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The Most Underrated And Underseen Films Of 2014 So Far

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 16, 2014 2:28 PM
32 Comments
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Underrated/Underseen 2014

No one can see everything. Particularly with prestige TV now competing for our attention, there's a lot of cultural noise out there even for the most hardcore cinephile, and with upwards of a dozen movies being released in major cities every week (not to mention VOD), it's easy for a great movie to get lost in the mix. Well, that's where we come in.

We're over halfway through the year, and with the (usually) barren months of August and September creeping up, it's starting to feel like time to catch up on some of the movies that might have slipped by between January and June. So, having examined some of the films that most disappointed us in 2014 so far a week or two back, the Playlist staff have picked out some movies that they, individually, believe were undersung, underrated or undervalued in the first half of the year (and note how one person's treasure is another one's trash as their definitely are some overlaps in the aforementioned disappointed piece).

The rule: each available staff member got to pick one movie (or, if they felt strongly enough, two), that had been released between January 1st and June 30th this year in the U.S. (excluding festival titles), and that they felt could use a little more love. Take a look at the choices below, and let us know your own undersung faves of 2014 so far in the comments section below.

Kevin Jagernauth

Dom Hemingway

“Dom Hemingway”
It's always a pleasure to see an actor bite into a role, but what Jude Law does in "Dom Hemingway" goes far beyond cinematic mastication. Chest puffed, lips curled into a snarl, a mischievous grin smeared on his face, and carrying the weight of regret and the hope of the future on his shoulders, his "Dom Hemingway" is a man who has burned through the world and still believes it owes him something. And he wants to take that debt and finally put his feet up after a lifetime of headbutting the law (metaphorically certainly, and probably literally too). And Law is fearless here in a film that demands him to go from an opening monologue about the distinct qualities of his cock to humbling himself in an attempt to reconnect with his daughter. As you might expect, its a wild ride, but one dripping with wit and a surprising amount of heart. In a sense, "Dom Hemimgway" is a cousin to "Filth" in terms of presenting audiences with a moral degenerate as their lead. But Dom isn't just self-loathing to the extent of nihilist self-destruction. Beneath the bravado, woman chasing and f-bombs are good intentions from a guy, who in his own wildly perverse way, is trying to be decent. And that's what makes "Dom Hemingway" worth visiting. There are all sorts variations on this kind of movie, but few who do it with right mix of hedonism and humility, all while having this kind of fun at the same time. 

And for a second pick, I nearly forgot (like most people it seems) that Kore-Eda Hirokazu's "Like Father, Like Son" opened in January, and it really deserved better. Probably lost in the buzz of the Sundance Film Festival, because no one seemed to really talk about it at the time, make sure to track it down because it's a beautiful, deeply moving observation on family, parenthood and the very definition of love itself. Masterful stuff from Hirokazu as always, with performances that will break your heart.

Oliver Lyttelton

Noah

"Noah"
Some might quibble at the need to defend Darren Aronofsky's "Noah"—the film got decent reviews, even if ours wasn't one of them, and did well enough at the box office. Maybe it's just my bubble, but I feel like the reaction in general varied between "I hated it," "I couldn't be bothered with it," and "that wasn't as bad as I thought," so I feel compelled to fight in its corner, because I pretty much straight up loved the film. Perhaps the weirdest, most unlikely studio blockbuster in living memory, "Noah" sees Darren Aronofsky finally get to play on a giant canvas, with his passion-project take on the Old Testament tale of apocalypse and redemption. But anyone fearing that the director was going to water down his trademark style didn't have to worry: this was uncompromised Aronofsky, ballsily taking one of the most famous Biblical stories, and recasting its title character as, basically, the villain. Many got hung up on the giant stone-angels that caused so much controversy, but for all the effects work (which is mostly remarkable), it's still a thoughtful and complex film, digging into issues of faith and fanaticism in a way that's almost unheard of for a hugely expensive tentpole, let alone one that was actively courting the religious crowd. Aronofsky's filmmaking is as impressive as ever, and though some of the supporting roles get a bit lost, Russell Crowe comes storming back to give his best performance in a decade, entirely committed and fierce. Like with all of Aronofsky's films, I wouldn't begrudge anyone for not liking it: he's not to everyone's taste, and doesn't really know the meaning of the word "subtle," for better or worse. And it's certainly a flawed achievement, but one that I suspect will grow in reputation and stature over time. And if nothing else, it features Ray Winstone biting off a snake's head, so its place in cinematic history is assured for that alone.

Ilo Ilo

"Ilo Ilo"
There were plenty of other options out there for my second pick: I concur with many of the ones on this list, especially "Obvious Child," and could have happily fought the corner for "A Field In England," "Breathe In," "Mistaken For Strangers," "Joe," "Belle," "Ida," "Palo Alto" or "Night Moves," but in the end plumped for a film I wasn't even sure got a U.S. release until I looked it up - Anthony Chen's "Ilo Ilo," which only ever played four theaters in the U.S, and grossed only $50,000. The winner of the Camera d'Or for first films at last year's Cannes, and a rare film hailing from Singapore to make it out of the city-state, it's a simple tale, indebted to the humanism of the Dardennes and Asghar Farhadi, about a middle-class family who, despite facing economic difficulty, hire a live-in Filipino maid to care for their troublemaking son as the arrival of their second child approaches. Low-key and never feeling contrived or melodramatic, Chen's rich screenplay gives an immediate sense of the local culture and of his deeply human characters, aided no end by the outstanding performances (particularly from Lav Diaz veteran Angeli Bayani as Teresa, the maid). Given its limited release, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm the only Playlister to have seen the film (I reviewed it for another outlet on its UK release), but they, and you, should check it out as soon as it hits VOD or similar.

Rodrigo Perez

The Rover

“The Rover”
I’ll be the first to admit that David Michod’s “The Rover” didn’t land with me quite as hard as it did with our reviewer out of Cannes.  It was my kind of movie, sparse, minimalist, hauntingly moody, possessing a menacing slow burn to it—but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me at a bit of a distance. I wanted slightly more—just one more emotional scene like the sequence with Guy Pearce’s character staring with deep wells of empathy at the caged dogs melting with heat from the Australian Outback. But perhaps more than any film this year, or at least any film that I wasn’t immediately taken with, its simmering intensity and single-minded drive has really resonated with me. A lot of that comes from the internalized rage of Guy Pearce, a performance that has become one of my favorites of the year. Now Robert Pattinson is good, but Pearce is something else; like a feral animal on a mission that cannot be stopped (and considering his recent excellent turns in "Lawless," "Breathe In" and "Hateship, Loveship" it feels like we have a new mini Pearce renaissance on our hands). There’s a fury within the heart of “The Rover,” but it’s from a ravaged soul who’s had everything taken from him. It’s a possessed and ghostly shell of a man who will stop at nothing to properly mourn all that he has lost and loved. You cannot and will not deny that from this character. The movie really got killed in wide release, its languid rhythms and atmospheric meditations on our humanity (or lack thereof) just not built for the mainstream multiplexes and that’s a shame. Definitely make the effort to catch up with this one and give it time to marinate after it’s done.

I don’t have a second pick, but “Enemy,” “Obvious Child,” "The Double" and “The Immigrant” are all movies that were (at least somewhat) lauded by critics and not enough audiences loved. David Gordon Green's "Joe" was an interesting exploration of the damaged male ego drawn to destruction, and Nicolas Cage put in a superbly restrained and mannered performance, but the movie was summarily ignored for some reason. Hopefully these films all find their audience on DVD and VOD eventually. 

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32 Comments

  • VIL | August 25, 2014 10:04 AMReply

    Along with The Rover; the new John McDonagh film "Calvary" resonated the most with me this year. I would have included that gem in my list.

  • Daniel Delago | August 25, 2014 7:29 AMReply

    I wanted to like 'The Rover' but it just didn't resonate for me. I was so bored with it that I didn't even make the effort to write a review about it. The plot is thin and the post-apocalyptic themes have been done better in other films.

  • Peyton | August 25, 2014 3:27 AMReply

    I had just the opposite take on The Rover. Guy Pearce is good, but Pattinson is the heart and soul of the film. Pearce's character needed Pattinson's in order to show any humanity. After watching Pattinson's first day of filming, Pearce said he was going to "need to step up his game" because Pattinson's performance blew him away.

    They both fully developed their characters, from the way they stood and walked to their voices. If you think Pearce was a fierce animal, then Pattinson was a wounded animal, and that vulnerability is actually harder to play and make believable. Both their performances will stand the test of time.

  • VIL | August 25, 2014 9:59 AM

    You stole my thunder exactly...never thought I'd ever have anything nice to say about Pattinson's acting abilities but wow did he blow me away in this. Usually my metric for effective movies is those few that resonate with me for days at a time afterwards; which not only do I include The Rover amongst them, but also a feeling of empathy and sympathy for his character specifically. This is extremely rare considering the quantity of movies I see. He deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this.

  • sagi | August 24, 2014 7:22 PMReply

    What would you say if Michael Bay were the director of 'Noah'? It's maybe the worst movie of the year, and for sure the movie with the worst preformances that I've seen this year. I could do Douglas Booth part way better than him,he is the worst actor ever.

  • Carla | August 24, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    For Noah, is it just because the director is an award winning. I don't know if you're being biased or what, but full of CGI (or good CGI) can't make up for it. Plus they have two of the most awful young actors in the movie Emma Watson and Douglas Booth. I really don't like their version.

  • Archibald | July 26, 2014 4:46 AMReply

    Noah was absolute garbage. I understand taking a fiction novel or comic book and making changes to fit the cinematic brush. I'm one of the few who doesn't criticize those changes. But this was taking something very important to a lot of people, and largely backed by real archaeological discovery, and twisting it to push an agenda. In other words: a serious story about the sin of man, God's wrath against said sin, and our need to trust in something larger than ourselves, and it's twisted to be a hippie/political/liberal mess about people destroying green things.

    Our sin wasn't industry and harvesting resources.

    Our sin was pushing God away. Ignoring him. Refusing to accept our current state and need for Him. We are doing it in society now: indoctrinate kids with psychology and evolution to convince them they aren't special, nor do they have free will - their problems are inherited and not their own. Then put pressure on them to keep quiet about faith by disallowing Christianity in public forums. Shove non-traditional practices down our throats (homosexual marriage, abortion, sex without marriage, limiting how parents can raise their children), and use the media to buzzword us to death by shaping cultural opinion instead of giving the news.

    "It will be in the last days as it was in the days of Noah..." and, "...they will become willingly ignorant of the Flood..." Let us not forget, "...professing to be wise they became fools."

    We call ourselves homo sapien sapien - a self-proclaimed title of wisdom.

    We are doomed to death as the people were in the days of Noah. This time by fire. Let us be free the bonds of sin. The film Noah taught the opposite of this truth.

  • JD | August 25, 2014 6:29 AM

    "and largely backed by real archaeological discovery, "

    ....no. Just....no.

  • Steve Barr | July 25, 2014 4:28 PMReply

    I'm so glad you mentioned The Immigrant . It's my favorite movie of the year . It should be up for best picture , actress , director and screenplay , cinematography , art direction and editing . Also while i liked Boyhood i also think it's the most over rated movie of the year .

  • Cram Flow | July 22, 2014 11:50 AMReply

    The Double and Enemy were both pretentious and unwatchable.

  • BEACH PILLOWS | July 21, 2014 10:04 PMReply

    BEACH PILLOWS

  • Still Bill | July 20, 2014 2:01 AMReply

    IN BLOOM was easily one of the best releases of the year, but it seems only critics and former denizens of the East Bloc saw it. For their part, the critics agreed--Robert Koehler, Betsy Sharkey, Michael Sragow, Joe Morgenstern, Bilge Ebiri and A.O. Scott all gave it strong to rave reviews. It's shot be Romanian DP Oleg Mutu, who also shot the most important Romanian New Wave films. Did anyone at indiewire happen to ever even hear of the film?

  • looking forward to the Rover | July 19, 2014 6:27 AMReply

    I havent seen The Rover yet , August in the UK, disappointed a lot of positive reviews, including indiewire B+ not included on rotten tomatoes? especially the ones that praise his acting ability and not as well better than his previous roles, its nice to see positive comments about him on sites

  • JK1193 | July 18, 2014 6:43 PMReply

    Along with Noah, I would see modest hits like Edge of Tomorrow and Divergent as being underrated.

  • Al | July 18, 2014 2:09 PMReply

    Cold in July was at cannes, that's why no sxsw

  • David | July 18, 2014 10:36 AMReply

    The Rover was outstanding. I had a good feeling it would be great, but I never expected for it to stay with me this long.

  • Drew | July 18, 2014 10:27 AMReply

    I'm still waiting for The Rover to hit wide release. As far as I can tell it hasn't even hit Canada yet... frustrating. Ditto Snow Piercer two movies I really wanted to see this summer. Instead of wasting my money on crap like Transformers and Spider-Man2 I find myself NOT going to the theatre... well until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out. Got my hopes up for that.

  • Dostoyevsky | July 17, 2014 7:19 PMReply

    What about Richard Ayoades "The Double"? Great film that seemed to drop off the face of the earth a few weeks after its release.

  • Linn D. | July 17, 2014 12:52 PMReply

    I'm coming to the conclusion I "heart" the Playlist Staff. You guys are great in your discussing films. I love how it feels like we're having a conversation when I'm reading these...

  • 101 | July 17, 2014 9:55 AMReply

    Netflix will bring honor to these films. It's sad that such brilliant work has gone unnoticed by the masses. Time should rectify this.

  • sean carey | July 17, 2014 1:36 AMReply

    Gabe & Alan Polsky's THE MOTEL LIFE is the best undiscovered indy film of the year by far!!

  • DArtagnan | July 16, 2014 11:25 PMReply

    What about Transcendence?

  • George | July 16, 2014 8:45 PMReply

    Absolutely agree about The Rover and Obvious Child. Very interested in The Immigrant.

  • Tim | July 16, 2014 8:38 PMReply

    I really liked TheRover too. A bunch of my buddies went and we had no idea what it was about. There weren't too many people in the theater. We were all blown away by the story and the acting. I really like Animal Kingdom so it didn't surprise me that I like this movie also. What did surprise me what how incredible Robert Pattinson was - he nailed the character and with a southern accent ! Guy Pearce always is a strong actor , but this movie would not have been any good with our the character of Rey to ping-pong off of. Really sad more people haven't seen this great film !

  • Anna | July 16, 2014 7:57 PMReply

    I'm so excited The Immigrant is on Netflix and I can finally watch it! Can't wait to see Obvious Child too (I think it's coming to the UK in a few months).

    I saw Le Week-end last year, I was so excited (love Broadbent and Duncan so much) but I really hated it... It just bored me to tears.

  • Danny | July 16, 2014 7:54 PMReply

    The Rover did get some great reviews and both Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson have been quite acclaimed for their performances. I found the film excellent, but particularly the performances by both actors. The interplay between the characters of Eric and Rey was so well done, like point-counterpoint. Pearce is always good but Pattinson has jumped to a new level, stealing the show yet also somehow weaving within Pearce's. A great pairing.
    Not only is it a shame this film is not being seen, but also the calibre of acting is worthy of the highest awards.

  • BIGZILLA | July 16, 2014 7:11 PMReply

    This list is invalid without THE RAID 2 being on it. The best sequel of the year and one of the greatest action movies ever made.

  • Do | July 23, 2014 3:59 AM

    Was it unnoticed?

  • arshadfilms | July 16, 2014 5:56 PMReply

    I absolutely loved ILO ILO. What a wonderful movie. Wish it came to Mississauga or Montreal!

  • James M. | July 16, 2014 3:28 PMReply

    Mr Dixon, this is Indiewire. Editing not allowed.

  • MR DIXON | July 16, 2014 2:51 PMReply

    Actress in Le Week End is Lindsay Duncan, not Lesley Manville

  • Jess | July 16, 2014 4:41 PM

    My mistake, a total slip of the brain, now fixed.

    Would quite like to die.

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