Top Twenty Favorite Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen
I had deliberated for the past couple days a lengthy response or commentary based on Jaquandor’s Ten Hated Movies List, as I (naturally) have issue with most of his list. Briefly, our longstanding debate over The Usual Suspects and our ideas of what constitutes ‘lame’ won’t be aligned as we get older any more than they were in our youth. Suffice it to say, I was prepared to lambaste his explanations, but I thought it better to contribute to the positive well-being of the universe by providing a list of movies you should see as opposed to ones you should not because of some general mental defect of the blogger (score!). Many of you know that it is not normally in my nature to do good (or anti-evil), so I figured I should take advantage of the inexplicable momentum.
There are many lists out there of great films that everyone knows. Through my own limited experience, the following list represents my favorite films that, when spoken of in casual conversation with the average joe, bring blank stares or shrugs (and in return receive my patented ‘aghast look of condescension’). In order to prevent my already numbingly-high egotistical nature from spiraling out of control, I suggest checking out the following somewhat-obscure gems before our next encounter (or “Here’s some films I like and I think you’d like too!”):
1. Sleep With Me. Not a porn, but a funny, biting, and wickedly insightful looking into a young marriage complicated by an obsessed best friend. Featuring a virtual who’s-who of 90’s independent film stars (e.g., Meg Tilly, Eric Stoltz, Parker Posey, William Gibson, Craig Sheffer, Joey Lauren Adams) and the famous Quentin Tarantino monologue concerning Top Gun as a metaphor for homosexuality, a lock recommendation for any occasion.
2. My Favorite Year. Peter O’Toole won a richly deserved Best Supporting Oscar for his turn as a drunken movie star struggling with his own demons. His poignant and hilarious performance makes this the only comedy I bawl my eyes out for at the end.
3. Dark City. Alex Proyas (of The Crow) creates one of the most unique science-fiction tales ever, which was clearly an influence on The Matrix. Featuring great performances all around (from Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, and a then-unknown but holy-crap-radiant Jennifer Connelly), this is a film that gets benefits from repeat viewings to catch the nuanced performances. Roger Ebert liked it so much that he did a insightful DVD-commentary track for the film (to my knowledge, he's only done one other, for Casablanca).
4. Secretary. Word of mouth has gotten this film more recognition than the others on the list, but it still remains a largely underground favorite. Not a movie to watch with your parents (at least not mine); I’ve only watched it with one person and that was a great night. My original review of it is here.
5. Way of the Gun. After writing The Usual Suspects, Chris McQuarrie’s directorial debut took the underworld crime genre (in which cops are rarely seen or ineffectual) and did away with the clichés (and Jaquandor's much-hated 'tricks'), making a smart, witty (if only for the opening scene) and original film.
6. Zero Effect. Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller star in the quirky private detective mystery that deserves a goddam sequel more than Lara Croft. Pullman’s Daryl Zero is one of the best characters ever, whip-smart, incisive, and the worst singer-songwriter of our generation.
7. Manchurian Candidate. Although a classic, I haven’t encountered many who have seen this twisting brainwash drama. Frank Sinatra is wonderful as one of the former GI’s who discover their memories and behavior aren’t all their own. One of the best endings ever.
8. The Limey. Another movie with a great ending, Steven Soderberg’s revenge flick features great performances from Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda. Involving and, dare I sound repetitive, poignant. I could actually name several more Soderberg movies on this list (Out of Sight and Sex, Lies and Videotape in particular), but that would be selfish.
9. Dragonslayer. My favorite fantasy film ever. Dark, tense, and thrilling coming-of-age story of a reluctant wizard-in-training (Peter MacNicol, years before he over-quirked on “Ally McBeal”) who must slay the dragon before the king’s men slay him.
10. The Quick and the Dead. Sam Raimi’s wild, stylish, and entertaining western, featuring a dream cast (then unknowns Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Sharon Stone, and of course Bruce Campbell) and great cinematography. The movie looks like Sam had a great time filming it, and the feeling translates through the screen to the audience.
11. The Big Red One. Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill together in a World War II movie? Believe it, and believe that this movie had the definitive D-Day scene before Saving Private Ryan rolled around. Sports one of the greatest film-ironic moments ever, where Mark Hamill’s GI character (he’s excellent in the film, BTW) confronts a German soldier in a concentration camp (i.e., Luke Skywalker confronting real evil) and pumps bullet after bullet into his body with a mad gleam in his eye.
12. Miller’s Crossing. Gabriel Byrne is quotable and dynamic as Tom Hagen, the too-smart-for-his-own-good anti-hero who plays both sides in the 30’s era gangster drama. Don’t get hysterical.
13. Captain Blood. The film that put Errol Flynn on the map and set the mark for pirate action-adventures not equaled, in my humble opinion, until Johnny Depp put a fun and indelible spin on it in Pirates of the Caribbean.
14. Hard Boiled. John Woo made the best action movie ever in Hong Kong. Plenty of explosions, double-gun fights, drama, and Chow Yun-Fat at the top of his game as the cop named Tequila. That should tell you enough.
15. Donnie Darko. Weird, cool, touching, confusing, and a great science fiction tale. Jena Malone steals the pic with a heartfelt performance as Donnie’s paramour.
16. Lone Star. Slow, deliberate and involving mystery on a bordertown, as only John Sayles could film.
17. Other People’s Money. I keep going back to this film time and again for its clever Wall Street story of love and money and playing games with both. The two speeches delivered by (RIP) Gregory Peck and Danny Devito at a tense stockholder’s meeting at the end are brilliant.
18. The Shadow. A guilty pleasure, Alec Baldwin stars as the titular hero, a reformed evil-doer whose penance is fighting crime. At times both campy and menacing.
19. Before Sunrise. The ultimate generation X talkie, with Ethan Hawke and a radiant Julie Delpy as potential lovers roaming around Vienna talking about anything and everything in their one day together. Incredibly charming, witty, and genuine.
20. Lawrence of Arabia. Everyone’s aware of the film but so few have actually taken the time to view this beautiful film. Peter O’Toole’s amazing debut performance as Lawrence is a breathtaking study of a man slowly going mad.
Honorable mention: Mumford. Subtle, funny romantic comedy-drama about a relocated man who wanders into a small town, adopts the town name (Mumford) as his own and practices psychiatry. His unothodox methods are popular and successful with the townfolk, ironically because he has no psychiatric degree to speak of.
These are my “obscure” favorites. I’m always on the lookout for undiscovered movie greats, so if you have any, let me know. Good night.
PS. This list was originally going to be only five in number, but I got carried away. Is that vanity?