If you hadn’t noticed: it’s list season.
And while I don’t believe in lists-for-the-sake-of-lists, I’ve been meaning to put together a list of the films that I think more people deserve to a) see and b) see with an open mind. I am not calling them “underrated,” as I find that underrated usually denotes something is loved by audiences and hated by critics.
I tried to follow some rules with these films, avoiding ones that a) received Academy Awards b) were major box office hits c) were critically acclaimed and d) regularly show up on “underrated films” lists. The last category is why I did not include The Mist, which avoids the first three categories but has become a meme online, showing up every time someone asks “what’s a good underrated film?”
Here they are. The “under-appreciated” movies that I think you should see and that, chances are, you haven’t seen:
I don’t know anyone who has seen this, aside from the people in the theater with me when I saw it. I’m not saying this is a perfect movie, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to watch an innovative horror film that keeps the stress levels rising the entire time. The innovation is that the entire story is told on one laptop screen, moving between group chats and Facebook posts and YouTube videos as the horror unfolds.
It’s the first time I saw the horror of an ellipsis conveyed onscreen, and it’s terrifying. It also made me very, very glad that my high school days are far behind me.
The premise has potential to be dumb: a guy has a doppelganger who isn’t his twin. But it’s executed perfectly, with nightmarish visions, a claustrophobic setting and two brilliant performances by Jake Gylenhaal as the identical men whose lives intersect.
A beautiful documentary about wheelchair rugby, from the perspective of the men who play it, their friends and families and fans and enemies. It sounds depressing or boring. It’s a masterpiece.
Not to be confused with Moneyball.
I Heart Huckabees (2004)
I recall this film being a big deal when it came out, but it apparently cost $20 million to make and made $20.1 million at the box office, while receiving mixed reviews. Plus, it seems like no one I know has seen it.
This might be the least discussed and least viewed of David O. Russell’s films. He’s the guy who has recently made Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle and Joy. Meanwhile, Huckabees is forgotten, despite being made by this award-winning direction and having a great script and solid cast including Jason Schwarztman, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Jude Law, Naomi Watts and Lily Tomlin. It’s worth the watch, especially for the thought-provoking family dinner argument during which Jonah Hill non-rhetorically asks, repeatedly: “What happens in a meadow at dusk?”
The Invention of Lying (2009)
It’s not a surprise this film didn’t do well. It came out during the rise of the Tea Party and its entire premise is that Ricky Gervais’s character accidentally invents religion by inventing lies.
It’s worth seeing, both for the irreverent humor and the strange parable that the story gradually evolves into as it goes down the same path previously traveled by Life of Brian.
Layer Cake (2004)
Daniel Craig before he was James Bond. Craig plays a cocaine dealer in London who is a much nicer man than Bond and who gets involved in some bad things that don’t go well, including kidnapping and murder.
The Visit (2015)
A limited perspective and an eerie story with a predictable but disturbing twist, reminiscent of both Polanski and Hitchcock. This is certainly what M. Night Shyamalan wishes people said about his films. It’s also what no one would say about anything he’s made since 2002, until The Visit.
It’s also very funny.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)
This movie has no business being as good as it is. But it is that good. See it.
Infernal Affairs (2002)
I’ve written about this before, but it’s the Hong Kong film you need to see if you like The Departed, because it is The Departed. I’m not saying The Departed is bad or unworthy of its acclaim and success. I’m just saying: see Infernal Affairs also.
Death to Smoochy (2002)
I was surprised that, in the wake of Robin Williams’s suicide, more people weren’t talking about this as being his best performance. I realized that it was because not enough people have seen this bizarre, dark nugget from the early oughts, which feels like a bad dream one would have after being forced to watch Barney for hours. Also, Edward Norton and Danny DeVito. (Also, note that if you are looking for dark Robin Williams performances, this came during the same phase that he made One Hour Photo and Insomnia).
28 Weeks Later (2007)
There’s something beautiful about the horror sequel. It can work within an established world, with an established villain, but push the story to new innovations and ideas. Obviously, sometimes this doesn’t work (take a look at the Halloween or Friday the 13th or Scream or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises for examples of it not working), but other times it works and it works well, as in this case. 28 Weeks Later is just as innovative as 28 Days Later, continuing to bring fresh ideas to a tired genre.
Need more convincing? 28 Weeks Later features great performances by the then-relatively-unknowns Jeremy Renner and Idris Elba.
The ultimate time travel paradox film. If you think you don’t need another time travel paradox film, watch Timecrimes anyway.
Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
This might be the forgotten installment of the Fast and Furious films because of its loose and strange connection to the others, but it’s a) the most self-contained film in the franchise b) introduces the franchise’s best character, Han Seoul-Oh and c) is the first film in the franchise by Justin Lin of True Detective and Community and the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. It’s a genuinely entertaining film that can also be enjoyed entirely separately from the rest of the Fast/Furious franchise.
If you’re on the fence about watching it, I describe it as Lost in Translation but with fast cars instead of inaudible dialogue.
Café de Flore (2011)
Have you heard of Jean-Marc Vallée? Perhaps not, but you’ve certainly heard of his two most recent films: Wild and Dallas Buyers Club. Whether you saw those or not, you owe it to yourself to see Café de Flore, his non-linear narrative of love and death and family. It’s a beautiful film with great performances, a memorable story, and a phenomenal soundtrack that is perfectly blended into the film.
Top Five (2014)
I cannot understand why this film received the reviews and audience reactions it did, other than that it fails to follow the tropes and expectations we demand from our films. The best description I can give of it is that Chris Rock made a Woody Allen film. And a good Woody Allen film, in the realm of Annie Hall and Blue Jasmine. I think it’s my favorite film of the last several years, and it’s disappointing to see it getting such little recognition.
That’s the list. Sure, some are better than others, but if it’s on this list, it’s because I think it deserves more of an audience and appreciation than it has received.