Written By Joal Ryan
Forget The Godfather. What we’ve got here are the overlooked greats, the hidden gems. From Jake Gyllenhaal in a bubble to a murderous Kate Winslet to a pair of violent, avenging Irish “angels” ? these are the box-office left-behinds
1. Falling Down
Michael Douglas is a mild-mannered guy with a screwed-on-tight haircut who’s had it with everybody – Latino gang members, an Asian shop owner, mighty-white golfers, even a surplus-store-owning Nazi. Crash would go on to win Oscar and Oprah acclaim for exploring the meaning of race, alienation and L.A. traffic, but remember: This 1993 movie, badly marketed as a mere serial-killer flick, expended its bullets first – and with better accuracy.
2. Igby Goes Down
Hey, here’s an original idea: An out-of-sorts teen comes of age in New York with the “help” of his dysfunctional family. Well, this 2002 comedy-drama feels anything but done to death. Kieran Culkin’s a find as the titular lost boy who finds his way with the ladies. Jeff Goldblum’s even better, and smarmier, as his godfather. Ryan Phillippe proved he actually could act as Culkin’s snot brother. Privileged white people have never been so pitiable.
3. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
A 23-year-old cult cannot be wrong. Forget that the score to this 1984 sci-fi-something-or-other sounds like bad video-game music. Forget that star Peter Weller dresses suspiciously like Pee-Wee Herman. Forget that bad-guy John Lithgow deserves to go to acting jail on scenery-chewing charges. Just remember that people love this film, quote this film – and get Team Banzai references that you don’t. So, just give in, and watch the thing already. Weller is actually pretty cool. Even if his choice in neckwear sucks.
4. Bubble Boy
John Travolta may have played a Bubble Boy first, in a sappy TV movie about a kid who needs to be wrapped in plastic and protected from the elements. But Jake’s haircut tells the whole story here; there’s something a bit “off” about this surprisingly funny 2001 big-screen version, in which Jimmy builds himself a portable bubble to go after the gal he loves. Oh, sure, there are moments that challenge our dear boy. (Ever try to steal a can of beer while waddling around in a homemade germ-free sphere?) But nothing can keep Gyllenhaal’s love-struck Jimmy down for long. His heart – and the film’s heart – is that big.
5. Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane
The backstory on writer-director Joe Carnahan’s debut is worth the price of admission alone: 13 shooting days, $8,000 budget and one passport to a Hollywood career working with the likes of Ray Liotta, Tom Cruise (Narc, which Liotta starred in and Cruise produced), Jeremy Piven and Ben Affleck (Smokin’ Aces stars). As an actual movie, Blood, Guts is a high-energy romp about two used-car salesmen and one very special Pontiac LeMans convertible.
It’s so heavily Tarantino influenced you fully expect John Travolta
and Samuel L. Jackson to turn up at the car lot, but all you get is the
scrappy Carnahan and the equally unfamous Dan Leis – and, trust us,
it’s better that way.
6. The Hidden
Hollywood used to make sci-fi/buddy/cop/action flicks all the time, more or less. Then Spielberg and Lucas ruined everything with epic landscapes, big budgets and supercool special effects. By the time this popcorn throwback opened in 1987, the era of the sci-fi/buddy/cop/action flick was over – but not the genre’s charm. Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri play two lawmen with nothing in common except a shared belief that an outer-space creature who sucks the life out of innocent civilians in order to further its own sick existence must be stopped. Take that, E.T.
Even if Columbine hadn’t made teen violence an uncomfortable subject for Hollywood and audiences, this lurid 2001 look at teen violence wouldn’t have packed multiplexes. Never to be confused with the Disney version, we get youth as a sweaty, icky, frequently shirtless thing. The real-life tale of a group of kids who decide to kill their alleged tormentor, the drama is hard to watch – but foolish to ignore. Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl (especially Nick Stahl) are great as the dysfunctional friends at the center of their screwed-up world. The best part of sticking with the movie to the end? You get to take a shower after.
8. Grace of My Heart
Reel life is so much better than real life. In real life, for instance, Phil Spector is an alleged homicidal menace. In reel life, however, he’s John Turturro, and so he’s merely lovably strange. There are all sorts of nifty real-life upgrades in this little-size, but big-feeling 1996 biopic about singer-songwriter Carole King ? oops, we mean, in this completely made-up story about singer-songwriter Denise Waverly (a winning Illeana Douglas). Watch Carole, oops, Denise lose her heart to tragic Brian Wilson, oops, Jay Phillips (a sweet Matt Dillon). Listen to Carole, oops, Denise find her voice by singing her own songs (written by ringers like Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach and Gerry Goffin,
King’s real-life ex). Oh, it’s too confusing to explain – just watch it.
9. The Black Cat
If you see only one Universal horror classic, you’re probably going to watch Dracula. Or Frankenstein. But what you should watch, in the spirit of adventure, is this creepy, kinky 1934 tale with both those films’ stars, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. And yes, we said kinky. See, this was made after Hollywood’s self-imposed no-fun rule, the Hayes Code, was adopted but released just before it was strictly enforced. So, when a young couple (David Manners and Julie Bishop) seek refuge in Karloff’s house of horrors, they’re in store for an eyeful of S&M imagery and – woo-hoo! – devil worshipping!
It’s not Kurt Russell’s fault that he’s the king of the underrated movie. It’s not his fault that they don’t give Oscars to stuff like Big Trouble in Little China. And it’s not his fault that screen-wife Kathleen Quinlan takes a ride with an ill-advised stranger in this 1997 thriller. Well, actually, all right, that last one is his fault. If you can forgive that one lapse in judgment, this cautionary tale about the dangers of heading onto the highway minus an OnStar-equipped vehicle demands viewing. Think of it as Deliverance with trucks, instead of canoes.
How boring was Ang Lee’s Hulk? So boring it made a dullard of Eric Bana. And if you know Bana from Chopper, his nonhyped pre-Hulk film, you know he’s capable of being explosive. And funny. And brutal. And funny again. Maybe the problem with the Hulk is that Mark “Chopper” Read, the real-life Aussie whom Bana plays in 2000’s Chopper, is just better source material. If you stabbed the Hulk in the stomach, for instance, the green guy would get all predictably wiggy. But if you stab Chopper in the stomach, the dude will surprise you. He takes those hits like the big, scary tattooed man he is.
Note we did not say Godzilla. We said Gojira. What’s the difference? About an additional 20 minutes, for one thing. Three more things: no Raymond Burr, no dubbing and a coherent plot ruined when Hollywood recut the original Japanese monster movie into a yuckfest. Indeed, this original 1954 version – finally getting wide release in the United States, on DVD – is an ultra-sober nuclear-age drama that stands as understated testament to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Prepare to bow down before the giant rubber monster.
13. I Shot Andy Warhol
Shortly after starring in this strange-but-true 1996 drama, Lili Taylor started popping up in Hollywood fare like The Haunting and Ransom. But she never popped in the new roles, because she’s not Hollywood. She’s New York indie. She’s Valerie Jean Solanas, the unhinged real-life feminist who, well, shot pop-artist Andy Warhol. Lesser talents would have made Solanas seem nutty; Taylor makes her seem nutty and almost sympathetic. British actor Jared Harris gets points, too, for his spot-on Warhol. Soup, anyone?
14. Three O’Clock High
What exactly were Molly Ringwald’s problems anyway? That Michael Schoeffling might not notice her? That Andrew McCarthy might not take her to the prom? That Judd Nelson might kiss her? Well, boo-friggin’-hoo. Try being Casey Siemaszko in this stylish 1987 high school flick, released just as John Hughes had played out the high school flick. As good-guy Jerry Mitchell, Siemaszko’s got a big, bad problem that’s going to get him killed – perhaps literally – at the end of the school day. A little tougher than study hall huh, Molly?
It’s all over the Internet, so it must be true and/or utterly not: John Wayne passed on the chance to star in Dirty Harry. No matter, the important thing is Wayne didn’t star in Dirty Harry and thus had the time to star in this glorious 1975 cop flick. Wayne so rarely was photographed off the Old West range, it’s a treat to see him mingle with modern-day mortals and try out their peculiar polyester fashions. Brannigan gets the nod here over McQ, Wayne’s other foray into copland, because it takes place in London. It would have been nice if Wayne could’ve kicked some British butt before he got to be pushing 70, but better late than ever.
16. The Ringer
You cannot make a movie about a guy who pretends to be mentally challenged in order to compete in the Special Olympics. You cannot do that. Except, the Farrelly Brothers did. And they did so spectacularly. (Not that many people noticed.) Their 2005 comedy (they produced) is funny in a way that neither makes you feel bad for laughing nor makes you feel sorry for anybody. As an added bonus, Johnny Knoxville as the titular ringer is actually kinda touching.
17. End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
By the time this 2004 doc made its way into a handful of theaters, Joey Ramone was dead, Dee Dee Ramone was dead, and Johnny Ramone was dying. Their premature demises make a poignant tale of dreams not fully realized all the more so. The crux of the Ramones’ tale is that while you can’t go to a sports stadium without bopping your head to one of their 120-second punk classics (“Blitzkreig Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” etc.), you can’t go through the charts and find any smash-hit records, either. They played, they toured, but they never broke big. At least not while three-quarters of them were still alive.
18. Real Life
We’ll let others debate whether Albert Brooks is a genius. But we’ll just flat-out say the man is a prophet. Exhibit A: This oft-forgotten 1979 comedy about a filmmaker, played by Brooks, who sets out to document a suburban family but ends up goosing the drama whenever real life gets too boring for his taste. True, Brooks wasn’t so much foretelling the reality-TV era as spoofing the pioneering PBS documentary series An American Family, but when you’re right, you’re right.
19. Time After Time
You either have a thing for time-travel movies or you don’t. Unless you’re one of those wet blankets who insists time-travel movies never make sense, you have to see this 1979 gem about famed author H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) pursuing infamous serial-killer Jack the Ripper (David Warner) into 1970s San Francisco. Put your sense of time and space on hold, and let a smart, classy adventure remind you that smart, classy adventures used to get made.
Why did Fox dump this 2006 Mike Judge comedy in fewer than 150 theaters last September? Is it because it’s not clever? Um, no. Is it because it’s not funny? Wrong again. Is it because it’s such a dead-on take on our push-button, pro-wrestling-loving world that the studio feared either nobody would get it or, worse, somebody would get it? We may have a winner! Luke Wilson stars as a regular Joe who wakes up in the year 2505 as the smartest person on Earth on account of everyone else is such a dumbass. Come for the premise, stay for the new-age Carl’s Jr. slogan, “F— you, I’m eating.”
21. Girl 6
What do you call a movie where Naomi Campbell is surrounded by telephones and proceeds without assaulting anyone? Where Madonna is given lines and uses them to her advantage? Where Spike Lee resists his usual jazz urge and calls on Prince to supply the bouncy soundtrack? A flat-out miracle. Lee’s made so many movies that some of them, like this 1996 comedy, get lost. So, go find Girl 6 already. For all of the above reasons, and for this one: Theresa Randle turns in what should have been a star-making performance as a struggling actress who gives good voice at the world’s nicest-looking phone-sex bank.
22. Female Trouble
Don’t let Hairspray, the Tony-winning Broadway hit, or the upcoming John Travolta movie, fool you. Mainstream acceptance or no, auteur John Waters has seriously bad taste. Nowhere is it badder (or greater) than in this 1974 flick, somehow nowhere as notorious as Pink Flamingos, that gleefully trashes family, Christmas and spaghetti. Longtime Waters muse Divine is in rare form – and apparently an old Susan Hayward plot – as a driven, doomed gal. If only she’d gotten those cha-cha heels ?
23. Kurt & Courtney
This 1998 documentary didn’t come close to earning even $1 million in theaters. But it’s sure got a million-dollar tale to tell: Filmmaker Nick Broomfield explores the conspiracy theory that says Nirvana god Kurt Cobain was killed by someone other than himself. Broomfield’s a camera hog, and his pursuit of the widow Cobain, Courtney Love, is sheer stunt, but the movie’s undeniably compelling as a portrait of the fame-game’s bit players. It’s not every day you get to hear a guy growl and claim that Love offered him $50,000 to “whack” her husband.
24. The Boondock Saints
Made for a reported $6 million, writer-director Troy Duffy’s first and so-far only movie “grossed” about $30,000 on its way to serving as fodder for the 2003 crash-and-burn Hollywood doc Overnight. The weird thing is, it’s hard to figure out what Duffy did wrong. He told an original story about two Irish fraternal twins in South Boston who are considered heroes for accidentally killing a bunch of Russian mafiosos – so they go out on a mission from God to violently snuff out the rest. And no one, not even detective Willem Dafoe, thinks their gruesome quest is wrong.
25. Heavenly Creatures
Why is it that one movie, say, Peter Jackson’s too-long King Kong, makes hundreds of millions of dollars, while another movie, say, Jackson’s mesmerizing Heavenly Creatures, makes nothing much but art-house buzz? The answer lies with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which came in between the other two projects and made Jackson a star. Heavenly Creatures, released in 1994, stands on its own as an accounting of a real-life 1954 New Zealand murder hatched by two schoolgirls, played by Melanie Lynskey, on her way to Two and a Half Men, and Kate Winslet, on her way to Titanic and a slew of Oscar nominations.
It’s the stuff reputations are built on.