By all accounts, this will be one of the most competitive Oscars ever. Few categories are outright locks, Best Supporting Actress and Actor aside, and the Guilds have been split, with the majority leaning toward Birdman even as Boyhood continues to earn an equal amount of love. Of course, there are those who believe American Sniper can and will pull an upset, while those who favor Selma or any other member of the rest of the Best Picture candidates (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Whiplash), sans a major last minute push, will be left wanting.
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If it’s February, then love must be in the air—along with snow, sleet, rain, wind, and on rare occasions, groundhog guano. Yes, the two big things that happen in the second month of each new year is the annual ritual of believing in wildlife as a bellwether for meteorological predictions, and the celebration of affection by drowning your significant other in candy, flowers, and false pretenses.
While the stars are brushing off their formal wear and brushing up on their acceptance speeches, we bid a fond farewell to 2014… and almost immediately focus on the films that will have us giddy with anticipation between now, the dog days of cinema, and December, when we’ll play “What’s the Best?” all over again. There are literally hundreds of offerings up for grabs, from unknown works of independent art to big, brawny, wannabe blockbusters. Each one hopes to tap into that tricky well of public appreciation. Some will succeed in billion dollar designs; others will open and never be heard from again.
As with any category which includes the descriptive term “underrated”, setting a clear set of standards is often impossible. Indeed, someone out there right now has already perused the list below, taken umbrage with at least a couple of the choices, and is wondering how “anyone” could consider any one of the titles as “underrated”. Perhaps an illustrative explanation is in order.
For someone who watches movies for a living (or what some call “a living”), underrated usually means “underappreciated” or “fell through the cracks”. Such a film stands in contrast to the mainstream mindset that gives the latest Michael Bay bombast a billion dollars at the box office, but can’t see beyond the spectacle to something smaller, more inventive, and artistic. The tag “underrated” can also mean a commercial endeavor poorly handled by the PR and marketing people hired by the studios, their inability to craft a persuasive ad campaign sorely limiting a good movie’s returns.
What was the best film of (insert year here)?
Critics get asked this question a lot. Perhaps too much. Unlike aged steaks, or wine vintages, films often take a while to work their way into your psyche. You struggle with the themes, or you make rash, kneejerk judgments that, later, come back to add a layer of illegitimacy to your otherwise learned opinion.
Then, after 12 months of screenings, after 365 days of streaming links, Oscar PR, studio shilling, and countless combinations of the good, the bad, and the downright dopey, we are asked to wrap things up in a neat little list, a consensus compendium which does something no film reviewer is totally capable of: determining the very best of a varied artform. Can you argue that animation is better or worse than foreign filmmaking? Can horror be part of the discussion when so many of the genre’s examples are rotten, at best?