The 10 Most-Underrated Movies of 2013

The final days of the old year and the first days of the new one are typically devoted to parsing the best and worst films, music, television series and books of the previous 12 months. But notwithstanding the inherent subjectivity of ranking art (or even “art”), those lists are often comprised of stuff you’ve already checked out, or already plan to in the near future. All of which brings us to our list: the 10 most-underrated, or overlooked, movies of 2013.

While there are undoubtedly better films, in part and as a whole, than some of the titles included on the list below, these are titles that were perhaps unfairly maligned, or largely ignored by the general public, despite having qualities – performances, storytelling, artistry – that make them at least worth checking out. Let us know what you think of our choices in the comments section.

act of killin1

The Act of Killing (Drafthouse Films)
What starts out as a gobsmacking portrait of cognitive dissonance becomes a harrowing, introspective look at the toll that war crimes takes – and doesn’t take – on their perpetrators. Documenting a group of gangsters who participated in Indonesian killings in the mid-1960s and are now revered in the region where they committed thousands of murders, Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary expertly avoids easy judgments, but never lets them – or the audience – off the hook – as they start to feel the gravity of their actions.

dear mr watterson

Dear Mr. Watterson (Gravitas Ventures)
Joel Allen Schroeder wisely ignores the more conventional story of “finding” the elusive creator of Calvin and Hobbes in order to offer a broader and more emotionally powerful portrait of one of the last great pre-Internet cultural phenomena. Featuring interviews from other comic creators and fans like himself, Schroeder beautifully examines the impact of the strip, and then steps back to look at the context of its endurance as a source of inspiration and entertainment for so many people, almost 30 years later.

hell baby

Hell Baby (Millennium)
While so many horror movies take themselves so seriously that it’s impossible not to laugh at them, this one encourages you to, with its tale of a husband trying to deal with the demonic mood swings of his very, very pregnant wife. Its jump scares are often surprisingly effective, but even if you find none of it scary, there’s something extremely appealing about watching a person react to supernatural phenomena in a more recognizable way – namely, with disbelief and hilarious incredulity.

in a world1

In a World … (Roadside Attractions)
An actress on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough for several years now, Lake Bell has consistently distinguished herself with performances full of intelligence, humor and humanity. Unsurprisingly, these are all qualities she brings to her writing and directing debut, the story of a young woman who aspires to be the first iconic female voiceover actor. While the character’s generational rivalry with her father, an established voiceover performer, offers its own commentary on ageism and gender bias, Bell creates a remarkably dimensionalized world of interesting, funny characters that all feel deeply real, without venturing anywhere near the sort of focus that might unfairly relegate it to the status of “a movie for girls.” Affecting, sweet and frequently hilarious, In a World … is terrific, and Bell is a talent to watch, behind the camera as much as in front of it.

lords of salem

The Lords of Salem (Anchor Bay Films)
Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of Rob Zombie’s movies, thanks to their frequent emphasis on white-trash meanness. But even if his latest isn’t a total about face from his previous work, The Lords of Salem is an intriguing film that incorporates elements of Mario Bava and Dario Argento as it explores the resurrection of a coven of witches via the womb of a Massachusetts DJ (a never-better Shari Moon-Zombie). More disturbing than scary and not fully successful at achieving its ambitiously grandiose finale, the film exudes creepy atmosphere and features some truly striking imagery.

only god forgives

Only God Forgives (The Weinstein Company)
As much as I loved Drive, Only God Forgives is nothing like it, and quite frankly, that’s something every fan of his previous film should know. Eschewing the tight-lipped romanticism of his stunt driver story, Refn’s incredibly violent follow-up examines a young man – played by Ryan Gosling – caught between the Thailand authorities and his controlling mother. A virtual battle between nature and nurture with Gosling’s anguished character caught in the middle, the film is as gorgeous as any you’ll see in 2013, with a character study as provocative and interesting to match.

RUSH

Rush (Universal Pictures)
Although any movie directed by Ron Howard and released by Universal faces an uphill battle at being considered “overlooked,” audiences didn’t seem to have a chance to check out the film, about the career-long rivalry between Formula 1 racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. While Chris Hemsworth is solid as Hunt, Inglourious Basterds co-star Daniel Bruhl steals the movie from beneath him with a fearlessly unlikeable performance as his longtime opponent, a relentlessly pragmatic man in whose corner you almost can’t help finding yourself. Bolstered by a vaguely disinterested, abstract depiction of the racing itself, Howard does an amazing job getting inside not just the cars, but the heads of these two fierce competitors.

simon killer

Simon Killer (IFC)
I actually saw this film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and felt so icky afterward that I vowed never to watch it again. But its eventual release in theaters in the middle of 2013 came and went without appropriate fanfare for just how twisted, complex and unforgettable the film really is. With the story of a young American who flees to Paris after a nasty breakup, director and co-writer Antonio Campos creates an upsetting and shockingly believable portrait of a sociopath coming into his own, disguising his cruel and manipulative behavior in self-pity and romantic victimization. A worthy companion piece to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games remake – as much as anything because of two astonishing performances by Brady Corbet – the film is terrifying not because it chronicles the terrible behavior of an unlikeable protagonist, but by showcasing how thin the line is for that sort of behavior in the very real world of forlorn, endlessly self-justifying young men.

stoker

Stoker (Fox Searchlight)
Park Chan-Wook has been a major force in international cinema for years, having made the original Oldboy and the amazing, sensual vampire film Thirst. But his first English-language debut is a triumph of the power of cinema – meaning what a filmmaker can do with the camera and a simple story in order to create an unforgettable tale. Almost an origin story of sorts for a future serial killer, the film follows young India Stoker (an amazing Mia Wasikowska) as she deals with the death of her father, and the arrival of her mysterious uncle, who seems to have sinister plans for the two of them. Beautifully tracking her coming of age as she becomes empowered through her uncle’s attention, the film takes a familiar idea – an almost Hitchcockian premise – and breathes new life into it

you're next.

You’re Next (Lionsgate)
Adam Wingard gives slasher movies a much-needed shot of adrenaline – not to mention humor – with his story of a family whose weekend getaway is interrupted by home invaders. Sharni Vinson plays the film’s protagonist with strength and smarts – she’s a woman with her own secret past – and the film uses its dueling mysteries to charge the usual scream-chase-kill dynamic with fresh and almost fun energy. As the milquetoast academic who quickly finds himself overshadowed by his much more formidable girlfriend, A.J. Bowen delivers yet another terrific performance, and provides one extreme for the film to bounce back from – soft, week domesticity – as Vinson’s character is caught between that and the cruel violence of her attackers.

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Comments

  • humandivine

    no. no no no no no no. Only God Forgives is one of the worst movies i’ve ever seen in my life. Characters appear without any introduction, there’s no desire to root for Gosling, as his character is a disturbed as nearly everyone else in this film. the final scene, with the mother and then the hands. just plain silly. i watched the film with 5 of my friends and each of us were remarkably disappointed. there is no character study, goslings character has no arc to him. he has no dialogue, theres no reason for us to sympathise with him either.

  • dickstroyer

    it was never ABOUT gosling’s character. it was about everyone else around him and each of them wanted to manipulate him in some way. he’s a secondary character. Every character in this movie got what they deserved.

  • dickstroyer

    Also, there was no need for him to speak that much either, and he is indeed as fucked up as everyone else. I get that you didn’t get the movie but that doesn’t make it a bad movie.

  • someguy

    Whether you “get” the movie or not does not change the fact that the film was poorly done. Even if the whole point is to show all of the detestable personalities surrounding Gosling’s character (as well as himself), it still came off as dull.The characters themselves are fairly generic, and do not have unique traits which give viewers reasons to care about them. As a result, it felt like watching a 15-20 minute short film being stretched over a 90 minute period. I do, however, believe that this is of no fault to the actors themselves as they did fairly well considering the limited material to work with.

  • SlamAdams

    Why do you have to care about the characters?

  • Dean_Winchester

    Is that a joke? What is the point of watching/reading a story if you don’t care about any of the characters?

  • Mathias

    lol at the people that accuse you of not “getting” this pretentious piece of garbage. I’m biased because I really didn’t like Drive either, but at least that story had more interesting elements (and cast) that made it more bearable.

  • Lucas Lowman

    I really enjoyed it… What I got from it was that it was a revenge film that defames revenge rather than glorifying it. But we all have different opinions/interpretations.

  • Peter Whitney

    I don’t get what you mean by underrated? Act of Killing, Stoker, and In A World are not underrated at all and are well loved and get lots of respect And Rush is not only well recieved but did good in the box office.

  • Mr. Wayne

    Rush isn’t underrated at all. The only other movies besides Rush that were talked about all year were Gravity, Wolf of Wall Street, and American Hustle. Again, Rush, NOT underrated.

  • Flip Maker

    I loved RUSH and only wished more people in the US had seen it. Vastly overlooked movie.

  • AJ2449

    Talked about? Last year I heard plenty about Gravity, Wolf of Wall Street, Gravity and American Hustle. I also heard non-stop about Only God Forgives. .
    But I heard pretty much Nothing about Rush.
    But Notice how all of those other films have Leads who regularly attract popular media attention. (I even heard about Stoker, because Nicole Kidman was in it).
    Unfortunately, Chris Helmsworth is the Most Boring Celebrity in the universe. I don’t like or dislike him, but if it’s not Avengers or Thor, there is zero interest in him, or much mainstream media attention.
    Only if someone was strictly following movie news would they hear much about Rush; or if they might have seen a Trailer before other films.

  • Tom Hung

    I would say Man of Steel. Idiots hated it because Superman kills, but he has killed before in Superman II, IV, comics, tv series and video games. Bunch of hypocrites the lot of them.

  • Richard Casey

    people hated it because it was dull, overly complicated, devoid of any charm, populated by characters that were borderline generic and it took HALF AN HOUR before we even saw Clark Kent. On top of all that, it had none of the stylistic cinematography Snyder is known for: instead it was just grey shakey cam.
    I actually had no problem with Supes killing Zod, it was Zod proving his superiority by forcing Clark to cross a line and pull the kryptonian equivalent of suicide by cop.

  • Richard Casey

    Yeah, Hell Baby was criminally overlooked. Mostly for the full frontal shots of Riki Lindholme.

  • Happily LS

    Stoker got some above average praise at the time, but was quickly forgotten. I didn’t see it in anyone’s best-of lists. I think it deserves to be, so yeah, I would call it underrated.

  • Peter Whitney

    Well, three of the top ten lists on Badass Digest (including Devin Faraci) have it listed. Also E! put it in their top ten list. And several others have given it an honorable mention. Empire Magazine has it as 6 on their top 50. I’m sure there are others but I’m a little lazy.

  • SlamAdams

    Characters can be interesting without having your sympathy. There are hundreds of movies about absolutely despicable characters. They aren’t bad movies because you don’t care about the characters.

  • SlamAdams

    Pretentious? What bullshit! “Pretentious” is a word that gets thrown around so often in negative criticism that it has lost all meaning.

  • DNAsplitter

    MOS was not underrated. It made almost $700M at the boxoffice and the average score for users is at 77%. Most critics, and some users, had issues w it as they were wanting to compare it to the Reeves/Donnor films. Those films are the gold standard in the industry of making superhero films and to compare it to them is unfair but unavoidable. Chris Nolan’s Batman could succeed as it wasn’t always going to be compared to Tim Burton’s Batman as those films were also polarizing when 1st released by critics and audiences. I am a fan of the new MOS film and was glad it was able to achieve the success it has by opening a new DC universe where other heroes actually exist but to call it underrated is something I disagree with.

  • EricSun

    You are wrong sir soo so wrong. You are not supposed to root for Gosling, he’s obviously a villain. The film is a psudo slasher. You see the thai Cop is the hero/slasher. Gosling and his family are twisted freaks and they deserve to die etc etc.

  • EricSun

    Probably should have titled this; Most Over looked. I agree on Most counts Stoker and Only God Forgives were brilliant in their use of villains. Turned the whole idea of heroes on it’s head.

  • ZedWrecker

    Not gonna sugar coat it. Lords of Salem sucked ass.

  • SenorApplesauce

    Watch “There Will be Blood”, you will get the concept. (you might hate the movie though)

  • LeMarin

    Cannot agree with this list. Stoker, Rush and The Act of Killing all got great reviews and were considered by a lot of people as indie-highlights of 2013. Rush got a a lot of Oscar-hype, it just did not do THAT good at the cinemas. You*re next was, considering its very small budget, a huge financial and critical success. And Only God Forgives was not underrated. Instead, the reviews were polarized, some loved it, some hated it.

  • jasonca

    no no no….Only God Forgives is most certainly pretentious.

  • jasonca

    Batman Begins was not as polarizing as MoS

  • Dave

    Sorry, but Lords of Salem was without a doubt one of the worst movies ever made. The story was loose, and stupid like most Rob Zombie films.

  • Ghostronaut

    I think some of you are misinterpreting the concept of “caring” about a character. Of course it doesn’t mean you have to love or even like them, but it is still essential to care about the characters. To phrase it differently, It’s essential to be interested or invested in the characters.

    That being said, I wanted to like Only God Forgives, i really did. I enjoyed all of Refn’s other films to date. But this movie was Refn’s “Zack Snyder” impression: Visually flashy, with a serious lack of any true substance. (even so, it’s still better than Zack Snyder). I appreciated the minimalist approach to character development in Drive
    and Valhalla, but the writing of this film just seemed like an
    unfinished thought existing only to support his interest in the photography. NONE of the characters are even real characters. If you inserted even the most awful bit of bad 80′s action film plot or character development, this movie would have been amazing.

    The “characters” in this movie are each like a bad haiku. I didn’t dislike them because they were awful people, I didn’t care about them because they lacked substance.Good performances and stunning visuals weren’t enough to save this film for me. The story just wasn’t there.

  • Ghostronaut

    This reply was meant to be further down the thread, that’s what happens when i get caught up in my thought.

  • Donna Fleming

    You don’t really. A hollywood, blow em up, crash, end of world, is good enough to sell a ticket. No story needed either. Tom Hanks can just run across the screen with explosions just behind him….good enough.

  • SlamAdams

    You completely misunderstood what I’m talking about.

  • David Kosmak

    I’ve seen about half the list and agree on all fronts, especially Only God Forgives.

    One big omission here, in my opinion, is Place Beyond the Pines. Got good reviews and a little bit of buzz because of the Cooper/Gosling billing early on, but man, pretty much everyone completely forgot about that a month later.

  • fark

    shaddup