Call me crazy, but I think A Most Violent Year is the most underrated movie of 2014. That may sound absurd, given that it’s one of the most talked-about titles right now for Oscar buzz, has already received many nominations for Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and more and was named best fllm of the year by the National Board of Review. But it has a lot of haters, many of whom would declare it one of the most overrated movies of 2014. I just don’t get the divide at all. Everything from the script to the performances to the cinematography to the music is exceptional, in my opinion.
Another divisive movie that I think is more qualified as being called underrated is Oculus. I’ve already highlighted this as one of my favorite horror films of the year — maybe it’s actually my very favorite — and continue to champion it for a very unlikely Oscar nomination for Best Editing. I keep thinking that my judgment is clouded by my appreciation of its lead actress, Doctor Who vet Karen Gillan (also of the definitely not underrated Guardians of the Galaxy). But I know there are some other defenders of the movie out there, people who don’t consider it one of the worst horror movies in years.
I’ll also go to bat or Richard Ayoade’s The Double, a little dystopian comedy that has critical favor but less than it deserves. And it certainly wasn’t seen by enough people. It’s another movie I think should have Oscar buzz, specifically for the dual performance by Jesse Eisenberg. Same goes for Calvary, which ought to be in the running for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor, for Brendan Gleeson. Meanwhile, I also like The Gambler, which hasn’t hit theaters yet but I’m not hearing enough about it. It’s not amazing, and declines somewhat in the final act, but is still plenty entertaining and existentially interesting and features some strong acting as well as a few blackjack scenes that as an enthusiast of the game I found to be properly nerve-racking.
The Gambler might suffer from a response related to expectations that come about this season every year. Unless it’s an obvious dumb comedy or blockbuster, a movie released in late December is going to be thought of as an awards contender. Maybe it was meant to be, but we can forget about that and enjoy it. The same goes for some movies that might get awards recognition in a category or two but may not be Best Picture material (in the Academy’s eyes anyway), such as Inherent Vice, Top Five and late animated-feature contender Song of the Sea — which probably won’t earn a nod in its primary category either.
Finally, let me rally for all the documentaries released in 2014, because the whole mode (don’t call it a genre) is underrated by the mainstream. Within that group, though, are additionally underappreciated or underseen features that I consider among the best of the year, including Expedition to the End of the World, Kids for Cash, Sepideh, 1989 and Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, the last of which should be of more interest to movie fans curious about the true story behind Gus van Sant’s To Die For. I know cinephilia is helping Jodorowsky’s Dune and The Dog, the latter being the true story behind Dog Day Afternoon, so why not Captivated, too?
What is the most underrated movie of 2014?
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