Monday, November 28, 2005

Film Forum

Last week's post on the worst films ever generated a lot of discussion, so I thought we'd continue the movie magic by turning that question around: Which lesser-known movies -- forgotten classics, obscure indie flicks, foreign films, etc. -- have been a pleasant surprise for you? What should we, the Netflix Members of North America, have queued up?

Here are a handful off the top of my head:

1. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974): This is a recent rental, and one that's worth it. It's a fairly straightforward '70s crime drama, but memorable for a few reasons. One, Quentin Tarantino stole a lot from this film when he put together Reservoir Dogs, including the color code names of the criminals, like Mr. Blue and Mr. Brown. Two, the casting is incredible. The criminals include a masterful Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws), a dowdy Martin Balsam, and a young, insane, horny Hector Elizondo; the cops, meanwhile, are an action team composed of Walter Matthau and Jerry Stiller, a.k.a. Mr. Costanza. Three, the entire film revolves around a hostage taking on a New York subway, with Matthau and Stiller as our hero transit cops. (Stiller even appears in dress blues, with his hat pressed down on his orange afro. So good.)

2. Touch of Evil (1958): Easily my favorite Orson Welles film. Again, I have a love for perverse casting, and this one has it. Welles as a fat, drunk and corrupt border sheriff, Charlton Heston as a Mexican District Attorney, Janet Leigh as sex personified, and Marlene Dietrich as a madame. But the directing is what's made this film famous. The opening scene, with a single camera moving through the border crossing, is a classic later copied in GoodFellas and Boogie Nights. And the scene where Welles and Heston confront each other in a room full of bull-and-matador photos may just be the greatest single scene in all of film history. Be sure to get the fully restored original, and not the chopped-up edits that the studio put out as a cruel, cruel joke.

3. La Haine [Hate] (1995): This film should be required viewing for anyone trying to understand the Muslim riots in the French suburbs. Because this film is all about Muslim riots in a French suburb. It's a little bit like Menace II Society, but with a Jew, an Arab, and an African immigrant taking the lead.

4. Foxy Brown (1974): I'm a big fan of blaxploitation films, and this was on the Sundance Channel last night. There's so much to love here, from the Willie Hutch soundtrack to Pam Grier kicking ass twelve different ways. (Thirteen if you count the bad guy she has castrated.) More great casting here, with Antonio Fargas, the original Huggy Bear, playing her piece-of-shit brother.

Alright, that's enough to start the discussion. (But I request permission from the chair to revise and amend my remarks at a later date.)

Please throw your favorite semi-obscure films in the comments below.


Smitty said...

I am nearly on my death bed right now; maybe the Chicken Flu or something equally deadly that I caught from my 5-month-old son, who, because of day care, is like a wiggly little petrie dish. The best biological weapon ever? A class of day care kids. Just as bad as "white man" with the smallpox blankets...

Given that, the only movie to come to mind is the version of Henry V done with Kenneth Brannaugh as Henry. Great adaptation of Shakespeare, well-coreographed battle at Agincourt, and Brannaugh's St. Crispin's Day speech made me search for my broadsword and join ranks for the fun.

ORF said...

Here! Here! to your vote for La Haine, Otto. That is a fantastic movie and would be in my top five.

In keeping with your theme of French colonialist oppression, one of my favorite lesser-knowns is The Battle of Algiers, which was shot by Pontecorvo in a documentary style about the French occupation of Algeria. Much of the destruction he used in the film was real and it was based on a real man who worked against the French forces. It says a lot about the political obliviousness occupying countries have of the occupied. It got a bit of press due to a Pentagon screening just after we invaded Afghanistan.

Also great (and wartorn) is The King of Hearts about an insane asylum in France that has been abandoned during World War I. A French soldier goes into the village and discovers the inmates and they elect him their leader. I happen to prefer foreign films, if you have not figured that out yet. And for those of you who don't like to read at the movies, too bad.

I saw The Quiet American (more recent version w/ Michael Caine) recently and really enjoyed it. As to the plot, which is fairly easy to follow, I just never saw it coming. I think I'm partly in love with this film because I'd just returned from a trip to Vietnam when I saw it and the colonial architecture there is very charming.

I know it got a lot of coverage in NYC, but I don't know about the rest of the country: City of God. I just bought this DVD on Amazon and can't wait to get home and watch it again.

I'm not a fan of horror films, but if you want a good spook that's not Hitchcock, then load Suspiria into your Netflix queu. Holy crap, is it the best use of lighting/sound/music in a horror flick EVER. Michael Myers' theme has NOTHING on this movie.

Finally, Baraka is the coolest film ever made. No reading required, not even any listening to dialogue, just looking. These guys took 13 months and went to like 30 different countries and filmed some incredible stuff all over the world and then put it together into a big music video homage to planet earth. Even better than that Van Halen video for "Right Now."

Yossarian said...

Ok, here comes my Eurotrash side...

1. Wings of Desire - the only words to describe this Wim Wenders film are "achingly beautiful". Meg Ryan will burn in and additional ring of hell for re-making a bad version of it (with a different ending) with "City of Angles". Also Peter Falk is in it - bonus!

2. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover - A little disturbing, a little weird, a lot cool. Peter Greenaway plays "spot the portrait" while spinning a tale about infidelity and fine cuisine.

3. Super Troopers - Fooled ya on this one! I dragged every friend I had to this movie the night it opened, because I knew in my heart that the trailers wasn't just showing the funniest parts. Both of them thank me to this very day. Farva, eat the damn soap!!!

The first five minutes of "Way Of The Gun" deserve special consideration. ONLY the first five minutes, the rest of the film is shite.

Otto Man said...

ORF, if you want to continue your French string, check out the original "The Day of the Jackal," which is all about a group of disgruntled French Algerian military officers trying to kill De Gaulle for his granting Algeria independence. They made it into a crappy remake in the 1990s with Bruce Willis in the lead, but the original is much better.

I'm related to a cop, and "Super Troopers" is his favorite film. It's pretty damn funny. Too bad their "Club Dread" follow-up was crap.

Norbizness said...

Salvatore Giuliano! It was made a few years before Battle of Algiers, and is a quasi-documentary look at a Sicilian rebel/gangster. It's one of about 100 I'd list here if I had the time.

alex supertramp said...

I have to second ORF's City of God and the Baraka honorable mention (although as a disclaimer I've never seen it not stoned of my arse, but it really put me in a nice [-r] frame of mind), I'll add Amores Perros, Donnie Darko, Pi (I have yet to watch this sober so I might not be the best critic of this one), Memento, American History X, midnight express, Permanent midnight, the wall ---okay, my apparently I need to look at everyone else's comments because NONE of my flicks are remotely lesser-known

Studiodave said...

I never thought I would be writing one of these but an expereince this summer at the gym showers was....

Oh, this is FILM Forum.


Otto Man said...

It's one of about 100 I'd list here if I had the time.


On another note, let me join the chorus: City of God and Baraka are both excellent.

Tokyo Joe said...

Another great freaken post. The scary thing was I was thinking about how cool this topic would be just the other day. synchronicity at its finests.

As for my list, I'm dishing out an all Asian sensation for your viewing pleasure.

Battle Royale- Super intense violent japanese movie where the govt has gone crazy and has pit high schoolers against each other in an island grdge match with explosive collars. Awesome if you can find it (which is hard since it never got an american release even on DVD).

Ping Pong - another japanese film about the ancient sport of kings. The use of CGI in this film is so subtle that you forget all about it and start to think the actors are really that great.

Millenium Actress (AKA Sennen joyu) - what would an asian film list be without at least one cartoon. However, this ain't no kiddie flick. It's actually a very serious movie about a documentary director who tracks down a famous actress at listens to her life story. The animation actually helps the story since it helps blur the distenction between the actress's life, her movies, and reality. check it out.

Eat Drink Man Woman - before Ang Lee went Hollywood with The Hulk, he made a very subtle film about 3 daughters and their chief father who lost his sense of smell.

Any Zatoichi film - these are old samurai films about a blind masseueur who just happens to be a major bad ass with his hidden sword. There are about 25 of these films so you can spread them out over a long period.

InanimateCarbonRod said...

Not to dis Office Space, but Super Troopers is at least twice as funny. That feather coming out of the Porsche is one of the top 10 funniest things put on film. The commentary tracks on the DVD are worth listening to also.

"Club Dread" is reviled only because is didn't come close to living up to their first film. Jay's "Dukes of Hazzard" remake made big cash, so he's doing a few more Broken Lizard things. They'll be back, I swear.

I will always harbor a deep burning love for "Cabin Boy."

I also give props to "Battle Royale" and anything Beat Kitano is in generally ("Brother" is a very accessible introduction to him).

One of the most underseen movies is "Babe: Pig in the City." This is not a joke. It's better than the original.

"Branded to Kill" is a crazy Japanese gangster-a-go-go/French New Wave type movie. A great find if you're into this kind of thing.

Is "Cinema Paradiso" unknown enough? It's kind of old and foreign. Beautiful movie about a boy and his love of the cinema. You can watch it with your lady and not feel like a wuss.

How about "Dead Alive?" Peter Jackson's early splatter film. Hysterically funny and lives up to its billing as "The Goriest Movie Ever Made."

"The Decalogue" is really a series of 10 one-hour films originally made for Polish television. Sounds lame, doesn't it? But it was directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, the guy who did Red/Blue/White (Yeah, I cut and pasted his name). I like this better cause one at a time they don't drag on so long as to get pretentious.

"I, Claudius" is a huge PBS miniseries depicting the fall of the Roman Empire. Incredible cast and incredibly addictive. The budget is low, but this is a truly great piece of work.

I'll try to limit my Kung Fu movies, so "Five Deadly Venoms" is the one to see. Not much plot here, but the fighting is pure hard boiled Kung Fu. Okay, I'll throw in a plug for "Master of the Flying Guillotine." If the idea of taking a half hour of movie time to show a fight contest where everyone has a different style appeals to you, then you may want to buy this one. And my restraint will prevent me from going on about "Iron Monkey" or "Riki-Oh."

While I'm showing restraint, I'll limit myself to one Kurosawa film. No, it's not going to be "Rahomon" because we're being obscure. Have you seen "Ikiru?" No samurai here (and no Mifune!), just an old man diagnosed with terminal cancer. One of the most joyous films I've ever seen.

"The Iron Giant" is absolutely the best animated film not made by Pixar. I can't believe it didn't gross a billion billion dollars.

This response is getting long, and I swear I could go on for hours on this subject. I haven't even gotten around to Westerns ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" & "Once Upon a Time in the West") or French crime films ("Rififi" & "Le Cercle Rouge"). Maybe I should start another blog or something.

Tokyo Joe said...


Good call on "Master of the Flying Guillotine." That film was awesome!

Speaking of non-samurai Kurasawa films, Tengoku to jigoku is another great one. It's about a successful business man who while on the verge of a very important deal finds out that his son has been kidnapped. However, when he is prepared to pay the ransom, he finds out that it wasn't his son, but the gardner's son that got snatched. Mifune is in it too, so you know it's good.

As for best animated film not made by Pixar (this could be its own post actually), I'm backing my main man, Hayao Miyazaki, with Spirited Away. Even though that one may be too well known for this list, check out some of his earlier work, including Castle in the Sky and My Neighbor Totoro. the man is a genius.

Mrs_Thrillhous said...

I will always harbor a deep burning love for "Cabin Boy."

Ditto. Chris Elliott rulz.

Don't Go To Sleep is a pretty scary TV movie. I was about the same age as the heroine (?) when I first saw it, and seeing her killing people because her dead sister told her to was a little unnerving.

The 1944 Jane Eyre is the best version I've seen, and yet seems to be the only one unavailable on DVD. Also, Orson Welles is very handsome here, but it seems to be best known for having one of Elizabeth Taylor's early roles.

Otto Man said...

I'll try to limit my Kung Fu movies, so "Five Deadly Venoms" is the one to see. Not much plot here, but the fighting is pure hard boiled Kung Fu. Okay, I'll throw in a plug for "Master of the Flying Guillotine." If the idea of taking a half hour of movie time to show a fight contest where everyone has a different style appeals to you, then you may want to buy this one. And my restraint will prevent me from going on about "Iron Monkey" or "Riki-Oh."

I have no such restraint. "Riki-Oh," or "The Story of Riki," is so over the top it's insane. For those who haven't seen it, the pre-Jon Stewart Daily Show used to use a clip from "Riki-Oh" for the "five questions" segment, a clip that showed a fat guy squashing an opponent's head like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. Awesome.

Speaking of kung fu, I'd resisted seeing "Kung Fu Hustle" because the commercials here really stressed the cartoonish aspect of the movie. But I rented it on Netflix a couple weeks ago, and must've watched it three times over the course of a week. Phenomenal fight scenes, great musical score, and a generally cool vibe. It was more Tarantino than Looney Tunes.

I haven't even gotten around to Westerns ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" & "Once Upon a Time in the West")

Yeah, this is where I showed restraint. Can't believe I didn't give time to the two you mentioned, plus "Wild Bunch," "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia," and, well, pretty much everything Sergio Leone did. "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" triology might just be the pinnacle of the Western.

Otto Man said...

They may not be obscure, but John Woo's Hong Kong films are still great. "The Killer," "Hard-Boiled," "A Better Tomorrow I & II," etc. Sure, the slo-motion two-gun action scenes might get old for you. If you're a communist.

Otto Man said...

Just found "Battle Royale" on Netflix. Thanks for the tip, Joe.

peb said...

I was just going to mention The Wild Bunch, but Otto beat me to it. Damn that palindrome!

Well how about The Beguiled? It's a Clint Eastwood western, but not like you would expect. He's a wounded Union soldier who finds refuge during the Civil War in a Southern seminary for young women. Despite the porn potential for the setting, it's a pretty weird, but interesting, drama.

Mr Furious said...


I remember "The Beguiled." Back in the day, when I was a monster Eastwood fan, I would watch anything that wasn't featuring an orangutan. I'm not sure how that movie would stand up if I saw it again today, but I remember it being pretty good.

Going with the foreign theme:
"A Very Long Engagement" and "With a Friend Like Harry" are both good French flicks.
"Lantana" stars Anthony LaPaglia in an amazing performance.

"The Straight Story"
"Sweet Hereafter"

"Near Dark"

The Doc said...

Wow, you all have some pretty good taste in movies! Let me take a moment to second the following movies that made me say "Damn, I was going to suggest that!": Wings of Desire; Day of the Jackal; Babe, Pig in the City (so good!); The Iron Giant; and, although they're more well-known than the others, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Wild Bunch. All of these are excellent and well worth a watch.

I would like to add the following movies, direct from my movie shelf, to the list of suggestions:

1. : Film-noir / sci-fi / love-story / psychological-thriller. The climax is a little over-the-top, but otherwise this is a phenomenal achievement in filmmaking that I cannot recommend highly enough.

: The Wachowski brothers' update of the film noir genre.

: Steven Soderbergh directs, and Terrence Stamp becomes an acting god for 90 minutes as he plays a man trying to avenge his dead daughter.

: The movie about Gilbert & Sullivan's making of the Mikado. The sets and costumes are sumptuous, but the performances are what really stand out.

: Another Soderbergh movie, this time starring both George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, both of whom transcend your expectations of them.

: I never thought I'd like a Canadian-made comedy about curling - and I'm a Canadian with a curling-loving fiancée. This movie is hilarious, just as funny as I was told it would be.

: The best B-Movie I've ever seen. After watching it the first time, my mind was reeling - in a good way. Ray Milland is awesome.

Mr Furious said...


"The Limey" and "Out of Sight" are two of my absolute favorite films. Terrance Stamp IS a god..."Tell him I'm COMING!!" Too bad Peter Fonda sucks so bad.

"Out of Sight" is chock full of great performances with the exception of Albert Brooks, who is simply out of his league.

Steusch said...

Nice picks so far. I especially like all the Clint Eastwood talk going on. My personal fave of his is High Plains Drifter...

Here's a few more:

At Close Range - the acting in this movie makes me absolutely want to break down. The scene with Walken and Penn in the kitchen - it just doesnt get any better or more intense than that.

Thin Red Line - had the misfortune of coming out right after Saving Private Ryan, and everyone (including me) was expecting a gore-fest. but i watched it again, and again, and it became so much more. made me #1 terrence malick fan 4 life. no one photographs man and nature like him. also saw Days of Heaven in re-release in the theatre, and loved that too.

Your Friends and Neighbors - not sure how this'll go over, considering all the bashing of LaBute's other film (in the company of men) that was going on here last week. But the acting here is tops, especially when you compare Aaron Eckhardt's character in this to his role in ITCoM. And who knew Jason Patric could top his performance in Speed 2?

Ninja Bachelor Party - This by all means a horrible, horrible little 30-minute film that Bill Hicks made on Hi-8 with his friends, but it's frikkin hysterical. if you like it, we could probably be friends.

Blood Simple - This is the film that made me (somewhat) understand and appreciate the art of filmmaking. I saw it on its re-release back in 2000, and I never looked back. It's such a quiet film - until then I never knew one could watch films without explosions and such.

Croupier -Clive Owen's best role, and he was perfectly suited to it. A very subtle and brooding film. Yeah, I like my films dark and quiet.

Eye of the Tiger - Gary Busey in a clone of Road House (wha wha!) and Walking Tall. It's bad, yet it's totally sweet. at one point Gary Busey shoves dynamite up a dude's ass.

And yes, Riki-Oh rules. Whenever you have friends over and the conversation starts to fade and you start getting insecure about your ability to entertain people, put Riki-Oh on. No one will go home dissapointed.

Thanks for the heads-up, guys. I have added some of your recs to my list. Hope i helped.

Studiodave said...

Big Labowski - must under-rated coomedy ever.

Otto Man said...

Ninja Bachelor Party - This by all means a horrible, horrible little 30-minute film that Bill Hicks made on Hi-8 with his friends, but it's frikkin hysterical. if you like it, we could probably be friends.

Welcome home, son. Seen it, loved it.

Mr Furious said...

"High Plains Drifter," is great, but I probably consider "The Outlaw Josey Wales" my favorite of the mid-era Eastwood westerns.

Josey Wales: You a bounty hunter?
Bounty Hunter: A man has to do something these days to earn a living.
Josey Wales: Dyin' ain't much of a living boy.

ORF said...

Tokyo Joe, I can do Asian flair:
"The Killer" with Chow Yun Fat is like the coolest shoot-em-up ever made, Peckinpah movies notwithstanding. John Woo did some sweet stuff before he went all Hollywood.

Also, Wong Kar Wai makes a mean movie. "In The Mood For Love" is probably the most beautifully shot movies I've ever watched. Total eye candy.

Also, I agree that anything by Miyazaki is wonderful to watch, although I have yet to see "Howl's Moving Castle." "My Neighbor Totoro" is absolutely one of my favorite movies. I watch that when I have a bad day and wish the catbus could come and whisk me away.

And now that I've read all the rest of the comments that include mention of the Soderbergh, whom I admire greatly, I must add Schizopolis to the mix. Sometimes I go to the bathroom at work JUST to make faces at myself.

Otto Man said...

Boys, boys, you're both right. "High Plains Drifter" and "Outlaw Josey Wales" are both brilliant. But not as good as the "Good" trilogy.

The Management

Mr Furious said...


Tokyo Joe said...

Orf, Thanks for the help with the Asian theme. I remember seeing trailers for "In the Mood for Love" years ago and thinking how beautiful it looked. Never got a chance to actually see it, but I hear great things.

I also wanted to add a few more flicks that haven't shown up yet.

"the Zero Effect" - so good it became a pilot that was too good for TV.

"The Suicide Kings" - Christopher Walken and Dennis Leary and even Elliot from ET. Super freaken cool.

"Miller's Crossing" - I truly believe this is the Cohen's most under rated movie (not because it's better than the Big L, but it gets even less press and praise). Noir at its finest.

Otto Man said...

"Miller's Crossing" - I truly believe this is the Cohen's most under rated movie (not because it's better than the Big L, but it gets even less press and praise). Noir at its finest.

Agreed. My favorite Coens films are the comedies ("Raising Arizona" and "Big Lebowski"), but "Miller's Crossing" is close. It's just beautifully shot, with great performances. And the scene of Albert Finney kicking ass with the tommy gun, as his house burns and "Danny Boy" plays in the background -- just priceless.