2014 Sleepers – Movies You May Have Missed

Now that I finally caught up and posted my list of 2013 Sleepers, it’s time to move on to my lists for the end of 2014.

In addition to this sleepers list, I will have a list of 20 of my favorite films of 2014. These sleepers are also ones I consider favorites, but I’ve separated these out because I feel like for whatever reason they just didn’t get enough attention at the theater.

Labor DayLabor Day – PG-13
Release Date: Fri 31 Jan 2014 | Original Review

Jason Reitman is an Oscar-nominated director who is probably best known for Juno, a 2007 film he directed written by Diablo Cody. He has written and directed several films, including 2009’s Up In The Air. Labor Day is the first of two films written and directed by Jason Reitman on the 2014 Sleepers list. Both suffer from a similar issue in that they’re not easy to market or categorize.

Labor Day is a suspenseful thriller that is also a romantic drama. When Frank (Josh Brolin) escapes from prison and takes a boy (Gattlin Griffith) and his mother Adele (Kate Winslet) as hostages, they begin to learn that he may not be a terrible person, just a product of unspeakable misfortune. This is particularly moving to Adele, who we learn lost her husband and became a nervous wreck and agoraphobic after a series of miscarriages caused her marriage to end.

There is such great tension mixed with passion in this movie. It deserves more viewers after failing to find an audience to make back it’s production budget at the box office.

Dom HemingwayDom Hemingway – R
Release Date: Wed 02 Apr 2014 | Original Review

Dom Hemingway made a paltry $500,000 at the box office on an extremely limited release. This insane crime comedy starring Jude Law edges out Neighbors as the funniest R-rated comedy of 2014. It is over-the-top, violent and crude as can be with a weird mix of Austin Powers and Trainspotting.

The movie opens with Dom (Jude Law) proclaiming how amazing his man parts are before the camera reveals that he is being fellated in prison by another guy. A title card appears to tell us “12 years is a long time.” If that sentence made you uncomfortable, this probably isn’t the movie for you. If, like me, you laugh at how completely ridiculous Dom is, there’s a great little movie here. It does eventually find a heart as Dom tries to reconcile with his daughter (played by Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and grandchild.

If you’re looking for a raunchy comedy mixed with some over-the-top violence, Dom Hemingway is highly recommended.

The Raid 2The Raid 2 – R
Release Date: Fri 11 Apr 2014 | Original Review

The Raid 2 is a crime masterpiece. While the first movie was an adrenaline-filled proving ground for writer/director Gareth Evans, the sequel is the movie he really wanted to make. Every scene drips with tension as you’re never sure which scenes will end after a conversation or explode into a masterful martial arts set piece.

The movie picks up right where The Raid left off with Rama (Iko Uwais) reporting to his supervisor on the events of the first film and being sent deep undercover into the criminal underworld to seek out and remove police corruption and undermine the various factions living in an uneasy peace. While it certainly isn’t required that you watch the original, it does make this film that much more astounding. The Raid is a great film. The Raid 2 is an electrifying masterpiece. It is like the Godfather Part 2 in that the sequel is better than the original, but it is even more pronounced.

I am sure that American audiences shied away from this due to poor marketing, the 2 1/2 hour running time and – most damning of all – subtitles. If you like crime, martial arts or just plain amazing films this is well worth seeing. The video from our original review is one of the more popular ones on my channel, and includes a glowing approval from Hannah who is not typically a fan of the genre. It’s a testament to these movies that she saw the first one with me the night before we saw the second one and enjoyed them both.

They Came TogetherThey Came Together – R
Release Date: Fri 19 Sep 2014 | Original Review

They Came Together turned out to unintentionally troll a huge number of its viewers who either didn’t realize or understand that it is a satire. The week that we saw it, the IMDB reviews were overwhelmingly negative talking about how the movie uses every rom-com trope in the book and has characters speaking their motivations aloud. That’s the point! This was probably the most laughing I did along with the other reviewers in the theater and video review all year.

Released in a very limited number of theaters and VOD over the summer, They Came Together is a very clever satire of romantic comedies starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd. It cribs gleefully from movies like You Got Mail but adds in copious amounts of missed meet-cutes, conversations about how “I’ve never met anyone who liked books before” and so forth. There is some occasional gross-out humor that is also poking fun at other movies and some great use of profanity that is saved until the very moment you don’t expect it.

Check this one out as it’s still pretty easy to find on VOD and I’m sure you’ll be saying “thanks, man” in no time. You know what? Thank you!

Begin AgainBegin Again – R
Release Date: Fri 27 Jun 2014 | Original Review

Writer/director John Carney is probably known to some as the writer/director of 2006′ Once, a warm film about a musician meeting a woman and making an album together. That film was a lovely story that lived or died on how much you liked the music. Some really enjoyed it, others found it on the corny side. Begin Again still centers around a relationship between a man (Mark Ruffalo) who meets a woman (Keira Knightley) and make an album together. The difference is how much bigger the rest of the story is. It ends up feeling very different than Once despite the central similarities.

Mark Ruffalo was in several amazing movies this year, but this was probably my favorite performance from him. A once-great music producer, he is completely burned out and unable to find his way in the modern music culture. Keira Knightley’s character has come to New York with her musician boyfriend (Adam Levine) who is starting to become incredibly popular and starts drifting away. The movie smartly shows the producer as a grown man with an estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and a teenage daughter he is having trouble connecting with (Hailee Steinfeld). The relationship is professional as well as personal, but it’s platonic rather than romantic.

Audiences probably didn’t know enough about this to trust it, and those looking for a romantic ending were likely a bit disappointed. It has a great, upbeat ending that is true to the rest of the story told in the movie. The performances, conversations about music and the relationships of the characters are really well done. It’s a very nice little movie that not enough people saw.

The ImmigrantThe Immigrant – R
Release Date: Fri 23 May 2014 | Original Review

The Immigrant is a beautifully constructed re-creation of New York in 1921 as a setting for a mystery/drama with a bit of romance as well. The story follows Ewa (Marion Cotillard) who is separated from her sister at Ellis Island when the sister is quarantined. Her family, an aunt and uncle that were supposed to pick them up do not show, and she is in danger of being deported when the suave Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) shows up and talks the guards into letting him smuggle her out. He puts her up in a flophouse where he is running a seedy show and she meets Orlando the Magician (Jeremy Renner) who immediately becomes interested in her. But Bruno and Emil hate one another and neither turn out to be what they seem as Bruno begins to push her toward prostitution.

There were very few trailers and even so, this isn’t an easy movie to explain without giving away the mysteries of the plot. In the original review, I also made a point of saying that while there is some implied prostitution in the film, there are no explicit or uncomfortable scenes involving rape. The dangers are there, but the movie wisely keeps the focus on the mystery of who Ewa can trust and how she can get reunited with her sister.

Marion Cotillard gives an amazing performance, and Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner are both excellent as well. The movie is just as enjoyable to see the amazing set design that makes you feel like you’re in 1920’s New York. Not enough people saw it, and it’s worth tracking down.

The RoverThe Rover – R
Release Date: Fri 20 Jun 2014 | Original Review

The Rover made less than $3 million worldwide on a $12 million budget. The under-promoted crime drama stars Guy Pearce as a man named Eric in a lawless version of Australia, trying to track down his car after it has been stolen. In the bleak dangerous world – we wonder why he cares so much about this? He risks his life time and again over it. Along the way, he half-kidnaps and half-rescues one of the thieves, Rey (Robert Pattinson) who is left behind to die by his friends after being shot. The two team up to retrieve the car and (in Rey’s case) get revenge on the thieves for leaving him to die.

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson give powerhouse performances in this movie, and Pattinson is nearly unrecognizable from his role in the Twilight films. I really enjoyed watching this uneasy relationship form along with great action sequences in a very bleak world that never comes out and says WHY things are so bad. It’s not necessarily post-apocalyptic as much as it is so far in the backwoods that the law cannot protect you.

Getting the car back is the goal, but the journey is an amazing one to watch – harrowing standoffs with the crooked people left in the desert and a sense that Eric may just as soon get himself killed as survive. It’s an exciting mystery with great acting and action sequences that I recommend checking out.

Edge of TomorrowEdge of Tomorrow – PG-13
Release Date: Fri 06 Jun 2014 | Original Review

Edge of Tomorrow is a special movie that expertly blends comedy, action and science fiction into a bona fide summer blockbuster. It’s one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen in recent memory because it does such a good job of grounding itself in enough serious reality that the comedy works so well as a dark, high budget cousin of Groundhog Day.

This $180 million film was crushed by the comparatively microscopic The Fault In Our Stars and never really got much traction at the box office. It eventually made $100 million in the US and another $270 million worldwide, making it one of the few titles on this list to eventually turn a profit.

The thing is, it’s not just one of Tom Cruise’s best movies, it’s one of the best blends of sci-fi, action and comedy I’ve ever seen and had this year not had an even better example of that combination in Guardians of the Galaxy a few months later, I would wonder what’s wrong with us for not supporting this movie in droves. There were some petty articles I saw online where people didn’t like one thing or another about how it deviated from it’s source material (the novel All You Need is Kill) but having not read the book I can’t comment on anything but how much fun this movie is.

And it is really, REALLY fun!

CalvaryCalvary – R
Release Date: Fri 11 Apr 2014 | Original Review

Writer/Director John Michael McDonagh begins Calvary with a ticking clock mystery scenario. Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is told through the confessional screen that the confessor plans to kill him. The reason is somewhat strange. The man who we hear but do not see speaks of sexual abuse he was subjected to as a child by a now dead priest. He feels that killing a bad priest would be pointless, but Father James is a good man. So he gives him a week to put his affairs in order before being killed.

Calvary is a drama resigned to carefully discussing matters of the heart and soul with every member of the cast. Father James’ motive in talking to everyone is twofold: He needs to help as much as he can with the time he has left and (if possible) determine who has threatened his life to see what can be done about that.

The script gives the actors some great stuff to work with as they talk about everything from the church’s heinous past with covering up child abuse to the extra-marital issues of some couples, to the staggeringly rich and arrogant man trying to prove how staggeringly important he thinks he is. The ending is not something I’ll spoil here, but the actors here get to exercise every bit of their characters and you’ll be straining to the end to find out who is trying to kill Father James. Opening against the record setting (for August) and number one movie of the year (Guardians of the Galaxy) doomed Calvary to be far from the minds of most moviegoers. Circle back and enjoy it.

Men, Women & ChildrenMen, Women & Children – R
Release Date: Fri 17 Oct 2014 | Original Review

The second film on this list from writer/director Jason Reitman fared terribly at the box office with a pathetic $700,000 domestically. This movie had confusing, alienating trailers that included scenes of Adam Sandler ordering an escort. At the last minute, a new trailer that centered around Ansel Elgort’s character seemed like a desperate attempt to pull in the droves of teenagers who came to see him in The Fault In Our Stars. No such luck.

At our screening, a group including three adult women and a teenage girl got up and left about twenty minutes in. I know exactly why, and I’m hoping that the movie gets a second chance in the home video market.

Men, Women & Children is a look at the online dangers that face modern teenagers and their parents. In a similar vein to David Schwimmer’s excellent 2011 film Trust, it gets into some uneasy territory fast. It’s a movie that is at once vital to starting conversations about the role of technology in our lives and the potential dangers that is, at the same time, so uncomfortable to watch with a generation older or younger than yourself that it almost has to be seen alone. I’m certain that’s why the group walked out of our screening.

So why should you see it? Well, in the comfort of home without interruption or (heaven help you) a date to impress, this movie has a lot of interesting points. It manages not to demonize any character while still pointing out some very bad behavior. There’s one mother (Jennifer Garner) who is overprotective. Another mother is secretly selling risque pictures of her teenage daughter and trying to land her a reality series. The acting is fantastic, and it has “good” Adam Sandler instead of the type of character he plays in his own movies.

Jason Reitman made two of my favorite movies of the year, and it is a shame that this one hasn’t gotten more attention. Instead it got quietly brushed under the rug without sparking the conversations it seems meant for.

LaggiesLaggies – R
Release Date: Fri 24 Oct 2014 | Original Review

Lynn Shelton’s Laggies is a strange little comedy about a somewhat childish woman named Megan (Keira Knightley) who disappears from her fiance and ends up hiding out with a high school girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her father (Sam Rockwell.) The movie does a great job of exploring both the dramatic and comedic potential of Moretz’s character using Megan as a pretend mother or purchaser of booze along with Megan figuring out what she really wants before returns to her fiance and decide how she wants to live the rest of her life.

The film had absolutely nothing marketing-wise in our theater and had we not been reviewing every movie that opened, we certainly would have missed it. There’s lots of good laughs and I’m always a sucker for Sam Rockwell in anything. Keira Knightley appears on the sleeper list for the second time as well, but I’m glad to see her in another nuanced and fun performance.

Laggies is a surprisingly good little R-rated comedy and worth checking out at home.


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