We’re as addicted to end-of-year list-making as your average bloggers. But after a while, we get sick of seeing the same names over and over again. Hey, did you hear about that Kanye album? How about The Social Network — pretty great, huh? That’s why Flavorpill is launching a new yearly tradition: The Underrated Awards, honoring our favorite people and things from the cultural universe that we feel have been criminally under-appreciated. Our third installment covers the film world, from movies that never achieved the buzz (or box office receipts) they deserved to actors whose performances went overlooked in favor of their co-stars’.
Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz’s sequel to Happiness, his merciless deconstruction of suburban America, may be his best film yet — although it has the sharpness of his earlier work, he also finally shows some empathy for his characters, and that gives them dimension. The movie is as depressing as any of his works to date, but it gets at a certain brand of contemporary hopelessness, too. Also remarkable is the film’s cast, many playing roles that an entirely different group of actors originated in Happiness.
Paz de la Huerta in Enter the Void
Gaspar Noé’s psychotropic trip through life after death certainly isn’t for everyone — although if you don’t hate it, you’ll probably love it. If you haven’t seen Enter the Void, we could forgive you for scoffing at the idea that Paz de la Huerta is anything more than a scene-y ingenue whose connections have managed to land her a few decent roles. (You’ve seen Boardwalk Empire, right?) But for some reason, she really pulled it out as the go-go dancing sister of an American drug dealer in Tokyo. The difficult role required pure rage and utter desolation, and de la Huerta brought both, believably.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
When AMPAS released its shortlist of documentaries in the running for an Academy Awards, we were shocked to see that Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work didn’t make it. Don’t let the subject ruin it for you; this is neither a puff nor a hit piece on the lady who says nasty things about people’s dresses on the red carpet. It’s the intimate, multi-layered portrait of a difficult, determined comedian who’s spent her entire career fighting to stay in the spotlight — and, under the surface, a subtle encapsulation of what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Michael Cera in Youth in Revolt
Look, we know: the whole Michael Cera routine is starting to grate. Scott Pilgrim was practically unforgivable. But maybe that’s partially our fault, because when he finally did get some strong material to work with (and a chance to knowingly prod our expectations of his perennial nice-guy character), no one actually saw Youth in Revolt. The movie even made a list of the year’s top 10 box-office bombs.
Let Me In
Joining Youth in Revolt on that box-office flop list is Let Me In. Now, we too had our reservations about this one: a remake of a beautiful Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, by the dude who made Cloverfield? It sounded like a disaster. But the faithful translation featured strong performances and directorial choices — and garnered fantastic reviews. Even so, no one saw it. As Film Drunk suggests, this may have something to do with the fact that it opened the same weekend as The Social Network. D’oh!
As we recently pointed out, it is flat-out ridiculous that Burlesque and Alice in Wonderland earned Golden Globe nominations for Best Comedy or Musical when Easy A didn’t. Critics loved this updated take on The Scarlet Letter, which turned the typical high-school narrative (girl gets called a slut, hides head in shame, possibly redeems herself) on its head. The movie was laugh-out-loud funny, in the tradition of classic teen comedies, from Heathers to American Pie to Mean Girls. And its lead, Emma Stone, was freakin’ fantastic.
Jemima Kirke, Tiny Furniture
Lena Dunham is getting a lot of attention for her debut feature, Tiny Furniture. And that’s exactly as it should be: the 24-year-old did write, direct, and star in one of our favorite movies of the year. But that shouldn’t preclude us from praising her co-star, Jemima Kirke, who plays the main character’s wild, worldly and self-involved friend. According to IMDb, it was only her second film role — and her first in five years. Considering her charisma and flair for comedy, she could have fooled us.
Armie Hammer, The Social Network
Yes, yes, we all loved Jesse Eisenberg as an arrogantly nerdy Mark Zuckerberg — even if we’re not sure that’s what our newly crowned Person of the Year is actually like in real life. Let’s not forget about Armie Hammer, though, as the twins Zuckerberg refers to as “the Winklevi.” The strapping, young lad embodied a platonic ideal of Ivy League entitlement — and he managed to do it in a Hayley Mills-style dual role, often acting directly opposite himself!
Steve Pink, Hot Tub Time Machine
The movie that finds ’80s teen heartthrob John Cusack and pals going back in time to relive their ’80s glory days could have been awful. It is called Hot Tub Time Machine, after all! And while no one will argue that this one deserves an Academy Award nomination, it turned out to be very, very funny. For that, director Steve Pink has earned our hearty congratulations. P.S. Good job casting Lizzy Caplan, who should be in every movie.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
According to Leah Taylor, Flavorpill New York‘s Managing Editor, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is “the most original movie made this year. Definitely.” That should be all the endorsement you ever need.