Not all interesting films make it to the Oscars. Some barely get enough attention to come up on a Google search, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth checking out. A list of… not necessarily the very best films of 2018, but some worthwhile 2018 releases that are minor, low budget, minimally publicised, or simply off the beaten path.

Here, Far Out Magazine runs you through some must-see films of 2018:

Angel

Director: Koen Mortier.

This Belgium-Senegal collaboration by Belgian writer/director Koen Mortier, released under the title Un Ange, is a highly experimental, artistically risky drama, mixing stark realism with high-flown mythical imagery. It is essentially a doomed love story, in which the surface realities of the couple’s brief relationship contrast with their inner perception of one another, their connection, and their hopes for a future together.

Set in Dakar, Senegal, the story follows an unlikely pair. Thierry (Vincent Rottiers) is a Belgian athlete, kind-hearted and romantic, but with a drug problem on the verge of becoming debilitating. Fae (model and film and television actress Fatou N’Diaye) is a local prostitute, a beautiful young woman who bravely guards her self-esteem, refusing to give herself the title of whore, insisting half-jokingly, “I’m not a prostitute; I’m a gazelle!” and declining the mandatory state ID which would identify her as a sex worker. Her courage and optimism are admirable, but, as conversations with her friends indicate, at odds with her real chances of a long or happy life.

When Thierry and Fae meet, they fall in love at first sight. The hidden reality of their instant bond is expressed almost abstractly, through light, colour, and surreal imagery, contrasting with the more mundane facts of their respective lives as seen by others. Their mutual devotion and blissful optimism about their future together gradually crumbles as, over the course of one night, harsh reality overcomes them.

The Biggest Little Farm

Director: John Chester.

This entertaining, well organised documentary, which made the film festival circuit last year, follows the experiences of the filmmaker, documentarian John Chester, and his wife, chef Molly Chester, over their first eight years managing a small farm in California. It not only tells an engaging, often funny, and sometimes a painful personal story, it also explains the complexities and challenges of making agriculture more natural and more environmentally sustainable, perhaps better than any other material on the subject.

The Chesters’ 200-acre farm comes to them with the land in the same depleted, nearly dead condition as much of the farmland around them, due to years of dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides. With the help of an expert in sustainable agriculture, they labouriously nurse the land back to health, battle insects, plant disease, foraging wildlife, and drought, within the confines of the natural, environmentally responsible approach they are determined to follow.

Through Chester’s skill, the detailed account is made more engrossing than ought to be possible for a farming documentary, drawing the viewer into the family’s successes and failures. It is also eye-opening on the subject of sustainable land use. Each minor disaster on the Chesters’ farm reveals yet another misuse of the land which has caused the problem, and yet another change in approach which will restore balance, allowing an often over-simplified subject to become clear to the layman. It includes some mildly controversial guidelines, such as their mentor’s insistence that a farm cannot be sustainable without the presence of domestic animals, and the condemnation of the very common monoculture farm as unsustainable and harmful to the environment. Informative and very watchable!

Falls Around Her

Director: Darlene Naponse.

This unusual drama by Ojibway writer/director Darlene Naponse is a story on two levels. It is a suspenseful drama, about a successful singer, Mary Birchbark (veteran Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal, best known from Dances With Wolves and Legends of the Fall) who takes a sabbatical from her musical career to return to her home, a reserve in northern Ontario. It was filmed on location in a beautiful, 43,000-acre native reserve close to North Bay. Mary is refreshed and calmed by her reunion with family and with her familiar home territory, but soon finds evidence she is being stalked. She tries to investigate, and finally devises ways of dealing with the threat.

On another level, Naponse intends the story as a characterisation of a formal philosophy of the Anishinaabe people, known as The Teaching of the Seven Grandfathers, a set of teachings dealing with human conduct and interactions with others, and which was distributed to cast and crew on the first day of production; as well as a metaphor for the struggles and survival of Aboriginal people. A simple but well crafted, intimate drama featuring solid, understated acting and the impact of magnificent scenery.

Our New President

Director: Maxim Pozdorovkin.

An odd little documentary from an outsider perspective, Our New President covers the campaign, election, and early administration of US President Donald Trump, entirely through the Russian state-sponsored news and Russian social media.

Russian documentarian Maxim Pozdorovkin (Pussy Riot, The Truth About Killer Robots) provides a fascinating twist on the familiar events of the past two years, showing them through a different lens by presenting the assumptions and attitudes of both the official media and the Russian populace concerning Trump, what they find funny about him, and how they presume he managed to get elected. The film won multiple awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Maya

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve.

French director Mia Hansen-Love’s latest film deals with the slightly unusual subject matter in Hansen-Love’s distinctive style, presenting a simple and human-sized story from a very personal perspective. Gabriel (Roman Kolinka) is a 30-year-old war correspondent who has just been rescued from Syria, where he was held hostage for months. He tries to escape the traumatic experience by visiting his childhood home in Goa, India.

The beautiful location, raised by the camera beyond the level of background scenery, and peaceful life help his recovery, as does the friendship and flirtation of Maya, the barely adult daughter of his friend and godfather. The film does not take a position, merely observes as Gabriel works to regain his balance, and recover from fear and guilt while trying to decide on the nature of his and Maya’s relationship.

Ramen Shop

Director: Eric Khoo.

Prolific Singaporean director Eric Khoo has produced a touching family drama, and one of many films which uses food and the art of cooking as the central focus and emblem of a story. A young chef in training, Kazuo (Tsuyoshi Ihara), who had lost touch with his father and extended family, journeys to Singapore to track them down. In the process, he meets distant relations and family friends and also takes time to reconnect with his uncle, a cook who trains the young man on the art of local cuisine. The two reconnect as Kazuo’s uncle offers to instruct him in the preparation of a special dish significant to his father.

As Kazuo learns about local food varieties, customs, and history, he revives memories of his own childhood and his family. He also learns the reason for the family division which took place in his childhood. Having gained the necessary information to understand what has kept his family apart, Kazuo uses the love of traditional food, and his own natural sympathy, to confront and reconcile family members.

Le Brio

Director: Yvan Attal.

Distinguished French actor Daniel Auteuil plays Pierre Mazard, a law professor with a reputation for racist and sexist commentary and a loathing for anything ‘politically correct.’ When a bigoted classroom rant against an Algerian immigrant student, Neilah Salah (Camelia Jordana) becomes widely known, Mazard is threatened with dismissal. In an effort to keep his position, Mazard agrees to coach Salah in preparation for a prestigious rhetoric contest the university hosts every year.

The collaboration is, predictably, contentious and unproductive at first, but over time, the two come to find some common ground and learn to work together without hostility. In the process, we learn more about Salah’s life, her hopes and struggles, and more gradually, about Professor Mazard, who finally comes to respect his student’s intelligence and determination.

The story sounds cliché, and much of the material is all too familiar. However, the original treatment and the candid and thoughtful script, along with excellent work from the co-leads, give freshness and energy to the recognisable storyline.

Sir

Director: Rohena Gera.s

Class differences and prevailing Indian social custom present obstacles to the developing bond between Ashwin (Vivek Gomber), a wealthy young man and heir to a construction fortune, and his housemaid, Ratna (Tillotama Shome), a young widow from a small village who has taken the job in Mumbai out of financial need. Despite their different backgrounds, the two lonely individuals find common ground that overcomes the traditional positions of master and servant, and they form a cautious friendship.

The powerful pressures of convention and class prevent the relationship from going further, and the pair struggle to find a path that will allow them to be together without outraging their loved ones, and without abandoning mutual respect. The perceptive and sensitive script takes the film beyond a simple Cinderella story.

Netizens

Director: Cynthia Lowen.

Documentarian Cynthia Lowen, who wrote the script for the 2011 exposé Bully, turns her attention to the internet and its potential as a different sort of bully. Netizens follows the work of a group of women who try to identify and battle online harassment of women: victims’ rights attorney Carrie Goldberg, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, an activist and former harassment victim Tina Raine.

In the process, the astonishing volume of deliberate online harassment targeting women is described, including rape threats, extensive privacy invasion, stalking, punitive identity theft, ‘revenge porn,’ and professional sabotage. The activists discuss the reasons behind these actions, their impact, and the constant conflict between preventing these attacks and maintaining online free speech.

The Death of Stalin

Director: Armando Iannucci.

This is not merely a satire about the career of Josef Stalin, which seems plausible enough; it is a broad, silly, slapstick comedy about Stalin, which gets laughs from his untimely death, the horrors he perpetrated prior to his demise, and the furious and sometimes lethal scheming among his council members to take his place.

Featuring an impressive ensemble cast, including some weird and hilarious work by Michael Palin as Molotov, Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev. Writer/director Armando Iannucci has specialised in political comedy but has never before come up with anything at once so dark and gruesome, and so funny.

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