We here at Funkhouser are recovering from the Golden Globes, and of course prepping for the Oscars–whose nominees were announced today, yet I feel like talking about three films that aren’t being recognized this awards season; they are far from Razzie material, yet they’re not classically great, nor suitable for the tastemakers of the Academy or Hollywood Foreign Press.
Don’t worry, we will have plenty of time to talk about who’s getting golden manikins this year, but we’re all playing catchup on the movies we missed in 2013, and while the Internet incessantly discusses the Oscar nominated films, let’s take a look at those that were not nominated for major awards.
The films I chose below were my personal favorite films that were underrated, not necessarily particularly successful or “buzzed” about, and are not candidates for major movie awards–yet they’re still good!
Yes, it’s possible to like movies that are not Oscar nominees, not franchise films (otherwise known as Marvel films,) nor are so damn indie that your most hipster acquaintance couldn’t identify a single castmember.
Without further ado, here are my favorite underrated movies of 2013. They are so personal, I had only shared them with my turquoise Limited Too diary before today.
My underrated films of 2013
This film intrigued me early on in the long ago days of 2012, and was one of the (many) on my must-see list for the upcoming year.
Stoker is the English language debut of South Korean director Chan Wook-Park, best known for the acclaimed, yet controversial 2003 film, Oldboy (which has been remade, Spider-Man style, only ten years after its release.)
I was also interested to see that Wentworth Miller, former star of the FOX television show, Prison Break, wrote the screenplay for Stoker. And not co-wrote. Wrote. Apparently along with his ridiculously good looking looks, Mr. Miller is also a Princeton graduate. Dare I say, I underestimated you Wentworth?
Coupling (tripling?) the screenwriter and director with a cast featuring rising star Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, and one of my favorite young actresses, primarily due to her eclectic, independent choices in film projects, Mia Wasikowska, and I was sold.
But the main reason that you should check out Stoker in 2014? This:
IMDb identifies the “plot keywords” as pus, shoes, punched in the stomach, disposing of a dead body, and garden shears? Hell, sounds like the ingredients for a pretty typical night on the town for Bobby Petrino and Rick Pitino–with the wives of course.
Despite having all of the pus-covered garden shears and a lot of starpower, Stoker did quite poorly at the box office, scoring only $1.7 million in the US for a film with a $12 million estimated budget. Luckily, it made up for it with 85% of its box office total coming outside the US, but regardless–the movie was not profitable.
Yet, I, Brennan English, claim Stoker as one of my favorite films of the year.
Stoker is one of those films that is simply deliciously creepy, giving the viewer a similar experience and vibe as the 27 thousand films about freaky boarding schools that are out there. And who doesn’t love those movies? Communists that’s who.
The film begins with the death of India Stoker’s (Wasikowska) father, her confidante and hunting partner (foreshadowing cough cough) should destroy young India, but instead of becoming truly shattered, she seems to accept his passing rather coolly.
Icy, cool, numb–these words largely sum up this film, especially the role played by young India’s emotionally vacuous, unaffectionate mother, Evelyn (Kidman.)
Enter the Hitchcockian Uncle Charlie (Goode,) the brother of India’s father whom she didn’t know existed, and oila, it’s creepy “oh my God this is starting to feel incesty” time!
Without giving too much away, previously nonexistence and young, attractive Uncle Charlie takes a special interest in his shy niece India, and throughout the film flips his personalities–from supportive, loving Uncle Charlie to calculated, sociopathic Uncle Charlie.
This uncle has a profound effect on India, helping her to in some sense realize herself in a bizarre coming-of-age story.
Although the film’s story-line may have been missing enough thematic complexity to make this a “great” movie, it is still a very good, patient, simple, and beautifully creepy thriller.
Stoker is easily one of the most visually beautiful films of 2013, and its cinematography, pacing, setting, and use of colors (black and white, a la Black Swan) makes it difficult to tear one’s eyes from the screen.
The cast isn’t so bad to look at either.
It’s difficult to get noticed as a filmmaker in February, but I notice you Steven Soderbergh, I always notice you.
The director of Ocean’s 11, the 2011 thriller, Contagion (also underrated in my opinion,) and Behind the Candelabra, Soderbergh has a unique style that comes forth in the very underrated, Side Effects.
With another star-studded cast in this list, Soderbergh takes the viewer on a twisting rollercoaster ride in a film indicting the pharmaceutical industry and American medical “industrial complex” as it destroys a loving young couple’s lives.
It’s very difficult to review this film without giving anything up, but take my word for it, it’s extraordinarily entertaining, and it’s expected but somehow still unexpected climax, and while a bit outlandish–the viewer still finds him or herself being sucked into this pharma-thriller.
And it’s on Netflix Instant! No excuse not to give it a go Funkhouser. There’s even some Rooney Mara stabbing; I had missed some skinny girl-on-man violence since the American Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Ryan Gosling loves playing the strong but silent type, and unlike his rather terrible “other” films of 2013–American Gangster and Only God Forgives (there is such a thing as too much symbolism,) his character in The Place Beyond the Pines hit the mark.
Staring, brooding, tattooed, mysterious fast-driving, troubled, and somewhat mythical–this sums up the post-Notebook career of Mr. Gosling, and this one is no different. As a Carny who drives motorcycles upside down for a living, Gosling’s life is turned upside down when he learns the news that his former lover, played by Eva Mendes, is the mother of his son.
So naturally, the poor guy with the bad bleach-job and even worse tattoos turns to robbing banks to come up with some cash, and get a chance to be in his son’s life.
Bradley Cooper plays the good cop, another too good to be in this profession character in this film of beautiful, yet poor faces; as a former lawyer, the idealistic Cooper intends to better the world, similar to Ryan Phillippe’s character in Crash (ugh, can’t believe I just referenced Crash..)
I saw this film back in early 2013 at Lexington’s own Kentucky theater, and it is divided in such a way, focusing on the lives of three different characters chronologically, that it feels like 3 short movies in one.
I am still undecided on whether this was a flaw of the filmmaker, being unable to coalesce several unique stories into one, concrete story, yet I believe in this instance, it made for a unique and positive viewing experience for a drama.
It explored the themes of the blurred lines between right and wrong, corruption via power, and the complexity of parenthood powerfully, and while movie did well financially despite being largely limited to hipster theaters, it was rather neglected in the pre-summer blockbuster buzz.
Hey girl, you know Ryan Gosling wants you to see this movie. Yes, I’m aware he looks incredibly douchey in this movie, but he’s still Ryan Gosling ladies–never forget.
May have deserved major awards nominations but were released early and got none–wah wahhhh
Prisoners, Mud, Don Jon, The Way Way Back, The Spectacular Now, and Fruitvale Station are each movies that did not manage to receive awards distinctions, but should have been in the conversation. They are absolutely must-sees from 2013. While each had an opportunity to be awards bait (unlike the three films I discussed above,) particularly Prisoners and Mud, yet were unfortunately overshadowed–to some degree due to their early release dates.
Sidenote–those Arkansas kids in Mud stole my heart. Stole. It.
Another underappreciated, potential award-winner, Rush, was nominated as a Best Picture, Drama candidate at the Globes, otherwise it would have certainly been at the top of the “deserved an awards nom” list. Rush is a thoroughly enjoyable film in a way nominated dramas often are not. Even if you loathe fast cars driving in circles and are skeptical about Chris Hemsworth’s ability to act, outside his God of Thunder role–this movie is nearly impossible to dislike. Also, did you see him read the Oscar nominees this morning? Man looks good at a podium–mad respect.
Underrated Honorable Mention:
These movies didn’t make zillions, nor spend zillions, and won’t be receiving any statues, but each are worth watching. And I only included films available to legally rent today! Because piracy is a crime people!! You wouldn’t steal a laptop from a store to watch your bootleg movie on would you? Oh you would? Carry on then.
You’re Next, Drinking Buddies, The Family, To Do List, The Kings of Summer, The Iceman, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Scenic Route, The Bling Ring, The East, Passion, Girl Most Likely, Devil’s Pass, Short Term 12 (not yet available to rent)
That’s all folks. I’ll be back with plenty of Oscar buzzness for you in the coming weeks, namely if Inside Llewyn Davis got hosed by the Academy and should be included as an underappreciated film of the year. Love to have your thoughts. In the meantime, may as well watch a lotttttt of movies.