As Birdman and Boyhood continue to rack up accolades en route to what is increasingly looking like an Oscar showdown in the making, it’s important to remember there were a ton of films this year that aren’t getting anywhere near the same kind of awards season buzz (and probably won’t), but still deserve a fair amount of love. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of RT staff favorites that have either been largely forgotten or will pass through awards season with little to no fanfare. Read on for our off-the-radar recommendations of 2014!


Alan Partridge 87%

Alex Vo, Editor

Self-absorbed and misanthropic radio DJ Alan Partridge is Steve Coogan’s most popular creation in his home country and virtually unknown in the United States. This fact makes an Alan Partridge movie a tough sell here, especially since the character has been around for well over 20 years. For example, how much awareness of the character does one need coming into the movie? Fortunately, none! Alan Partridge more than stands on its own, with a barrage of hilarious jokes and scenarios rising out of the absurd “radio station gets held hostage” plot. Great tunes pepper the soundtrack, too, culminating with a memorable tribute to Sparks’ 1979 disco track, “#1 Song in Heaven.”

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The Babadook 98%

Jeff Giles, Associate Editor

If you’ve heard anything about The Babadook, you’ve probably heard that it’s one of the scarier horror films of the year, and for good reason. Debuting writer-director Jennifer Kent envelops the viewer in a steadily encroaching atmosphere of cold, isolating dread, ratcheting up the tension so effectively that — as with many of the best entries in the genre — the movie’s titular villain hardly needs any screen time to establish his malevolent presence. But The Babadook isn’t just scary; in fact, it works just as effectively as a wrenchingly honest (and, in the end, almost sweet) examination of the ways in which unprocessed grief can draw us into darkness. Watch it for the icy chills, but don’t be surprised if The Babadook lingers long after you’ve stopped looking over your shoulder at night — and definitely be on the lookout for more from Kent.

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Blue Ruin 96%

Grae Drake, Senior Editor

The idea of the revenge flick has been around for a loooong time. I imagine that the first one came out right after the Lumiere Brothers’ The Arrival of a Train, and featured a disgruntled passenger who had missed the train at the last stop. So now, in a cinematic landscape overflowing with recycled ideas, the revenge flick has to travel far from the beaten path to make a splash. Blue Ruin, directed and written by newcomer Jeremy Saulnier, is just such a film. Quiet and frantic, Blue Ruin slowly reveals the story of Dwight, who appears to be a lonely drifter with nothing but garbage dinners to keep him shuffling through life. Beneath the surface, however, lies a warrior who has suffered a great loss, and whose only desire in life is to restore balance through violence. One of the many problems Dwight has is that he is completely incompetent as an assassin, but where there’s a will, there’s a (messy) way. Dwight is the kind of samurai that I think I would be — full of enthusiasm and righteousness, but lacking in actual skill or know-how. Saulnier’s film never strays into slapstick territory, as the subject matter and Dwight’s life is too bleak to allow for lightheartedness. Somehow this movie manages to be poignant without being heavy-handed, and brutal without being judgmental.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 96%

Tim Ryan, Senior Editor

Plenty of movies can be described as “more style than substance.” A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, on the other hand, is something else altogether: a movie whose style is so striking that it becomes the substance. Describing the plot of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night makes it sound utterly generic (lovelorn vampire seeks companionship) and its unofficial tagline (“It’s the best Iranian feminist vampire Western ever made!”) makes it seem like some kind of campy stunt. But A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night emits a weird vibe that’s hard to shake, from its haunting black-and-white cinematography to its pulsing soundtrack. Every once in a while, I’ll see something that feels so unique and fresh that I want to tell everyone I know to see it now! This year, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was that movie.

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Rob the Mob 81%

Kerr Lordygan, Review Aggregator

The true story of small-time crooks Tommy and Rosie Uva is a pretty incredible one, and it’s brought to vivid life in the little-seen Rob the Mob. Written by Jonathan Fernandez and directed by Raymond De Felitta (City Island, Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story), the film is funny in its portrayal of a couple with enough chutzpah to steal from the mafia, but it’s touching, too; Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie (Nina Arianda) love each other so much, they’ll do whatever is necessary to keep their passion alive. Struggling to pay the bills, they pull mini-heists to stay afloat, but after Tommy serves a stint in prison, he decides to try robbing private clubs owned by the Mafia, and Rosie is forced to go along for the ride. With a cast that includes solid pros like Ray Romano, Andy Garcia, and Griffin Dunne, the film is sure to entertain while pushing a few buttons. And tickling your funny bone. The actors are spot-on, commanding an unlikely empathy through their performances and making this modern day Bonnie and Clyde story worth more than just a glance.

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The Skeleton Twins 86%

Beki Lane, Editorial Coordinator

A surprisingly heartfelt drama starring well-known comedians Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, The Skeleton Twins is a soft-spoken success. I was amazed to find such simple and clear acting by two people who are usually known for over-the-top comedic performances. This story of estranged twins is easy to relate to and you get the distinct impression that you are peeking in on everyday lives in progress. It is also a study of depression, and the struggle of those who fight to live in the face of it. The Skeleton Twins is Certified Fresh at 87% on the Tomatometer, and is worthy of diving into.

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Snowpiercer 94%

Catherine Pricci, Review Aggregator

Considering it came in at number two on our Summer Movie Scorecard — Certified Fresh at 95 percent, no less — it’s hard to believe so few people have heard of Snowpiercer, let alone seen it. Imagine a frozen, post-apocalyptic Earth whose only survivors are living on a train that perpetually circles the globe, and all of the train’s inhabitants are divided by class. Curtis (Chris Evans) and a ragtag bunch of his fellow

proletarians are fed up and plan a forward assault to the front of the train in an attempt to secure better living conditions. As they progress through each car, they discover increasingly shocking things. There are extremely dark tones in this film that will resonate with most and the morals they live by. Snowpiercer is a rock-solid action film, but it’s hard to miss its allegorical concerns, especially at a time when economic hardship is a reality for so many of us.

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Teenage 77%

Marya E. Gates, Social Media Specialist

Writer/Director Matt Wolf’s documentary adaptation of Jon Savage’s book, Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945, is more of a visual collage than a traditional documentary. Certified Fresh at 74 percent, Teenage uses archival footage and filmed recreations to tell the true story of four teenagers in the years building up to World War II. Narrators (including Ben Whishaw and Jena Malone) read excerpts from Savage’s book — much of which was taken from diaries and newspaper articles — to bring these four examples to life. A haunting musical score by Atlas Sound ties everything together, and the film ends with a montage of archival footage from post-1945 that celebrates the exuberance, despair, passion, and hope that comes during those tumultuous teenage years. While Teenage might not be for everyone, it’s definitely not like any other documentary you’re going to see this year.

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Under the Skin 84%

Sarah Ricard, TV Editor

At the same time that she was kicking supervillain ass as Black Widow in Marvel’s blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Scarlett Johansson was also quietly burrowing her way into the gloomy outskirts of Glasgow, Scotland as a mysterious, beautiful, and dangerous stranger in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Laura, whose name is easy to miss, drives a van through town seducing male strangers into coming home with her. While the men can’t believe their luck, they ought to remember that some things are too good to be true. Going home with a gorgeous woman, only to find that her apartment is actually an infinite quagmire of black goo, should be something of a real red flag. Under the Skin may frustrate many on account of its equally gooey pace and almost-too-subtle plot, but Johansson’s performance is at once beguiling and creepy, leaving you with two questions by this mesmerizing and shocking film’s end: What the heck did I just see? And when can I see it again?

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We Are the Best! 96%

Ryan Fujitani, Editor

Coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen these days, but the vast majority of them — even the comedies — seem intent on filtering adolescence through the adult lens of wistful, melancholy nostalgia. This is one of the reasons why Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! feels so refreshing, even as its themes ring familiar. Set in the early 1980s but never cloyingly era-specific, the film follows a trio of outcast middle-school girls in Stockholm who come together to form a punk band, and it never devolves into the dire melodrama or awkward sexual awakenings of its genre kin. Instead, We Are the Best! embraces the joyful, devil-may-care rebellion of youth in all its ephemeral glory, best illustrated by the scene when the girls panhandle for change to pay for a new guitar, only to spend all their money on a candy and ice cream binge. There are some ups and downs in the movie, to be sure, but Moodysson’s affection for raucous Klara, sheepish Bobo, and demure Hedvig is so clearly on display that I’m inclined to declare you heartless if you don’t at least crack a smile when the girls finally break out into the titular chant.

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Whiplash 94%

Matt Atchity, Editor in Chief

It’s easy to understand why Whiplash got a little bit lost when it was released in October; it was a small film overshadowed by wider releases, and its leads (Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons) aren’t exactly box office draws on their own. But this film absolutely deserves all of the accolades its received so far, including the Grand Jury Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Miles Teller plays a talented drummer studying at a New York music conservatory who falls under the sway of a tyrannical bandleader, played by J.K. Simmons. The movie explores artistic achievement and obsession in a way that will have you on the edge of your seat, as Simmons and Teller repeatedly face off on the bandstand. The movie features an especially chilling performance from Simmons, balancing charm and abuse in equal measure. Sure, the movie takes a bit of license with jazz history, but the tense and thrilling climax will stick with you long after the film is over.

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This week on streaming video, we’ve only got one brand new release (a Steve Coogan powered comedy), but it’s accompanied by a nice variety of classics and fan favorites, including Annie Hall, Wayne’s World, Easy Rider, Major League, The Blues Brothers, and more. Read on for details:

Alan Partridge

87%

Steve Coogan as the narcissistic chat show host he made famous in Britain in this Certified Fresh comedy.

Available now on: iTunes

Major League

83%

Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, and Wesley Snipes star in this baseball comedy, a perennial favorite about a team of loveable losers who suddenly find a way to win.

Available now on: Netflix

Annie Hall

97%

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton star in this Best Picture winner, the most Woody Allen-ish of Woody Allen comedies.

Available now on: Netflix

Waking Life

80%

Richard Linklater’s dazzling philosophical meditation features stunning rotoscoped visuals and several witty celebrity cameos.

Available now on: Netflix

Wayne’s World

79%

It’s party time! Excellent! Mike Myers and Dana Carvey star in the classic SNL spinoff about a pair of metalheads with a goofy public access cable show.

Available now on: Netflix

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

91%

Terry Gilliam’s fantasy about a famed fabulist was a notoriously troubled production that has earned a cult following for its delirious visual inventiveness.

Available now on: Netflix

Stories We Tell

94%

Sarah Polley’s rapturously-reviewed documentary portrait of her family and its secrets is a feature-length exploration of the nature of memory and storytelling.

Available now on: Netflix

Carrie

93%

Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, and John Travolta star in Brian DePalma’s horror classic, a tale of a lonely teenager with telekinetic powers.

Available now on: Netflix

sex, lies, and videotape

96%

James Spader, Andie MacDowell, and Peter Gallagher star in the low-budget indie hit that put Steven Soderbergh on the map.

Available now on: Crackle

Out of Sight

94%

George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, and Steve Zahn star in Steven Soderbergh’s excellent crime thriller.

Available now on: Crackle

The Blues Brothers

73%

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd are on a mission from God in John Landis’ action comedy musical, which features a truckload of musical legends and a junkyard’s worth of destroyed automobiles.

Available now on: Crackle

Easy Rider

84%

Get your motor runnin’ with this biker classic starring Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in the movie that gave kickstarted the New Hollywood era.

Available now on: Crackle

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

76%

Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves star in Francis Ford Coppola’s bloody, gothic take on the most familiar of vampire tales.

Available now on: Crackle

Arbitrage

87%

Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon in this drama about a hedge fund mogul whose placid surface belies adultery and fraud.

Available now on: Amazon Prime

Ginger Snaps

90%

This smart, original horror comedy about teenage werewolves spawned a cult audience and a couple sequels.

Available now on: Amazon Prime

This week on home video, the most notable choices may be a highly talked-about television series, but we begin with a couple of action films that opened earlier this year. Liam Neeson’s latest thriller kicks things off, followed by a Jack Ryan reboot starring Chris Pine. Then we’ve got a Certified Fresh British comedy, an Oscar-nominated documentary, and a few smaller films. The big news is that HBO’s hit mystery series, True Detective, finally hits shelves this week, but there are also a couple of other notable choices on the small screen, including Neil deGrasse Tyson’s science series. Read on for details:

Non-Stop

61%

Liam Neeson takes his very particular set of skills aboard a transatlantic flight as US Air Marshal Bill Marks, who begins receiving mysterious text messages from an on-board terrorist who promises a passenger will die every 20 minutes if he isn’t paid $150 million; as Marks narrows down his suspects, a larger conspiracy reveals itself. Co-starring Julianne Moore, Anson Mount, and Scoot McNairy, Non-Stop fell just short of Fresh at 59% on the Tomatometer, with critics mostly intrigued by the film’s premise but somewhat dissatisfied with its execution and its improbable climax. The Blu-ray release includes the film on DVD and digital download, as well as a couple of short behind-the-scenes featurettes. This is pretty solid weekend rental if you weren’t willing to pay full price for a theater ticket.

 

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

55%

Chris Pine steps into the shoes formerly worn by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck to portray Tom Clancy’s titular everyman operative in what essentially amounts to an origin story/reboot of the franchise. Upon recovering from a debilitating battle injury, US Marine Jack Ryan is recruited by the CIA to work as an undercover agent on Wall Street, surveying for potential crimes in the financial sector. When a Russian businessman’s accounts spark Ryan’s suspicion, he unwittingly becomes embroiled in an international terrorist plot. The first of the series not based on a Clancy novel, Shadow Recruit earned a mixed response from critics, who mostly found it a merely adequate action thriller that hit plenty of familiar notes and fell short of its predecessors (yes, even The Sum of All Fears). The Blu-ray combo pack includes a commentary track from director and co-star Kenneth Branagh, as well as a handful of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, and four featurettes ranging from 5 to 21 minutes long.

 

Alan Partridge

87%

Stateside audiences are probably unfamiliar with Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan), but folks across the pond know him from any number of media appearances and his BBC sitcom. In Alan Partridge, Coogan reprises his role as the egocentric radio dj and television presenter, whose radio station — under new corporate management — is taken hostage by a recently fired DJ; Alan finds himself at the center of the controversy when he is asked to play negotiator with his former colleague. Certified Fresh at 86%, Alan Partridge is a clever comedy that relies more on dry wit than laugh-out-loud moments, and while fans of the character will get the most out of it, it makes the most of Steve Coogan’s talents and should serve as a fun introduction for the uninitiated. Special features include a making-of doc, a commentary track with Coogan and writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, a slew of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel.

The Missing Picture

99%

Nominated earlier this year for Best Foreign Language Film, The Missing Picture — like last year’s similarly themed The Act of Killing — interprets an historical atrocity through the lens of art; whereas The Act of Killing utilized the medium of genre filmmaking, The Missing Picture tells parts of its story through clay dioramas and figurines. Cambodian director Rithy Panh intertwines these miniature scenes with stunning archival footage to retell the story of his family’s experiences during the genocidal reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Unique in its vision and presentation, The Missing Picture touched and captivated critics, who awarded it a Certified Fresh 99% on the Tomatometer. While a Blu-ray is already available in the UK, only a DVD will be coming out this week in the US, and it doesn’t look as though it carries any extras. Still, the film alone is worth a watch.

True Detective – Season One

A huge hit for HBO this year, True Detective featured Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as a pair of former Louisiana police officers involved in a decades-old investigation. The show, produced as an anthology series made to focus on a different story each season, was characterized by occult themes, cryptic symbolism, and deep character development, all of which it accomplished in just eight episodes, enrapturing a rabid fanbase in the process. This first season notched a Certified Fresh 84% on the Tomatometer, thanks to powerful performances by its leads, creator Nic Pizzolatto’s writing, and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s strong directorial vision, and it’s available this week on DVD and Blu-ray. Special features on the latter include commentary tracks for two of the episodes, a 15-minute making-of doc, short behind-the-scenes featurettes for each episode, interviews with the cast and crew, and a pair of deleted scenes.

Also available this week:

  • Patrick: Evil Awakens (83%), a horror thriller about a nurse in a psychiatric hospital who comes under the spell of a braindead patient with psychic powers.
  • A Short History of Decay (73%), starring Bryan Greenberg and Linda Lavin in a comedy about a struggling writer who moves home when his father falls ill.
  • Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors (69%), a wordless documentary exploring the relationship between humanity and technology through images.
  • Adult World (52%), starring Emma Roberts and John Cusack in a dramedy about a university grad and aspiring poet who stalks one of her idols.
  • Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot (24%), starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon in a drama chronicling the events surrounding the West Memphis Three.
  • Season one of Ray Donovan (76%), starring Liev Schreiber as the titular Los Angeles “fixer” who helps his rich clients deal with unsavory problems.
  • Season one of Resurrection (52%), a supernatural mystery about a small town where dead residents return to their families.
  • FOX’s much talked about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, with Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting a modern “reboot” of Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking science series.
  • And lastly, two choices from The Criterion Collection: Douglas Sirk’s 1955 romance All That Heaven Allows (92%), starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (88%), starring Alain Delon and Monica Vitti, both get new Blu-ray/DVD combo packs.

This week at the movies, we’ve got just one new wide release: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, and Scarlett Johansson in the latest Marvel superhero adventure. What do the critics have to say?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

90%

It’s become fashionable in some film-going circles to dismiss the recent spate of comic book adaptations as evidence that Hollywood is bereft of ideas. Critics say Captain America: The Winter Soldier offers a powerful rebuttal, delivering outstanding performances and a thoughtful political undercurrent to complement its visceral thrills. This time out, Captain America (Chris Evans) is working undercover for S.H.I.EL.D., but quickly discovers that the organization is far more secretive than he suspected. Meanwhile, a mysterious assassin known as the Winter Soldier has carried out a series of killings — and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) seems to know more about his identity than she’s telling. The pundits say the Certified Fresh Captain America: The Winter Soldier should please both newcomers and Marvel diehards — it’s slick and action-packed, and most intriguingly, often has the feel of a paranoid thriller from the 1970s. (Check out this week’s Total Recall for a list of memorable superhero franchise part twos..)

Also opening this week in limited release: