By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood January 4, 2011 at 9:20AM
Who doesn't like an underdog? They're not asking to win the Oscar for Best Picture, but these under-appreciated films deserve to be seen by wider audiences than their box office numbers, critics or lack of awards talk would suggest. After the jump is a sampling of the worthy films singled out by The New York Times, The Atlantic, Moviefone, The Playlist and Associated Content. Our adds to your bucket list of films to watch when awards season is over (or now, if you're caught up) are:
Mademoiselle Chambon - because it takes its time and lets its actors feel their way through the action.
Sweetgrass - because what was meant to be a Netflix streaming sleeping aid (this documentary literally counts sheep) kept me happily awake.
Cairo Time - for every single subtle expression on Patricia Clarkson's face.
Hereafter - because it doesn't pretend to have the answer to - but still considers - life's biggest question.
Fair Game - Watts + Penn + True Story = Must see.
Mother and Child - for the performance triad Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington in this emotional yet rewarding melodramatic estrogen fest.
The New York Times singles out:
A Film Unfinished - "Above all “A Film Unfinished” is testimony, and if watching it is sometimes painful, it is also, like the film itself, an act of bearing witness."
Animal Kingdom - "Mr. Michôd’s movie has its own distinct, almost ethnographic feel. Its criminals are all the more alarming for not being part of anything bigger or more organized than themselves and their appetites and impulses."
A Prophet - "As Malik expands his range, the movie does too, eventually becoming a brilliant meditation on human possibility, its best and worst."
Fish Tank - "In this fractious female household, kindness is in short supply...[Director Andrea Arnold] grasps the forbidden things people get up to behind their own backs, but she invites us to watch without judgment."
Never Let Me Go - "Mr. Romanek skillfully seeds the narrative with hints…at a society growing harsher and more selfish by the day. One of the pleasures of “Never Let Me Go” is its beauty, but the mirror it invites us to look into could hardly be more unsparing."
Green Zone - "is not a mere collection of fashionable political and aesthetic poses, but rather an immersive investigation into the vagaries of fact-finding, starring a wonderfully no-nonsense Matt Damon."
October Country - "Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher's October Country is a heavily stylized portrait of a family—Mosher's own family—and so about as far from strictly reportorial as it gets…[it] would make a terrific, if not terrifically cheerful, ring-in-2011 double feature with Mike Leigh's Another Year"
The Oath - "the most unjustly overlooked documentary of the year is Laura Poitras's The Oath, which takes as its subject Osama bin Laden's former personal driver, Abu Jandal, a walking contradiction par excellence. The Yemeni cab driver's ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth has over the last decade made him both a friend to the FBI and a mentor to budding jihadis."
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is pretty much a fanboy's dream movie, with pop culture references and one of the best soundtracks in recent memory."
Kick-Ass - "The superhero genre has gone surprisingly unscathed as far as satire goes…Kick-Ass does serve to pick apart the genre pretty effectively…What really makes Kick-Ass unique is Chloe Moretz as the vulgar, ultra-violent 11-year-old Hit-Girl. An actress as young as Moretz should not be this talented."
Please Give - "Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet all shone in the film that explored the difficulties, hardships and yes, the laughs when trying to balance caring for others while also caring for yourself."
Trash Humpers - "Blurring the line between fiction, found art, provocation, snuff movie, documentary and feature film, Harmony Korine‘s latest is a dirty finger in the eye to Hollywood’s glossy, family-friendly, CGI HD 3D money train…The picture is gleefully freaky, relentlessly demented, absurdly hilarious and of course features moments of extreme perverse beauty."
I Am Love - "Consider I Am Love the “real” version of Julia Roberts’ glossy Eat, Pray, Love. It concerns itself with similar thematic territory - the reconnection of a woman (Tilda Swinton) who, entombed in her life, explores her sexuality and her love of food - but is done so in a way that doesn’t belittle the material or turn it into an incredibly luscious commercial for The Olive Garden. Instead, there’s real sensuality in every frame of Luca Guadagnino’s debut feature."
Biutiful - "Overreaching? Perhaps, but the film’s grim setting can’t cover up the deep humanity hiding below the surface. Hollywood certainly isn’t making anything close to the emotional complexity and philosophical depth of Iñárritu’s film, and while that alone is enough for celebration, when the results are this rich and the performances this real, it’s pretty much a crime for a picture like this to fall through the cracks."
Ondine - "It’s a wonderful, romantic and dreamy little fairytale and yes, it’s flawed and has a twist ending that doesn’t really work. But the rest of it is so beautiful…Perhaps you can dub it a beautiful mess."
It's Kind of a Funny Story - "the hostility toward this exceedingly good-natured flick is baffling…[it] is a sharp, affecting dramedy about learning to chill out and live with yourself."
Robin Hood – "don't be deceived: this is still handsomely mounted, enjoyable stuff – not as good as the rest of Scott's output, but well worth a couple hours of your time."