10 Films You Will Likely Never See from 2013

tenopenerI should start calling my annual compilation of neglected indies, unknown documentaries, and mishandled and mistreated Hollywood films the “Lost Cause List.” Not only are these films hampered by the inequality and inadequacies of contemporary distribution and exhibition, but most lack the millions of marketing dollars routinely spent by the studios on the most mediocre of releases. Others suffered from the Monday morning quarter-backing by media pundits too eager to declare a film a failure if it does not live up to their box-office projections.

In his top ten list for Variety, critic Scott Foundas pondered how the best films of 2013 “managed to get made at all in a climate that has rarely been less hospitable to mid-budget, non-franchise movies by personal-minded auteurs. . . .” Each year, I am more disappointed by the output of the Hollywood studios and more fearful that the movies—once the art of the people—have been reduced to eye candy for adolescents. Here’s hoping that some of you will take the time to seek out some of the films on my list, or others like them.

THE GO FOR SISTERS

OLMOS, HAMILTON, & ROSS IN ‘THE GO FOR SISTERS’

The Go For Sisters. Director John Sayles, “the father of independent filmmakers,” is trying a different approach to reach potential audiences with this film. Interested viewers can pre-order the film now for streaming in April. Click here for information on how to pre-order the film.

It is no secret that the major studios either ignore the interests of women viewers or insult them by depicting  female characters in  shallow and sexist ways. Not only does The Go For Sisters star two women in the lead roles, but the women are played by African Americans, who are rarely offered a chance to headline a film. Lisa Gay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross star as two women who grew up as friends but chose different paths as adults. Ross plays a recovering addict who is surprised when her new parole officer turns out to be Hamilton. Hamilton enlists her former friend to help track down her wayward son, who has gone missing along the Mexican border. Edward James Olmos makes the most of his secondary role as a retired cop who remains a skilled investigator of the streets despite advanced macular degeneration. The studios would never cast two black women and a Hispanic senior citizen to star in a crime drama, though that is the not the main reason the film made my list. Sayles uses the crime genre to offer insights into the lives of the urban working class who struggle in this economy, while crafting a suspenseful drama with a strong sense of location.

tenrenoir

THE USE OF LIGHT IN ‘RENOIR’ IS REMINISCENT OF IMPRESSIONIST PAINTERS.

Renoir. In art history classes, the work of painter Auguste Renoir is generally represented by his early work from the 1870s when the Impressionists scandalized the art world by defying painting conventions that had been in place since the Renaissance. But, Renoir continued to paint long after the Impressionists became accepted, right up until his death in 1919. By that time, he had returned to more conventional thinking regarding painting, including a renewed interest in the nude. Set in the Cote d’Azur in 1915, Renoir covers the end of the artist’s life when arthritis and old age made holding a paint brush so difficult that the brushes were tied to his hands. The story finds the Renoir household shaken up by the arrival of a new model named Andree. She not only inspires the elder Renoir to continue painting, but she helps son Jean to overcome his physical wounds and spiritual malaise, the result of his service in WWI. Impressionism and filmmaking are about the depiction and understanding of light. Director Gilles Bourdos used cinematic light in a way that reminds the viewer why the Impressionists were so fascinated with light and color. Available on Netflix.

THE CAST OF 'OUT OF THE FURNACE' ALSO INCLUDES WILLEM DAFOE, WOODY HARRELSON, SAM SHEPHERD, FOREST WHITAKER, & ZOE SALDANIS

THE CAST OF ‘OUT OF THE FURNACE’ ALSO INCLUDES WILLEM DAFOE, WOODY HARRELSON, SAM SHEPHERD, FOREST WHITAKER, & ZOE SALDANA.

Out of the Furnace. A couple of years ago, indie writer-director Scott Cooper attracted mainstream attention with Crazy Heart, starring Jeff Bridges as a washed-up country-western singer. The recently released Out of the Furnace, which stars Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, is his second feature film. Because this crime drama was given a wide release, it may seem like an odd inclusion on a list of overlooked movies. However, I don’t feel the film was given a fair chance. It lacked the marketing budget of Bale’s American Hustle, which is receiving more than its share of attention. Plus, Out of the Furnace was released between two publicity-hogging family blockbusters, Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Hobbit: Part 24; oh, sorry, Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. On the Monday morning after it opened, Out of the Furnace was already declared a flop, which will dampen its box office potential. Urgh!

Set in a dying steel town in eastern Pennsylvania, Out of the Furnace reveals the impact of the 2008 economic collapse on the American working class. Already suffering because the steel industry and other manufacturing  businesses have moved to foreign soil, blue-collar workers have become marginalized, living in dying towns with crumbling infrastructures, rampant unemployment, growing crime, and a dangerous drug culture centered around meth. Near the beginning of the film, a television blares Obama’s “change” speech from 2008, which convinced so many middle class and young voters that the future would be better and brighter. Cooper’s inclusion of this detail is a pointed reminder that blue-collar America has been abandoned by both political parties: There is no change coming for them. Out of the Furnace is a well-acted ensemble piece with an excellent use of location. Bale and Affleck sink so far into their roles that viewers will forget they are watching Batman and Ben Affleck’s little brother. But, it is Woody Harrelson’s wicked performance as a meth drug lord that will chill you to the bone. Still in theaters, though not for long.

ANNA PAQUIN IN 'FREE RIDE'

ANNA PAQUIN IN ‘FREE RIDE’

The Forgotten Kingdom. Set in Africa, this terrific little film tells the story of Atang Zenzo, a street-smart punk from Johannesburg, South Africa who returns to tiny Lesotho to bury his father. Over the years, Atang has forgotten his roots as he and his father drifted apart. Once back in his home village, he can’t escape the traditions and memories, especially after reconnecting with a childhood sweetheart.  When she inexplicably disappears, he journeys across Lesotho with an enterprising boy who is as affable and kindhearted as Atang is self-absorbed and reserved. Though set in Africa, the story of finding strength and identification in one’s roots is universal. The poignancy of the central idea should resonate with anyone who has ever returned home after too long a time. For more on this movie, visit the website.

Free Ride. This very low-budget indie isn’t scheduled for wide release until early 2014, but it has already played a couple of film festivals. I saw it when star Anna Paquin and director Shana Betz brought it to Ringling College for a preview for residents of Sarasota, Florida, where most of it was shot. Betz based this story about a single mother who gets caught up in the Florida drug trade in the 1970s on the experiences of her mother, who worked as a mule for a major drug lord in Ft. Lauderdale. Betz’s mother did not take drugs; she was one of a small group who picked up the product coming by boat from Columbia. Her reasons were financial; the drug runners paid a decent wage compared to the low-paying jobs available to women not lucky enough to go to college. While not romanticizing the drug trade, the film does not pass judgment on Paquin’s character, allowing viewers to make up their own minds about her. Free Ride was shot in 20 days on the proverbial shoestring budget, proving once again that good films are the result of story, direction, and performance—not the bells and whistles of special effects and CGI.

A YOUNG MARION DOUGHERTY, THE SUBJECT OF 'CASTING BY'

A YOUNG MARION DOUGHERTY, THE SUBJECT OF ‘CASTING BY’

Casting By. This HBO documentary tells the story of Hollywood’s first independent casting director, Marion Dougherty, whose approach to casting shaped the position as it exists today. Picking up after the studio system fell apart in the 1950s, Dougherty is responsible for discovering many actors that were made famous in the movies of the Film School Generation—Jon Voight, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, Warren Beatty, and many others. Movie fans will love hearing Dougherty’s stories about actors we now consider stars and icons. The film is listed on Netflix but is not yet available. Save it in your queue to indicate interest.

The Hunt. Danish actor Mads Mikkelson, who recently starred in the title role of the NBC series Hannibal, plays a small-town everyman in this harrowing drama. His life is destroyed when he is falsely accused of molesting a neglected little girl, who makes a misleading statement in anger and confusion.  The adults jump to conclusions out of guilt and fear and badger the girl with leading questions until she confirms their suspicions, even though she is lying. Director Thomas Vinterberg makes great use of the simple close-up to reveal what characters are thinking or feeling, allowing the gifted actors to do their jobs. Mikkelson won the Best Actor Award for his efforts at the 2012 Cannes International Film Festival. Available on Netflix.

DANA D & DANIEL RADCLIFF IN 'KILL YOUR DARLINGS'

DANE DEHAAN & DANIEL RADCLIFF IN ‘KILL YOUR DARLINGS’

Kill Your Darlings. If Miley Cyrus really wants to make audiences forget her past as Hannah Montana, she should forget twerking and take her cue from Daniel Radcliff. Radcliff shakes off Harry Potter with his impressive performance as young Allen Ginsburg. Based on the true story of murder among the beat generation before they became symbols of rebellion and nonconformity, Kill Your Darlings stars some of today’s most gifted actors—which is the main reason the film made my list. In addition to Radcliff, Jack Huston plays Kerouac; Ben Foster is William Burroughs; Michael C. Hall is David Kammerer; and Dane DeHaan is riveting as Lucien Carr, whose charisma and bohemian charm lead young Ginsburg down a dark, destructive path. I just saw this well-received indie, which took months to reach my neck of the woods; it could still be playing in art theaters around the country.

We Always Lie to Strangers. This crowd-pleasing documentary by young filmmakers AJ Schnack and David Wilson chronicles the lives of several families in Branson, Missouri, who are involved in the city’s prominent entertainment industry. Given the emphasis on the wholesome entertainment that is a hallmark of the area’s theaters, as well as the town’s location in the Bible Belt, Branson is an easy target for ridicule by outsiders and urbanites. But, the title is a clue to one of the key points of the film. Taken from a book of the same name by folklorist Vance Randolph, the title refers to the way Ozark residents used to exaggerate their accents and embellish their stories in order to play into the stereotype of the backwoods hillbilly. When Randolph asked about this, an old-timer noted they always lied to strangers who didn’t know any better, turning the tables on just who is ignorant of whom. So, those who approach this film with preconceived ideas of Branson as a town full of conservative hicks with unsophisticated viewpoints will be surprised. This is another film listed on Netflix as not yet available; save it in your queues to generate interest.

TONY LEUNG IN 'GRANDMASTER'

TONY LEUNG IN ‘THE GRANDMASTER’

The Grandmaster. My favorite Asian filmmaker Wong Kar Wei directed this visually stunning biographical film about Ip Man, a legendary martial arts master of days gone by. The narrative is structured around Ip Man’s reflections about his unique life during some of China’s most turbulent times. Tony Leung, who has starred in some of Wong’s best films (Chungking Express, Happy Together, In The Mood For Love), smartly underplays as Ip Man, whose life changes when he is challenged by Grandmaster Gong Yutian of Northern China. During this encounter, Ip meets Gong’s skilled daughter, played by Zhang Ziyi, and the two develop a connection that transcends their separation by larger-than-life historical events.

Wong’s films often evoke a haunting nostalgia for the past. In The Grandmaster, Ip recalls his rich past life in pre-communist China that can never be the same, though parts of it is preserved through the passing down of martial arts to new generations.  While the choreography by master Yuen Wo Ping will please fans of the genre, the breathtaking visuals by French cinematographer Phillipe Le Sourd makes  The Grandmaster more than a martial arts movie. It’s a meditation on finding personal identity by preserving cultural identity. Available soon on Netflix.

21 Responses 10 Films You Will Likely Never See from 2013
Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : December 16, 2013 1:10 pm

Can´t wait for “Out of the Furnace”.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 16, 2013 3:08 pm

Ghijath: ‘Furnace’ has a couple of flaws, and it is long, which some viewers don’t like, but I thought the performances, use of locations, and the points behind the story far outweighed any flaws. Definitely deserved more attention than it got, not that it got bad reviews. It just seems like it has been passed over.

Posted By maybeimamazed02 : December 16, 2013 3:23 pm

What a shock – several of these are female-driven! Sigh.

Also, I had no idea there’s a film about Renoir. May have to “borrow” a friend’s Netflix for that one.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : December 16, 2013 4:01 pm

Thank´s Susan. Go for Sisters sounds good too.
Sayles is always interesting.
I loved “Lone Star” and “Matewan”. Also i have a kind of obsession for movies that deal with the whole american-mexican
border thing.

Posted By robbushblog : December 16, 2013 5:31 pm

These all sound interesting. I remember a couple of them from your write-up about the Sarasota Film Festival. Thanks for the heads up on these. I watched a few from the list you made last year and was greatly rewarded, especially by Bernie. Thanks, Suzi!

Posted By swac44 : December 16, 2013 9:43 pm

Thankfully The Grandmaster played theatres here, and it’s such a gorgeous film, I’m glad I got to experience it on the big screen. Out of the Furnace is still playing, so I’ll try and check it out, and see how it stacks up against another big screen show with a charismatic meth lord, James Franco slumming it up in Jason Statham’s Homefront (with Winona Ryder as his former squeeze helping him set up a big deal with a meth-dealing biker gang for added WTF-ness).

Wish John Sayles’ film had a wider release, I always enjoy his work, but like another favourite, Hal Hartley, it’s getting near impossible to see their films in a theatre where they belong.

Posted By Qalice : December 16, 2013 11:57 pm

I love John Sayles and I always try to see his movies in theaters — but I wasn’t even aware of Go For Sisters. And I live in Los Angeles! But I’ll track it down somehow on DVD or streamed or something.

Sigh.

Posted By 10 Films You Will Likely Never See from 2013 – Ben Affleck To play Batman in 2015 : December 17, 2013 12:18 am

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Posted By Susan Doll : December 17, 2013 12:30 am

The John Sales film is not my favorite of his, but it is definitely worth seeing. If you click on the word “here” in the sentence that reads “Click here for information,” it will take you to the website where you can pre-order a download for April.

Posted By terje rypdal : December 17, 2013 6:14 am

At this year’s Chicago Int’l Film Festival I saw a quite stupendous, engrossing, fascinating Iranian film saddled with the overly generic title “Trapped”… Definitely a good example of a strong female-centered perspective of culture and emotion in that part of the world … I thought it was easily the equal of a highly acclaimed film like “A Separation”, so I hope it finds distribution …

Also I hope the Vivian Maier documentary which I haven’t caught yet as unable to attend the screening I was invited to — I hope it will find and prove worthy of a real arthouse run in March…

Posted By michaelgsmith : December 17, 2013 1:21 pm

Terje, I’m glad someone else saw and liked TRAPPED. I thought it was better than A SEPARATION.

Excellent list, as usual, Susan. I’m so glad you choose this time of year to shine a light on lesser known titles, especially when so many other critics keep rewarding the same titles over and over again (and thus give free publicity to movies that don’t really need it). I’m sorry to say that the only title on this list I’ve seen is THE GRANDMASTER (which I loved) but I will try and see all of the others.

Posted By Dan Oliver : December 18, 2013 3:19 am

I managed to catch ‘Renoir’ during the single week it played in the area. Excellent film. Highly recommended.

Posted By Your Wednesday Links: Twitter Tips for Indies « Making the Movie : December 18, 2013 9:52 pm

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Posted By jbryant : December 21, 2013 1:21 am

According to my Netflix subscription, neither RENOIR nor THE HUNT are streaming. Perhaps you just meant they’re available for rent?

I think RENOIR is available on iTunes though.

Posted By Susan Doll : December 21, 2013 5:06 am

Jbryant: I did not indicate that either RENOIR or THE HUNT were available for streaming. I just said they were “Available on Netflix.” I will be surprised if THE HUNT ever shows up for streaming on Netflix, let alone RENOIR. Their streaming titles are mostly Hollywood mainstream titles; there is very little foreign fare and very little of classic Hollywood. And, streaming options get more narrow and more narrow as time goes on. Netflix is notorious for trapping customers into believing they have a large catalogue of titles available, then dropping back on their offerings once they garner a large customer base. They did it when they first hit the home-viewing market with rent-by-mail DVDs; they did it again when they began to push streaming.

Posted By T.R. Boyce, Jr. : December 23, 2013 9:03 pm

Susan,

Hello, I am the producer of The Forgotten Kingdom. I wanted to take a second and thank you so much for including us in such a great list of great films. I do have to agree that the new distribution wild wild west makes it hard to figure the way to get our film out into the world for all to see. We are constantly exploring and talking to other filmmakers with the hopes of finding the best way. It is unfortunate that so many films with great performances, story telling and new visions sometimes get passed over since distributors are reluctant to take on something that might not fit into an established business model.
That said, we are engaging the VOD platforms and hope to be available around April here in the US. In addition, this January will be at the Palm Springs Film Festival on the 7th and 8th (Please stop by if you are in the area and introduce yourself). Come March, we return to South Africa and Lesotho where the film was shot, to take it on a 3 week roadshow. Our plans are to return to the villages and towns where we made the film, showing it on a blow up screen to those who helped make it a reality.
The bottom line, hopefully we will continue to connect with audiences, one viewer at a time, and through word of mouth, expand the number of people who get the opportunity to experience, The Forgotten Kingdom.
Take care.
K’hotso.
TR

Posted By Susan Doll : December 24, 2013 1:02 am

TR: You are most welcome. I loved FORGOTTEN KINGDOM, and I wish you all the best with the movie. I have been to the Palm Springs Fest a couple of times, and it is my favorite fest. The audiences are really supportive, and the films are always terrific. Your film certainly belongs there.

Posted By Blue Monkey : December 30, 2013 7:53 pm

Out of The Furnace is great. Everyone is real. Defoe is setup as a villain but he comes across as a guy who’s just in his place in the world. The whole film is like that.

Despite the “lawsuit” I certainly don’t think everyone in the Ramapo Mountains resemble Woody Harrelson, however amazing he is.

It’s a great film about the disenfranchised middle classes struggling to keep their heads above water.

Love these year end lists of under appreciated films. Tracking them down is kinda fun.

Posted By robbushblog : December 30, 2013 8:37 pm

Lawsuit? I haven’t heard about any lawsuit. What is it regarding?

Posted By Blue Monkey : December 31, 2013 12:41 am

@robbushblog A group of Native Americans are suing the producers for the “negative” comment from one character about the residents of the Ramapo Mountains.

Posted By robbushblog : January 3, 2014 2:02 pm

That sounds like a no-win for the Native Americans. This isn’t Canada.

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