Sleeper Films: Great, Little Known Movies
This is a ten greatest movies list with a twist: it's a list of ten great movies that I suspect many people have not seen. Although these movies may ultimately not make your personal ten best film list, I'm putting them out there because there's frequently nothing better than watching a great film for the first time. These films are all some of my favorites of all-time.
I was a film critic for almost twenty years. Although I believe that being a film critic doesn't give one particular insight into what makes a film good, it does give one an inflated appreciation for hidden gems and the unexpected because most of what film critics watch is so boring, mundane, and predictable. I have little doubt that film buffs will have heard of most of the films listed here. What I'm hoping is that the average filmgoer will read this list and discover at least one film they've never heard of. I've included all the trailers so that you can get a taste of each film (though some trailers are better than others). I've also included the IMDB ratings (www.imdb.com) to show that I'm not completely out of my mind. Enjoy!
1. The American Astronaut (2001) - This is a relatively low-budget film with no stars that's something like a cross between "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", "Eraserhead", and "Serenity". It's a western, sci-fi musical filmed in black and white written and directed by Cory McAbee, a strange and creative dude who leads a band called "The Billy Nayer Show". For quite some time, the film toured the country showing at various second-run venues. Then it was released on DVD. It's quite a wonderful experience, but you have to be a fan of quirky, cult cinema. It's not a mainstream film, to say the least. If Hal Hartley did a sci-fi film, it might look something like this, so if you're a fan of Hartley, this might be for you. IMDB rating: 7.1.
The American Astronaut Trailer (poor sound quality)
2. Lawn Dogs (1997) - This is another quirky film. I've shown it proudly to my wife and a friend of hers and other people too and the reaction hasn't always been positive. It's a little weird. Among other things, it's the first film to feature Mischa Barton. She was all of 10 at the time. The movie stars Sam Rockwell as Trent, a guy who mows lawns in an upscale, gated community. He befriends a young girl named Devon (Barton) and members of the community start to think something suspicious is happening. The thing is, there's not. It's a true friendship. Trent certainly understands how some people might see it and he tries to extricate himself from the situation, but Devon really needs somebody and they share some surprising mutual experiences. What makes the film truly special is the fairy tale element woven into the whole thing. "Lawn Dogs" has a little "Blue Velvet" in it, so it's sort of like a mainstream David Lynch experience in a way, which is a very obtuse explanation, I know. I guess if you find a comedic element in Lynch's work, you'd enjoy "Lawn Dogs". IMDB rating: 7.4.
Lawn Dogs Trailer
3. Torso (1973) - This is 1973 horror film from Italy commonly known as a "giallo". Among other things, this film has one of my favorite horror film sequences of all time. Although the film has a fairly mundane story about young women being murdered by a maniacal killer, it contains such a profound sense of beauty that I was amazed the first time I saw it. Director Sergio Martino seems to have an appreciation for all things beautiful, which means that in addition to the cinematography, there are lots of gorgeous women sunbathing and disrobing. Sure, it's gratuitous at times, but these contrasting elements also give the film its charm. Since "Torso" is one of the best "giallo" films I've seen, I would think a fan of any of the more popular Italian horror films - "Suspiria" comes to mind - would really enjoy "Torso". IMDB rating: 6.4.
4. Birdy (1984) - I discovered "Birdy" when I was still living at home. I came home one night after my parents had gone to bed and turned on the television and this film was on one of the channels. It mezmerized me right away and I was blown away by the ending, which is quirky and totally unexpected, much like the film itself. I imagine most film buffs know of this one since it's directed by Alan Parker ("The Commitments") and stars Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine. The two play friends who are shipped off to Vietnam. When they return, Cage is injured physically while Modine is cooped up in a psychiatric hospital where he believes he is a bird and Cage must help him rediscover himself. The soundtrack is by Peter Gabriel. Anyone who likes Alan Parker's stuff will appreciate this one. IMDB rating: 7.2.
5. Air Guitar Nation (2006) - I have become much more appreciative of documentaries over the years and I think they are one of the most satisfying genres, so this is the first of two in this list. By no means is either unknown. It's just that if you haven't heard of either one, you are in for such a treat that I know mentioning them will absolutely make somebody's day. If you weren't aware that there is a World Air Guitar Championship, then this film is for you. It basically follows the first time an air guitar championship was held in the United States. Turns out there was quite a drama between two of the contestants that is at times both incredibly funny and incredibly dramatic. One guy goes by the name of Bjorn Turoque and the other is C-Diddy. You'll be stunned at how into this whole thing you'll be by the end of the film. IMDB rating: 7.1.
Air Guitar Nation Trailer
6. Equilibrium (2002) - Now that Christian Bale has won an Oscar, this film might become a little more well-known. No matter, given Bale's roles in the Batman movies and various other endeavors, it's doubtful anyone will ever venture back this far. Although "Equilibrium" might be the poor man's "Matrix", it's still an entertaining, sci-fi film that introduces "gunkata" into the lexicon of fantastical martial arts. Bale plays an enforcer in a fascistic future where emotions are outlawed. One day, he misses a dose of his emotion-suppressing drug and suddenly he's the leader in the overthrow of the regime. A lot of great action to be had in this high-grade B-movie. Fans of "The Matrix" will enjoy this film, maybe not quite as much as "The Matrix", but close. IMDB rating: 7.7.
7. Swimming with Sharks (1994) - Since this stars Kevin Spacey, it would be no surprise if a lot of people had at least heard of it. Still, it's an easy one to pass by. Unfortunately, you'd be missing one of the all-time great Hollywood insider films, along the lines of "The Player". This one follows a young studio assistant, Guy (Frank Whaley), as he begins work for a producer (Spacey) who seems decent enough at first. Then we get to see what undoubtedly goes on behind-the-scenes at many a studio as Spacey's character demoralizes and berates his assistant to the point of complete humiliation. Oh, Guy gets his revenge, but not before he learns that growing up working in the Hollywood system involves moral and ethical compromises he never thought imaginable. Spacey's performance is the star here. A funnier film than "The Player", albeit probably not quite as elegant. IMDB rating: 7.1.
Swimming with Sharks Trailer
8. Charade (1963) - When a movie stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and has been released on DVD on the Criterion label, it's can hardly be called unknown. I guess the reason I list it here is because it's a film that I hadn't heard of at the time I saw it and I was pretty familiar with the classics. Despite the passage of time, "Charade" is so engaging that it's impossible not to love. Basically, I think it stands the test of time better than many other classic movies because of its many plot twists that bring to mind films like "The Usual Suspects" and "The Thomas Crown Affair". Having just finished "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," I would argue that "Charade" has the same kind of compelling plotting. Hepburn plays Regina Lambert, who returns from vacation in Switzerland to find her husband murdered and a CIA agent (Walter Matthau) claiming her husband stole money from the government and another man (Grant) helping her to find it. Of course, nothing is as it seems as the movie title would indicate. IMDB rating: 8.0.
9. Point Blank (1967) - Another "classic" that stands the test of time better than many others and influenced (I think) films like "Pulp Fiction" and others in that ultra-violent genre. In fact, not only does "Point Blank" stand the test of time, but it was clearly way ahead of its time. Now, I happen to have a soft spot for a genre I like to call "Man kicks ass", which basically involves some guy wronged, who usually doesn't talk much, beating the crap out of anyone who gets in his way. The most classic example of the genre is the Michael Caine film "Get Carter" (another great film). I mean, the entire film is basically Lee Marvin's character running around asking "where's my money?" and then beating up anybody who doesn't give it to him. There's a great love scene between Marvin and Angie Dickinson, who's at her smoking hot best in this movie. I think anybody who likes Tarantino's films should watch this one. You'll love it. IMDB rating: 7.4.
Point Blank Trailer
10. The King of Kong (2007) - This movie is subtitled "A Fistful of Quarters" and is about one man's quest to set a world record playing Donkey Kong. Despite what you might think, the film has a wonderful story with a compelling hero and great villain - pretty surprising for a movie about guys playing video games. Steve Wiebe is the unemployed Washington teacher who sets out to break the world record. Billy Mitchell is the world record holder who seems to do everything he can to thwart the legitimacy of Wiebe's attempts, and is the quintessential a-hole . There's even a flunky in Walter Day, who serves as the "commissioner" of the whole thing. Day worships Mitchell who kind of has this superstar status while Wiebe is just this congenial, regular guy. The evolution of the story is remarkably dramatic and touching. IMDB rating: 8.2.
The King of Kong Trailer
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