2014 Calvin Awards: Best Overlooked Film
By David Mumpower
February 12, 2014

Strangest conjoined twins ever.

Sure, anybody can heap praise upon movies like Gravity and Frozen. Those are massive blockbusters that gross hundreds of billions of dollars. What is harder is finding a largely ignored movie and then trying to turn it into a cult classic by talking all of the people we know into watching it.

We speak from experience on this subject because we have been attempting exactly this since the inception of The Calvins in 2002. Some titles we have nominated over the years include Punch-Drunk Love, Super Troopers, Whale Rider, Once, Bandslam, In the Loop, Pan’s Labyrinth, Shaun of the Dead and Primer. If you recommended that batch of movies to a complete stranger, you would make a friend for life. If you trust the staff at Box Office Prophets for nothing else, this is the category where we have treated you right over the past dozen years. As such, you should be breathless with anticipation at our list of the 10 Best Overlooked Films of the year.

A dramatic re-telling of a real life tragedy is our selection for Best Overlooked Film. Fruitvale Station explores the life of Oscar Grant III on what would prove to be his last day on Earth. Just after midnight on New Year’s Day 2009, Grant was subdued by police officers after engaging in an altercation on the Bay Area Rapid Transit train. While the exact events of the evening are a subject of contention among the police and innocent bystanders, what no one disputes is that a defenseless Grant was shot in the back by a police officer. The assailant in question was eventually found guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter for his crime, which he claimed was simply a matter of accidentally grabbing his gun instead of his taser.

First time director Ryan Coogler researched the life of Grant and then built a movie about the idealized version of Grant’s day. As the young man begins to recognize that he is in danger of becoming a failure, he attempts to affect positive change in his life. Alas, the world seems to be out to get him. Even an injured dog that Grant tries to nurture suffers from the experience. Grant is unable to reclaim the job from which he was fired, the mother of his child is dubious about his ability to care for his family and his long suffering mother is losing faith in Grant’s ability to establish himself as a man.

Attempting to blow off steam, all Grant wants to do is enjoy a New Year’s Eve out on the town with his girl when tragedy strikes. The recounting of the events at the train station are harrowing and potent to the point that people who do not watch Fruitvale Station are cheating themselves out of a crucial teaching moment about police interactions with minorities. In addition, Michael B. Jordan (you know, Vince from Friday Night Lights) delivers a star-making performance as Grant. Fruitvale Station is one of the most important movies of the year as well as the most engaging. It is our staff’s clear choice as Best Overlooked Film, easily winning by 21% over the next closest competitor.

Our second selection for Best Overlooked Film is The Way Way Back. This coming of age story focuses on Duncan, a teenager whose mother’s boyfriend describes him as a three out of 10 on the date-worthiness scale. Duncan grudgingly agrees to spend the summer at a Cape Cod beach house yet it proves to be a seminal time in his life. He meets a girl and befriends a middle-aged slacker who hires him at a water park. Written by the same people who created The Descendants, The Way Way Back is a sentimental examination of an awkward phase that all of us experienced growing up. And Sam Rockwell has never been better than in this role as the slacker who becomes the champion of an insecure boy.

Another coming of age story about a teenager is our third selection. The Spectacular Now is a much more adult production, though. In fact, BOP’s Sean Collier has noted that if the characters were aged 10 years, the story would require virtually no alteration. It is not the run of the mill high school drama. Instead, it examines the repercussions of a man struggling to deal with his alcoholism and the myriad ramifications of it throughout his life. Oddly enough, The Spectacular Now is quite romantic anyway. The alcoholic meets a much less popular and fortunate girl whose sunny optimism regarding life bleeds into his natural pessimism. He discovers new purpose and new focus, thereby becoming a better version of himself. In this regard, The Spectacular Now is the most romantic movie of the year.

Rounding out the top five are a pair of titles from beloved auteurs. Her is the latest release from the always eclectic Spike Jonze. It tells the story of a man who falls in love with a Siri-like artificial intelligence program. Later, he discovers that she is a bit too user-friendly for his tastes. Her is stunningly inventive yet somehow a very reasonable supposition about the future of technology.

Inside Llewyn Davis is the polar opposite of the quasi-futuristic Her. It is a stubborn throwback to the early 1960s music scene. The titular protagonist is a talented but poor musician who has no dwelling of his own, so he stays on the couches of various friends and exes until he wears out his welcome. Along the way, he meets a cat, takes an uncomfortable car ride with an angry jazzman and jams in a studio session with Justin Timberlake. Inside Llewyn Davis is an esoteric title that offers sublime acting, wonderful music and an absolutely confounding ending that has been the source of constant debate among our staff.

Exotic fare finishes in sixth and seventh place on our list. Sixth place goes to Before Midnight, the third story in the romantic saga of Jesse and Celine. This time, they are a full-fledged couple from the start, complete with children of their own. In fact, they are enjoying a family vacation in Greece. And like most couples, they fight on vacation. The scenes can be hard to watch for any viewer, but it is an especially engrossing turn of events for those of us already emotionally attached to the Before Sunrise/Sunset star-crossed lovers.

Another pair of star-crossed European lovers finished seventh. Blue Is the Warmest Color is the theatrical adaptation of Julie Maroh’s comic book. It tells the story of a high school student’s gradual sexual awakening. Eventually, she begins a long term lesbian relationship with a woman who defends her at a gay bar. They develop an artist/muse dynamic over years of dating yet their coupling falters due to one’s lingering insecurity about her homosexuality. Blue Is the Warmest Color is a challenging three-hour subtitled movie featuring a seven and a half minute lesbian sex scene, making it the most befuddling release in recent memory for most dudes. We know that some of you will just Google the sex scene, but we strongly recommend the movie in its entirety. There is marvelous storytelling in this feature.

The rest of our top ten is comprised of releases from a couple of BOP favorites and a movie that earned only a million at the box office. Eighth place goes to About Time, the latest romantic comedy from genre master Richard Curtis. It is a creative take on the Groundhog Day premise that also has a touching Field of Dreams streak. Our ninth selection is Much Ado about Nothing, the movie Joss Whedon wanted to make so much that he filmed it in his backyard. It is a light, spirited film that will bring joy into your heart when you watch it. Finally, we know from the box office that you did not watch Short Term 12. You absolutely should. It is a riveting exploration of the difficulty in nurturing troubled teens.

Narrowly missing nomination this year but still absolutely worthy of a viewing are Mud, Nebraska, All Is Lost, In a World…, You’re Next, Upstream Color, The Act of Killing and Enough Said. All of them are terrific. You're Next is the most likely to become a cult classic if you have to pick one.

2014 Calvin Awards
Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture