Top 50 Underappreciated Recent Films

15) The Virgin Suicides

Blonde on blonde on blonde on blonde. --Josh Hartnett forever establishes he is way cooler than any of his other roles would lead you to believe. Sofia Coppola does an excellent job putting together an interesting and complete story in her first foray into directing. Spooky, interesting and cool all at the same time. Rent it and dig it, baby. (Matthew Kinney/BOP)

--I originally saw The Virgin Suicides only because a friend who had read and loved the book which the movie is based on convinced me to tag along. I was somewhat leery; after all, one of the few facts I knew about the movie going in was that it was directed by Sofia Coppola of Godfather III infamy. Fortunately, my apprehension was unwarranted. The film centers around five teenage sisters who are relentlessly sheltered from the outside world by their overprotective parents. The sisters are worshipped by the neighborhood boys, partly because of their beauty but also partly because they are unattainable. Kirsten Dunst plays the oldest and worldliest of the daughters, Lux, who eventually has something of a relationship with the high-school football team stud, Trip Fontaine (played by Josh Hartnett). Dunst is excellent, and though it would be easy to lump her part here in with all the other teenage girls she has played over the years, this role is in reality quite different from the others. Though Dunst is much better known for her other film from the summer of 2000, Bring It On, this is by far the better performance. Comparing the two movies further, if Bring it On is a gleeful tribute to the happy, carefree times of high school, The Virgin Suicides is a hazy, dreamlike ode to the bittersweet crushes and adolescent puppy love that we all remember so well. (Zach Kolkin/BOP)

--Still tainted in many circles by her slightly over-criticized performance in The Godfather III, Sofia Coppola wouldn't seem to make many friends by having her father produce her directorial debut. Adapting Jeffery Eugenides novel, Coppola's The Virgin Suicides turns out to be a compelling drama about four sisters who commit suicide.

Boasting terrific camerawork and direction alongside a soundtrack by the French band Air, The Virgin Suicides also has impressive acting from Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, and James Woods. It's an impressive film and an auspicious debut for Coppola. It's an intelligently nuanced, sad, and atmospheric film that makes a worthy rental and would have been worth the money in the theater. (Les Winan/BOP)

14) Being John Malkovich

Finally!  A man who is as freakishly tall as I am! This truly unique movie comes from the creative minds of writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. Wonderful performances are given by the film's cast, including John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and, of course, John Malkovich.

The story is about a struggling puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (Cusack), who takes a job as a filing clerk in an unusual office located between the seventh and eighth floors of a building. He discovers a passageway behind a filing cabinet that somehow allows a person to be inside actor John Malkovich's mind for 15 minutes, and then you're dumped next to the New Jersey Turnpike. Craig's co-worker, Maxine (Keener), thinks this would be a great way to make some extra cash. They start up their own little after-hours enterprise and everything gets even more bizarre from there. There are so many unusual aspects to this film that they would be hard to describe in our limited available space.

Cusack's puppeteer character is a perfect fit for him. He is not a strong-willed person and is a victim of circumstance. The beautiful Cameron Diaz is almost unrecognizable as Cusack's dowdy girlfriend. The best part of her role comes when she questions her sexuality after being seduced by Maxine while inside Malkovich's mind. And John Malkovich himself adds the perfect finishing touch to this film. He doesn't exactly portray himself, but rather a version of his public image. He becomes a stereotype of himself; subdued, witty, and thoughtful. It was a bold move for him to take this role, but I think it will be one of his most memorable. (Marty Doskins/BOP)

13) Zero Effect

When good Parrot Heads go bad. --Take the son of Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon), an actor best known for name confusion with Bill Paxton, the historic baggage of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and mix them all together...what do you get? One of the most entertaining films of recent memory, Zero Effect. Jake Kasdan's freshman outing (as writer and director) brings us the story of Daryl Zero, "the world's greatest detective". An inspired update of the Arthur Conan Doyle character, Zero is the modern-day obsessive, inspired, and ultimately exasperating detective who works mostly through his right-hand man (played wonderfully by Ben Stiller). Bill Pullman, in possibly his greatest role, completely inhabits this intensely private man. His lateral-thinking approach to detective work provides some of the greatest pleasures in the film. The plot, while intriguing in its machinations, is ultimately secondary to the exploration of Zero's mind and the awkward but heartwarming relationship he strikes up with Kim Dickens. Zero Effect is a detective story filled with humor and insight into the human heart and mind. (David Meek/BOP)

--Zero Effect has one of the best taglines in history: "The World's Most Private Detective". Ben Stiller first showed his brand of unique humor in this film, playing the new assistant to one of the world's greatest detectives, Darryl Zero, a detective who is as offbeat and eccentric as his cases are. Bill Pullman plays Zero at his sublime best, and brings quirkiness to the film that makes it a treat to watch. Stiller originated his everyman-down-on-his-luck character in this film, as he follows Zero around doing some mind-bogglingly stupid things. The film was written and directed by Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, and it was quite an excellent debut. With a wry edge and intriguing story, Zero Effect definitely deserves its spot. (Walid Habboub/BOP)

--Bill Pullman plays eccentricity to the limit of a functioning human being. Ben Stiller is neither funny nor overbearing (good things, in this case). The story twists and turns, challenging and yet playfully delivering you to the satisfying and unexpected end. (Matthew Kinney/BOP)

12) Wonder Boys

Peter Parker's spidey-senses are clearly no match for the mighty power of beer goggles. Adapted from Michael Chabon's book of the same name, Curtis Hanson's moody, literary Wonder Boys features Michael Douglas in what is easily his best performance since Wall Street. Douglas, playing a dumpy, pot-smoking English professor, is the center of a movie that could easily get distracted with the eccentric characters and plot around it but doesn't, producing an oddly invigorating yet mellow comedy.

Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand, and Katie Holmes round out a supporting cast that performs admirably with roles that could have been showy distractions. Other than Bob Dylan's Golden Globe and Oscar for Things Have Changed, Wonder Boys was criminally unrecognized during awards season, but that's no reason not to go back and check out this wonderful film. (Les Winan/BOP)

11) Dark City

I'm just one of the out-of-focus guys! --Noir meets science fiction, Dark City is Alex Proyas' masterpiece of imagination. Metropolis and Blade Runner provide the inspiration for Proyas' nightmarish world of doomed souls living unlived lives.

John Murdock's awakening from his perpetual numbness both triggers the story and frees him from the collective mindlessness imposed by The Strangers. Vivid in the purity of their evil, The Strangers are strikingly menacing - hairless all-white faces and leathered all-black dress - and memorable in their ability: reshaping reality, halting time.

The pristine bleakness of Proyas' creation glimpses us a humanity devoid of history. Within that paradigm is both a message of the fragility of memory and an exaltation of the notion that we are our memories. (Alex Hudson/BOP)

--A man suddenly discovers that reality as he knows it may not be all that real. No, this is not a review of The Matrix, but rather an unjustly little-seen gem from a year earlier. Dark City is perhaps the best, albeit not best-known, of that ungainly crossbreed genre known as the science-fiction noir. It begins as the tale of a man who is being hunted for murders he can't remember committing; as the movie unfolds, we learn that our protagonist, John Murdoch, is but one of thousands of humans who are the subjects of experimentation by a group of aliens known as The Strangers. But unlike nearly everyone else in the city, John becomes aware of the fact that The Strangers are manipulating not only lives, but memories. The film posits a very interesting question: If reality is, as some would have it, a set of circumstances upon which we all agree, then what happens to reality when our memories are altered? How can we agree on circumstances when our perceptions are based on faulty data?

Unlike its better-known successor, Dark City is more thought-provoking than action-filled, and raises a number of questions for which it doesn't necessarily provide answers. But for the adventurous viewer, Dark City also holds more rewards. (Stephanie Star Smith/BOP)

--Dark City was sci-fi/noir back before sci-fi/noir was cool (OK, that's not entirely true, since Dark City was post-Blade Runner). Key scenes have the anti-hero (played by the always-unsettling-looking Rufus Sewell) awakening in an ice-cold bathtub in a seedy, fleabag hotel, where he is soon on the run from the cops who are looking for him in connection with murders that he has no idea if he's committed or not (Hmmmmmmm; way to be about eight years late to the party on that one, Mr. Cruise). I'm afraid to say too much about the plot developments, because it's a movie that you'll enjoy watching unfold as it goes along. Suffice it to say that writer/director Alex Proyas does an effective job of creating a paranoid world of dark, menacing shadows and vague, half-forgotten memories that torment Sewell as he tries to unravel the truth about his past. But it's not just the set up and the excellent supporting details that make this movie great; it's one of the few truly innovative movies that keeps delivering satisfying payoff after satisfying payoff almost to the end (I have a few quibbles with the end, but the rest of the movie is so intriguing that I've completely forgiven Proyas for them). (Jennifer Turnock/BOP)

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Friday, December 6, 2019
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