Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie Rant: (Fairly Recent) Movies I Think Are Underrated

The Talented Mr. Ripley
I thought this could be a sort of companion piece to the Popular Movies I Dislike list I did last week.

The movies on this list were pretty much all universally acclaimed by critics. But I consider these films underrated because, in talking with other people, I find many either haven't seen them or they've never even heard of them at all.

There are a ton of underrated films out there, from each and every decade. This list will be more "recent" films -- the oldest being from 1984 and the most recent from 2008. Going back through the history of world cinema to find more underrated gems from other decades would be a task and a half -- so, in no particular order, here's a list of fairly recent movies I consider underrated/sadly ignored by the masses nowadays.

(1) The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
In this mostly faithful adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, the late Anthony Minghella directed a moody, atmospheric murder mystery among the sights and sounds of Italy. It feels like an old-fashioned thriller and Matt Damon's restrained, yet perfectly awkward and eerie, performance allows the audience to get lost in the bizarre enigma that is Tom Ripley. I still consider this Damon's best performance.

(2) Amadeus (1984)
The film won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, yet it remains largely forgotten by almost everyone outside of its loyal fan base. Those expecting a straight-forward biography of the brilliant composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, will be disappointed -- however, this visually beautiful film focuses on the myths, the addictions and the jealousy behind the famous Austrian genius' short life. With rich performances (especially by F. Murray Abraham as the jealous Salieri) and an authentically historical atmosphere, Amadeus is an absolutely fascinating look at an artist's dark descent.

(3) Zodiac (2007) 
Everyone loves David Fincher, right? Well, no one seemed all that interested in his masterful recreation of the investigation into the famous 1970s Zodiac murders. The film was a dud at the box office and most people complained about its running time and the slow pace. Granted, it's recommended that you brush up on your knowledge of the case beforehand, but I believe Zodiac will go down as Fincher's most underrated masterpiece. It was ignored and is already largely forgotten, but it's an eerie look at a horrific murder case with wonderful performances (especially by Mark Ruffalo) and a great attention to period detail.

(4) Amelie (2001)
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, it wound up losing in a shocking upset. Incredibly popular upon it's initial release ten years ago, it has since receded into the background. This whimsical gem from France was a breakthrough for star Audrey Tautou but, more importantly, it's that rare film that improves with each viewing. It's more than just a fairy tale love story and it's filled with wonderfully genuine commentary on how people choose to live their lives. It will leave you wishing you could see the world through the eyes of someone like Amelie Poulain.

American Psycho
(5) American Psycho (2000)
You either love it or you hate it. The first time I saw the film I know I missed out on a lot of its dark comedy and commentary on yuppie society of the 1980s. Having re-watched it a couple of times over the years, I realized what a great (albeit understated) adaptation it is of a very complex (and graphic!) Bret Easton Ellis novel. Christian Bale nails his performance as Patrick Bateman, the wealthy New York investment banking executive who slowly loses himself in his perverse and violent fantasies.

(6) Boogie Nights (1997)
This cautionary tale of how a young man went from small town student to a big-time porn star named Dirk Diggler is arguably director P.T. Anderson's best film to date. It's a film that is rarely mentioned anymore, but it's an intimate and often hilarious look at the porn industry of the 1970s and 1980s through the eyes of the famously well-endowed Diggler. Full of wonderful performances in a large ensemble cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman and William H. Macy, Boogie Nights also boasts a killer soundtrack. Anderson has Quentin Tarantino's knack for picking great songs to accompany his films.

(7) In Bruges (2008)
This film debuted in one lonely theatre in Toronto a few years back and, when mentioned, it's usually met with blank stares. Despite the fact that it was critically acclaimed and earned Colin Farrell a Best Actor Golden Globe, it's an under-the-radar film from the U.K. that deserved more attention than it received. Watching the delightfully un-PC hitmen, played by Farrell and Brendon Gleeson, run around the medieval city of Bruges is hilarious, heartwarming and tragic all at once. In Bruges is classified as a dark comedy, but it's so much more than that.

(8) Secretary (2002)
Speaking of small indie films that are often met with blank stares -- Secretary is that fantastic little film that you haven't even heard of, let alone seen. Maggie Gyllenhaal is so perfectly cast as a mentally ill young woman heading back into the workplace that I often continue to associate Gyllenhaal with her character, Lee Holloway. James Spader plays the demanding lawyer that she works for -- and the two ultimately embark on a sexual, sadomasochistic affair. It's a wonderfully bizarre love story.

(9) The New World (2005)
The fact that this is widely considered to be Terrence Malick's weakest film is no insult to the work itself -- it's still a lyrical, poetic ode to man's ever-changing relationship with nature, told through the eyes of 17th century Englishman John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q'orianka Kilcher). With it's leisurely pace, long segments of stunning visuals and whispered dialogue, The New World won't be to everyone's personal taste, but it's a masterpiece that often gets lost in the shuffle of other more well-received Malick films.

Downfall (Der Untergang)
(10) Downfall (2004)
This German film was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars -- only to suffer a surprising loss, much like Amelie in 2001. Bruno Ganz gives a stunning and authentic-feeling performance as Adolf Hitler during the rapid decline of his power. With his subtly trembling hands (Hitler was rumoured to have had Parkinson's Disease), watery eyes and stooped shoulders, Ganz embodies the diminishing fire of one of the world's most violent dictators. The entirety of the film takes place in Hitler's bunker in Berlin during the final days of his tumultuous life. Downfall dared to show a softer side to the dictator -- one who thanked people for their loyalty, married his longtime girlfriend, Eva Braun, and tearfully mourned the betrayal of Albert Speer, one of his most trusted men. You'll feel as though you are watching an actual documentary on Hitler's final moments.

Question: What films do you think are underrated or have been largely forgotten?


  1. I'm not sure which movies are underrated but one comes to mind and is The Terminator. No matter how good that movie was, the new ones are becoming kinda lame and underrated.

    -Joe T.

  2. Wow... Secretary is among my top 5 favorite films of all-time. It's really a film that opened the door for me on cinema. I will talk more about the film next year for its 10th Anniversary.

    I do like this list by the way, for me. A film that I think is underrated is Gattaca. An amazing yet lush sci-fi film.

  3. Downfall was critically acclaimed here and I think came close to No 1 at the box office! In Bruges was also popular and I certainly enjoyed it! What is happening in the land of the maple leaf if these two films went un-noticed?!!!
    I agree Zodiac is horrendously under-rated. I saw it here and was the only one in the theatre!!! It had a very short run but I thought it excellent. Agree to with both American Psycho and The New World. Both fine films that are terribly over looked.
    For me I would add In the Valley of Elah and Snowcake ( you would have seen/heard of it surely as it was a Canadian film? ).
    And believe it or not The Birds. It is regarded as one of Hitch's best and yet devides opinions due to its abstractness. I think it is a better film than most realise. Forgotten somewhat in light of Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window.
    Also A Fist Full of Dollars. An under-rated, over-looked masterpiece that is over shadowed because Sergio Leone went on to top it with his highly regarded masterpiece The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, then went and topped that with his master-masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West. An incredible achievement but they owe it all to A Fistfull of Dollars.

  4. @Joe T.: Thanks for the comment! :) I love the first and second Terminator films. Definitely a lot of fun and great examples of entertaining action blockbusters from the 1980s and 1990s. They don't make them like they used to! The most recent one with Christian Bale was awful!

  5. @theVoid: Wow. The fact that next year will be the tenth anniversary for Secretary is crazy! lol. I look forward to your future write-up for it! I love that it's one of your favourite films ever, though! :)

    I've never seen Gattaca. I'll add to my movie list.

  6. @BRENT: Canada and the United States have the same release dates and studio distribution ...which differs from how it's done in Europe, for example. It depends on if a North American buys the rights to films that are coming from outside our continent. So, in the case of In Bruges, it was picked up by a very small film company and, as a result, only appeared in one theatre in Toronto. It's kind of always been like that.

    Downfall, on the other hand, played at a lot more theatres and did fairly well considering it wasn't mainstream. But I rarely find people who have seen it or have even heard of it.

    Both movies were critically acclaimed here ...they just weren't well-known by the public.

    I've never seen In The Valley of Elah or Snowcake but I've definitely heard of both. I'll look into those! Ditto A Fistfull of Dollars.

  7. Good gracious...what a coincidence!! Just as I recommend Snowcake it is going to play on NZ television next week! How's that for a conincidence.
    Good film and I'm sure you will really like it. For me it is Sigourney Weaver's BEST performance ever! Alan Rickman is superb too. I just cannot believe how very few people even know this superb film exists!

  8. That always happens! Every time I recommend something to friends it's on TV soon afterward.

  9. That's a great list, Laura.

    Zodiac is definitely one of Fincher's best films and one of my favourites as well. So much better than The Social Network really. I love American Psycho. I love how it captures the essence of the book without being too graphic. Bret Easton Ellis' novel is actually one of those novels which make me wonder whether there should be an age limit for books... :) I also agree on In Bruges. Such a precious litte film that definitely should be more known among movie audiences. And yay for mentioning Secretary! I really like it. I actually rewatched it in one of my university courses last week. The cast is perfect.

    As for Amadeus and Boogie Nights: It's been a while since I watched those but I remember being quite underwhelmed. I want to give them another try, though, now that I'm older and ultimately wiser... :)

    The New World is actually one of my favourite Malick movies. I have to admit that I have a difficult relationship with him, though.

    As for Downfall, I'm also quite irritated that Bruno Ganz didn't get a nomination for Best Actor that year. It is possible, isn't it? Marion Cotillard also got nominated and won for La Môme.

    I personally think Capote, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Changeling, oh, and Hitchcock's Frenzy are underrated. :) Just to name a few.