Saturday, August 16, 2003

This list of underated films is hard to fill, plus it's naturally modern-era biased, but here goes:

Jackie Brown, Unbreakable, Zero Effect, Cable Guy, Clueless, The Conversation, The Quick and the Dead, Major League, Top Secret!, Magnolia, Malcolm X, and Mission: Impossible came to mind during my thinking, and there's likely more, and that's why they're underated. But here's some explanations, and the list order (this is certainly NOT an ALL-TIME list).


Nominated in 1974 along with Francis Ford Coppola's other little film GODFATHER II, this had little chance to emerge out of that year as the standout film it really is. Gene Hackman probably at his all-time best here, as a troubled and psychologically complex loner trying to piece together a conversation from an ambient-noise-heavy tape and drawing his own conclusions step-by-step. Hackman, who now gets by playing stern and sincere, is gloriously downbeat and quirky.


The Academy Awards long said, "Death to Spike Lee" after his comments about racial bias in the wake of DO THE RIGHT THING (which I also considered, but it has gotten its due). Spike Lee himself has endured lots of criticism lately for his experiments-gone-bad like 13th HOUR (which was OK) and SUMMER OF SAM (which was also OK). Denzel Washington is the very definition of incredible in this role. The movie is 3 hours long and like JFK you'll never notice. The Academy Awards didn't notice Spike Lee, but gave the film a nomination, which was lost in the well-deserved UNFORGIVEN hype. But instead of focusing on the fine film, it all became about Lee himself.


One of those Hollywood hits that hardly anyone liked, but because of the fact they were confused, not because they thought the movie was bad. Brian De Palma tries his damnedest to make a stylish blockbuster and he pulls it off, but his mistake was in the reveal-the-bad-guy scene where Tom Cruise, who has figured it out in his head, is trying not to tip his hand to the actual bad guy Jon Voight. That's why movies like ARMAGEDDON steal the number-one movie spot and movies like this get buried over the long haul.


You may notice a certain theme in these lists, and one is the movie that a young director has made AFTER his initial success that unwittingly gets compared too much to the preceding film. Here, Paul Thomas Anderson gets penalized for not making BOOGIE NIGHTS and a typical audience can't see some of the most ingenious and creative filmmaking in years. Tom Cruise in one of his best performances. The movie just keeps chugging towards three hours, and there's never a "slow" scene in the movie bogging it down. It just moves forward until the frog shower.


Amy Heckerling's best film next to FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH is this HIGHLY UNDERATED comedy, which I heard too many people picking on the smallest of things, and basically not getting the point even then. Alicia Silverstone will probably never be in a good movie again, but she's hilarious in this. Another movie that might make the list and it's in the same vein as CLUELESS is 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU.


Buried under the Zucker Brothers' (and Jim Abrahams') catalogue of slapstick parody movies (like AIRPLANE and NAKED GUN) is this Elvis-spy movie which contains some of the best of their jokes. Val Kilmer, who will never be this loose again, who decided to be Iceman in every movie since TOP GUN afterwards (except for THE DOORS), is perfect. This movie could be on at any time and you could pick it up and enjoy.


I admit, when I first watched this I had a hard time liking it because I didn't know if it wanted to be a psychological thriller or a comedy. Well, it's both, and at the same time, which is difficult, which is a credit to Ben Stiller, who made another underated movie REALITY BITES. Here, Matthew Broderick plays the character Ben Stiller would normally play, allowing Jim Carrey to funnily-scarily try to be his friend. If there could be criticism, it's that Jack Black plays the uptight friend of Broderick. I guess the world wasn't ready for the REAL Jack Black at the time.


Quentin Tarantino's love-note to Pam Grier was punished for not being PULP FICTION, and so a typical audience misses an extremely well-crafted story, using Tarantino's trademark time tricks. You also miss Samuel L. Jackson playing a calmly arrogant old hood, and it's one of his best performances because it lacks what he gets by on these days and that's yelling. Robert De Niro hasn't been this good in years.

(time running out, quickly:)

4. ZERO EFFECT (what Jonathan said)

3. UNBREAKABLE (ditto, and M. Night Shymalan is penalized for not making THE SIXTH SENSE)


This is a funny baseball movie that gets overshadowed by a superior film in BULL DURHAM, but this movie is funnier than BULL DURHAM, and Bob Uecker is hilarious as is the rest of the cast. Lots of quotables.


Almost nobody likes Sam Raimi's western and so I have the right to put it here at number one. Nobody likes the style, the tense duels, the going-with-it Gene Hackman, who interviews everyone he's about to fight. Nobody likes pre-TITANIC Leo DiCaprio, deliciously arrogrant. Nobody likes pre-fame Russell Crowe in a supporting role, the bullet that cuts a gaping hole in Keith David's head, the small amount of sun shining through the shadow of Hackman on the ground when he gets shot, the actual parodizing of some Westerns. Most of all, no one likes Sharon Stone, who's always going to be the bisexual leg crosser in BASIC INSTINCT.

So there.


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