The Most Underrated Films of 2014

While not quite up to being included in Short Ends and Leader's Best Films list, these ten films still represent the reason for each movie season.

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.

There are also instances, as with titles like The One I Love or The Congress, where the idea usurps potential interest, making such otherwise excellent movies "difficult" or "arty". So, in considering this year's list, we had to look at both the Cineplex and the specialty label. At least one entry here could easily vie for End of the Year honors had its distributor not dumped it along with several other Oscar wannabes.

Another had an actor and a title that, apparently, confused people. More than a couple were claimed by the VOD/streaming model, while another was just bugnuts insane. Add in returns to form both behind and in front of the lens, a war film that failed to ignite the proper passions, and a bit of the Bible and you have our choices for 2014's most underrated films. While perhaps not good enough to make our final Top Ten, all represent reasons we were glad we went to the movies this year.

10. Big Eyes
While the jury is still out over whether this latest from Tim Burton (his least "Tim Burton" movie ever) will resonate with audiences, one thing's for certain: anyone who walks out of this amazing biopic of Walter and Margaret Keane will earn a greater appreciation of the former's flawless marketing acumen and the latter's lovely, creepy paintings. Indeed, what's best about this eccentricity-less offering is that our familiar filmmaker shows his love of the subject without going overboard into camp kitsch wackiness. Instead, we get an amazing (and sure to be overlooked) performance from Amy Adams, more Oscar-worthy work from Christoph Waltz, and a truly intriguing and inspirational story.

9. Only Lovers Left Alive
Vampires have been getting a bad rap as of late. From the lame romantic ramblings of Stephenie Meyer and her sparkly boyfriend material to Universal's desire to turn Dracula into the world's oldest member of the anti-Avengers, the neckbiter is more mocked than menacing. Jim Jarmusch's brilliant film won't change the mind of those enthralled by the undead as date bait, but the approach taken is far more fascinating and fresh. Any film with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in the leads has merit far beyond the needs of the genre. Jarmusch then treats their immortality as both a personal and psychological burden; the result of his approach is amazing and unsettling.

8. Fury
Okay, so it doesn't have Hitler being shot in the face multiple times, but this Brad Pitt WWII vehicle is one of the most darkly brutal war films of all time. David Ayer, whose typically trotting around LA putting a small stain on the efforts of the city's law enforcement finest (Training Day, End of Watch) switches gears completely, goes back to the Greatest Generation, and offers up a story of survival and brotherhood that only actual documentaries manage to get right. There is a wealth of detail here; the everyday issues facing these glorified grunts made all the more potent by the authenticity of the danger they face.

7. Journey to the West
Remember when the world fell in love with Stephen Chow? When movies like Shaolin Soccer and especially Kung Fu Hustle announced an amazing martial arts moviemaker with the heart of a Warner Bros. cartoon? Well, a stab at making his own ET (CJ7) stalled his fortunes stateside, and he seemed to disappear from movies all together. However, five years later he's back with this brilliant and baffling take on an ancient Chinese legend, complete with the physical comedy and visual imagination his (former) fans loved so much. This should have been his career comeback; instead, it will have to suffice as one of this year's underrated gems.

6. Tusk
Hey Kevin Smith! We thought you were retiring -- good thing you haven't, though. Operating under the baked influence of some wonderful reefer madness, the Clerks creator has unleashed one of his darkest, most daring efforts on the moviegoing public. Their response? A collective shoulder shrug. Sure, Smith still writes amazing dialogue, but as with his equally excellent Red State, Smith seems to be working out some sizable personal demons here. The story sees a madman tempt a petulant podcaster into coming to the Great White North for an interview. In actuality, the psycho wants a subject to turn into a human walrus -- then it gets weird.

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