This is the end of the year article I always look forward to writing. The
list is a great thing to share with our readers, but arbitrarily ranking brilliant movies is a thankless chore. (Just see them all. You’ll be glad you did.) And the Best Movies of 2014 list is probably fun to read, but wallowing through the traumatic muck of my job isn’t a very pleasurable experience. (Just don’t seem them all. You’ll be glad you didn’t.) Worst Movies of 2014
But guiding people to films that they don’t know are worth their time is literally the reason why I do this job at all. Hence,
. These are the films that disappeared too soon to find an audience, got smashed by my fellow film critics or were so egregiously mismarketed that audiences who did pay to see them probably didn’t get what they wanted, and didn’t know what to make of what they actually got. The 14 Most Underrated Movies of 2014
Mending those fences is probably the most important part of my duties: there are so many films made every single year that no one with a day job (or at least, one that doesn’t involve watching movies) has time to see them all. So helping people locate the films that are actually worth their time and money is, in my opinion, a practically noble act of consumer advocacy.
But I have to contend with other critics – some of whom have tastes that veer pretty far afield of crowd-pleasing genres, skewing the
meter all over the place – and studio marketing departments, who are so eager to get you to buy a ticket that they’ll tell you literally anything to trick you into the theater. Usually they just oversell how good the movie is, but sometimes they also make a drama look like a comedy, an action movie look like a found-footage horror film (see below), or even make a very interesting film look like a bland one for fear of scaring you away. Rotten Tomatoes
So it’s important for critics to stand against the crowd and the studio marketing machine, and champion the new, the strange, the intriguing or sometimes the merely fun motion pictures which might otherwise get lost in the deluge of movie releases in any given year. And it’s just as important for us to tell you exactly what you’re in for, and not simply tow the party line. That means telling you sometimes that the movie you’re looking forward to isn’t very good, or that the movie you don’t care about is actually worth seeing, or that the trailers are simply lying to you.
So what follows are my picks for
. These are the films that fell prey to misleading marketing, unfairly negative reviews and/or poor word of mouth, but that are worth checking out anyway. Most of them aren’t “great,” because there’s a difference between “underrated” and “great.” To say something is underrated isn’t to say that it’s an unsung classic, at least not necessarily, but rather to say that there’s a significant disparity between how bad people say it is (often sight unseen) and how good it actually is. The 14 Most Underrated Movies of 2014
If you ignored any of the following movies because you heard they were bad, or thought they looked lame from the trailers, give them a watch anyway. I think you’ll either like them or at least find that there’s something within them that was worthy of your time. The most underrated movies of 2014 could use a little love. Spread the word, and
if I neglected to mention any other films that everyone else hated, but you liked or loved. let me know on Twitter
The 14 Most Underrated Movies of 2014:
William Bibbiani is the editor of and the host of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and The B-Movies Podcast . Follow him on Twitter at The Blue Movies Podcast . @WilliamBibbiani
The 14 Most Underrated Films of 2014
As Above, So Below
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27% My Review: 8/10 is an unfortunate victim of misleading marketing. All the advertising led audiences to believe that this subterranean supernatural spelunking film was a found footage horror thriller, but that's not true. It's actually a found footage adventure film in the vein of As Above, So Below Tomb Raider, and on that level, it's a lot of fun. Perdita Weeks plays an engaging lead character - smart, opinionated, a little obsessive - and the story, about finding the Philosopher's Stone in the catacombs beneath Paris - is full of more puzzles and booby traps than monsters. It's still not brilliant, but it's an entertaining film if you actually know what to expect. Listen to my hour-long B-Movies Podcast interview with As Above, So Below filmmakers, The Brothers Dowdle.
Read my original review.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 51% My Review: 8/10
On the surface,
Cuban Fury has all the earmarks of a nondescript feel-good British comedy. Nick Frost (sans Simon Pegg) stars as a lonely schlub who finds himself by learning how to salsa dance. And if you like those kinds of movies, it's pretty darned good. But that's only part of what's going on here. Cuban Fury is also a kung fu film (albeit without the kung fu). It's about overcoming ego and bettering oneself through discipline and physical grace. That's a better kind of message than films of this genre usually boast, and it leads to a memorably over the top dance fight between Frost and Chris O'Dowd, playing the rival for Rashida Jones's heart. Some critics found it too formulaic, but I thought it did interesting things within that formula, and was a solidly entertaining comedy. Watch my live Q&A with Nick Frost at the Los Angeles premiere of Cuban Fury.
Read my original review.
Earth to Echo
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48% My Review: 9/10
I love this movie. I can't quite understand why anyone else wouldn't. Yes, it's reminiscent of
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial but so are a lot of other kids movie classics, including Goonies, The Explorers and D.A.R.Y.L. And like those other movies, takes the framework of a storyline that works perfectly well and adapts it into something different, populated with rich, likable, believable characters on an empowering adventure. But more than that, Earth to Echo Earth to Echo - about a group of kids who befriend a broken alien robot who can only see through their cell phone cameras - really does update the kids fantasy subgenre for a new generation, incorporating technology, social media and even Google searches into the adventure in ways that add possibilities for the characters, which they take advantage of. I went into detail about this elsewhere on the site. Check out the link below to find out more about why I think Earth to Echo is a great and progressive motion picture. Read "Down With Technophobia: Or, Why 'Earth to Echo' is the Movie We Need."
Read my original review.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58% My Review: N/A
I didn't review Brett Ratner's
Hercules when it came out last summer because I was busy covering Comic-Con 2014. I didn't think I was missing much, but when I finally sat down with the Blu-ray I found out that I was missing... something. Not something exceptional, but something fun that does at least stand out in the (admittedly) mostly lackluster Hercules subgenre. Dwayne Johnson is a hoot as the title character, a mercenary whose exploits have taken on a life of their own, who now lets people think he's the son of Zeus because it makes his job easier. Backing him up is a whole gang of likable badasses who help Herc fight for, and then finally rebel against a corrupt politician waging a deadly war. Hercules is perhaps Brett Ratner's most interesting, well made movie. That still makes it about as good as an above-average "Xena" episode, but for some of us, that's just enough of a recommendation to at least give it a rental.
Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 16% My Review: 6/10
Again, there's a difference between a film being "underrated" and being "great." Some critics seemed ready to declare
to be one of the worst movies of the year based on the first few minutes of the film, which do admittedly kind of suck. But if you keep watching you'll find that this kids fantasy movie - aimed squarely at little kids, not their parents - is an energetic, eccentric adventure with a fun villain performance from Martin Short, some pretty unassailable messages and a few decent (although never great) musical numbers thrown in the mix too. I'm not going to begrudge Legends of Oz Legends of Oz for not catering to adults with biting satire or "clever" pop culture references. I'm going to begrudgingly admit that as entertainment for pre-teens, it's not bad. I won't praise it any more than that, but "not bad" is a hell of a lot more praise than most other critics were willing to bestow upon this motion picture punching bag.
Read my original review.
Love & Air Sex
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67% My Review: 7.5/10
As an individual movie,
might better be described as "underseen" as opposed to "underrated." It's a perfectly charming, if perhaps unremarkable rom-com set against an inventive backdrop: a real-life competition in Austin, TX where the contestants mime outlandish sexual situations. But I'm including Love & Air Sex Love & Air Sex here for two reasons. First, because I like the movie quite a bit and I want it to find a bigger audience, but secondly, as a defense against critics who seem to think the romantic comedy genre is dead. Sure, it's out of fashion, but of all the talk and articles I encountered in 2014 about how the genre is floundering, I never heard one person point out that films like Love & Air Sex are still being made, and made well, and just aren't being talked about enough by critics whose job it is to guide people to them. If you haven't seen a good new rom-com in a while, and would like to, then check this movie out. I think you'll be very happy with it.
Read my original review.
Magic in the Moonlight
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 50% My Review: 8.5/10
It's not my job to judge Woody Allen's personal life, so if you can't watch his films because of the many ugly stories, I won't argue the point. But it is my job to judge his actual films, and
is a very good one. Colin Firth plays an early 20th Century stage magician who, like Houdini, also debunks spiritual mediums. But he meets one such medium who is so talented, he finally breaks down and starts believing in something bigger than himself. Where it goes from there I won't tell you, but this spry twist on Magic in the Moonlight Pygmalion has great performances, a few scenes that actually stand amongst Allen's best work as a writer and a director, and it left a smile on my face. Not everyone liked it, citing the story's familiarity and also a general discomfort over yet another plot about an older man romantically involved with a much younger woman, but if you can get over that - which is, perhaps, a big "if" - it's a very good film. Ready my original review.
Read my in-depth interview with Magic in the Moonlight star Colin Firth.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29% My Review: 8/10
I don't generally subscribe to the "so bad it's good" school of film criticism, but I'll make an exception for Paul W. Anderson's
, a film that is so bad that it's GLORIOUS. Every single thing that other critics complained about had me giggling like a maniac in the theater, excited about just how over the top and sincerely juvenile this romantic disaster movie is. From the grandiose gladiator fights to the absurd performance by Kiefer Sutherland as the cackling villain, to the way "Game of Thrones" star Kit Harington sexily breaks a horse's neck. Pompeii Pompeii is ideal for bad movie nights, or those nights when you just want to watch something big and brassy and overwrought. I know "I" have those nights. I suspect some of you do too. Read my original review. Watch my video interview with Pompeii star Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Watch my video interview with Pompeii star Emily Browning.
The Quiet Ones
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36% My Review: 8/10
With only a few exceptions, 2014 was not a great year for horror movies. (
was great, and most people liked The Babadook more than I did, but that's about it.) But of the lesser horror movies that did come out this year, I thought Oculus was one of the best. On the surface it's a standard possession thriller about a team of parapsychologists trying to prove the supernatural exists, seemingly blind to the consequences. And it's not a bad one of those, even if it does seem a little too familiar. But the finale changes all that around by explaining that one of the seemingly contrived plot points was actually the theme of the film all along. It's not so much a possession thriller as a... well, I'm not telling, but let's just say that The Quiet Ones The Quiet Ones is actually slightly different kind of horror film that just happened to have a possession in it. If you heard bad things, give it a shot. It may surprise you, and even if you don't end up liking it as much as I did, you'll probably still be entertained.
Read my original review.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 64% My Review: N/A
William H. Macy's directorial debut was
the closing film of Sundance 2014, but when it finally came to theaters critics seemed pretty down on it overall. A big part of that has to do with the plot, particularly a spoiler moment that I won't ruin here. Some called it emotionally manipulative, some went a little overboard and called it profound. I just thought it was dramatically intriguing, and that it played perfectly fair within the framework of the film. But either way, - about a man whose musician son dies, and starts playing his son's songs at open mic nights to deal with the loss - is a well-acted, sensitive film with great music that really has an impact on the characters and their lives. The soundtrack is pretty fantastic, and the movie that it belongs to is an interesting drama that I was able to get swept up in. If you don't care for it, I'll understand why, but at least give Rudderless Rudderless a chance. Either way it's probably going to surprise you.
Read my spoiler-filled interview with Rudderless director William H. Macy.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 19% My Review: 7/10
David Ayer made two films this year. One of them,
, made my list of Fury the best films of the year. The other, , isn't nearly good enough to join it, but I had a good time anyway. It's a dark, gruesome tale of a corrupt DEA squad who steal a ton of money, lose it, and then get picked off one-by-one at the hands of a diabolical killer. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars, but he's the least interesting part of the movie. The best part of Sabotage Sabotage are the female characters. Mireille Enos plays a psychotic femme fatale, and she's one of the year's biggest badasses, chewing the scenery and spitting it out behind her. Olivia Williams also stands out as a funny, capable, respectable but also deeply human foil for the "heroes," injecting the film with a heaping helping of dignity. Sabotage has serious problems, but these two actresses help elevate Ayer's film into a movie that's at least worth seeing. Read my original review.
Read my interview with Sabotage writer/director David Ayer.
See No Evil 2
Rotten Tomatoes Score: N/A My Review: 7.5/10
I quite like straight-to-video movies and I wish I had time to see more of them. (There are just too many, it's a full-time job in itself.) Because sometimes there are really good films that fall between the cracks. Case in point,
, a completely unnecessary sequel to a movie that no one particularly liked all that much. But this time it's directed by The Twisted Twins, Jen & Sylvia Soska, whose previous film See No Evil 2 American Mary is one of the best original horror movies of the last few years. So I made the time, and I'm glad I did. See No Evil 2 stays strictly within the confines of the slasher genre, goosing some of the clichés without ever completely subverting them, but some of us like straight-up slasher movies and it's been a very long time since there's been a decent one. Katharine Isabelle steals the film as a borderline necrophilic serial killer fangirl, but the kills are fun and The Soskas throw in some curveballs that keep the movie entertaining and slightly... well, twisted. I don't recommend See No Evil 2 to everybody, but if you'd like to see a slasher that's better than most of the Friday the 13th sequels, I think you should check it out. Hardly any of the other critics on Rotten Tomatoes bothered to watch this, so it's up to us to spread the word. Read my original review.
Read my interview with See No Evil 2 filmmakers Jen & Sylvia Soska.
Space Station 76
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 67% My Review: N/A
on the web series Space Station 76 What the Flick but I never quite got around to writing a print review, and I feel bad about that. Jack Plotnick's dry martini of a sci-fi movie stars Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer as residents of an isolated space station in a future that's eerily reminiscent of the melancholy 1970s suburbia of The Ice Storm, full of repressed sexuality, casual misogyny and psychological abuse. It's not a downer, it's just got a dry wit. It's a thoughtful kind of comedy that will amuse you with the little incidental details and make you ponder just how far we have or haven't come in the last 40 years, in reality and in our fiction. Critics mostly liked it, but the reaction to Space Station 76 online - and in digital download ratings in particular - ranges from lukewarm to outright negative. It's better than that, and it deserves to find an audience on its wavelength.
Watch my video review of Space Station 76 on What the Flick?!
3 Days to Kill
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29% My Review: 7.5/10
The latest in an increasingly long line of patriarchal fantasy movies didn't break the mold established by
Taken (also produced by Luc Besson), but if you're a fan of the genre you'll find a lot to like about it. Kevin Costner plays a CIA hitman with a terminal illness who tries to reconnect with his wife and daughter, but a femme fatale played by Amber Heard (in a series of fetish outfits) hires him for "one last mission" in exchange for an experimental cure. Of course it's all just an excuse for Costner to run around the city, kicking ass and teaching his teen daughter how to ride a back almost simultaneously, like a Cold War superhero with a secret identity. Costner is fun, Heard is alluring as a walking metaphor for the intoxicating appeal of a day job, and overall takes itself just seriously enough to be emotionally involving despite its goofy premise. It wasn't original, but not every genre film needs to be. It just needs to hit all the right beats, and 3 Days to Kill 3 Days to Kill hits 'em hard. Read my original review. Watch my video interview with 3 Days to Kill star Kevin Costner.
Watch my video interview with 3 Days to Kill star Amber Heard.