget to watch A Star is Born.

Get Netflix recommendations in handcrafted emails. Register for our newsletter.
Ad-free and spam-free, supported only by readers.
Beautiful Boy (2018)

Steve Carrell delivers an amazing performance here. Beautiful Boy is a movie that is based on a true story that first appeared as a best-selling serialized memoir.
It’s about a son’s journey through drug abuse and how his relationship with his father evolves. The son is played by Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Carrell is the dad.
As you can probably guess, the themes of drug addiction and family are made to induce tears, which this movie manages to do in a lot of ways. It can come across as somewhat emotionally manipulative at times. In those moments, it helps to remind oneself that it is based on a true story.
The performances and the exploration of the limits of the father-son relationship remain the reasons why you should consider watching this movie.

Woman at War

A calm choir leader lives a secret life as eco-warrior in this visually stunning and intelligent story about our complex times. If you’re familiar with Icelandic movies, this one has just the right amount of that Icelandic quirkiness – making it a proper feel-good movie with a message. This is added to the superb acting and an off-beat musical score. Not to be missed.

Love, Simon (2018)

An easy yet original coming-of-age story about Simon, a high-schooler with great parents, great friends, and one big secret he’s not telling either. It’s not a particularly complex movie, and it may not be one you’ll remember forever, but it’s very easy to have a pleasant time watching it. And if you’re OK with that, its takes on finding one’s identity and the negative impact of keeping secrets from our loved ones might surprise you in their depth. Love, Simon is a reminder that movies don’t have to be religiously realistic to get a heartfelt new story across. It’s entertainment with a message, the same way Juno or The Perks of Being a Wallflower were.

303 (2018)

A sweet and romantic German movie about two Berliners who meet randomly and go on a road trip to the south of Europe. It might seem like a silly premise but it’s actually a philosophical movie, one that feels very realistic. The two characters debate human nature, politics, relationships, etc; almost throughout their trip. And they’re played by excellent newcomers who ooze charisma and make the question of what will happen between them incredibly thrilling.

Phantom Thread (2018)

A flawless Daniel Day‑Lewis stars in this thought-provoking romance. He plays a successful dressmaker in post-second-World-War London who falls for a waitress while on an excursion to the countryside. It’s hard to tell you what this movie is about without ruining the story for you but I can tell you how it made me feel: it kept me guessing the whole time. Day-Lewis’ character is so masterfully played that I felt that every move he made was calculated and that every line meant something. Plus, expect stunning dresses, beautiful country-side sequences, and an all-around gorgeous aesthetic experience.

Never Look Away (2018)

It’s impossible to describe this incredible movie as one thing or the other. It’s an epic three-hour saga that takes you through the Nazi era, the communist era, the rise of capitalism, and the East and West German divide. But more than its historic value, it’s a coming-of-age story, one that is based on the experiences of famed German artist Gerhard Richter. It’s also a romance, following his experiences finding love and being hit with loss (in no particular order). If you liked the director’s other work, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, you’re sure to love this too.

The Rider (2018)

This is quite the movie. It’s based on the true story of Brady Jandereau, an ex-rodeo star who suffered from an injury that took him away from riding horses. This is the best part, in the movie, he actually plays himself. His friends in the movie are his real-life friends. And the horse taming scenes are real wild horses being trained (by him). The line between reality and the filmmaking process is so thin here. An absolutely mesmerizing movie, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The Rider. Don’t miss it. *

The Hate U Give (2018)

Such a good movie. The start is reminiscent of great, funny coming-of-age stories. However, a violent event quickly takes place and The Hate U Give becomes a powerful comment on police brutality in America, institutional oppression, and what it’s like to be from a marginalized community but try to find your place in the world. But at the end, it’s a ‘movie’ movie, directed by George Tillman Jr. who made the Barbershop movies and Men of Honor (with De Niro).

Leave No Trace (2018)

Leave No Trace is the amazing new movie from the director of Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik. It’s the story of a father and his daughter who live completely off the grid in a national park in Portland, and their quiet quest to not be separated and remain off the grid. It’s not the sensational, tear-jerker story that you’d expect something with this premise to be. Rather, and like Winter’s Bone, it chooses a humane and realistic approach to the subject matter. The decision to live outside society is almost irrelevant to this movie. More so, its inevitability for certain people with certain mindsets is what is interesting. A stunningly quiet movie, really well-acted too.

Shéhérazade (2018)

A gritty and realistic thriller set in France’s notorious capital city of crime – Marseille. 

Zachary is released from Juvenile prison to learn that his mother has abandoned him. He finds kinship in an underage sex worker by the name of Shéhérazade. 

This seems like the set-up for a tough watch, but Shéhérazade plays like a romance when it’s slow, and a crime thriller when it’s fast (it’s mostly fast). Everything about the story and two leads’ relationship rings true. Added to the fact that it has no interest in emotionally manipulating you, the movie is more gripping and thought-provoking than sad.

A great story, fantastic acting from the cast of first-timers, and outstanding direction give the feeling that Shéhérazade is bound to become a modern classic. If you liked City of God, you will love this. 

Upgrade (2018)

This film really satisfied my craving for an original thriller, despite the fact that I spent most of it thinking about how Logan Marshall-Green looks like a budget Tom Hardy.

He plays a guy whose wife is killed during a violent mugging that also leaves him paralyzed in the aftermath. When a billionaire approaches him with an Artificial Intelligence solution that would “upgrade” his body, he has a chance to take vengeance.

This is Robocop meets Ex Machina meets Blade Runner. It’s original, low-budget without feeling low-budget, and honestly just so thrilling. It gives the genre of sci-fi a much needed upgrade.

Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski (2018)

This is an amazing documentary but be warned, the main character has some weird characteristics.

By coincidence, an art collector stumbles upon an undiscovered collection of sculptures and paintings that can only be described as the work of a genius. There was almost no reference to the artist, but upon research the collector finds that they are by a man called Stanislav Szukalski. He traces him down and finally locates him living anonymously in a California suburb. 

The documentary, Struggle: The Life And Lost Art Of Szukalski, is a collection of tapes from numerous interviews in the 1980s between the collector and Szukalski. He was helped by George DiCaprio, who would later produce this movie with his son Leonardo (!). 

In these interviews it becomes clear that Szukalski is pure genius. The funny thing is that he seemed to be well aware of this fact himself. 

Remember the weird characteristics I mentioned in that first sentence? Here we go. Szukalski’s past is full of a lot of antisemitism, sexism and bigotry. 

The question that lingers is how exactly can this forgotten-genius story be reshaped by the discovery of his twisted opinions. Can the artist be separated from the art? It’s a personal matter for the people who found Szukalski and later made this movie. It might never get as personal for you, but this movie will sure try to provoke an answer.

First Reformed (2018)

When asked about starring in First Reformed, Ethan Hawke said it’s the kind of role he would have never dared to audition for 10 years ago. This is coming from the same goatee icon who did Gattaca 22 years ago, and Training Day 18 years ago. 

Needless to say that his performance in this movie is exceptional, and we hope that it will be rewarded with an Oscar. The film centers around his character, a reverend of a church in New York, who is trying to help a couple with marital issues (deciding the fate of a pregnancy). Instead, he uncovers a deeper story and becomes unexpectedly involved. 

Religion intersects with ethical questions on activism, abortion, and environmental issues. I know that sounds like a lot, but First Reformed delivers on everything. The writing by Paul Schrader is delicate yet ensures that the movie keeps a gripping pace.

Operation Odessa (2018)

This movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Two days later he calls me back “with, or without missiles?”

Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three outsiders in a $35 Million submarine deal. The deal itself is only the culmination of the movie, as it involves crazy stories such as going to post-Soviet Russia, borrowing helicopters for $500 a day and landing the helicopter in the center of a city to ask for directions. A crazy, fun, and really well-made movie.

McQueen (2018)

An intimate look into the rich yet short life of Alexander McQueen, the British fashion icon. I didn’t know much about him prior to watching that movie, and that didn’t matter. His story of a tormented genius transcends fame and even time. In art and in fashion, McQueen’s journey was celebrated by everyone but him.

This is the type of movie where after you watch it, you need a good hour of Wikipedia searches and Youtube interview viewing. It’s powerful and will introduce you to an entire world that is the impact of Alexandre McQueen when he lived.

The Guilty (2018)

Before you press play on this movie, I highly recommend you take deep, deep breaths. The suspense in it grows in such an incremental way that you will be out of breath before you know what happened. And it doesn’t use anything other than amazing acting and an amazing story to achieve all of this. One man, in the equivalent of a 911 police center in Denmark, and a room. That’s it. He receives a call that turns his night around and puts him in front of very important questions on his ethics and how far he can go to help the people that call him. This movie feels like it was made on a $100 million budget, but the reality was very far from that. It doesn’t even believe in budgets. Grab someone next to you and go watch it so that you can discuss it after.

Capernaum (2018)

Capernaum is both the highest-grossing Middle-Eastern movie of all-time and the highest-grossing movie in Arabic of all-time.

This Oscar-nominated masterpiece is about a 12-year-old kid in Lebanon who leaves his negligent parents and tries to make it in the streets on his own. It’s a tale of grinding poverty as experienced by a boy with a good heart and more resilience than one can fathom.

An acting tour de force by the child actors keeps the movie engaging throughout the grittiness and asks some hard questions about parental failures and parental love with the bigger regional political questions hovering silently in the background. Tough but ultimately uplifting – a movie to discuss.

Boy Erased (2018)

Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) form an amazing pack of talent in this excellent drama. Crowe plays the father, a priest, and Kidman the mom, a religious person as well. When their son comes out as gay, they decide more or less with his acceptance to send him to a conversion therapy center. The movie is about the experience of the center but it’s also about the family dynamic as a whole. Also stars Joel Edgerton, who also adapted the screenplay (a true story) and directed the movie.

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters is the Winner of the 2018 Cannes Film Festival from Japan. It’s about a poor family made of small-time outlaws who live from shoplifting amongst other petty crimes. They take in a new girl they find outside in the cold and introduce her to their otherwise happy family. But when the second-youngest member of the family finds himself teaching her how to shoplift, he faces a moral dilemma that threatens the fabric of the family.

From renown director Hirokazu Koreeda, and if you don’t know who that is – I really recommend checking out his other movies. Namely, Still Walking, Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm.

Koreeda is often referred to as the best Japenese filmmaker alive, and Shoplifters is solid proof that he deserves that title. Its affecting story and slow-burning nature are sure to stay with you for a long time.

Get Netflix recommendations in handcrafted emails. Register for our newsletter.
Ad-free and spam-free, supported only by readers.
Cold War (2018)

Cinematography is a big part of Cold War, the story moves through stunning shots of the Polish countryside and later on an incredibly delicate portrait of Paris. All of that would be a waste if you watch it on an iPhone, so I really recommend watching this on as big of a screen as you can get your hands on.

In 1950s Cold War Poland, a band of folk musicians find themselves used as a tool for Soviet propaganda. Their travel through the country is hijacked by this agenda, but it remains an incredible journey. It goes through different seasons and aesthetics uncovering lost Polish songs and poems.

The leader of the band falls in love with one of the dancers, and the limits imposed on the couple under communist rule make them seek alternatives. Cold War is a statement on how far artists go for their art, especially when they become constrained not only by politics but by romance.

It’s a poetic yet quiet movie that doesn’t scream its point but rather invites you to come to your own conclusions.

That's all from us for the The 20 Best Little-Known Movies of 2018! For more, subscribe to the newsletter. It's ad-free, spam-free, and algorithm-free. You get two e-mails every week with the best of Netflix and Amazon Prime, and nothing else.

A quick recap

Split by genre of this selection on agoodmovietowatch.com
Comedy
9
Drama
40
Documentary
36
Romance
2
Average score
86.7%
from our staff
Average score
80%
from our users
There are
39
more suggestions in this category.
Find them by going back to agoodmovietowatch.com