It's been a while since we last opened the floor for a discussion of our favorite obscure films. The responses last time we great, so let's give it another try: 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's some of my recent rental activity:
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973): While perhaps not as well known as, say, The Wild Bunch, this classic Sam Peckinpah western is every bit as good. The lead roles, played by James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson respectively, are outstanding, but the real surprise is Bob Dylan. I knew he did the music for the film -- this is where "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" first appeared -- but I had no idea he acted in the film. This isn't Jon Bon Jovi making a cameo in Young Guns 2; Dylan has a somewhat substantial role as a quiet cutthroat named "Alias." Sure, the character he plays is a quiet one, but he also throws a knife through a bad guy's throat at one point. Highly recommended. (The film. Not a knife through the throat.)
City on Fire (1987): A Hong Kong classic starring (who else?) Chow Yun-Fat. I'd heard this film was "the inspiration" for Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, but I spent most of the movie scratching my head about the comparisons. Until the last half hour, when the undercover-cop hero infiltrates a gang of jewel thieves, joins them on a heist that goes awry when one of their members starts shooting people, flees with them as some of the thieves get caught, gets shot himself, holes up in the abandoned warehouse that serves as their rallying point, gets involved in a Mexican stand-off with the other crooks who are suspicious of a leak, and then confesses to another thief that he's really a cop. Other than those minor plot points, I think Tarantino came up with the rest of his movie all on his own.
The Long Goodbye (1973): I'd read the book and seen the original film, but for some reason I'd never seen this Robert Altman remake starring none other than Elliott Gould. Not only does the film noir style work in early '70s Malibu, but it might even work better than the original 1940s setting, since the decay of the city and listlessness of its people are even more apparent. (Alright, I'm sounding like Roger Ebert. Pfft.) Like all great '70s films, this one has some great bits of casting, ranging from Henry Gibson as an albino quack rehab doctor and a fresh-off-the-boat Arnold Schwarzeneggar in an uncredited, nonspeaking role as a hired goon. A hired goon who at one point takes off his shirt and pants to intimidate Elliott Gould. And, apparently, to intimidate the cameraman, since he looks directly into the lens. Twice.
Oldboy (2003): I checked out this Chan-Wook Park film without really knowing much about him or the film. It's a disturbing tale, one that answers the age-old question of what Edgar Allan Poe might have done if he'd been born in late-20th-century Korea. Speaking of legends, it's clear that Park has the Hitchcock knack for suspense and stunning visuals. I wasn't entirely floored by this flick, but I'm sure the director has even better work ahead of him.
Advise & Consent (1962): I know I already talked about this in the filibuster post below, but it deserves discussion as a movie unto itself. For a political story, Preminger does an amazing job with the pacing and the plot twists, which keep on coming. Burgess Meredith accuses Henry Fonda of being a communist! Charles Laughton does a dead-on impersonation of a South Carolina Dixiecrat! A secretly gay Mormon senator gets blackmailed! And, hey, was that Betty White? Again, not just a good film, but a good reminder of how the congressional branch once worked.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974): Yes, another Peckinpah film. Apparently, he was churning these out like counterfeit money in the early '70s. I've wanted to see this one for a long time, partly because I've liked Peckinpah's past work, and partly because I wanted to understand a line of dialogue from Fletch. This one's a "modern Western" set in 1970s Mexico and involving an old-school bounty hunt. The weirdest part for me is that the hardcore, jaded, drunk antihero at the center of the story is Warren Oates, an actor who's probably best-known for playing Sgt. Hulka in Stripes. Here, he sticks his big toe right up the Mexican underworld's butt.
Alright, that's enough to start the discussion. But in the spirit of Advise & Consent, 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.