Every year around awards season you hear people talking about the favorites -- this year it's no different. From '12 Years a Slave' to the upcoming 'Wolf of Wall Street,' these are films that have definitely been on your radar; movies you can't help but know exist and will inevitably make time to see, lest you be left out when they announce "And the Oscar goes to ..."
But every year there are dozens of other films that you haven't heard of that are just as great -- films that fly under the radar because they didn't have the kind of studio money for distribution that someone like Martin Scorsese has. These films play festivals and quietly sneak onto VOD and Netflix Instant, and while they earn critical acclaim, you may not have heard of them. Here we've collected the 10 best movies of 2013 that you haven't seen ... yet. We trust that once you read this list, you'll do everything in your power to change that.
It's been nine years since Shane Carruth made his debut with 'Primer,' what many argue to be the definitive time travel film. He returned this year with 'Upstream Color,' a gorgeous film that follows a woman who has been infected by a parasitic organism and had her life robbed from her, as she struggles to find connections and meaning while overcoming trauma -- and what it means to experience the loss of something you can't explain. Carruth fully funded the film himself outside of the studio system, and not only did he write, direct, and co-star, but he edited, scored, and distributed the film as well.
'The Broken Circle Breakdown'
This Belgian film is the country's entry for the 2013 Academy Awards, and it's just now expanding to more theaters in the US, so now is the time to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak. When Elise and Didier meet, it's love at first sight -- tattooed Elise is a dreamy idealist, and Didier is an atheist in a bluegrass band. Together, the pair have a beautiful daughter, but when tragedy strikes their family, can their love overcome their loss? 'The Broken Circle Breakdown' is 'Blue Valentine' by way of bluegrass, but incredibly more heartbreaking -- and with a much more charming soundtrack.
'The History of Future Folk'
This neat little sci-fi indie comedy played a handful of festivals this year before making its way onto VOD for everyone to love and enjoy. 'The History of Future Folk' is an origin story about aliens who come from the fictional planet of Hondo to find an alternate life source, but fall in love with the music on Earth -- so they ditch their mission and start a folk band called Future Folk. It's silly, the original songs are wonderful and catchy, and it will charm your pants right off. By the end of it, you'll put a red bucket on your head and shout, "Hondo!" A friend or loved one may have you committed ... or they may join your folk band.
'Graceland' is a brutal crime drama from the Philippines, distributed this year by Drafthouse films after playing the festival circuit in 2012. Marlon, a poor chauffeur, gets the wake up call of his life when his daughter, along with his boss' daughter, are kidnapped, sending the man on a sad, terrible journey. Desperate, Marlon will do anything to get his child back. Filled with shocking twists and turns, this grim and gritty crime drama goes to some incredibly dark places, showing you just how far some parents will go to protect their children.
From acclaimed British director Ben Wheatley ('Kill List') comes 'Sightseers,' a dark, dark horror comedy about a sheltered woman named Tina, who has finally met the right man for her. Chris is a little off, but Tina is a little off, too, and when Chris decides to take Tina on a dream holiday in his caravan, things take a bloody, violent turn for the worse. 'Sightseers' is a refreshing jolt of dark energy, if ever there were such a thing -- cleverly written by lead stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, the film is wonderfully wicked from beginning to end.
One of this year's biggest revelations is 'Short Term 12' -- in particular, Brie Larson's performance in it. Larson stars as Grace, a social care worker trying to juggle the problems of the kids around her with her relationship with her co-worker and boyfriend. The arrival of a new teen just as Grace makes a discovery in her personal life causes ripples in this powerful, emotional indie about coping, survival, and empathy. Larson gives an absolutely stunning performance that's already gotten her some notice -- she took home the Gotham Award for Best Actress this year already, beating out Cate Blanchett for 'Blue Jasmine.'
'Children's Hospital' star Lake Bell makes her feature debut with 'In a World...', in which she plays Carol, a voice coach and daughter of a renowned trailer voice-over star. When the opportunity arises for a "new voice" to nab a major movie trailer voice-over gig, Carol finds herself competing in a male-dominated world in this witty, surprisingly layered and acutely aware dramedy. Bell, who also wrote the film, leads a great cast that includes the incredibly underrated Michaela Watkins, in a film that explores what it means to pursue a career as a woman in a (man's) world.
'Escape From Tomorrow' was controversial from the moment it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. The film, which was shot guerrilla-style at Disneyland, follows a middle-aged suburban father on a bizarre, black and white odyssey as he loses his job while on vacation at the happiest place on earth. The loathsome, pitiful guy spends his day dragging his kids around while he stalks teenage girls and avoids his wife like the plague in this psychedelic trip that's basically the Adult Swim version of National Lampoon's 'Vacation.' The Disney corporation (smartly) chose not to sue, deciding not to draw further press to the tiny indie project, and the film was released on VOD without incident after making the festival rounds throughout the year.
Antonio Campos returns with his long-awaited follow-up to 'Afterschool,' and 'Simon Killer' is definitely a worthy sophomore effort. The film follows Simon (Brady Corbet), a college graduate who heads off to Paris after a break-up and strikes up a relationship with a prostitute. But as their fling develops, Simon's dark past begins to slowly emerge. Like 'Afterschool,' 'Simon Killer' is disquieting, and instead of abrupt gut-punches, the film builds tension gracefully, creating atmosphere and a sense of total discomfort and unease. And thanks to landing killer (no pun intended) tracks from the likes of LCD Soundsystem, 'Simon Killer' has a pretty great soundtrack, to boot.
You know him best right now as Hannibal on the NBC show of the same name, but Mads Mikkelsen also starred in one of the best films of the year -- 'The Hunt,' from acclaimed Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg. Mikkelsen plays a beloved but lonely preschool teacher who is struggling to gain custody of his teen son. But a seemingly harmless interaction with a little girl at his school turns into an innocent lie that threatens to shatter his entire life. Mikkelsen gives a truly compelling performance as an outcast trying to maintain his dignity amid horrific accusations, and the ending of this film is the kind of thing that you'll be talking about for days after.