We’ve got a lot to get through, so I’ll cut the introduction and get down to business…
The Iron GiantBrad Bird’s pair of movies for Pixar – The Incredibles and Ratatouille – are the finest films they’ve done outside of the Toy Story franchise. But how shameful it remains to this day that Bird’s finest film, his heart-breaking adaptation of The Iron Giant, still hasn’t got anywhere near the level of success that his subsequent work enjoys. Granted, hand drawn animation seems (sadly) a tough sell in the modern world, and granted, Warner Bros made, by common consensus, a botch of marketing the film anyway. But The Iron Giant is a modern classic. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
MaverickRichard Donner’s remake of the Maverick television show was hardly a flop on its initial release, but it seems to have been all-but-forgotten about in the years that followed, while tired Lethal Weapon sequels continue to sell. But Maverick remains a really good blockbuster film, powered by a terrific trio of performances from Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster (who surprisingly hasn’t built on her comedy credentials since) and James Garner. It’s extremely funny, too (with a great Danny Glover cameo), and is well worth revisiting. Sequels should have followed, but Donner and Gibson made another Lethal Weapon film instead. That’ll be the one where the ageing Gibson was able to beat up Jet-Li. Riiiiiggghhht…
The VillageRarely has a film divided audiences to quite the same level. Whether you take The Village as M Night Shyamalan’s response to the tragedy of 9/11, or accept it at face level, it’s surely the most interesting of his recent films (and it’s a damn sight better than Signs), and the ending is as bold as anything he’s tried before. Granted, moments in the film drag, but there’s some terrific directing here, and a film that deserves nothing like the vitriolic hatred it attracts in some corners.
Toy SoldiersIn the early 90s, the action movie was still being dominated by burger-chain opening beefcakes. Sadly, this meant that this neat Sean Astin-starring actioner slipped through the cracks. Toy Soldiers is no masterpiece, but it is really good fun. Drafting in Louis Gossett Jr as the teacher at a rowdy boarding school for troublesome kids, we ain’t talking The Goonies here, but we are talking a flick that deserves a better fate than languishing near the bottom of the racks at Blockbuster.
Pump Up The VolumeBack when Allan Moyle’s teen movie was released at the start of the 90s, I recall a review in Empire magazine that suggested that – as with Christian Slater’s earlier Heathers – a cult following was all but guaranteed for Pump Up The Volume. But where is it? This is a smart teen movie with plenty to say, as Slater’s quiet schoolkid by day/deviant DJ by night sends authorities into a spin. And whatever happened to Samantha Mathis, out of interest?
MallratsKevin Smith is another divider of opinions, and Mallrats is regularly dismissed as the worst of his films. But why? So it’s not some deep, insightful glance into anything important. Yet it is, at its best, painfully funny. Are we at a point where films aren’t allowed respect for just making you laugh out loud a lot? Mallrats does that, even if you don’t need a degree or anything to appreciate it.
Galaxy QuestA splendid send up of the world of Star Trek, and a film that gave Signourney Weaver her best role in yonks. Again though, it’s a movie you rarely hear talked about anymore, and it really should be. Its got a superbly-observed script, some really good action sequences, and right now, is crying out for another instalment. Surely the new fad for a ‘reboot’ is ripe for some parody?
Starship TroopersEasily up there with Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop and Total Recall, Starship Troopers was dismissed too quickly as Beverly Hills 90210-go-bug hunting (although it’s still a blast if you take it that way). But this is as good a satirical movie as the director has done, and it’s also one of the best science fiction films to come out of Hollywood in the last decade or two. A brilliant piece of cinema, so naturally it failed to set the box office alight.
BowfingerThe film that gets forgotten about when someone goes off on the “Steve Martin isn’t funny” tirade. Bowfinger is as imaginative a comedy as Hollywood put out in the entire 1990s, and it features a cast who have a whale of a time in the process. Plus it’s hard to remember a finer Eddie Murphy comedy role without digging into the early 80s. Films such as Bringing Down The House and Cheaper By The Dozen made much more money than Bowfinger, and that’s just plain wrong.
A Very Brady SequelIt didn’t even get a cinema release in the UK (partly due to the BBFC getting its knickers in a twist over the nunchuks that pop up), but this was a delightful sequel that didn’t do much at the US box office either. It continues the idea of bringing the Bradys to the 90s, but throws in incest, parenting mysteries and some very, very funny comedy. A genius little film.
Treasure PlanetDisney’s animated output was going through trouble times when its science fiction take on the Treasure Island story hit the big screen. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (of Little Mermaid fame), if you can get past the odd mawkish bit, this is a wildly imaginative movie, that stumbled to just $38m at the US box office against a budget of $140m. Last winter, Alvin & The Chipmunks became the 68th most successful film of all time in the US. Why?
Waiting For GuffmanChristopher Guest’s mockumentaries have, for this writer, been getting progressively worse (and For Your Consideration was a huge disappointment). But Waiting For Guffman almost begs to be rediscovered, because this is the moment where his ensemble team struck comedy gold. Eugene Levy in particularly is as good as he’s ever been here, and Guest’s film is genuinely gut-bustingly funny.
Dark BlueThe best film based on a James Ellroy story to emerge since the astounding L.A. Confidential, Dark Blue also gave Kurt Russell his best role in years, and was a sophisticated, complicated film that actually had something to say. And while it didn’t exactly bomb, its light has certainly been dampened in recent years by other serious cop dramas, but none of them – Oscar-winning Crash included – have been better than this.
Office SpaceWe know we’re not alone in our celebration of Mike Judge’s flat-out brilliant satire, even if the back end of the film doesn’t quite measure up to the superb first two acts. Gary Cole eats up the screen wherever he’s allowed near it, and it’s a flat-out treat for anyone who’s had to sit and suffer the monotony of office life. But in spite of its army of fans, it still deserves a far wider audience than it got.
HulkAng Lee’s Hulk movie is all but being forgotten about in the hurry to ‘reboot’ the franchise and come up with something more commercial and marketable. But, some of the CGI work aside, this is one of Hollywood’s most interesting blockbusters of recent times. It was a very expensive, at times exquisite family drama, that just happened to have a big green monster in. It might not have been what the summer movie crowd were expecting, but it’s a smashing film.The Hard WayBuddy comedies, especially those that involved a mismatched cop somewhere along the line, have remained the rage for the past 30 years. But The Hard Way somehow got lost in the midst of it all. James Woods’ grumpy cop and Michael J Fox’s actor researching a role is as inspired a pairing as the genre has seen, and the film is often hilarious. It absolutely deserves rediscovering.Before Sunrise/SunsetGranted, this one stretches at the edges of our ‘geek’ remit, but for every bloke who has had to sit through homogenous chick flick after homogenous chick flick, and for every woman who is looking for something more than an identikit rom-com, do yourselves a favour. Just because few people have bothered to see Richard Linklater’s superb Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, it does not mean that they aren’t among the finest films of their ilk of the last 20 years.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits WithinWas Square and Sony simply ahead of their time when they spent the entire Christmas party fund on this staggering piece of animation? Granted, the script is far from perfect, but what ended up on the screen was nonetheless interesting, and stunning to look at. So strong was the Final Fantasy animation, that it’s still one of the benchmarks that the CGI bandwagon crowd should be shooting for.
Jurassic Park IIIWe’ve covered this before at Den Of Geek, but there’s still a reason to give JPIII a shout, as the uncertainty over JPIV continues. This is a lean, fast, exciting blockbuster, that’s for some reason regarded as the weakest of the trilogy. It really isn’t, and it really is good fun.
Kiss Kiss Bang BangRush Hour movies make nine figures at the box office. A smart take on the genre, however, makes critics happy but too many people forget to go and watch it. There are so many reasons to love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but let’s stick with three: Shane Black, making the film that surely nobody else has been better placed to make, and Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr’s brilliant comedy double act. Brilliant.
Bubba Ho-TepDon’t anyone dare go asking what Bruce Campbell is up to these days without first checking out his comedy/fantasy/Elvis adventure Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s a bit of a love it or hate it film, but it’s got ideas and thinking in there that you won’t find anywhere near your local fleapit. No matter how hard you look.
Hudson HawkWe’ve not gone mad. By the time it gets to the last act, Hudson Hawk is absolutely the mess that people say it is. But the first two thirds is surprisingly sparkling, and even though it’s had some kind of redemption over the past years, it’s still regarded as a bit of a black mark on Bruce Willis’ CV. It shouldn’t be. And that leads us on to…
Last Action HeroAgain, by the time the last act kicks in, Last Action Hero has long since thrown its ideas and distinction out of the window. And while it’s a three star film (and covers ground that Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose Of Cairo did better), Arnie has made a lot worse that have gone on to make a lot more. This was his T2 follow-up as well – you can hardly accuse him of playing it safe here.
Top SecretThanks to its almost-permanent programming on cable channels, more and more people are being introduced to the genius of Top Secret. It is, perhaps, the most underappreciated comedy of the 80s, though, and we’ve come up with a list of reasons why here.
FortressWhen you’ve got no money in the horror genre and you try and punch above your weight, you get applause. When you do it in sci-fi? It’s not always as easy a sell. The Christopher Lambert-starrer Fortress did make it to cinemas in the 1990s, but its natural home is DVD, and for a Friday night, six-pack blast, it’s hard to beat. The only film in the world with the phrase “random intestinations” in it, too.
A.I.: Artificial IntelligenceA film that always seems to crop up on lists, and rightly so, given the fact that it’s a hard one to get out of your head once the credits roll. The first half is utterly stunning, as creepy a piece of cinema as we’ve seen in the last decade. The second half isn’t, although the ending (and this is a spoiler-ific link) has been talked about here. It’s, at worst, a fascinating film.
Joy Ride/RoadkillJohn Dahl has made a series of films that could make it onto this list – Nic Cage in Red Rock West, for instance – but this terrific thriller for some reason never got the success it deserved, and even changed titles on its way across the Atlantic. It’s got undertones of Spielberg’s Duel (er, a lot of undertones) to it, but does enough to carve out a niche for itself. It’s a superior thriller that’s well worth checking out.
The Dangerous Lives Of The Altar BoysThe second Jodie Foster to appear on this list, The Dangerous Lives Of The Altar Boys follows a group of Catholic teenagers (including Kieran Culkin – see also Igby Goes Down), and mixes their comic book creation in too. It’s a fun, balanced, coming of age flick, and an extremely good one. Even if virtually nobody has seen it. Jodie Foster is Nunzilla, a character title surely designed with the IMDB in mind.
The Last SupperForget some of the rubbish that Cameron Diaz has turned up in over the past decade or so, and rewind back to this small ensemble drama about a group of people who wonder if they’d have bumped off Hitler had they met him before he rose to power. Then they track down an assortment on unlikeables, and start putting the theory to the test.
SneakersPhil Alden Robinson’s most famous film may, quite rightly, be the awesome Field Of Dreams, but his 90s techno-thriller Sneakers is a hoot. A really good ensemble cast, including Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and the late River Phoenix are clearly having a ball here, and the film richly rewards repeated viewings, that few seem willing to give it.
AntzAs the Shrek sequels get more tired, and as more and more studios stumble to install animation suites on their lots, head back a decade to DreamWorks’ smart, debut CGI film. With a voice cast to die for – Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone – this is an animated movie with a real edge to it. Great stuff, and a film that deserves not to be forgotten.GattacaA rare mainstream serious science fiction film comes out of Hollywood – and predictably the majority of people simply ignore it. Andrew Niccol’s film isn’t without a few problems, but it’s an intelligent piece of cinema, and gives Ethan Hawke a good leading role. Niccol had previously penned The Truman Show, and would go on to make Lord Of War. And he also did…
S1m0neWe end this round-up of films – and there are lots we still haven’t touched on that we may well come back to – with a film that proves you don’t have to be great to be interesting. Its tale of a digitally created actress could prove to be a worrying insight into the future, even if Al Pacino’s some way off his best in the film. And while the concept is better than the end result, there’s enough in here to at least make the film worthy of a spin.
We’ve also written about these other underappreciated movies at Den Of Geek:Matinee here.Demolition Man here.Con Air here.Big Trouble In Little China here.Rad here.Back To The Future Part III here.George Of The Jungle here.Gremlins II here.Screamers here.Daredevil: The Director’s Cut here.Conan The Barbarian here.A Bug’s Life here.