If you’re like me, when you ask your friend if they’ve seen a particular movie, you’re very familiar with the blank stare that answers that question. If you’re a normal member of society, you’ve been the starer in the situation. In any case, my many conversations with movie buffs and casual watchers alike have proven to me that there are some really great movies virtually nobody has seen from the early 2000s and beyond. Enough small talk, let’s get to the list.
The Way Way Back (2013)
Okay. This one is a little more well-known, but I’ve still talked to about three people who have seen it. Man, is this movie good! About as close as you can get to a perfect coming-of-age movie, The Way Way Back follows Duncan, a 15-year-old boy who goes with his mom to spend the summer at her skeevy boyfriend’s beach house. The weird thing about this film being underseen is that it has an absolutely stacked cast. Duncan, is played by Liam James, who will always be Young Shawn Spencer from Psych, even if you don’t want him to. The mother is played by veteran struggling-mother actress Toni Collette, and the boyfriend is played in a surprisingly unfunny, yet still effective, turn by Steve Carell. But that’s not all this cast has to offer. Sam Rockwell is hysterical in a largely improvised performance, Maya Rudolph is someone any movie could do with more of, and you’ve got a bunch of other wonderful character actors, like Allison Janney (every single word out of her mouth is side-splitting and uncomfortable) Rob Cordry, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, and Annasophia Robb. The movie is hilarious, heartbreaking, and overflowing with nostalgia for a childhood of sunshine, bike rides, waterparks, and wildly awkward ups and downs. The only complaint I have about it is that it takes a little while for it to really get going. But even then, the movie is very deliberate in developing and getting us attached to its characters. And once it gets moving, it’s utterly irresistible. Put in this movie and you’re gonna have a good time. You might even feel something along the way. At the time of this article, The Way Way Back is available to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
Short Term 12 (2013)
Short Term 12 is not a movie for the faint of heart. It’s slow-moving, quiet, and at times extremely dour, which is why I think a lot of people gave it a skip. But, if you can stomach the mature subject matter, what you’ll find is a stunningly-acted exploration of grief, trauma, and hope. Centered around a young woman who works at a halfway house for troubled teens, Short Term 12 is a thoughtful film brimming with empathy. There is no unapproachable subject in our journey through the lives of unheard teens in America, as we encounter the effects of rape, abuse, mental illness, loss, grief, and shame. These issues are often easily exploited for cheap emotional beats, but here they are approached boldly and unapologetically by writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton. The cast is an unreal assembly, led with a triumphant performance by Brie Larson, who turns in a deep, layered character study worthy of the Oscar she won for Room just two years later. She achieves the rare feat of being simultaneously warm and cold, as she provides traumatized kids with the hope and love they so desperately need, while at the exact same time confronting her own demons in a painfully real portrayal. The rest of the cast is utterly flawless, with affecting performances from John Gallagher, Jr., Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, and more. By the time you finish this film, you’ll have been on a journey. It’s a hard journey to embark on, but it’s one that everyone should take. See this movie, even if you only do it once. At the time of this article, Short Term 12 is available to watch for free with ads on VUDU and TubiTV, and to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
The World’s End (2013)
I don’t know what it was about 2013 and underseen/underrated movies, but this one is a gem. I’m going to take a wild guess that this film is more familiar to UK audiences, but here in the US, it’s rare that someone has seen it. While American audiences are undoubtedly more familiar with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, The World’s End actually joins those films as the third part of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, which were all directed and co-written by him, and starred a regular cast of well-known actors like Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, and others. I actually can’t give a description of this film without spoiling it. But if you just turn it on without reading any plot synopsis, you’re in for a wild ride. What starts as a drunken comedy about getting older takes a very sudden turn for the absolutely bonkers, and the madness only skyrockets from there. The writing is among the finest in comedy, closer to Terry Gilliam or Douglas Adams than anything we’ve been able to produce in the States. The filmmaking is attractive and vibrant, with deftly-layered easter eggs and sight gags constantly packed into the frame. And, again without giving too much away, the camerawork is simply superb. Plus, we get a gleefully unhinged performance by Simon Pegg. Watch this movie, and like everyone involved, you’ll be a winner. At the time of this article, The World’s End is available to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
Ruby Sparks (2012)
A modern take on the Pygmalion myth, Ruby Sparks is a smart, moving drama that falls somewhere between Spike Jonze’s Her and (500) Days of Summer. Paul Dano could carry just about any movie by himself, but fortunately this time he’s accompanied by the lovely Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay. Kazan plays the eponymous Ruby, who is brought to life by the words of a young prodigious author. This film is another that kind of flew under the radar, but it showcases some pretty fine filmmaking, and ponders some heavy questions about modern relationships with grace and clarity. As aforementioned, the acting is unsurprisingly excellent and the ending will leave you thinking. Check this one out if you find it, it’s beautiful. At the time of this article, Ruby Sparks is available to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
Sing Street (2015)
Ugh, my heart. Okay, I went as long as I could possibly go before talking about this movie, but I simply must talk about this movie! Sing Street is a modern masterpiece, and also far and away the best thing John Carney has ever made. It’s as close to a perfect movie as you can get, AND NOBODY’S SEEN IT! The plot is simple: A teenage boy starts a band in school to impress a girl. That’s it. It’s been done before, right? Sure, but never this well. In just under two hours, we get insights about family, coming of age, love, abuse, religion, freedom and brotherhood, all packaged in a deftly-filmed box of 80’s nostalgia and Irish charm, tied with a bow of the best original soundtrack you’ve heard in years. We’re supposed to believe that these poor Irish lads make the music in this movie, but if any 15-year-old made music even half this good they’d be huge. The most unrealistic thing about this movie is that the boys don’t immediately become superstars. All of this, plus a magnetic performance by Jack Reynor as the main character’s older brother, make this film a classic for the ages. Watch. It. Now. At the time of this article, Sing Street is available to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
When I read the book upon which A Monster Calls is based, I found myself moved to the point of tears. The prose, story, and aching descriptions of grief at inevitable loss were beautifully put to the page by Patrick Ness. I viewed the world differently after I read it than I had before. Then I found out there would be a movie. And that the movie would also be written by Ness. AND it would be directed by J.A. Bayona, who did The Impossible! AND LIAM NEESON WOULD VOICE THE MONSTER! I found myself as excited as Key & Peele in their Liam Neeson valet sketch. And when I actually saw the movie, it not only exceeded my expectations, but kicked me into the stratosphere so hard that I thought about the movie for weeks and bought it as soon as I could. A Monster Calls tells the story of a young man who receives several visits from a large, tree-like monster, who tells him stories to prepare him for the death of his terminally ill mother. Does it sound sad? You bet your ass it’s sad. And it’s also one of the most beautifully-realized stories of hope I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. The movie looks gorgeous, the score is achingly beautiful, and Liam Neeson is pitch perfect as the Monster, his voice beautifully evoking both fear and warmth simultaneously. The main actor, Lewis MacDougall, has probably the hardest job, in that he’s a child actor who has to present a realistic portrayal of dread and grief at the impending loss of his mother (played with quiet dignity by Felicity Jones). Thankfully, MacDougall does not disappoint, and the bonds he forms with the Monster and other characters, as well as the journey he travels on the road to healing, are journeys well worth taking. You’ll cry. You might cry your eyes out. And on a day when you need a good cry, few films will be as perfect for the occasion as A Monster Calls. At the time of this article, A Monster Calls is available to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.
Smoke Signals (1998)
Not exactly a film from the 2010s, but I can’t help myself here, so here’s a bonus life-changing film for you. When Smoke Signals was released in 1998, it was the winner of twelve awards at film festivals nationwide, including an Independent Spirit Award and two awards at the Sundance Film Fesitval. Critics and judges praised every element of the film, from the soulful performances to the direction, to the sharp, witty script by renowned Native American author Sherman Alexie. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that this praise is rightly earned. The film, which follows two Coeur d’Alene boys as they trek from Idaho to Arizona to collect one of the boys’ late father’s possessions, was the first film to be written, directed, produced, and acted by almost entirely Native Americans. The writing is insightful as it tackles themes of identity and forgiveness, while also being hysterical in the spirit of dry screwball films like Napoleon Dynamite. The two young men at the center, portrayed by Adam Beach and Evan Adams, are fully-fleshed and relatable, and have some of the funniest back-and-forth you’ll find in a road movie. Also, the film features a beautiful turn by Irene Bedard, who you’d recognize as the voice and model for Disney’s Pocahontas! It’s definitely got some weirdness to it, but from that weirdness comes its charm. And Smoke Signals has charm in abundance. By the end of the journey, you’ll be cheering. At the time of this article, Smoke Signals is available on Hoopla with a subscription, and to rent or purchase from most streaming vendors.