My love of film came of age around 1990 or so. I was 15 and I had seen films I shouldn’t have seem largely due to the fact that I had 3 older brothers. Seeing Goodfellas soon after that cemented my cinematic love. Taking 1990 as a jumping of point this is a list of films that are loved by me but little seen by others. We all have those films that we press upon people. ‘You must see this’ is the world weary battle cry that is uttered. You want them to be loved and you are crushed when people go huh? The list had over 20 at one point and it was difficult to leave some out. A few are a little obscure, at least one a lot of people hate and some that just slipped through the crack known as indifference. Some reading this list that will say the films are not particularly underrated or obscure and that is fine. But I love all these dearly. There are at least two people that have had a rather desperate and pleading conversation from me for each of these titles. You should see all of these. You may not like them but they are beloved by me. Watch and then tell me I have great taste/am an idiot. But most importantly do watch.
10. Match Point (2005)
Oh sure everyone hates it. Jonathan Rhys Myers fairly sleepwalks through it. And it is not as good as his early funny ones etc… Nonsense. The nihilism on display here is the key to it. Match Point is bleak and very disturbing in its set up. It is a very serious film with the occasional hollow laugh thrown into the mix. In the end it all comes down to how lucky we are. Or not. Plus it has a never sexier Scarlett Johansson as well. And some violence, a rarity for a Woody Allen film. To all those (aka nearly everyone else) who think Woody Allen’s best work is far behind him I say to you: watch this and Blue Jasmine and see a filmmaker who still has it in spades.
9. Living in Oblivion (1995)
‘Bob, what the fuck is with that smoke, man? Whaddya got in there, a couple of hamsters blowing smoke rings, ferchrissakes?’
For fans of films about films this is one of the greats. It has it all. Steve Buscemi note perfect as the harassed indie film director. The wonderful Catherine Keener as his leading lady. Dream sequences everywhere. Eye patches, dwarfs, senile mothers, pile cream and James Le Gros doing an alleged impression of a certain famous movie star. Tom Di Cillo absolutely kills it here. Endlessly re-watchable, it should be talked about by more people. Get on that. For another Buscemi film about film I would also recommend In the Soup (1992)
8. Ivan’s Xtc (2000)
Bernard Rose is to the average film fan the director of the brilliant horror film Candyman (if known at all). And yet there is a sense that he is a serious if inconsistant filmmaker (his superb 1998 film Paperhouse almost made this list). He has made some films that are not so good but when he gets it right he is dazzling. This 2000 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich is quite simply stunning. The story is transferred to modern Hollywood and stars a never better Danny Huston. It has become a terrific director actor partnership and they have made other Tolstoy adaptations that are worth seeking out. But Ivan’s Xtc is their crowning achievement.
7. Orphans (1998)
‘She ain’t heavy, she’s my mother’.
The brilliant Peter Mullan made his feature debut in 1998 when he wrote and directed this dark comedy. Four siblings meet up to bury their recently deceased mother. The film follows each of their journeys the night before the funeral. Wonderfully written and played this has some great laughs as well as a wonderful melancholic feel. Some of the visuals are quite wonderful as well. Orphans has a dark heart, but the emphasis here is on heart. The sibling relationships are spot on and there are some fantastic visuals to complement the great script. It is an absolute treat.
6. The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2005)
Sean Penn brings all the world weary paranoia in this film. A deadly serious and bleak undertaking it concerns the real life story of one Sam Bicke a man who felt let down by an uncaring world. Instead of focussing on his own issues (there are many) he tragically places the blame on others with horrifying results. The best thing about this film is the restraint on show. It is there in the acting (Penn can go OTT sometimes) and in the remarkably assured direction of Niels Mueller. It is a grim tale but also a desperately sad one. We still await a follow up film by Mueller.
5. The Last Seduction (1994)
There was a point in the early 90s when John Dahl seemed to be the go to guy for neo noirs. Kill me Again and Red Rock West were excellent films and he went one better with The Last Seduction. Linda Fiorentino sizzles as Bridget Gregory, dominating the screen and every man in her sphere. She looks at them as playthings: to be picked up and used when she is bored or in need of something. Cruelly denied an Oscar nomination (and a possible win) as the film showed on HBO before a theatrical release Fiorentino tore the screen up in this twisty and dark noir. See it and be wowed. Dahl was never this good again.
4. The Imposters (1998)
Where Stanley Tucci did the unthinkable and made a brilliant farce. He also starred alongside the brilliant Oliver Platt (Laurel and Hardy reborn) as a couple of starving actors (literally in one great scene in a cake shop). There are elements of screwball comedy and even a great opening scene that harks back to the silent era. There is also the matter of one the great modern supporting casts, deep breath: Alfred Molina, Steve Buscemi, Tony Shalhoub, Lili Taylor, Alison Janney, Richard Jenkins, Campbell Scott, Isabella Rossellini, Woody Allen and Billy Connolly. See it and laugh and laugh. Utterly sublime.
3. Mary and Max (2009)
When we talk about films that you dearly want other people to love Mary and Max is pretty high on that list. I have recommended it to quite a few people. Only some have watched but the ones that did have simply adored it. Written and directed by Adam Elliot and shot in glorious claymation Mary and Max is a deeply felt film, not afraid of dark subjects and themes. But what shines through is the beautiful humanity. It is a tale about the desperate need to connect, to feel that someone loves and respects you. And yet it also celebrates the loners of the world and how wonderful individuality is. It is ok to not understand the world. Most of us don’t. It is also given another layer of almost unbearable poignancy by the death of one of its main stars, the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Watch and cry for many reasons.
2. I Stand Alone (1998)
Not for the faint of heart is an overused description but feels entirely apt for this film. It could be applied to all of Noe’s work. In his subsequent films there is usually a visual beauty amidst the ruins. I Stand Alone is an astonishing and grubby film; you feel it on your skin afterwards. It is generally left out of the Gasper Noe discussion. Most will mention Irreversible and Enter the Void and rightly so but I Stand Alone is as good as either film. The performance of Philippe Lahan is extraordinary as befits the role of a lifetime. He is this film. I Stand Alone once watched will not be forgotten. It is the stuff of queasy nightmares, confrontational cinema at its finest. Watch the trailer at your own peril. NSFW just about covers it.
1. Homicide (1991)
When talk of David Mamet’s best cinematic outing come around all talk inevitably leads to Glengarry Glen Ross and it is hard to argue with. A great cast and brilliant writing assure it a place at the top of the table. But the flat direction (by James Foley) reduces the impact somewhat. But Mamet directed Homicide and it is the finest film he has been involved in. Always criminally overlooked when discussing his work, Homicide is a drama about identity, religion and race masquerading as a police drama. A never better Joe Montagna plays Bobby Gold, a New York police officer who along with his partner (William H. Macy) is closing in on a major drug dealer when he accidentally stumbles across the murder of an elderly Jewish woman in a black neighbourhood. Her family pull strings and want Gold on the case seemingly because he is Jewish himself. This sets in motion an investigation that will divide his loyalties completely. Homicide also has one of the strongest kicks to the stomach I have seen in the climax of the film, a crucial misunderstanding that undermines all that went before. Homicide is a brilliant and important film.