Top 10 Underrated Films
Have you ever had that feeling you have when you love something so much, and see it for everything it’s worth, and yet the world does not join you? When you feel so alone in your unbridled adoration of overlooked art, that you almost feel sorry for the masses of ignorant passers by, bumbling though their lives without understanding or sharing your joy? All of them living a half-fat, full-vanilla existence, unburdened by the intense excitement and fulfillment of your superior knowledge?
Yeah, we do too. Feels good.
Red Rock West
(John Dahl 1993)
The history of genre is one of ebb and flow; genres react and interact with their time. Inevitably then some eras suit them and some don’t, meaning genres survive on the whim of fashion. Some of the most resilient genres, such as horror, adapt internally (the atomic monsters of the 50s, in the individualistic slashers of the 80s, the globalised gore of j-horror in the 90s), while some genres, like westerns, either hibernate and reappear now and then to remind us of their worth (maybe it’s a quality over quantity ethic… look at how few westerns have been made since the turn of the century but look how good those few have been) or dress themselves in the clothes of a different genre.
Noir falls squarely in the second camp, the Coen brothers have done a fine job of keeping it relevant, but it has suffered even more than the western from hiding itself behind the guise of more popular genres, particularly sci-fi (The Matrix, Brazil, Blade Runner, Dark City). John Dahl’s first three films had no such desire to hide their origins… they are unashamed noirs, with none of this ‘neo’ rubbish. Although The Last Seduction often gets the plaudits, therefore allowing his second, but superior film Red Rock West to slip into underrated territory.
It’s got mistaken identity, stolen money, hitmen (Dennis Hopper snarling… always snarling), a femme fatale, wonderful dark and dusty cinematography accentuating the primal threat of the desert locations, Nicholas Cage at his greaser best and one of recent cinemas most reliable actors, the late J.T. Walsh. It’s a little twistier than Blood Simple and far more demented than The Last Seduction (take a bow Mr. Hopper), has more sense of its absurdity than The Man Who Wasn’t There and far closer to the genre’s heart than One False Move.
Trust me – watch it it’ll make you want to pretend to be a contract killer so you can run off with the money in no time.
(George Romero 1981)
Knightriders is Romero’s Straight Story, and by that I mean the one film in a directors back catalogue that stands out because of its total departure in theme, style or a little bit of both. They’re not uncommon, Scorsese has Hugo, Carpenter has Starman (which just missed the cut). For a man who had made a career out of grand political and social statements in the horror genre Knightriders is a beautiful anomaly set at the meeting points of strange subcultures, one very American and one very British. In a nutshell it’s about a travelling troupe of motorcycle riding Arthurian recreationists and the very specific nature of this world leads me to believe it was very much a project close to Romero’s heart, one that he couldn’t achieve with stumbling corpses. But what sets it apart the most is it’s odd melancholy nature. Ed Harris is as ever superb longing for lost loves, lost potential and the promise of a world that might have never existed in the first place.
(Gregory Hoblit 2000)
Talking of anomalies, this is the inevitable ‘touching, heartfelt, feel good-we’re not all hate filled, pessimistic, doom mongers here at Anti/Type’ contribution to the list. A film where you can ignore the usual gaping plot holes torn into the fabric of reality that time-travel films always create and instead sprawl back on the sofa and lap-up a ridiculously enjoyable helping of underrated Hollywood fare.
Don’t believe me….how’s about this then….a homicide detective (Caviezel) discovers he can contact his father (Quaid), a fireman who died warehouse fire 30 years before, through the radio transmitter he once owned. Cue 2 hours of ‘jeez-i’ve-got-some-grit-in-my-eye’ father, son adventure and reconciliation, mixed in with a gripping murder-thriller, the expected time travel continuity shenanigans and a diabetes inducing happy ending. That’s it, clear that shit off the sofa and get yourself comfortable.
(Juan Carlos Fresnadillo 2001)
The thing about Intacto is that it seems (like nearly all movies) to take so much from previous works; but with it you can never quite put your finger on what they are. It’s influences seem obscured, a bit like navigating a coastline in dense fog. Here and there you get a glimpse of Lynch or noir, maybe a touch of Eco or Borges, but never enough to feel you can safely land at a conclusion at what strikes you as so familiar about a film that is so unfamiliar. The plot is uncommon, it is about luck or to be more specific, about those who can steal luck , but in a wider sense it is also a mystery film presented in a way that is familiar to anyone who has seen David Mamet’s early films, Homicide for example. It’s all about sleight of hand and obfuscation, the ability to make the viewer so entangled in the film that they almost feel complicit…well with any luck you will.
(Russell Mulcahy 1994)
In 2010, Alec Baldwin came out and said this. “I consider my entire movie career a complete failure” That really hurt, Alec. You made The Shadow. Don’t you dare forget that.
Long mooted for a reboot, 94’s The Shadow seems to have been lost in the collective memory of roughly everyone who has seen it. So a good starting point for a cult following, no?
No. Apparently not.
It’s amazing how little appreciation this film has. When asked by an underwhelmed newcomer what exactly was good about the film, Anti/Type responded as follows:
1. Looks beautiful, has some great shots 2. Well acted, Baldwin is super cool (super cool) 3. Great action sequences, and climactic invisible-building-siege set piece 4. Huge, dark, foreboding, but family friendly sense of atmosphere, but… 5. … also, actually very funny 6. Incredible music (Don’t deny this! You can’t deny this!)
Seriously people, what more do you want from a blockbuster action thriller? A villain related to Ghengis Khan? A dagger that can bite you? A colourblind Ian McKellen? Oh wait, it has all that too.
And what about Glengarry Glen Ross?! Forgot about that one too, didn’t you Baldwin?!
(Brian DePalma 1981)
Blow Out , not to be confused with another excellent and possibly also underrated Blow Up, is possibly Brian De Palma’s finest moment. There have been a lot of accusations hurled at De Palma over the years from comparison to Hitchcock, all the way to outright misogyny. This is perhaps why (unfairly) he is missed out when we talk of master directors. We often hear Scorsese or Coppola, but De Palma much less frequently. Blow Out is one example of why his name should be hitting the top ten.
It is an intelligent, pressure cooker of a film with elements of ‘analogue style’ espionage and Giallo-like paranoid horror. This combined with a great performance from John Travolta (back then an actor easily in league with the Pacino/De Niro calibre) and a host of amazing support (Nancy Allen, John Lithgow) makes for a tight hour and forty-seven minutes. People also forget what an experimental director De Palma was in the early days (see Greetings, Sisters, Hi, Mom! and Obsession for just a few). Here we see an extraordinary use of split-screen utilized to amazing artistic effect and along side it, the element of sound taking on a life of its own. More recent efforts such as Berberian Sound Studio and all of Tarantino’s early work owe a debt to De Palma’s pioneering film style and in particular, to this film. Greatest performance by an owl in movie history, too!
Conan the Barbarian
(John Milius 1982)
Right, let me say this upfront. My love of Conan isn’t some fanboyish crush, it isn’t some ‘I know it’s not that good, but I really like it’ ethos… I genuinely believe that Conan the Barbarian is a misunderstood and criminally ignored masterpiece. There, I said it… and you know what I’m not ashamed, so screw you guys.
Conan is the film version of all those unashamedly heroic works of art, like Wagner, or Walter Scott, or a Boris Vallejo painting. Milus’s Nietzchein superman obsession is unnervingly comfortable within the sweeping vistas, the marvelously designed sets (yes sets… no CG here folks), the simplistic cult as religion as politics worldmaking, Basil Poledouris’s chest beating score, Schwarzenegger’s ridiculous physique and the action… still the best scenes of sword/axe/hammer combat slashing/cutting/bludgeoning their way onto celluloid… the term bone crunching gives the idea that bones last long enough to crunch in these fight scenes. If this film was a person it’d be a rambling psychopath living in a canyon on vulture blood, it’s action as plot and character and dialogue, it’s a silent movie with sound, it’s David Lean doing David Gemmell… trust us, it’s fuckin’ biblical.
Quantum of Solace
(Marc Forster 2008)
Skyfall, Skyfall, Skyfall. Stop telling me how good Skyfall is everyone! I mean, it’s good, yes. It’s fine. But its one liners and re-establishment of old tropes all feels a little stately coming off the back of the lean, mean killing machine best known as Quantum of Solace. Of course, that’s not true; Solace is primarily known as the one everyone seems a bit embarrassed by. The first actual sequel in Bond’s history builds on a plot that is stopped dead by Skyfall‘s short term memory, and even Daniel Craig and the Bond producers have subsequently spoken against it. You can’t help but feel a little sorry for Marc Forster.
It’s imperfect, yes, and it’s not much of a Bond film, I’ll give you that. From the sound design over the opening shots, to the general lack of gadgets, to it’s boldly stylised opera sequence – it’s more like a really stylish Bourne movie, in a lot of ways. It’s like Jason Bourne woke up one morning, realised he had the face of Matt Damon and decided he was going to flirt with everyone all day.
Of course, it’s not as good as Casino Royale. Everyone knows that, though, right?
(Nimród Antal 2003)
Creating a hermetically sealed world is a tricky thing to sustain in cinema, the plot may sag (Carnage) or the characters may grate (Cube), but it can be worth the risk to conjure up a truly meaty atmosphere, and a world that can support its own physical laws, allowing for particularly memorable and singular visions (any Lynch film lives in Lynch world, wherever it goes). Kontroll is sealed within the sprawling phantasmagoria of the Budapest underground rail network and if anything at times it barely seems to fit all its ideas in the tunnels, on the tracks and in the cramped offices of the main protagonists, the ticket inspectors.
Part murder mystery, part romance, part comedy, part thriller, part horror, part sci-fi, part psychological character piece, part hallucinogenic wrong-footing everything. Like other brilliant perversions of reality such as Lars Von Trier’s Kingdom or Gilliam’s Brazil it comes across as one of those films that has ‘borrowed’ from a shed load of other sources but simultaneously seems to be all of its own making.
(Géla Babluani 2005)
I watched this in a pretty much empty cinema probably on a Tuesday night, and toward the end of the film there was one thing that i remember vividly… people were laughing. Now 13 isn’t a comedy and they certainly weren’t laughing because it’s bad, they were laughing because it’s so unbelievably tense there is little else you can do to relieve the pressure building up in your head. The film follows a young Georgian man as he mistakenly becomes embroiled in an underground gambling scene that has swapped blackjack for Russian Roulette. So it’s like the end of The Deer Hunter for an hour and half, in black and white.
Yes, it’s that good.