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15 slightly obscure films to get excited about in 2014

There seems to be so much to look forward to in 2014 just in the mainstream alone. Remakes like the new "RoboCop" have interests piqued just out of curiosity. Will it be able to live up to the original? Will it completely stink up the theater with its potent redundancy? Sequels such as "Dumb and Dumber To" and "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" are being released years after the original films. Is the interest still there? Do we still have reasons to be excited for these characters returning to the big screen? Liam Neeson will continue to kick ass in "Non-Stop," but will the film be able to differentiate itself from Neeson's other recent action heavy projects? Bryan Singer is returning to the "X-Men" franchise, but if "X-Men: Days of Future Past" is anything like "Superman Returns" or "Jack the Giant Slayer," then fans are going to be pissed.

Simon Pegg in "A Fantastic Fear of Everything."
Simon Pegg in "A Fantastic Fear of Everything."
Indomina Releasing
An image from Jackie Chan's "Police Story 2013."
Jackie & JJ International

Personal picks for the year include "Godzilla" and "Noah," while "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" are attention stealing as of late. Will Peter Jackson's third "Hobbit" film be worthwhile or are the sore teets of this cash cow milked completely dry? A new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is on the horizon that is pretty much destined to be the worst thing ever. Can it bounce back from its horrible reputation?

Hollywood currently has everyone's attention with its extremely stacked line-up, but the truth is there's much more to look forward to that you have to dig a little deeper for. There is a ton of foreign stuff hitting theaters as early as this weekend that will likely be fantastic while animated films such as Hayao Miyazaki's final film as director, "The Wind Rises," will finally see its US release in late February and really shouldn't be overlooked because it is an astounding piece of work. Not to mention it has an absolutely stellar English voice cast.

This list includes smaller films that span genres such as drama, comedy, horror, action, martial arts, crime, and even sci-fi. Some of the films listed are even already available on demand, nearly all of them have limited theatrical releases, and all of them but two will see release before the end of April. So pull up a chair and skim through a list that is practically guaranteed to give you at least one film to look forward to that you knew nothing about beforehand.

"Beyond Outrage" - January 3 (limited), now on demand/iTunes (trailer)
Being a huge fan of Takeshi Kitano helps, but how can you not be when he's featured in films like "Battle Royale," "Brother," and "Zatoichi." Kitano's previous film, "Outrage," was a decent crime drama that looks to be the calm before the storm. "Beyond Outrage" seems like it's pure, hyperviolent, yakuza violence; that insane stuff that makes everyone love foreign films.

"Open Grave" - January 3 (limited), now on demand/iTunes (trailer)
A horror film starring Sharlto Copley that looks to be in the vein of "Identity." Copley wakes up in the middle of nowhere in a pit full of dead bodies with no memory. Is he to blame or is one of the mysterious individuals that helped rescue him the murderous culprit?

"Wrong Cops" - releases January 3 in Houston at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park (trailer)
If you've seen Quentin Dupieux's previous films "Rubber" and "Wrong," then you know what you're in for with "Wrong Cops," which is likely out of control insanity that is so inane, spontaneous, and unpredictable that it's borderline brilliant and not to mention hilarious.

"Cold Comes the Night" - January 10 (limited) (trailer)
Bryan Cranston talking with a Polish accent and taking hostages is all you really need to know to be excited about this one. Also starring Alice Eve and Logan Marshall-Green, Chloe (Eve) is a struggling motel owner who along with her daughter are taken hostage by Topo (Cranston), a nearly blind criminal who must rely on Chloe to help retrieve a package from a crooked cop.

"A Fantastic Fear of Everything" - February 7 (limited), now on demand/iTunes (trailer)
Simon Pegg is a children's author who is suddenly haunted by a laundromat where his childhood fears are suddenly seeking retribution. The film looks to have elements of the fantastic you'd find in the likes of projects by Edgar Wright, Henry Selick, or Michel Gondry, which is also all you need to know to whet your appetite.

"Grand Piano" - March 7 (limited) (trailer)
This one has already played some film festivals, but it looks absolutely brilliant. Elijah Wood plays a very talented pianist that should have been the next big thing, but cracked under the pressure. During his return performance, he finds some threatening notes in his sheet music. After finding an ear piece in his dressing a room, a sniper played by John Cusack threatens Wood's character with the life of his wife on the line if Wood doesn't give the audience a flawless peformance.

"Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" - March 7 (theaters and iTunes) (trailer)
A new Stephen Chow film that looks to return to his "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle" roots. The first of two films on this list to feature the Monkey King, "Journey to the West" revolves around demon hunting and the blossoming relationship between two demon hunters.

"Bad Words" - March 14 (limited), expands March 21, wide March 28 (Red Band trailer)
Sure to be the next big R-rated comedy and this year's "Ted" or "Bad Santa," "Bad Words" stars and is directed by Jason Bateman. After a fluke in one of the rules, Bateman, a grown man, is able to enter spelling bees meant for children as he travels around trying to win the competition he once lost as a child. Naturally, Bateman's fowl mouth and no guff attitude is bound to be the film's source of amusement.

"Cheap Thrills" - March 21 (limited) (trailer)
Craig (Pat Healy) needs to support his family, but that's proven to be difficult when he loses his job and when he's suddenly face to face with an eviction notice. After spending the night drinking with his friend Vince (Ethan Embry), a strange couple invites Craig and Vince to spend the evening with them. Colin (David Koechner) wants to celebrate his wife Violet's (Sara Paxton) birthday in the biggest way possible. The rules are if Craig or Vince does whatever comes to Colin's mind, that person gets a set of amount of money. The stakes start small, but slowly get more outrageous, dangerous, and eventually life threatening with the amount of money growing exponentially with each challenge.

"The Raid 2: Berandal" - March 28 (international trailer)
The personal favorite from this list. Director Gareth Evans returns to direct the sequel to the bonecrunching and jawdropping Indonesian martial arts franchise he began with "The Raid." Judging by the trailers, this one is going to keep action fans talking for a very long time to come.

"Dom Hemingway" - April 4 (limited) (Red Band trailer)
Starring Jude Law in the title role, this comedy is centered around a man who spent a fair amount of time in prison for his safe cracking ways. However he never snitched or ratted out anyone. Now as a free man, Dom Hemingway wants what he's owed and isn't afraid to let the entire world know about it. Yet another film centered around a crude, egotistical, S.O.B. who only looks out for himself, "Dom Hemingway" will either be a laugh riot of a comedy or a complete waste of time.

"Under the Skin" - April 4 (limited) (trailer)
The teaser doesn't give away much, but the synopsis at least intrigues you. Scarlett Johansson is an alien disguised a seductive and beautiful woman who scours the streets of Scotland looking for male hitchhikers to satisfy her appetite. But after a short time, she becomes intrigued with the human lifestyle that surely won't sit well with her own kind. "Under the Skin" is shown from Johansson's perspective allowing the audience to see the human world through alien eyes.

"For No Good Reason" - April 25 (limited) (trailer)
Not being a fan of documentaries or any genre probably slaps unwanted limitations on any critic, but "For No Good Reason" takes a look at Ralph Steadman's life as an artist that is sure to touch base on Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," and Johnny Depp. Steadman was at the birth of gonzo art and it'll be fascinating journey to watch unfold.

"The Monkey King: The Legend Begins" - September 14 (trailer) (English teaser)
Even though it has a bit of a "The Forbidden Kingdom" quality to it that is slightly disappointing, "The Monkey King" sees Donnie Yen portray the title role under layers of hairy, monkey makeup. Uniting wirework and spectacular special effects, "The Monkey King" is another film on this list that will either be absolutely extraordinary or fall below expectations with no in between. And yes, the anticipation for this film is interchangeable with Yen's "Special ID."

"Police Story 2013" - December 24, 2013 (China), no US release yet (international trailer)
Last but not least is Jackie Chan's latest film which is the next installment in his "Police Story" franchise. After Chan's retirement from action films after "Chinese Zodiac," it was surprising to see how action packed "Police Story 2013" looks from it's fast paced trailers. It's also shockingly violent and dark for a Jackie Chan picture, which is sure to be exhilarating for everyone.


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