The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2013 - Find & Watch Them
by Alex Billington
February 18, 2014
The best of the best - that you didn't see last year. We have returned with another set of worth watching, underseen films from 2013. Back by popular demand is our seventh annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2013 (our past lists: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked selection of the best independent and/or mainstream films that were either quietly dumped, ignored by audiences, or just not marketed well enough. So to give them extra attention in the spotlight, and to support some of the finest filmmakers out there, here is our best of 2013 recap. Read on for the full list!
Once again, it gets harder and harder to come up with this list of 19, and to figure out which deserve to be on here and which I have to put as an honorable mention (see those at the very bottom). This year I just went for those that really jumped out at me, the ones that I really enjoyed or felt like deserved to be recognized, no matter what they were - a good mix of documentaries and features, and films that I just felt needed to be seen by more people; for their subject, for their filmmaking, for their originality and so much more. Please give these 19 films a look, and catch up on those you might not have seen yet. Thanks, as always, for reading.
I would like to encourage everyone to watch at least one of these that they haven't heard of (or didn't see) beforehand. If you spend the two hours or so that it will take to watch even one of these movies mentioned below, it would mean that much more to the filmmakers who put so much time and effort into making each of these movies. This isn't about getting kudos for mentioning certain films, this article is about pointing out movies that don't deserve to be forgotten and are begging to be watched. So pick one and watch it tonight.
A Band Called Death
Opened on June 28, 2013
Directed by Mark Christopher Covino & Jeff Howlett
A documentary on the 1970s punk trio Death, and their new-found popularity decades after they disbanded.
Why it's on here: An exceptional mix of intriguing storytelling and badass, punk rock riffs, A Band Called Death is the latest in a string of brilliant docs designed to make you take notice of the artists and talent at the films' subject matter heart. The punk band, Death, was made up of three African-American brothers. They formed their band before punk rock even had a blip on the radar, before the rest of the world was ready to be as rebellious as they were, and before anyone was ready to listen to a band with such a pessimistic, downer name. These reasons all factored into Death never finding the success they were striving for. However, thanks to music docs such as this, the works of these gifted artists are finding an audience. A Band Called Death is not only an engaging story with awesome music, it is important that stories like this and Searching for Sugar Man be told, that the artists these films are about be given their moment to shine. This is an amazing part of a greater, documentary movement when it comes to discovering lost music. For what these films do, and for how wonderful they are, here's hoping there are dozens more just waiting on the horizon. (Written by Jeremy Kirk)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints
Opened on August 16, 2013
Directed by David Lowery
The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met.
Why it's on here: After premiering at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, I called this breakthrough film from director David Lowery a "slow-burning, western thriller with magnificent visuals, conservative performances, and a spectacularly twangy score." The film begins where most heist films end as a group of outlaws face off with policemen in a shootout. A freshly pregnant Ruth (Rooney Mara) and her husband Bob (Casey Affleck) are taken away in handcuffs, clinging to each other as they're escorted by police. Bob takes the blame for shooting a police officer, leaving Ruth to raise their child on her own, awaiting his release. The story that unfolds is a quiet, gorgeously shot thriller, focusing on whether or not love can overcome such overwhelming obstacles. (Written by Ethan)
The Act of Killing
Opened on July 19, 2013
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.
Why it's on here: This is an unbelievable, astounding, confounding, remarkable documentary that deserves every last award it's won so far. Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is an extraordinary achievement in documentary filmmaking, and pushes boundaries in storytelling in the way it's constructed, and the way he captures something happen, not to mention being released for free in Indonesia. Recalling the stories of Indonesian death squad leaders, The Act of Killing is one of the most powerful docs ever made and is a landmark debut for Oppenheimer. By now, many have heard something about this doc, thanks to all the awards it's getting, but it's time to finally watch it. Be prepared to be shocked and moved.
Opened on June 21, 2013
Directed by Ziad Doueiri
An Arab surgeon living in Tel Aviv discovers a dark secret about his wife in the aftermath of a suicide bombing.
Why it's on here: A highly underseen drama, one of my favorites from the Telluride Film Festival. The Attack tells a heart-wrenching, emotionally frustrating story of love in Israel, about a husband who loses his wife in a suicide bombing and struggles in the aftermath as he begins to learn more about the event. It's a riveting drama with a very powerfully touching core, and is a film that will challenge your own beliefs and put you in the thick of discussion by the end. Ali Suliman gives a stellar lead performance as Dr. Amin Jaafari. Highly recommended, thought-provoking film.
Opened on October 23, 2013
Directed by Claire Denis
Marco returns to Paris after his brother-in-law's suicide, where he targets the man his sister believes caused the tragedy - though he is ill-prepared for her secrets as they quickly muddy the waters.
Why it's on here: An intricate, deep, tender film that, if anything, will introduce more people to French filmmaker Claire Denis (of Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day, 35 Shots of Rum). Denis' latest film, featuring Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni both giving great performances, is an immersive and mesmerizing experience. It will leave some confounded, but others will fall for it's enchanting visuals and eerie story. As said best by my friend Raffi of The Film Stage: "Packing in thematic metaphors about the secrecy of elitist people, the world of their mistresses, and their obsessive vices no matter how disturbing, the subtle emotional layers in this experience are vast while incongruous to what we are shown."
Opened on September 13, 2013
Directed by Alexandre Moors
An abandoned boy is lured to America and drawn into the shadow of a dangerous father figure. Inspired by the real life events that led to the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks.
Why it's on here: In what could easily be seen as a subtle monster movie, Blue Caprice focuses the unlikely duo of an abandoned young boy and grown man as they begin a makeshift father-son relationship inspired by the heinous Beltway sniper attacks. Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond play the killers in question in a story told from their point of view. From director Alexandre Moors turns the title car into an important character, allowing it to linger in an intimidating fashion, making it one of the most terrifying vehicles since Duel or Christine. But the real meat comes from seeing inside the mind of these misguided devils as they carry out their own form of inexplicable justice on everyday people. It's cold-blooded, haunting and powered by two fantastic performances. (Written by Ethan)
Blue is the Warmest Color
Opened on October 25, 2013
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Adele's life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself and ultimately finds herself through love and loss.
Why it's on here: Because it's one of the grandest, most exhilarating loves stories ever told on film. Screw the controversy and complaints from the actresses, forget any concerns about there being too much shown, it's just a beautiful film telling a wonderful love story. That's it, simple as that - and there's so much to appreciate. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, as Adèle and Emma, both give best-of-their-lives performances as two lesbians exploring falling in love, and we follow their romance intimately, from their first physical moments to the fall out. I've seen this film multiple times and love it for so many reasons, from the depth of the characters, to the extended but intricate storytelling, to the food scenes, and much more. It's worth it.
Opened on October 4, 2013
Directed by Stacie Passon
After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can't do it anymore. Her life just can't be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor.
Why it's on here: A sensual drama that has a powerful undercurrent, the kind that gets under your skin and makes you think back to it, days, weeks, or even months later. Originally a Sundance film, Concussion features a fantastic lead performance from Robin Weigert as a mom who decides to explore her sexuality in a risque way as a call girl. It's not too explicit, or overly sweet, but it is an edgy and well-made indie drama that's worth your time exploring. It will challenge your own feelings, and make you think deeply about sentimentality and sexuality. Just don't watch this one with your kids.
Opened on November 10, 2013
Directed by Ari Folman
An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn't consider.
Why it's on here: An extremely mesmerizing and utterly thought-provoking sci-fi mind bender starring Robin Wright (as "Robin Wright"), of all people. The film, which starts out live-action, turns into animation part of the way through and goes to some very odd places, bringing up existential and metaphysical questions. At first I was completely bewildered, but the more I think back to this film and what it contains, the more I admire it and wish that more people would take a look at it. The way it asks questions and the oddly alluring cartoon animation, there's just something about it. I hope more people get the chance to see The Congress and really peel back the layers of it.
An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter's fourth largest moon.
Why it's on here: Because it's awesome. I love this film, it's perfect. Everything they got wrong in Prometheus, everything that didn't deliver in Apollo 18, it's all fixed in this found footage sci-fi exploration film. Ecuadorian filmmaker Sebastián Cordero gets everything right about this, from the setup to the incredible set design, to the minimal effects, to the way the story unfolds and the little glimpses he gives us. It's honestly one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the decade, the way it gets science right so much of the time, and the way it approaches space travel from a realistic standpoint. The cast is notable as well, lead by Sharlto Copley, Daniel Wu, Christian Camargo and Karolina Wydra. It's a great discovery, and a movie that is well worth it to experience.
Opened on May 17, 2013
Directed by Noah Baumbach
A story that follows a New York woman (who doesn't really have an apartment), apprentices for a dance company (though she's not really a dancer), and throws herself headlong into her dreams, even as their possibility dwindles.
Why it's on here: This black and white comedy starring Greta Gerwig in a compellingly honest performance made the list of my favorite films of 2013, coming in right at #8. And looking back at the film Gerwig co-wrote with director Noah Baumbach, it's easily one of the best films that sadly more audiences didn't catch. Whether you're experiencing your 20s or look back on them far in your past, this story of a young girl still finding her place in the world is something we can all relate to. But what's spectacular about Frances Ha is that it doesn't approach the subject matter melodramatically or with any obviously revelatory story arc. Instead, the film lets Frances learn from her mistakes, live life spontaneously and occasionally haphazardly, just as we all have. It's a true delight to watch. (Written by Ethan)
A documentary about one family's courageous fight to save their only son from a rare and fatal disease, progeria.
Why it's on here: Progeria is an extremely rare genetic disorder in children wherein symptoms resembling the effects of aging are manifested at a very early age. Sam Berns is a normal teenage boy afflicted with this easy-to-spot affliction, and he wants everyone to know about this disease that is part of his life, but he also wants everyone to understand that it's not what defines him. While progeria limits Sam in certain activities, he strives for life goals like any other teenager. Whether it's aspiring to be part of the high school drum corps or tutoring students in math, Sam doesn't let life get him down as his medical doctor parents work hard through the Progeria Research Foundation to hopefully find a cure. This is a charming, informative and eye-opening documentary about a rare disease that only impacts dozens, but deserves no less of our dedication and support in fighting it. Sadly, Sam passed away early this year, making the documentary that much more bittersweet, but you can honor him by supporting the Progeria Research foundation right here. (Written by Ethan)
Like Father, Like Son
Opened on November 9, 2013
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda
Ryota Nonomiya is a successful businessman driven by money. When he learns that his biological son was switched with another child after birth, he must make a life-changing decision and choose his true son or the boy he raised as his own.
Why it's on here: This is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film that will make you cry. Especially if you have kids of your own. Koreeda (of Nobody Knows) tells an emotionally heartbreaking story - two families had their babies switched while first at the hospital, and they've raised sons not their own over the past few years. Confronted with this information, how do they cope, and could they switch children before it's too late? What a tough situation to be in. Set in contemporary Japan, this story is told with a refined delicacy and masterful precision that makes every moment of it riveting to watch. It's not completely depressing either, there's a joyful side to it, but above all it's just a touching, accessible human story.
Like Someone in Love
Opened on February 15, 2013
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
In Tokyo, a young prostitute develops an unexpected connection with an elderly widower over a period of two days.
Why it's on here: A very charming film beneath its otherwise opaque surface. There's so much to adore about this Tokyo-set film, from the intriguing long shots themselves, to the lovely performance from 86-year-old Tadashi Okuno as Takashi Watanabe. I saw this at the Cannes Film Festival and was mesmerized, and I can't help but recommend watching just about anything from Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. That said, Like Someone in Love tells a very sweet story about love and truth and honor, contrasted by the harsh reality of today's real world, captured exquisitely by Kiarostami. Even if these kind of films aren't your thing, it's still worth seeing.
Opened on September 18, 2013
Directed by Shaka King
A match made in stoner heaven turns into a love triangle gone awry when Lyle can't decide which matters most, Nina or Mary Jane.
Why it's on here: For some laughter! This Sundance-selected indie is a wacky, one-of-a-kind, stoner comedy-drama about a couple, played by Amari Cheatom and Trae Harris, who encounter some turbulence when marijuana stress gets a bit too much. It's set in Brooklyn, of course, and is hilarious while at times sweet and thoughtful. Yes, there's plenty of marijuana use but that's what makes it great - a sort of brand new kind of modern 2013 stoner drama, with some good lessons and a beating heart deep down at its core. Isiah Whitlock Jr. shows up briefly, too, which should be more than enough to convince you this is worth your time. It's a real gem, a fun watch whether you're stoned or not.
Short Term 12
Opened on August 23, 2013
Directed by Destin Cretton
A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.
Why it's on here: "Sometimes you watch a movie and, at the end, can't think of anything in the film that could have been done better. The whole thing just feels perfect or magical, a shining example of what cinema is all about. Short Term 12 is one of those movies," proclaims SlashFilm's Germain Lussier in his 10/10 review. If those two lines didn't sell you, I hope this will. Everything about this film is a magnificent achievement, from the down-to-earth performances to the heartfelt story that connects with everyone in its own ways, to the cinematography and care put into the storytelling, Short Term 12 is one of those films you just have to see, you must discover. Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. are exceptional in the lead performances as two counselors struggling with their own lives while trying to manage the lives of a couple of troubled young kids. Fall in love with this film like everyone else has, you won't regret it.
Opened on October 25, 2013
Directed by Jehane Noujaim
A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience.
Why it's on here: Because it's another outstanding doc that needs to be seen. As I tweeted right after I first saw this doc at the New York Film Festival last year: "a powerful, intimate, infuriating, inspiring, moving doc about struggles of revolution in modern day. Required viewing for all." The doc has already earned an Oscar nomination and plenty of acclaim throughout the year. It's even being updated as things continue to happen, after first premiering at Sundance back in early 2013, filmmaker Jehane Noujaim has continued to add more footage to the doc as the Egyptian revolution evolves. As stated, it's required viewing, there's so much to gain from it; it's like watching history in the making and learning so many lessons about how cultures change and what it means to be free in this day and age.
Opened on September 13, 2013
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
An enterprising Saudi girl signs on for her school's Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the remaining funds she needs in order to buy the green bicycle that has captured her interest.
Why it's on here: Because it's the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first feature film made by a female Saudi director - Haifaa Al-Mansour (watch her Jon Stewart interview). This film is also on here because it's a charmer, it's the kind that will win you over in heart and head, about a young girl who just wants to get her bicycle. The young girl who stars in Wadjda, Waad Mohammed, is wonderful and brings so much joy to this story. There's also a slight political agenda behind this and it's refreshing to see such impressive filmmaking coming from even the most oppressed places in the world. Another terrific discovery that you will want to tell all of your friends about after.
We Steal Secrets
Opened on May 24, 2013
Directed by Alex Gibney
A documentary that details the creation of Julian Assange's controversial website, which facilitated the largest security breach in U.S. history.
Why it's on here: To make you think twice about the way we all instantly judge, and to highlight an utterly fascinating documentary. Think you know everything about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks? Guess again. In one of Alex Gibney's two 2013 docs (the other being The Armstrong Lie), he spends over two hours exploring the complete story of whiz kid and controversial figure Julian Assange: who he is, how he came to be, and why he caused his own downfall. It's expertly arranged, and delves deep into the person, exploring why everything turned out the way it did, with inside access. I liked this more than The Armstrong Lie, and fought it completely captivating from start to finish, tweeting that I "didn't want it to end." This is another doc worth diving into, whether you're fond of the subject or not.
I hope we've been able to introduce everyone to a few more great must-see films that you have never seen. Not everyone will love all of them, that's certainly expected, but I guarantee there is something unique to discover in every last one of these. Support an indie filmmaker today, watch one of these 19, it will make a difference! Let us know what you think of it after, too.
Honorable Mentions (more to see!) other fantastic films: James Ponsoldt's The Spectacular Now, Jordan Vogt-Roberts's The Kings of Summer, Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, Jem Cohen's Museum Hours, Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines, Zal Batmanglij's The East, Drake Doremus' Breathe In, Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, Rick Rowley's Dirty Wars, Shaul Schwarz's Narco Cultura, Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel's Leviathan, David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche, Park Chan-wook's Stoker.
Commentary for Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Blue Caprice, Frances Ha and Life According to Sam written by Ethan; with commentary for A Band Called Death also written by our own Jeremy Kirk. I do hope you've been refreshed by this year's selection of the 19 Best Movies You Didn't See in 2013. We're always happy to bring you a good list of films that should be added to your Netflix or Must Watch lists right away. Please enjoy. (Even if it's already February 2014!) Post your thoughts on any of the films in the comments below!