Friday, June 27, 2008

10 Underrated Movies

Have you ever seen a movie that seemingly nobody else you knew had seen? And wondered why the Hell that particular movie wasn't some uber-box office smash? Well, I have. Far too often, great movies are overlooked by the less-than-bright average American. And I just feel like ranting about that.

Anyway, the list:

1. 28 Weeks Later - most horror sequels suck. This one... doesn't. A believable script coupled with a semi-plausible premise following the semi-plausible 28 Days Later, I'm quite surprised it didn't do better at the box office. Effortless characterization builds on real life cliche and provides a thrill ride in which you're finally not rooting for the monsters to rip apart the inept protagonists. While I'm still leery of the announced 28 Months Later, because of 28 Weeks Later, I'm actually sort of looking forward to it.

2. Arlington Road - predating 9/11, this ultra-creepy and ultra-paranoid tale of terrorism only became more relevant after the fall of the Twin Towers. Expertly crafted, the film featured downright disturbing acting from Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, and should be revisited. A subtly powerful film made even more powerful by real world events.

3. Dark City - before The Matrix asked pop culture "what is real?," Dark City cerebrally presented the question in the form of a neo-noir science fiction film, replete with trench coat-wearing aliens. Arguably a superior film to The Matrix, the mood more intense, the tone more realistic, but the marketing... well, that was non-existent. Director Alex Proyas' feature followup to The Crow, this one is a must see.

4. The Iron Giant - Yep, a cartoon. And not just any cartoon... it's easily one of the best of the last 10 years, and with the possible exception of Lilo & Stitch (another underrated film), the best science fiction cartoon since, well... I'll get back to you on that. Funny, touching, and all-too-human, this should be in the movie library of every self-respecting parent.

5. Robin Hood - no, not the Kevin Costner vehicle, the one with the guy from Sleeping With the Enemy. Undoubtedly a victim of Prince of Thieves syndrome, this film was not theatrically released in the United States, despite starring Uma Thurman as Maid Marian. More traditional than the Costner film, it still took enough liberties with the original Robin Hood tales to remain an enjoyable, not too predictable film.

6. Ronin - quite possibly Frakenheimer's true masterpiece (see The Manchurian Candidate), this late 90s film was everything a spy thriller should be: taut, exciting, and completely unpredictable (what the fuck was in the case?). Featuring an all-star cast led by Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno, it's a strange wonder this didn't blow the top off of the box office. Also features the best car chase ever filmed.

7. Titanic - What's that you say? How does the highest-grossing film of all time wind up on an underrated list? Well, ask anybody you see what they think of the film and they'll be likely to respond the same way: the ending is good, the rest sucked and put me to sleep. Obvious bullshit, but what can you do? Don't give into peer pressure. This film was great, this film is great, and even if you can't stand Leonardo DiCaprio, this film still holds up well. James Cameron's masterpiece, even if you do like Aliens better.

8. TMNT - yes, another cartoon, albeit a computer-animated one. A fresh update of everyone's favorite mutant martial artists, this film failed to captivate the American public, despite its obvious nostalgia, excellent action sequences, and a solid (if formulaic) plot. The duel in the rain is quite possibly the coolest animated fight I've ever seen (and, yes, I've seen The Animatrix). My only hope is the relative failure at the box office won't prevent sequels.

9. Unbreakable - forget the vastly overrated The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable is M. Night Shyamalan's true magnum opus. Admit it, you hated Signs the second time you watched it, and you know that The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening all suck. This comic book movie without a comic book was all character, which is very, very hard to pull off in such a genre. Perhaps Bruce Willis is on to something... M. Night needs to make a sequel to this. He's already proven he can't do much else.

10. Willow - a cult classic, but still a near-forgotten entry in the lore of fantasy films. Despite being clearly a Star Wars clone, this film had everything one could want in an adventure movie. Short heroes, tall heroes, beautiful villains/heroines, and funny brownies. Not to mention the coolest hero name since Han Solo (Madmartigan, anyone?). Ron Howard didn't get enough credit and George Lucas got too much, but Willow is an awesome film.

That's it for now, folks. I'll probably do another list soon as there are a few more films I feel are vastly underrated (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Thin Red Line, Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Road to Perdition, to name a few).

Anyone got any to add?


Anonymous said...

I'lll agree with you except for No.s 1, 2, and 6.

28 Weeks Later took all the originality of the first and injected all the typical cliched American horror movie CRAP and ruined it. By typical American crap, I'm referring to the trouble-causing children who despite causing the problem that destroys everything, miraculously survive their own stupidity, the unstoppable uber-villain that zeroes in on the hero/heroine at every turn with paranormal persistence, the unreasonable and borderline inhuman military characters... Sorry, that sequel sucked.

Arlington Road's ending is based on the villain knowing precisely what actions the hero is going to take (PRECISELY) and setting up his "master plan" based on that not-so-variable...which as it plays out, means that the entire plot is dependent on a set of coincidences which I found silly.

I saw Ronin in college a long time ago, and while most of the movie is okay, I remember really not liking the ending.

On the other hand, I strongly second No.s 7, 8, 9, and 10. Especially, TMNT, which I thoroughly enjoyed but everyone else seems to have dismissed.

And Master & Commander is one of my favorite movies.

Anonymous said...

I'll give you the "trouble-causing children" aspect of 28 Weeks Later, but what you call the "unreasonable and borderline inhuman" military is where I have to disagree. The redundancy protocols used by the unit in the film seemed, a rarity in Hollywood, legitimate. Not only that, three of our "hero" characters were these same "unreasonable and borderline inhuman" soldiers that seemed all too reasonable and human. Of particular impression was the sniper character. That sequel rocked.

Arlington Road is no less predicated on omniscience than, say The Usual Suspects. Which is, if I recall, a film you adore. Where Arlington Road excels is in its concern and eerily accurate portrayal of the paranoia (or lack thereof) dealing with terrorism.

And, sorry... but Ronin is a masterpiece. The ending was perfect. It did the "this movie wasn't what you thought it was about" without overdoing it.

Posted by JeffScape on July 20, 2008 - Sunday - 9:28 PM

Anonymous said...

"Adore" is too strong a word. I liked Usual Suspects, but it's hardly my favorite movie or anything.

I noticed you didn't comment on the unstoppable uber-villain remark. Do you agree about that?

Posted by Geoffry on July 20, 2008 - Sunday - 10:13 PM

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was going to, but I forgot. No, that didn't bother me, as I think the film was trying to bridge a gap, so to speak, with the philosophy behind the George Romero zombie films (that, at our basest, we'll still be attracted to what we were attracted to in life).

I'm on the fence about it, but I don't necessarily hate it yet. I guess the next sequel will make that decision for me, should they follow the idea.

Posted by JeffScape on July 20, 2008 - Sunday - 10:19 PM

Anonymous said...

That's my problem with it. 28 Days was interesting because (being British) it didn't necessarily follow the typical American horror cliches that we've become accustomed to over here. But, the sequel (made by an American studio) went in and added all the stuff that *wasn't* in the first film and turned what had been a cool movie into just another gory sequel franchise.

Now, it's not all bad. There are some damn scary moments and really scary visuals in the film (the scene where the infected dad appears in the lab window in between strobes of light for example, and some of the "night club sequences" when the zombies break into the crowd). The movie certainly benefited from a higher budget and high-quality cinematography, I just wished they'd tried a little harder to keep the spirit of the original.

Posted by Geoffry on July 20, 2008 - Sunday - 10:28 PM

Anonymous said...

The spirit of the original is a bit hard to hold up, as we all know. It wasn't even ultimately about the zombies, per se... a bit like Romero's first two entries in the "Dead" series.

So, sure, the theme changed a tad, but as a continuation of events, it felt natural. Maybe a bit contrived as far as the family involved, but natural.

Posted by JeffScape on July 20, 2008 - Sunday - 10:34 PM

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