By Brian Volke
This isn’t a list of the most underrated movies ever. I’ll save that for another time. This is a list of films that have been praised in certain circles but never have stood out because either the director has other work that is considered stronger or it came out during a year where other movies soaked up more of the attention. Here we go:
10) “Big Trouble in Little China” Directed by John Carpenter
Long before Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Tarantino’s Kill Bill graced movie screens came this eastern inspired bit of fantasy from the legendary director of Halloween. It was a box office disappointment at the time but has since found a devoted group of cult followers. You’ll rarely see a film that combines so many elements from other films and contains as much originality and action as this little gem. Kurt Russell also turns in his funniest performance ever as Jack Burton. It’s hard to put this in a genre because it’s so original and different. I guess it would be an eastern inspired science fiction Kung-Fu Western comedy.
9) “Road To Perdition” Directed by Sam Mendes
I think Oscar voters were just getting tired of seeing Tom Hanks films get so much attention but Road To Perdition is an incredible film. The cinematography won the Oscar and rightly so. The film oozes authenticity with spot on period detail. However, that’s just the backdrop to a beautiful film about how a father’s devotion to his son can be both wonderful (as in Tom Hanks’ character) and destructive (as in Paul Newman’s character). If you’ve never seen it, add it to your Netflix Queue.
8) “Blow Out” Directed by Brian De Palma
Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission Impossible are some of the first films that come to mind when thinking of Brian DePalma but Blow Out is the finest film he’s ever done. The performances by both John Travolta and Nancy Allen are excellent, the suspense builds and builds to the amazing climax, and DePalma’s use of sound as well as the incredible camera work throughout are first rate.
7) “I Vitteloni” Directed by Federico Fellini
Fellini has a body of work that other directors would dream to have: The heartfelt “La Strada”, the beautiful “La Dolce Vita”, and the mesmerizing “8 ½.” So, it’s normal that most people would gravitate to his most well known work because it is amazing. However, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you missed “I Vitteloni.” It’s every bit as good as his surrealistic works and was a major influence on all male ensemble pieces done afterward. As a side note, this is Stanley Kubrick’s favorite film of all time. If that’s not praise, I don’t know what is.
6) “Casino” Directed by Martin Scorsese
I can understand why many critics and viewers dismissed Casino when it came out. It was a reaction of “Here we go again: another Scorsese movie with Deniro and Pesci. Been there, done that.” But, to dismiss it simply because he used the same actors and genre again would be doing it a disservice. Goodfellas was a crime epic about a young man’s dream to make it in the world of organized crime and how they were a family. Casino’s story is one of utter distrust and paranoia of everyone and everything including one’s own family. The technical wizardry of the camera is better than any other Scorsese effort. We get to know the surrounding of Las Vegas in a very personal way by the time the film is over and with an understanding that money and power can buy you almost anything…almost.
5) “THX 1138” Directed by George Lucas
Before George Lucas was the multi-bllionaire creator of Star Wars, he created a student film at USC film school called “THX 1138” as a short. His close friend Francis Ford Coppola saw it, loved it, and gave him the financing to create it as a feature length movie and the results are amazing. His use of camera, his vision for the future, and a potent story packed with metaphors all come together to create one of the great science fiction films of all time.
4) “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” Directed by Terry Gilliam
My brother hates this film. It’s a normal reaction that is warranted and I understand. It’s not the kind of movie that unites people together but tends to separate viewers into the “Love it or hate” variety. For those that love extreme film making that pushes your sense to the edge, Terry Gilliam delivers. The scenes of drug users, their paranoia, and the limited world they inhabit was clearly a labor of love for all involved and it’s my favorite Gilliam film not named “Brazil.”
3) “Ikiru” Directed by Akira Kurosawa
The king of the Japanese samurai films also had a soft side and shows it here with an amazing story of a man diagnosed with terminal cancer who decides it’s never to late to leave your mark on the world. This movie really moved me and I not only consider it one of Kurosawa’s best but one of the greatest films ever made at showing the power of the human spirit.
2) “Eyes Wide Shut” Directed by Stanley Kubrick
I remember when this film came out, the majority of the attention was focused on Cruise and Kidman, who were married at the time, and how their off screen life affected the film. At the time, Stanley Kubrick had not made a film in 12 years and had been largely forgotten by mainstream audiences. Audience reaction was mixed at best and it was thought of as an inferior entry in a stellar career and I couldn’t disagree more. The visuals in Eyes Wide Shut are some that will stay with me all my life. The look of it, the interaction between the characters, and the pacing are unforgettable. I’ll never think of this as anything but the masterpiece that it is.
1) “Blade Runner” Directed by Ridley Scott
Nowadays, Blade Runner is thought of in much higher regard and with more appreciation than when it was released back in 1982. It grossed a “mere” 30 million dollars and was largely panned by critics despite the high star power of Harrison Ford attached. I supposed at the time most viewers saw Harrison Ford in a science fiction film and thought it would be another space opera like Star Wars and instead they got a slower paced film noir detective story. It took years to find its audience but even today when you think of Ridley Scott, Gladiator, Alien, and Robin Hood may come to mind but none of them can hold a candle to what he accomplished with Blade runner. It’s the greatest film he ever made.