Nine Underrated Movies That Are Worth Your Time – The Atlantic

Hollywood’s awards shows will overlook these films—but you shouldn’t.
Around this time every winter, I find myself talking about the same handful of films that have landed on end-of-year top-10 lists—usually the ones with the most awards buzz, in other words—and sounding a bit like a brainwashed cinephile Barbie. There I go again, enthusiastically cataloging my favorites in an endless loop. (Hi, Past Lives! Hi, Oppenheimer!)
Plenty of those movies deserve the attention, but if you’ve been feeling similarly driven to seek out or talk about a collection of critically acclaimed titles, there’s a way to break the pattern: Watch a film that’s been overlooked. Below are nine projects released in 2023 that may have slipped past your radar; they’re all now available to stream at home, and they all deserve to be watched. Spanning genres, themes, and run times, they demonstrate cinema’s storytelling scope—and offer a reminder that an underrated gem is a pleasure to indulge in.
Perfect for: those who enjoyed The Holdovers and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the way they gracefully depicted growing pains
Eliza Scanlen—who played Amma in Sharp Objects and Beth in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women—is an actor I’ll watch in anything, and especially in a solid coming-of-age drama such as this one. Written and directed by Laurel Parmet, The Starling Girl follows Jem (played by Scanlen), a teenager growing up in a Christian fundamentalist community who develops an overwhelming crush on her youth pastor, Owen (Lewis Pullman, also fantastic), that threatens to puncture her beliefs. But although the story’s broad strokes may feel familiar, Scanlen’s performance and Parmet’s nuanced script make the film more than a mere portrait of youthful confusion and lust. Instead, the movie offers an empathetic examination of devotion and duty. Jem believes in God’s will, but she’s also figuring out who she wants to be—a journey she understands to be necessary yet feels is sinful all the same. The Starling Girl observes girlhood from a fresh, narratively rich angle—and yields plenty of cathartic revelations along the way.
Perfect for: viewers who want more of the cerebral thrills and fine-tuned ensemble performances seen in Oppenheimer
What do you do when your everyday life is shaped by a series of existential crises? How do you navigate that unceasing hum of anxiety, fear, and anger? What becomes justifiable when traditional modes of protest seem to have no effect? For the young climate activists at the center of this gripping and thoughtfully made thriller, the only path forward is to pull off an act of destruction. How to Blow Up a Pipeline pulses with urgency and intensity, impressively demonstrating how America’s systemic failures—in health care, housing, the environment, and so on—are not only interconnected but have also created a troubling reality in which people cannot imagine a future free from disaster. Inspired in part by the nonfiction book of the same title and featuring an ensemble cast of rising stars led by the movie’s co-writer Ariela Barer, the film scrutinizes the possibilities of social justice as well as the painful limits of idealism.
Perfect for: anyone seeking a mix of Knock at the Cabin’s unconventional scares and American Fiction’s tongue-in-cheek social commentary
One of the horror genre’s oldest tropes is that of the Black character dying first—a notion The Blackening skewers with a snarky, terrifically nimble script. The satirical horror-comedy follows a group of Black college friends who, after reuniting in a cabin in the woods to celebrate Juneteenth, find themselves targeted by a masked killer who forces them to answer questions about Black culture—or else. Jump scares abound, but so do laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue dissecting, say, just how many of them secretly watched Friends despite the show’s paucity of Black guest stars, and whether anyone can actually recite the second verse of the Black national anthem. The film is silly but subversive in its design: Though the murderer remains a constant threat, the bigger question for these characters is whether they, too, see one another as a walking collection of racial archetypes. It’s a film that has fun toying with stereotypes and viewer expectations at the same time.
Perfect for: fans of May December craving another deceptive narrative with shrewd character work from Julianne Moore
A good con just needs to be successful, but a good movie about a con needs to be satisfying to watch. Sharper delivers by offering a series of grifts, each more complex—but no less riveting—than the last. Set in Manhattan, the film unfolds via sleek vignettes told from the perspective of different characters: There’s Tom (played by Justice Smith), a bookstore owner who falls for Sandra (Briana Middleton), a sweet graduate student; Max (Sebastian Stan), a wealthy sleaze with a taste for mind games; and Madeline (Julianne Moore), a stylish woman who’s dating a buttoned-up billionaire (John Lithgow). How they know one another is a puzzle Sharper encourages the audience to solve, and though the dialogue isn’t quite as witty as the story, there’s more than enough pleasure to be gained from watching an ensemble of appealing people charm their way into one another’s lives—and bank accounts.
Perfect for: those who liked both Barbie and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves for their big-budgeted sincerity, colorful storytelling, and heartwarming themes of self-discovery
Nimona (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) is an irrepressible antiheroine who sports a shock of salmon-pink hair, loves shape-shifting into any creature, and tends to break things and declare her boisterous actions “metal.” Nimona is the same way—an energetic animated film with eye-popping visuals and a rollicking score that offers mischievous thrills with a sweet message about acceptance. Set in a sci-fi medieval world—think flying cars as steeds—the movie follows a lowborn knight named Ballister (Riz Ahmed), who is framed for murder and encounters the titular agent of chaos while trying to clear his name. Adapted from ND Stevenson’s 2015 graphic novel, Nimona nearly didn’t get made; it was canceled in 2021 after the Disney-Fox merger shut down the animation studio Blue Sky. A film that rose from the dead to become one of the best animated films of last year? Now that’s metal.
Perfect for: Ari Aster fans who liked Beau Is Afraid’s deep exploration of its protagonist’s anxiety, and devotees of the Saw franchise who disliked how much Jigsaw spoke in Saw X
Don’t be surprised if watching No One Will Save You makes you want to venture down some internet rabbit holes, searching for an explanation for what you saw. It’s a film with almost zero dialogue and a deluge of supernatural phenomena, and a lot of questions go unanswered. The story is simple enough: Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever) is a young woman living alone in her childhood home who begins getting hunted by an alien entity. She has no allies to turn to; the local townspeople disdain and dismiss her because of something she did in the past. The movie, then, is part home-invasion thriller, part sci-fi horror, and part character study of an ostracized person left frozen by her unresolved trauma. The lack of conversations can come off as gimmicky in some scenes, but the writer-director Brian Duffield maintains the tension well enough, thanks to some truly creepy, nightmare-inducing sound design.
Perfect for: lovers of Past Lives and All of Us Strangers, films that study affairs of the heart with a soulful, delicate touch
Set in Melbourne in 1999, this romance from the writer-director Goran Stolevski follows a closeted 17-year-old ballroom dancer named Kol (Elias Anton), who thinks he knows what he wants from life—until he encounters Adam (Thom Green), the charismatic older brother of Kol’s dance partner. You can probably guess what happens next, but Of an Age’s predictable plot belies a remarkable emotional complexity. Stolevski sensitively captures the ache and thrill of discovering a crush, tracking how transformative that feeling can be when attraction blossoms into something more. The camera tightly follows Kol’s gaze, showing the way he can’t help but notice everything about Adam—how his shirt clings to his chest in the summer heat, how he grins with affection when Kol tells a self-deprecating joke. Of an Age can be hypnotizing to watch, because that’s what being smitten feels like: mesmerizing and surreal, as if no one and nothing else matters at all.
Perfect for: anyone desiring another dose of Saltburn’s psychosexual antics and Poor Things’ piercing script (and supporting cast)
Sanctuary could technically be called an erotic thriller; it’s about a dominatrix and her client, roleplay is involved, and kinky dialogue gets exchanged. But the film is wilier than that and could perhaps be defined instead as a screwball breakup comedy with some BDSM mixed in. When the movie begins, Hal (Christopher Abbott), the scion of a hotel magnate, is trying to end his “arrangement” with Rebecca (Margaret Qualley), but she’s not about to lose her client so easily. Over the course of a single evening, Hal and Rebecca play power games, negotiate boundaries, and find a strange freedom through the restrictions they’ve established. And though the plot can sometimes feel inscrutable given the characters’ deceptions—and the twists border on the absurd—Abbott and Qualley deliver a pair of committed performances as they channel their characters’ barbed, magnetic chemistry. Like Rebecca, Sanctuary is shifty and alluring and playful—and just a little mean.
Perfect for: those who watched Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and would like more love stories to come with an earworm or two
The writer-director John Carney’s films like to affirm music as the universal cure. In Once, duetting with a new partner heals a profound heartache. In Sing Street, forming a band ameliorates the trials of coming of age. And in Flora and Son, his latest crowd-pleaser, these elements combine: A prickly single mother named Flora (Eve Hewson) learns to love again and finally bonds with her surly teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan), after she picks up—what else?—a guitar. The mere act of practicing chords via video chats with her attractive instructor, Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), shakes her out of her funk—and opens her long-hardened heart. Though that may sound saccharine, Carney makes such cloying moments work through sharp dialogue and a nifty camera trick that collapses the space between his leads to convey their wistful yearning. Flora and Son may not contain the catchiest original tunes in Carney’s filmography, but it does have an affecting, pitch-perfect warmth.







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