June 8, 2012

10 Phenomenally Underrated Movies

GODZILLA (1998) - In 1998, it was a big, dumb, loud & over-hyped Hollywood product, cynically calculated to sell as many toys as movie tickets. Critics hated it, audiences stayed away and tie-in merchandise ended up in budget bins before summer was even over. Hey, it's a giant monster movie. What was everyone expecting, The Seventh Seal? Roland Emmerich is no Scorsese, but Godzilla was better than Transformers, 2007's big, dumb, loud & over-hyped Hollywood product everybody flocked to.

APOLLO 18 - Yet another one of those 'found-footage' movies, a genre that's quickly wearing out its welcome. But what makes this one truly cool is it looks like it came from the era when it takes place - the 70s - when everything was captured on film, and we couldn’t simply fire-up a camcorder or cell-phone. Yeah, the whole killer-alien-space-rock thing is kinda dumb, but I personally thought this deliberately-paced quickie was really spooky. One of the few films to make space look like a shitty place to go.

EVENT HORIZON - Director Paul W.S. Anderson is a hack, but even the worst ballplayer on a team can hit one out of the park every now and then. Event Horizon may simply be The Shining in space, and doesn't always make a whole lotta sense, but it looks great, delivers some real scares, decent performances and, best of all, creates a dreadful, helpless feeling that these characters have ventured way too far from Earth for their own good.

THE PUNISHER - I don't read comic books, so maybe my opinion of this film would be different if I knew anything about the Punisher series. As it stands, though, I like this movie for the same reasons so many critics didn't...The Punisher may be the most violent revenge fantasy that isn't from the torture-porn genre. I also think John Travolta makes a better villain than a hero, and he's one mean motherfucker here. What's really cool is his character truly thinks his horrible acts are justified. Extra kudos to Lionsgate for having the balls to go with an R-rating.

A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - The story behind this one is the stuff of legend. Originally conceived by Stanley Kubrick, this was handed (at the late director’s behest) to Steven Spielberg to rewrite and ultimately direct. An odd collaboration, considering Kubrick’s films are usually cold and bleak, while Spielberg films have oft-been criticized for being overly-sentimental. A lot of critics (and audiences) didn’t like A.I. The movie is often dark and relentlessly downbeat, only to be punctuated by moments obviously geared to tug at your heart. Spielberg would defensively claim the more sentimental moments were actually Kubrick’s idea, but that’s probably bullshit. No matter...this film does a much more effective job questioning the definition of sentient life than the phenomenally overrated Blade Runner.

THE HUDSUCKER PROXY - Sure, we all love the Coen Brothers. We drop titles like Fargo and No Country for Old Men into conversations to show our pretentious cinema elitism. And once we’ve had a few drinks, we quote dialogue from Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski to demonstrate our hipness. But hardly anyone who professes a love for the quirkiness of the Coens ever mentions The Hudsucker Proxy, an almost family-friendly throwback to the whimsical films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Though The Big Lebowski is still my favorite Coen Brothers movie, this one is arguably their most elaborate and surreal...and a hell of a lot of fun.

BE COOL - No, it ain't as good as Get Shorty, but it's still fun and fast paced. And just try to tell me seeing Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a flamboyantly gay mob enforcer with dreams of stardom isn't one of the funnier examples of casting-against-type in recent years.

DEEP RISING - Sure, it's an Alien rip-off. Sure, the plot doesn't hold up to scrutiny very well. Sure, the CG effects are a bit questionable. But it's also intentionally funny, features a lot more character development than most movies of its ilk and isn't afraid to pile-on the gore. Director Stephen Sommers would go on to direct the first two Mummy movies, which everyone loved. A lot of what made those movies so much dumb summertime fun is present here.

THE EXORCIST III - This quirky second sequel ignores the shit-sucking Exorcist II: The Heretic to tell a fascinating story of its own. Directed by original Exorcist novelist William Peter Blatty, this is one weird-ass movie; one moment it’s uproariously (and intentionally) funny, the next moment it’s violent, disturbing and dread-inducing (particularly one deliberately drawn-out scene which ends with the decapitation of a hapless nurse). Exorcist III doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense, but despite some obvious post-production tinkering (like the gory exorcism gratuitously tacked-on at the studio’s insistence), it’s a smart, well-directed movie, anchored by the best performance by George C. Scott of his latter-day career. A worthy follow-up to the original classic.

PAYBACK - This is still my favorite Mel Gibson movie...a macho, sleazy, violent, black-humored, politically incorrect movie, with no aspirations of being anything more. Every single character, criminal and cop, is a bad guy. This movie is tons of fun, but never mentioned among the best modern action films, or listed as a highlight in Gibson’s filmography. But we’re not supposed to like Mel Gibson anymore, are we?

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