The Best Overlooked Movies & Shows of 2014

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 2014.

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Stars: Lubna Azabal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Rea

Think of The Honourable Woman as Homeland on steroids. In Homeland, the question was whether the main character was good or bad, in The Honourable Woman, the question is whether anybody is good or bad. The characters are all so well-crafted that it’s difficult to ever feel comfortable with any one of them. This Netflix/BBC mini-series is set around Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a heiress to a large arms company involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When her father is assassinated, her willingness to keep the business alive by diversifying it away from the war business is met with strong economic and political opposition. Easily one of the best political thrillers ever made. Won Gyllenhaal the Golden Globe for Best Actress.

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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: Keir Gilchrist, Maika Monroe, Olivia Luccardi
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell

This movie is distilled horror. A teenager sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time, after which he tells her that he was the latest recipient of a curse that is transmitted through sexual contact. After she becomes completely paranoid without any manifestations, the curse manifests itself in assassins that kill their way to her. A genuinely creepy film that’s also very smart.

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Stars: Alexandra Socha, Craig Roberts, Ennis Esmer

A coming-of-age comedy about David, a 20 year old assistant tennis pro at a country club in 1985’s New Jersey. As with most people his age, David (Craig Roberts) struggles with making important life choices; his parents want him to pursue a career he’s not interested in, he starts falling in love with a girl when he’s in a relationship with another, and so on.

Yet David’s story is not the only one driving the show; The excellent cast of side characters all struggle with their own dilemmas: His parents are getting bored of their relationship, his ex is doubting her imminent marriage, and his pothead friend is in love with a lifeguard he thinks is too good-looking for him.

However, Red Oaks never strays from being a comedy first and an excellent show for a chill binge.

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Stars: Benedict Wong, Joan Chen, Lorenzo Richelmy

This colossal-budget show ($90 million for the first season alone) never caught a break. Somehow it didn’t make it to the big audience it deserved. It tells the grand story of Marco Polo the explorer, and the years he spent with the Mongols, going back forth in their ranks between prisoner and leader. It was during this crucial time for the empire that Kublai Khan had extended the reach of his empire even further than his more famous grandfather Genghis Khan. As you’d expect with a show featuring this many characters and such a new world, the first season is not as entertaining as could be, but the show becomes its full-self as a true epic in season 2.

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Stars: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Ricky Gervais

If you’re familiar with Ricky Gervais’s wild, over-the-top sense of humor, you’ll be getting a lot of that in here, for better or for worse. But this show is much more than that. Derek( Ricky Gervais) is a seemingly mentally lacking helper in a nursing home where people spend their last days together. Derek and his colleagues Hannah (Kerry Godliman), Kev (David Earl) and Dougie (Karl Pilkington) help take care of the elderly residents in their everyday lives, while struggling with their own problems ranging from social ineptitude to alcoholism.
While the show is mostly lighthearted and very funny, its more emotional segments are surprisingly well-done. In its essence it’s an interesting reflection on the way the elderly and the social outcasts are treated in our society.

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Stars: Bernadette Peters, Gael García Bernal, Malcolm McDowell

Hailey (Lola Kirke) is a struggling musician that has dedicated her life to the oboe. As the New York Symphony Orchestra reluctantly welcomes its new conductor, the controversial Rodrigo de Souza (Gael García Bernal), Hailey gives her all and tries to join the orchestra. But getting to play with some of the world’s best musicians isn’t only a difficult goal to attain, it is also a life-consuming struggle.
Inspired by the accounts of oboist Blair Tindall in her book Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, the show follows the orchestra through its ups and downs , portraying the current state of classical music with all its power struggles, insane competitiveness , and reluctance to change.
While Mozart in the Jungle has a strong cast (Malcolm McDowell, Saffron Burrows, Bernadette Peters), Gael García Bernal steals the show with a golden globe-winning performance that perfectly fits the charming, lighthearted nature of the series.

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Stars: Aya Cash, Chris Geere, Desmin Borges

Jimmy is a smart, insensitive lone-wolf with an excess of confidence. Gretchen is a smart self-destructive other lone-wolf suffering from clinical depression. They meet.

You’re the Worst is the story of their relationship, or lack thereof, as they bring both of their single attachments to friendship to the scene, Edgar, a war-veteran who suffers from PTSD, and Lindsay, Gretchen’s sloppy best friend who married a nerd for his money.

As a single-camera sitcom You’re the Worst acts as if it cares about the standards of the genre, but especially in season 2 where it deals with Gretchen’s clinical depression, it actually emerges as an innovative, realistic and fearless series about relationships. Smartly written, and features electric chemistry between Aya Cash and Chris Geere as the two leads. You’re the Worst starts as the perfect no-brainer, watch-two-episodes-over-dinner-every-night, until the plot captures you and you find yourself so hooked that you can’t watch anything else.

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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: Antonia Thomas, Daniel Ings, Johnny Flynn

A British comedy series that was originally called Scrotal Recall before it was bought by Netflix and rebranded. It’s about Dylan and his friends, he is a desperate romantic in his 20s who suddenly discovers he has chlamydia, and therefore must contact all his (numerous) past sexual adventures and relationships.
Every episode has the name of one of the girls he has to contact, and the story that goes with it. Dylan’s best friends are Luke, a hilarious seemingly confident but actually insecure, shallow business-school-type; and Eve, Dylan’s best friend who may have undisclosed feelings for him, she is a sarcastic, smart girl who is very well portrayed by Misfits star Antonia Thomas.
Lovesick is a charming little series, that portrays failed relationships but ends up being beautifully romantic. Something you can easily find yourself watching many episodes in one take.

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Directed by: Stephanie Soechtig

Fed Up is an American Documentary film that will make you realize at least one of two things: sugar is a different form of evil or, the food the mass consumes, no matter what it may be, likely contains high amounts of sugar – and to be quite honest, there’s nothing scarier. Dubbed as the earthshaking truth the food industry doesn’t want you to see, this chronicled news report is an exploration of the implications and repercussions of careless food consumption and production that eventually leads to America’s most dangerous statistics, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other ill-health outcomes.

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Directed by: Rory Kennedy

Last Days in Vietnam is a documentary that recounts the final weeks of the conflict in 1975, as North Vietnamese forces surged toward Saigon and U.S personnel anxiously awaited word of an evacuation plan. At the time, U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin was reluctant to accept defeat, and delayed a U.S. withdrawal in his (rapidly diminishing) hopes that a solution could be reached. Once the fall of Saigon became imminent, U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence personnel were left piecing together a bare bones plan to escape via military helicopter support. The moral dilemma they soon faced was the harsh reality of leaving behind so many South Vietnamese citizens who had supported the American effort—many of whom faced likely imprisonment and/or death. Featuring remarkable footage and first-hand accounts from many involved, the film recounts those final days of chaos and confusion in stunningly dramatic fashion. Director Rory Kennedy has put together a gripping and emotionally compelling film that balances broad historical exposition with concise detail related to the evacuation complexities—all of it punctuated by remarkable examples of bravery and heroism.

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Stars: Jay Reinke, Keegan Edwards
Directed by: Jesse Moss

On one side, this is a look at the real-life efforts of local North Dakota Pastor Jay Reinke to provide shelter for Oil-working migrants in his Church for the course of well over two years – he ends up calling this The Overnighters Program. On another, it is the story of more than a thousand people living the broken American Dream, the pastor’s concerned, sensible neighbors, his well-meaning attempts backfiring, and all that’s in between. The Overnighters is an engaging, if not highly-aware, award-winning documentary that feeds on altruism, hope of redemption, and their ideal truth about the nature of human existence.

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Stars: Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Tobey Maguire
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Pawn Sacrifice is a period drama about famed chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), following Fischer’s rise from his childhood in Brooklyn through to his famed matchup with Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) at the 1972 World Chess Championship. The film captures Fischer’s adolescence as a time of burgeoning mastery of the game, while struggling in a fatherless home and beset by early signs of mental illness. Set during the height of the Cold War, tensions between the United States and Russia play a critical role in the story, as they fuel many of Fischer’s fears and anxieties over perceived Russian spying and surveillance. His paranoia reaches a fever pitch in Reykjavik, Iceland, the site of his famous duel with Spassky for the world championship, leading to a remarkably compelling finale. Writer director Steven Knight and director Edward Zwick have crafted a striking depiction of a real-life genius grappling with fraying sanity, and Maguire is stunningly evocative as the abrasive and acerbic Fischer. For the viewer, no advanced knowledge of chess is necessary to enjoy this vivid depiction of one man’s historical achievement in the face of profound mental disturbance.

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Stars: Lélia Wanick Salgado, Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders
Directed by: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

The Salt of the Earth is a 2014 biographical documentary about famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Directed and narrated by Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado’s son, Juliano, the film tells Salgado’s life story from his childhood in northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and ultimately the shift to photography that would lead him to over 120 countries as a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man’s lifelong dedication to capturing humanity and nature in remarkable states of peril, compromise and elegance. From the Brazilian gold mine of Serra Pelada to the Yali Tribe of Papua New Guinea to the war-ravaged people of Rwanda (to name just a few), the film follows Salgado’s career through his photography, accompanied by his personal accounts of his many encounters and impressions. It’s Salgado’s grace, empathy and kindness that shine the brightest—remarkable for a man who has seen (and photographed) the worst of humanity over the course of his lifetime. It’s an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war and death, but it ultimately serves as an exemplary presentation of Salgado’s work and his intimate reflections upon a career dedicated to truth, awareness and beauty.

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Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lane Garrison, Peyman Moaadi
Directed by: Peter Sattler

This is Kristen Stewart’s proof that she is more than a lip-biting, vampire-loving teenager. Reactive and emotive, she will not disappoint you here. Rather, expect an electrifying and exceptional performance. Paired with Payman Moaadi, they both make of this work an emotionally poignant movie that questions the notion of freedom in the unlikeliest of places: Guantanamo Bay.