To say that, in the world of pop culture, it’s a jungle out there is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. By comparison, the jungle is an orderly, friendly, hospitable place.
We are bombarded on every side, 24/7/365, with attention grabbers. Television, movies, radio, video games, magazines, books, music, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and what we so quaintly used to call “real life.” It’s no longer good enough to be good enough. Hell, it’s no longer good enough even to be great. You have to be great at the right time, with the right exposure, with the right product, or life’s rich pageant simply passes you by. Debut at #4? Dead. Open on a weekend when the East Coast gets snowed in? Dead. You can’t engineer word of mouth, and you may not even be able to engineer sufficient exposure to make word of mouth possible. Our media universe these days shares a few traits with our actual universe: it’s way too big to take it all in; in space, no one can hear you scream; and, with a very few exceptions, it’s more or less hostile to the possibility of sustaining life.
This is why Trunkworthy exists in the first place. Because we are beset on every side by music, movies, and television shows that deserve to be experienced. And cherished. And talked about. And much of what is released into the get-noticed-or-die-alone gladiator ring of the marketplace comes this close to not needing our help, but then fails to get enough oxygen to survive. It drives us crazy. Crazy enough to create an entire website whose sole aim is to try to right the wrongs that a cruel, cold, and unfeeling universe has inflicted on some extraordinary art and those of us who fall in love with it.
We’re bitching about this right now because of two recent movies you should have seen but probably didn’t. And not because they didn’t deserve your attention and not even because they were tiny independents buzzing under the radar. These movies got missed because they had some plain damn bad luck. A mere three months after their release, these films —both of which had pedigree, merit, and even Oscar buzz —had not only disappeared from theatres, they’d disappeared from conversation. Well, not on our site they won’t.
First, A Most Violent Year, a fingernails-in-the-palms throwback to the gritty crime flicks of the ’70s that made New York City seem like the scariest place on earth (which, back then, it kinda was). It’s a morality play that unspools like an action film, with all the tightly coiled tension of your favorite Breaking Bad episode. If A Most Violent Year actually came out the same year it takes place, 1981, Al Pacino would be playing the lead role instead of the equally intense Oscar Isaac, and we’d be dissecting the commentary tracks on the Criterion edition. But it came out at the end of 2014, a year crowded with so many high-profile, high-quality films that it couldn’t scream loud enough to get the attention it deserved. We should also mention that we’re putting our money on director J.C. Chandor to become the most important of his generation — something we suspected from his first film but were sure of the moment we finished A Most Violent Year.
The other film you were definitely planning on seeing but probably didn’t is the other side of ’70s New York cinema — think Annie Hall rather than Serpico — and that’s Chris Rock’s romantic, ambitious and, yes, as funny as we’d hoped, Top Five. This is the movie that, as fans of his stand-up, his TV show, his interviews and his Twitter account, we all knew Rock was capable of and always wanted him to make: smart, funny, philosophical, spilling over with meaningful ideas. Its critics said it was trying to do too much, and you know what, they’re right — it’s overstuffed with ambition in the best possible way. While the trailer might have had you thinking Top Five was a raunchy comedy, it actually has more in common with Sullivan’s Travels, channeled through Woody Allen, Aaron Sorkin and, of course, Chris Rock at his most honest and focused. At its core is the beautifully nuanced, electric and believable relationship we see unfold between Rock and co-star Rosario Dawson, who should have gotten some attention at the awards for her work here. But that’s not to distract from just how many times you’ll spit your popcorn laughing. It’s still got Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer, and a particularly sensitive DMX delivering one of the movie’s best gags. And yet, Top Five, which came out just before Christmas, was already long gone by Valentine’s Day. Which is probably when it should have come out in the first place.
As much as we wish these kinds of injustices didn’t happen, there’s nothing we— or you —can do to prevent them. That said, we aren’t willing to let them merely slide under the radar unnoticed. Our job, our calling, our duty, our mission, is to place these worthy, undersung masterpieces under the spotlight they so richly deserve, but (for no reason of their own) didn’t get.