The list that follows is not my 'also rans' for the best of the year. Very few of these movies would be real competitors for 'best of,' but they're all really good and, for one reason or another, seemed to be largely ignored. Maybe by critics, maybe by audiences, but either way they're all films that I feel deserved just a bit more attention and love.
John Dies At The End
I really dug this movie with its playful, loose vibe and sense of delightful silliness. The mythology, based on a novel by David Wong, is rich and evocative. Paul Giamatti is a blast. And as always, cult auteur Don Coscarelli nails the tone exactly right. I've compared the movie to the best seasons of the TV show Supernatural, and that's a big compliment from me. I'm not surprised that John Dies At the End failed to catch on with the mainstream, but I am surprised it didn't get more love from interweb nerds who hold Bubba Ho-Tep up. For my money John is actually better than Bubba Ho-Tep, even hobbled by an ending where Coscarelli actually ran out of money.
Here's one of the great surprises of 2013. Chronicles of Riddick is a terrible, terrible movie and anybody who defends it seriously (ie, beyond just saying 'What can I say, I liked it anyway!') is not to be trusted. But the bombing of that film seems to have re-energized David Twohy and the perpetually self-actualized Vin Diesel, and they came back with a lean movie that's more Pitch Black than Bullshit Conan In Space and it kind of rules. This is a movie people are going to look at in ten years and be very impressed with, especially as it came out during a glut of over-the-top blockbusters with five times the budget and one eighth the fun.
Sebastian Silva and Michael Cera made two little movies in Chile last year. Both were ignored. One of them, Crystal Fairy, seems to at least be building some audience, so that's good. Magic Magic, on the other hand, has been actually dismissed and panned, which I think is crazy. Magic Magic is a delightfully tense, small movie about a group of friends hanging out in the country with a new girl who happens to be psychotic and off her meds. As she slides into craziness things get more and more out of control until the movie ends in a truly bizarre place. I like a lot about this movie, which made me sick with anxiety, but most of all I like Juno Temple's absolutely intense performance and Michael Cera playing a complete and total asshole, and selling it, too. Before This Is The End!
Caveat: I play an important role in this movie as Background Zombie #10. But even aside from my scene-stealing performance, Warm Bodies is probably the best zombie thing released this year. While every other zombie movie or show or game simply riffs endlesly on Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, Warm Bodies tries something new and becomes the only zombie movie in recent years to truly use zombieism as a metaphor. Yeah, it's PG-13 and yeah, it's a romance. Neither of those things keep it from being well-made and, above all, true. It also has the best meta-gag about movie makeovers ever.
Escape From Tomorrow
This movie got a lot of attention, thanks to being shot surreptitiously at Disneyland and Disney World, but beyond the illicit thrill aspect it was ignored. Escape From Tomorrow isn't just an awesome example of guerilla filmmaking, it's a great example of filmmaking as criticism. It's a movie that digs deep into our culture's extended adolescence and the appeal of Disney's profoundly phony (and unobtainable) image of happiness. The film's main gimmick may have obscured the depth within; I only hope that in the years to come people revisit the film and begin digging deep into its meaning.
The Last Stand
It's true: Arnold Schwarzenegger does not give a great performance here (his great performance is in the crummy The Escape Plan this year), but everything else in The Last Stand is absolutely awesome. If you're a fan of action movies this is exactly what you've been waiting for - lean, stripped down practical action that is well-shot and choreographed. And there are a bunch of great side characters adding flavor and comedy along the way. I absolutely had the best time with The Last Stand, and the fact that the public didn't embrace it the way they should have is a sign that maybe we've all been brainwashed by terrible big budget action movies.
How much does Emile Hirsch look like Jack Black in this movie? It's crazy. What's also crazy is that this wonderful, funny and sweet little movie just pretty much disappeared into the world of VOD. It's the new David Gordon Green movie, for fuck's sake! It deserved more attention. But it's a tough marketplace for films like this, films that aren't showy and that don't go particularly big, movies that are built around a good script and two wonderful, subtle lead performances. I take responsbility for this; I missed the film at Sundance and somehow never caught up with it until late in the VOD run. Hopefully now I can convince you to give Prince Avalanche a chance.
Sometimes it's easy to forget that smart and unique doesn't always translate to box office. I think a lot of people who saw You're Next during its festival run were blown away by how funny the film is, how well put together it is, and how it plays with genre conventions without having to reinvent the wheel. It's a movie that technically colors in the lines, but it uses a whole better box of crayons. And so of course general audiences were totally turned off and stayed away in droves. Their loss: You're Next is fun and funny and shows that writer/director team Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett have big, huge things ahead of them.
Universal seemed unable to market this movie to American audiences. The excuse is that Americans don't like Formula One racing; well, I certainly don't and I still loved this movie. The main focus of Rush isn't truly the racing, it's the two men who engaged in a unique, exciting rivalry over the years that was as much about their worldview as their position on the track. Rush is great on its own, but even if you don't like anything else in the movie you must see it for Daniel Bruhl's absolutely genius performance as real life racing star Niki Lauda. It's one of the year's best performances, which means it'll likely get ignored.
Only God Forgives
Maybe this should be on my top ten list. It's a tough year, crowded with greatness, and Only God Forgives didn't quite make the cut. But maybe it should have as a political statement, because this is a Great Movie, a beautiful and sick work of haunting beauty and absolute mastery of cinema. It's the kind of movie where all the attacks on it sound, to me, like praise. Yes, it is slow and quiet. Yes, it is over the top violent and fucked up. Yes, it is obtuse in many ways. It's amazing. It's the product of a filmmaker and his collaborative star just making the movie they want to make, meeting no one halfway. It's fucking magnificent. I just know that in two years I'm going to kick myself for not having this on my top ten.