Top 50 Underappreciated Recent Films

30) Glengarry Glen Ross

DON'T TRUST THAT VANITY FAIR WRITER! --Glengarry Glen Ross, the film adaptation of David Mamet's play of the same name, is Death of a Salesman for the '80s and '90s. The same desperation that Willy Loman experiences is here, but the way the desperation is expressed is what's novel and amazing. Mamet wrote the screenplay, and it's his language that makes this film a classic. In raw and unsparing terms (read: lots and lots of cursing), Mamet's characters put voice to the degrading business of selling things - in this case, real estate - that no one really wants to buy.

Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon are the stand-outs in a stellar cast that also includes Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Jonathan Pryce and Alan Arkin. Alec Baldwin has one scene that is completely memorable. He rallies the troops to sell, with a pep talk that is more threat than inspiration. Lemmon plays a one-time ace seller who now can't close a deal. His wife is ill and unless he can move some property, he'll be fired. Watch Lemmon's face as he tries to peddle his product. His words say one thing; his expression, the look in his eyes, says another. Pacino is the lead salesman in the office, and the confidence and arrogance he displays is a perfect contrast to the other sellers in the office, who don't nearly display the same bravado.

As was heeded in Death of a Salesman, attention must be paid. Glengarry Glen Ross requires the viewer to listen carefully and be observant to its actors' body language and movement. It's a gem of a movie, well worth the assault of its script, the seediness of its characters and the depression of its subject matter. (Stephanie DeGateo/BOP)

--Many regard Hollywood as a barren cultural wasteland, producing product rather than art. But despite the emphasis on budget and box office placed on modern cinema by the studio system, some true artists still manage to flourish. David Mamet is one such artist. Although his distinctive style does not appeal to all, Mamet, as both playwright and screenwriter, is one of the great modern American artists. While he has many peers on Broadway, he is one of only a handful of screenwriters who could be labeled as such. Glengarry Glenn Ross is Mamet's masterpiece. As a treatise on the banality and futility of life, it rivals the classic East European and Russian literature it in which it no doubt has its roots. Mamet's adaptation of his own award-winning play is enhanced by an incredible ensemble cast. Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino in particular give stand out performances. When I compare Glengarry Glenn Ross to the competition, the fact it did not get an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination astounds me. And while Pacino's support nomination was well deserved, the fact that Lemmon was overlooked in one of his career-best roles borders on the criminal. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)

29) Lone Star

The illegitimate child of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. --Lone Star is a murder mystery. Lone Star is a drama about fathers and sons. Lone Star is about justice. Lone Star is about legacies. Lone Star is above love. Lone Star is all these things and more. Set in a small Texas town in both the present day and the 1950s, the plot is set in motion by the discovery of a skeleton in the middle of the desert, most likely of the hated former sheriff from the 1950s, Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson). As the current sheriff, Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper), investigates, the evidence points to his father, the departed and legendary Sheriff Buddy Deeds (Matthew McConaughey), who took over after Wade's disappearance. Since he never got along with his father and has never been able to live up to his reputation ("You ain't Sheriff Deeds," one character remarks, "you're Sheriff Junior."), he'd probably like nothing better than to tarnish up his father's star. His investigation doesn't just uncover the mystery of the murder, though; it uncovers the mystery of the town. Director John Sayles has several interesting revelations up his sleeve in this film but far more than just detailing the whats, he's interested in why and what next. Why, for instance, did Deeds's father discourage him so strongly from dating Pilar, a local Mexican girl? What next after the truth is revealed? The mystery is almost a sideshow to the discoveries made about the people that are still living.

The performances are all top-notch in this film, starting with Cooper, who brings his trademarked world-weariness to the role. Kris Kristofferson is terrific as the worst SOB that you'd never want to meet; he'll smile to your face then shoot you in your back. Matthew McConaughey, before he carried the baggage of being crowned Hollywood's It Boy of 1996, also impresses in a small role. Naturally, as a director working with his own script, Sayles has a love for the dialogue, with the low-key rhythms of the townspeople leading to many excellent passages that not only further the plot but enlighten the characters. Lone Star is a delight for mystery fans. Lone Star is a delight for fans of ensembles. Lone Star is for fans of movies, period. (Reagen Sulewski/BOP)

--Tradition and family. Murder and racism. Justice and law. All of those things aren't just woven in the story of Lone Star, they are an organic part of every scene. Which makes the job of Sheriff Sam Deeds that much harder. Sam Deeds (played with hidden emotion by Chris Cooper) has to investigate the body of a man he believes was sheriff just before his own father. Like almost all John Sayles' movies, Lone Star doesn't just concentrate on one character, plotline, or even time period. Consider Sayles Robert Altman with a cultural conscience. Never was that conscience more aware then between the line of Texan and Mexican in Lone Star. That line hangs over almost every scene in the film. There are stand-out performances from Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson, but it's Sayles' story. Not only does he make a beautifully complex murder mystery and love story, but he asks the question: Who should tell our history? (David Parker/BOP)

28) Singles

Put your hands together if you've slept with Winona Ryder. A meandering treatise on dating, relationship building and dealing with the real world, Cameron Crowe's Singles addresses its subject matter in a hip but pure fashion. Set in an almost Melrose Place-like apartment community, we get a glimpse into the lives of five 20-somethings as their paths intersect and diverge. Heading up the cast are Campbell Scott and Kyra Sedgwick, who play a charming on-again/off-again upwardly mobile career couple. Their relationship provides the foundation of the film, though the three other characters have significant roles in the development of the plot. Bridget Fonda's Janet supplies the eyes of innocence; she is a naïve young woman newly out on her own, desperate for acceptance and yearning to find a guy who has the simple courtesy to say "Bless you" when she sneezes.

The object of her affection through much of the film is Cliff, a goofy grunge slacker played by Matt Dillon. He's oblivious to almost everything except his band, Citizen Dick, which he sees as an emerging player in the Seattle music scene. Finally, there's the trendy-at-all-costs Debbie (Sheila Kelley), who undergoes a series of misadventures as she tries to find fulfillment and completion through dating.

Of course, the film would be much less effective without its other star - the music. Released at the mainstream height of the Seattle "grunge" movement, Singles' soundtrack is jam-packed with terrific songs from some of the area's best-known bands and performers: Pearl Jam and predecessor Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden. Not only aree their songs on the soundtrack, but the performers themselves appear in the film - Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Kim Thayil jam as a club band in one scene, and Alice in Chains also puts in an uncredited appearance. Pearl Jam members Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament play the backing band members from Citizen Dick.

Through it all, the excellent casting and Crowe's outstanding ability to craft resonant dialogue combine for a poignant and honest slice of life. A fine sophomore effort for a director who set the bar high with Say Anything, Singles is a great companion piece to that debut, as both ultimately offer a refreshingly genuine look at "Real Seattle People." (Kim Hollis/BOP)

27) Deep Cover

Much to the chagrin of Ted Turner, Morpheus takes the black and white pill. --This Lawrence Fishburne film contains an incredible set of bookend scenes that surround one of the toughest and grittiest films of the '90s. Fishburne plays a police detective who goes undercover but gets drawn into the drug world much too deeply. After establishing a relationship with a corrupt lawyer, played by Jeff Goldblum, Fishburne becomes entwined in a high-risk game where the cost is something greater than his life: His humanity. The film is one of the few movies that succeeds in showing the decline of a person in a believable and non-manipulative way. While watching it, you truly feel Fishburne slipping, while Goldblum's character slowly slips with him. Fishburne's performance is nothing short of outstanding and it really holds the piece together. Deep Cover is an excellent film that deserves to be seen over and over. (Walid Habboub/BOP)

--Deep Cover treads the well worn ground of an undercover cop in too deep. There really isn't a need to go much further than that with regards to plot, as it's standard fair for an undercover thriller. Even so, solid casting, performances, script and direction lift Deep Cover above clichéd mediocrity. Fishburne and Goldblum play well off each other. Fishburne's undercover cop is suitably haunted and on edge. Goldblum's amateur and charismatic wannabe drug dealer provides some comic relief. Likewise, Duke's dark and moody direction (owing a lot here to the Terminator, which was obviously a big influence) partners well with Tolkin's sharp and snappy dialogue. This is definitely one to rent if you're a fan of the genre and missed it at the cinema. (Ash Wakeman/BOP)

26) Waking the Dead

Third date. If there's one thing Waking the Dead is not, that would be subtle. That makes it all the more amazing at how effective the film is, even as it wears its heart blatantly on its sleeve. Billy Crudup plays Fielding Pierce, an ambitious young man from the middle class who has his entire political future mapped out to the presidency of the United States. He's making all the right moves to play the game perfectly; serving in the Coast Guard during Vietnam, going to Harvard Law, etc. Then he meets Sarah Williams (played by Jennifer Connelly), a radical political activist.

As they fall in love, they awkwardly try to make their lives mesh. As he plays the game to work within the system, she refuses to compromise at all, as she works against what she sees as the corrupt system from the outside until she is killed in a car explosion. Ten years later, Fielding is about to take a giant step in his career when he begins to see Sarah. Is she still alive, or is he just going crazy?

The film works as a showcase for two of the most underrated actors at that time in Crudup and Connelly (though that has since been remedied in Connelly's case by an Oscar). The film is unblushing in its attempts at examining political and romantic themes, requiring speeches and dialogue that could come across as heavy-handed, but the two actors are so earnest that it seems completely natural for these two characters. Beyond their individual performances, the pair also possesses an on-screen chemistry that would melt test tubes. They can be sexier just looking at each other than many on-screen couples are in torrid love scenes.

The film is also greatly helped by its music, from tomandandy's haunting score to Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street to the devastating Snow Come Down by Lori Carson. Add in strong supporting performances and perhaps the most amazing characteristic, that the film was actually able to give me some hope in our government and political system, and it's clear that the film has not gotten its due. Basically ignored in its theatrical run, it certainly deserves to find its audience on video and DVD. (Dan Krovich/BOP)

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019
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