Every year, we also seek to recognize those films that did not come out in theaters in the U.S. for a full theatrical run. All of the below films had no announced U.S. distribution at press time, but the spotlight awaits (and you can keep an eye out for more coverage in a future Film Comment...). For the best films that received a theatrical run in the U.S. this year, here's the Best Released Films of 2018 list.
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On first viewing, I admit I can’t quite get my head around how all the pieces are working together in What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?. This may have to do with the presence of Judy Hill, a supernova, whose radical openness and empathy dominated my first viewing. In the past I have found the access Minervini gains from his subjects unnerving and possibly untoward, but in Hill he’s found a true collaborator with the self-possession to be an endlessly dynamic transformative force. "
Mariano Llinás's serial work shifts gears from one genre to the next—mummy horror to music-biz melodrama to spy thriller to more unclassifiable realms that together rebel against the very notion of completion. Rather than bearing the burden of outright masterpiece status, it's a diverting and beguiling chain of attractions working a long game of narrative suspension and release. "
The film’s textured neo-spiritual attempt to explore the complex histories of the small island nation—religion, gender dynamics, music, landscapes—stamps Allah as a singular voice in contemporary documentary. Its quiet diasporic longing for answers culminates in a kinetic expression of personal identity unlike many essay films before it. "
His films have always grappled with the extended aftershocks of post-Soviet society, with the unshakable presence of history, with omnipresent pessimism, with absurdist humor volleying with tragedy. But in light of aggressions by Putin’s Russia, and specifically the incursions and conflicts between Putin’s Russia and the Republic of Ukraine, the details and nuances of which are hardly known and understood outside of the region, Loznitsa has some stories to tell. "
Shot in a dozen countries, the film finds Mack’s trademark, color-coordinated textiles dancing across a variety of exotic locales (India, Mexico, Holland, Morocco, and Turkey represent just a partial itinerary) through a meticulous process of frame-by-frame photography and practical production magic. Playful and propulsive, Mack’s animations conjure an array of visual patterns, which in turn generate a multitude of motifs that together speak in potent shorthand to the economic and industrial development of fabric manufacturing the world over. "
As if aware that no one argument or structure is ever going to be sufficient to describe the complex interplay between attraction, lust, looking, and the body, the German director’s first feature-length work merely assembles a set of wildly differing, often oblique takes on matters of the flesh and lets their overlapping visual motifs and themes seep into one another at will. "
Leilah Weinraub’s Shakedown circles another very different and differently endangered community, a black lesbian strip club in early-2000s Los Angeles, diligently chronicled here with chill interviews, piles of ephemeral flyers, and happy footage from the dance-floor. "
Ledare's iteration employs the Tavistock method to focus on not a preexisting cohort but rather a set of complete strangers, and see how the culture of the room develops, and how it might echo larger societal tendencies and biases. Throughout, video cameras scrutinize participants and psychologists alike, and ultimately also Ledare. "
Vernier exhibits a rare knack for evoking the ennui of modern life and the ghosts that haunt the margins of even the most unassuming environments. Shot on beautifully textured 16mm, Sophia Antipolis imaginatively depicts an ostensibly alien landscape with just enough real world detail to genuinely unsettle. "
By the time the many observers within and without the film have persevered to the last scene, shot in mesmerizing long takes and inspired by Julio Cortázar's fictional short story "Segunda Vez," the act of watching has come to mimic a visceral encounter with the audience complicity that abets authoritarian rule. "
Given the ubiquity of the ongoing refugee crises, it's little surprise that filmmakers worldwide have responded with such impassioned cinematic appraisals of a situation of such widespread consequence. Few directors, however, have approached the issue in as unique a fashion as Thailand's Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, whose debut feature, Manta Ray, picked up the top prize in the Horizons program at this yea's Venice Film Festival. Dedicated to the stateless Rohingya people of Southeast Asia, Manta Ray plots an enthrallingly existential course through the jungles of the Thai-Myanmar border region. "
“Life wins over the movie,” said the director of Flight of a Bullet, a standout at this year’s True/False Film Fest. Filmmaker Beata Bubenets was describing why her tense handheld dispatch, which begins at a blown-up bridge in embattled Eastern Ukraine, detours into an interrogation at a makeshift base and dissipates into ornery chatter among bored and aggrieved soldiers. "
Told entirely in a cappella verse, Season of the Devil walks a tight rope between artifice and realism. The songs, written by Diaz himself, are hypnotically simple and frighteningly infectious creations, all dire incantations and wordless repetitions; advancing the narrative while reinforcing the oppressive nature of a fascist philosophy, the melodies accumulate a metaphoric heft through each successive iteration. "
Nuria Ibáñez Castañeda’s third feature, introduces its only two subjects Chilo and Omar as fishermen eking out a living on a Gulf of California beach. They are a world unto themselves; other people encroach only as voices in the dark. Winner of Morelia's Mexican documentary competition, where it premiered, A Wild Stream is most beguiling in its depiction of an evolving friendship and its inquiry into the reverberations of violence and loss. "