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19 Movies To See This Winter That Deserve More Respect

These compelling new films are worth a look, even if they aren't getting awards buzz.

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Sony Pictures Classics

The great thing about Oscar season — the increasingly long period of time toward the end of the year in which the film industry pivots from big blockbusters to speculation and self-congratulation — is that it spotlights the work of great filmmakers, some of whom wouldn't receive all that much attention if there weren't awards on the line.

But one of the downsides is that, if the self-appointed prognosticators of awards season decide that a movie released from late August through December is not a so-called contender, it very quickly gets shunted off and ignored. There are many films each year that get pushed aside because they're immediately discounted from the Oscar race, but many are still interesting, challenging, and downright fun.

As the 2013 race heats up — with Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave and Alexander Payne's Nebraska in theaters and Her from Spike Jones and American Hustle from David O. Russell nearing their releases, among others — there are quite a number of movies already being overlooked. Here is a guide to some of the best castoffs (in order of release date) for viewers of all sorts of interests.

1. Mr. Nobody

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Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans

Directed by: Jaco Van Dormael

Release Date: On VOD now

What It's About: This trippy blend of sci-fi and domestic drama originally debuted at the Venice Film Festival in 2009, where critics gave it positive reviews. Despite the acclaim and relatively well-known cast, it took two years for the film to premiere in the US, and then two more until it was actually released to American audiences. But Mr. Nobody, a tale about time, decisions, and regret, has attained cult status already. It also represents another win for Leto, who also steals scenes in Dallas Buyers Club (which has landed on some Oscar-worthy lists).

2. The Motel Life

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Starring: Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, Kris Kristofferson

Directed by: Alan and Gabe Polsky

Release Date: On VOD and in limited release now

What It's About: This adaptation of Willy Vlautin's debut novel dips into the surreal with animation to help tell the story of two brothers living in a motel on the outside of Reno; abandoned as kids, a fatal accident sends them on the run. Find out more from Hirsch here.

3. Man of Tai Chi

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Starring: Keanu Reeves, Tiger Hu Chen

Directed by: Keanu Reeves

Release Date: On VOD now

What It's About: Reeve's long-in-the-making directorial debut is a sort of mashup of Kung Fu films and Fight Club for the digital age, without the political message. The movie was co-produced by the China Film Group — the country's government film agency — and was shot entirely in China. See what Reeves had to say about the process here.


4. About Time

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Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

Directed by: Richard Curtis

Release Date: Now playing in theaters

What It's About: From the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and director of Love Actually, this is a sugar sweet time travel love story featuring the loveliest fictional family Britain has to offer. It's a lesson in family, the value of YOLO, and how to gently combine genres. Basically, About Time is this winter's perfect date night movie. Richard Curtis talks more about it here.

5. Ass Backwards

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Starring: June Diane Raphael, Casey Wilson, Jon Cryer

Directed by: Chris Nelson

Release Date: On VOD and in limited theaters now

What It's About: Wilson and Raphael, close pals and frequent collaborators in real life, wrote and star in this dark comedy about two women who travel back home to win the beauty pageant that rejected them hardcore when they were kids. Who doesn't like a good (attempted) redemption-revenge story? See what the writers and actresses said about Ass Backwards here.

6. Best Man Holiday

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Starring: Taye Diggs, Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Melissa De Sousa, Regina Hall

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Release Date: November 15

What It's About: Lee's long-awaited sequel to The Best Man reunites the original cast for a 15-year reunion over the Christmas holiday. Funny how people never really change!

7. The Great Beauty

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Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli

Directed by: Paolo Sorrentino

Release Date: November 15 in New York City

What It's About: Italian master filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino has wowed audiences with this film about a journalist whose deep dive into the decadence of society has left him adrift, searching for a higher purpose.


8. The Armstrong Lie

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Starring: Alex Gibney, Lance Armstrong

Directed by: Alex Gibney

Release Date: In limited release now

What It's About: Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, who put out a documentary about Julian Assange earlier this year, is finally releasing his movie about Lance Armstrong. He followed the now-disgraced cyclist throughout 2009 during his comeback to racing. But as Gibney was still working on the movie, Armstrong (plot twist!) finally admitted to the public that he did use performance enhancing drugs. That turned the film from one of resiliency and redemption to the story of the many lies that Armstrong told — and lives he destroyed — throughout his 10-year ride as an American hero.

9. Big Sur

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Starring: Jean Marc-Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas

Directed by: Michael Polish

Release Date: On VOD and in limited release now

What It's About: This faithful, voiceover-heavy adaptation of one of Jack Kerouac's last major works features Jean Marc-Barr — the American actor who has spent the last two and a half decades in Europe — as the beleaguered author in the throes of existential and alcoholic crisis.

10. Dear Mr. Watterson

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Starring: Bill Watterson, in absentia

Directed by: Joel Allen Schroeder

Release Date: On VOD and limited release now

What It's About: This documentary examines the cultural impact of the legendary comic strip, with interviews from comic writers and fans alike. It also explores why Bill Watterson, the strip's creator, never wanted to cash in on merchandising or movies.

11. This Is Martin Bonner

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Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan

Directed by: Chad Hartigan

Release Date: On VOD now

What It's About: This quiet indie film, which won raves at Sundance, tells the story of a man who uproots his life from Reno to the East Coast, where he begins working as a volunteer with newly released prisoners.


12. Sunlight Jr.

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Starring: Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon

Directed by: Laurie Collyer

Release Date: On VOD

What It's About: Sunlight Jr., a stark look at a downtrodden couple, is difficult to watch because it seems so real. Dillon plays a man in a wheelchair on disability, while Watts is a convenience store clerk (quite different than her role as Princess Diana).

13. Philomena

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Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Release Date: November 27

What It's About: This comedy-drama from the UK tells the true story of a former journalist who helps an old woman search for the son who was taken from her by nuns 50 years prior. A true mix of heartbreak and subtle, sweet humor, the movie was recently given a PG-13 on appeal by the MPAA after initially being given an R (for using "fuck" twice).

14. Black Nativity

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Starring: Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, James Latimore

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Release Date: November 27

What It's About: The film adaptation of Langston Hughes' famous play finds Latimore playing the son of a single mother (Hudson) in Baltimore, headed north to celebrate the holidays with estranged relatives.

15. The Punk Singer

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Starring: Kathleen Hanna, Joan Jett, Carrie Brownstein

Directed by: Sini Anderson

Release Date: November 29

What It's About: A documentary about Bikini Kill founder/singer Kathleen Hanna, who helped spearhead the riot grrrl movement in the '90s.


16. The Last Days on Mars

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Starring: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams

Directed by: Ruairi Robinson

Release Date: December 6

What It's About: Gravity is not the only space thriller out this year. This indie stars Liev Schreiber as the head of a platoon of astronauts collecting specimen on Mars... when something begins to kill them off, one by one.

17. Some Velvet Morning

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Starring: Stanley Tucci, Alice Eve

Directed by: Neil LaBute

Release Date: December 10

What It's About: This two-person, dialogue-heavy duel is more or less a play put on film. It's an intense, troubling, and surprising look at gender roles and fantasies. Incredibly compelling.

18. The Invisible Woman

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Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas

Directed by: Ralph Fiennes

Release Date: December 25

What It's About: Fiennes directs and stars in this historical drama about Charles Dickens and his much younger mistress (portrayed by Jones).

19. Only Lovers Left Alive

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Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska

Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Release Date: TBA

What It's About: This dark allegorical comedy, which was a hit at Cannes and several other festivals, finds Hiddleston and Swinton as two of the only remaining vampires, traveling by night and brooding amid a sea of mindless humans (whom they call zombies). Sony Pictures Classics bought this smart, literate film with plenty of subtle humor, but it's uncertain when it will be released.