Disclaimer One: the idea for this post was absolutely sparked by listening to The Watchlist podcast (#3 ‘Ooh’) and three of those young people types talking about overrated/ underrated movies. (One of whom has a film blog as well at https://fivethreeninety.wordpress.com
The podcast and the blog are both worth checking out, even while reminding me I’m inching closer to my grave every day and these young folks and their new-fangled views are likely to end up assigning us old gits with our silent movies and VHS recorders to the scrap heap.
So, due to shoulder surgery and novel rewrites it’s been a long time since I’ve written here, and given I’m still gimp typing this may be a bit shorter than usual (praise the lord), but here goes…
I originally thought about doing this as an overrated/ underrated by genre: so why I think A Midnight Clear is a better film than Saving Private Ryan, and After Hours is waaaay higher in my ranking than The Big Lebowski, but then I thought, why shit on stuff. (Other than the fact it’s fun), so instead as a broad guideline, all of these films currently rate lower than 8.0 on IMDB…(I did consider Rotten Tomatoes but they’re all pretty well rated, so this is under-seen rather than underrated I suppose.)
In no particular order then…
Angel Heart: Alan Parker’s 1987 Noir thriller starring Mickey Rourke and the second film I ever reviewed in a semi-professional capacity (ie for my university newspaper). A film I had to go for a pint for immediately after seeing just to try and take in. A film that saw Mickey Rourke at his sweaty, downtrodden best, Lisa Bonet breaking her good girl Cosby Show image into a thousand gorgeous little pieces. A film that was ruined by critics’ lazy shorthand description of it which effectively blew the ending. If you haven’t seen it, avoid all reviews and go in cold and marvel at Parker’s take on the P.I. story of Harry Angel, hired to track down missing crooner Johnny Favorite from post-war winter New York to steamy New Orleans. Between Michael Seresin’s cinematography, Parker’s screenplay based on William Hjortsberg’s novel, Trevor Jones’ haunting score (with a never-better Courtney Pine’s mournful sax), and Rourke, Bonet and Robert De Niro in perfect performances). It barely made its budget back at the box office, and critics dumped on it at the time, but it remains one of the most evocative and atmospheric films of the ‘80s.
Birdy: Ok, a slight order: another Alan Parker film – the immediate predecessor to Angel Heart, released in 1984, Birdy is one of the greatest friendship movies ever made. Matthew Modine plays the titular Birdy, shipped home and locked up in a mental institution: shell-shocked and unresponsive. Nicholas Cage plays Al Columbato – himself facially disfigured from war injuries trying to coax him out of his fugue state before it’s too late and the electro-shock treatment starts. And so we see their history growing up as teens in ’60’s New York, Birdy obsessed with the feathered creatures and, even more so, a desire to fly. A funny, nostalgic coming of age story, it’s deeply touching and draws you into what looks increasingly like an inevitable finale…a finale which, for the only time in my cinema-going history made me physically stand up and applaud. (Cannes eat your heart out: it worked at Tyneside Cinema back in the early ‘80s as well.) And if you ever doubt Nicholas Cage is a fine actor as he ploughs his way through another DTV shlock-piece, just go back to Birdy…
Diner: Barry Levinson might be best known for directing Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam or Sleepers, but he’s never been better than 1982’s Diner. The little movie that could, it was all but shunted from release until Pauline Kael championed it. Part of the Baltimore trilogy which was made up of this, Tin Men and Baltimore Heights, Diner is a talky. A real, old, honest to goodness talkie. There’s not a whole lot of action in the story of a group of college-age buddies getting back together in their home town for one of their number’s potential upcoming wedding (if the bride passes ‘the test’). At first glance it’s a ‘man’s film’ – the only real female part in the movie being Ellen Barkin…but what a part. It’s about growing up, about learning what responsibility means – when suddenly, life was more than French fries, gravy and girls (as the tag line went): a 1950’s world where the only place that stays the same, the only place these boy-men think they belong is at the Diner, where they talk the same shit they’ve always talked (Who would you make out to Sinatra or Mathis? And if you say Elvis you’re an animal…). The dialogue is some of the best, most natural to ever be put down on screen, but it comes to life because of the performances: a before they were famous ensemble cast of Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenburg, Paul Reiser and Tim Daly. It’s a movie where nothing happens, but everything changes. (Damn, THAT could have been the tag-line).
The Fall – I’ve written about Tarsem Singh’s 2006 impossibly low-budget considering what’s on the screen flick so many times I’m even getting sick of singing its’ praises. What can I say – it was my film of the year in a year that The Prestige, my favourite Christopher Nolan movie was released. So I’ll keep this short, and say, quite simply that this ‘little’ flick about a 1920’s stuntman lying injured in a hospital, spinning his wonderful tale to a little girl with a broken arm about five mythical heroes is, bar none, and not even close, the most visually stunning film I have ever seen. Ever. The fact it reduced me to tears may not say much given what a complete girly-man I am, but I defy you not to watch this and find the room gets dusty.
Kikujiro – Takeshi Kitano may be best known to Western audiences as ‘the Japanese fella’ in the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Johnny Mnemonic or, possibly, Battle Royale but when I was living in Japan he was kicking up a fuss having gone from cuddly prime time comedian presenter to maker of seriously violent fare like Hana-Bi, Violent Cop and Sonatine. So it was a change of pace when he made the 1999 drama-comedy Kikujiro: the story of a low-level Yakuza forced into accompanying a young boy from urban to rural Japan on a quest to find his mother. At heart, it’s a road movie, and it certainly has a lot of heart. It’s slow, almost languid in its approach and all the better for it. Filled with off-beat but lovable characters, and the slow thawing of Kitano’s character’s crotchety old heart the film is a delight from start to finish: by no means the saccharine affair it would no doubt become if it were to be remade by Hollywood, it’s just a warming, beautifully paced tale. If you think all Japanese films are samurai or Jackie Chan then a) you’re an idiot – Jackie Chan isn’t Japanese, b) watch this and get hooked.
Well, there you go: five ‘underrated’ films that spring to mind. Maybe as this withered old appendage of mine slowly gets better I’ll start writing a few more of these things, before the youngsters take over completely.