11 Movies You Should’ve Seen In 2013 But Probably Didn’t
This year there were, of course, blockbusters we enjoyed—films like Star Trek Into Darkness, This is the End and The Heat. There were also somewhat smaller films that built enough buzz and praise to crack Box Office Mojo’s 100 top grossers of the year — movies like Blue Jasmine, Mud and The Way Way Back — but never turned into big blockbusters. Still, there were plenty of other cinematic offerings that captured our imaginations but didn’t manage to capture much of an audience. In case you missed them, here (in no particular order) are 11 movies we think are well worth viewing
Sound City — This documentary directed by Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl has heart. It’s all about all the great albums (Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedoes, Nirvana’s Nevermind) recorded at Sound City studios just outside of Los Angeles. With a slew of big-name musician interviews, Sound City provides an excellent overview of how recording at good old-fashioned studios — no matter how crappy they might look — fosters camaraderie and chemistry.
Philomena — Based on a true story, Philomena has generated loads of well-deserved rave reviews but hasn’t gotten much action at the box office and might get overlooked for a best picture nod when the Oscar nominations arrive. It’s a shame because Judi Dench gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Philomena Lee, an elderly woman who enlists journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her find the son she had to give up some 50 years ago. The two spar a bit (Coogan plays Martin as a real sarcastic sonofabitch) as they head to the States after following some clues that lead them across the pond. The story naturally lends itself to a film adaptation and veteran director Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) does an excellent job of developing the two main characters and letting the suspense naturally escalate.
The Kings of Summer — Three boys run away from home to build a life in a nearby woods in this coming-of-age movie. Although the kids seem a little old to be having their Stand by Me summer, the strong cast, humor and sometimes timeless Wes Anderson-like charm outweigh any of the film’s shortcomings.
Fruitvale Station — Writer-director Ryan Coogler makes an impressive debut with this film about the New Year’s Eve/Day shooting that took place at the Fruitvale Area Rapid Transit (BART) station in Oakland, California. Actor Michael B. Jordan stars as Oscar Grant, the troubled young man who becomes a victim at the hands of an over-zealous BART police officer. Oscar was certainly no saint, but that doesn’t make his death any less tragic. Coogler’s even-handed approach ensures that the film doesn’t alienate its audience and keeps the story compelling even if you already know the outcome. No easy task.
The Iceman — In this dark story of a cold-blooded killer leading a double life in suburbia Michael Shannon is a pleasant surprise in the lead role, completely inhabiting the character and all his contradictions. Another great revelation? Chris Evans (Captain America) is virtually unrecognizable as the creepy “Mr. Freezy,” a hit man who rides around in an ice cream truck that doubles as cold storage for dead bodies.
Her — Writer-director Spike Jonze’s (Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) best film since 1999’s Being John Malkovich is another weird one. A mix of science fiction and drama, Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly, a guy whose job entails producing love letters for people who have trouble writing them. Recently separated, he buys a computer operating system and develops feelings for the woman’s voice (think of Apple’s Siri) that responds to his various technological needs. It’s all rather bizarre (and kinda creepy), but Scarlett Johansson is terrific as the voice of the operating system and Amy Adams provides solid support as Theodore’s compassionate neighbor. One of the year’s most unique movies on a visual level, the film enables Jonze to create a high tech world that only resembles a modern-day city but seems slightly more exotic as the same time.
Nebraska — This black-and-white film deals with family turmoil, coming to terms with leading less than exceptional lives and the indignities of old age. They’re pretty depressing topics and the road trip movie has been done before, but great performances (especially from Bruce Dern and June Squibb as husband and wife respectively) make this bleak human tale a joy to watch.
Dallas Buyers Club — When Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a womanizing, rodeo-loving homophobe contracts AIDS and can’t get the support or treatment he needs, what’s left of his life is turned upside down and an unlikely anti-hero is born. He begins importing drugs from foreign countries and sets up a pharmacy of sorts in the apartment complex where he lives. Jared Leto plays his great transgender ally in this troubling tale that really packs a punch.
About Time – When you get past the fact that Rachel McAdams has been in three tales centering on male time travelers and you let the loose time-and-space rules go, you can really enjoy this heartwarming tale of the joy that can be found in deliberately living in the moment and always fully appreciating those closest to you. Actor Brendan Gleeson’s son, fellow Harry Potter star Domhnall Gleeson, proves he can play a leading man and the time-tested Bill Nighy shines as his father.
The To Do List – Writer-director Maggie Carey, wife of funnyman Bill Hader, drew upon personal experience for this comedy that centers on Brandy (Aubrey Plaza), a high-school senior who’s determined to lose her virginity before heading off to college. Carey even wrote a part of Hader, who portrays Willy, a loser lifeguard attendant who can’t even swim. While it didn’t get great reviews, the film has the kind of crude humor you normally wouldn’t associate with a chick flick that result in some very funny moments. But then, the movie isn’t really a chick flick as it pokes fun at sexuality and shows just how raunchy women can be as Brandy puts things like “rim job” and “teabagging” on her list of things to do before she ships off to college.
The Punk Singer — Before she formed the riot grrrl act Bikini Girl in 1990, singer Kathleen Hanna was just another private school student trying to find herself. The story of how she evolved from writing bad poetry at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington to fronting an influential punk band is the subject of this fine documentary from director Sini Anderson. While too much of the movie focuses on Hanna’s battle with lyme disease, the film has plenty going for it. The vintage footage of Bikini Kill performances is terrific, and Hanna has an uncanny ability to articulate her punk rock ethos.