Critics and the general populace live very different lives. Critics live in the bubble—a wonderful place where you see movies early and for free. Other moviegoers must carve out time in a busy schedule, track down films, and then pay high ticket prices. We’re incredibly sympathetic to these moviegoers, and so we don’t expect you to see every movie. It’s easy to miss a lot of them, especially when you want to get a lot of bang for your buck.
However, there were plenty of movies this year that deserved your attention, and we urge you to track down these ten films you might have missed due to their limited theatrical release. Hit the jump for Matt and Adam’s list.
Even if you’ve never seen or don’t like Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s movies, Jodorowsky’s Dune is a celebration of film and creativity itself rather than the films and creativity of one man. Make no mistake: Jodorowsky is a lively and captivating figure, but the documentary takes us on a larger journey of assembling a team of artists, and their marvelous, carefully constructed work leads to the fascinating question, “Can you make a film without putting it on film?” Click here for my full review.
A darker, weirder cousin to Richard Ayoade‘s entertaining first film Submarine, The Double is a delightfully twisted and surprisingly funny story of a meek man who finds his greatest nightmare is being faced with everything he’s not—strong, confident, charming, etc. Featuring two great performances by Jesse Eisenberg, The Double is wickedly amusing and amusingly wicked. Click here for my full review.
Calvary is one of the most mature, complex meditations on faith and sin I’ve ever seen, and yet director John Michael McDonagh manages to infuse his story with a surprising sense of humor. Brendan Gleeson continues to be amazing, and while he’ll probably always be relegated to supporting roles in Hollywood, his leading role here as a priest marked for death shows he is one of the best actors working today. His performance in Calvary is tender, funny, dark, somber, and compelling. Click here for my full review.
Jack O’Connell will finally reach a wide audience in Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken, but he gives a much better performance in David Mackenzie‘s far superior film, Starred Up. O’Connell plays a violent, troubled inmate who’s more comfortable with prison life than life as a free man. When his father (the always reliable Ben Mendelsohn), who is locked up in the same prison, tries to help his son break free of his downwards sprial, it creates a unique conflict and a captivating bond between the two. Click here for my full review.
Following a series of Hollywood flops, director David Gordon Green went back to indie film, and if Prince Avalanche is the appetizer, then Joe is the rich entrée. A quiet, thoughtful picture, Joe has Nicolas Cage giving one of the best performances of his career as a withdrawn man trying to keep his demons at bay by becoming a father figure to a troubled teenager (Tye Sheridan). The movie doesn’t have much in the way of plot, but it’s a rich character piece and a sign that Green’s talent is far from faded. Click here for my full review.
They Came Together
It’s kind of incredible that a movie starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler was released in 2014 and barely anyone saw it. The two reunite with Wet Hot American Summer co-writer/director David Wain in this hilariously absurd comedy that’s actually about romantic comedies. The film is super weird but also really, really funny, and it’s full of fantastic performers like Bill Hader, Cobie Smulders, Jason Mantzoukas, Ellie Kemper, and some truly crazy cameos that I won’t spoil here. It also features an unforgettable performance by Christopher Meloni. See it!
The Internet’s Own Boy
Buzz has been incredibly high for the controversial Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour, and it’s certainly an interesting film, but I’d argue that this documentary about civic activist and reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz is equally important. It chronicles the story of how this young, passionate genius was targeted by the U.S. government for downloading scholarly JSTOR articles from MIT (which were made free to students, by the way) and not doing anything with them. The government decided to make an example out of Mr. Swartz—a man whose activism played a crucial role in raising awareness and stopping SOPA—and inflicted such harsh penalties and sentences on him that he committed suicide at the age of 26. This is a heartbreaking, infuriating tale of government overreach that is essential viewing.
Here’s a movie with an impossible setup—a romantic comedy about a woman who decides to get an abortion—that works brilliantly thanks to tactful, confident direction by Gillian Robespierre and a fearless performance from Jenny Slate. This is actually one of the sweetest movies I saw all year, as Slate plays a part-time comedian who has a one-night stand with a very nice guy and then winds up pregnant. The film isn’t about the central issue at stake; it’s simply a character-study of one woman going through life who decides to make a specific choice when faced with a difficult situation. The film doesn’t judge her or try to play out a debate about the controversial issue—it’s about the characters, and that focus allows the audience to connect with Slate’s character no matter their personal views. Slate is at turns hilarious and heartbreaking in what I hope will be the first of many lead roles, and Robespierre announces herself as a filmmaker to watch. One of the year’s best indies, hands-down.
Another impossible premise—the entire movie takes place inside a car as a guy drives from one place to another—that really, really works. Tom Hardy plays a man whose life unravels over the course of one car ride as he juggles a series of phone calls that have massive effects on both his professional and personal life. Steven Knight’s screenplay and direction prevent the film from ever feeling boring or one-note, and Hardy gives a tour-de-force performance that displays a full character arc despite the fact that he never leaves his driver’s seat. This drama about a guy in a car is more compelling than most of the studio tentpoles that were released this year.
Tommy Lee Jones directs this “feminist Western” about a strong-willed but lonely woman (played by Hilary Swank) who is tasked with escorting three mentally ill women to a church in Iowa. The duty sees her traversing a treacherous 1850s landscape, for which she enlists the help of a claim jumper played by Jones himself. The movie is constantly surprising, offering twists here and there on the Western genre as a whole while also shining a light on a topic that has rarely been explored: the role of women in the mid 19th century. I did not expect to like this film as much as I did, and found myself thinking about it many days after I first saw it.