It’s close to impossible to see every movie released in a particular year, given the sheer number of titles that are released. Marketing budgets, target demographics, and the limited free time and disposable income of the average moviegoer are all factors that determine which movies are popular and which go largely unseen. There will always be films that fly under most viewers’ radars, whether it’s because of advertisements that depict a far different movie (Edge of Tomorrow) or off-putting, unpopular concepts (Obvious Child, Frank). Luckily, with access to obscure films becoming easier thanks to instant streaming services, movies that failed to gain an audience at the box office have a chance at a second life once released for home consumption. While all of the following 10 films were positively received by critics, you probably still missed them. Thankfully, there is always time to fix that.
10. Begin Again
It’s hard to get excited about a film like Begin Again, a musical drama that at first glance looks like nothing more than a vanity project for Adam Levine and CeeLo Green, who feature prominently in promotional materials. While it’s understandable to dismiss Begin Again because of this, the film ends up being surprisingly better than it has any right to be. Starring Keira Knightley as a disillusioned singer-songwriter and the always fantastic Mark Ruffalo as the music producer who sees her potential, Begin Again is not only a love letter to the city of New York (which, to fair, many films can also claim to be) but also a rallying call for the importance of creativity and inspiration. Begin Again is not really a film for the cynical crowd but even they may find it hard to resist its optimistic charm.
9. The F Word/What If
This romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe was an unfortunate victim of rebranding, as American censors took issue with the original title, “The F Word”, leading to the alternate title “What If”. Radcliffe starts as a med school dropout who has been unlucky in past relationships. He strikes up a close friendship with Chantry (Zoe Kazan) and as they spend more time together, it becomes clear that there might be more than just friendship between them. It’s a plot that’s been done countless times but The F Word, as it’s still called in Canada, is aided by great performances from its cast, which includes up-and-comer Adam Driver as Radcliffe’s best friend. Puzzling renaming aside, this is a film that stands out as one of the better romantic films of last year.
With every passing year, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Michael Fassbender is one of his generation’s most gifted actors. Frank offers yet another example of Fassbender’s penchant for choosing challenging, unconventional roles, as the actor commits to wearing a fake head for the whole film in his role as the leader of an avant-garde pop band. It’s an incredibly quirky film but Fassbender absolutely owns it, turning in a mesmerizing performance without even showing his face. While it would be easy to dismiss Frank as a pretentious art-house film made for hipsters, there is an emotional heartbeat at the center of the film that is not evident upon first glance. It may be weird, but Frank is one of 2014’s most interesting and creative films, anchored by a top-notch performance from Fassbender.
7. Under The Skin
Scarlett Johansson had an amazing 2014, starring in the popular blockbusters Lucy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What some people may not know is that she also starred in a creepy sci-fi horror film called Under the Skin. Johansson plays an alien in disguise who lures men with her sexuality in order to consume them later. It’s a clever role that knowingly subverts Johansson’s reputation as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women, but the film goes so far beyond this simple concept. Punctuated by long spans of uncomfortable silence and off-putting visual flare, Under the Skin is a fascinating, haunting experience that should appeal to viewers that like to see actors expanding out from their comfort zones.
6. A Most Wanted Man
Notable for being the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performance, A Most Wanted Man is a fitting swan song for the accomplished actor, who elevates material that could have gone wrong in less capable hands. Hoffman plays the head of a German anti-terror task force, who are tracking the movements of a Muslim philanthropist, suspected of funding terrorist activities. While the geo-political espionage of A Most Wanted Man is intriguing enough on its own, Hoffman makes the whole thing worth the price of admission, turning in a towering performance that is simultaneously commanding and vulnerable. The film was released very early in 2014, which is likely why it was overlooked by audiences and awards season voters, who generally forget about films not released in the back half of the year.
5. The Raid 2
The hyper violent Raid 2 is one of the best, most overlooked action films of 2014. Focusing on a rookie cop’s quest to take down a criminal underworld that threatens the lives of his family, The Raid 2 is relentless in its commitment to over-the-top fight sequences that break bones and numb the senses. It’s simply one of the coolest martial arts films in recent memory and will likely go on to become a classic of the genre. Squeamish viewers need not apply, but fans of smart, violent action fans will likely fall hard for The Raid 2.
4. Obvious Child
Given how divisive it is, Obvious Child deserves recognition for even attempting to make a film focused on abortion, especially a comedy. The amazing thing about Obvious Child though is that it treats its subject with the right mix of compassion, honestly, and humor. Starring Jenny Slate as a woman in personal crisis on multiple fronts, Obvious Child alternates between being uproariously funny and emotionally honest, striking a nice balance between the two. Slate is simply sensational in her role and is surely poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the comedy world. The best thing about Obvious Child is that it is pro-woman all the way, as it gives Slate’s character true agency over her own body and leaves the debate over abortion at the door. While it is a comedy, it’s hard to think of another film that takes such an even-handed approach to abortion, which makes Obvious Child a must-see.
A film about a man talking on the phone whilst driving his car was never going to be a concept with mass appeal, but it’s hard to deny that Tom Hardy makes this questionable premise as riveting as possible. Hardy really showcases his natural charisma and commanding screen presence in his role as Ivan Locke, a man whose life and career threaten to be undone by a series of eventful phone calls over the span of one nightly car ride. It may seem hard to believe that a film with such a small scope could be so compelling and in less capable hands, Locke could have fallen completely off the rails. However, thanks to Hardy’s one-man show powerhouse performance, Locke is easily one of the best surprise dramas of 2014.
A South Korean sci-fi film that saw a limited release in North America, Snowpierecer is one of the biggest cult films of 2014 and easily one of the best. Starring Chris Evans as the reluctant leader of a revolution aboard a futuristic train carrying the last of humanity on a frozen Earth, Snowpiercer is a masterfully-made film from top to bottom. Evans carries over his natural charisma from his Captain America role and imbues his character with pathos and tragedy. The rest of the cast is top-notch as well, especially Tilda Swinton as a flamboyant dictator. While the film’s sometimes odd visual choices and loose commitment to realism may turn off some viewers, those who can get on board (pun intended) with this train’s unique ride may just end up discovering one of their favorite films of 2014.
1. Edge Of Tomorrow/Live. Die. Repeat.
This Tom Cruise/Emily Blunt vehicle’s marketing was bungled in a number of ways (including a puzzling rebranding of the film’s title to “Live. Die. Repeat” for home release), but to be fair, the film’s premise was a bit hard to convey in trailers without giving a lot away. Set in a near future where an alien scourge threatens to wipe out humanity, Tom Cruise plays a reluctant military officer thrown into combat who is forced to relive the same battle every time he dies. Edge of Tomorrow is part Groundhog Day, part Pacific Rim, and is truly an underappreciated sci-fi treat. Cruise, as usual, commits fully to a role that is in some ways a parody of the hero archetype he typically plays on screen and Blunt is a revelation as the tough-as-nails war hero who puts Cruise’s character through a training gauntlet. Those who take a chance on this underperforming blockbuster are in for one of the best sci-fi action movie experiences in years.