Having passed July’s midpoint, the world is officially on the down-slope of 2014’s unusually solid summer blockbuster season. As box office trackers tally the season’s winners and critics begin the debate on what was actually worthwhile, we find ourselves in the mood to look back – way back.
Every year, dozens of films are overshadowed by more popular, more profitable, more talked-about, and more awarded features. This doesn’t mean these movies were bad – only that they lacked that certain spark that creates a culture-defining work. Screen Rant’s nostalgia for the waning season has left us wondering at all the titles that could have been contenders last year.
Far removed from their release dates, some titles can gain a new appreciation among critics and general audiences alike. In the home market, 2013’s most underrated could finally find the popularity that they cry out for. In that spirit, we have cobbled together a list of 15 movies from 2013 that disappointed critically or at the box office, but deserve viewership nonetheless (in no particular order).
1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Despite an evocative promotional campaign, well-recognized lead, and a feel-good message, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (read our review) did tepid business in the United States. Though the film made a profit through the international box office, it remained something of an oddball disappointment.
While it may have ended up slightly more generic than advertised, the flick is also an emotionally rousing ride with eye-popping visuals. Ben Stiller’s direction is confident and often creative, and the plot builds to a genuinely emotional climax that could have come off as schmaltzy in lesser hands. Any seekers of inspiring cinema would do well to consider The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
2. Saving Mr. Banks
Though it’s been characterized as awards bait, Saving Mr. Banks (read our review) comes off more like a somewhat idiosyncratic passion project. The story of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo author P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins novels, Saving Mr. Banks traces the prickly negotiations between the two, along with flashbacks fleshing out Travers’ childhood.
Sure, the film can wax a little bit hagiographic when it comes to Disney. However, Tom Hanks is consistently amusing as the overenthusiastic studio head, whose verve for the project is infectious. Combine all this with meticulous period detail and an exacting performance from Emma Thompson, and Saving Mr. Banks certainly deserves a new audience.
A methodical, painterly exercise in dread, Stoker (read our review) was probably not what fans of director Chan-Wook Park expected out of his English-language debut. Used to the bombast of titles such as Oldboy or Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (and perhaps forgetting the similarly paced Thirst), viewers could be forgiven for being put off by Stoker‘s chilly meticulousness.
At the same time, the film is genuinely unnerving, featuring an entirely unpredictable cast of characters who all seem to be approaching some event horizon of madness. Especially impressive is Mia Wasikowska as India Stoker, who ramps up to full-blown psychosis in a way that’s both believable and disturbing.
4. It’s a Disaster
Beginning as an extremely uncomfortable comedy of manners, It’s a Disaster soon becomes something much darker. David Cross and Julia Stiles star as a couple who arrive at a long-awaited brunch – just before a massive terrorist attack dooms the entire West Coast.
Mining surprisingly strong comedy from the coping mechanisms of a group preparing to die, the movie manages to also directly engage with the pathos of the situation. It all ends on a joke so twisted and shameless that viewers will likely split the difference between gasping and bursting into wild laughter.
5. Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s feature film-directing debut (read our review) is a strange beast, combining what could have been the premise of a raunchy comedy with a surprisingly mature examination of modern romance. Gordon-Levitt stars as the titular New Jersey ladies’ man whose long-term addiction to pornography has left him with warped sexual standards.
A premise that could have been used for a series of cheap gags is instead used for a warm-hearted, uncompromising look at sex and dating in the 21st century. It helps that everyone in Don Jon‘s cast is on point here – especially Gordon-Levitt himself, who brings an edge of unctuousness to his natural charm.
Like many of the entries on this list, Mud (read our review) suffers largely because it presents something rather different than the previous work of its creator – in this case, Arkansas-based director Jeff Nichols. Mud contains little of the festering violence of Shotgun Stories or the nearly unbearable dread of Take Shelter.
Instead, the film offers a unique combination of crime thriller and tall-tale bildungsroman, clearly drawing inspiration from Huckleberry Finn. It’s a gentler sort of movie than Nichols’ previous efforts, but just barely. Though it moves at a more languid pace than one would expect, Mud ends up a solidly shot, evocative piece of adventure cinema.
Prisoners (read our review) sets itself apart by creating a familiar story that proceeds to step over the usual boundaries expected of its genre. Whereas other movies about vigilante justice stumble over themselves to justify the morality of their protagonists’ actions, Prisoners takes the opposite tack – instead suggesting that every act of retaliation and violence is inherently self-defeating.
This lack of moral anchor can make the movie difficult to engage with, but it’s worth it – Prisoners is a pretty great thriller. Not only does the film reveal its grand design with tense economy, it also centers on Hugh Jackman’s career-best performance as a supposedly good man driven to do unforgivable deeds.
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