This is not a list of unquestionable classics, although a few of them are. But sometimes a solid picture slips through the cracks or is overlooked. Many reasons include bad timing, bad advertising, and bad initial audience response. Occasionally these swept under the carpet films are actually really good to great once one returns to them. These are my Top 10 Unsung or Forgotten Movies To See. This list is in no order and includes projects in multiple genres. We are only concerned with films worth a viewing here.
10. “Hackers” (1995):
Growing up in middle school my friends and I saw this movie and it was hot shit. When it comes to techno music soundtracks there is no substitute beyond “Hackers”. Before smart phones or tablets, kids growing up thought that this was the future. Obviously it was not. But if you look back on “Hackers” and keep its concept within the time it was created, the film is a blast and stands the test of time. No, this movie is not made for people over 50. But when the group of technical genius’s get rolling together it remains a total thrill ride. Oh, and let us not forget this was Angelina Jolie’s first big movie.
9. “El Violin” (2005):
What a heartwarming movie this is. Director Francisco Vargas sets this black & white picture in an undisclosed Central American location. There is a civil war as the government is fighting a rural insurgency with methods that include torture, rape, and murder. Government soldiers descend on a small town to cut off a group of rebels and their small cache of ammunition. Don’t worry, I am getting to the heartwarming part. A peaceful farming family that is three generations strong simply wish to be allowed to pass in order to tend to the families’ corn crops. Utilizing his skills on the violin, the grandfather convinces the soldiers to let them pass. The only catch is that he will come play for them every day. “El Violin” is a story of hope and highlights the idea that beauty can be found in even the most dreadful situations.
8. “Timecop” (1994):
The 90’s had some of the most ridiculous action stars of any decade. Guaranteed one of the top five in history has got to be the Brussels born man with the skill of doing the splits that is Jean-Claude Van Damme. He is the epitome of the action star that cannot act. While entertaining at times, his movies mostly SUCK! But even the bad ones hit sometimes. “Timecop” was JCVD’s hitter. The futuristic concept concerning time travel was not a new concept. When you infuse the genre with the kicking skills of Jean-Claude and the hilariously menacing villain played by Ron Silver, you have got yourself one “BLAST FROM THE PAST” of a sci-fi actioneer.
7. “21 Grams” (2003):
Alejandro G. Inarritu is an Oscar winning director and has become one of the most well known filmmakers in the world. It took him a few steps while ascending to that status. His second film “21 Grams” is one of his most complex pieces. With a star-studded cast led by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro, this is a story of people from very different lives and how they are connected. A theme Inarritu loves to explore. Told from multiple perspectives in a non-linear form, “21 Grams” centers around a freak accident that impacts them all. I will leave it at that.
6. “The Invention of Lying” (2009):
Perhaps my favorite living comedian Ricky Gervais is best known for his public appearances. His feature films are not exactly classics for the most part. But there is one that no doubt stands out. “The Invention of Lying” is an absolutely brilliant comedic idea. In a world where it is impossible to lie, Gervais stumbles upon the fact that he suddenly has become the only person capable of lying. He tells friends he is a black man, gets his drunk friend out of being arrested, can get as much money from the bank as possible, and even presents the 10 Commandments on the back of two pizza boxes. Other than the forced relationship with Jennifer Garner, “The Invention of Lying” is an ironic comedy chock full of laughs.
5. “The One I Love” (2014):
Marriage rarely goes great on a consistent basis. It takes work. The couple played by Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass are beginning to hate each other. Their therapist played by Ted Danson recommends to them a unique couples retreat in hopes that it will rekindle their relationship. When first arriving at ‘The Coop’ house there is a computer and recording system ready. All of the amenities seem to be exactly what the couple needs. Then things start to get weird when the two discover a guest house with a book chock full of past couples talking about how amazing their stay was. I will say no more, but this is by no means a horror film. “The One I Love” is a darkly comedic look at how hard it is to sustain a long term relationship with a twist. That twist happens in the middle of the film and allows itself to develop as the vacation goes on. A quality in a twist I prefer much more often than when it occurs at the end.
4. “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” (2008):
Perhaps the most compelling form of documentary is that of human stories based on real people instead of the famous celebrities or court cases stuff. “Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father” is one of the best in that category and will have you balling by the end. Documentary filmmaker Kurt Kuenne was devastated when his lifelong best friend Andrew Bagby was murdered. Bagby’s ex-girlfriend is pregnant with his child. Instead of expressing anger, Kuenne does what he knows best and makes a documentary about the unborn child’s father that he will never meet in person. Combined with archival footage as well as current interviews, “Dear Zachary” is a fantastic portrait for a kid to see when he is ready.
3. “Streets of Fire” (1984):
As soon as you see the titles on the screen stating “ANOTHER PLACE ANOTHER TIME” then you’ve gotta know this one is going to be unique. “Streets of Fire” is this weird combination of 1950’s gangster lifestyle combined with 80’s pop music. While not on the same level intellectually, this movie feels just as crazy as a “Mad Max” in terms of how strange all of these elements are placed together. The music is amazing, particularly the opening jam ‘Nowhere Fast’ coming right out of the gate. There is also a great climatic street fight under the bridge that includes a young Willem DaFoe and two giant hammers. “Streets of Fire” will have you jamming out old school.
2. “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006):
My friend Royce Leii introduced me to this picture years after it was released and I was completely stunned. To explain it simplistically, “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” is about a dude who kills people to make beautiful scents. This picture is so much more. It is the journey of a kid who should not have even survived his early childhood in the dumps that turns out to become one of the most unique serial killers in cinema history. Ben Whishaw’s psychopath has such a great sense of smell that he becomes obsessed with finding the perfect perfume, resulting in the man killing multiple women. Yet it is not that simple, and I will let you discover the complexities of this beautiful picture. I must also add, “Perfume” has one of the best endings in cinema history.
1. “Beasts of No Nation” (2015):
In my book, “Beasts of No Nation” remains the best Netflix movie produced so far, and it was the studios first major cinematic release. The only reason this picture got completely overlooked for awards, in particular Idris Elba, is because major studios were not yet prepared to accept streaming services as part of the next level of entertainment. Adapt or die producers… “Beasts of No Nation” is a horrifically accurate depiction of an unnamed African country where tyrannical gorilla militias go to small towns and force/brainwash young boys to join their cause. Elba and his crew destroy villages as he finds his new soldier protege played by Abraham Attah. The film is beautifully shot in its surreal nature. It is also a slap in the face for people living the good life, ignoring what is going on in multiple African countries.