As the end of the year quickly approaches, I thought I would take a moment to highlight some of the hidden gems of 2014. While these films may not have set the box office on fire, or generated a lot of award season “buzz”, they are still films that warrant you making the effort to seek them out. So instead of filling your plate with only the holiday season blockbusters, try to leave room for a few of these worthwhile films:
Beyond the Lights
“Trust me, it is far more intelligent than you expect it to be” is the phrase I have found myself repeating the most when talking to others about Beyond the Lights. Poorly marketed as another The Bodyguard style romance, Lights has far more to offer than the generic romance tropes the commercials implied. Gina Prince-Bythewood’s engaging film has a lot of timely things to say about the sexualisation of female stars. In a year where hackers released a slew of stolen nude images of female celebrities, Beyond the Lights’ message needs to be heard now more than ever.
Félix and Meira
I have spoken about this film recently, but it is worth highlighting it again. Selected as one of TIFF’s Canada Top Ten, a yearly program that highlights the best in Canadian films, Félix and Meira is a touching and intelligent film about forbidden love. Maxime Giroux’s film constructs a story that tackles themes of religion, isolation, grief and independence in a captivating way.
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook is the surprise horror hit that, rightfully so, has been racking up a slew of critical praise. There is another horror film that deserves some love as well and that is Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound. The film tells the tale of a woman forced to serve house arrest in her parent’s home…which happens to be haunted. Housebound is a creepy, and at times comical, take on classic ghost story tropes.
The Special Need
This film came extremely close to making my top ten of the year list. I loved it that much. Carlo Zoratti’s film takes the familiar premise of guys taking a road trip to get their virginal friend laid, and turns it into a rather touching film about autism, love, and friendship. The Special Need is a film where the lessons learned along the journey are far more important than the end goal.
The One I Love
Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love is a film that works on two levels. On one hand it is an intriguing study of the ways in which couples change and marriages erode. There is, however, another layer to the film that gleefully sets itself within the science fiction genre. McDowell takes the notion of seeing the best in our partners and turns it into something that is both charming and delightfully sinister at same time.
The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest
Narrated by Scoot McNairy, The Life and Mind of Mark DeFriest is an intriguing film that exposes the hypocrisy of the Florida penal system and its handling of mentally ill individuals. The film documents how Mark DeFriest, considered the “Houdini of Florida”, not only received an unjust prison sentence for allegedly stealing items that his father willed to him, but also the inventive ways in which he broke out of almost every prison he was placed in. Gabriel London’s film does a great job of documenting the damaging ramifications caused by an unethical system blinded by pride.
In matters of revenge, it is often the simplest path that is most effective. The same can be said for Blue Ruin, a meditative look at the vicious cycle that violence brings. The film takes all the classic archetypes of the genre and strips it down to the bone. Featuring wonderful cinematography and a great performance by Macon Blair, Blue Ruin is thought-provoking and invigorating all at the same time.
I really liked the premise of Housebound. I really want to check that one out. Same thing with The One I love and Beyond The Lights. I was really disappointed with Blue Ruin. I was shouting at he movie to move faster and I enjoy slow paced movies
The One I Love is now streaming on Netflix and Housebound is available on Amazon. As for Blue Ruin, I can see how the pacing would annoy some. However, I loved the methodical approach that it took.
I just saw “The One I love” and I totally agree. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers but I really liked it.
You are right that it is hard to talk about without spoilers. Part of the film’s charm is the in-depth discussion it evokes afterwards.
The only one of these that I’ve seen thus far is The One I Love, and I totally agree with it being on this list. A lot of the others are on my list, especially Blue Ruin and Beyond the Lights. I’m not sure why I haven’t checked out Blue Ruin yet since it’s on Netflix and easy to access.
Sometime it is the fact that a film is easy to access which makes us procrastinate on it longer than we should. I know there are a few streaming films (e.g. We Are the Best, The Punk Singer) that I have been meaning to get to for a while now.
We Are the Best (especially) and The Punk Singer are both great, so you should definitely check them out if you can.
I really appreciate this post, Courtney. There’s a lot of films that miss out on marketing or for some reason or another don’t get the limelight. Beyond the Lights looks great. Thanks!
Beyond the Lights is sadly a victim of a poor marketing campaign. There is no reason that film should not have received bigger notice upon its release. Still, it is worth seeking out.
The One I Love finished just outside my Top Ten, and I really am beginning to love Elisabeth Moss (she was also the best thing in Listen Up, Philip, another film that just missed my Top Ten). If you liked the premise of The One I Love, check out Coherence, another under-the-radar film from this year which takes the premise of The One I Love and spreads it around a group of 8 friends. Highly amusing.
I am becoming a bigger Elisabeth Moss fan with each passing day. While I still need to see Listen Up Philip, I loved her work in Top of the Lake and of course Mad Men (granted I am still on season five).
As for Coherence, I will definitely be adding that to the list of films to see in the coming weeks.
Love your list here. We’re gearing up for our Best / Worst of 2014 podcasts and when we’re talking Best you’ll hear me gush about Beyond the Lights and my partner Kyle on Blue Ruin. I felt like the lower-budget character pieces were lacking last year but 2014 brought those films our with nuance and great style.
Plus, I’m a sucker for Nina Simone.
I cannot wait to hear which films made your best and worst list. I also agree that this year had a strong selection of character driven pieces. Oddly enough, it was the blockbusters that were the most disappointing aspect of cinema in 2014. Many either underperformed or were simply bad.
I really enjoyed ‘The One I Love’ and will have to catch more of these films soon. And I had a feeling that Beyond the Lights may not be as cheesy as the trailer implied – I’m happy to hear it was good!
Go into Beyond the Lights with an open mind, it works as both a romance and a social commentary.
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