The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2013

All the movies here are highly-rated (by both critics and viewers), little-known, and handpicked by our staff.

This list is ordered by most recent good movies, and therefore is not a ranking. Here are the titles considered as the best from the year 2013.

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Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, T.R. Knight
Directed by: Brian Helgeland

Chadwick Boseman who you might now know as the Black Panther had his break out role in 42, the true story of the first Black major league player Jackie Robinson. A story of expected struggle but also a humbling and humane account that is full of warmth. Jackie Robinson’s coach is played by Dustin Hoffman, adding to the caliber of amazing performances in this movie, all put together by Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). From the baseball sequences to the personal life of Jackie Robinson, and of course his confrontation with racism, this is a powerful and uplifting movie.

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Stars: Conner Chapman, Sean Gilder, Shaun Thomas
Directed by: Clio Barnard

A Ken Loach type of vibe drives The Selfish Giant  to be an interesting mix between anger,  desperation, and the beauty and humor often found in tough circumstances (think I, Daniel Blake but with kids as main characters). This sort of contemporary fable tells the story of two friends who skip school and hustle for work from a local scrap-dealer.  As they get more and more involved with him and his entourage, the grim realities of what once seemed a way out start to cast a shadow over their lives. The script is based on a short story by Oscar Wilde, it’s a beautiful, ultimately sad portrayal of the British underclass.

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Stars: Celia Ireland, Kate Atkinson, Leanne Campbell

Dark and almost too realistic, Wentworth is the women’s prison drama that we’ve all been waiting for. This Australian show might have the same set-up as Orange is the New Black, following a recently incarcerated woman as she discovers a new world, but the two series couldn’t be more far apart. Wentworth is more Breaking Bad than Orange is the New Black. It doesn’t follow people who are wronged by the system or who are misunderstood, but women that have actually done violent things, and continue being violent in prison. Everyone appeals to their dark side, and it’s almost impossible for any character to be redeemed in the viewer’s eye. The show’s biggest selling point though is that it never goes the violence-for-violence route, its immaculate character development allows to find reason and authenticity behind every act. This a true hidden gem.

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Stars: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Shone Romulus

The first season has four episodes, expect to watch them in one take. Top Boy is a compelling and gritty crime drama set in London about a kid who grows up in a crime filled neighborhood.  His mom is admitted to hospital and he has to take care of himself in a time where two drug dealers are trying to rise and gain more control of the neighborhood. Top Boy has an intricate plot that builds a lot of tension and which will have you completely hooked, but it also has a lot of amazing non-plot related moments. It depicts the concept of morality in a neighborhood like the one portrayed, and the tough decisions its people have to make every day. If you liked The Wire, this show is for you.

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Directed by: Charlie Siskel, John Maloof

Vivian Maier was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her.
Right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.

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Stars: Freddie Highmore, Max Thieriot, Vera Farmiga

Bates Motel is a prequel to the 1960 Hitchcock cult classic Psycho. Need I say more? Set in modern-day Oregon, It portraits the unusual relationship between protagonists Norman (Freddie Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) as they go about their lives inside the Bates Motel. While it is a great show in every way, nothing beats the premise, it’s wildly interesting to discover what Psycho’s Norman Bates’ teenage years would have looked like. You guessed it: Lots of murder, intrigue, and a healthy dose of psychopathic disorders.

This psychological horror drama’s clever writing and splendid performances do a great job of building tension and making the viewer feel uncomfortable, not to mention keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout its 5 seasons.

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Stars: Iwan Rheon, Joseph Gilgun, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Five delinquents are stuck together in juvenile detention. The kids are bored, and they are all doing their best to be as rude as possible to each other and their supervisor. One afternoon there’s a big storm and they all get struck by lightening. The next day they wake up with the realization that they are not the same people as they were the day before. Each episode follows the perspective from a different character.
This is not your average superhero gang – nor are their powers particularly desirable. In essence the show is about a group of “misfits” trying to make connections and fit in. It’s at times heart warming, at others it will make you cringe. There is some seriously good acting between Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones) and Antonia Thomas (Love Sick). The plot is very gripping so it will be hard to not watch the whole first season (6 Episodes) in one afternoon.

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Big-time podcast icon and comedian Marc Maron stars as a fictionalized version of himself in this hilarious and sometimes troubling show. Maron the character is a recovering alcoholic who abuses coffee in the constant state of chase after a buzz, he is divorced, bitter, yet weirdly kind – he is always trying to be a better version of himself and failing.
The series is about his attempt at human relationships, both romantic and not, after a bad history that spans from a negligent self-centered mother to bad eating habits and self-shame. Maron is insightful, very funny, and especially in the first season, a joy to watch.

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Stars: Dermot Crowley, Idris Elba, Warren Brown

An 11-time Primetime Emmy nominated BBC series. Two words: Idris Elba. This is his show. He stars as DCI John Luther (watch this show and you’ll never be able to pronounce that without a British accent), an extremely smart, committed yet unpredictable and sometimes violent detective.
The creator and writer, Neil Cross (Doctor Who), has said to be inspired by a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Columbo. The show really succeeds at hitting that right balance. The only difference is that both the crimes portrayed and the context of the show are very modern.
Luther will sometimes play with your mind, entertain you at others, but mostly it will keep you captivated. And without realizing it, it will make you develop an interesting closeness with Elba’s character. The supporting cast, from other police officers to villains, are all terrifically acted. This is British mystery at its very best.

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Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Jim Sturgess, Sylvia Hoeks
Directed by: Giuseppe Tornatore

A riveting take on one of the most prestigious forms of modern art, The Best Offer is a film laced with symbolism and thick, posh accents. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) ends up pursuing a socially inept woman through Robert (Jim Sturgess), who guides him in winning her heart, albeit, rather unconventionally. What starts out as something Oldman brushes off to be some poor laid-out scam ends up a mystery he begins obsessing over, turning his life to shambles of sorts.

This uncanny film by Academy Award-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore delivers sharp twists and appropriately-timed surprises in a suspense-thriller served on a silver platter.

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Stars: Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep
Directed by: John Wells

Family movies were made to teach a lesson or two – whether it be loving dear parents, being a tad empathetic about others, or simply cherishing the moment. Like a true family dramedy, August: Osage County is all that, and more. The Westons is a family seemingly (actually, more like) falling apart at the seams – what with patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard) going missing, mother Violet (Meryl Streep) suffering from alcoholism and pill-addiction, and some well-kept secrets distancing the siblings that are, well, under the table. This drives the Weston-daughters to come home after diverging many moons ago and chaos ensues.

With an overly talented ensemble headlined by Streep as the cancer-ridden matriarch of the Westons and Julia Roberts as her eldest, supremely in-denial daughter, it’s easy to see why this has gathered five Academy Award nominations to its name.

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Stars: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon
Directed by: James Ward Byrkit

Coherence is a film that captivates you to the point of questioning the reality that surrounds you. It’s a Quantum physics based sci-fi thriller that keeps your eyes sealed to the screen – not with unrealistically beautiful actors or special effects, but with an original screenplay and unexpected twists. Very refreshing.

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Stars: Ryan Christoffersen, Sean Leonard, Zach Ingrasci
Directed by: Chris Temple, Sean Leonard, Zach Ingrasci

An earnest, simple documentary with an equally as simple premise: four friends travel to Guatemala for 8 weeks and try to live on one dollar a day each. What starts as an experiment for them quickly becomes an illustration of levels of poverty some of us will luckily never experience. More than 1.1 billion people (almost four times the population of the U.S.) do live on less than one dollar a day, and this film is a journey into their world. Other than making you realize the luxury you live in, this film will leave you wanting to do more for your fellow humans.

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Stars: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
Directed by: Paolo Virzì

Human Capital is a rich and absorbing tale of two families tied together by love, money and a hit-and-run accident. One family is wealthy, the other struggling to get by in the days after the 2008 economic meltdown. Human Capital dexterously contrasts the social calculations the characters make about who can afford to step outside the lines of law and morality. The story is told from different perspectives, a device that serves to give the tale and the characters greater depth. In Italian with English subtitles.

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Stars: Elmo Nüganen, Giorgi Nakashidze, Lembit Ulfsak
Directed by: Zaza Urushadze

A beautiful and touching story about staying true to your inner morals and humanity in the middle of a raging war. Set during the conflict between Abkhazia and Georgia, Ivo (Lembit Ulfsak), an old Estonian farmer, takes in two wounded soldiers from opposite sides, who agree to not kill each other as long as they stay under Ivo’s roof. It’s not “Saving Private Ryan” heroic nor “Pianist” heartbreaking. Tangerines is instead a powerful movie in its simplicity, as the story evolves around 4 men and a crop of tangerines. Yet for some reason, it still tells the story of every war, and the people in it.

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Stars: Ali Mosaffa, Bérénice Bejo, Tahar Rahim
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Beautiful story-telling and powerful acting boost the story of an Iranian man returning to France to finalize his divorce. He finds that his wife has a new lover. A lot more happens that I wouldn’t want to spoil for you, the film is in fact directed by Iranian legend Asghar Farhadi, so expect twists and subtleties you’re probably familiar with from A Separation or About Elly. That said, The Past remains to some extent different from his previous work since it focuses on romantic relationships, failed ones, and the toll they take on the humans involved. Learning about the characters is a lot like meeting them in real life and hearing their stories: it’s hard to take sides or tell who’s wrong – you’d rather stay silent and try to make sense of it all.