Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Six Most Underrated Films Of All-Time

Every year, thousands of movies come out.  Some are universally loved, some universally hated, some missed by many, some seen by many and put on a pedestal they don't deserve.  So I started thinking about movies I've seen, which many haven't (most likely), that everyone should.  This list isn't comprised of movies like Legion, which I liked, but I'm sure I'd be laughed out of any serious film discussion for admitting.  This isn't movies that contain an Oscar nominee, but didn't get widely released.  This is a list of movies that most people I know haven't seen, but are actually considered pretty good by those in the know. 

So I started thinking about what criteria I would use to comprise this list.  I've rated over 2000 movies on Netflix using their star system.  Now while I believe 0-5 stars is very difficult to use, I needed something.  So here was my criteria.  If I rated the film a 5-star movie, the overall rating had to be under 3.5-stars.  If I rated it a 4-star movie, the overall rating had to be under 3-stars, but not under 2.6-stars, because that would mean the majority of viewers felt it was as close to not that good as it was to good.  My list actually surprised me, as there were only six movies that made the list.  I should also note, that if you think Elf is a five star movie, you might want to stop reading now.

So here's the list in descending order of greatness.

Hurly Burly -This movie is an adaptation of a well-received play by David Rabe.  The movie stars Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palmenteri, Robin Wright Penn, Anna Paquin (who was about 15 when this was filmed - which some might find a little odd) and a way out of left field performance by Meg Ryan.  The movie is about Hollywood people and their quest to make it big(ger).  The odd thing, is what they are trying to do in their professions isn't as crazy, or as interesting, as the stuff they are dealing with in their own lives.  The dialogue is a mile a minute and while the frenetic drug and alcohol riddle pace can be a little much at times, it's the mastery of its dialogue, by such a stellar cast, that makes this work  For anyone who likes plays that have been adapted for the screen and still feel like plays, this is one for you.  It should be noted that the two ladies steal every scene they are in.

The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky is getting a lot of press for his recently released Black Swan and was praised for movies such as Pi and Requiem for a Dream, but this one is better than both of those.  It's the story of a man and a woman whose lives span over a thousand years.  It's a story about love, death and spirituality.  It shows just how fragile life can be. One must understand that this movie isn't really about time travel, although many perceive it to be.  It's about living life and facing death.  Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz are magnificent as the couple.  This is by far the most visually stimulating movie I've ever seen.  I don't do drugs, but if I did, this movie would be my favorite movie of all-time.

L.I.E. - Movies like this are difficult to love for many because of the topic.  A young boy loses his father and befriends an older man, who likes him more than just for his company.  The movie starts off with a conversation of incest and gets darker from there.  The thing that is so difficult about this movie is that it's about someone looking for love and compassion and finding it in a person who possesses the qualities that are our biggest fears. He's a pedophile.  Paul Dano (better known as the son in Little Miss Sunshine) and Brian Cox are magnificent as the child and the older man.  There are scenes of such tenderness in the film that you forget the actual motives at times.  The movie leaves you feeling uneasy and empathetic at the same time. Which with the subject content is absolutely masterful.

One False Move - Before the world knew Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade, this movie hit the screen. Starring Thornton, Bill Paxton and Cynda Williams, the cast delivers a film made in the early 90's that is much like classic film noir of the 40's and 50's.  It's a tale of a couple on the run and there decision to hide away in a small town.  The small town sheriff (Paxton) suspects something and thinks this may be his shot out of the small time. As the movie unfolds people's pasts come in to play with subtle, but dynamic results.

Manhunter - Manhunter is the original "Red Dragon."  The prequel to Silence of the Lambs, remade later with Ed Norton and Ralph Fiennes.  Make no mistake, take away the now cheesy Miami Vice 80's look and this movie is far better.  William Peterson plays Graham.  The man who put Hannibal Lecter in jail.  Lecter, played by Brian Cox, only appears in two scenes, but they are nearly as good as Anthony Hopkins portrayal.  The amazing Joan Allen plays the role reprised by Emily Watson.  Tom Noonan is a much spookier, although not as suave as Fiennes, as the menacing Francis Dolarhyde. 

Hard Eight (aka Sydney) - Long before Magnolia, Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson wrote this amazing movie about a loser gambler being taken under an experienced gambler's wing. Philip Baker Hall plays Sydney the older gentleman who has a soft spot for the down on his luck John, played magnificently by John C. Reilly. After getting himself back on his feet, John meets Clementine (the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow) who is a cocktail waitress, who occasionally sells her body for extra money.  The movie really gets going when Sydney has a meeting with Jimmy (played by Samuel L. Jackson).  There are secret pasts that come out and the character's lives spiral out of control.  The script is so tight and so perfect you feel like it's over in twenty minutes.  One note I learned from the extras on the DVD.  The scene where Jimmy and Sydney first meet was filmed immediately when Samuel Jackson got on the set.  Philip Baker hall and he had never met and walked into the room and shot the scene in one take.  It's one of the most amazing scenes I've ever watched and that knowledge just blew me away.

So there it is.  My list of the six most underrated movies.  I'd love to hear what other's think of either these or their thoughts on what they think doesn't get enough props.  I've also added a list of movies below that just missed the list with quick comments about them.

Miller's Crossing - every time I watch it I say to myself "this is probably better than the Godfather."
Home for the Holidays - the best Christmas movie not called a Christmas Story.
Lars and the Real Girl - a story of people coming together in a strange circumstance.
Juice - Tupac Shakur was brilliant in this and very few people know if it.
The Devil's Backbone - everyone has seen Pan's Labyrinth, few have seen Del Toro's other masterpiece.
Elephant - Columbine-like story that is amazing and scary in its realness.
Three Burials of Malquaides Estrada - maybe Tommy Lee Jones best movie.  That's saying a lot.
The Verdict - well received years ago, but nobody under 30 has seen it.
In the Company of Men - Aaron Eckhart is brilliant, because at the end, you want to kill him for the role.
Lawn Dogs - Before the O.C. Mischa Barton could act.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer - NYU used to teach and entire class on this movie.
Alpha Dogs - some people see Justin Timberlake and laugh.  He's absolutely amazing. As is Ben Foster.
Badlands - visually stunning Terrence Malick classic with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek.
Saved - Mandy Moore, Jenna Malone and McCauley Culkin...yes that cast delivers a great movie.
Charlie Wilson's War - Tom Hanks best performance ever.  Yes, you read that right.
The Woodsman - Kevin Bacon as a pedophile trying to get his life back.  He and Kyra Sedgewick nail it.
Suspect Zero - on the hunt for a serial killer. With a twist.

Watch any of these and I'd be surprised if you don't love them.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Inside the Actors Studio: The Questions

Last year, I did the full version of Proust's questionnaire, but I'm going to keep this simple.  Since I started this on my damn phone and wasn't going to type that much.  For those of you who don't know, there is a Bravo television show called Inside the Actors Studio, in which the host, James Lipton asks celebrities a set of questions at the end of each show.  Some are telling.  Some are moving.  Some are just plain hilarious.  So here it goes.  Here are mine.

1. What is your favorite word?


Thanks.  A simple word, but so seldom spoke with sincerity.  When it is, it's magic.
2. What is your least favorite word?

Fag.  The most overused word in society today.

3. What turns you on?

Knowledge

4. What turns you off?

Ignorance

5. What sound do you love?

Children's laughter.

6. What sound do you hate?

Car horns.

7. What is your favorite curse word?

Bitch.  Because it can be used playfully, but when used with malice can drive a woman crazy and a man to the brink.
8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Advertising or Marketing

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Cleaning zoo cages.
10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

"Just this once I'm gonna let slide the fact that you didn't believe in me or this place...welcome, grab a cloud."
Not much to say.  Just my immediate thoughts on these questions.  What are your answers?  Feel free to let me know...or just think about them to yourself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Giving Thanks

Last Thursday, as the turkey and stuffing was eaten, the gravy was poured and the football games watched, it dawned on me that we may have lost sight of the the concept of Thanksgiving.  Sure, people say they are thankful for their meal and to be with family and friends, but it's rarely a time of serious reflection.  Especially when the smell of a sweet pecan pie is wafting through the air.  I'll admit, I didn't really reflect that day either.  A triple creme brie and a glass of nice Cabernet had my thoughts elsewhere.  But as the days passed, especially Monday night I started to really be thankful.

I'm thankful for my mother, who isn't with me anymore.  I'm thankful for her teaching me compassion and patience, even if at times I don't show them.  In doing so, I have become a better person.

I'm thankful for my father, who taught me to look for more.  Look for the clues, the answers and to question everything that doesn't sound right.  In doing so, I have become a smarter person.

I'm thankful for my brother, who despite driving me crazy half the time, makes me realize that even the ones we love can test us, but in the end, we love them for it.  In doing so, I have learned to understand other's points of view.

I'm thankful for my grandmother, who at 97, has taught me to live every day like it's your last.  To enjoy your friendships and to love your family.  In doing so, I don't sit around and wait for something to happen, I try to make it happen myself and try to add something to other's lives as well.

I'm thankful for my mother's parents, who taught me that everyone should be treated fairly and to show appreciation for even the little things, goes a very long way.  In doing so, I learned that despite physical or philosophical differences, we're all the same.

I'm thankful for the handful of teachers along the way who made learning, regardless of the subject matter, fun.  They didn't open the doors for me, they showed me how to open them myself.  In doing so, I don't take anything at face value without investigating, researching and coming to my own conclusions.

I'm thankful for my friends.  They have taught me to laugh and to count on one another.  In doing so, they have made my life better.  Laughter is by far the best medicine for whatever ails you, no matter how serious that ailment may be.  They have also shown me the importance of being able to count on someone and have them count on you.

I'm thankful for the hundreds, maybe thousands of kids I've worked with over the years, for showing me that no matter how bad things get, I can see hope and excitement in their eyes.  This is what keeps me going.  In doing so, they give me subtle reminders, that my life, no matter how mundane it may seem at times, does make a difference.

Finally, I'm thankful for those who have come into my life (and some have gone) who made a difference.  Whether it be a girlfriend, a co-worker, or just a friend.  I'm thankful to those people, who for a time, made my life a little better. I'm thankful to the my best friends along the way, for showing me that true friendship is love.  I'm thankful the one's I've loved along the way, even if I didn't always show it.  I'm thankful to those people, who for short times, made my life complete.  For those who listened, for those who confided and for those who were just there.  Maybe nothing more than gazing at the stars or sitting by my side on a bus.  In doing so, they made me a better all around person.  They made me realize that life is all about give and take.  For every time someone needed me, there was someone who was there when I needed them.  Isn't that what life is really all about?

For all these people - Thank You.