The Best Overlooked Movies
Unknown, Obscure and Underrated Movies That You Should See
UPDATE: Since this article was first published, many of these movies have become better known or achieved some cult status. I still find many people who have not seen or heard of them. Some people have heard of them but just never got around to watching them. Hopefully this list can still inspire you to view some movies that you may have overlooked.
This list is for the movie fan who is looking for something a little more off the beaten path. If you're getting tired of the same old Hollywood junk, then this list is for you. If you're a fan of independent, cult, foreign, hard to find and obscure movies, then you'll probably have seen or heard of most of these titles. Hopefully this list can either inspire you to venture into a new realm of movie viewing experiences or it will inspire good discussion on movies you already love.
There are much more obscure titles than what I'm going to list here and I know a couple people that could help you go even further into the depths of unknown films. However, The titles on my list are my favorites. Some are only obscure because they're old. Others just didn't get the attention they deserved when they were originally released. And some just plain don't appeal to very many people. I encourage you to give them all a chance if you haven't already.
Directed by Bruce McDonald - Released 2008
This is one of my favorite horror films of the last ten years. I don't want to say much about it because not knowing what's happening is part of the beauty of this film.
Stephen McHattie is great as a radio DJ in the Canadian town of Pontypool. There seems to be some strange happenings in the town on this particular day and the crew at the station are trying to figure out what's going on without the ability to see the outside world.
This movie leaves a lot of the terror to the viewer. It is so effective on such a small budget because it respects the viewer enough to realize that what we create in our own mind can be much more terrifying than what the filmmaker can put on the screen for us.
I love this movie so much that I actually came back to this lens after well over a year of no updates just to bring this recommendation to you. It recently became available on Netflix instant play so I'm assuming many more people are going to see this movie now. Find it and watch it whichever way you can.
IMDB Link for "Pontypool"
YouTube - "Pontypool" Trailer
"Pontypool" stuff on Amazon
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
Directed by Joel Coen - Released 2001
Odds are most people have heard of and even seen a Coen Brother's movie before. The more popular ones include "No Country For Old Men", "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", "The Big Lebowski", and "Fargo". But there are a couple that have slipped through the cracks.
No Coen Brother's film is more underrated, however, than "The Man Who Wasn't There". Like all Coen Brother's movies, it's about a plan gone wrong. In this case, Billy Bob Thornton plays the main character, Ed Crane, who decides to blackmail his wife's lover for money to invest in a dry cleaning chain.
The movie is shot entirely in black and white and has as beautiful cinematography as any of the Coen's movies. It looks and feels like an old *film noir movie. It's methodically paced, meaning many people will think it's slow. It's not slow. If you let yourself get wrapped up in the characters and their extremely complex dilemmas, you will not be bored for a second.
And you can't top Tony Shalhoub's performance as the fast talking lawyer, Freddy Riedenschneider. "Let's not get cocky!"
"The Man Who Wasn't There" Trailer
"The Man Who Wasn't There" stuff on Amazon
Buy the DVD
Read the Screenplay
Directed by Richard Kelly - Released 2001
"Donnie Darko" is a mind bending, sci-fi, psychological thriller. Many people complain that they just don't get it, but I don't really see what's so hard to get. I think if you got up in the middle of the movie to answer the phone or make some popcorn, you might get lost. Especially if you let the movie keep rolling while you do it.
Just a little rant here, too many people allow themselves to get too distracted when they watch movies at home. Then they complain that they don't "get" movies. If you were in a theater watching "Donnie Darko" with your cell phone properly silenced, you would not walk out saying "I didn't get it." You would say "I think this is what happened." Then someone else might say "But I thought this is what happened." And you would both have different interpretations, but you would discuss why you think what you think and then you would have properly experienced "Donnie Darko".
In a very early role, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a very troubled teen, Donnie Darko. Donnie is having some strange thoughts and visions that include a man dressed in a demonic bunny suit who tells him to do things. Bad things. And Donnie isn't quite sure where reality ends and fantasy begins.
Don't switch your brain to the off position on this one. You're going to need full functioning reasoning and logic capacity. Trust me, you can do it.
IMDB link for "Donnie Darko"
"Donnie Darko" Trailer
"Donnie Darko" stuff on Amazon
Buy the "Donnie Darko" Special Edition
The awesome 80's inspired soundtrack of "Donnie Darko"
If he's not creepy enough in the movie, try setting him at the foot of your bed.
Sweet poster art for "Donnie Darko".
THE SPANISH PRISONER
Directed by David Mamet - Released 1997
The perceived problem most people have when viewing this movie is that they don't really know what it's about right away. It's not that there's not a story going from the start or that there aren't any clearly defined characters. It just seems like it's going nowhere for more time than most people are willing to accept in a movie. But that's the beauty of it.
When the direction of "The Spanish Prisoner" is finally revealed, you'll get that wonderful sensation you get when you realize something really exciting about a movie. Once the twists start, they just keep coming, keeping the viewer on their toes and really making you think that maybe you should watch the movie from the beginning again. The moral of the story is stick with it. It's worth it.
David Mamet is highly regarded as a playwright and screenwriter, creating unforgettable characters, rich dialogue and twisting plot lines. "The Spanish Prisoner", in my opinion, is his best work and also happens to be directed by him.
Steve Martin is great in an unexpected, very subdued role that is so out of type for the comedian. You're waiting for him to crack a joke or take a tumble over something, but he always plays it straight and lends immense credibility to his character.
This movie is a thinker, like all of the movies on this list, but it's not hard to get. The story is pretty straight forward even if many of the elements are purposely hidden and revealed at perfect and precise moments throughout the film.
IMDB link for "The Spanish Prisoner"
"The Spanish Prisoner" Trailer
"The Spanish Prisoner" stuff on Amazon
Buy "The Spanish Prisoner" DVD
Read the screenplay
Directed by Shane Carruth - Released 2004
One of the best sci-fi movies out there and it was made for a mere $7,000. Written, directed, starring, edited by, cinematography by and just about everything else was done by Shane Carruth.
This one will twist your brain in on itself then kick it around a bit. But again, that's what sets it apart from most Hollywood movies, especially in the sci-fi genre. If you're thinking about renting any of the movies on this list, you're going to get something that requires you to think and "Primer" is no exception.
But like many of the other movies on this list, it's not as hard to figure out as some people think. You can't stop paying attention for a moment, but you also don't have to concern yourself with understanding every little detail of what the characters are talking about. The extremely technical dialogue only lends credibility to the idea that what the movie is about is based in reality. In other words, you'll have the impression that if you wrote down everything they were saying and understood it, you could probably build your own time machine in your garage.
And that's what this is about. Time travel. Two entrepreneurs accidentally invent a time machine. What would you do with a time machine? How would your actions effect the space-time continuum? Does that even exist? This movie shows just how messy of a proposition time travel could be. It shouldn't be easy to figure out.
IMDB link for "Primer"
"Primer" stuff on Amazon
Buy the "Primer" DVD
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet - Released 2001
In making this list, I'm realizing that 2001 was an incredible year for movies.
Anyway, many people have already seen "Amelie", but if you have an aversion to foreign films for any reason, you've probably skipped it. You're really missing out.
First of all, this is the most feel good movie ever made. You'll have a smile on your face through most of the movie. And you'll probably fall in love with Audrey Tautou as Amelie whether you're a man or woman.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a brilliant French director whose one foray into Hollywood yielded some unfortunately drastic results in "Alien Resurrection". Needless to say, he has yet to return to Hollywood and he's probably much better for it. He creates very unique characters and puts them in very compelling situations and weaves together very beautiful and engaging stories.
So maybe you just don't want to read subtitles? There's a key to subtitles. Once you start watching a subtitled movie, you may find yourself working really hard to read the words and watch the movie at the same time. But the more you do it, the better you get at it and eventually you'll realize that you're really only glancing at the subtitles, getting a sense of what is being said and piecing it together as you actually watch the movie. If you hate reading, I can't help you. But besides "Amelie", you're missing a whole world's worth of great movies by ruling out anything that isn't made in English. It's a good problem to get over.
And avoid dubbing at all costs. You'll never get over how cheesy that makes a movie seem and besides that, a dub totally ruins any great performances that may exist in a great foreign film.
IMDB link for "Amelie"
"Amelie" stuff on Amazon
Buy the "Amelie" DVD. Watch it with subtitles. None of that dubbing junk!
Feeling French? This will help.
Directed by David Cronenberg - Released 1988
Alright, so feel good isn't your thing? How about going in the exact opposite direction and checking out David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers". This one will make you squirm in your seat through most of the film.
Cronenberg's movies are not for the faint of heart and "Dead Ringers" is definitely no exception. The story is about twins, each played by Jeremy Irons. The twins happen to be brilliant gynecologists who take great care and pleasure in creating new surgical devices for their field of expertise. They also use the fact that no one can tell them apart to great effect.
Probably the most fascinating thing about this movie is every time Jeremy Iron's is on screen with himself. He plays two characters, interacting with each other on screen simultaneously, yet gives them each completely distinctive personalities. Besides the Oscar worthy performance, the effect of having an actor playing two characters on screen at the same time interacting with himself in such a seamless way is incredible.
This is another one that is methodically paced. Not slow. Methodical. I love most of Cronenberg's movies, but I always come back to this one again and again.
IMDB link for "Dead Ringers"
"Dead Ringers" Trailer
"Dead Ringers" stuff on Amazon
Buy "Dead Ringers" on DVD
Directed by Stanley Kubrick - Released 1956
That's right, an underrated movie by one of the best, if not the best, directors of all time. You've probably seen or heard of "A Clockwork Orange", "The Shining", "Full Metal Jacket" or many other Stanley Kubrick movies, but "The Killing" tends to get overlooked.
Kubrick really became prominent by Hollywood standards when he made "Dr. Strangelove" in 1964. "The Killing" was only his second feature film and kind of gets lost in the shuffle of great film noir movies of the 50's.
But the inspirations from this film have been far reaching, including directors like Quentin Tarantino, who despite some popular assumptions did not invent the idea of out of sequence time-line storytelling. Kubrick was doing it in "The Killing" decades earlier.
The story is about a heist of a horse racing track by a group of clever thieves. As we see the action unfold again and again from different characters perspectives, the true brilliance of the scheme becomes apparent.
You'll have fun watching this great classic.
IMDB link for "The Killing"
"The Killing" Trailer
"The Killing" stuff on Amazon
Buy "The Killing" DVD
You can't go wrong with a Stanley Kubrick movie so buying a collection is probably a good idea.
Ditto above. Here's the master collection.
Directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi - Released 2000
OK, so I will completely lose credibility with some viewers on this one. This is the perfect example of what makes a great *cult film. First of all, lots of people won't like it. Secondly, a large group of people will inexplicably LOVE it uncontrollably. This was one of the fan favorites at our film festival and we initially thought to show it every year to make sure it got it's proper viewing in our area.
"Wild Zero" is an insane combination of rock and roll, UFO's, large automatic weapons, weird characters and zombies. It's a ROCK N' ROLL JET MOVIE! Whatever that means. But you'll be screaming "Lock n' Loll" for weeks every time you're about to do something amazing, cool or deadly.
Guitar Wolf is the band at the heart of this film. A huge hit in Japan apparently. They are a mix of punk and classic rock. Don't adjust your audio settings. The feedback is intentional.
You probably won't learn any valuable zombie fighting skills from this one unless you believe that Rock N' Roll can save the world. "Wild Zero" makes a good argument for that being the case.
Also subtitled. Just read it!
"Wild Zero" Trailer
"Wild Zero" stuff on Amazon
Buy the "Wild Zero" DVD
Guitar Wolf CD
Yet another Guitar Wolf CD
And yes, one more Guitar Wolf CD
CHILDREN OF MEN
Directed by Alfonso CuarÃ³n - Released 2006
It boggles my mind how overlooked this movie is. "Children of Men" is a brilliant science fiction film in the tradition of such *dystopian classics as "Blade Runner" and "Road Warrior".
The story is completely engaging and the acting is superb. In the future, humans can no longer procreate meaning no more babies. As people get older, human kind slowly dies off and hopelessness and despair rule the hearts of humanity leading to a complete degradation of society.
One of the really cool things about this movie are the 3 or 4 "one-shot" action sequences. Being a film geek, I get a kick out of seeing a really well done one-shot scene. What that means is that there are no apparent cuts for a long stretch of a scene. While there may actually be cuts, they are hidden so that you don't notice them giving the viewer a sense of real time and a heightened sense of seeing reality. The scenes of this kind in "Children of Men" are complex and action packed with car chases, crashes, explosions, gun battles and all sorts of intensity.
If you missed this, give it a viewing. You'll probably be as dumbfounded as I am that this movie isn't yet highly regarded as a modern day, sci-fi classic.
"Children of Men" Trailer
"Children of Men" stuff on Amazon
For all you lucky Blu-ray owners, here's "Children of Men" on Blu-ray.
And for those of you not so lucky, here it is on DVD
The soundtrack for "Children of Men"
The novel "Children of Men"
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LÃ¥t den rÃ¤tte komma in)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson - Released 2008
This is a truly creepy vampire film from Sweden. For those of you who think movies can't scare you, or at least make you feel sufficiently uneasy, try "Let the Right One In" some night with all the lights off, alone in your viewing room, with the audio nice and loud. DO NOT WATCH IT DUBBED!
"Let the Right One In" is about Oskar, a boy who is having trouble with bullies at school and a very basic lack of self confidence. That is until he meets the strange and intriguing new neighbor girl who informs him that they can't be friends. Oskar is not deterred and soon him and Eli become friends despite her warning.
This is one of the coolest vampire movies ever. The great thing about it is that all of the classic vampire rules apply here, but they are observed in new and fascinating ways. For instance, you know a vampire can't enter your home without you inviting it in, but have you ever seen what happens if they enter anyway?
There's surprising gore, unexpected scares and plenty of great visuals to go along with this beautifully told story about boy meets girl, girl is a vampire... oh crap.
IMDB link for "Let the Right One In"
"Let the Right One In" Trailer
"Let the Right One In" stuff on Amazon
"Let the Right One In" on Blu-ray
"Let the Right One In" on regular old DVD
Book adaptation of the movie or movie adaptation of the book. I'm not sure which.
Moody, creepy, Swedish music.
Directed by Jim Jarmusch - Released 1995
"Dead Man" is a completely overlooked film by many people. I'll admit, black and white Westerns probably don't jump up as the first thing on many people's movies to watch lists. Well, I encourage you to watch this one.
Jim Jarmusch is an independent legend. Recently he has made a bit higher profile movie with Billy Murry called "Broken Flowers", but nobody saw that either. Jim doesn't care. He's stated that if he ever made a movie that was really commercially successful, he would consider it a personal failure. So now I'm telling you to watch a methodically paced (not slow), black and white Western that the director himself doesn't even want you to see. Boy, "Dead Man" has a lot going for it.
So what's so great about it you might ask? Well, it has Johnny Depp in the title role for one. Secondly, it has a score created entirely by Neil Young. Third, the cinematography is beautiful. Fourth, it's got great characters played by all sorts of other great actors. Fifth, it's just a plain old, great story made into a great movie.
Johnny Depp plays the Dead Man, William Blake, an accountant who after murdering a man in a small town becomes a very wanted man. He's chased by all sorts of bounty hunters and law types all over the Western landscape and is befriended by a chubby, cheerful Indian named Nobody. Yes, by Indian I mean Native American. William has a serious problem, however. In the commotion of killing the man, William was shot himself, and the bullet lodged dangerously close to his heart is slowly killing him.
This movie is great. It's told like a good book is written and feels like classic literature with JOHNNY DEPP! Give it a chance. If you don't like this one, don't rent any other Jarmusch movies because I guarantee you won't like those either. And Jim is just fine with that.
IMDB link for Dead Man
"Dead Man" Trailer
Best quality trailer on youtube is for a foreign version. See, people in other countries even watch obscure movies with subtitles.
"Dead Man" stuff on Amazon
"Dead Man" on DVD
Cool poster for a cool movie. You'll impress your friends and relatives when you plaster obscure movie posters all over your walls. This can give you a start.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh - Released 1991
How's this for obscure? You can't even rent "Kafka" on DVD because it was never released on DVD. Nope, in order to get this one you'll have to either know someone who owns the VHS copy or buy a VHS copy off of Amazon or Ebay. Don't worry, they're cheap. Used copies on Amazon start around $4, the price of a rental anyway.
I'm surprised this movie hasn't gotten a proper DVD release being that it's directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Jeremy Irons and a number of other great actors. That's right, there's Jeremy Irons again. I love this guy. He goes for the good roles, not the money.
Soderbergh has of course gone on to direct a number of highly successful movies including "Erin Brokavich" and "Oceans 11, 12 and 13". Another great, but lesser known one is "Out of Sight" starring George Clooney which I highly recommend, but it won't get it's own entry on this list.
But "Kafka" is great. The movie is both black and white and color, an interesting choice unto itself. The majority of the film is black and white, but it switches to color for the climax and it packs a visual punch when it does so.
"Kafka" is about a man named Kafka, who is a lot like the writer, but is also a character who finds himself in a Kafkaesque story much like the characters he writes about. Kafkaesque, for those of you who didn't have to read Kafka in high school or college, means a story where the main character is imposed upon by a set of circumstances far outside of his or her control. Crazy and terrible things happen around Kafka and he tries to get to the bottom of it. And the bottom is far down indeed.
So, if you're intrigued enough, buy the VHS copy and watch it. Again, it's about the same price as a rental and you can just sell it back when you're done and then you're only out shipping. I'm making the link on Amazon nice and easy to follow for you below. Enjoy.
IMDB link for "Kafka"
"Kafka" stuff on Amazon
The only version of "Kafka" available is on VHS. Can you still even play VHS?
Again, impress family and friends with puzzlingly obscure movie posters. They'll think you really know what you're talking about when you talk about movies that way.