Highly-rated yet little-known movies

agoodmovietowatch suggests excellent movies (and recently shows) that you might not know about.

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Spotlight

agoodmovietowatch Spotlight is a series of sections that shine a light on excellence in under-represented cinema.

A powerful but quiet movie directed by Paul Dano and based on a novel of the same name by Richard Ford. It stars Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal as a couple who move to a new town with their only child during the 1960s. Their relationship transforms after Gyllenhaal's character loses his job as a butler and chooses to leave for a more dangerous profession, firefighting. This movie is about his wife's response to this event and the implications of both parents' behavior on their kid. There are no twists or turns, exciting action or plot; but Wildlife doesn't need any of that. This moving story about a decaying family unit is portrayed in the sadness that comes with such events. The only joy comes from watching the outstanding (but expected) performances of the cast.

8.1

In the mood for an impeccably crafted real-life thriller? This movie is for you. On the way out of a nightclub, Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t great, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30 am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard-issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, it works wonders to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the storyline. Laia Costa gives an astounding lead performance. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her. A crazy, awesome movie.

9.8
BF

When asked about starring in First Reformed, Ethan Hawke said it’s the kind of role he would have never dared to audition for 10 years ago. This is coming from the same goatee icon who did Gattaca 22 years ago, and Training Day 18 years ago. Needless to say that his performance in this movie is exceptional, and we hope that it will be rewarded with an Oscar. The film centers around his character, a reverend of a church in New York, who is trying to help a couple with marital issues (deciding the fate of a pregnancy). Instead, he uncovers a deeper story and becomes unexpectedly involved. Religion intersects with ethical questions on activism, abortion, and environmental issues. I know that sounds like a lot, but First Reformed delivers on everything. The writing by Paul Schrader is delicate yet ensures that the movie keeps a gripping pace.

8.8

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep you engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw, and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact that at times, you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter's Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

8.0

Do you know that euphoric feeling you get when you watch a smart, eloquent person talk about important ideas? Multiply that by two in Best of Enemies.This 2015 documentary traces the debates between two of the brightest intellectuals around the Nixon and Reagan eras. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley couldn’t be more opposed to each other in ideas and values. One is an ardent liberal, who wrote books and movies around gay sex (back in the 1960s), female empowerment, and the fall of the so-called American Empire. The second is an elitist and a Republican guided by Christian values and status quo ideals.ABC put them together as commentators the 1968 presidential debates, and as such, they would change the future of talk-show TV forever. They both considered debating a sport, and they both were the best in their craft. It’s so, so entertaining to watch them spar with each other. They despised each other, I know that’s not something I should be proud of enjoying, but I did. These debates were not so much a clash of tepid arguments but more of a clash of geniuses.

9.1
BF

A revelation of a movie, both in filmmaking and commercial success. While little-known abroad, it has made more than $42 million in US Box Office revenue out of a tiny $5 million budget. Kumail Nanjiani, stand-up comedian and star of the show Silicon Valley, tells his own story of romance with his now-wife Emily V. Gordon (who co-wrote the movie). Because it is based on a true story, and because it is the product of the love of both its writers and stars, this movie is incredibly heartfelt. It is also timely, addressing heavy themes such as identity, immigration, and family relationships. Not to mention it is absolutely hilarious. And it's produced by Judd Apatow. Trust me and go watch it.

8.2

Arguably Werner Herzog's most renowned film, Grizzly Man is a thought-provoking documentary about Tim Treadwell, a man who, as the title suggests, lived among bears. While he remained only known for how his story ended, by one of the bears turning on him, Grizzly Man is the exploration of the man's complex mind, unlimited energy and love for nature. It could be because of the subject matter or because of Herzog's mesmerizing monotone narration, and maybe it is because of both - but Grizzly Man becomes a supremely beautiful look at psychology and how it collides nature. Also like most of Herzog's other work it's a hunt for the peculiar, so expect many funny, absurd, and charming moments.

9.0
BF

Once is about a vacuum cleaner/repairman/street musician and a florist in a boy-meets-girl-then-makes-music tale of love, friendship, family, and freaking great music. You can just feel the passion from this simple but charming low-budget movie capturing the chemistry of music making. The film's music will make your skin tingle and hair stand on end. How good is it? In addition to the film winning an Oscar for its music, the Broadway musical version has won 8 Tonys. In short - get ready for a sonic masterpiece!

8.6

A thoughtful drama about the financial crisis, Margin Call is gripping. Seriously, even something as convoluted as the 2008 global economic meltdown is not only accessible and understandable, but it's gripping. Margin Call transports you to the heart of Wall Street, both the financial institutions and the street, literally. It is exciting, well-acted and informative. Uh, also: Kevin Spacey.

8.6

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin's death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they're really smart, but what's actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

8.1

A documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, the British artist whose art is made from natural materials found in their native environment. The opening has him patiently forming a spiral out of icicles using the heat of his hands to fuse the pieces together. Ephemeral works of astonishing patience and beauty and an artist who talks about his process with deep zen-like wisdom. This is one of those movies that bring you into their atmosphere, and make you see it through their main character's eyes. Rivers and Tides adds to that more substance by being breathtaking, fascinating, and inspiring.

9.0
BF

A slow-burning US political drama, The Ides of March is a character-driven film with great performances from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and George Clooney (who is also the director and in part the writer) among many others. Taking place during the last days of the primaries, Stephen Meyers (Gosling) is an aspiring campaign staffer who uncovers a dirty truth about his candidate (Clooney). When Meyers confronts his boss (Hoffman), moral issues arise that collide with the political profession but which are not only limited to it. A smart film, The Ides of March is less of a political thriller and more of a really well made drama that delivers.

8.4

This film really satisfied my craving for an original thriller, despite the fact that I spent most of it thinking about how Logan Marshall-Green looks like a budget Tom Hardy.He plays a guy whose wife is killed during a violent mugging that also leaves him paralyzed in the aftermath. When a billionaire approaches him with an Artificial Intelligence solution that would "upgrade" his body, he has a chance to take vengeance.This is Robocop meets Ex Machina meets Blade Runner. It's original, low-budget without feeling low-budget, and honestly just so thrilling. It gives the genre of sci-fi a much needed upgrade.

8.7

If you liked Superbad, you will love Booksmart. It's a funny coming-of-age movie about two best friends who embark on one last crazy night before their high-school ends. Sounds like something you've seen before? Don't worry, it's not. This movie might be for fans of smart coming-of-age comedies, but it's very different from them. It's current, creating situations and premises for jokes that haven't been explored before, ranging from taking a Lyft and finding out the driver is their school principal; to mistakenly connecting to his car's sound system while trying to get educated on how two women have sex. The girls in Booksmart are overachieving, fiercely supportive of each other, and yet in the right context, ready to let go and have fun. In short, their endearing attitude makes this movie not only funny but extremely likely to charm your socks off.

9.0
BF

One of those movies which are actually good for your education; think of it as a book you can read in two hours. It is, however, a very well-cast and well-filmed book. Hotel Rwanda is brutal and disturbing, which is only reasonable since it tells the story of one of the most horrific times in recent history. Led by an astonishing performance from Don Cheadle, it is overwhelmingly sad but an absolute must-watch.

9.0