In the world of sports, the cream always rises to the top. If you score 40 points a game in college-level basketball, the NBA is gonna come a callin’. If you’re consistently batting over .300, expect to be visited by a major league baseball scout. Why? Because excellence brings reward. Unfortunately, this ain’t always the case in the world of cinema. Although many top-tier films rake in the accolades and box office bounty each year, countless others wallow in semi-obscurity. Here are five from the past year: do yourself a favour and give them a look-see…
‘Jeff Who Lives At Home’
Sure, we all love goofy Ed Helms in The Office and those Hangover flicks (face tattoos! pulled teeth!), but moviegoers remain hesitant to see him delve into more dramatic fare. Which is a shame, because my man’s got the chops to pull it off. Case in point, Jeff Who Lives At Home: one heck of a flick about a pair of brothers (Helms and Jason Segal) going through a whole lotta existential stuff. It’s a sweet, silly dramedy with a whole lot of heart (and a touch of Susan Sarandon tossed in for good measure!).
Robert De Niro’s been phoning it in for years — that’s not an understatement. But 2012 saw him taking chances once again, and the payoff was grand. In Being Flynn, he plays Nick Flynn’s homeless, alcoholic father who’s equal parts poet and con man. No scenery chewing, no mugging, no De Nero-isms — just a raw, emotional performance that’ll remind you why ol’ Bob was one of the greats. By the way: total box office gross? $540,000. Criminal indeed.
Here are several reasons why this gem of a flick failed. It’s character driven (which means boring), it stars Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine (the ham and the flake), it’s set in the southern U.S. (more boring), and the humour is subtle and dry (which means it’s not funny). Everything in parentheses pretty much sums up a typical audience response, and hey, I get it. But trust me on this: you’ll wanna check your prejudices at the door. Bernie is a clever, original dark comedy that brings out the best from its quirky cast (courtesy of always reliable writer-director Richard Linklater). Morticians, widows, murders, and Matthew McConaughey. What else do ya need?
David Cronenberg movies are never not challenging, and Cosmopolis — starring the very underrated Robert Pattinson — is no exception. Which may explain the teeny-tiny $763,000 box office take (where were you, Twilight fans?). It’s the dark, dystopian (last) day-in-the-life tale of a young, billionaire asset manager and the random (and not-so-random) people that cross his path. Visually stunning and psychologically jarring, just as it should be. Earlier this year I yapped with Cronenberg and co-star Paul Giamatti about Cosmopolis‘ chances of connecting with a broad audience. They both agreed it would likely be discovered by a smaller — but smarter — breed of moviegoer. How right they were.
There’s David Cronenberg-level challenging, and then there’s Compliance-level challenging. Hoo boy, this movie ain’t easy to watch, but hey, many great films aren’t (United 93, Gerry, Boys Don’t Cry, Requiem For A Dream, the list goes on). The plot: a prank caller pretending to be a police officer convinces a fast-food restaurant manager that one of her employees committed a crime. Which leads to a very unlawful — and very awful — strip search. Based on a true incident, Compliance takes a cold, harsh, hyper-realistic look at what happens when innocent people get systematically stripped of their rights and dignity for what’s assumed to be the greater good. Heavy stuff to be sure, and well worth the uncomfortable viewing.