Ten Fantastic Movies You May Have Missed


23rd August 2006

You probably have a film that you love more than many others, your own personal favourite that you replay time and time again. Perhaps you like some films that a lot of your friends haven't seen and take delight in showing them the case, seeing their "huh?" expression as you slip the disc in and sit back knowing you're passing on a secret treasure they haven't discovered yet. In that tenuously-linked spirit, here's a list of ten films that may have passed under your radar. These aren't necessarily little-known classics - there's no point throwing in a 1940's Samurai film just to appear indie-cooler than you - but they're ten flicks that deserve a wider audience than they currently have. You may agree, you may disagree, but I absolutely 100% personally promise you that these films are forgotten or ignored gems that you could do a lot worse than seeing ASAP.

Near Dark (1987)
Near DarkDirected by Kathryn Bigelow (ex Mrs James Cameron) and written by Eric Red (The Hitcher), this noir thriller is one of the best vampire films ever made. Forget bats, capes and PVC-clad eurotrash in nightclubs firing uzis at each other to a techno soundtrack; Bigelow gives us roaming nightfeeders with no plan to take over the world, no sinister plot to fight werewolves and no struggle to resurrect a centuries old lord. A large part of Cameron's Aliens cast plus two newcomers (including one who has subsequently left the movie business and disappeared) bicker, play cards, shoot each other for fun, massacre a bar of rednecks for their dinner and generally piss and moan about how hard it sucks being undead. Bill Paxton gives another of his signature scenery-chewing performances as Severen and Lance Henriksen and Jeanette Goldstein (Bishop and Vasquez) rule the family with wry humour. Tangerine Dream provide a suitably downbeat soundtrack to a film that feels more like a Gothic Western than one of today's "revisionist" horror flicks, and it's chock-full of quotable lines, too: "Howdy," says a hungry Severen. "I'm gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don't mind none."

Amadeus (1984)
AmadeusYes, it won Oscars back in 1984, yes it's a Milos Forman film and yes it had an extensive cinema run. But how many of you have actually seen it? I eventually watched it in the hopes of impressing a woman enough to let me bone her (didn't happen, I think she was a lesbian) and realised it was, in fact, a superb, albeit fictionalised, account of Mozart's life and his music's appeal. The real-life composer Salieri is used as a plot device, framing the picture with his confession to a priest about his supposed murder of Mozart (Tom Hulce, who gives an incredible performance as the arrogant, brash, selfish yet gifted composer). It doesn't shy from portraying Mozart as a boorish yob enamoured of his own reputation and a wilful disregard for others in his pursuit of immortality through his music. But what could've been a stale period piece is suffused with life, lust and the honest emotions of Mozart and his circle. A superbly witty script is performed with relish by the cast, and Forman directs with a panache sorely lacking from period drama. It has comedy, drama, melodrama, life, love and loss running through its heart, and will give you a love of Mozart's music that you may previously have not had. Ignore the Oscars, ignore the fact it's a period film, ignore all your preconceptions and give in to a film about genius and madness, with some truly moving music and style to spare. You won't regret it.

One Night At McCools (2001)
One Night At McCoolsLet's see if any of these things appeal to you. Liv Tyler soaping a car in homage to Cool Hand Luke. Michael Douglas in a wig saying "It's never too early for pussy" in a bingo-hall. A climactic shootout scored to YMCA. John Goodman trying to arrest Paul Reiser dressed in bondage gear. Andrew Dice Clay showing up dressed like D-Fens from Falling Down, asking "Which one of you...homos...killed my brother?" Liv Tyler in a slow-motion lesbian clinch. Pretty much Liv Tyler in general. If the answer is yes, go and rent/buy this now. If the answer is no, rent it anyway. A skewed, surprisingly intelligent comedy thriller that barely bothered the cinema before appearing in the bargain-bin section at Blockbuster. Three different men all recount their experiences of the same woman; to John Goodman, she's saint-like vision of his ex wife, for Matt Dillon she's the helpless ingénue turned bitch from hell, but to Paul Reiser, she's a straight out slut fucktoy. Filled with acidic situations and snarky dialogue, One Night deviates from most Hollywood films by refusing to take sides and doesn't provide you with a villain or a hero to root for. A secret little film that reveals new layers with each new viewing.

Midnight Run (1988)
Midnight RunWay before Meet The Parents, Robert De Niro showed a talent for comedy that didn't involve pulling a stroke-face and saying "Wha?" In 1988's "Midnight Run", De Niro teamed with Charles Grodin for an action-comedy-thriller that was mysteriously ignored at cinemas and never given the respect it deserved on home video. De Niro plays Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter who has to retrieve Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukas (Grodin), who has jumped bail to go on the run after swindling the Mafia out of millions of dollars. Having caught Mardukas early in the story, the film is then concerned with how they stay alive, out of jail and how they annoy the living shit out of each other. There are crosses, double crosses, triple crosses and repeated escape attempts all well-handled in the action department, but it's the relationship between the characters that sells this film, separating it from a thousand other buddy chase movies. Grodin is pitch-perfect as the superior, sarcastic, haughty accountant and De Niro excels as the rough, no nonsense bounty hunter. Throw in the legendary Dennis Farina as the mafia boss and you have three characters that could fill a series, let alone a two hour movie. It's worth catching on DVD for no other reason than seeing Robert De Niro chasing a plane, throwing stones and shouting "I'm gonna fucking catch you and run you over, you fuck you!"

Tremors (1990)
TremorsFrom the director of City Slickers and...er... Mighty Joe Young (fuck King Kong, that movie never had Bill Paxton in it), 1990 gave us one of the very best monster films that no one ever saw. Set in a small town called Perfection in the Arizona desert, Val and Earl discover - after obvious clues like cars buried with corpses in and sheep pulled into the ground - that large carnivorous worms are around, and they're very hungry. Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon play the eponymous heroes, only these heroes are rubbish, offer no advice of value and all the better ideas come from other people. A monster movie set in broad, scorching daylight, Tremors differs from most by being balls-out fun. Whether it's the entire town spending the last half of the movie on their roofs or the visiting geologist being treated like the font of all knowledge on monsters ("Ever seen these before?" "Oh sure, the whole world knows about 'em, we just didn't tell you!"), Tremors always takes a left-turn from the obvious and keeps you guessing on who's going to be eaten and who'll survive. Grab this one from the bargain bin to discover a monster film that ranks with Aliens as adrenalin-rushing, smart sci-fi. "There's no way these things can outrun a truck." "Hell, for all you know they can fly."

The Last Seduction (1994)
The Last SeductionJohn Dahl's noir thriller never quite received the accolades it deserved; maybe because it was denied an Oscar because it was shown on HBO before its cinema release. Catapulting Linda Fiorentino in the majors briefly before Men in Black and Jade sunk her, this dark, twisting, sexy, black-hearted film rates as one of the best thrillers never seen. Fiorentino is married to Bill Pullman, a doctor who sells prescription drugs under the counter for money so they can have a lavish lifestyle, only our long-legged vamp has other designs for her hubby's money and flees with his fortune. A Hollywood thriller with a genuinely mean-spirited, black humoured take on the femme fatale genre is a rare find indeed, as is a female character who never once needs help, is in total control of everything and delights in torturing any man stupid enough to fall for her. Fiorentino chews through the script, whether using her feminine charms to achieve her means or simpering to elicit sympathy from bozo men who want to get in her pants, she is a ruthless manipulator through and through. If you like thrillers that will surprise and delight, go grab this one and share with as many people as you can. Even women love this film, because the "hero" is a woman who takes no quarter.

Southern Comfort (1981)
Southern ComfortWalter Hill's allegory for Vietnam? Possibly. A Deliverance homage without the assrape and hillbillies? Maybe. An atmospheric, eerie survival thriller about a group of people being slowly picked off by unseen adversaries? Absolutely. A platoon of Louisiana National Guardsman on manoeuvres in the Louisiana swamp piss off a group of indigenous Cajuns by "borrowing" their canoes and shooting at them with blanks ("for fuckin' fun man, that's all it was!"). The Cajuns don't appreciate their sense of humour and decide to kill them all as a lesson. A simple plot that belies an excellent, paranoia-fuelled psychodrama. Walter Hill uses Ry Cooder's delta-slide guitar to evoke the steamy, fog-filled swamps that the guardsmen have to slog through , but what elevates a "Ten Little Indians" plot to the next level is the fantastic script. Each of the soldiers is written with lavish care and boast real character development over the running time, so when things turn bad (and boy do they turn bad), you feel for them. With a cast that includes Powers Boothe (surely due a patented Tarantino career resurrection soon), Keith Carradine, Peter Coyote, Brion James and Fred Ward, Hill has created a cult classic that, from the guitar swamp intro until the final shot, never once relents from the tension and nerves of being trapped somewhere you don't know, chased by people you don't see for reasons you don't understand.

Heathers (1989)
HeathersMade back when Christian Slater was cool and Winona Ryder was sexy and alternative (rather than a shoplifter who sleeps with rock musicians), Heathers take the teen-comedy genre and subverts it in every way possible. The plot? Ryder plays Veronica, the unwilling newest member of the girl-clique known as "The Heathers". Enter Slater as the new kid in school, the dark anti-hero who smokes, carries a gun and rides a Harley Davidson, showing every bit of that 'young Jack Nicholson' promise he used to carry with him. Heathers is a dark satire on the perils of being a teenager, that need to belong to a tribe, the fear of being different, wanting to be cool and desperately wanting to be popular with the cool kids. Ryder and Slater hit upon the idea of killing The Heathers, but as usual, it doesn't go to plan. If you're allergic to shit like 10 Things I Hate About You and other generic teen films that Hollywood seem to keen to squeeze out, then Heathers is for you. Be it homo-erotic double-suicide pacts, date-rape cow tipping or lighting a cigarette from the still smoking remains of a lover, Heathers gleefully urinates on teenflick clichés and saunters off into the distance smoking, taking a slug from a bottle of vodka and kicking the school mascot in the balls as it passes.

Paradise Lost / Revelations (1996/2000)
Paradise Lost / RevelationsA made-for-HBO documentary in 1996 that has recently been given a DVD release over here, along with its follow-up, Revelations. Paradise Lost is about the brutal murder and mutilation of three young boys in Arkansas and the subsequent investigation and trial of three teenage boys. It's a scathing indictment on the legal system, small town prejudice, satanic panic, Christian fundamentalists and what it means to be different. The three teenagers are put on trial based on a confession from one of them, who is questioned by police without a lawyer for nineteen hours (yet only 45minutes are taped), who has an IQ of 78 and who changes his version of what happened under suggestion from the police. The poor boys were never given a chance by a devoutly religious society who looked to cast them to hell simply because they wore black, read books about Wicca and enjoyed the music of Metallica. The case forms against the boys despite a lack of absolutely any physical evidence whatsoever, no proof of guilt beyond the hearsay of other people, testimony from somebody with a degree from a mail-order university and the general consensus that the defendants must be guilty because "they dressed funny and never really liked sports and stuff." The follow-up, Revelations, sheds light on some of the key figures from the first film and offers up startling evidence as to a more likely culprit than three boys convicted on nothing more than prejudice and fear. A frightening, sobering and ultimately angry film about the dangers of acting independently.

Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Requiem For A DreamFrom the director of mathematical thriller Pi, adapted from the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. and concerning the subject of drug abuse, this wasn't ever going to set the box office alight. It's an extremely difficult, harrowing and upsetting film to watch that is not for everybody's taste - it's certainly not a film you'll be willing to re-watch too many times. It's about addiction, hope, love, loss of everything, paranoia, dependency, humiliation, selfishness, viciousness and everything in-between. Sarah Goldfarb is convinced she's going to be on TV, so she diets to fit into her special red dress. Her son comes over only to steal the television to sell for drugs, whilst his girlfriend relies on her rich parents to keep her in money for drugs, with his best friend convinced they can make the score of a lifetime and become independent dealers. These characters all orbit each other, experiencing their own personal hells and inflicting them upon those closest to them - it's dark, unrelenting, brutal, honest, dirty and seductive. Aronofsky is a master of using the medium to put you slap-bang in the mindsets of the characters, and once you're in then you're going to hit the bottom along with these characters. If you haven't seen it and think you might appreciate an adult view of subjects rarely treated with seriousness, then watch this film. Just don't make any plans for the rest of the night, and for chrissakes be in a happy, comfortable mind before you watch. Andy

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