We've all listed those numerous films we deem to be overrated. Whether it is those films praised by critics, or those with die hard cult followings, the fact of the matter is once something becomes popular, no matter how good it actually is, the subject itself becomes marred by it's following. For this reason we tend to criticize and focus on films such as Lost In Translation, Sideways, or anything by Wes Anderson, in order to justify the attention we provide for them. Ironically, this just causes us to focus more heavily on those films and cast aside others. For this reason I have decided to compile a short list of some of the most underrated films which were unfortunately ignored in spite of their brilliance or were simply misunderstood.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?!
Yes, this classic film was a wild success when it was released, earning over double it's investment at it's initial box office gross. Without a doubt it was entertaining, but who could have guessed that twenty years later it would still stand as a benchmark in special effects. In fact, there has never been a better or more convincing combination of live-action film and traditional animation since this film's initial release. To top it off, the film was also incredibly well written, combining slap-stick comedy with an authentic film-noir mystery. It is easily one of the most post-modern films in existence, and you got to take your kids to see it. No matter how successful this film was in the box office, it was still the most underrated films of it's time and remains one of the most influential.
This one did well for itself. But it did influence some poor knock-offs that distracted movie goers, such as:
Space Jam (1996)
I was given a copy of Mr. Jealousy and laughed at the box art. It honestly looks like something you'd find inside of a dollar bin at Wall-Mart. But once I started watching it, I realized I was watching a thoroughly charming, hilarious, and entirely artistic piece of film making. The movie was written and directed by Noah Baumbach, and anyone who knows who that is already has probably already seen Mr. Jealousy, or at least one of his other more notable films The Squid and the Whale and the brilliant Kicking and Screaming (no, you damned fool, not that piece of crap Kicking and Screaming with Will Farrell). He already has a fairly big following after his collaborated work with Wes Anderson, but ironically his most mainstream film is the one most frequently forgotten. Mr. Jealousy is charming in all the right ways and, yet, it fully captures the intricacies and troubles inherit with relationships. It is rare to find a film such as this where the characters are so utterly fleshed out and lively. The performances are just amazing as well, especially by the tragically underrated Chris Eigeman. I honestly would say, without any intention of sounding like an elitist film prick, that this may be one of his finest works.
Why it was overlooked:
There was Mulan, then Atlantis, then Lilo and Stich, and then Treasure Planet. Although Lilo caught the little one's attention, most people stopped watching after Atlantis. I can't blame them. Well, actually, I can. Because all of those people missed out on one of the finest and utterly beautiful Disney films in the past ten years of animation. Although the prospects of Treasure Island in, um, *cough* space *cough* may turn some people away with confused looks of perplexion, in retrospect the film in it's entirety is possibly the most profound metaphor for old technology in the new age. Take into account that this was one of Disney's last traditional cell-animated films before the animation department was entirely disbanded. Also take into account that the film was almost (quite literally in some cases) split down the center between 2D animation and CGI. The story alone is one that holds up and bravely, boldly, faces the subject of chasing dreams in the face of a troubling reality. The only individuals I have ever met who have criticized Treasure Planet are those who have never watched it. For them I feel tremendous pity.
Reasons it was ignored:
Previous Disney films
New Pixar Films
I actually remember watching a trailer for Dark City before it's release, seeing the strange characters, surreal set designs, and vague premise, and thinking "That's one I can miss." And I did. For a long time. Then, for some reason beyond me, the VHS copy of the film turned up in my house four years later, quite inexplicably, and ended up being watched. To my great surprise, I ended up seeing one of the most original and beautiful filmed science fiction works in recent memory. To put it simply, there really was no way to market this one. The story is one that is better experienced than through a two minute trailer. My best shot at summarization is that the main character wakes up in a city of perpetual darkness, without any memory of who he was, or hint of his previous life, except for the fact that there is a dead woman in his hotel room. Describing the rest is quite honestly absurd, but the logic of the film tends to make sense on it's own.
The film does have a few problems, but that isn't why it was pushed aside by moviegoers. You have to remember, this movie came out in 1999, on the heels of another certain sci-fi film which challenged reality.
Why it was overlooked:
The Matrix (1999)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, say what you want, but before Val Kilmer exploded in popularity (mainly as Goose in a certain Top Gun) he was in this little doosey by the Zucker brothers. Of course, when placed between Airplane and The Naked Gun, it simply pales in comparison, but on it's own Top Secret is without a doubt one of the most original slapstick comedies in existence. Even if you don't entirely enjoy it(which is hard to imagine), you will without a doubt end up wondering what movie it was where they had an underwater western bar fight, or which one had that scene filmed entirely in reverse, or where they dressed up like a cow to infiltrate a base. Well, all those moments and more were in Top Secret. All in all, Top Secret is memorable simply for it's hilarious, but strangely surreal imagery. It consistently surprises, (literally) shattering one enemy when you expect it the least. In short, it's brilliant.
Reasons it was overlooked:
Naked Gun (1988)
Ever heard of it? Yeah, neither had I. It's not surprising considering it's one of the most subversive, risky, and satirical films I have ever seen. And oh yeah, it might also be absolutely brilliant. The story focuses on Carolyn McDuffy, who is considered the "perfect" college student until her sorority decides to coach a mentally disabled team for a competition against another house. This is all fine and grand, until Carolyn falls in love with her parter, Pumpkin, a challenged discus thrower. What follows is hard to describe, suffice it to say that the film runs the gamut from "after school special" to practically slapstick. In spite of the irony, it is actually one of the most intellectually challenging films I have ever encountered, which is quite honestly why you may have trouble finding many other viewers who actually "get" it. Take for example a message board I came across on IMDB on which a group debated over the realism of a certain over-the-top car crash that takes place in the film. Only one person suggested it was for comedic value, and believe me when I say, it most certainly was. Still, I am tempted to let you know that I can easily imagine someone hating Pumpkin. I don't know how, it really is adorable in many ways. Still, I can see it. For me, I found it uplifting, challenging to popular opinions and beliefs, intelligent, charming, and ultimately hilarious. I mean, it is really, really, funny. The film is keenly self aware of what it is, and exactly what it is not. With that in mind, the movie stretches it's own boundaries by poking fun of itself. Whether you like it or not, it sticks with you, and for that reason I cannot recommend seeing this film more and makes it to the top of my list of most underrated, and forgotten, films.
A film responsible for this film's unfortunate lack of an audience:
The Iron Giant
Since it's original release, the Iron Giant has indeed grown to find true lovers of it's unabashed sensitivity, charm and undeniable heart. As a film it stands as an exemplary piece of storytelling, and with that it can occasionally be found referenced by a handful of scholars and critics. Still, there are people who have never seen the Iron Giant, and refuse to, either for their dislike for traditional animation, childish wonder, or science fiction. What they miss out on is one of the most compelling explorations of the human condition, the soul, and even metaphysical ideas. It really is one of the most intelligent films I have ever seen, and one of those mainstream films that unfortunately was swept away in the tide of CGI. It proves itself to be not only one of the best animated films, but one of the best films overall.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Of course there are many more, many I haven't seen in several years. I'm sure the violent and entertaining, yet intelligent and decidedly self-aware, Starship Troopers fits on here. Still, this could go on for ages, and as long as there are popular films, there will also be films that are misunderstood.
The Darjeeling Limited
In this day and age, it's hard to criticize a Wes Anderson film without feeling like a film snob. It's all too easy to say I loved it, and even easier to say I hated it. I could perhaps show off to those ignorant film-major chumps and talk about how this latest work by Anderson appears to be heavily influenced by Whit Stillman's Barcelona, and that it perhaps falls short of that film's intimate exploration of friendship and family in a foreign world. I'm not going to though, because what Wes Anderson, along with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, have crafted is a thoroughly enjoyable and charming film that is bitingly honest and meaningful at its very core.
The story we are initially presented with is the meeting of three brothers on a passenger train in India, adequately named The Darjeeling Limited. These brothers, played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman, have not spoken to each other in over a year. Through the means of abruptly violating the others trust they reveal their own stories, or at least their version of it, with whatever details they so decide to leave out. What follows is their journey of coming to grasp with death, denial, and family. You know, everything in The Royal Tannenbaum's, but this time with snakes, tigers, and trains.
While the subject matter is certainly not unheard of for a Wes Anderson film, the story is carried by its characters who each capture your interest with undeniable charm and originality. They are strikingly easy to connect with, yet quirky enough to consistently bring entertainment. Even more impressive is the methods in which they further develop. In this aspect the film hits an emotional string that emanates long after it is over.
So I could be a really terrible person and point out the obvious artistic correlations between the characters emotional baggage and their actual luggage, or a number of obvious visual metaphors thrown about the screen, but I won't. Instead I will say that the film is an overall wonderful addition to the Wes Anderson library and won't really let you down, that is, unless you expected something completely different. In that case I will act like a film prick and suggest waiting for Noah Baumbach's new film.
In the meantime, however, see it.
Resident Evil: Extinction
The only question you may ask in regards to Resident Evil: Extinction, the fourth film in the series, is the dreaded question "Why?" Why do we need closure to a series about flesh eating zombies? Why should I see this movie if it is anything like the previous installments? Why does the main character have superpowers now? The answer, my friend, is "Why NOT?" This applies to all of the above, and then some.
There really is no reason to apply any type of rationalization to it. Yes, I know all the zombies were nuked at the end of Resident Evil Apocalypse. Yes, there really is no explanation for how the earth was essentially destroyed. The important thing is that now the protagonist of this story, Alice, can lift really heavy things and blow stuff up with her mind. I know, I know, that makes her "smokin'" in more ways than one. That, in a nutshell, is the entire experience.
I feel no need to explore the narrative further than zombies meet Milla Jovovich in the desert and they fight. Despite there being two previous installments, and countless video games, the back story is practically meaningless considering how much it swerves between mindless action and convoluted science fiction. Notice how I didn't mention horror. Here is Resident Evil's most meaningful (certainly not the most evident) downfall. Despite there being nine Resident Evil video games in circulation, the movie ignores every single one in pursuit of a below-sub-par action flick. The reason for this is that good horror requires you as a viewer to become emotionally invested in the characters, to mentally take the darkness into consideration and fear for human safety. It requires intelligence. This film was not made with, or for, that kind of viewing. In fact, I was astounded during the last ten minutes of the film to discover that Milla Jovovich actually has lines of dialogue. She performs them well, but my shock of actually hearing her voice left me incapable of determining a single syllable. I'm sure I didn't miss much.
Although we are used to the third film being the last in the series, I can fortunately say that this one is still left open ended enough to allow for future installments. So while you may be asking yourself how a flock of crows could pick through every block of Las Vegas, or how the evil Umbrella Corporation was able to outsmart every zombie with a (gasp!) chain link fence, or why everyone just doesn't chill out, the answer may be on it's way in the form of another sequel...
But boy are those crows cool!
See it if you like zombies as much as I do.