Last week, we had a Roundtable about 2011′s most overrated movies. This week, per reader request, we’re going to flip that around and look at some of last year’s most underrated or overlooked films.
When I sent out this week’s topic to the staff, I offered some definitions of what types of movies should qualify. These include:
- The movie unjustly received negative reviews and word of mouth. You thought it was better than generally regarded.
- The movie may have received mixed-to-positive reviews or word of mouth, but largely flew under the radar and has been ignored during awards season.
- The movie barely got released at all. Practically no one’s even heard of it, and it has no awards buzz.
What we want to avoid is someone claiming, for example, that ‘Midnight in Paris’ or ‘The Artist’ are underrated because neither has made $200 million at the box office. Both films received stellar reviews and plenty of award recognition. This is not a “Best Film of the Year” Roundtable. We’re hoping to bring attention to movies that may have been overlooked, or defend movies that may have unfairly taken a beating.
With that said, let’s get on with it:
My most underrated movie of the year is an easy choice. ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close‘ faced a backlash from critics who called it manipulative. I don’t share that opinion. It seems that people have written the film off just because it deals with one of the most emotionally sensitive times in our country. I never thought that its emotional resonance was phony. Honestly, I got teary-eyed quite often. Call me a sucker if you want, but this is a well put together drama featuring an acting performance by newcomer Thomas Horn that was honestly the most overlooked performance of the year.
[Ed.: Please note that Aaron submitted this entry before the Oscar nominations, which included this film, were announced earlier in the week.]
I’d say the icy reception ‘The Hangover: Part II‘ received this year was excessively harsh. I’m not sure what critics were expecting, but I was fully prepared for an awful, unfunny mess from what I heard about the movie, and it’s nowhere near as bad as some people have made it out to be. Sure, it’s not as strong as the first film, and any appearance by Ken Jeong is still way too much Ken Jeong, but frankly the sequel wasn’t bound to have much originality anyway since we’re talking about a plot that revolves around a “hangover.” Really, that shouldn’t have been surprising, with the word being in the title after all.
Look, I don’t think that ‘Tower Heist‘ is a great movie by any means, but it was certainly an entertaining pre-Thanksgiving release. I thought that it would do pretty well as we approached the holiday season and folks needed a post-shopping dose of entertainment. Instead, it just barely made its production budget back at the box office during its domestic release. Sure, Brett Ratner acted like a jackass as usual and stole the spotlight from his own movie, but really, I think most of us assume that the guy’s movies get made in spite of his involvement. He gets veteran cinematographers, editors and actors to keep things running smoothly so that he can blather on his cell phone and schedule Howard Stern appearances while the work unfolds around him. With Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck and Matthew Broderick turning in their best performances in ages, and Alan Alda and Tea Leoni sweetening the pot, I thought this would have been a popcorn-heist goldmine. Sadly, it was a middling “success” that no one talked about. Weird.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
It’s really not that hard to argue that John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is the most masterfully crafted genre film of the past thirty years, and… No, wait! I know you already see where I’m going with this, and I’m sure your jaw has dropped in disbelief that I’m defending the newly-released prequel/remake. I’m right there with you that the 2011 version of ‘The Thing‘ doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but realistically, what can? Carpenter made an unnerving paranoid thriller that still holds up brilliantly three full decades later.
This prequel is more of a straight-ahead creature flick and is kind of disposable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The craftsmanship behind it is frequently reminiscent of the 1982 film, so there’s no shaky-cam, no spastically frantic editing, no chugging guitars or thundering electronic drum beats in the score, and no pale-blue-horror-tint. The writing’s reasonably sharp, its characters rarely do dumb things just to keep the plot moving, and the bulk of the cast is really engaging. The prequel also gets that there’s only one Kurt Russell, so it goes in a completely different direction by casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the lead. She radiates a certain strength, confidence, and intelligence that works astonishingly well without leaning on the usual Final Girl clichés.
Yeah, yeah, the cut of ‘The Thing’ that eventually made its way into theaters is flawed. The elaborate animatronics on the set were painted over with bargain-basement CGI. It has even thinner characterization than the original, and gives a poor substitute for the iconic blood test sequence. The list goes on and on from there. I really don’t care, though. ‘The Thing’ is still one of my favorite genre releases from the Class of 2011, and I think it’s been unfairly dismissed.
My pick for most underrated film of 2011 is a bit controversial. First, it’s a Canadian film from 2010, but it didn’t play on American screens until 2011. Also, it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film last year, so the movie definitely had its supporters. However, I’m sticking to my guns. Despite its critical acclaim, very few people saw or even heard of ‘Incendies‘.
The film centers on a brother and sister whose immigrant mother brought them to Canada from the Middle East when they were infants. When their mother suffers a stroke, they’re tasked with carrying out her final wishes to reunite their family. While searching for long lost family members, they uncover devastating secrets and ultimately discover the mother they never really knew. I knew very little about this film going into it, yet I was pretty quickly drawn in. The story is incredibly compelling (although be warned that it does cover some difficult subject matter), and I really wanted to know where this journey was leading. It’s a powerful film, one definitely worth checking out if you missed it.
M. Enois Duarte
There were a few movies last year that I thought were unfairly overlooked by larger audiences, such as ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘Margin Call’ (although the latter has some spotty moments). But for me, the one great film most unjustly ignored by everyone would have to be ‘Meek’s Cutoff‘. Inspired by a true incident on the famous Oregon Trail in 1845, Kelly Reichardt’s film is a wonderfully engaging and contemplative Western in the spirit of such classics as ‘The Searchers’. On the surface, we have an intense and slowly brooding tale about a band of settlers losing confidence in their frontier guide, Stephen Meek. Things only worsen when they kidnap a Cayuse Indian and tensions rise among the group. Writhing beneath this plot, however, is a power struggle because the women are not allowed to participate in deciding what’s best for everyone, which only adds more fuel to the problem. The movie also features an amazing performance by Michelle Williams. Whether you’re a fan of Westerns or not, this is really a film more people should check out.
I have a couple of picks for this category. The first is Joe Wright’s action thriller ‘Hanna‘, about a child assassin (Saoirse Ronan) raised since birth to be an instrument of vengeance for her father, a burned spy. When it opened back in April, the film received so-so reviews and underperformed at the box office. Word of mouth since then has also been decidedly mixed. While I won’t deny that the movie lacks originality in plotting or richly developed characters, I personally felt that it was a whole lot of fun. Sure, this is very much a case of style over substance, but it has really cool style and (unlike a certain other arty action movie that I was much less fond of), ‘Hanna’ never pretends to be deeper than it really is. It also doesn’t hurt that the film actually has some well-directed, inventive action in it, and isn’t bogged down with endless stretches of characters just standing around staring at one another. ‘Hanna’ got a bum rap.
My second choice is Steven Soderbergh’s viral pandemic thriller ‘Contagion‘. Again, this movie received mixed reviews, even among the staff here. Aaron really liked it, while Luke called it a mediocre knockoff of ‘Outbreak’ (which really makes me question whether he’s actually seen the laughably cheesy and lame ‘Outbreak’). One of the most persistent complaints about the film is that it has too many characters and storylines, and none of them is fleshed out enough. I can sort of see that, but it’s clear to me that Soderbergh really considers the virus itself to be the main character of the story. He traces its rapid progression around the world, and obsesses over the myriad ways it spreads through innocent contact. The director’s detached and clinical style may not appeal to all viewers, but I found it very appropriate for the story, and Soderbergh lets genuine human moments shine through when they’re most needed. The most frightening aspect of the film is just how plausible everything in it is. After watching it, I wanted to never leave the house, touch anything, or even breathe ever again!
Those were some of the movies we felt didn’t get a fair shake last year. Tell us about yours in the Comments.