By The Pajiba Staff | Underappreciated Gems | March 24, 2015 |
By The Pajiba Staff | Underappreciated Gems | March 24, 2015 |
There’s a very specific category of film that I always feel a little sorry for: Really great underappreciated gems that don’t exactly float under the radar, but then again, they’re not on a lot of “To Watch” lists, either, because they don’t make a big splash come awards season, or because they aren’t huge Netflix hits, or because they’re just kind of forgotten. Basically, you run across a review or a trailer for this category of movie, you say to yourself, “Hey! I’d really like to see that when it comes out on DVD or streaming,” and then somewhere along the way, you see something shiny and you forget all about them.
Here’s ten of those movies, which you may barely remember, but that you should really give a shot:
Enough Said — Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) is a masseuse living in Los Angeles, divorced for ten years, her only daughter (Tracey Fairaway) about to head off to college far away. When Eva meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party, she reluctantly agrees to go out with him, and begins to like him despite his faults. Her friendship with another partygoer (Catherine Keener) begins to flourish, she struggles to maintain perspective amidst the opinions of friends both new and old (Toni Collette, Ben Falcone). A woman with a lot going on, Eva juggles her desire for relationship with her knowledge that most relationships end in failure, her depression over her daughter leaving with the increased presence of her daughter’s best friend in her life, her older and more comfortable friendship with her exotic new bohemian friend she can’t help but want to impress. Enough Said is not only the documentation of a coincidence, and the impact it has on numerous lives, but the story of the never ending struggle in relationships to balance the opinions of those we trust, those we want to impress and our own quiet inner voice … James Gandolfini’s acting is exceptional enough to supersede the sad truth of his death, but for much of the film it’s difficult to look at him, knowing this was one of his last films.
Laggies — This Lynn Shelton movie attempts a kind of gender-reversed man-child with Keira Knightley in the lead, and she’s incredible as a woman trapped between youth and adulthood. The pull of nostalgia and loyalty keeps her trapped in her suburban past, but the lure of Sam Rockwell — and his divorced Dad character — gently pushes her into the adulthood, even if it means essentially breaking up with all of her high school friends. If you love Rockwell (and Ellie Kemper), Laggies is a perfect heartwarming, well-acted, lounge on the couch on a lazy Saturday afternoon kind of movie.
A Most Violent Year — A Most Violent year just left theaters, and is just on VOD, but it unfortunately didn’t get the Oscar push it may have deserved. Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac anchor the sh*t out of this film, and as Vivian wrote, “This movie is The Godfather (probably a couple Godfathers), The Conversation, The French Connection… It’s a tribute and an homage, but it’s also something unique. It may look like one of those aggressively masculine stories of gangsters and corruption. But it manages at the same time to be something quieter, more personal, and deeply complicated.
Micmacs — Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has explained that the meaning of “micmacs” is something akin to “shenanigans.” And this film offered the best kind of shenanigans, in the form of multiple mini-capers. Micmacs is not a particularly emotionally resonant film, but it’s not intended to be. Rather, it’s meant to be a light and upbeat affair, with the heart of Amelie and the soul of a kid’s cartoon. And Jeunet hits the mark squarely.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World — Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an unexpectedly thoughtful film.. Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut (she also wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is instead the cinematic equivalent of Steve Carell’s eyes: Sweet, soulful, and sleepy, a basset hound of a movie that that whimpers sorrowfully at the moon. It’s not a movie you enjoy as much as it’s a movie you want to cuddle up in a sleeping bag with and hug. It’s a sleepy, rainy Saturday afternoon kind of film, sweet but not too heavy-handed, and more cozy than it is enjoyable.
Ruby Sparks — There is a strange, visceral reaction among many film fans to the conceit of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Ruby Sparks takes this concept and drills down into it, taking it to previously unseen depths and creates a story that is so totally fascinating and engaging that one is easily able to move past the completely insane and ridiculous central plot device. Much like its tonal brother Stranger Than Fiction, Ruby Sparks asks you accept a basic, nonsensical element and run with it. It’s so much smarter than it looks from the surface. It’s not the conventional tale one suspects, and it’s as much a critical shot at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and inherent authorial laziness of the creation as it is a clever and charming love story — that has some deep, treacherous pitfalls along the way. As adorable as it is scathing, the film creates an immersive, enjoyable experience that successfully blends reality and fantasy while laying bare the risks of confusing the two.
Big Fan — Big Fan, the directing debut of Robert D. Siegel (who wrote The Wrestler), is the all-too-accurate portrayal of Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), a sad, pathetic, mentally imbalanced, unhealthily obsessed fan of the New York Giants. It’s a brutal, unflinching depiction, so uncomfortable in parts that it’s difficult to watch. And, for anyone going in to a Patton Oswalt film expecting a comedy, put those expectations aside. Big Fan is a dark, realistic look at the kind of guy you know exists, but would almost rather not know. It’s an unnerving study of a terribly warped sports fan, and while there is some humor in places, it’s nothing you ever find yourself laughing at. You flinch and grimace and squirm and hope that the band-aid will be removed as quickly as possible. But it never is. Robert Siegel tears it off slowly and painfully. And while it’s a movie that deserves to be seen, it’s not a movie you’d consider seeing twice.
Killer Joe — Even before Magic Mike, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and Mud relaunched Matthew McConaughey’s career, he’d already been taking very interesting roles. He’s the villain in the dark comedy Killer Joe from screenwriter Tracy Letts. Matthew McConaughey’s inherent creepiness finally finds a fitting home, and he excels in the role of Joe Cooper, the killer. His power and absolute command of the situation is as unrelenting, and Joe would appear to be the angel of death himself, unwavering, untouchable, and uninterested in nuance. This one’s rated NC-17 and the brutality and sexuality warrant it. It’s worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of anyone involved as the film is powerful. It’s also hard to watch at times, and feels just a bit too long although the pacing is excellent. The horror here is only slightly different than the horror William Friedkin made his name on, as Killer Joe explores the depths of depravity inside desperate people, and the power that exists all around us that is simply there for the taking.
Win Win — There have been a few comparisons made between Win Win and The Blindside because critics are lazy and can’t speak without comparisons (sorry, we learn it from our parents). Both movies involve a family bringing in a athletic high school student, but the comparisons end there and anyone that would compare Sandra Bullock and Amy Ryan ought to be shot in the head on the spot. This is Tom McCarthy, people (Station Agents). The greatest director who ever starred in 2012. He brings his same sense of grace to Win Win, and populates them with always his colorful characters, that he did in his previous two films. Tom McCarthy has the market cornered on intelligent and heartwarming, but here he brings it to a wider audience.
Animal Kingdom — Newfound fans of Bloodline’s Ben Mendelsohn take notice: If you’re willing to savor your cinema, the carefully-constructed plot ponderously offers up some seemingly innocuous moments of pure cellulite cruelty fraught with tension. It’s not the kind of film that repeatedly goes off like a string of Chinese firecrackers every 10 seconds, but rather offers up astonishingly crisp subtext that will have you chomping through your knuckles. The entire film courses like a live-wire, where you simply watch as these characters scheme and plot behind each others’ backs, and then sit down to a friendly family dinner, where everyone’s clutching knives beneath the tablecloth. Animal Kingdom is packed with so much dense subtext and material, it’s almost overwhelming. The sheer weight of the film causes it to drag in parts, but this density is what sets off dynamite in the story. There are so many phenomenal scenes where we watch characters eat breakfast or sit on a couch watching television where every word is loaded like an elephant gun. But Animal Kingdom isn’t a sudden onslaught, but rather a slow, steady bleeding where everyone is doomed.