By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 24, 2013 at 7:03AM
You have to be especially careful with the words “overrated” or “underrated.” Some people don't like the terms, thinking that they're condescending or snide, elevating your own opinions over those of the majority. And arguably they have a strong point, but the words do serve a purpose—how else is a writer meant to sum up their feelings when they're swimming against the tide? And sometimes, that tide is among your own colleagues. See, we're not a hive mind at The Playlist, though we might sometimes give that impression. Like any group of colleagues, we disagree from time to time. Scratch that, we disagree quite a lot, and it's rare for a film to hit theaters without at least one member of staff bucking the consensus, when a consensus can even be reached.
Playlist HQ still bears the scars from the plate-throwing, wall-punching, blood-spilling arguments that resulted over films like "Stoker," "The Place Beyond The Pines" and "The Hobbit," and in the attempt to find a Christmas armistice of sorts, we have, as in past years, given staff members a chance to pick out the films on which they found themselves on the other side of received wisdom, and exorcise their demons here—the films they deem underrated and overrated, in other words. Read our picks below, please remember they are subjective and speak for the individual only and let us know what you thought were overlooked and oversung in the last year in the comments section (and if you’re throwing pies, please specify your direction).
Underrated: “Blue Caprice”
Taking on the Beltway Sniper, the man who terrorized the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area for nearly a month a decade ago, paralyzing anyone along Interstate 95 with fear, there is a sensationalist route a movie version of these events could take. But thankfully, director Alexandre Moors never goes there. Instead, he takes the script by R.F.I. Porto and weaves a nervy drama about the psychology that drove divorced, single father John (Isaiah Washington) to team up with a wayward youth named Lee (Tequan Richmond), forming with him a new sort of family unit, one that expresses its fidelity in only the most deadly of ways. Washington in particular is a revelation, an intimidating presence who finds dimension in an unlikeable character that, while not quite making him sympathetic, reveals a man who has internalized deep emotional pain and finds a twisted outlet with which to react to a life that has not gone according to plan. Meanwhile, Richmond finds the rights notes for a young kid who needs a male authority figure, and while he realizes their bond is dangerous and unhealthy, he’s ill-equipped to handle it, and not confident enough to be on his own. Together as the film’s center, they make a fascinating and fearsome pair in a movie that slow burns to the moment when the trigger is pulled on complete strangers, with the horrifying randomness of their actions allowed to register with a lingering hauntedness. “Blue Caprice” is a tight, economical and impressively accomplished film (particularly for a first feature) that finds depths even within its modest means, boosted with an evocative score by Arcade Fire member Sarah Neufeld and her husband (an accomplished saxophonist in his own right) Colin Stetson. Hitting Sundance and somewhat fading in the months after until its fall release, this is a picture that deserves a second glance and a bit more recognition for the work in front of and behind the camera.
Overrated: “Spring Breakers”
Here’s a shocking revelation: youth culture focused exclusively on sex, drugs, celebrity and partying can be pretty empty, soulless and even dangerous. While it’s easy to see why excitement built for Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers”—hot young starlets prancing around in bikinis, waving guns and gyrating to dubstep sells itself—I’m positively baffled that the film has endured in any kind of conversation, particularly with the year winding down. While “Spring Breakers” was more audacious and daring than Sofia Coppola’s similarly themed “The Bling Ring,” it offered just as little substance. While there is a certain enjoyable lasciviousness to what is basically Korine’s 21st century take on a 1950s PSA about youth gone wild, this is the director at his most tame and mainstream (granted, a relative statement given the pornographic imagery the filmmaker suggests but doesn’t quite show in the film’s cleverer moments). As a peeling away of the facade of American culture, Korine has been here before in much better, more transgressive form: “Trash Humpers.” That outrageously wrong, flat-out hilarious movie took the notion of the suburbs as a haven of normality and turned it perversely upside down, never once pandering to an audience. “Spring Breakers” finds Korine in a more conciliatory mood, that while still offering just enough of his brand of surrealism to put an author’s mark on the work, covers it in a sheen of neon, sweat and skin to make it go down easy, but also forgettably.
Underrated: “In a World…”
“I think you’ll like this,” my gentleman said as he played the trailer for me for “In a World…” He’s far better than the Netflix algorithm; this movie about movies with a female director and a feminist message was admittedly right up my alley. Lake Bell’s debut feature is far better than its apparent pedigree. The actress’s own filmography isn’t exactly impressive, with credits like “What Happens in Vegas,” “Over Her Dead Body” and “No Strings Attached” peppering her resume. But despite those choices (maybe she’s learned what not to do), she’s written, directed, and starred in a remarkably funny and different film. In the self-obsessed business of Hollywood, films about films are as prevalent as baby-voiced blondes (often with as much variety). But “In a World…” takes a different approach, circling from the outside and giving an insider look at the little-seen world of voiceover artists. With that in mind, the movie manages to be about more than just Carol’s career as she tries to ascend the male-dominated ranks of voice actors. She's a friend, a sister and the oblivious object of affection for an adorable oddball (Demetri Martin). For her first feature as both writer and director, Bell is incredibly assured, with the film boasting a witty script with fully realized characters. She also wins points for not making a film that revolves around romance and for rocking a pair of overalls without shame.
Overrated: “Room 237”
By that same token, I should love the movie-about-movies doc “Room 237.” If anyone’s work can be dissected ad nauseum, it’s that of notoriously detail-oriented Stanley Kubrick. “Room 237” dives deeply into the essential filmmaker’s 1980 film “The Shining,” featuring interviews with five overly analytical superfans. They share theories about the film’s real meanings, including the Holocaust, the genocide of native Americans and faking the moon landing. They go frame by frame, making giant leaps of logic that seem more suited to subway ranters than a college professor, an award-winning journalist, and a playwright. It’s ostensibly a film about being obsessed with movies, but it quickly goes from a cinephilic exploration to a movie reminiscent of an eye-rolling hour in class with a bunch of film students with no professor to direct the conversation. I should’ve been watching Rodney Ascher’s documentary at rapt attention, awed by exactly how far people go in their appreciation for film, but I just kept checking my watch and waiting for a dismissal.