There are plenty of amazing films that arrive every year that everyone goes out and sees, and a whole bunch of crappy ones that somehow keep getting made (movie movies, I’m looking at you). Yet, every year there are also a bunch of great, easily accessible films that just slip under most people’s radars. They aren’t unintelligible festival flicks, but instead interesting, smart, funny stories that just somehow never got the play they deserve. Here are 16 of the best from the last half-decade.
16. Godzilla: Final Wars
Godzilla: Final Wars is, to put it mildly, batshit fucking insane. It was commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of everyone’s favorite giant lizard, and is the most wonderful, mad, mish-mash of ideas and awesome you have ever seen. It’s got Godzilla fighting a ton of other monsters, including the crappy American Godzilla from the bad 1998 version. It’s got aliens, mutants, Kaisers, super-powers, and wonderful puns. The best part? A major roll is played by an American MMA fighter who doesn’t speak Japanese. He just speaks English through the entire film, and everyone else speaks Japanese, and it’s never mentioned. Stupid and stupidly awesome, it’s worth getting drunk and watching like you wouldn’t believe.
Stardust should have been the Princess Bride for the 2000s, but somehow it never took off in the way it should have. Based on a wonderful Neil Gaiman novel, Stardust has all the things that made the Princess Bride amazing: great actors, a wonderfully funny script, gloriously evil villains, a bit of torture, some magic, a bit of romance, wonderful sword play, and more buckles being swashed than you could possibly imagine. It’s eminently quotable, and was severely ignored by most people, which is their freaking loss.
14. Hamlet 2
Steve Coogan is brilliantly funny, any Brit can tell you that. Watching him play a failing infomercial actor turned to teaching in Hamlet 2 is one of the most wonderful things possible, and putting on the titular play? Holy crap, it really is that funny. Look, any play that includes a musical number called “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” and features lightsaber battles, a time machine, and a truckload of stupid pop-culture references is pure gold. It’s this wonderful and weird combination of genres, scenes, and stupidity, and it all just works together amazingly well. It’s like Glee, but actually funny.
13. The Host
Part black comedy, part horror, Korean monster flick The Host was surprisingly dark and horrific for a genre more known for producing action-filled monster fights than anything with serious horror chops. The Host pushed beyond just being a simple monster movie, and invoked growing anti-American military sentiment in its native Korea to tell the story of a mutant fish hunting for children on the banks of a river which the American military tries to cover up with reports of a virus. As the movie goes on it gets darker and darker, with a particularly brutal climax.
12. The Fall
Tarsem Singh deserves a fucking medal for The Fall. It is absolutely, stunningly gorgeous. A lesser director would have tried to make the fantastic locations in CG and just greenscreened the entire thing, but Singh spent four years travelling to 20 countries to get the astonishing footage for this film. It’s worth watching purely on the basis of its absolutely shocking beauty, and its poor box office reception means we’re unlikely to see a film this original or stunning again. In order to get the most realistic possible performance from the child actress Catinca Untaru, many of her lines were only loosely scripted, and she was shot through a tiny hole in the curtains, so her her interactions with lead actor Lee Pace were as spontaneous and true as possible.
11. Mystery Team
The Mystery Team is what happens when kid investigators refuse to grow up. Originally a repeated sketch by the actors, they decided to spin the characters into a full length film about three kid detectives, now turned 18, who are still trying to be taken seriously as mystery solvers. They elect to take on a double homicide, and thrust their naive methods and views into a very real and very seedy world around them. The contrast between their lemonade and clue gathering methods against violence, sex, and drugs is wonderfully played, and Donald Glover is excellent as always.
10. Fantastic Mr Fox
It’s Wes Anderson, doing a stop-motion adaptation of a Roald Dahl children’s story. At what point does that not sound absolutely amazing? It’s Anderson, so there are all his standard things there: an obsession with symmetry, wonderful set pieces, low-key humor, plus his favorite actors: Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. It’s pretty easy to slap a “pretentious hipster bullshit” label on Anderson’s stuff, and to be fair it’s not for everyone, but I adore his understated humor and wistful and forlorn storytelling, even in a children’s movie.
Sunshine is a perfect example of what could have been an absolutely amazing scifi film, if it wasn’t marred by a horrible third act twist, that took what was a gripping and claustrophobic thriller and turned it into a cookie-cutter spacemonster film. Up until that point, its a taught psychological film about a mission to save the world and restart the sun, where the slightest mistake would doom humanity. Each of the characters has a distinct personality, and the head-butting that arises is played perfectly. It’s such a shame that it had the ending it did.
8. Let the Right One In
This Swedish vampire movie is being remade in America as “Let Me In”, a move that has many cinema buffs worried, as American remakes tend not to carry over the things we love about the original. Let the Right One In is a real vampire movie in a world of sparkly, wussy vampires. It’s about scary vampires, creatures of the night, who even when they’re your friend aren’t really to be trusted. It’s also about friendship and love during adolescence, as well as playing on the universal horror fact: kids are creepy, yo!
7. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
You know how Robert Downey Jr is amazing in Iron Man, when he’s just wandering around being charming and quick-witted? That’s pretty much all Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is. Him and Val Kilmer verbally sparring over any and everything. Sure, he’s less smart in this, but that doesn’t make him any less fast on the retort, and this movie has one of the sharpest, tightest scripts I’ve ever seen. It’s how we all wish we could talk, rapidfire and darkly humorous. It’s a version of a hardboiled detective noir kind of case, but with enough interest and intelligence to raise it up several notches.
Moon shows just how much can be done with so little. There are really only two actors, one of whom is a voice. Sam Rockwell is a worker on the moon, Kevin Spacey is a robotic assistant. He’s the only one out there. Until he finds another version of himself stranded in a rover. If you think that’s a spoiler, it’s given away in the trailer. It’s funny how even with the biggest twist given away before you’ve even seen the film, it still manages to be an exceptionally gripping movie, which deals with perception, loneliness and self in the most isolated environment imaginable.
5. A Serious Man
The Coen brothers have one of the most wide-ranging directorial histories imaginable, fimling zany screwball comedies, dark thrillers, film noir, and just about every type of funny film you can imagine. A Serious Man is their most recent movie, and arguably their blackest comedy. The world seems to hate Larry Gopnik, and every possible thing that can go wrong to him does. He attempts to deal with the world as a mensch, a “serious man”, but the world conspires against in ways that combine into a feeling of drowning terror. And even as things seem to take a turn for the better near the end of the film, the final seconds leave the audience hanging on dark possibilities.
4. In Bruges
Colin Farrell swears a lot, Ralph Feinnes shoots people, sex, Bruges, and not to mention awesome dwarf actor Jordan Prentice. It’s a brutal dark comedy, all about violence and redemption, but so utterly, utterly hilarious that you have to love it. It’s bloody, offensive, and you want to smack Farrell around a bit for being such a cocky bastard, but is a brilliantly twisted film. Severely underrated it’s a fantastic comedy. And you know what? Bruges is actually kind of pretty.
3. Thank You For Smoking
There’s a term that I like: magnificent bastard. And Thank You For Smoking provides us with the world’s most magnificent bastard imaginable. Aaron Eckhart is such a smooth talking, sly, charming sonofabitch that you completely fall in love with him, even as he fights for some of the most evil corporations on the planet. Its a movie devoted to just how absolutely we can fall for a silver tongue and good ad campaign. You want to know how you can tell this is a great film? Because all the smokers I know think it’s pro-cigarette, and all the non-smokers think it’s anti. It’s good enough, sharp enough, and cunning enough that we all think we agree with it, regardless of our views.
2. This Film Is Not Yet Rated
Have you ever wondered why violence is fine in movies, but sex much less so? Why even the slightest hint of a pubic hair will get an NC-17 rating? Why decapitations are fine, but gay kissing isn’t? It’s because of the secretive board known as the MPAA, which this documentary attempted to unveil. They have incredibly control over the film-making process, and are the bane of writers and directors alike, who have to continually tweak their films to hit the ratings they need, because you can’t advertise an NC-17 movie, and no one will sell it. It’s an intensely interesting look at just how much power is wielded by a group of unknown individuals, who have final say about so much of what we can and can’t watch.
I’m not quite sure how Brick happened, but I’m incredibly glad it did. Film noir hardboiled detective story, set in a High School. Small population, rich kids, special slang, femme fatales, drug deals, violence. It’s just so pitch perfect, an amazing transposition, and somehow this movie didn’t get nearly as much love as it deserved in the theaters. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is frankly astonishingly good as a loner turned detective, slowly putting together all the pieces in a horrific crime. It’s a masterpiece of a movie, which deserved much more recognition than it got.