The 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2014 - Start Watching Now
by Alex Billington
January 20, 2015
The best of the best - that you didn't see last year. We have returned with another set of worth watching, underseen films from 2014. Back by popular demand is our eighth annual list of the 19 Best Movies That You Didn't See in 2014 (past lists: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007). Featured below is a hand-picked line-up 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 2014 recap. Read on for the full list!
This year, for some reason, tons of other entertainment websites decided to run their own versions of a best movies you didn't see list and there are plenty out there. So, it gets harder to put a list together that is truly unique yet representative of the best most people haven't actually seen yet, not just the best indie films of the year. Everyone knows about Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida (Oscar nominated!) and Jennifer Kent's horror breakout The Babadook, plus Bong Joon-ho's VOD sci-fi sensation Snowpiercer, and Ava DuVernay's must-see masterpiece Selma, and Jeremy Saulnier's revenge gem Blue Ruin, and Laura Poitras' excellent Snowden doc Citizenfour, and of course Damien Chazelle's intense Whiplash, but what about all the others that really got lost in the mix? Well, here's our annual list of the 19 best movies you might've missed, the ones you've been saying "oh yea I should see that" but just haven't yet. These are the ones to watch next.
For the last eight years I've been putting together this list, my goal has been, above all, to present a diverse and exciting list of great movies that weren't seen enough the year they were released. I've done my best to passionately deliver a curated list of films worth your time. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel or say this is the best list above all, but I am proud of the work I've put into discovering and curating these films over the years. It is always an honor to bring any kind of attention to these films, and introduce more people to some of the most original, interesting, astounding works of cinema out there. Thank you, 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. Tip: click on the poster images below to visit each film's official website to find out where/how to see it.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Opened on November 21, 2014
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
In the Iranian ghost-town Bad City, a place that reeks of death and loneliness, the townspeople are unaware they are being stalked by a lonesome vampire.
Why it's on here: This is a vampire indie from Iran made by a very talented up-and-coming filmmaker named Ana Lily Amirpour (she's already shooting her next film in America with the support of Annapurna Pictures). While the vampire genre is growing very tired, this sheds some new light on the old cliches. The film really feels like a graphic novel brought to life, more than most comic book movies. If you enjoyed Only Lovers Left Alive (another vampire indie) this is as good if not even better, and doesn't sully the genre any further. Don't miss this film, as everyone in the industry is already talking about this filmmaker and it's a refreshing debut unlike anything from America.
Opened on June 6, 2014
Directed by Alex van Warmerdam
A vagrant enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare in the process.
Why it's on here: Gotta go Borgman! This is the biggest "WTF" on here, and that's why I had to include it. Cami Borgman, played by Jan Bijvoet, is a crafty individual who figures out how to work his way into the home of a wealthy family. What happens from there is a mystery, but it's oh-so-devious and so much fun to watch. This is one of those disruptive films similar to Haneke's Funny Games where the despicable anti-hero is the one we're rooting for, and I couldn't help but smirk watching Borgman pull off his tricks. Don't let that comparison turn you away, there's something mischievously entertaining about Borgman that makes it distinctive.
Opened on August 1, 2014
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.
Why it's on here: To make you think about religion's place in today's world, and how the changes over time have affected those who are still believers. Brendan Gleeson turns in an engrossing performance as Father James in a small town in Ireland, figuring out who from the town is out to get him. The score is lovely, the cinematography is exceptional, the performances are all powerful, and the script itself is intelligent and bold, challenging religion yet also appreciating its place in society. Look for Chris O'Dowd and Kelly Reilly giving stand out performances as well.
Dear White People
Opened on October 17, 2014
Directed by Justin Simien
A satire about being a black face in a white place following the lives of four black students at an Ivy League college.
Why it's on here: Now is the time we need some provocative and bold racial satire to cut through the tension that has engulfed our nation. Director Justin Simien delivers a timely and entertaining coming-of-age tale for a generation dealing with different kinds of prejudice that may not seem like prejudice at all. While the title might turn the titular race of people off, it's important to note that this isn't some one-sided, bias examination of racism coming from only the white side of the aisle. The primary black characters also have a lot to learn about how they perceive their own race, and also how white people perceive them. There are lessons to be learned for everyone, but it's in the package of smart, witty writing that doesn't feel preachy or overwhelming. There's also some great performances from young actors like Tessa Thompson, who we'll probably see blossom into well-known names. Check it out. (Written by Ethan)
Opened on May 9, 2014
Directed by Richard Ayoade [FS Interview]
A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite - confident, charismatic and seductive with women. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novella.
Why it's on here: The first of two worth watching, provocative movies that deal with the subject of duality and identity, explored through the appearance of a doppelganger. In this one, Jesse Eisenberg stars twice as Simon and James, and it takes place in a very unique, peculiar world crafted by comedian/actor/filmmaker Richard Ayoade (his other film Submarine is also highly recommended). It's a bit weird and funky and sometimes confusing, but still a strong adaptation of a compelling novel touching upon the metaphysical concept of what it means to be you, and no one else. Best to talk about this one with friends after seeing it.
Opened on March 14, 2014
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) seeks out his exact look-alike after spotting him in a movie. Based on José Saramago's novel.
Why it's on here: The second of two worth watching, provocative movies that deal with the subject of duality and identity, explored through the appearance of a doppelganger. In this one, Jake Gyllenhaal stars twice as Adam and Anthony, and it takes place in a very unique, peculiar world crafted by Quebecois filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (his other film Incendies is also highly recommended). It's a bit weird and funky and sometimes confusing, but still a strong adaptation of a compelling novel touching upon the metaphysical concept of what it means to be you, and no one else. Best to talk about this one with friends after seeing it.
Opened on October 24, 2014
Directed by Ruben Östlund [FS Interview]
A family on a ski holiday in the French Alps find themselves staring down an avalanche during lunch one day; in the aftermath, their dynamic has been shaken to its core, with a question mark hanging over their patriarch in particular.
Why it's on here: Family ski vacation dark comedy brilliance from Sweden. I totally love this film; I went crazy for it at Cannes where it first premiered, and have been telling everyone about it since then. It's a hilarious (please laugh, don't forget it's a comedy) trip into the life of one family that gets shaken up after an avalanche close call at a ski resort in the French alps. Aside from the thrill, the cinematography is stunning and the writing is outstanding, blending social commentary with the cliches of family and dark comedy. Ruben Östlund has cemented himself as one of my favorite new filmmakers to follow, showing that he's capable of not only thought-provoking work but also smart humor.
Opened on August 22, 2014
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Jon, a young wanna-be musician, discovers he's bitten off more than he can chew when he joins an eccentric pop band led by the mysterious and enigmatic Frank.
Why it's on here: This quirky indie rock fueled comedy is worth seeing just for the unique and magical performance delivered by Michael Fassbender, playing the giant-headed lead singer of a truly peculiar musical outfit. Domhnall Gleeson leads the film as a bit of a social outcast with dreams of rocking out in front of a big crowd, and in this film it's clear why he's gone on to strong roles in films like Unbroken and Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year. Rounding out the cast are Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy, both turning in strong supporting performances. At the same time, the film also sneaks in some commentary about the desire for fame in a culture obsessed with going viral and being true to yourself in the face of following the crowd. It's quite the rocking gem of an indie and you can watch it on Netflix right now. (Written by Ethan)
Opened on September 17, 2014
Directed by Adam Wingard
A soldier introduces himself to the Peterson family, claiming to be a friend of their son who died in action. After the young man is welcomed into their home, a series of accidental deaths seem to be connected to his presence.
Why it's on here: Terminator by way of John Carpenter. It's a 1980s action movie lost in the 2010s, but still as good as (if not better than) anything else put out in 2014. Dan Stevens plays "David", a man who suddenly shows up in a small town in Texas claiming to be the friend of a local family member killed in action. The way the story plays out from here is exciting to watch, and if you love movies as much as we do, you're going to have a hell of a time watching this one. The soundtrack kicks ass, the action is awesome, the visuals are sleek, it's a soon-to-be-if-not-already cult classic that you should've seen already.
A pair of former brothers-in-law embark on a road trip through Iceland.
Why it's on here: We don't really have a new Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon , but we get pretty damn close with Earl Lynn Nelson and Paul Eenhoorn. The two unknown stars have a tremendous amount of fun in this international road trip comedy following ex-brother-in-laws on a trip in Iceland. It's simple, with laughs that sneak up on you naturally because it never feels like the script is trying hard to be funny. There's brotherly love and fighting, fun encounters on the road, all from two elderly stars who feel like they've been friends for decades. It's like going on vacation with the coolest grandparents. This is the kind of indie film that proves you don't need big stars or an outrageous premise to make an entertaining, loveable comedy. (Written by Ethan)
Opened on April 25, 2014
Directed by Steven Knight
Ivan Locke, a dedicated family man and successful construction manager, receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his carefully cultivated existence.
Why it's on here: To see Tom Hardy give one incredible performance. The entire film takes place inside a car as Hardy drives down a highway, and as much as that seems boring, I assure you it is not. Hardy carries the entire film on his performance alone, and he does such an exceptional job of creating a world around this character, that it's surprisingly easy to get lost in his head. Many big filmmakers have been praising Hardy for this performance, and to top it off he apparently shot the entire script in one long take. They would film him for two hours, then he would go back and do it again, delivering every bit of dialogue from memory. Don't worry it's not actually boring, it's a very impressive film.
Love is Strange
Opened on August 22, 2014
Directed by Ira Sachs
After Ben and George get married, George is fired from his teaching post, forcing them to stay with friends separately while they sell their place and look for cheaper housing -- a situation that weighs heavily on all involved.
Why it's on here: This is a beautiful, beautiful film made with love telling a story about love, and how important it is. I fell hard for this one when I first saw it at Sundance, and have re-watched it multiple times throughout 2014 to reaffirm my appreciation for this film. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina star in two remarkable performances as charming, humble gay lovers who finally get married in New York City after being together for over 20 years. This starts a series of events that leads to sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes interesting places, but it always gets right back to the heart. It shows us how important it is to love your family, love your friends, and how to live a life of happiness, without feeling too heavy handed and overly pretentious in any way.
Opened on June 6, 2014
Directed by Gillian Robespierre
A twenty-something comedienne's unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.
Why it's on here: As one of my favorite comedies of 2014, this subversive film takes the touchy topic of abortion and uses it to fuel a charming, hilarious gem. Jenny Slate makes for a fantastic leading lady, alluring and adorable, but without being a cliche romantic comedy character. The film never gets absurd, keeping the laughs grounded and genuine, which actually makes the abortion subject matter that much easier to swallow, even for those who may be against it. But to call this an abortion comedy overlooks everything else the film has to offer in the vein of being a stellar romantic comedy that doesn't pander to the typical audience that turns up for the tired subgenre. (Written by Ethan)
The One I Love
Opened on August 22, 2014
Directed by Charlie McDowell
Struggling with a marriage on the brink of falling apart, a couple escapes for a weekend in pursuit of their better selves, only to discover an unusual dilemma that awaits them.
Why it's on here: It's best to go into this movie knowing as little as possible, so I won't even bother explaining the meat of the story. But this is one of the most original approaches to a relationship drama that I've seen in a long time. It's got a sci-fi touch without overthinking it conceptually. It's quaint, fascinatingly so, and it'll keep you captivated with some surprising twists and turns. There are even some elements of the film that make it feel like a film noir. There's a little of everything, to be honest, complete with two magnificent lead performances from Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss, who really make you believe in the film's far out premise. This one is available on Netflix, so give it a shot. (Written by Ethan)
The Skeleton Twins
Opened on September 12, 2014
Directed by Craig Johnson
Having both coincidentally cheated death on the same day, estranged twins reunite with the possibility of mending their relationship.
Why it's on here: Both Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader have blossomed into successful movie stars since leaving "Saturday Night Live," but it's in this indie that they masterfully stretch more than just their comedy muscles. The Skeleton Twins allows Wiig and Hader to be funny, but also contrasts that with some powerful drama. The story itself is typical of the kind of films you expect to see at Sundance (where it premiered), but the chemistry between Hader and Wiig as a struggling brother and sister elevate to something much more. Throw in Luke Wilson and Ty Burrell in supporting roles and one of the best lip syncing scenes in film history, and this is a must-see indie. (Written by Ethan)
A troubled and explosively violent teenager is transferred to adult prison where he finally meets his match - a man who also happens to be his father.
Why it's on here: It's brutal, intense, and violent, but made with such a keen eye that looks beyond just the violence. Starred Up stars breakout actor Jack O'Connell in one of his first lead roles, giving one of his best performances to date as a young, violent inmate transferred to the same prison where his father is. We profiled the film as a Monthly Must See last year and have been following it closely ever since its film festival premiere. It's not an easy one to watch, but that's the point, as it opens up a discussion about society that we're often afraid to get into, but does so in a way that is both shocking and fascinating. Not only is it incredibly well made, but it's a film that will really shake you up, and hopefully make you think more about the world we live in.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Opened on October 17, 2014
Directed by Isao Takahata [FS Interview]
Found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter and his wife, a tiny girl grows rapidly into an exquisite young lady. The mysterious young princess enthralls all who encounter her - but ultimately she must confront her fate, the punishment for her crime.
Why it's on here: To inspire an admiration for beauty in all forms, whether it be nature or life itself or Japanese animation. This movie from Studio Ghibli and animator Isao Takahata (of Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) just made its way to North American shores in 2014 and it was worth the wait. Animated to look like the ancient watercolor scrolls that this classic story was originally painted on, the film tells a fable about a girl found inside of a bamboo stalk raised by an old bamboo cutter and his wife. She turns out to be a princess, and the film explores ideas of greed and fame and fortune through gorgeous animation and heartfelt attention to detail. It's a film that anyone of any age can understand, and yet is also timeless in the lessons it teaches. Don't wait any more, this is one of the best of Ghibli's recent films.
We Are the Best!
Opened on May 30, 2014
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band -- despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.
Why it's on here: This badass little punk film from Sweden is an unusual coming-of-age story about three girls: Mira Barkhammar as Bobo, Mira Grosin as Klara, and Liv LeMoyne as Hedvig. Adapted from the graphic novel Never Goodnight written by director Lukas Moodysson's wife, these three struggle to fend off haters as they defend their love for punk music in a world that claims punk is dead. It's not a revelatory film as much as it is a sweet slice of life, showing us how other generations grow and change and yet stay the same, even in different countries. Like most of the films on this list, this is a good one to see without knowing much about it, just dive in and enjoy the film for the way it appreciates and supports expression and originality.
Why Don't You Play in Hell?
Opened on November 7, 2014
Directed by Sion Sono
A renegade film crew becomes embroiled with a yakuza clan feud.
Why it's on here: To remind you why you love movies. Sono's wild tale of a group of young filmmakers who get mixed up in a real yakuza war feels like a passion project made by a filmmaker who just wants to remind people why he keeps making the movies he's making. It's all about how filmmaking, and the art of storytelling, is a passion for some people. The film is a bit long, and the premise is a bit weird and hard to get into, but once you finally understand what's going on and settle in for the wacky, bloody, insane comedy, you should have a great time watch this one. Sion Sono (of Tokyo Tribe, Cold Fish, Love Exposure) is a one-of-a-kind Japanese filmmaker more people should be following, so why not jump right into his filmography with his love letter to filmmaking itself.
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!): Mark Levinson's doc Particle Fever, David Michôd's The Rover, Ava DuVernay's Selma (so good!), Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep, Jesse Moss' doc The Overnighters (in my Top 10), Brian Knappenberger's doc The Internet's Own Boy, Michael Dowse's What If, Ned Benson's The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them and Lake Bell's In a World…
Early Teases at Potential Picks for 2015: Damián Szifrón's Wild Tales, Xavier Dolan's Mommy, David Zellner's Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, What We Do in the Shadows, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows.
Let us know how many of these movies you've seen, plus any other favorites that we might have missed!