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This weekend there was a brass band playing Christmas music in front of Toronto’s largest downtown department store. This weekend, all the coffee shops in town packed up their pumpkin spices and pulled out their gingerbread and peppermint goodies. This weekend I put my leather jacket in the closet and dusted off my winter coat.

What I’m saying is, signs that we’re coming up on year-end are everywhere.

As I type these words, AMC is showing THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. As I listen to it play out in the background, I find I remember almost nothing about it – except for the fact that I watched it in a cinema on opening weekend. I actually made a point to see it too, believing for some reason that it was going to be a film that resonated – in the year at least, if not in years to come. Yet, here I sit fourteen years later, and I cannot think about a film that matters less in the conversation of “Year 2000 Films” than THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE.

Back then, I guess you could say I was watching the wrong films as the year drew to a close. It took a long time for me to catch up with YOU CAN COUNT ON ME and BATTLE ROYALE. I still haven’t seen DANCER IN THE DARK or BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. But I sure as heck caught THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE…and ALL THE PRETTY HORSES…and REMEMBER THE TITANS.

What can I say? My tastes back then left a lot to be desired.

To that end, I’m always worried about repeating my mistakes. I’m worried about putting too much emphasis on UNBROKEN, ANNIE, and INTO THE WOODS, meanwhile not taking time to see IDA…or LISTEN UP, PHILLIP…or FORCE MAJEURE…or BABADOOK. Heck, it was this time last year that I was catching up with THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN, which would resonate with me deeply when I looked back on the year as a whole. What’s more, as much as the studios want us to believe that those last few weeks of the year are where they unload the very best stuff to keep it fresh in the minds of Oscar voters, the fact of the matter is that for me, most of the films that stick with me are films I watch by December first.

So help me here folks. Before we get too distracted with decorations, shopping and lists, list, lists, Help me craft a curriculum that won’t have the best sights and stories left unseen. Be they arthouse, blu-ray, or on-demand – what should I make sure to catch up with before the ball drops?

What smaller 2014 films are not to be missed?