My Favorite Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)Posted: February 4, 2013
Whether because I’ve seen some obscure movies (not that I’m a movie buff, I just watch weird stuff) or because I’m just a little older than some of my friends, I often find myself making references to movies that apparently nobody other than myself and a handful of others have seen. Mostly because this means my brilliant pop culture references end up falling on the ears of Philistines, but in some small part because it means that some piece of great cinema (loosely defined) has gone unnoticed for far too long, I’ve decided to share with you a few of my favorites.
Last week I covered some classic movies I’d like to see modern takes on. While I would highly recommend every one of those, there are some movies that are perfect just the way they are, or in at least one case, there’s no way you could possibly recapture the inane brilliance and je ne sais quoi that makes it so wonderful. If you haven’t seen these yet, I almost envy you, because you have a chance to be delighted by these hidden gems.
All That Jazz (1979) – A semi-autobiographical work directed and choreographed by legend Bob Fosse. I say “semi-autobiographical” for a couple of reasons, in part because the protagonist is named Joe Giden rather than Bob Fosse, there are certain fantastical elements, and… well, I don’t want to give away too much. Suffice to say that this film is astounding. The music is at times fun and bouncy and at other times downright lascivious, and the dancing… well, it’s Bob Fosse. One scene inspired the (in)famous Paula Abdul video “Cold Hearted”, for those of you old enough to remember that one, and to be honest she couldn’t even begin to do it justice. There’s a lot in this movie, ranging from humor to tragedy, and more than a bit of great storytelling (every time I watch it I discover some new element that I missed before). Here’s my favorite line from the movie, just to give you a taste of the kind of humor you’ll find: “Ladies and gentlemen, let me lay on you a so-so entertainer, not much of a humanitarian, and this cat was never nobody’s friend… you can applaud if you wanna…Mr. Joe Gideon!” And remember, this is Bob Fosse directing a movie – about himself. Powerful stuff.
Hudson Hawk (1991) – This is the movie critics love to hate. It has a score of 17 from Metacritic.com. Let’s put that into perspective: that’s on a scale of 100. By way of comparison, Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick got a 32. Here’s my favorite: “This may be the only would-be blockbuster that’s a sprawling, dissociated mess on purpose. It’s a perverse landmark: the first postmodern Hollywood disaster.” That’s according to Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly. So why would I possibly tell you to watch this movie? Let’s take a look at what Empire has to say: “What director Lehmann has made is essentially a multi-million dollar cult movie with great effects, a witty script and some good performances, but although some of the eccentric (and occasionally slapstick) humour may not appeal to a mass audience, it is certainly one of the more original blockbusters coming out this summer.” And that’s the heart and soul of it. Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello give great comedic performances in this film, with a bit of over-the-top maudlin emotion to balance(?) things out. Andie MacDowell is passable, and Sandra Benhardt is… well, Sandra Bernhardt (either you love her or hate her). The movie is eminently quotable, like all great cult films are, and any heist film that involves an evil corporation, the CIA, the Vatican and Leonardo Da Vinci… you know what? I have no idea how to finish that sentence. Just watch the movie. Trust me.
Strange Days (1995) – Swinging back again from awful to awesome, we have the cyberpunk tech thriller Strange Days. This lush, brilliant movie manages to capture the true esthetic of cyberpunk without getting bogged down in the tech, as such movies so often do. The plot is brilliantly convoluted (deliberately so) with a delicious and satisfying ending that will make you want to watch it again. The best part for me personally is how the central tech (a form of virtual-reality life recorder) is a McGuffin; it’s a strong plot device, central but not crucial to the pot and character development. It could theoretically be accomplished even with modern equivalents, but that’s the point of cyberpunk: close enough to touch, far enough to be eerie. The music is phenomenal (for my taste), again being right in line with the esthetic, and the settings are fully realized, with great costuming and make-up all around. Everything is about style over substance, and there are clear, sharp divides between the haves and the have-nots at all levels of society. Ralph Fiennes turns in a powerful, emotional performance, Angela Bassett is both emotionally moving and powerful (physically as well as emotively), and Tom Sizemore delivers one of the most surprising and understatedly brilliant supporting roles I have ever seen. Rounding out a fabulous cast are Juliette Lewis and a small but important role from a young Vincent D’Onofrio. Well worth your time.
If I can think of more, I’ll be sure to add them in the future. If you have any “must see” obscure gems, tell me all about them in the comments below!