Andy is a film junkie, who routinely binge watches Netflix and makes frequent trips to the movie theater.
As the decade is quickly coming to a close, we have been treated to an astounding abundance of great movies. However, plenty of films have slipped through the cracks and have not gotten the praise they deserve for great filmmaking and storytelling. I have put together a list of six movies that for whatever reason did not get the widespread critical and commercial acclaim they deserved, and are worth checking out.
6. Silence (2016)
I know what you’re thinking: this movie was directed by one of the all-time best directors (Martin Scorsese) and featured the likes of Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, and Adam Driver so how can it possibly be on your list? Well, the movie’s length and subject matter made it a difficult watch for the viewing public, and it was a relative failure at the box office. Make no mistake this is one of the most uncomfortable movies to watch, and some scenes are excruciatingly painful. The film is based on the Shūsaku Endō novel of the same name and details a fictionalized account of the oppression of Christian missionaries in Edo-era Japan. Two Jesuit priests (Garfield and Driver) travel to Japan to find out what happened to their missing mentor (Neeson) and continue their work to spread Christianity. When they arrive, they find their faith tested by the brutal oppression of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who have begun to persecute Catholics and close off the country from western influence. With a runtime of almost three hours, it may appear like a daunting film to watch, but it holds your attention throughout every second. Each scene is beautifully shot, and Scorsese manages to capture the raw emotions and moral questions surrounding the limit of one’s faith. Of course, it goes without saying that some scenes will make you feel ridiculously uncomfortable, but the payoff is enormous.
5. The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013)
While Studio Ghibli has become known around the world for their groundbreaking animated films, the vast majority of that acclaim is typically given to the work of director Hayao Miyazaki. However, there are other talented directors and animators at the studio, and Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya holds up to anything Miyazaki has done. The plot of the movie is a retelling of the ancient Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. A bamboo cutter finds a mysterious child in a stalk of bamboo one day, and he decides to bring the girl home and raise her as his daughter. The bamboo cutter and his wife believe the girl was born of divine origin and this only intensifies when they discover gold and beautiful clothing present in another bamboo stalk. What separates this film from other traditionally animated movies is the way it evokes traditional Japanese watercolor paintings: it looks like nothing else out there in animation. For those of you who prefer a dubbed version, the English language adaptation features an outstanding voice cast and is worth checking out. While the film did get nominated for an Academy Award, it did not do as well as other Studio Ghibli films at the box office, and it tends to go unnoticed when talking about the classics the studio has put out over the years. However, The Tale of Princess Kaguya stands alongside any other Miyazaki-helmed work and is worth checking out.
4. Before I Disappear (2014)
An adaptation of Shawn Christensen’s Oscar-winning short Curfew, Before I Disappear polarized fans of the original short and did not get a full theatrical release. It was on Netflix for a while, and that increased its exposure, but it has since been taken off the service. The full-length adaptation tends to get overlooked however it is one of the best indie movies of this decade as it manages to take the excellent subject matter of the short and expand upon it. The film is dark to the point of being funny at times. You can’t help but laugh at one of the early scenes, which sees the main character Richie (Christensen) about to slit his wrists in his bathtub before getting a disrupting call from his sister Maggie (Emmy Rossum) who asks him to look after her 11-year-old daughter for the day. Richie begrudgingly accepts and lifts himself out of his blood-soaked bathtub to pick up his niece. What the film does so well is its fantastic blend of realness and grittiness: every shot puts you directly into the action as it is happening. While there are plenty of melancholy overtones, the movie finds uplifting ways to deal with real-life issues such as depression, grief, loss, and wrestling with one’s past in superb fashion.
3. The Handmaiden (2016)
An international success from Park Chan-wook, known for his work directing films like Oldboy, The Handmaiden did not get noticed that much in the western world, and while the film did get an Oscar nomination, many people are unfamiliar with the movie. Korean films are a hard sell in the west, particularly the mind-blowing work of Chan-wook, who has become one of the most innovative directors, capable of throwing in fantastic plot twists and perfectly shot scenes that match the work of any other acclaimed director out there today. The Handmaiden tells the story of a poor pickpocket, Sook-hee, who is sent by her boss to be a handmaiden for a wealthy Japanese aristocrat, Lady Hideko, during the Japanese occupation of Korea during World War II. Her boss (played by the excellent Ha Jung-woo) wants Sook-hee to convince Lady Hideko to fall in love with and marry him so he can then have her committed to an asylum and take her vast inheritance for himself. Like Chan-wook’s other work, the film is a dark film-noir style thriller, with plenty of outrageous twists and turns that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
2. Cloud Atlas (2012)
While this film featured the likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and was directed by the Wachowski’s, few people saw this movie, and many of those that did had trouble with the length and dense web of interconnected timelines. Based off the David Mitchell book of the same name, Cloud Atlas is a dense web of storylines that take place over the course of many centuries, from the 1800’s all the way to a future timeline in which most of the earth has been rendered uninhabitable. The movie blends in many different genres as it skips timelines: from ridiculous and dark British humor to a dystopian science fiction world, Cloud Atlas is a unique and innovative watch. With so many excellent performances it is hard not to get wrapped up in the massive overarching story, though the complexity and length of the movie make it difficult just to sit down and watch. It has a long run time, and it requires your absolute attention, so anything less than that will leave you perplexed and confused. However, it is one of the most rewarding movies to watch precisely because of its complexity, and it is one that rewards repeated viewings.
1. Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
It is hard to describe the beauty of this film and its incredible cinematography (the camera itself becomes a character), but Embrace of the Serpent is simply one of the best movies that has been released in the past twenty years. Filmed in stark black and white the film is set deep in the Amazonian rainforest and follows an indigenous Amazonian Karamakate, who is the last of his tribe. Taking place in two different timelines: 1909 and 1940 the story chronicles Karamakate’s interactions with European and American outsiders who are looking for the legendary Yakruna plant, which is said to possess magical healing properties. Like any great film, Embrace of the Serpent holds your attention and makes you grapple with its profound, philosophical questions while leading you along its plot points. The acting and cinematography work is excellent as it puts you directly into the world that director Ciro Guerra has created. The visual look of the film sets it apart from anything else, so much so that you don’t even notice that the film is shot in black and white. While it did get nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film, many western audiences are unfamiliar with it. While it is not the most upbeat movie, Embrace of the Serpent is worth watching.
While this is only a small selection of underrated films from the past decade, I found these six to be highly compelling and exciting, and they are all worth checking out. You can leave your suggestions for underrated movies in the comments section below!
© 2018 Andy Lindquist