The Underrated: Part 1 | Great Cinema Which Missed Our 2018 Top 20

2018 was a great year for cinema as Headstuff’s Top 20 Movies of the Year list showed (see here and here). However, in condensing it to only a select few, some great works which may have been either underseen by our voters or were simply TV shows (if stunningly cinematic) missed the cut. Thus, our dedicated team of Film writers are using this forum to highlight those which were missed.

Altered Carbon – Netflix

If nothing else Joel Kinnaman deserves the Muscle and Fitness award for most jacked performance in Altered Carbon. Other than his righteous abs Kinnaman flexes plenty of emotional muscle as Takeshi Kovacs, an elite soldier set adrift through time and hired by a trillionaire to find the person that murdered them. Painted in shades of neon and rust Altered Carbon is the logical dystopia we all might end up suffering through.

As the rich get richer the rich also seem to get more insane while the poor satiate the blood lust and bonkers sex drives of the rich. One of the most diverse casts of the year dive deep into questions of identity and what that identity means for gender, race and class as everything that makes you “you” is stored on a disk implanted in your spine, capable of being transferred from body to body. With kinetic action and production design that almost puts Blade Runner to shame Altered Carbon is currently the king of TV sci-fi. Andrew Carroll


Calibre – Dir Matt Palmer

Films like Calibre are rare. Ostensibly a genre piece about survival Matt Palmer’s lean and mean thriller finds time in between its tense standoffs to examine decaying friendship and economic depression. After old friends Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann) go hunting hungover Vaughn accidentally shoots and kills a child. Rather than confess they bury the body and hope for the best. Instead things only get worse. Calibre feels like an emotional and moral skinning as anyone with their head on straight will find it difficult to discern who exactly the good guys are or if right and wrong even exists.

Calibre is Deliverance as if it was made by working class champion Ken Loach. A nearly empty restaurant and a full pub speak volumes about what kind of community this is. The scene in the restaurant is the fulcrum of the film. Blood red walls decorated with grisly trophies match the crimson venison that reminds Vaughn of the murder. Contrast it with the film’s stark, backwoods climax and all the tight, nervous close-ups paint a picture in varying shades of grey. Calibre will stalk you into a corner before granting you release. Andrew Carroll

Kissing Candice – Dir Aoife McArdle

As we noted at the time of its release, this debut from Irish director Aoife McArdle (U2’s Every Breaking Wave) is something of a rarity for Irish cinema – a mood piece. An incredibly expressive Ann Skelly (Red Rock) stars as Candice, a teenager living in a one-horse-town somewhere in the border counties with her troubled policeman father, Donal (The Fall’s John Lynch). Suffering from severe seizures, she retreats into fantasies where she becomes intimate with a mysterious man. Things get complicated, however, when Candice meets literally the man from her dreams, Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), a former member of a ruthless local gang who Donal wants to put behind bars. Having turned on his partners in crime, the criminals want revenge – targeting the titular character.

While there is a narrative at Kissing Candice’s core, it’s not what the viewer takes away. Instead, McArdle’s gorgeous, memorable visuals simply wash over viewers. These include a burning toy house in the middle of a road, a man walking stoically as his arm is on fire, a partier’s creepy mask at a neon-drenched nightmare rave. Through these and many other sensorial images, McArdle touches upon many themes – loss of innocence, disenfranchised youth, the knock-on effects of The Troubles. For those wishing that Irish directors produced something more arthouse and adventurous, Kissing Candice hits the spot with its emphasis on mood over story. Stephen Porzio

Love, Simon – Dir Greg Berlanti

Playing out like a John Hughes movie for the digital age, Greg Berlanti’s Love, Simon is the story of a teenage boy (Nick Robinson) figuring out how to come out to his friends and family while also trying to discover the identity of another gay student from his school he has anonymously befriended online.

Love, Simon takes on the interesting task of exploring a coming out narrative in a place where coming out might typically now be considered no longer a “problem.” By Simon’s own admission he has it pretty good: his parents are always supportive and his school is for the most part progressive. As a result, the film aligns Simon’s experience of coming out with that of discovering one’s own identity rather than being different. It’s an interesting way of reminding straight viewers that discovering one’s sexuality is a personal journey, regardless of wider cultural context.

By playing safely within the conventions of the teenage drama Love, Simon manages to say something quite interesting about how the genre can be used to explore voices typically ignored in the genre. Whether trying to stay within the genre is itself a good idea remains to be seen, but its nice to see an attempt. Sarah Cullen

Mandy – Dir Panos Cosmatos, Revenge – Dir Coralie Fargeat

2018 gave us two phenomenally original takes on the vengeance genre and I can’t pick between the two.

Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a fiercely stylish stripped back thriller about a woman named Jen left for dead in the desert. Bolstered by mesmerizing visuals – which both feel realistic but also ultra-stylised, one must admire the clean, tight script. It begins with its central character being sexualised by her eventual attackers (with Fargeat queasily mimicking the male gazes with her camera), before her reincarnation as unkillable destroyer of toxic masculinity. Revenge then ends with a showdown for the ages, in which previously established roles are reversed as Jen chases her nude male oppressor around a house wielding a shotgun.

Where Mandy fails in clear narrative storytelling, it more than makes up for with its crazed LSD trip atmosphere which manages the impossible task of being on the same mental wave length as Nicolas Cage. The screen legend stars as quiet logger in the Shadow Mountains whose life falls apart when his wife (Andrea Riseborough) is kidnapped by a hallucinogenic loving hippie cult. Ingesting many drugs, the husband launches a one-man war on the gang. Writer-director Panos Cosmatos makes literally every frame of Mandy a work of art, drenching the movie in neon and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson menacing, eclectic score.

While the events which occur in Revenge and Mandy often defy realism, both masterfully create their own distinct worlds and feature elements which tie them to reality. In Mandy, it’s Cage’s raw, incredibly dialled in performance (his bathroom breakdown scene would get the actor an Oscar in a more conventional movie). Meanwhile, in Revenge, it’s Fargeat’s unfiltered onslaught against misogyny. Stephen Porzio

For some more underrated gems, click here for part two of this list.

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