It can be easy, during the deluge of Top Tens, to think that the only films from 2014 were those that filled everyone’s best-of lists. But there were more than only 30, 40 movies this year. In fact, there are around 700 films that open theatrically every year in the United States, and many of those go unfairly ignored. Here are some that, even if they didn’t all of them warrant top 10 status (though some did), deserve lots of attention as awards season winds down:
‘Stranger by the Lake’
Outside of porn, this French art-thriller (of sorts) boasted a record number of penises. But it’s about more than wangs. Set at a gay cruising side spooked by a serial killer, it’s really an examination of not only desire but fear of relationships, specifically that period in a courtship when you’re really not sure you trust the person you’re banging to be the one (or to not be a serial killer).
This Tommy Lee Jones-directed Western has some Oscar buzz for Hilary Swank, who plays a spinster (at 30) who takes off with Jones’ scalawag to transport three crazy women who couldn’t take frontier life in a failed town. But it’s also a Western in 2014, not to mention a very eccentric one that keeps shape-shifting, even switching protagonists and ending on a delightfully questionable note.
When enough people get to see it, Robert Greene’s experimental documentary will likely make a big star out of Brandy Burre, who quit acting — after a memorable stint as a campaign manager on “The Wire” — to be a mom. The doc finds her trying to get back in, although it lightly plays with what’s real, recreating moments, including her cheating on her longtime partner, who skulks awkwardly about the sidelines.
What could have been another grimy hang with a smack-addicted jazz great — John Hawkes’ pianist Joe Albany — became a weirdly, productively quasi-nostalgic valentine from a daughter (played by Elle Fanning) to a well-meaning screw-up of a dad. Director Jeff Preiss shot the poetic Chet Baker doc “Let’s Get Lost,” and he knows his way around a cigarette-stained apartment, hanging with geniuses who can’t control their demons to actualize their talents.
“Downton Abbey”’s Dan Stevens fought to shed his nice Cousin Matthew skin this year, which he did and then some. After a disarmingly intense turn in the Liam Neeson joint “A Walk Among the Tombstones” — also underrated! — he went full-on charisma magnet as a mysterious, charming psycho ex-Special Forces type who first becomes a savior to a grieving family and then just starts killing everybody. It’s a starmaking role, and would have made him a star had anyone seen it.
This was a great year for anus jokes, and the ones that weren’t in “The Interview” were in this German comedy, in which a sex-curious teen (a very, very game Carla Juri) tests the limits of her body in ways that would freak even the “Jackass” gang, starting with a mishap when she tries to shave her nether regions.
This should have been major: Ari Folman, the director of the experimental animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir,” takes on Philip K. Dick, depicting a future where everyone has disappeared into private animated worlds, leaving reality a depressing, despairing wasteland. It’s the rare futurist sci-fi that actually seems like an accurate prophecy.
‘God Help the Girl’
Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch made a musical, and it is exactly, in every single way, what you would imagine it to be: whimsical and melancholic, filled with defiantly lame dancing and self-loathing brooders whose saving grace is their dry English wit. This was great.
‘Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons’
Remember Stephen Chow? He finally broke through into America 10 years ago with the effects-heavy martial arts spectacular “Kung Fu Hustle,” then went fairly Terrence Malick. (There was an “E.T.”-esque family film in there, but it wasn’t the same.) His return, which he only co-directed, maybe isn’t as delightful as “Hustle,” but it really is fantastically delightful, especially once it turns into a melee between outsized sorcerers.
A largely improvised “Primer” set in a single location, this mind-blower found a chatty dinner party devolving into a near-impenetrable quantum physics headache, with everyone discovering they have doppelganger, and then trippelgangers, and then more than that. Long as you’ve everything’s a mystery this is great. And it’s a mystery all the way till the end.