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6 of the most underrated films ever made
The director Alexander Payne once wrote, “What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?”
We couldn’t agree more. And whilst this may seem like it only applies to low budget filmmaking, in which many of us may be well versed, it absolutely applies to Hollywood too.
There are no guarantees. Just because you’ve got a great cast, doesn’t mean people will warm to the story and vice versa. All the money in the world can’t buy bums on seats. Sometimes a film just isn’t seen or slips under our radars. And other times it seems like films just don’t get the love we think they deserve, especially when we find one that feels like it was made just for us.
Take these six underrated films, for example:
- Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1995)
Walken. Garcia. Buscemi. AND Christopher Lloyd. You should be sold already. A cult 90’s film that inspired aphorisms, secret handshakes, and the best chat-up line that cinema has ever produced, and we’re not even scratching the surface.
Often overlooked, this film is a pastiche of gritty, small town gangsters meeting eloquent, oath-keeping, suit wearing gentlemen. Walken is exceptional as ‘The Man With The Plan’ – a seething, wheelchair-bound gangster who exacts revenge on ‘Jimmy ‘The Saint’ Tosnia’ (Garcia), after his aging crew fail miserably on a job of particular familial importance. Then it’s a race against time for Jimmy and his crew to get out of Denver alive.
Reason to watch: Walken. You can’t take your eyes off his own bulbous ones. There’s also a truly sensational scene between Garcia and Lloyd, where resignation has never been more poetic.
Why you haven’t seen it: You were probably watching Pulp Fiction, which is fair enough. Now you’ve got no excuse.
- Rounders (1998)
We’ve all got a party trick. Matt Damon’s is a Boston accent. In Rounders however we’re treated to Matt Damon playing a New Yorker, Mike McDermott, a trainee lawyer and poker enthusiast whose lowlife friend Worm, played excellently by Edward Norton, is finishing up a jail sentence. When the boys get together, poker hustling of epic proportions commences. However Worm has outstanding debts and Mike’s misplaced loyalty sees him implicated in owing the wrong guy – Russian mobster, Teddy KGB, played by John Malkovich – a lot of money. Needless to say it’s all settled over a very tense, very well directed final poker game.
The film is laced with awesome dialogue and stakes set as high as the stacks of poker chips they gamble with. A jazzy soundtrack is mixed with killer New York visuals while Matt Damon narrates the whole affair.
Reason to watch: A great scene between Martin Landau and Matt Damon that makes you question your own life choices, as well as a jazz soundtrack that compliments a never-sleeping New York.
Why you haven’t seen it: Small release and rarely televised. Seek it out.
- Naked (1993)
Naked is a strange choice as we bet some of you will have a problem with it being termed ‘underrated’. Allow us to clarify, and in doing so, win you over.
Naked gets some recognition. It’s in Empire’s ‘100 Best British Films’ and that’s fine. Fine.
But Naked is a sleeping masterpiece. Naked is a film that, when you gorge yourself on the trivia as we have, you’ll realise should be taught in schools. It was a barely-written script that was instead pulled together during an intensive rehearsal period, which allowed David Thewlis to conceive the character of Johnny.
Johnny, the eloquent, verbose, garrulous drug addict who, after raping a woman in Manchester, travels to London to stay with an old flame, Louise (played with brilliant indifference by Lesley Sharp). Existential ramblings and terrifically performed dialogue ensue, with Mike Leigh creating a murky pulpit out of London from which Thewlis can expunge his tirade. Another notable performance is from the late Katrin Cartlidge as Sophie, whose incredible character is a real scene-stealer.
Reason to watch: David Thewlis’ portrayal of Johnny. Also, if you’re a fan of the TV sitcom Spaced, we think you’ll see the inspiration for the character of Marsha in Katrin Cartlidge’s Sophie.
Why you haven’t seen it: Woefully unrecognised, it’s hardly a surprise that you may not have heard of this classic. Rectify this immediately.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
This film is considered a box office flop. Simply put, not nearly enough people went to see it. A crime.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World was an adaptation of a comic book series and was loved by fans of the source material. But for one reason or another (lack of marketing, obscure plot) it didn’t get the wider acclaim that it absolutely deserved.
Edgar Wright’s first foray into features (without Pegg & Frost in tow) is crafted so intelligently that it feels like a comic book has come to life. The transitions are unmistakably Wright, the casting is perfect (who else has the ability to play Michael Cera like Michael Cera?), and the story is so obscure that it feels like a film from the 80’s. It’s remarkable filmmaking on so many levels. And it makes for one hell of a trivia list on IMDB.
Reason to watch: Wright’s directing is always a joy to behold.
Why you haven’t seen it: Not many people did. But you’re in for a treat when you do.
- Gangs of New York (2002)
Tale has it that Leonardo Di Caprio and Martin Scorsese had to fly the script to Daniel Day-Lewis to force him to consider the part of ‘Bill The Butcher’. Whether fact or fiction – no matter. What Day-Lewis did, and always does, is suspend our disbelief. This is so often the case with Day-Lewis that it might seem odd that he is on this list.
However, his transformation into the leader of the ‘Natives’ is a role even more worthy of an Oscar than his portrayal of Lincoln, in our humble opinion. Di Caprio is once again solid as the character of ‘Amsterdam’. Yet even he must have looked at his co-star at times and wondered how to raise his game, so convincing, so maniacal, so possessed is Day-Lewis. One can only assume that the film’s length and gore may have driven some people away but the fact remains: this should be considered a classic.
Reason to watch: Daniel Day-Lewis.
Why you haven’t seen it: Often overlooked amongst Scorsese’s other notable achievements, but should be more appreciated.
- Brave (2012)
Why, oh why this film hasn’t received the same adoration as some of its animated contemporaries, I shall never know.
We first watched Brave curled up on the sofa on a lazy Sunday and, what started off as pleasant background viewing to an afternoon nap, soon became a story we couldn’t stop watching. What struck us first was that there was a strong, independent female lead who was a child. The second wonderful element of this story was that it was set in historical Scotland, giving the film a uniqueness and introducing children to this beautiful land. Finally, and this doesn’t need a spoiler warning, this was a film about a mother and daughter’s relationship and the ever-changing but always forgiving nature of that bond. The animated film Frozen had huge success with a story of two sisters having to reconcile so it’s surprising that this film was received with relative indifference. Perhaps the accents were too strong. Personally, we loved it. And given that it features a princess who doesn’t need anyone to rescue her, we want you to love it too.
Reason to watch: An animated film, where the mother-daughter bond is king (or should we say queen?). Also the wonders of animation that bring that beautiful red hair to life.
Why you haven’t seen it: Overshadowed? Undervalued? Perhaps both.
While you may have your own list of films that are underrated (and you may disagree with one or two of our choices) the fact remains; a great cast, or a great studio, cannot guarantee a film is a success. Even if in some cases, it deserves to be.