Underrated, Unsuccessful or otherwise Unknown films you love.

What critically underrated, commercially unsuccessful or otherwise unknown movies always seem to crack your list of best-loved pictures? Why? They could just be lesser movies, films that may have gotten praise, but just kinda faded.

Some of mine:

After The Thin Man: The first of many sequels to the 1936 classic The Thin Man, this Nick and Nora adventure breaks my top ten. Featuring a bizarrely minimal, Dreyer-esque set design and cinematography and an amazing, nuanced performance from a very young James Stewart, it is, in my opinion, much better than the first. However, most people are only aware of the first film.

Housekeeping: Bill Forsyth’s 1987 picture, Housekeeping appears on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s list of 100 Alternative Top American Movies. A tale of two sisters who come to live with their quirky Aunt Sylvie, it can be interpreted two ways. One is simply of the two sisters drifting apart; one conforming to society’s expectations of normality, and the other freeing herself from the same. The other is a darker, more sinister view. Sylvie is clearly ill, exhibiting classic signs of mental illness such as accumulation of useless possessions, disconnects from time, etc. Of her two nieces, one escapes to a semi-normal life, while she attaches to the weaker of the two, taking emotional advantage of her and drawing her into a pointless life of drifting.

Showgirls: I can’t say anything about Showgirls that hasn’t been said better by Cervaise and others, but it is an interesting cinema experience. A feminist movie made from a misogynistic script. A biting satire of the American dream and American culture, funded by millions of dollars of those it was making fun of. Subverting an entire genre. Nobody got it. Brilliant.

Gates Of Heaven: Other than lavish praise from Ebert, this is a little known documentary, the first by a young Errol Morris. My feelings about this film are difficult to put into words; if you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about. The candor of the intensely lonely people about their attachment to their pets, their surrogates for any love and affection, is immensely moving. The film is an intense look at the human condition, and how unfulfilling life can be if the most isn’t made of it, by design or circumstance. It’s difficult to pin anything about this film down, but it may be the most compelling film about the human condition ever made.

Really liked it that much, didja?

Don’t go there.

Goodbye Lenin: Alex, is an East German who grows up rejoicing in the victories of his country. His mother Christiane, was devastated and psychotically traumatised after her husband defected to the West. On recovery she devotes herself to socialism and the State. In 1989 she has a heart attack and ends up in a coma. When she emerges eight months later the world has changed, the Berlin Wall has fallen, free elections have taken place, the West has invaded. But any shock could be dangerous for Christiane, so Alex, with the help of his sister and work colleague Rainer, creates a world of the past for his mother, as if nothing had happened.

The Spanish Apartment: Just coz it’ll cheer you up.

The Brother From Another Planet - from John Sayles. Funny, serious, bursting with rich characters, and with a hero who never says a word through the whole movie but speaks volumes – a masterful acting performance. It was highly praised but never a big success commercially.

Hope and Glory I love this movie about a child’s experiences in London during the bombing raids of WWII. It’s sentimental and surprisingly funny, given the subject matter, and the characters are likable. I wonder about the actress Sammi Davis, who played the older sister. She never did much after this movie and I thought she was good.

About a Boy I try to watch this movie whenever it’s on cable. It’s based on a book by Nick Hornby, who wrote High Fidelity. I liked how Hugh Grant’s character, who was always looking inward, learned to reach out.

Magic: A 1978 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as a ventriloquist over the edge. Directed by Richard Attenborogh and also has Ann-Margeret and Burgess Meredith in it. The scenes with Hopkins and the dummy talking back and forth are worth seeing, especially since it’s also Hopkins whose doing the voice of the dummy. He doesn’t do a good American accent though.

Damien: The Omen II: Sequel to The Omen. As as a sequel, it’s not that bad. It takes place seven years after the first movie. Damien is now twelve, going to a military academy, living with his billionaire uncle, and is about to find out his destiny. It has some really good scenes, and also some very corny deaths. The death of the guy who plays Anthony on “Designing Women” is amusing, though.

Equus: This movie got a few Academy Award nominations in it’s day, but now I don’t know anybody who knows this movie. It stars Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and it’s about this boy who blinded some horses with a metal spike. Burton is a child psychiatrist and he unravels the mystery. Based on the play by Peter Schaffer.

Cable Guy.
I guess many people went to see it and expected a Jim Carrey flick, like Ace Ventura (which sucked) or Mask (which didn’t).
In any way, a typical Jim Carrey flick is not what they got. Matt Broderick is brilliant as the straight guy, living a very normal middle class life, which is invaded and taken over by a lunatic. This could easily have been made into a horror movie - all the stock elements are there to make Carrey’s character into a deranged serial killer. Instead, he comes off as a deeply tragic character. It’s a kind of journey into the heart of darkness and what evil lurks in the hearts of men. I view it as a metaphor where Broderick’s character is struggling with his inner, dark self, compassing all the slimey features of a the human male, which we normally lock up and don’t think about, but there a certainly more ways to interpret it. Stellar performance by Carrey, who is his own, rubber-faced goofy self, but manages to convey something quite malign at the same time.

Give it another try and try to see it as something less obvious than a Jim Carrey vehicle.

Stand By Me, very few people [that I know] seem to have seen or heard of this delightful flick.

Three-Cornered Moon (1933), one of the most brilliant, witty and likable screwball comedies of the '30s, and totally forgotten today. Amazing cast, great script and direction, short, snappy running time. Somehow, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, My Man Godfrey, et al, have been lionized as classics, but this gem has fallen through the cracks.

Ball of Fire, a movie I’ve been hunting for on DVD for a reasonable price for quite a long time now. Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses, and I love her in comedies. The professors are lovely and the scene where they sing “Sweet Genevieve” still makes me tear up a little.

Benny & Joon is an off-kilter little comedy/romance. I’m still surprised when I run into people who have never seen it; I’ve heard it referred to as a classic chick-flick. I tend to think it’s something everyone should see, if at least for Johnny Depp doing some great Buster Keaton comedy.

There is a water-ice stand near my home, and for some reason the “vanilla” is called “yum-yum.” Every time I order it, I expect to be kissed by Barbara Stanwyck.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai: A slow walk of a movie, but one that should be seen. A great cast, and a brilliant script that smooshes two genre’s together in a way that I had never seen before this film. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, who also directed my worst film of all time, and the movie that made me form an irrational hatred of Johnny Depp: Dead Man. shudder

Permanent Midnight: One of the most hardcore, realistic junkie movies ever made. Ben Stiller plays TV writer Jerry Stahl, who had a heroin “habit the size of Utah.” It shys away from the visual effects of Reqeium for a Dream and Trainspotting, and shows us from an outside point of view just what heroin can do. The first time I watched this movie, I turned it off during a pivotal scene just because the emotional weight of it was too much. I finished it about a month later. Rough film, but a good one.

The Snapper
As I understand it, this was originally made for television by the BBC, but it was shown theatrically in the US. It’s about a working-class Irish family dealing with the unwed pregnancy of their eldest daughter. I actually saw it “by accident,” since the movie we’d come to see had sold out, but it instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s very direct, unromanticized, and really, really, funny. And the leads, Tina Kellegher as the daughter and Colm Meaney as the father, give just amazing performances.

By the end, you’re rooting for everyone to come out okay, not in the traditional movie sense because “that’s the way things are supposed to happen in movies,” but because you really feel that you’ve gotten to know the characters and have stake in what happens to them. I saw Roddy Doyle (the screenwriter and author of the book it was based on) at a book signing, and he described his Barrytown books as examples of a “dysfunctional family who somehow ended up being successful.” That’s the best way to describe it.


A dark, paranoid and completely absorbing politcal thriller.

Deathwatch (aka Le More en Direct), a science fiction film based on D.G. Compton’s The Continuous Katherine Mortonhoe. It starred Harvey Keitel as a man who has a camera implanted in his eye in order to telecast a woman’s death. Keitel was, as always, great. I don’t think the film ever got any distribution; I only saw it because Compton’s agent brought it to a science fiction convention and practically ordered people to see it. One of the best SF films I’ve seen.

The Well – Obscure little programmer from the early 50s with a cast of mostly unknowns (other than a young Harry Morgan in a small role). But a very early plea about race relations in America. A white girl disappears and a black man is blamed. Everything escalates until it almost goes too far. About 15 years ahead of its time.

Carney – Nice movie about life in a sideshow with Jody Foster running away to join the circus. Good role for Robby Robertson, Gary Busey, and – most memorably – Meg Foster

Resurrection – A truly great film, starring Ellen Bursteyn as a woman who goes through a near-deat experience and discovers she has the power to cure others with a touch. A sad vision that’s redeemed by its final scene, one of the most beautiful emotional moments ever put onto film.

Gallipoli – A great war film, probably the best about WWI. Starring a very young Mel Gibson.

Heartland – A realistic look at the difficulty of taming America – in this case, the story of farmers in the Dakotas. One of the few movies worthy of Conchata Ferrell’s talent (she is a fine actress, but has been scandalously wasted in Hollywood).

Stevie – a biographical film about poet Stevie Smith, one of Britains top 20th century poets. It concentrates on her poetry more than her life and is just fascinating.

Comfort and Joy – one of several delights from Bill Forsyth, this one is about a vicious rivalry between two families whose business is to operate ice cream trucks. It’s a shame he didn’t direct more films; he was great a showing groups of quirky characters.

Days of Heaven – One of the most beautiful films ever made. It’s about the harvest and life on a farm in the midwest in 1913 or so, and starred Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, and the superb Linda Manz, who vanished from the screen afterwards, alas.

Medium Cool – Haskell Wexler’s commentary on TV culture, shot at and around the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Just plain brilliant.

Though I think it was modestly successful at its release, very few people I’ve known have seen The In-laws (1979). Features some brilliant absurdist comedy and great chemistry between Alan Arkin and Peter Faulk.

For some reason The King of Comedy remains an obscure title, even among Scorcese fans. Robert DeNiro did some interesting work with the nebbish lead character, including a respectable stand-up comedy bit at the film’s conclusion. It had commentary about fame and fan obsession without forcing its “message” on the audience.

The Unbelievable Truth: Hal Hartley’s first feature, and criminally underrated even by Hartley fans. A very simple, basic story, delightfully told, thoroughly charming.

Apartment Zero: A creepy psychological/political thriller set in Argentina, starring Colin Firth as a neurotic Anglo-Argentinian who takes in a mysterious American flatmate. It got absolutely fantastic reviews and yet nobody seems to remember it :mad:

When Brendan Met Trudy: An Irish romantic comedy, many times better than I had expected. I guarantee you’ve never seen a “happy ending” like this one.

I can say with a straight face that, IMO, The Stoned Age is the greatest film ever made. It’s my Citizen Kane, my Godfather, my Shawshank Redemption if you will. Those are all great films but none of them compare to Hubbs and Joe, ridin’ around Torrence, trying to get drunk stoned and laid.

Really? That one was pretty popular and loved among people I’ve known. It might be an American thing.