Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Underrated Films

Discovering a truly underrated film today is harder than you think. The rise of video, DVD, the internet and niche film sites has got to the point where your average underrated film can slip easily into the mainstream. Traditional cult films like The Hudsucker Proxy and Dark City now enjoy widespread recognition. The release of little known classics on DVD means fewer films are forgotten due to their unavailability. But despite the expansion of film appreciation, there are still big holes in the critical consensus.

I consider the films on this list - ranging from little known cult films to recent blockbusters - to be the least widely recognised films in contemporary film criticism. What they share is an unjust critical response on release and a recognition today that is marginal at best. Yet each film offers a unique cinematic experience and one worthy of canonisation. Such underrated films are not only genuine rediscoveries but also symptomatic of the limits in contemporary critical thinking.

1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch)

Criticised for its radical tonal difference to the popular TV series, Fire Walk With Me actually represents Lynch's most original and harrowing film to date.

2. The Lord of the Rings (Ralph Bakshi)

Almost universally hated, this is in fact one of the most visionary and haunting animations ever made. Legendary director Ralph Bakshi captured more of Tolkein's gravitas and Middle Earth's strangeness than Jackson's uninspired trilogy ever did.

3. Night of the Comet (Thom Eberhardt)

This 80s apocalyptic cult film leaves Los Angeles to a group of teenagers and some crazed zombies. Of course, the end of the world is really just an excuse to go shopping. If ever there was a film which directly evoked the utopian excess of the 80s this is it.

4. Sunshine (Danny Boyle)

One of the most sublime experiences to be had at the cinema yet Boyle's gorgeous sci-fi epic received tepid reviews on release and a mixed response from audiences.

5. Speed Racer (Wachowski Brothers)

Truly a feast for the eyes, this is surface spectacle at its purest. Critics who panned it for CGI overload kind of missed the point.

6. War of the Worlds (Steven Spielberg)

The best film to deal with September 11 on the level of pure affect, Spielberg's intense alien invasion blockbuster combines a searing sense of iconography with a relentless intensity. Yet audience response was mixed and critics largely unimpressed. See my defense of the film here.

7. Blindness (Fernando Meirelles)

Inspiring inexplicably hateful reviews, this much slammed adaptation of Jose Saramago's novel is actually Meirelles' best film and one of the most politically radical films of the year.

8.Primer (Shane Carruth)

Made on a budget of $10,000, this little seen indie gem is one of the best time travel films ever made. Carruth's script lends an ingenious twist to the time travel paradox, such that enjoying Primer is like enjoying the infinite convolutions of a math's problem (that's a good thing).

9. In the Comfort of Strangers (Paul Schrader)

Adapted from Ian McEwan's novella by Howard Pinter, with cinematography by Dante Spinotti and music by Angelo Badalamenti, this is actually one of Schrader's most complex and haunting films. Christopher Walken has never been better as an aristocratic sado-masochist.

10. Dark Passage (Delmer Daves)

This noir is perhaps the most appreciated of all the films on the list yet the critical consensus still regards it as the worst of the Bogey-Bacall pairings. It is in fact a terrifically strange and surreal journey with a far more original aesthetic than critics recognise.

I'll be posting pieces defending each film over the next several weeks but feel free to use the comment section below to discuss the films above or list any other films you consider underrated.

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Blogger Oli Sartor said...

Ok so according to me these films are underrated but it may just be that, due some personality quirk, these are films that noone else likes but me:

1. Dumb and Dumber: I think this was jim carey's best comic performance along with Ace Ventura Pet Detective 1. Although ostensibly done in the Farrelly Brother's gross out comdey style, the film's narrative is very organically driven by the characters and I'd even go so far as to suggest that it could be described as classic screen-writing for character-driven comedy.

2. Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls! It's every bit as funny as the first but it get's ignored buecause it wasn't the first one. "The circle of death? Funny, that just happens to be my specialty!"

3. No Way Out. A very underrated political thriller. It evokes genuine terror in a way I have not experienced from a political thriller. It's unique I think in the way it refracts the power of the state and political office in upon itself and this becomes a kind of latent but very effective source of dramatic tension. the sense of corruption imbued by this film therefore transcends the vices of any individual evildoer which is very refreshing for this genre.

4. The Bank Job - Not the most exciting film ever, but a very adept account of the true story of the theft by accident of the safety deposit boxes of Lloyds Bank in London which almost brought down the royal family. I saw this on a plane last year but since then have not heard anything about it's release. This film disappeared without a f*&king trace! It deserved better than that! Maybe the royals got onto it?

5. Big Mama's House. ...Just kidding, I don't think this was a good movie.

6. Nil By Mouth. Gary Oldmans directorial debut - an genuinely brutally realistic film about what life is like as an alcoholic. I have not seen seen a film so honest about alcoholism or drug addiction - regardless of people say about movies like Basketball Diaries or Trainspotting, they suck Gary's balls in the realism stakes.

7:37 PM  
Blogger David Marin-Guzman said...

Cool list. I've really got to check out No Way Out again. Saw it when I was too young to understand it but people constantly recommend it to me.

p.s. i reckon 'films you like but no one else does' is the perfect way to spot an underrated film! The best underrated film is the one that makes you realise your isolation from the broader consensus but in an almost inexplicable way. The moment should provoke a genunine state of mystification, a 'what the fuck, why isn't this more popular' response.

8:57 PM  
Blogger David Marin-Guzman said...

Ah I forgot! Don't Mess With The Zohan - one of the most underrated comedies from last year!

9:16 PM  
Blogger Oli Sartor said...

Amen to the Zohan!

7:34 PM  

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