Our love of Robert K. Elder began with the discovery of his book The Film That Changed My Life. Where he had the brilliant idea of asking 30 filmmakers (Danny Boyle, Bill Condon, Alex Gibney, etc) to discuss how a particular film influenced their own work and how it made them think differently about movies. Capturing lightning in a bottle, he has come back with The Best Film You Have Never Seen, where he asks 35 directors (Guillermo del Toro, John Woo, John Waters, etc) to champion their favorite overlooked or critically savaged films. Among these are are unsung noirs (Murder by Contract), famous flops (Can’t Stop the Music, Joe Versus the Volcano), art films (L’ange), theatrical adaptations (The Iceman Cometh), B-movies (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), and even a few Oscar-winners (Some Came Running).
Unable to resist the temptation we gathered our contributors and set them on the task of championing a film they felt for one reason or another had been overlooked. We hope you enjoy some of the lost gems we uncover here.
Attack the Block is such an honest, unassuming piece of entertainment that it seems unwise to praise it for things like its social observations, adjusted genre conventions, or its delicate critique of contemporary race relations. At the same time, the movie is so darn good it deserves all that praise and then some. Attack the Block is a blast of originality, wit, and pure nerve, an alien invasion movie more entertaining than the ones Hollywood has recently put out—and made for a tenth of the cost. Executive Producer, Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) name was used to sell the picture; his influence is clearly present throughout with its effortless ability to both send up and earnestly engage with the alien invasion genre. The real genius comes from Joe Cornish, making his directorial debut, as he introduces a band of heroes who are basically petty street thugs. We first meet them when they stick up a perfectly nice young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) who is on her way home from work. Brandishing knives and sporting dark hoodies, the five boys are the classic picture of dangerous, inner-city youth, but they’re also hilarious and courageously adventurous. Why, when out from the sky, a mysterious creature crash lands on the street, is their first instinct to poke at it, beat the hell out of it, and then drag it around like a prize. The social commentary of Attack the Block is simple; don’t judge a book by its cover. All that aside, it’s an electric, adventure story. The heavy British accents and slang may have kept Attack the Block from becoming the gigantic box office hit it should have been, but hopefully like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before it, it could be the under seen gem that will someday be recognized as a classic.
In 1982, Carl Reiner and Steve Martin set about making the ultimate film noir parody in honor of the pulp fiction detective movies of the1940s. In this loving tribute, Martin plays Rigby Reardon, a private eye who, through the power of editing, seamlessly interacts with the likes of Humphry Bogart, Cary Grant, Veronica Lake and Bette Davis. The film follows Reardon as he investigates the mysterious death of a prominent cheese scientist, who died suddenly in a car crash. With only a handful of clues, including two lists titled ‘Enemies of Carlotta’ and ‘Friends of Carlotta,’ Reardon must work tirelessly to solve the mysterious death. The dead man’s daughter, the beautiful dame Juliet Forrest, inevitably becomes tied up in the drama and Reardon just can’t help but fall for her. This fantastically pastiche film allows Reardon to banter with Marlowe from The Big Sleep, hunt down Kitty Collins from The Killers, and trick Neff from Double Indemnity. It’s a comedy that both teases and praises the genre of noir and it’s most famous players. To put it simply: It’s a gem.
A movie with a meaning. These exact words come to mind when I think of Into the Wild. Emile Hirsch stars as Chris McCandless, a modern day Benjamin Braddock (with a twist, of course. No Mrs. Robinson here), that has had enough of the conventionalism, materialism and the deemed way of living that society instills upon people. After graduating from Emory University, Chris decides to get rid of his credits cards, donate all his savings to charity and take off to Alaska to bask in the beauty of nature, away from the life he leads. Through his adventures in, you guessed it, the wild, he not only finds the beauty of nature but also begins to see how beautiful life truly is. Along the way, he meets people who impact his life tremendously. This film tells one of the most compelling stories I have ever seen and interestingly so, the movie is based on the non-fiction book by the same name that tells the story of Chris McCandless and his journey in the wild. Emile Hirsch delivers a fantastic performance, reeling you into Chris’ life and evoking each and every single emotion that Chris is going through in a way that lets the viewer in. Into the Wild is my pick for best movie you have never seen.
Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, David Niven, Peter Falk, Eileen Brennan, Elsa Lanchester, James Coco, Truman Capote, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood, James Cromwell and Alec Guinness. Honestly, do I need to say more? Murder by Death is a parody film written by Neil Simon. Set in a Victorian gothic mansion, the five greatest living detectives come together for “Dinner and a Murder”. When this film came out in 1976, the main attraction was seeing Truman Capote acting. Once that novelty faded away, the movie became more or less forgotten. With this stellar cast (who have a total of 18 Oscar nominations and four wins between them) and the impeccable writing, it is amazing that this film does not have a cult following. The sheer number of classic one-liners that have found a way into my lexicon is astounding and, let’s face it, kind of disturbing.
I never see or hear anyone talking about Sexy Beast, which is a sad state of affairs. Ben Kingsley plays Don Logan, a gangster trying to persuade a former colleague, Gal (Ray Winstone), to do one more job. Kingsley is the reason you should see this film, as his Don Logan is a scary, scary man. His constant berating, and coming close to physically hurting, Gal is at once painful and a joy to watch, mostly due to Kingsley’s portrayal of a complete waste of a human being. It sucks to be Gal, but it’s great to be someone watching it all unfold.
The best film I think many people have never seen is Three Kings, the David O. Russell film starring Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and George Clooney. I’m sure lots of people saw this film, and I often wonder what people who went based on the advertising made of it. I think this film had the worst, as in most misleading, marketing campaign ever. If you watched the trailer, with Mark Wahlberg driving a Humvee on its side and Ice Cube blowing up a cow, you’d think this was a raucous, go-America, wacky war adventure movie. In fact, it is a cynical, thoughtful look at how the United States had no idea what it was getting itself into with the first Iraq war, and how our mission there was misguided and naïve. The themes foreshadowed all of the problems encountered in the United States’ missions that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a friend who is basically the bastard child of Jon Stewart, Noam Chomsky and Leonard Cohen, and I made him watch this film – he protested from his knowledge of the film from the marketing that clearly it was a pro-America propaganda film and I was missing the ironic message of US superiority. He said “It has a Hollywood ending where America saves the day, right?” As the film was reaching its climax and things were looking dark, he said to me, “No, they’re not going to do that, right?” I said, “What, are you hoping for a Hollywood ending?” He said I was very cruel. Three Kings is a dark, independent David O. Russell film disguised as a Hollywood blockbuster. You should check it out.
Director David Cronenberg created a 1980s surreal time capsule by exploiting the emergence of the videocassette recorder, the rising popularity of MTV, the changing landscape of television, and the growing availability of video porn (no internet porn in 1983!). The film stars a young James Woods and features a sadomasochistic psychiatrist played by ’80s pop icon, Debbie Harry (Blondie)—a brilliant bit of casting considering her pop culture significance at the time. As Professor O’Blivion (yes, O’Blivion), prophesizes a future where television will eventually replace reality, you can’t help but make the mental connection to present day trends in reality TV, YouTube, and Google Glasses. Also written by Cronenberg, the script is convoluted (or cleverly complex, I’m not sure), with each subsequent layer more bizarre then the previous one. Despite being dated and sometimes campy, the film’s images are still disturbing, effectively powerful, and, oftentimes just kitschy fun. As we live in a world where technology advances exponentially each year, and we systematically check out of reality and “check in” to our social media du jour, I can’t help but wonder if and when media will indeed “supplant human reality.” Maybe Cronenberg was prophetic after all.
–John David West
Warrior was a little movie that flopped on arrival in September of 2011. The problem was it was marketed as “Rocky … with mixed martial arts!” To be fair, that’s a somewhat fair assessment; the problem is the existence of Rocky V causes people to forget that how groundbreaking and incredible the original Rocky was. Warrior tells the story of the estranged Conlan brothers: Family man and science teacher, Brendan (a masterful Joel Edgerton) and Tommy, back from war and weighed down with guilt (combustible Tom Hardy, jacked to a point that it is uncomfortable) who separately enter into a mixed-martial arts tournament. Nick Nolte (an Oscar nominee for his gristled performance) also stars as the boys’ alcoholic father, and Tommy’s trainer. It all seems very boilerplate, but the story about triumph, fatherhood and the complicated relationships we have with our families, as well as, ourselves is as powerful a punch as anything that happens in the ring. The film launched Gavin O’Conner as a major director/writer double-threat and enhanced both Hardy and Edgerton’s reputations as explosive new talents. I admit, I was one of the people who dragged their feet. I have to give credit to my buddy Anthony who was relentless in getting me to sit-down, shut up and enjoy this movie. He was right–Warrior is one hell of a film.
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