As I mentioned in my Overrated Movies of 2013 piece, I have decided to switch up my usual format of posting my Top 10, Overrated and Underrated movies of the year in one big story. Instead, I'm breaking each category into its own story, with today's piece focusing on my picks for the Most Underrated/Underseen movies of the year. These five films (and one honorable mention) all made under $200,000 at the box office, though many of them also debuted on VOD formats before and/or during their theatrical runs. However, VOD sales data is hardly ever released to the general public, so it isn't known how well these films fared in that format. Still, these indie gems represented quality far greater than several films with enormous budgets, and even though they may not have raked in the big bucks, they're well worthy of being recognized for their greatness. Also, in case you're curious, you can check out the full list of every 2013 release I have seen this year. So, without further ado, here are my picks for most underrated, along with one honorable mention that didn't even make it into theaters.
1Europa Report - $125,687 U.S. Box Office Gross
When I first saw the trailer for Europa Report, I didn't pay it much attention, because it seemed like they just pilfered the District 9 documentary/found footage format and used it for an outer space thriller. However, I kept hearing really good things about it, and gave it a shot on VOD this summer. I'm very glad that I did, because it is a brilliant film, crafted in a way where you just can't look away from the screen, not even for a millisecond, because you never know what little tidbit you may miss. Christian Camargo, Embeth Davidtz, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Sharlto Copley and Karolina Wydra deliver compelling and authentic performances as astronauts engaged on a long-term mission to find life on Jupiter's fourth largest moon, as they discover something much more horrifying. While I really loved watching the film at home, even I was disappointed that I didn't check this out on the big screen, and if you haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend it.
2Blue Caprice - $92,336 U.S. Box Office Gross
After debuting at Sundance, IFC Films picked up this riveting debut from director Alexandre Moors and gave it a platform theatrical release along with its VOD rollout. Unlike Europa Report, I was instantly drawn to this drama based on the true story of the Washington D.C. snipers John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond), whose 2002 shootings terrified Beltway residents. Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson and Leo Fitzpatrick round out a diverse cast, but Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond deliver performances of a lifetime as this troubled duo who killed 14 random people during a 20-day stretch before their arrest. It's a chilling look inside a brief but terrifying time in our recent history, which also offers our first look at an immensely talented filmmaker I'll surely be keeping an eye on from now on.
3Maniac - $26,826 U.S. Box Office Gross
You have to respect an actor like Elijah Wood, who has essentially made a career out of playing incredibly genial characters, for going far against type by inhabiting the deranged killer Frank in this remake of William Lustig's 1980 horror classic. Elijah Wood shows off the sinister side of his amazing range by taking on this role of a mannequin store owner who prowls the streets of present-day L.A. at night, looking for the most perfect female scalps to add to his collection, a bloody quest that becomes complicated when Frank befriends a young artist (Nora Arnezeder) seeking help for a new exhibit. Director Franck Khalfoun (P2) and writers Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur (High Tension) brilliantly update this gory classic in one of the best horror films of the year, that went sadly unnoticed at the box office this summer.
4I Declare War - $14,928 U.S. Box Office Gross
An innocent game of Capture the Flag has never been more compelling and entertaining than in Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson's imaginative "war" drama I Declare War. With just the power of imagination, sticks become machine guns and water balloons transform into grenades when a group of kids head off into the wilderness to defend their respective turfs, with an elaborate set of rules for this game that some kids take more serious than others. The filmmakers brilliantly alternate between these kids' mentality (where they're holding real guns instead of sticks) to their actual reality, as the game begins to spiral out of control in fascinating ways. The young cast, lead wonderfully by Gage Munroe and Michael Friend as battlefield enemies, turn in remarkably captivating performances for actors their age, and this is well worth seeking out, especially if you played any similar "war games" as a child.
5Best Man Down - $1,938 U.S. Box Office Gross
I wish that paltry box office tally was a typo, but, sadly, it's not, even though it deserves so much more. Ted Koland makes his feature directorial debut with this fantastic indie comedy, which follows newlyweds (Justin Long and Jess Weixler) who discover that their best man (Tyler Labine) unexpectedly passed away the night of their wedding. They reluctantly put their honeymoon plans on hold to deal with the funeral arrangements for their late friend, learning that there was much more too this gregarious man than just his hard-partying lifestyle. It's an incredibly sweet film about the things one finds when looking past our own judgments and pre-conceived notions about a person. I'm not sure why Magnolia chose to only open this comedy in three theaters over two weekends, but hopefully it finds a better life on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD, because that's exactly what it deserves.
Honorable Mention - Magic, Magic
While I try to discover as many films as I can on my own, I'm often exposed to certain movies because of interviews assigned to me. While I had vaguely heard of Magic, Magic before, I didn't known much about it until I popped it into my Blu-ray player to prepare for interviews with writer-director Sebastián Silva (CLICK HERE) and star Michael Cera (CLICK HERE). To be honest, it took me awhile to realize exactly what Sebastián Silva was doing with this story about a young American woman (Juno Temple) stuck in Chile with her cousin's strange friends (Michael Cera, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Agustín Silva), but if you can read between the lines, this is one hell of a film, filled to the brim with amazing performances and a story that always keeps the viewer on his or her toes.
That about wraps it up for my Most Underrated Movies of 2013. Stay tuned for my Top 10 later this week, as we bid adieu to the glorious cinematic year that was 2013. If you agree or disagree with my picks, let your voice be heard by hitting me up on Twitter (@GallagherMW).