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20 Most Overlooked Movies of 2014: 'Snowpiercer,' 'Begin Again,' 'The Immigrant,' and More

From The Immigrant, boasting an Oscar-worthy turn by Marion Cotillard, to a post-apocalyptic take on class warfare in Snowpiercer, all the movies you may have missed this year.

A24

A24

20 Most Overlooked Movies of 2014: ‘Snowpiercer,’ ‘Begin Again,’ ‘The Immigrant,’ and More

There were a staggering 659 films released in 2013, and promise to be around the same this year. If you break that down, that’s about 12.6 films on average that came out each week, and since nobody has that much free time (or money) to spend at the cinema, well, plenty of movies are bound to slip through the cracks. Last year, films like Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing and the coming-of-age film Short Term 12 were among the many films largely ignored by audiences. And in 2014, amid all the crappy sequels and unimaginative remakes, audiences overlooked many excellent movies. Here are some of the best.

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'ENEMY' (March 14)

This Kafka-esque thriller, adapted from Jose Saramago’s novel The Double, sees the ever-impressive Jake Gyllenhaal reunite with his Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve. Adam Bell (Gyllenhaal), a solitary college professor, rents a film on the advice of a colleague—only to discover that one of the actors in the movie looks like his doppelganger. He becomes obsessed, first researching, then stalking, then switching lives with the actor (also Gyllenhaal), who goes by Anthony Claire. As he delves further and further into the mystery, he not only frightens his girlfriend, Mary (Melanie Laurent), but also begins to lose track of his own identity amid this dark, oppressive landscape. Gyllenhaal’s measured, magnetic performance(s) combined with Villeneuve’s confident direction result in a thoroughly engrossing curio replete with one of the most hotly debated endings of the year.

XYZ Films

'THE RAID 2' (March 28)

The plot of Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts crime flick is entirely secondary, and pretty paper-thin. It centers on Rama (Iko Uwais), a SWAT member from the first film who goes undercover to take down the corrupt gangs of Jakarta. What you’re really here for are the wonderfully choreographed fight sequences exhibiting the Indonesian martial art form pencak silat—a chaotic-yet-graceful form of combat and self-defense consisting of the fastest moves you’ve ever seen. From a fight inside a moving vehicle to a brawl that incorporates an entire nightclub to the aptly named “Hammer Girl” wreaking havoc on a subway train, The Raid 2 will have your jaw squarely on the floor.

A24

'UNDER THE SKIN' (April 4)

It took filmmaker Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) nine years to develop this sci-fi thriller, but it was worth the wait. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress stalking the streets of Scotland in search of prey. She drives around in a big, dark van picking up men on the street, before luring them back to her lair and leaving them submerged (and skinned) in a liquid abyss. Most of the scenes of Johansson picking up men in her van were filmed with real-life people using hidden cameras, lending it a certain naturalism. But overall, Glazer’s film is like a singular cinematic symphony, providing the most hauntingly beautiful film-going experience of the year. And the scenes of Johansson’s character seducing a loner who’s been left disfigured by facial neurofibromatosis are gut-wrenchingly poignant.

Lionsgate

'JOE' (April 11)

The reports of Nicolas Cage’s career death have, it seems, been slightly exaggerated. Yes, he was in one of the most godawful movies of the year, Left Behind, but he also turned in a vintage Cage performance filled with gravitas in director David Gordon Green’s return to form. In it, he plays a seemingly genial ex-con with a violent streak who befriends a poor 15-year-old (Tye Sheridan) with an abusive, alcoholic father (Gary Poulter). Tim Orr’s backwoods cinematography is richly atmospheric, creating a cloud of dread, while the performances of Cage, Sheridan (of Mud fame), and Poulter, a real-life homeless alcoholic who sadly passed away shortly after filming wrapped, are uniformly superb.

Gordon A. Timpen/Sony

'ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE' (April 11)

Most vampire films focus on a bloodsucker seducing a human, but precious few have tackled what it might actually be like to maintain a centuries-long relationship. Only Lovers Left Alive centers on Adam (Tom Hiddleston), a tortured musician living in the wasteland of Detroit who, despite his massive popularity, remains in seclusion, and Eve (Tilda Swinton), a more optimistic vamp that spends the bulk of her time gallivanting about in exotic Tangier. On the surface, Jim Jarmusch’s coolly detached film appears to be a moody meditation on lasting love, but dig deeper, and you’ll find an intriguing satire of Western civilization—a society in decay where humans, who Adam refers to as “zombies,” muck about aimlessly while the world burns.

The Cinema Guild

'MANAKAMANA' (April 18)

Directed by Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, this beauteous documentary traces the paths of several different groups of pilgrims who travel to Nepal, and then ascend the mountains by cable car to worship at the renowned Manakamana temple. The camera homes in on the faces of devotees for minutes at a time, forcing you to peer deep into their souls and, like these faithful voyagers, search for meaning. It’s a hypnotic, deeply spiritual journey that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

A24

'LOCKE' (April 25)

Written and directed by Steven Knight, the acclaimed screenwriter of Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, this British drama is, first and foremost, a monument to Tom Hardy. It’s essentially a one-man show set entirely in a vehicle driving down the M1 motorway. Ivan Locke (Hardy) is a successful construction foreman who’s in a bit of a pickle. A colleague whom he had a one-night stand with seven months ago has gone into premature labor, while his wife and son are awaiting his return to watch a big football match. If that weren’t enough, it’s the day before a big pour he’s meant to supervise in Birmingham. Locke decides to be with his colleague during childbirth, and the film consists of Locke in his car speaking with his boss and assistant on speakerphone managing the pour, admitting his infidelity to his wife, explaining the situation to his heartbroken son, and comforting the mother-to-be. And Hardy pulls it all off brilliantly.

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'IDA' (May 2)

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, this Polish-language film is set in 1960s Poland, and tells the tale of Anna, a young nun in training who is told to pay a visit to her family before giving her vows. She visits her Aunt Wanda, who reveals that Anna’s name is in fact Ida Lebenstein, and her parents were murdered by the Stalinist regime during the war. So, the two women embark on a journey to find their resting place. Shot in stunning black-and-white, Ida is a hauntingly poetic exploration of Europe’s past, present, and future; a film about the lengths people will go in the name of faith, and truth. It’s also the Polish entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Tribeca Film

'PALO ALTO' (May 9)

Yes, it is “based on a series of short stories by James Franco.” But this visually arresting portrait of teenage angst, ennui, and frustration is the best film made by a Coppola in a decade (really). In this case, it’s photographer turned filmmaker Gia Coppola, the granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and cousin of Sofia, who presides over this drugs, sex, and mischief-fueled teen tale with a poise and assuredness that belies her lack of experience. She’s aided by a trio of compelling performances courtesy of Emma Roberts as a rebellious goody two shoes, Jack Kilmer (son of Val) as a well-intentioned screw-up, and Nat Wolff (The Fault in Our Stars) as his hell-raising, self-destructive pal, Fred. Palo Alto is, believe it or not, one of the biggest surprises of the year.

Anne Joyce/The Weinstein Company

'THE IMMIGRANT' (May 16)

As Ewa Cybulski, the doomed Magdalene-like protagonist of James Gray’s The Immigrant, Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard delivers one of the best performances of the year, fully embodying a Polish émigré who lands at Ellis Island in 1921, only to fall into the clutches of Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a seedy nightlife impresario/pimp. In addition to Cotillard’s devastating turn, Phoenix is convincingly grotesque, and Jeremy Renner pops up for some fun as Emil/Orlando the Magician, a dashing chap who’s taken by Ewa’s beauty and élan. And the filmmaking composition by Gray and his DP is exquisite, offering image after image of a world not often put to screen—the largely Jewish Lower East Side of New York City during the ‘20s—before closing things out with one of the finest last shots in recent memory.

Warner Bros.

'EDGE OF TOMORROW' (May 28)

I know what you’re thinking: What is this Tom Cruise blockbuster doing on a list of “The Most Overlooked Movies of the Year?” Well, the $175 million-budgeted film grossed a meager $100.2 million in North America, despite being one of the best event flicks of the year. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity) and written by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), the movie is set in a dystopia where mankind is engaged in a battle for survival against the Mimics—an alien enemy that has the power to reset the day, and see the future. When Cage (Cruise), a military officer, is given the same power, he teams up with the human race’s best warrior (Emily Blunt) to try and save the world. Boasting a great movie star turn by Cruise, dazzling special effects, and a witty script, Edge of Tomorrow will almost make you forget that the godawful Oblivion ever existed.

A24

'OBVIOUS CHILD' (June 6)

Unfairly labeled as the “abortion comedy,” this hilarious flick comes courtesy of filmmaker Gillian Robespierre, and signals the arrival of a truly gifted comedienne in Jenny Slate. It centers on Donna Stern (Slate), an aspiring comedian on the wrong side of 20. After a drunken one-night stand, she finds herself pregnant, and embarking on a weird journey of self-discovery. Slate is eminently likable here—a filter-less joke machine resembling Hannah Horvath’s more sociable sister. And Robespierre’s film as a whole is an honest rom-com that, like the best films of the Apatow canon, expertly balances humor and pathos.  

Opus Pictures

'SNOWPIERCER' (June 27)

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho wowed us with his creature feature The Host and sent chills up our spine with his spooky Oedipal neo-noir Mother, but this sci-fi actioner elevates him to visionary-director status. The year is 2031, and an experiment to counteract the effects of global warming has killed everyone on Earth—that is, except for the inhabitants of Snowpiercer, a perpetual-motion train on a track circling the globe. The train is divided by class, with the rich, led by Mason (Tilda Swinton, in fantastic aging makeup), occupying the front cars, and the poor, who subsist on a diet of disgusting protein blocks, in back. All that changes when Curtis (Chris Evans) leads the oppressed poor, which also includes Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer, in a revolt. The performances are stellar, the ideas are big, and the action sequences are some of the most elegantly-crafted you’ll see this year—including a five-minute hatchet-fight scene that will floor you. This is a sci-fi flick of epic proportions, and is unlike anything else you’ve seen.

The Weinstein Company

'BEGIN AGAIN' (June 27)

Seven years ago, filmmaker John Carney won us over with Once—the romantic tale of a lonely busker falling for a young Czech flower girl in Dublin. The film won the Oscar for Best Song (“Falling Slowly”), and has since spawned a Broadway musical. While Once is a ballad about two actors falling in love onscreen, his long-awaited follow-up, Begin Again, is a catchy pop ode to the Big Apple. The film centers on Gretta (Keira Knightley), a burgeoning singer-songwriter who’s dumped by her far more popular musician-boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine, of Maroon 5—bear with me). One evening, Dan (Mark Ruffalo), an over-the-hill record exec, catches Gretta performing in a Downtown Manhattan watering hole and thinks he’s just discovered the next big thing. Together, the two record an album in different locations all over Manhattan. It’s a delightful gem of a film, and your only problem will be getting the addictive tune “Lost Stars” out of your head.

Sony

'LOVE IS STRANGE' (August 22)

The latest from acclaimed indie filmmaker Ira Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue) has garnered four Independent Spirit Awards, including Best Film. It tells the story of Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), a gay couple in Manhattan who’ve been together for 39 years. When they get married, George is fired from his job teaching music at a Catholic school, and since they can no longer afford to live in their pricey New York apartment, the two are torn apart—with Ben crashing with his nephew and his wife (Marisa Tomei) and child, and George staying with their rowdy neighbors. It’s a tender love story about the pains of being apart and the struggles of living in New York, and features two delightful performances by Lithgow and Molina.

YouTube

'THE ONE I LOVE' (August 22)

Filmmaker Charlie McDowell’s mind-bending drama follows a couple, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss), at the end of their rope. Sophie hasn’t forgiven her husband for cheating on her, while he hasn’t delivered the heartfelt apology she needs. Their relationship therapist (Ted Danson) orders them on a weekend retreat to a remote cottage to rekindle their spark. Once they arrive, however, new otherworldly problems present themselves. Boasting outstanding performances by the criminally underrated Duplass and Moss, and one of the sharpest scripts of the year, The One I Love is the most singular relationship flick of the year, and one that’s so psychologically dense it rewards multiple viewings. 

Fox Searchlight

'STARRED UP' (August 27)

Young British actor Jack O’Connell may be getting plenty of plaudits for his starring role in Angelina Jolie’s WWII epic Unbroken, but he is absolutely mesmerizing as a violent young offender in a brutal Irish prison in David Mackenzie’s gripping drama. Once he enters the prison, he’s forced to negotiate thugs who want him dead, a volunteer therapist (Rupert Friend) who’s there to help, and his overbearing father (Ben Mendelsohn), who lords over him—and the prison. Starred Up is brutally realistic and intense, but the real prize here is O’Connell. It’s a feral, star-making turn on par with Michael Fassbender in Hunger or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Manic.

Roadside Attractions

'THE SKELETON TWINS' (September 12)

The winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival is usually an underrated indie gem (see: The Squid and the Whale, Safety Not Guaranteed), and Craig Johnson’s comedy-drama is just that. After ten years of estrangement, twins Maggie (Kristen Wiig) and Milo (Bill Hader) are both depressed, living on opposite coasts, and contemplating suicide. When Milo goes through with it—and survives—Maggie visits him in the hospital, and the two struggle to mend fences. SNL pals Wiig and Hader previously stole scenes in Adventureland, and here, they deliver the best performances of their respective careers as a pair of down-in-the-dumps thirty-somethings attempting to give their lives meaning.  

HBO Films

'CITIZENFOUR' (October 24)

Laura Poitras was one of the journalists, along with Glenn Greenwald, who broke the news that the NSA was spying on everyone. They did so with the help of NSA contractor (and whistleblower) Edward Snowden, who provided them with heaps of classified documents. And, believe it or not, Poitras caught the entire ordeal on film, from their first (and last) meetings with Snowden in Hong Kong, to a series of courtroom trials. This is a tremendously enthralling documentary that captures a turning point in our nation’s history, and provides an intimate look at the mysterious Snowden. It’s also, without question, the frontrunner for the Best Documentary Oscar, but has earned south of $2 million so far. Go see this film.

Spectre Vision

'A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT' (November 21)

Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature has been described as “the first Iranian vampire western.” And it is an Iranian film, in Persian, that follows a lonesome vampire who stalks the streets of a fictional Iranian underworld (dubbed “Bad City”) at night. The movie is shot in gorgeous black-and-white, and is a triumph of atmosphere. It also happens to be the best vampire film since the Swedish drama Let the Right One In.