Most overlooked movies of 2014
Like last year, there are two requirements to be one of the year’s most overlooked films. The first is that the movie has to have made less than $25 million in its theatrical run. That’s a lot of money to you or me, but 102 movies made it over that line in 2014.
Let me start the list with a horror flick. “As Above, So Below” isn’t the kind of movie you’d expect a critic to highlight on a year-end list, but the POV horror film gets the job done. Most found footage movies, where you watch through cameras worn or placed by the actors, are cheap and shoddy, but “As Above” pulls off an Indiana Jones meets “Paranormal Activity” plot. It’s soaked in creepy atmosphere, has some good jump scares without abusing the technique, and it’s anchored by a terrific performance from Perdita Weeks. It gave me the best pure horror experience in yet another year that lacked many good scary movies.
I only heard about “Better Living Through Chemistry” because I’m a fan of some of its actors -- Michelle Monaghan, Sam Rockwell, and Olivia Wilde. A pharmacist (Rockwell) emasculated by his wife (Monaghan) begins an affair with a rich woman (Wilde), driven by dipping into his store’s supply. The comedy stands on its own -- it’s funny and emotionally resonant. Aside from a needless cameo at the end, the film’s a hidden gem, with excellent performances by all three leads.
“The Guest” is a smart spin on B-action movies. A veteran moves in with the family of his fallen brother-in-arms, but it’s difficult to tell how much of his personality is a put-on, and how much of his protection will give way to violence. It’s a smart mash-up from Adam Wingard, who landed the horror re-mix “You’re Next” on this list last year.
If there’s one film here you decide to rent, make it “I Origins.” A biologist (Michael Pitt) is dead-set on disproving the existence of God. He begins a relationship with an extremely spiritual woman. It’s not meant to last and -- without spoiling anything -- he’s later set on a path that leads him to explore his own need for and distrust in belief. It is a profoundly moving drama that manages to marry together the logic of religion with the logic of science in a way that is respectful to both and shows how they can co-exist. In an age when we often feel forced to choose either/or, this is the most important movie on this list. I’ll also let you in on this: I’ve cried at movies before. Everyone has. “I Origins” is one of two films in my life that’s made me openly weep.
If you like martial arts, “The Raid 2” cannot be missed. An Indonesian movie, it contains some of the best fight choreography ever put to film. It’s far more immediate, brutal, and bloody than the elegance of something like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” but it’s also housed inside an incredibly good gangster movie that amounts to an artistic scream of frustration at the corruption of Indonesian politics.
“The Rover” is an Australian post-apocalypse movie with stunning performances by Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce. I expected it from Pearce, but not the guy from “Twilight.” Pattinson is brilliant as a man of limited intelligence who idolizes the older man and emulates his violence in an effort to impress him.
“Snowpiercer” is a weird one. Starring Captain America himself, Chris Evans, it’s a mix of satire, fantasy, and action that takes place on a long train circling a frozen Earth. Evans leads a revolt of the poor classes at the back of the train, and what results is sometimes dark comedy and sometimes touching drama -- there’s even a martial arts sequence and a brief musical number. It’s unabashedly crazy, but also very well done. The art design is amazing and Evans is solid. It can be a fun and unexpected ride if you’re in the right mood.
“Under the Skin” obviously makes the list. I named it co-film of 2014 just last week (with “Interstellar”). It’s a love it or hate it film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien consuming vagabonds in Scotland. It’s weird, it’s frightening, it’s creepy, and it will test your patience. I wrote about it at length last week, so I’ll move on very quickly to:
“Whiplash,” which has earned a best picture nod from the Academy Awards. It’s about a drummer pushed past his limits by a ruthless, abusive instructor. It’s a story you’ve seen before, but delivered with such style and such a commanding performance by J.K. Simmons that it bears watching again.
Please remember to check out every film’s rating before deciding on whether it’s appropriate for you and your family!
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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