The most underrated movies of 2013

Eight films that deserve much more critical attention and social appreciation than they received

The Broken Circle Breakdown
The Broken Circle Breakdown

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
directed by Terrence Nance, available on VOD/DVD
This movie, which is a flurry of live action, hand-drawn animation and stop-motion animation, is one part art piece, one part documentary soap bubble of complexities. It encapsulates the emotions and self-sabotage a young man with a particularly lovesick, melancholy demeanor puts himself through after an attractive woman stands him up. The movie spills the secrets of young men the same way Girls does for young women.

directed by Taika Waititi, available on VOD/DVD
Though this film doesn’t take anything about itself seriously, there is nothing frivolous about Boy. It’s a serious work that happens to be swaddled in a gauzy wrapping of oddball quirkiness like bubblegum-flavored medicine, but there is a heartbreakingly relatable story of fathers and sons and disappointment underneath the bedrock of ’80s jokes and the lyrical mix of tall tales and inventive cursing.

Short Term 12
directed by Destin Daniel Creton, available on DVD Jan. 14
It’s tough to make a film about child abuse that doesn’t end up feeling like a Lifetime movie. But Short Term 12 manages to pull it off. The thematic pitfalls of the genre are many and hard to escape, but director Destin Daniel Creton embraces them here, even manipulates them to his will. He asks much of the film’s star, Brie Larson, who plays a counselor to a group of broken kids and is forced to face her own difficult past when a new girl arrives at the group home. Larson delivers everything Creton asks for and then some, which is part of what makes Short Term 12 such a success.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
directed by Felix Van Groeningen, available on DVD March 11
This may be the greatest hillbilly film since Rip Torn starred in Payday, but this movie isn’t even American: It’s from Belgium. Didier is an America-obsessed bluegrass bandleader, and Elise is a tattoo-obsessed artist who discovers that she has a killer voice when she sits in with the band. They fall in love and have a child while the band flourishes. In the great tradition of country songs, you can probably guess where all of that happiness goes. Johan Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens are electric on screen together.

The Great Beauty
directed by Paolo Sorrentino, coming to DVD soon
Jep Gambardella is a novelist who has given up his search for something new to write about 40 years after the release of his modest hit of a novel. Instead of finding new material, he floats in his existential apathy through the labyrinthine Roman nightlife. But at age 65, he finds the returns on living for the nightlife are diminishing. Sorrentino’s sprawling and beautiful (but devilishly backhanded) ode to Rome is the kind of love/hate letter that inherits the spirit and dismay Fellini imbued La Dolce Vita with.

The We and the I
directed by Michel Gondry, available on VOD/DVD
If you ever took the bus home from school as a teenager, this film may be an unwanted kick in the head. It’s every high-school social nightmare stuffed into one slow-moving, zit-filled bus, but it’s also brilliant and uncannily observed. The teenage actors are uneven, as you might expect, but the wit and horror make it easy to overlook. Gondry has made a true film that can sit beside The Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine.

directed by Francis Ford Coppola, available on VOD/DVD
Saddled with a terrible trailer and dumped onto VOD after a year of trying to attract a distributor, Twixt was destined to fail. But it’s an injustice, even if the film is campy as hell. Val Kilmer returns from a long vacation as the charming, chill Val Kilmer we used to know, while Elle Fanning continues to pad an already incredible résumé as the little dead girl who haunts him.

The Grandmaster
directed by Wong Kar Wai, available on VOD
So much was written about the controversial U.S. edit of this film that the film itself seemed to get lost in the shuffle. Having seen both versions of The Grandmaster, I’m struck by the silliness of it all. The two versions of the movie work well together as companion pieces, telling the same story from slightly different vantage points. Scenes excised from each shed light on the other, to the point that they feel like sibling films – though the U.S. cut is visually marred with an unfortunate amount of style-less screen text.

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