21 Underappreciated Movies (From The Last Decade Or So)

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

Tired of looking at stupid arbitrary BuzzFeed lists in Facebook feed all day, I thought it was about time I create my own stupid arbitrary BuzzFeed-style list. I was having a discussion with a friend during which the movie MICHAEL CLAYTON came up and it got me thinking about other films I love that I never hear film geeks talk about. In my ideal alternate universe, these underappreciated/underrated movies are the blockbusters of the last 10 years.

Have you seen any of these? Which movies would you add?


The Two Faces of January (2013)

I had never heard of THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY until it appeared on Netflix, but I’m really glad I watched it. Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel, it’s a psychological thriller about two con artists fighting over a hot young trophy wife set in sun-baked Greece. Sexual jealousy, infidelity, Oedipal conflict, and quasi-espionage maneuvering with the characters and locale tarted up in MAD MEN-era fashions. By no means perfect, it loses steam in the third act, but I still loved it. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.


Life of Crime (2013)

Some reviews panned it, but I thought it got better as it went along, mainly b/c the relationships between the characters get more complicated. Possibly Jennifer Aniston’s best movie performance to date and I also loved John Hawkes, Mos Def, and Isla Fisher. Recommended to all crime caper or Elmore Leonard fans. I agree with the critic who said it’s not as good OUT OF SIGHT or JACKIE BROWN, but better than the GET SHORTYs. I sound sort of lukewarm on it, but this is just the kind of mid-budget, character-driven piece that I wish Hollywood made more of .


Fading Gigolo (2013)

Fabrizio wrote about this one here:

This sex comedy, one of the few American releases I’ve seen this year, is currently available on Netflix Instant. It’s written and directed by actor John Turturro, and though it’s overly hesitant in places, it exudes a warmth and an openness regarding sex that I found enjoyable. The New York of the movie is a boisterous, working-class city unfamiliar from modern movies. It’s more like the New York of ’70s and ’80s movies — the New York of Paul Mazursky (RIP). All the actors are good, but I especially liked Sharon Stone, who gets to undercut her rich-bitch persona with hints of tenderness and vulnerability. She also gets to show off her legs, which still look terrific. Vanessa Paradis is affecting as an aging Hasidic woman yearning to be touched. When venturing out of her protective Brooklyn neighborhood, she dons a wig that makes her look like a screwed-up version of Macha Meril in Godard’s “A Married Woman.


Young & Beautiful (2013)

If you’ve been thinking, “Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a sexxxy French movie about a 17 year-old prostitute,” then fret no longer, b/c this one is currently streaming on Netflix. Erotic drama or sexploitation? I dunno, that’s for you to decide. Newcomer Marine Vacth is wonderful either way. Ozon 2B links.


The Immigrant (2013)

A turn-of-the-century immigrant-in-New-York melodrama, the kind of movie that the Academy used to love before it started showering every biopic with awards. There was the briefest of Oscar buzz over this one last year before it disappeared. Cotillard is one of those actresses I’ll watch in anything.


Adore (2013)

Speaking of actresses I’ll watch in anything, I see that Naomi Watts appears twice on this list. In this film, she plays a middle-aged MILF who carries on an affair with her best friend’s son while the best friend does the same with the son of Watts’s character. This would make a good double bill with MY SUMMER OF LOVE.


Trance (2013)

It’s not often that a woman’s shaved pussy serves as a plot point. (A woman played by Rosario Dawson, no less.) Danny Boyle gets plenty of ink and attention, but I enjoyed this one far more than his more highly-praised outings like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or 127 HOURS. Half the time I thought the movie was completely batshit, but I think that’s part of the appeal.


Jack Reacher (2012)

An old-fashioned action film — by which I mean the action scenes are comprehensible and don’t rely on Paul Greengrass-style cutting or obvious CGI. As a special bonus, there’s an actual plot.


The Hunt (2012)

Was it Sax who said that this is one of the most red pill movies of the last few years? Mikkelsen plays a character whose life falls apart after being falsely accused of sexual molestation. It’s similar to Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON, but far more straightforward.


Margaret (2011)

Fenster wrote about this one here:

Lonergan’s dialogue is distinctive.  Pinter is a master of the pause and Mamet the fuck-you.  Lonergan is the master of the missed connections in conversation, and of people talking past one another even as they struggle to address the other.  On its face, conversation is about character’s expressing themselves through verbal exchange.  In fact, our own life conversations are all-too-often stunted, running off in unclear directions since the interlocutors are often not clear about what it is they actually wish to reveal, or to express. Good conversation–healthy conversation–is cumulative and iterative.  Many of Lonergan’s characters show a tendency to serial monologues while in apparent conversation.  They just have to say what they have to say.

The performances are stellar.  I don’t usually like Anna Paquin and, truth be told, I didn’t like her here that much.  All the better for that slightly obnoxious and overbearing quality–it is the heart of her character Lisa.  Lisa’s mother is played by Lonergan’s real-life wife, J. Smith-Cameron, a stage actress of apparently some repute (I have never seen her before) who brings the right nuance and depth to the role.  Elsewhere–well, where else will you find Jeannie Berlin, Mark Ruffalo, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick?


Damsels in Distress (2011)

I wrote about this one here:

Like Fabrizio, I recently watched Whit Stillman’s latest mocking eulogy for WASP culture and enjoyed it quite a bit. In the DVD commentary Stillman says the budget and shooting style was like his first film Metropolitan and this movie feels like a continuation of that one. That is, a closed-off fantasy world of dim yet hyper-articulate upper-class East Coast white people who speak in epigrams. Stillman likens the movie to an Archie comic, but I doubt Archie ever used anal sex as a plot point, not even in the oblique way Stillman refers to it here.


Oslo, August 31st (2011)

Everyone goes on about REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but I think this is a far better movie about drugs, addiction, and hopelessness. I saw this at least a year ago and I still think about the scene in the cafe where he listens in on the surrounding conversations, his despair increasing as he realizes he’s increasingly alienated from the normal and everyday.

unrelated QUAD.qxd

Unrelated (2007)

Another Euro art film about anxiety and alienation, writer-director Joanna Hogg takes a pretty bleak and un-PC look at a woman confronting middle age.


Michael Clayton (2007)

Although Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for her performance in this movie, it still seems relatively unseen. Writer-director Tony Gilroy came up with the idea while researching and writing the Bourne trilogy. One of the best lawyer movies I’ve ever seen yet it doesn’t feature a single courtroom scene.


The Painted Veil (2006)

Michael Blowhard wrote about this one here:

In the main roles, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are both superb. Norton’s doctor starts out anxious and uncertain, grateful to have landed such a high-class beauty; he’s OK with being a lovable loser. When complications arise, he finds his guts, his anger, and his pride. As the pressures increase, his fury takes on a scary, even insane quality. Finally, his emotions burn with a kind of serene purity. Norton fleshes out the guy’s combination of humility, strength, and bitterness in direct and unshowy ways. It’s a terrific job of movie acting.

It’s really Watts’ movie, though. And what a performance she delivers. I thought her work here was on a par with her acting in “Mulholland Drive”: inhabited completely from the inside out; full of surprises, shadings, and complexities yet also pinpoint-precise … Whew. It’s amazing that such a blandly pretty woman should command such a lot of gumption and acting power. Naomi Watts makes me think of what Sharon Stone might have become if she’d gone on developing as an actress instead of turning into a camp caricature of herself.


Black Book (2006)

Michael Blowhard wrote about this one here:

The film is an interesting challenge to digest. My impression is that we’re used to adult thrillers being low-key — detailed, thoughtful, and novelistic. …”Black Book” surprises because there’s nothing bookish about it. Instead, it’s done in Verhoeven’s usual intense, melodramatic, movie-movie way.

This description may make the film sound less appetizing than it is, but Verhoeven — a Dutchman who had worked in Hollywood for 20 years (often in action or sci-fi) before returning to the Netherlands to make “Black Book” — seems to have wanted with this film to blend “Schindler’s List” with a Garbo espionage thriller. It’s like a Hollywood version of a large-scale foreign film, in other words.


How Much Do You Love Me? (2005)

Bertrand Blier is one of the great European directors that most American film buffs have never even heard of. While this isn’t his best movie, it’s still a good introduction to his wild, anarchic style. Plus you have Monica Bellucci, at the height of her beauty, playing a prostitute, which alone makes it worth seeing.


Red Eye (2005)

Michael Blowhard wrote about this one here:

What a surprise to see a Wes Craven movie that isn’t teen horror; “Red Eye” is a psychological thriller. And what a surprise to see Craven working with such finesse. His camera partners the script and the acting with lickety-split alertness, and his pacing sweeps you past most of the unlikelinesses — thrillers always have unlikelinesses — wittily and effectively. And Craven and his performers and writers (Carl Ellsworth and Dan Foos) play a cat-and-mouse game with the audience that’s entertainingly unstable. There’s daring and virtuosity in the way much of the first half of the film takes place in the confines of a passenger plane: It’s a chamber thriller! And one that’s full of subtle, even elegant, tonal shifts!


My Summer of Love (2005)

Michael Blowhard wrote about this one here:

I recorded this picture off of Cinemax expecting a tacky nudiefest. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be a quiet, sensitive, beautifully-acted, lusciously-shot English art movie. I loved it. In a small British town, an abused and hungry-for-love working class girl (Natalie Press) is drawn into the sexy make-believe of a narcissistic and bohemian rich girl (Emily Blunt). Press and Blunt are both amazing; Press suggests hard edges as well as hidden softness, while Blunt is a dreamy mixture of arrogance, poise, and desperation. The whole film has a pulsing, stirring, everything’s-alive quality that seems to me worthy of comparison to D.H. Lawrence’s poetry and short fiction. The overgrown, irregular, Edwardian mansion that the rich girl’s family inhabits is a special beauty — reason enough all on its own to watch the film. The talented young director Pawel Pawlikowski keeps things sensually aware, and fills the movie with obliquely-sensed, ever-shifting moods. Fast-Forwarding Score: nada.


Out of Time (2003)

Carl Franklin > Spike Lee


Open Range (2003)

The kind of traditional Western that Hollywood rarely makes anymore.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 21 Underappreciated Movies (From The Last Decade Or So)

  1. Fenster says:

    We are on similar wavelengths and probably not a coincidence I blog here too. And not just because I have seen 14 of the 21. It’s also because a good number of the films on the list are at the top of my list and, even more so, films that came on as a surprise and often faded from public view quite quickly.

    Speaking of faded, that gigolo movie was wonderful. A ton of heart. January: not the greatest Highsmith adaptation but gets close to the bone, as she does. Painted Veil: another pretty heartfelt and non-sappy (i.e., romantic but complicated) movie.

    Then there are the movies that are great because they exceed expectations by such a wide margin. I am not a fan of Tom Cruise but Jack Reacher was more than solid. Black Book was first rate Verhoeven which means first rate. I, too, really liked The Immigrant but liked it a little less than I thought I was going to based on the idea, the director and cast. But I really liked its old-fashioned story-telling sensibility. The only one of the 14 here that didn’t wow me was Damsels in Distress. I went anticipating a lot since I’d really liked all of Stillman’s earlier movies but could not warm to it for some reason. It could be that I could not warm to the Gerwig character–I only got round to getting her offbeat approach in Frances Ha, which would make my version of a list of 21 and which may or may not be on the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fenster says:

    and thanks for putting in list form rather than one of those shuffle devices where you have to keep clicking to see each new entry. glad wordpress does not have that.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s