Lately it seems like the only movies anyone talks about are the big Hollywood tentpole films where pathos and plot and nuance take a back seat to action and explosions and CGI special effects. Films like World War Z, Pacific Rim, and Fast and Furious 6; not to mention all of the superhero sequels and reboots and remakes.
While popcorn movies are fun to watch on occasion, I tend to prefer films that have a little more going for them than blue screens and action sequences. Below are my seven favorite film I’ve seen over the past two years, at the theater and on Netflix, that garnered little fanfare or box office success.
Why seven films? Why not five or ten? Because these are the first films that came to mind without me having to think twice about them. And I stuck with the last couple of years because otherwise this list would be at least twenty-five films long.
Four of these films earned less than $5,000,000 domestic gross while all of them have earned less than $30,000,000. Many of these are also from first time writers or directors. Or both. If you enjoy smart, funny, or thoughtful films, or a little of all three, then there’s something here for you.
(Oh, and feel free to share your favorite under-appreciated films in the comments.)
If you’re a fan of dark comedies and inept seedy characters, this is the film for you. Fun performances turned in by Thomas Haden Church, Juno Temple, and Emile Hirsch. And even if you can’t stand Matthew McConaughey, you’ll love him as the titular character.
Jeff Who Lives at Home
An engaging, amusing, and thoughtful film about relationships, unfulfilled dreams, and destiny, with Jason Segal as a live-at-home stoner searching for his destiny and Ed Helms as his asshole big brother, with Susan Sarandon as their frustrated mom. Written by Jay and Mark Duplass (The League, Cyrus).
While Diablo Cody is best known for her Oscar-winning script for Juno (which I loved), I think this is the best of her three scripts, starring Charlize Theron as an emotionally stunted young adult author who goes back home to recapture her glory days. Great turn by Patton Oswalt as her unlikely romantic interest.
Safety Not Guaranteed
A quirky little film about a team of reporters (Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson) who investigate a classified newspaper ad asking for a time-traveling companion. Mark Duplass plays the author of the ad who seems a little crazy. But then, aren’t all geniuses a little nuts?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs, and stars in this in-your-face romantic comedy about a modern-day Don Juan who has a predilection for online porn. Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore are perfectly cast as the women in his life, while Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt’s father is absolute gold.
The Way, Way Back
A sweet, smart, and funny coming-of-age story about a lost 14-year-old boy who struggles to find himself while on a summer vacation. Good writing and a great ensemble cast with Toni Colette, Robb Cordy, Amanda Peet, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell playing against type as an emotionally-abusive future step-father.
In a World…
First-time writer/director Lake Bell (Children’s Hospital) stars as the daughter of a voice-over king in a world where men dominate the theatrical trailer landscape. But when she gets a chance to lend her voice to the upcoming Amazon Games trilogy, the world turns upside down. Smart writing and a cohesive ensemble cast.