The 6 most underrated films of September: From two sure-shot Oscar contenders to one of the best thrillers of the year
As we approach awards season and buckle up for a four-month period that, for cinephiles, is the equivalent of Diwali and Christmas combined, we must take a moment to appreciate what an excellent year 2022 has been for original movies. Sure, we complain about how film industries around the world are focusing on IP over creativity, but that’s more of a marketing issue than a production issue.
The problem, you see, isn’t that good movies are not being made anymore. They are. They just aren’t being marketed well enough. Most films are being dumped on streaming platforms hungry to build libraries. And the ones that do get a token theatrical release are counting on this strategy to drum up anticipation for the eventual PVOD or streaming debut. Knowing that a movie was playing in theatres two weeks ago is essentially the equivalent of watching a trailer for it; a theatrical release — at least for a certain kind of film — is now ultimately a part of a strategy whose endgame is streaming.
Somewhat tellingly, only one film on the list that you’re about to read is a streaming title. Granted, it’s the best of the lot, but what this proves is that good movies are still being released in theatres. The problem is that audiences simply aren’t rushing out of their homes to see them.
Emily the Criminal – Available to rent and purchase on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon in the US
A deeply nihilistic thriller specifically about millennial problems, Emily the Criminal paints a rather hopeless picture of life as a 20-something in the 21st century. Aubrey Plaza stars as the titular character — making her second appearance in this series after last month’s Spin Me Round — who has no choice but to break the law to make ends meet. But where does a cornered person draw the line? Emily the Criminal falters slightly by introducing a romantic subplot that pretty much threatens to Brahmastra the whole thing, but the movie gets its act together towards the end, as it zeroes in on the central themes and re-trains its focus on Plaza’s protagonist.
Athena – Netflix
Easily one of the best films of the year, Athena is an epic tragedy about the fall of man, told through the lens of a riot restricted to a French council estate. Romain Gavras should surely be on everybody’s Oscar predictions list as a frontrunner for a Best Director nod, for his jaw-dropping work here. He constructs elaborately choreographed action sequences that defy logical explanation and border on magic, but never, ever at the cost of heightened emotion, clever character work, and ambitious themes.
Fall – Available to purchase on Apple TV, Google Play, DirectTV, VUDU in the US
Maybe the most thrilling B-movie in many months, Fall is exactly the kind of film that lists like this are designed for. It certainly isn’t the smartest of the lot, but then again, it doesn’t claim to be a UPSC aspirant either. But Fall is massively, almost faultlessly successful at what it is trying to achieve. Two young women find themselves stranded at the top of a TV tower with nowhere to go and no help in sight. With time running out, the women must rely on their wits and survival instincts as they fight to stay alive, trapped on a three-square-foot platform hundreds of feet above ground. Fall combines visual thrills with surprising emotional depth, making for a genuinely immersive experience.
Bodies Bodies Bodies – Available to rent and purchase on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon in the US
Essentially a reimagining of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None told through the prism of the Gen Z, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a bonkers murder mystery in which a gang of 20-somethings hurl accusations at each other as they start dropping like flies in a creepy mansion during a hurricane. It’s a clever twist on an all-to-familiar genre, which has seen something of a reemergence in recent years. It might not be as socially relevant as Knives Out, but Bodies Bodies Bodies certainly has points to make about culture at large, but never at the cost of old-fashioned thrills and some deviously dark humour.
Three Thousand Years of Longing – Available to rent and purchase on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon in the US
This is another Nightmare Alley situation, it seems. Just like that Guillermo del Toro film, director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road follow-up is another example of an acclaimed filmmaker getting absolute freedom to direct their passion project, but to resounding silence from the general public. Del Toro had just earned a well-deserved blank cheque after winning a Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water, and he chose to cash it in with a classic film noir that, while acclaimed, ended up losing 20th Century Studios millions of dollars. Three Thousand Years of Longing is weirder, even less successful, and far more divisive. It blends grand visual flashbacks with essentially a chamber piece set in a hotel room. But it’s a movie that only Miller could have made, and that is valuable currency in these creatively bankrupt times.
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On – Available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube, Amazon, and to for rent on Apple TV in the US
It’s not all doom and gloom here. Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is basically the Ted Lasso of this list; a reminder that decency and kindness can go a long way in this cruel world. Director Dean Fleischer Camp’s debut feature combines the mockumentary format with live-action and animation, and remains so determinedly uplifting that it borders on the fantastical. It is also the second film on this month’s list — after Bodies Bodies Bodies — to feature a Disasterpeace score, which is always a win.