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The 10 Best Films You Didn't See in 2013

By Pajiba Staff | Guides | January 2, 2014 | Comments ()


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As we do annually, we begin each year with the best and worst in film, but we always find room for the smaller movies that didn’t quite make our top ten list but that deserve to be recognized. Thanks to inflation and the rising cost of tickets, the maximum box-office a film can earn and still qualify for this list is now $8 million. If you don’t see a film that falls below that threshold on this list, check back tomorrow, and it may appear in our yearly top ten.

Click the hyperlinks for full reviews, where available.

Blue is the Warmest Color — At just under three hours, the French film Blue is the Warmest Color would seem, from the outside looking in, to be a journey into the sleepy realms of slow-cooked cinema. Not the case! Offering a surprising lightness (surprising because it’s oftentimes melancholy), the film makes the time investment here well worth it, a finer relationship film you’re unlikely to see all year … If great film is built upon engagement, then this effort must be considered a rousing success. Blue is the Warmest Color is a work of delightfully layered sophistication, a movie you want to follow out even further than the sand and sunshine, all the way out into the deep blue ocean sea. — Caspar Salmon

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The Spectacular Now — As a deadbeat dad to a troubled and disconnected teen, Kyle Chandler obliterates his heroic Coach Taylor image. Rumpled, stubbly and completely absent emotionally, his southern fried take on the embodiment of a Jimmy Buffet concert is heart-breaking to watch. The film is likable enough on its own but doesn’t plumb any emotional depths until Chandler shows up. I hated watching him play a terrible father, but he was damn good at it. — Joanna Robinson

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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — There is good music in the film, including two sweet songs sung by Mara and Foster, and the sound is also well done; overall, the film does suffer from having too much music, with a constant soundscape always screwing over the film’s more nuanced moments. In the main, however, this is an intelligent and sensitive piece of filmmaking which, though it doesn’t quite achieve the instant classic status it’s shooting for, mostly hits its marks. — Caspar Salmon

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Upstream Color — Many filmmakers try to make “art” of their movies, to bring an air of poetry and allegory beyond the simple A-to-B-to-C storyline. Most attempts fail, resulting in grating pretension. Others succeed, resulting in beautiful pretension. Upstream Color is more articulate in its themes, and far more coherent in its plot, but like the work of Terrence Malick, that pretension often throws people off. It’s certainly not for everyone. However, if you’re willing to go with a film and let it take you where it wants in the way that it wants, even if that way is sometimes bizarre and disjointed, while you may not understand it all, you’ll find yourself with an enriching and beautiful ride. — Seth Freilich

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The Iceman — Buyer beware, there’s lots of stabbings, shootings, bloody messes all over the place, gross out moments upon sickening nasty imagery. While The Iceman is certainly not Oscar-worthy, and at times feels only like a high-class version of a sensationalized Lifetime film, there’s still plenty to like about this creepy little movie, mainly Michael Shannon’s endless reserve of calm, threatening low-level horror. — Amanda Mae Meyncke

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NebraskaNebraska is a study in contradictions — between denial and belief, between love and codependence — and that extends to its emotional makeup. It’s a film that embraces despair while also suggesting ways through it, and that looks death in the eye while trying to account for the rocky beauty of the life that leads up to it. It works toward a sense of understanding. Woody’s odyssey might be groundless, and David might know, and Woody might even know he knows, but maybe, the film suggests, that’s the best we can do for each other. Belief and denial are so strong, maybe the strongest things we have. We know of people only what we pretend to know, and finding out the truth — you aren’t a millionaire; your relationship is over; your parents lived whole lives before you came — can throw us off axis. So we find brief moments to live the version of our story we’ve told others, and we give our family the chance to become the people they’ve tried to tell us they are. We all have questions we know can’t be answered, and not because we don’t know the answers, but because we can’t bear to say them. Here, silence is enough. — Daniel Carlson

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To the Wonder — The film’s not short on Malickian flair. Yet these touches — the naturalism, the whispering, the probing and incomplete thoughts — are what’s so special about Malick’s movies. He roots his stories in nature because nature is the best and purest backdrop we have for asking daring and terrible questions about grace and theology and the limits of love, and all those things we care about so much that we can barely talk about them without feeling embarrassed or exposed. Malick’s made a movie about a man, a woman, and a servant of God searching for some road back to Eden or just a version of their lives where they can make sense of the world around them, and he’s so honest and sad about the process that it takes real focus not to shut down in the face of such openness. It’s not a surprise to learn that several other actors and actresses who appeared in the film were eliminated in the editing process. Malick himself might not even know what he’s looking for until he goes searching, and the searching is what he’s after. To the Wonder is a celebration of that search, and it builds to moments of sustained divinity and forgiveness and prayer that — I don’t even know how to finish that sentence. They’re about what Thomas Wolfe called the “lost lane-end into heaven,” but it’s really just a sense of coming home. Of peace. — Daniel Carlson

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The East — As a thriller, the film entertains, but is a slightly-disappointingly straightforward story of an agent embedding in an enemy and trying to take them down and prevent tragedy while struggling with the fact that she likes the individuals and maybe even agrees with their overall ideology. The plot here is intriguing enough, yet there is something cold and detached about it, which fails to rope the viewer in to the same extent that a perfect thriller does. But the film succeeds because Marling and Batmanglij elevate the film above a rote by-the-numbers exercise, making it a real character study and digging in to Sarah’s burgeoning relationship with the members of The East. Your typical thriller of this ilk gives you maybe one scene of true character bonding to show the sympathies being developed by the secret agent, whereas The East spends the better part of the film on this. In this way, it is very much a companion piece to Sound of My Voice, which danced around the edges of what the cult was all about, as it was much more interested in its main characters’ belief system and how their beliefs were challenged by what the Sound cult believed. — Seth Freilich

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Bad Milo — Folks are quick and eager these days to dub a movie the champion of some genre, but I am comfortable in unequivocally declaring that Milo is best butt monster movie of all time. Butt monster, what? Yes. Butt monster. That polyp is actually a demon — Ken Marino has a demon living in his colon. It’s name is Milo. It’s adorable … and violent. If you’re asking yourself how a demon living in a man’s lower intestinal tract can be violent, there’s an easy way for a demon like that to get out and go muck about in the world. You do the math. — Seth Freilich

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StokerStoker is a stunning work, as strange and marvelous as a cuckoo clock made of glass. A lot of people will probably hate this movie, but a lot of people are pretty dumb though so avoid them at all costs. Life’s hard enough as it is. The film is being compared to Hitchcock, and fairly enough. At Stoker’s core beats a mystery, tied up in family, desire, sexuality and a deep-seated legacy that must be lived. Riveting, though it wanders at times, is fairly violent and features a protagonist many will feel is a bit too strange to love. Fans of the bizarre and original will be delighted beyond belief, while those expecting tamer fare would do well to stay at home. — Amanda Mae Meyncke


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • AudioSuede

    Ugh, The Iceman. I tried watching it. It was like a TV version of a classic gangster movie. So cheesy. However, I will say that Upstream Color really moved me. Loved it as much as I was confused by it.

  • Jiffylush

    I was hoping to see Short Term 12 on the list even though I haven't seen it yet. Kind of surprised to see The East as it was not a very good movie imho.

  • PDamian

    The Spectacular Now was quite lovely, and Stoker was interesting. But this list just reminds me -- depressingly -- that my dinky little, semi-rural town has only one multiplex, and it NEVER shows independent or art films (unless "independent" includes Christian bromides like Kirk Cameron's Invincible). I saw Spectacular because I was in Minneapolis overnight on business, and Stoker when it showed up on HBO. I may have to crack open my 401k and open up an independent theatre of my own.

  • Sean

    Or just download all these movies when they show up online. About the only way to see smaller movies these days.

  • Haystacks

    The holidays are family outing time. I wanted to see 'Blue is the Warmest Color', but not while sitting next to my father.

  • googergieger

    Everything Park Chan Wook does is gold. Has made like five masterpieces to date.

  • "At just under three hours, the French film..." I'm not a film scholar or anything, but I'd be willing to bet that that right there is why it didn't get seen a whole lot.

  • DominaNefret

    Yup. I really really wanted to see it in theaters, but was never able to work it in to my schedule, and the three hour run time was why.
    I never saw Lincoln for the same reason, and it was a bit shorter.

  • Sean

    I saw all but Nebraska. Of course, I don't sleep much.

  • carrie

    To The Wonder is a Terrence Malick's movie parody directed by Malick (Ben Affleck is incredibly awkward and didn't seem to know what he does in the movie)

  • Debra Kessing

    I loved Stoker - it was one of the best movies I have seen in some time. I have been a fan of Mia since she stole season 1 of In Treatment from the brilliant Gabriel Byrne. She is so subtle & understated - a joy to watch.
    In my opinion she and Saoirse Ronan are the best young actresses around.

  • Debra Kessing

    since I commented there ^^^ I have watched the Spectacular Now {just alright IMO, nothing to make it stand out} and I spent 3 hours today watching Blue is the Warmest Colour. The lead actress is superb, her performance took my breath away. Everyone else was very good but Adele - just wow. One of the most raw and honest performances I have ever seen.

    One flaw, it was too long. I noticed the 3 hours and really there was quite alot they could have omitted. Oh, and I (known by my adult kids as the prude) found the sex scenes beautiful and presumably realistic. Porn? Pffft.

  • dizzylucy

    Of that list I've only seen the East, which was pretty interesting. Now I have a list to update my Netflix with.

  • This seems like an oddly innocuous comment to downvote. Apparently someone out there dislikes updating Netflix queues.

  • Patrick Garcia

    Is it fair to say Terrence Malick is the Michael Bay of art house films?

  • lowercase_ryan

    Blue is the Warmest Color will have crazy Netflix numbers. Just saying

  • Guest

    Crazy Dismal?

  • Guest

    Argh... What's with Disqus today?

    Crazy Dismal? *Except for those who choose to watch it looking for soft lesbian porn.

  • lowercase_ryan

    the porn angle.

  • JoannaRobinson

    They can't do THAT on television.

  • NoPantsMcLane

    Are you trying to tell me David Schwimmer is not gonna get a best supporting actor nod at the Oscars for his role in The Iceman?

  • Keith Rigby

    lol, this made me laugh pretty hard. Saw this at TIFF last year and during the Q&A Ray Liotta said the hardest part of making the film was every scene with Schwimmer.

  • Jim

    I saw Upstream Color over 6mo ago and I still don't understand what I was supposed to take away from it. If, indeed, I was supposed to take something from it.

    Frankly, I was most disturbed by the audience. It was in a nice rep place - sparsely attended (maybe 7 people.) Fellow off to my left kept saying "Un huh" and "Yes" whenever the male lead said ANYTHING. He also laughed out loud at most of what the female lead said. Both for no discernible reason.

    As we left I thought "God, maybe this was a performance piece and every showing has to have a live actor who does that."

  • Guest

    If you don’t see a film that falls below that threshold on this list, check back tomorrow, and it may appear in our yearly top ten.

    I hope Stories We Tell is on that list if not it should be Number 11 here.

    Domestic Total Gross: $1,600,145 (No Foreign Release).

  • sojourneryouth

    INCREDIBLE film! Sarah Polley is ridiculously talented, and it was beautiful to watch how her family supported this project, even though it brought up painful old wounds that were far from healed. A very brave piece of filmmaking from everyone involved.

  • I tuned into Stoker on HBO during the piano scene and thought it was one of the sexiest things I'd ever seen. Then I watched the rest of the movie. I really like Matthew Goode - his performance was...unexpected. I've seen him do not nice guy roles before, but I'm always surprised. Maybe because the first thing I saw him in was a Mandy Moore rom com? Anyway, I felt so sorry for Nicole Kidman - I wish she would quit the Botox so her face could move.

  • Miss Jane

    I caught the very end on HBO (sheriff in the cornfield) and was so astonished, that I VOD'd it to watch the whole thing. Even knowing the end, I was still surprised by how the director got there and how unconventional it ended up being.

  • mats19

    Stoker actually floored me in how amazing it was. I've watched it twice in the last week alone and recommended it to everyone. It's slow build with tension is INCREDIBLE to watch and see. Plus the movies got more film style eye candy shots then my brain was able to comprehend.

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    I just watched Stoker this past weekend. Wow. Floored is right. I'd seen Old Boy (the original) and had an idea what to expect from the director, but the visuals in Stoker were just amazing. I kinda wanna see it again now.

  • John W

    Stoker was pretty good.

  • Pippa_Laughingstock

    Loved Stoker

  • Saw all of those except Bad Milo. :P

  • Iceman is on Netflix Instant; highly recommended.

    Spectacular Now is in my top-10 of the year. Really honest, well-acted film.

  • To The Wonder is also on Netflix Instant, for those interested.

  • Shazza

    I believe Upstream Color is also on Netflix Instant too.

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