Do you ever feel like you’ve seen everything that needs to be seen? Are you looking for something underrated, obscure, or unheralded; an underdog to root for? Think of this as less a list of “The Absolute Best Top 10″ of overlooked movies EVER and more of a list of 10 movies that are perennially underrated that you should see ASAP. Yes, these are ranked in order of the least overlooked to the most overlooked, but every movie on this list deserves to be seen and talked about way more than is happening currently. In fact, most of these films aren’t even on Blu-ray and many of them are out of print on DVD right now. The last list of Top 10 Overlooked Movies was from 2005-2009, so think of this a more-encompassing sequel. and as always, if you have an idea for your own Top 10 list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Pieces of April (2003)
Writer Peter Hedges (About a Boy, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) made his directorial debut with this small independent family comedy. The surprise Oscar nomination of Patricia Clarkson gave it a little extra steam, but it barely made a dent (under 3 million) at the box office. Clarkson is full of icy, acerbic wit as a dying cancer patient and Oliver Platt is at his best as her exasperated husband trying to get his suburban family to their eldest daughter’s NYC apartment for Thanksgiving. Hedges’ writing is sharper than ever, and Katie Holmes makes the family black sheep April her most likable role yet. Extra bonus: Filmed on digital video!
9. The Long Goodbye (1973)
Robert Altman’s revisionist take on Philip Marlowe turned Raymond Chandler’s famous tough guy detective into a rumpled, weary Elliott Gould and updated the setting for the turbulent ‘70s. It’s an inspired choice that provides much in the way of sarcastic humor and a sly comment on a Los Angeles that was radically different from Marlowe’s original 1940s L.A.. Altman’s long takes and roving camera, along with veteran actor Sterling Hayden’s riveting portrayal of a tragic Hemingway-esque writer, help give the film a melancholy tone that’s completely missing in all other Chandler adaptations. Extra bonus: Gould shops for cat food for 10 minutes!
8. The Ice Storm (1997)
Although not filmed in 1973, this chilling adultery drama is set in that same year, a strange time for parents who are still looking to fulfill all the promises of the sexual revolution. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, and Joan Allen star in this elegant adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel, directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain). It may be his best movie, due in no small part to devastating performances by his three leads, plus subtle and appropriately confused portrayals by four young actors named Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Katie Holmes, and Christina Ricci. Extra bonus: Wife-swapping has never been less fun!
7. Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
This much-maligned sequel to the 1995 Best Picture nominee Babe sank like stone at the box office due to its darker tone and the fact that it almost completely abandons the popular Farmer Hoggett (James Cromwell). Directed by George Miller, who did all the Mad Max films and wrote the screenplay for the original Babe, it features some of the most expertly staged physical comedy and chase scenes of all time, especially considering many of them are mainly animal actors. It’s an inventive, sometimes quite frightening journey for Babe the talking pig as he finds himself in “the big city,” a marvel of creative art direction which contains every famous monument in the world. Extra bonus: a 78-year old Mickey Rooney as a scary clown named Fugly Floom!
6. Bamboozled (2000)
Spike Lee’s shocker is a finger-pointing dark comedy, the kind he’s often accused of making and rarely actually makes. The writer/director savagely parodies racist stereotypes on all sides when an honest-to-God modern minstrel show becomes the most popular program on American TV. Damon Wayans takes early Nic Cage and Crispin Glover-like quirkiness to a new level as Pierre Delacroix, a television executive (with the most annoying voice ever) assigned to come up with a show that would appeal to a black audience. Out of frustration, he offers the most racist idea he can come up with, thinking that it will get him fired. When the opposite happens, the movie gets more and more painful to watch, suggesting that we need to learn from the mistakes of the past rather than try to pretend they never happened. Think of it as a pre-cursor to Kevin Willmott’s scathingly funny C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. Extra bonus: Filmed on digital video and boy does it show!
5. River’s Edge (1987)
Youthful alienation has never been as crippling as it is in Tim Hunter’s disturbing tale of a teenage boy who strangles his girlfriend to death and his group of friends who do nothing about it. Believe it or not, a pre-Bill & Ted Keanu Reeves is the conscience of the pic, while Ione Skye and Crispin Glover are his burnout friends. Dennis Hopper follows up his psycho role in Blue Velvet the year before with another one here, playing a crazed madman with an affinity for blow-up dolls. Ironically, Hunter would go on to direct several episodes of Blue Velvet director David Lynch’s can’t-believe-they-aired-this-on-network-TV show Twin Peaks. It also contains the best Keanu line ever, to his Mom’s boyfriend: “The only reason you stay here is so you can fuck my mother and eat her food. Motherfucker! Food eater!” Extra bonus: lots of thrash metal played from the inside of a VW bug, including early Slayer!
4. Miami Blues (1990)
Alec Baldwin’s best performance ever is in this very funny and surprisingly touching little-seen gem, based on the crime novel by Charles Willeford. He plays cocky and stupid Frederick “Junior” Frenger, an ex-con on the run who accidentally kills a Hare Krishna by breaking his finger at an airport, then steals both the badge and false teeth of Sgt. Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward), the cop who’s chasing him. He meets a hooker named Pepper (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and they try, in their own twisted way, to complete their vision of the suburban American dream. It is a movie so weird, sad, and wonderful, it’s a wonder it ever got made. Extra bonus: Baldwin’s Tony Montana impression!
3. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
I still have barely a passing interest in the music that came out of Manchester, England in the 80s and 90s, but this extraordinary Michael Winterbottom film is a self-referential hybrid that mixes documentary footage with an original script that is sparklingly alive with the excitement of the hedonistic times it portrays. Steve Coogan plays Factory Records head honcho/TV personality Tony Wilson, through which the stories of Joy Divison, New Order, and the Happy Mondays are told. Whether speaking directly to the camera or to one of the many rock stars playing minor bit parts in their own stories, Coogan is the glue that holds together a movie that zings wildly from despair to ecstasy in mere minutes. Extra bonus: Filmed on digital video, but you’d never know!
2. Bulworth (1998)
Warren Beatty laid it all on the line as the director, star, co-writer and co-producer of this nutso political satire about an aging liberal senator who takes a hit out on his own life. Knowing his death is imminent, he all of a sudden begins to speak (gasp!) the truth. What could have been a tiring lecture on the sad state of fake politicians and staged media becomes a strangely funny and ballsy ride, as Senator Bulworth begins to rap all of his speeches and hang with Halle Berry. Hollywood movies rarely get this confrontational, but Beatty used all his power and cred to get this anomaly made. A lot of people wrote the premise off as stupid and Videogum called it “the worst movie ever made,” but Bulworth shouldn’t be written off so easily. See, this is all filtered through they eyes of a 50-something liberal senator. Of course, he’s going to get everything about black culture wrong. Really wrong. What’s so absurd is that, looking at it from his POV ( guy with nothing left to lose), it all ends up kind of making sense. Extra bonus: Beatty’s “dope” rhymes and gross Halle Berry tongue-flicking!
1. Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Director Daniel Minahan was way ahead of the curve in this warped film about a reality show where randomly-picked contestants must kill-or-be-killed in a popular TV reality show. Apparently America wasn’t ready for a movie with a ruthless gun-toting heroine in a late-term pregnancy (the mesmerizing Brooke Smith), because it had a release of only 10 theaters. Thanks to Netflix streaming, you can experience all of Minahan’s dark black humor and spot-on satire of our culture’s obsession with sensational “reality” programming now. This is the rare timely satire that only gets more prescient with age. Extra bonus: Filmed on digital video, and it suits the subject matter!