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.