A smorgasbord of surveys: My Contribution

That huge, shuddering sigh of relief you might have heard was me submitting my answers to Dennis Cozzalio's latest movie-lover's quiz. It was a humdinger, lemme tell you. Exhausting, exhilirating and enourmously enjoyable. Like attending a personal film festival in your own head.

If you're least bit interested in movies and enjoy long, rolicking discussions and debates about all things film, I can't recommend Dennis' blog enough. If you can find the time, definitely take the quiz.

It was from Dennis that I learned of Edward Copeland's survey of the best Best Pictures. I'm planning to submit my list shortly. While checking out the rules (and trying to assiduously avoid reading Edward's list until I've finished mine), I found a link to South Dakota Dark, who's conducting a Best/Worst TV show survey.

All of this quizzing and surveying got me thinking about a survey post. It goes a little something like this:

Name ten movies you consider overlooked, underrated, offbeat and in general deserving of not being forgotten.

The only hard and fast rule is that the film never won a major film award—no Oscar winners, no Cannes Palms d’Ors.

At first I thought of considering Oscar nominees that didn’t win, but that would include movies like Goodfellas and Citizen Kane. Not exactly offbeat or overlooked. So, thinking about it, let’s extend the ban to Best Picture nominees. That still leaves a pretty wide open field. (Of course, if you can make a good case for something that's been forgotten, by all means, have at.) Also, by virtue of the amount of traffic this site gets, I’m thinking I’ll compile this Dennis Cozzalio style: just post your list in the comments section and I’ll create a digest of all the submissions. If, by some miracle, that becomes too unwieldy, I’ll switch over to the Edward Copeland method of ranking films based on a points system (10 points for #1, etc.)

If you'd prefer (and by 'prefer' I mean to avoid the hassles of creating a Blogger ID just to leave a comment), you can email your submissions to mr_middlebrow@yahoo.com.

Naturally, I’d love a little commentary about each film on your list.

Just to prime the pump, I’ll post mine in a few days.

Until then, I'll leave you with this thought: because the preponderance of my blog traffic is people looking for the words to the drinking songs from Jaws, that's automatically disqualified (the people looking for drinking-song lyrics, on the other hand, are encouraged to participate). Although I can't imagine who would consider Jaws obscure offbeat or in danger of being forgotten. Especially since, having set up this site, I am single-bloggedly responsible for the revival of Jaws. Still waiting on royalty checks from the 30th anniversary DVD. So far, Spielberg isn't returning my calls. Ungrateful bastard.


fish said...

I can give you 1/2 the list right now. The rest will take some more thought. After having kids, my ability to see anything outside the most mainstream of offerings has taken a serious hit. Here are the first 5:

1) The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. Cult favorite and in my estimation 1000X better than Rocky Horror. A surprisingly good cast and a very wry sense of humor throughout. Several viewings kept bringing new laughs.

2) The Big Hit. Mark Whalberg as a mama's boy hitman. Totally flopped at the boxoffice, in my mind because it was advertised as an action movie, where it is really a comedy with some action mixed in. The whole movie was just a refreshing surpise.

3) Next Stop, Wonderland. Not usually a big fan of romantic comedies, this one works for me. It may be the featuring of the less well known aspects of Boston or the fact it feels less cloying than most of this genre, it works for me.

4) Naked Lunch. From one extreme to another. This is a well executed film adaptation of the William S. Burroughs novel. Not for the faint at heart, but worth the time.

5) Decline of Western Civilization or D.O.A. Both are terrific documentaries on the punk rock movement with some of the most important bands of the times. Now a bit of a nostalgia walk for me, they both effectively capture the rage, rejection of the status quo, and the loss of direction that embodied punk music.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Yay, fish! That's the spirit!

Anonymous said...

I LOVED Next Stop, Wonderland. (I would try to do a list of my own, but I'm afraid I'm just too damned lazy... I'll try to come up with a few. Thanks, fish, for reminding me of that one.)

Okay, along the romantic comedy line - The Very Thought of You (Monica Potter, Joseph Fiennes). No one I know has ever seen this movie when I ask. It was so cleverly done, very funny. I don't think the ad guys actually watched the movie before they wrote the ad.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

All right, Mr. Middlebrow, I'm home one last day recovering from bronchitis, I've got a sick daughter at home with me and a full day's office work to do-- but I'm gonna do this first! I was going to include Naked Lunch on my list, but since Fish got there first, I've substituted something else. I've also decided to include Leonard Maltin's rating of the movie, from BOMB to ****, to provide some sort of perspective (my own ratings, based on the Maltin scale would be ***1/2 to **** for each of the films on my list). All of these movies, by the way, are available on DVD. In alphabetical order, they are:

BUBBLE BOY (LM: BOMB) Unfairly derided, unexpectedly sweet, politically incorrect but never mean-spirited, this is being trotted out as the skeleton in Brokeback Mountain star Jake Gyllenhaal's closet. But it's actually a very sharp, hilarious satire of romantic obsession and cultural niceties.

EXPLORERS (1985) (LM: **) Just about everything on director Joe Dante's resume could probably be included on this list, but I picked this one because despite the cast (this was Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix's first theatrical feature film)-- it stands the best chance to be totally forgotten. Features the best ending ever to hold up a cracked mirror to Spielbergian suburban fantasies and the culture of nostalgic celebration.

FINAL DESTINATION 2 (2003) (LM: *1/2) Dismissed as yet another trashy horror sequel, this one actually improves on the already clever premise of the original by its hypervivid action sequences in which the Rube Goldberg machinations of Death himself are always cracklingly clear, and a healthy infusion of witty, CGI-based gore. Director David R. Ellis, who also directed Cellular and the upcoming Snakes on a Plane, is an action director with a boatload of promise.

FLASH GORDON (1980) (LM: ***) I'm not sure what those who ripped on this eye-popping production thought a Flash Gordon update should be. But every choice, from Sam Jones as a quarterback Flash, to Ornella Muti slinking across the screen as Princess Aura, to Danilo Donati's orgasmically garish production design, to Queen's hilarious, rousing rock score, is wonderfully right. Directed by Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Croupier).

JERRY AND TOM (1999) (LM: **) Sam Rockwell and Joe Mantegna are mobsters, a hit man and his protege, in this moving, unyielding drama of loyalty and betrayal-- its cleverly constructed flashback structure might seem overly clever to some, but first-time director Saul Rubinek (he was W.W. Beauchamp, the dime novelist, in Unforgiven) defuses complaints by allowing moments of real feeling to cut through the tough-guy veneer of his main characters.

JURASSIC PARK III (2001) (LM: ***) Lean, mean, brutal and exhilarating, a Jurassic sequel for those who thought the first two installments were on the bloated side. Directed by Joe Johnston, another of my favorite modern action directors-- his Hidalgo, October Sky and The Rocketeer all belong on this list too.

MICROCOSMOS (1996) (LM: ***1/2) Riding the crest of the original wave of nature documentaries that recently rolled onto shore with Winged Migration and March of the Penguins, this elliptically beautiful portrait of the unseen insect world in a rural French grass field trumps them all. There are images here that will challenge your ability to believe what you're seeing, images of wonder, brutality and even natural eroticism that will take every other nature documentary you've ever seen down at least one notch.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981) (LM: ***) Thoroughly unexpected brilliance from mediocre director Herbert Ross was only one of the surprises offered by this movie when it came out 24 years ago. One of the others was Steve Martin's depth as a dramatic actor and grace as a dancer. The contrast between the movie's stunning production numbers and the stark reality of Depression-era America is, of course, the movie's subject-- the mapping of the desperate fantasies held within the pop music of the day for people with fewer and fewer places to turn-- and the movie is as bleak and beautiful as it sounds.

SHOWGIRLS (1995) (LM: BOMB) As big a victim of media and cultural groupthink as I can think of. This is a much smarter, more deliberate movie than it has ever been given credit for. I refer you to a couple of articles in its defense that hopefully will encourage those interested to take another look.

SKY HIGH (2005) (No LM rating as yet) Conceived in the long shadow of The Incredibles, this movie defines high returns on very low expectations. The script is smart, noncondescending (to either adults or kids) and surprisingly snark-free, and its direction is almost carefree in its ease and lack of pretension. This is the way Disney family comedies should always be, the rule instead of the sweet, happy exception.

Mister Underhill said...

I accuse my parents
-You would just have to see it to believe it
the big hit (marky mark is my cuzin yo, fereelz)- same as above
naked lunch
- surreal and amazing
jesus christ vampire hunter
- uneven but oveall pretty amazing
dellamorte dellamore aka cemetary man
- Hard to describe, but surreal, action packed, humorous, uplifting and depressing. It answers the question of what dawn of the dead would be like if felini directed it.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

From Edward Copeland, of Edward Copeland on Film fame, via email:

1. Lone Star (1996) -- John Sayles' best film is, as much of his work, a kaleidoscopic look at ethnic and class divisions, this time set against the backdrop of a murder mystery in a Texas border town. It did manage to snag an Oscar nomination for screenplay, but little else. With a great ensemble led by Chris Cooper, it truly is an overlooked treasure -- and it's also one of the few films with a twist that I didn't see coming, though in retrospect I should have.

2. One, Two, Three (1961) -- Admittedly, Billy Wilder received more than his fair share of accolades during his long and distinguished career, but this film, coming immediately after "The Apartment," has always seemed to get short shrift. It's not even Wilder's last great film (that would be "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," once it got unbutchered). Still, "One, Two, Three" is a crackling satire with a great lead performance by James Cagney.

3. A Wedding (1978) -- This one always gets stuck on the list of Altman clunkers, but I've always enjoyed it quite a bit, especially when compared with the self-important messes that dominated 1978 like "Coming Home," "The Deer Hunter" and "Midnight Express." Imagine a film with a cast twice as large as "Nashville," but Robert Altman manages to pull it off. Sure, the last act plot twist seems manufactured, but in a way it's a portend of Altman things to come done both better (as in "Short Cuts") and worse (as in "Dr. T. and the Women.")

4. The Story of Adele H. (1975) -- Granted, it did get a smattering of awards here and there and two Oscar nominations, but Francois Truffaut's great film about Victor Hugo's daughter and its stunning performance by Isabelle Adjani, has never received the proper place in the Truffaut canon that it deserves.

5. Miller's Crossing (1990) -- Everyone else in the world seemed to have caught up with the Coen brothers late. I loved their first four films, but haven't cared for anything since "Barton Fink." It's as if the critical masses didn't really know they existed until "Fargo," but for me "Miller's Crossing" is still their best effort with great performances by Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito and many others.

6. Back to the Future Part II (1989) -- Sure, everyone loves the first one, but I don't think the second installment gets the due it is due. Sure, it lacks the heart of the original, but it more than makes up for it with the head-spinning time-traveling permutations that keep the film moving at breakneck speed from beginning to end

7. Heathers (1989) -- There is a cult for "Heathers" to be sure -- and many can recite its many memorable lines of dialogue, but the movie never got the praise it deserved in its initial release, namely because the bulk of critics were too old at the time to truly appreciated its dark satirical brilliance.

8. Night and the City (1950) -- This noir classic seems to have a reputation yet few people seem to have seen it -- even after the god-awful remake, but it deserves to be seen for the performances of Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney, Googie Withers and Francis L. Sullivan.

9. Merrilly We Live (1938) -- This got a smattering of minor Oscar nominations, but this screwball comedy in the vein of "My Man Godfrey" deserves a better reputation, if for Billie Burke's dizzy brilliance alone.

10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986) -- I couldn't leave this one off my list. Too often dismissed as just a bad splatter sequel, to me it's better than the original. At is heart, it's a brilliant satire of the perils of the small businessman with too many laugh-out loud moments to list. It's more than just of the "so bad it's good" variety, I think it's a comedy on purpose. The movie poster -- which placed the family of killers in poses that aped the poster of "The Breakfast Club" says it better than anything else.

Thanks, Edward!

DBrooks said...

1)October Sky--OK, I admit to a bit of personal bias. My Grandfather was a coalminer in southern West Virginia, and I was born in 1956. Thus, this movie carries a particular significance for me. That said, it is a great story, and well-acted. The video clips of the real people at the end of the movie ground the whole movie in reality.

2).Little Big Man--One of my all-time favorites. The movie isn't perfect. There are some flaws, but it has a great combination of humor, satire, drama, and some scenes of enduring emotional impact.

3).Tender Mercies--I know, this doesn't really fit the criteria as Robert Duval won a Best Actor Oscar, but you rarely hear this movie, or his performance, mentioned. This was a quiet film, with a quiet, nuanced performance. Given the recent history of the Oscars, it's amazing Duval won. It was probably on of those "Let's award him for his body of work" Oscars.

3).Streetwise--An incredible documentary about kids living on the street in Seattle. Again, it was an Oscar nominee, but I never hear about it anymore, or see it playing anywhere. If you haven't seen it, seek it out.

4).Never Cry Wolf--Again, not a perfect movie, but a real winner in my book. The combination of the music, cinematography, and setting are specatacular. Another "quiet" film, which probably explains why it seems to be forgotten.

5).Being There--Another personal favorite that seems largely forgotten. Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, and Melvyn Douglas are all great in it. Chance the Gardener, with a child's mind, becomes Chauncey Gardner--maybe the "next President of the United States."

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Edward: Very good list, particularly three I should have remembered to include myself: One, Two, Three, Miller's Crossing and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part Two. The first two, especially, are probably in the top 25 of my favorite films. Re: TCM II, I'm thinking about the Cook (Jim Siedow) getting reamed by Hopper's saw near the finale and yelling, "Here we go again! The small businessman always takin' it in the ass!"

Ixtab said...

"McCabe & Mrs. Miller"--I don't remember that much about it, honestly, having seen it only once, a long time ago. For one thing, the soundtrack kicks ass.

"The Secret of Roan Innish" and "Time Bandits" are my all-time favorite kids' movies. I love kids' movies.

I love documentaries, too, so I'd have to throw in "Stevie" and "American Movie," just for the weirdo factor.

"The Thin Red Line" was nominated for an Oscar, but was totally overshadowed by "Saving Private Ryan." "Line" is a much better war flick, in my opinion.

Also, "Nowhere in Africa" totally blew me away.

Obvs, I'm not a film nerd. These feel pretty mundane compared with some already listed.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Wow. This is really shaping up nicely.

Thanks again for getting the party started. Looking forward to your follow-up five. Like Tammara, I really enjoyed NEXT STOP, WONDERLAND. Mmmm...Hope Davis. Good call.

Thanks for your recommendations. As for the ad guys not watching the movie they were hired to promote, I am shocked, SHOCKED... As an ad guy who considers himself a consummate professional, I can assure you that never happens. ;^)

Talk about going above and beyond the call: Powering through bronchitis and the care of a sick child to weigh in at the ADS water cooler--and with a killer list. Thanks for the link and the very kind words over on SLIFR.

One question: are you suggesting that Leonard Maltin is not the ultimate arbiter of all things cinematic? :^0

Mr U:
Thanks for adding your spice to the flava. I like the way you roll, yo.

Edward C:
Thanks for your list and your links. My Best of the Best Oscars list is coming soon, I SWEAR. Thanks, too, for pimping the survey on your blog.

I love NEVER CRY WOLF, but I hadn't thought of it in years. Which is, I guess, part of the subliminal motivation behind this survey. Thanks for stopping by.

Some observations so far:

1. Obscurity is relative.
2. Sequels get no love.

Keep those lists coming, folks.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Mr. M.B.: Sorry for being so late to the party. I just picked 10 very randomly, films that always stick with me, perhaps for personal reasons that wouldn't work for anybody else. For whatever reason, I picked mostly modern films. And, needless to say, you really need a Top 100 list to do this justice.

1. ZERO EFFECT. A brilliant, brilliant movie with Bill Pullman as the world's most private private detective, a forensic Howard Hughes who refuses to leave his room and deduce, and Ben Stiller as the irritated Dr. Watson who must do all the legwork. Jake Kasdan's (son of Lawrence) stunning directorial debut, which mixes smartly written comedy and light romance. He even gets a good performance out of Ryan O'Neal.

2. INTO THE NIGHT. With the Pfeiffer-thon going on today, I was reminded of this weird, offbeat (and too violent at times) comedy from John Landis that I've always had a fondness for. Jeff Goldblum plays an L.A. white-collar worker whose wife is cheating on him, and he has insomnia, so he leaves home and runs into La Pfeiffer, who is on the lam from some shady characters, and they spend the night riding around L.A. getting into all kinds of trouble and weird situations, running into everybody from David Bowie to Roger Vadim to Paul Mazursky to the lovely, forgotten Kathryn Harrold. Much better than Scorsese's AFTER HOURS.

3. WITHOUT LIMITS. Robert Towne's wonderfully understated biopic of Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, played with a '70s masculine cool by Billy Crudup. Towne is beloved for CHINATOWN, of course, but gets no props for his ability to dig deeply into the world of Olympic sport and track athletics. For those who think Towne can only write, just watch the way he builds expressive tension and drama in the track-meet scenes, with very little dialogue. Donald Sutherland was criminally overlooked for his role as the mentor-coach Bowerman.

4. LOST IN AMERICA. Albert Brooks is a one-of-a-kind-genius, and this is his finest, funniest film. He plays an ad exec who decides to throw his middle-class existence away and travel across the country with wife Julie Hagerty in an RV and learns some hilarious life lessons along the way: "I have seen the future...and it's a bald-headed man from New York!" Believe me, watch this and skip the Robin Williams movie RV.

5. HEARTBREAKERS. Mentioning Kathryn Harrold above reminded me of this film, which I don't think you can even find anymore. It's a nice Bobby Roth film about a painter with a bad, self-absorbed attitude (Peter Coyote) who loses Harrold to another man (BARNEY MILLER's Max Gail) and spends the rest of the movie ticked off about it, bemoaning life with his equally self-absorbed pal Nick Mancuso. I haven't seen it in years, but I remember being entranced by its depiction of an artistic downtown L.A. scene, its obtuse guyness and for a rare dramatic role by Johnny Carson's Tea Time girl, Carol Wayne.

6. STAY AS YOU ARE. Another film I can't find anymore, and haven't seen in years and would love to! An Italian film directed by Alberto Lattauda starring Marcello Mastroianni as a middle-aged man who falls for the ripe and luscious Nastassia Kinski. I can only remember seeing this as an impressionable college romantic, and finding something lush and dreamy and a little naughty/sexy in the Italian cinematography and soap-opera-ish plot.

7. LAUREL CANYON. OK, I'm prone to L.A. movies, and especially L.A. movies involving Baby Boomer rockers (yes, THE DOORS is Oliver Stone's finest movie and GRACE OF MY HEART is Allison Anders'.) This film is an interesting ensemble drama about a celebrated record producer (Frances McDormand) who has a conflicted, messed-up relationship with her son (Christian Bale.) Lots of good performances, including Natasha McElhone, Kate Beckinsale and Alessandro Nivola and a nice sense of the Canyon area.

8. HEARTBREAK RIDGE. Probably my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. It's like Clint remaking STRIPES, without Bill Murray (and God, I love STRIPES!). Here he plays a washed-up Marine drill instructor who must get a squad of misfits in shape to invade...Grenada! Yes, so '80s and yet, some of the funniest, most pungent B.S. tough-guy talk ever from Eastwood. Very underrated Eastwood, right up there with THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, BREEZY, TRUE CRIME and A PERFECT WORLD.

9. SHOOT THE MOON. Another film that needs to be on DVD. A brilliant dissection of the disintegration of a relationship of a Marin County writer and his wife, played to perfection by Albert Finney and Diane Keaton from a script by Bo Goldman and the direction of the underrated, can-do-anything Alan Parker (his ROAD TO WELLVILLE, also underrated.)

10. SAMMY AND ROSIE GET LAID. Yet another film that needs to be out on DVD. A smart London film, about relationships and immigrant issues, from another underrated, can-do-anything director Stephen Frears, right up there with his HIGH FIDELITY and DIRTY PRETTY THINGS. It has one of my favorite scenes which sums up what must be heaven for a guy: The main character is sitting on a couch listening to great music through headphones, drinking a milk shake, looking at a nudie magazine and smoking a doobie (or was it doing a line?) Whatever, the '80s!

Other films I'd add if I had more than 10: SEE YOU IN THE MORNING (Jeff Bridges, director: Alan J. Pakula); A MIDWINTER'S TALE (Kenneth Branagh); MEN DON'T LEAVE (Jessica Lange, Paul Brickman); GUN SHY (Sandra Bullock, Liam Neeson); THE OBJECT OF BEAUTY (John Malkovich, Andie McDowell); COBB (Tommy Lee Jones, director: Ron Shelton); THIRTEEN DAYS (Kevin Costner); SOAPDISH (Sally Field, Kevin Kline); ROUGH MAGIC (Russell Crowe, Bridget Fonda); FALLING IN LOVE (Robert De Niro, Maryl Streep); REMEMBER MY NAME (Tony Perkins); THE WATERDANCE (Helen Hunt); BEST FRIENDS (Burt Reynolds, Goldie Hawn); KEEPING THE FAITH (Edward Norton, Ben Stiller)...and the list could go on and on and on....

Dennis Cozzalio said...

TLRHB: We might have to go around someday on Alan Parker :) but, ouch! Cobb! How could I have forgotten that one?! That's maybe the most underrated movie of the '90s, I think! And I loved Sammy and Rosie Get Laid and Gun Shy too. We're seeing the entire reason for these lists playing out right now-- raking and hoeing the old memory beds, shaking out those nuggets and getting them to float to the surface. (I like my metaphors mixed tonight, for some reason.)

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Oh, yeah, Dennis, I figured I need to blog on most of those titles, at some point. I'm glad the Brow thought this one up. I don't love Alan Parker, by the way, but it does strike me he can do a lot of different things competently. And I'll defend SHOOT THE MOON, ROAD TO WELLVILLE and THE COMMITTMENTS. But not some of his other stuff...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Actually, I really like The Commitments too, and Shoot the Moon is probably better than I remember it-- I remember it being excessive unpleasant and overwrought. But for as big of a fan of scatology as I can be, I have yet to catch up to The Road to Wellville, which at least seems interesting. One of Parker's movie's will be leading off my answers to Professor Van Helsing's quiz, which I'm going to try to start writing right now...

Mr. Middlebrow said...

I'm thrilled to see non-avowed film geeks joining in the fun. And don't sell your film-nerd quotient short--MCCABE & MRS MILLER and TTRL will stand in you good stead with this lot (right, Dennis?). I don't think I know NOWHERE IN AFRICA; can you tell us more?

Mr. Middlebrow said...

So glad to have you--sorry to be so slow in welcoming you.

If I may, I'll take the last part first: The Brow? I love it. Feels like a mob nickname. Jimmie the Brow.

Just a few quick comments off the top of my head: (I could spend hours on this)

I tend to blow hot and cold on Alan Parker. I think my favorite film of his would be FAME. I loved THE COMMITMENTS, but found some of the not-so-sly or -subtle references back to other recent AP films insufferable. I vaguely remember SHOOT THE MOON, but recall nothing of my reaction to it.

Personally, I consider DEFENDING Y0UR LIFE the pinnacle of the Albert Brooks canon (look for it on my list, if I ever get it posted). But glad to see the "other" Albert Enstein represented. He is a national cinematic treasure, IMO.

Yeah, 10 titles is somewhat arbitrary; really, it's more of a guideline than a rule. Considering that some have submitted only five, feel free to take up the slack. Or, hang onto them--I'm thinking this might evolve into a recurring feature here at ADS. Overlooked Movie Mondays, maybe. Stay tuned.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Another observation based on the results so far:
To be a true film lover—as opposed to a film snob—is to be constantly on the lookout for films like these, and able to recognize movies that are genuinely special on their merits rather than their marketing. Or, failing that, be willing to see them in another light and consider the possibility that there’s more going on than you originally assumed.

As Dennis points out regarding SHOWGIRLS, it's all too easy to form an opinion—for better or worse—of a film without ever seeing it, and let groupthink take over. It takes that rare combination of a sensitive eye and the courage of one’s convictions to stand up for a film everyone else has dismissed, and defend or even celebrate it. Thanks again for sharing all your thoughtful and inspired choices. (Not that I’ll be watching SHOWGIRLS anytime soon, but still. ;^)

With that in mind, I hope anyone tuning in would feel encouraged to offer up a few words about a personal cult fave or guilty pleasure--without fear of judgement or censure.

fish said...

All right. Time and this most excellent list of movies (my Netflix list doubled overnight) has inspired me to finish my list:

6)Shallow Grave.
Twenty-somethings involved in money, murder and oppressive paranoia, a modern day Tell-tale Heart. Well acted and directed, featuring them living in the coolest apartment on the face of the planet (real eye-candy).

7) Black Robe.
One of the great travesties of the Academy Awards was that this movie was ignored and "Dances with Wolves" won best picture. This movie is everything DWW should be but is not. The characters are nuanced, the Euro-Indian relations complex, no person is completely good or completely evil, and even the best of intensions can end in disaster.

8)Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.
Beautifully shot, has that abstract feel that often comes from a Japanese director (Nagisa Oshima). Explores the meanings of power and freedom with a prisoner of war having both while his captor had neither. Best role ever for David Bowie.

9)The Terminator.
While, in no way, an obscure movie, it is one that probably doesn't get the critical acclaim it deserves. This is the only time travel movie that I don't beat my head on the table because of logical inconsistancies (yes, I am that dorky). The plot is tight, always engaging, Linda Hamilton is fantastic as a SoCal girl with surprising depths of inner strength. I'm typically an uncritical fan of SciFi, but this one gets the nod for being excellent (only competition is Blade Runner, but it got its critical props at the time it came out).

10) Eraserhead.
I saw this in a movie theater and it was so difficult to watch that when I left I had a headache and was ill. The steady inescapable white noise in the background of the movie just gets into your bones and refuses to leave. Perhaps Lynch's least accessible movie (challenged only by "Six Figures Getting Sick"), it is perhaps his best in its ability to generate raw (like nails on a chalkboard) emotion. This is a movie that leaves its mark (whether you want it or not).

fish said...

Oh, and I want to trow some addtional love to "Heathers", "Little Big Man", and especially "Cobb" (Tommy Lee Jones was phenomenal)mentioned above. Loved 'em all.

Mister Underhill said...

I don't know if it's obscure enough, but tampopo.

Japanese truckdriver cowboy helps a widow turn a dive into the best noodlehouse in the province.

Steve said...

Here we go: Off the top of my head, the first ten obscure/ignored/underrated films I can think of:

1) Tuvalu

Not that I have anything against Amelie (okay, I do, but it's only against what the film has wrought, not the film itself), but its critical and commercial success overshadowed this far quirkier, far funnier piece of deadpan absurdism from Germany. It's like Jarmusch doing Expressionism, and it has one of the cutest female leads I've seen anywhere ever. How Guy Maddin cultists haven't rediscovered this is beyond me.

2) The Telephone Book

My absolute favorite movie that absolutely nobody has ever seen. I got it through a trade with a gentleman who specializes in rare '70s sleaze, and as far as I know, him and I are the only people in the world with a copy. Want to know more? Here's my review.

3) Freddy Got Fingered

The most critically savaged film of the millennium is also the most misunderstood -- it's not a gross-out comedy, it's a hysterical (in all senses of the word) Dada art-punk prank masquerading as a gross-out comedy. You know how Gus Van Sant, when asked to list his favorite films of the '90s, filled up the first six slots with Gummo? Ten years from now, someone's going to do that with Freddy.

4) Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?

The Freddy Got Fingered of its day, in which a rising talent (Anthony Newley here) pissed away all his credibility and bankability to make the film that he needed to make at that point in time. It's self-indulgent, silly and often quite bad (fast-forward any time George Jessel pops up); it's also rude, funny and fascinating. The songs are pretty catchy, as well. Imperfect, and I hesitate to call it 'good,' but worth a look for the brazenness of its artistic immolation.

5) Bonnie's Kids

Hey, Cult Epics -- nice job with that DVD of the long-forgotten grindhouse gem The Candy Snatchers. For an encore, why not put out this greasy grimy gob of goodness, which was made by many of the same people as the former film? If I've said it once, I've said it too many times: There ain't no sleaze like '70s sleaze.

6) Terror Firmer

That's right: I'm citing a Troma film. Lloyd Kaufman has made better films, but this sloppy magnum crapus will always have a special place in my heart because of the hard right into darkness it takes in its last half hour. What was a silly, excessive and juvenile ode to all things Tromatic suddenly, with its balls-out climax, morphs into a scathing satirical pisstake on gender identity, sexual politics and power dynamics. Blistering, offensive and really quite brilliant, in its own screwed-up way.

7) Atomic War Bride

The fact that this was released on DVD by Something Weird led me to believe I was getting something that I wasn't. What I'd figured for a cheesy romp through Eastern European ineptitude instead turns out to be just as vital and vibrant as any of the better-known films from the Czech New Wave (more so, if you're comparing it to the grossly overrated A Report on the Party and the Guests). It observes the folly of the Atomic Age and can only laugh so that it doesn't have a psychotic break. It's Czechoslovakia's answer to Catch-22, minus the hope.

8) Devils on the Doorstep

See above, except subsitute Chinese for Czech.

9) Kung Pow: Enter the Fist

Oh, shut up. You know you've seen this in passing on HBO, and you know you secretly like it. "From now on, you will call me... Betty."

10) Videodrome

I know it's considered a forward-thinking sci-fi classic now, but does anyone remember the poisonous reception this got back in '83? It got to the point where Cronenberg pretty much had to do The Dead Zone if he ever wanted to be taken seriously again. Flash-forward twenty-three years later, and it still looks ahead of its time while its naysayers just look like assholes. Cronenberg could work for a hundred years and never make a film better than this.

Ross Ruediger said...

I'm, as they say, late to this party, but maybe someone will find my contributions vaguely worthwhile. Made it here via round-headed boy, FYI...

There are numerous titles already mentioned that I likely would've included (BANZAI, whatever Cronenberg stuff's been mentioned), so I'll try to give a new set - and some of these are in my Top 20, so...:

1. WITHNAIL & I - As perfect a film as anything else ever made. It's nicely perched in my Top 5 and probably always will be. I never tire of watching it, and every viewing brings a brand new sense of satisfaction. I'll swim in it and hate drying off afterwards.

2. TALK RADIO - Best thing Oliver Stone ever did (for me anyway). Subtly conspiratorial, but never over the top. It's a huge shame that nobody's ever tapped into Bogosian's potential acting abilities since. Film's over 15 years old and barely dated - talk radio hasn't changed a bit.

3. PASS THE AMMO - I'm curious if anyone else here has ever even seen this. Bill Paxton, Tim Curry, Linda Crocodile Dundee and Annie Potts star in this bizarre late-80s black comedy about some white trash Arkansas rednecks taking a televangelist's TV studio hostage - only to have the situation broadcast over the airwaves. If you've got a hatred for all things Pat Robertson, this is the movie for you. Not on DVD - I've got a nice LD copy I hold onto for dear life. A character based on the AK governor appears for a few minutes - guess who he kinda sorta resembles?

4. JOE VS. THE VOLCANO - Best. Hanks. Movie. Ever. (Although SPLASH comes a close second.)

5. FREAKED - Anyone wanting to know my feelings about FREAKED should just refer to my blog (The Rued Morgue), as I recently wrote a lengthy entry on the subject.

6. RAVENOUS - In my FREAKED item, I made brief mention of this film so I'll just cut and paste what I wrote there: A period black comedy western about cannibalism in which the main character has no dialogue for the first 20 minutes? What's NOT to love?

7. BITTER MOON - You know, there's just ~something~ about it that I've never been able to get enough of. Separates the true Polanski fans from the posers who thought "THE PIANIST was a beautiful movie". (Should I run for cover yet?)

8. LAWN DOGS - Mischa "The O.C." Barton's first movie (she was maybe 11?) and also very early Sam Rockwell. Saw it in the theatre and was profoundly moved. Not for all tastes and many will find it very silly - but it works nicely for me.

9. LOVE ACTUALLY - This seems like it shouldn't count and yet, under the specifications, it does, right? The day I can write a screenplay that's as simultaneously light & complex as this one, I'll believe that I actually know a thing or two about filmmaking. And the movie's damn good, too.

10. JACKIE BROWN - Now this one technically should not count (Forster was nominated for Best Supporting Actor), but dammit - do you know how many times I've been in a Tarantino discussion with a supposed "fan" and I tell them that JB is my favorite of all his films and they have no idea what I'm talking about? And that's why I put it on this list.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Way to finish strong. I'm couldn't agree more about BLACK ROBE. Although I'm torn about whether to include it on my own list now--besides beating me to it, you summed up the whole travesty of it being overlooked eloquently.

Thanks for coming by. Now that's what I call obscure--and eclectic--not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, this kind of diversity is exactly what I was hoping for. "Off the top of [your] head..." is, I think, the best way to compile these lists. The films that are truly noteworthy find a way of sticking with you. I'm definitely adding VIDEODROME to my queue. And bookmarking your blog as well.

Ross Ruediger:
Nice to have you along. And you're never late to a party if you show up with something to keep it interesting. I especially like the variety and range of your choices. BITTER MOON and LOVE ACTUALLY on the same list speaks volumes. Nicely done, sir. And, yeah, JACKIE BROWN should be the official litmus test to separate the players from the posers, vis a vis Tarantino. I think it's the one time he was more interested in making a great movie instead of a signature Tarantino flick. It might also say something about Elmore Leornard books as source material. BTW: Like your blog, which I found via our mutual round-headed friend.

Ross Ruediger said...

Mr. Middlebrow -

That was a fun list to make, but by no means was it definitive. I could probably do five more lists that felt just as worthy to me. (Don't worry - I won't.)


Certainly I don't want to derail this fine talkback by going down Quentin Ave. (the only type of movie discussion that's more annoying is STAR WARS VS. LORD OF THE RINGS.), but that said...

JB is such a fine piece of filmmaking that it was largely responsible for my utter disinterest in/boredom with both KILL BILL movies, which felt like such a step down from a maturity standpoint.

I'll grant they're technically well-made pieces, but the scripts are just silly and don't seem to justify the length of time it took to tell that story. By the time I got to Carradine's dissection of Superman & Bruce Wayne, I just thought Q had spent far too much time reading AICN talkbacks.

And Part One's line "I must will my legs out of entropy" begged for someone on the set to stand up and say "Anybody got a dictionary?" Some will argue that, but I reject the arguments.

Geez...I sound exactly like the movie snobs that usually bother the crap out of me. Somebody please ban me from further posting.

afraid said...

I've been reading these comments for the last twenty minutes, fascinated and with a notepad in hand. I was hoping like hell that nobody would mention my #1 underrated movie, and I was nearly there... when suddenly Ross pulls the rug out from under me. Not to worry. I'll include it anyway, and give you props for liking it too.

Mine are nearly all recent - that's because I'm young and I generally try to see the most revered films before tracking down the hidden gems. My time will come. In the meantime, I've found some gold in unexpected places. In the order in which I saw them:

1. Ravenous (1999) - In a year full of memorable films, Ravenous stuck its confused but often ingenious head up and got savaged by most. I think people dismissed it because they evaluated it based on the marketing, which was halfway comedy, halfway horror, when really it's neither - this is unmistakeably a Western, albeit one of the strangest Westerns ever made. It's got Pearce, Carlyle and Jones, and an unheralded but talented director in Antonia Bird, but it's the Nyman/Albarn score that keeps me coming back. It turns an interesting movie into a fascinating one, demonstrating the power of a great original score.

2. Last Resort (2000) - Those familiar with Pawlikowski or Considine will probably have already seen it; if not, do so immediately. It's as good as the more recent My Summer of Love, but more restrained, less overtly dramatic. A beautiful and succinct film.

3. Wet Hot American Summer (2001) - The funniest movie I've ever seen, simple as that.

4. Narc (2002) - Out of nowhere, Carnahan delivered a gritty, stylish cop thriller with lasting impact. It's clearly a film made by a lover of the genre. He also brought forth Ray Liotta's best performance to date.

5. Sur mes lèvres (Read My Lips) (2001) - Audiard's cinematic style is strong and focused, often subjective but never forgetting the audience. Combining with a superb Devos and the massively brilliant Cassel, he crafted one of the best thrillers of the decade.

6. Proof (1991) - The best Australian film I've seen, it's a story about a blind photographer. You might immediately think quirky, forgettable comedy, but it is firmly grounded in reality and lingers in the mind for some time afterwards. Weaving and Crowe impress in early roles.

7. Dark Days (2000) - Marc Singer's film about homeless living in an Amtrak tunnel is a fascinating anthropological document. It's superbly shot and scored, too.

8. Love and Death on Long Island (1997) - Divine character study with John Hurt and (surprisingly) Jason Priestley both doing great. Careful, refined direction makes this a fascinating, quiet, resonant film.

9. Forgotten Silver (1995) - Peter Jackson's finest film appears remarkable only for its content upon first, unwise viewing, but then you learn the secret and it becomes the ultimate expression of a cinematic genius. Forget LOTR - Jackson's greatest work is right here.

10. 3 Women (1977) - It must be about 3 months since I saw this, and I still find myself thinking about it regularly. I had nil expectations, and was totally blown away. Unlike, say, 'Mulholland Dr.' (which I do admire), Altman isn't interested in pulling the wool over our eyes - he just presents the images, and turns the interpretation over to the viewer. Unmissable.

I want more - no Herzog there, for example - but these ten will have to sit for now. Thank you for indulging me.

Campaspe said...

Hi there - I couldn't resist this survey, even though my taste runs to movies about 50 years older on average than the ones that have been mentioned so far. :) I also got kind of long-winded, so rather than clog up your comments, I posted at my place. Here's my list without comments:

1. Portrait of Jennie
2. Diary of a Chambermaid (Renoir version)
3. All This, and Heaven Too
4. Madeleine
5. The Strawberry Blonde
6. Two-Family House (oh look, a fairly new one!)
7. Bachelor Mother
8. Three Came Home
9. The Young in Heart
10. Seven Sweethearts (your readers who came here for the drinking song lyrics are likely to hate that one, I'm afraid.)


Patrick said...

In no special order

Something Wild
Major shift in tone half way throught the movie, but it all makes sense.

My favorite, by far, Oliver Stone film, almost everything since this has disappointed me.

Wild River
The one with Clift and Lee Remick, has a wonderful subdued tone, great sense of time and place.

Canyon Passage
Sort of western slash period piece, set in the Pacific Northwest.

Young at Heart
Great songs from Frank Sinatra.

Teacher's Pet
I really enjoyed this story of old newspaperman Clark Gable meeting up with younger journalism teacher Doris Day.

Broadway Danny Rose
Its Woody Allen so I don't know how unknown it may be, but its a favorite, he never played a more pitiful character than this guy.

No Highway in the Sky
The best movie about metal fatigue ever made (probably the only one too, stars Jimmy Stewart, can't go wrong there)

The Hudsucker Proxy
I don't get why this never seemed to get an audience, it a hilarious.

Into the Night
Stole this from a list above, not sure how to classify it, but its entertaining.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Well. This has far outstripped even my wildest expectations. Thanks, everybody.

Thanks for bringing the Kiwi flavor!
Wonderful list. So glad you stopped by.

(May I call you Siren?) Geez, if I'd known you were coming, I would've straightened up a bit. [Just step over those empty beer cans.] Your list is just what this survey needs--an infusion of (mostly) old-school Hollywood gems and counterbalancing feminine sensibility. Also, you've single-handedly done what I could not: given Mrs. Middlebrow a reason to read my blog. So thanks for that, too.

Thanks for mentioning The Hudsucker Proxy "Lose a blue card, and they DOCK ya!"; even among Coen Bros. fans, it seems to get stepchild treatment. Which is sad because, in terms of visual style and characters, it's quintessentially Coen, IMO. I'm invariably forced to sit and watch whenever it comes on cable.

Exiled in NJ said...

I am trying to avoid those on other lists, though it is hard to leave Shoot the Moon off. These are in no particular order:

1. Last of the Mohicans: great score, great intensity.

2. Tin Men: God, I grew up with these guys.

3. Macbeth [the 1971 Polanski one with the young couple on the make; I get the feeling this is what Scotland must have looked like]

4. The Three/Four Musketeers: I actually prefer the second part, and with Oliver Reed to boot. You could add Lester's other little period piece, Royal Flash, here too.

5. Excalibur: once the prelude is over, the middle becomes a series of tableaux, only to revert to the familiar tale once the quest is launched.

6. Panic in the Streets: Think '24' before the days of terrorists etc, and in gritty black and white.

7. Cluny Brown: Boyer is our forgotten giant, and Jennifer Jones shows a wonderful comedy touch.

8. Scarlett Street: Here Little Man, What Now upsets the whole applecart. I get the feeling this is the film Lang wanted to make out of Woman in the Window.

9. Hold Back the Dawn: Boyer again. See what immigration was like circa 1940.

10. A Shock to the System: Not as black as How to Get Ahead in Advertising but with Michael Caine.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

So here are mine, without particular ranking or order (other than sometimes thinking about one would remind me of another):

Written and directed by David Byrne (yes, the Talking Heads frontman, here trading his signature big suit for a comically large Stetson). It’s the amiably surreal story of a fictitious Texas tech-boom town and its array of colorful denizens preparing for its sesquicentennial, a “Celebration of Specialness,” told with the kind of quirky, offbeat rhythms of, well, a Talking Heads song. Features John Goodman, Swoozie Kurtz, and the late Spalding Grey.

This is a charming and bittersweet German romantic comedy (which might seem like a quadruple oxymoron, I know, but go with it) about a chef, the titular Martha, who has to learn how to enjoy life without always being in control. It could be said that the film reinforces cultural stereotypes about Germans and Italians; I submit that it can be forgiven because it does so with such genuine affection. And because it makes such memorable and effective use of Paolo Conte's "Via con Me." It probably goes without saying that you'll feel like eating Italian afterward.

I have very fond memories of this as a great date flick from the early '80s (watched on VHS sometime in the late ‘80s with the future Mrs. Middlebrow). Kind of an Aussie western-cum-court-martial drama directed by Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY, BLACK ROBE), it’s not so much overlooked or underrated (it actually generated a fair bit of acclaim as I recall); more one of those ‘oh, yeah, that was a great flick’ sort of films. Next time you get a yen for something like OUT OF AFRICA, but with, y’know, drama, check this out. With Bryan Brown, Jack Thompson, and Edward (The Equalizer) Woodward.

How's this for obscure? Because it starred Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, and Madeline Kahn, and came out shortly after YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, people tended to mistake it for a Mel Brooks film; in fact it was directed by Wilder, who also plays the title character, Sigerson. Actually, ‘plays’ is far too understated a term for the mania that undergirded Gene Wilder’s acting style in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; certainly it gave THE PRODUCERS, YF, and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY their demonic charges. Though not nearly as good as YF, it’s arguably a more serviceable genre parody/mad-cap romp than many of the lesser lights in the latter half of Brooks’ canon. Among some very funny moments is one with a giant buzz-saw. And at least one insidious song. "Come on and...hop! Hop! Come and do the Kangaroo Hop! Hop! That's the dance for me and you..."

The original screen adaptation of Thomas Harris’ "Red Dragon," which was recently (and unnecessarily) remade with Edward Norton and Anthony Hopkins. Basically the first of the Hannibal Lecter movies, although he's actually a secondary character in this. Directed by the versatile and underappreciated Michael Mann and starring William Peterson (of C.S.I. fame). A stylish and adroitly made thriller that offers a compelling case for violence implied over violence depicted. This is an example of a film that the cognoscenti would never consider underrated; if anything, the making of RED DRAGON probably helped boost its stature and, by extension, raise or renew the audiences appreciation for the fine job done by all involved the first time around.

Another fun German flick. Directed by Thom Tykver and starring his then-girlfriend, Franke Potente (from THE BOURNE IDENTITY) in the title role. Basically, it’s a lesson in what to do when your idea for a film is good for only about 25 minutes of screen time: tell the same story four different ways. The result is kind of RASHOMON with a wink and a nod (and a fluorescent pink fright-wig).

Not exceedingly offbeat, per se. But it never garnered the popular appreciation it deserved. The studio clearly didn't know how to promote it and it kind of got lost or overlooked. I suspect, too, that a lot of people tended to write it off as just another TV pretty boy (George Clooney) trying to succeed where David Caruso had fallen on his pasty, pouty kisser. In fact, this turned out to be not only an expectations-defying, genre-transcending piece of work, but the beginning of a period of creative collaboration I consider on par with Scrocese and Deniro. George Clooney and a pre-J.Lo Jennifer Lopez have some of the best on-screen chemistry since, well, ever. But the real testament to Steven Soderberg's direction is how the chemistry crackles among all the characters. Of course, it helps that the supporting cast is utterly free of weak links: Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Steve Zahn, Ving Rhames, Katherine Keener, Luis Guzman, and Albert Brooks. And it's the last--and I think the best--in a troika of great Elmore Leonard adaptations (GET SHORTY, JACKIE BROWN), so how can you miss?

Speaking of Albert Brooks. Among his fans, this probably isn’t obscure at all; I consider it his best film. In any case, it’s absolutely required watching for anyone stuck in an existential rut or generally feeling beaten down by life. Like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, it truly makes you want to live every moment. It's also pee-your-pants funny. But in that really smart, sophisticated yet nebbish Albert Brooks way. Also, Meryl Streep and Rip Torn provide a sweet/tart moderating influence that makes it all the better.

Quick synopsis: Terrence Stamp kicks nine kinds of ass. The End. Some consider Stephen Soderberg’s use of non-linear narrative a self-indulgent stunt; I think it makes Lem Dobbs’ already crackerjack script and some top-drawer acting into an even more enjoyable film-lover's movie. To me it’s an example of a director asking the viewer to engage on more than a superficial level, then rewarding that participation with something truly worthwhile. (It helps considerably that I saw back-to-back screenings of this on a transatlantic AirFrance flight.) This film serves as a sort of transition for Soderberg between his experimental phase (THE UNDERNEATH, SCHIZOPOLIS) and his ascendancy into mainstream success and fame (TRAFFIC, ERIN BROCKOVICH, OCEAN'S 11). With Luis Guzman, Peter Fonda (?!), Lesley Ann Warren, and a deliciously snarky Nicky Katt (whom the Onion AV Club recently included on its list of great character actors).

Anyone who likes Paul Thomas Anderson's work (BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE) will likely enjoy his feature debut. Of course, no serious PTA fan would be unaware of this, right? Set in the seedy all-night motels and casinos of Reno, it stars actors who would become part of Anderson’s repertory company—Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, and Philip Seymour Hoffman—as well as Samuel L. Jackson and a bright young ingénue named Gwyneth, uh, something. At times it feels like an MFA thesis project; looked at in that regard, it’s an amazing achievement, packed as it is with all those genre-defying atmospherics that presage Anderson’s later work. I read somewhere that Anderson objected to HARD EIGHT on the grounds that it sounded like a porn title. Which would probably be fair complaint coming from anyone other than auteur of BOOGIE NIGHTS. Like the Soderberg citations above, this is one of those great showcases of a director with or developing a singular style, who’s lucky or smart enough to find actors who share and can interpret his vision.

More proof that, done properly by actors and filmmakers with a modicum of talent and a soupçon of passion, even a madcap farce can be worthwhile cinema. Stanley Tucci wrote and directed this slice of trifle as an apparent homage to Laruel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, et al. But, really, it’s Tucci and all his indie-movie pals cutting up and having a ball—as if someone brought a wind-up Bolex to the BIG NIGHT wrap party and things just sort of took off. It works—unlike similar formulas (cough*OCEAN’S 12*cough) because they never stop including the audience in the fun. Worth a look if only for the way Campbell Scott wields a riding crop and air-kisses “Tchuss” to Lili Taylor.

That's all folks! Look for a complete digest of all the submissions and a few more comments coming soon to A Drinking Song near you.

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