The Five Most Underrated Films of 2013 So Far

By July 1, 2013

Another half a year past, another string of overlooked films. Since studios typically pour all of their resources into making sure you know about the latest Marvel adaptation or the umpteenth Fast & Furious flick, many smaller projects often fall by the wayside.

Here’s a look back at films released this year that deserve some more attention.

Shadow Dancer: Clive Owen takes on one of his best roles in this haunting espionage drama. Directed by James Marsh (Man On Wire), the film is set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. When a single mother (the excellent Andrea Riseborough) is caught in an IRA bomb plot in London, she reluctantly makes a deal with a charismatic MI5 officer (Owen) to spy on her own family. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go smoothly. Based on the book by Tom Bradby, the acclaimed film will stay with you for days.

What Maisie Knew: Henry James’ prolific writing often translates well to the screen, and What Maisie Knew is no exception. A modern retelling of 1897 novel, the heartbreaking film centers on a young girl (Onata Aprile) who is embroiled in her parents’ bitter custody battle. Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the drama contains superb performances from a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Steve Coogan, and Joanna Vanderham. The film also brilliantly tackles a variety of compelling themes ranging from narcissism to family dynamics.

Stoker: Chan-Wook Park’s polarizing English language debut isn’t for everyone, but the meticulously crafted mystery deserves far more recognition than it received during its brief stint in theaters. After her father dies, India (Mia Wasikowska) discovers that her uncle (Matthew Goode) has come to live with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). Peculiar and friendless, India soon develops a bond with her enigmatic relative, that continues even after she discovers his unsettling habits. Stylish and inventive, Stoker is filled with clever symbolism that is best appreciated during a repeat reviewing–if you can handle it.

Fun fact, the wince-inducing film was written by Park and former “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller.

Frances Ha: Indie darling Greta Gerwig stars as Frances, an amusingly naive dancer struggling to make it in New York City. Director Noah Baumbach co-wrote the light-hearted flick with Gerwig, who has seemingly become his muse since they collaborated on 2010’s Greenberg. The comedy not only captures what it’s like to be an artist in modern day Manhattan, it derives humor from the pitfalls that come with such a lifestyle. A stellar screenplay and Gerwig’s relatable persona make Frances Ha a must-see.

The East: Zal Batmanglij has managed to have two underrated gems in a row: last year’s Sound of My Voice, about a basement-based cult, and the political thriller The East. When a former FBI agent (Brit Marling) joins a private intelligence firm, her first assignment is to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group known as The East. There are just a few problems. Not only does she grow attached to the group’s members (Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, Toby Kebbell), she develops strong feelings for their leader (Alexander Skarsgard). As with his previous work, Batmanglij collaborated with Marling to pen the film’s gripping screenplay.

Honorable mentions: Craig Zisk’s witty comedy The English Teacher and Henry Alex Rubin’s evocative Disconnect went laregly unnoticed while films like Mud and The Sapphires earned praise within the festival circuit and abroad but failed to gain significant recognition stateside.

Which 2013 film do you think deserves more love so far?

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.