Note from Nick: This article
ran in an old issue of MOVIE INSIDER in an abbreviated (translation: crappy)
format, and Dan was kind enough to send over the original text for us to run it
in its full sexiness here. Here’s the gist: These are films we feel don’t get
enough love. They’re films from our lifetime of experience, which is why you
won’t see deserving films from the pre-1970 era. That’s an article for another
time. For now, enjoy this first installment in a four-part series that will run
every day until Thursday.

For all the attention spurted across the chests of a
handful of movies each year, there are dozens more that are shunted aside,
trampled underfoot or otherwise treated to the shitty end of the stick by the
grinding gears of the movie machine. Many of these movies deserve to languish in
obscurity, but there are plenty that are worth more than that and that’s why
we’ve rolled up our sleeves to retrieve some unloved and under-appreciated gems
from the dustbin of history. Within this countdown you’ll find hated
blockbusters and underseen cult classics, you’ll find A-list megastars, and
unsung C-list heroes. You’ll find an alarming amount of Kevin Dillon and Renny
Harlin, plus Donald Sutherland as a monk. You’ll find great movies that you were
sure only you knew about, and you’ll find movies that you’ve never heard of.
Most importantly, you’ll find that shining a light into the dark corners of
movie history almost always unearths something special!

(In No Order)

1. A Simple Plan
(1998)

Between the Evil Dead trilogy and the blockbuster
success of Spider-Man, Sam Raimi went out of his way to dispel
Hollywood’s perception of him as a purveyor of lunatic camerawork and slapstick
splatter. A Simple Plan was the first step in this reinvention (along
with the also-undervalued The Gift), and it remains one of Raimi’s most
overlooked movies, a tightly wound tale of greed and betrayal in the American
hinterland. Deliberately devoid of his usual camera tricks, it’s a subtle slice
of snowbound noir – Fargo filtered through the ghoulish moral prism of EC
Comics.

The Defense: A chance to see
Raimi shrugging off the gore of his past, and focussing on atmosphere and
character, without sacrificing his unique
sensibilities.

DW

2. The Devil’s Backbone
(2001)

We like Guillermo
Del Toro, that’s no secret. One of movie geekdoms best kept secrets, he tickled
the mainstream with Blade 2 and kicks it into submission with
Hellboy. A great gothic stylist, if you need evidence that he can offer
more than dismembered vampires then check out this none-more-eerie ghost story.
Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, it follows the changing fortunes
of the inhabitants and staff of a rundown orphanage – a place haunted by
atrocities past, threatened by perils from the present and with an ominous
unexploded bomb in the yard acting as a convenient metaphor for the rising
tension. Poetically spooky.

The Defense: Creepy as hell, but
also packing a serious artistic punch. Buy it and make a cuddly Mexican very
happy.

DW

3. Mr. Frost
(1990)

Who would have figured
Jeff Goldblum to be a wonderful onscreen incarnation of the Devil? Director
Phillipe Setbon, that’s who. Apparently, Mr. Setbon came in at
938,004th on the Hollywood power rankings this year. In the film,
everyone’s favourite Brundlefly portrays a man who may or may not actually be
Ol’ Scratch who manipulates the likes of Kathy Baker and Alan Bates into
madness and death. Budgeted somewhere between tiny and miniscule, the film was
largely ignored by everyone but how can you deny a film with good dialogue, good
chills, and a heaping portion of Devil?

The Defense: Though the idea of
Jeff Goldblum as the star of any film that doesn’t require him to regurgitate on
his food (or John Getz) isn’t exactly what most people crave, it works as both a
nice sleeper of a film and a wonderful recruitment for Satan’s magnificent
army.

NN

4. Nightwatch
(1997)

Though the original film was quite excellent in its own
right, it didn’t feature gruntmaster Nick Nolte pouring a vial of sperm on a
dead girl’s ass. As most of you know, the Nolte/semen/dead ass combo is a cinema
staple, yet Nightwatch still never found an audience. As it stands, the
film has a great deal of unappreciated merit. One need only consult the
ass-pouring skills of Nick Nolte for evidence. Oh, and the movie’s
good.

The Defense: There’s atmosphere,
some chills, and a great supporting turn by Josh Brolin. It also features Ewan
McGregor’s favorite bald cinematic accomplice, a part he’s had to keep hidden
under his Jedi robes for a few years. Nightwatch is a solid little film that
didn’t deserve to be delayed almost two years before seeing the light of day’ and
you already know what Mr. Nolte brings to the table.


NN

5. In the Mouth of Madness
(1995)

John Carpenter comes in for a lot of criticism these
days, perceived by many as a classic director who’s run out of steam. While
recent output like Vampires and Ghosts of Mars has disappointed,
you don’t have to look too far back to find buried treasure. A disorienting tale
of literary madness viewed through the populist style of Stephen King, Mouth
of Madness
has its clunky moments, but in true Lovecraft style, Sam Neill’s
sceptically stoic insurance investigator echoes our bewildered audience
perspective as he gets sucked deeper into the high strangeness surrounding the
disappearance of author Sutter Cane in a town that only appears in his
books.

The Defense: Not Carpenter’s
finest hour, but still a movie that retains an instinctive connection to primal
ideas and imagery that disturbs. So if you like old women with tentacles
axe-murdering their husbands to death, this is the one for
you.

DW

6. Night Falls on Manhattan
(1997)

The films of Sidney Lumet tend to fall on the gritty and
overlooked side of the Hollywood equation. This film is no exception and with a
cast of Hollywood’s finest character actors like Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, James
Gandolfini, and Richard Dreyfus the pieces are all in place for a fine, engaging
crime flick. If you like 70’s-style procedurals in place of car chases and
exploding gas stations this little flick should do the trick
nicely.

The Defense: In a world where Ron
Shelton directed two recent police flicks, it’s nice to return to a filmmaker
who knows the genre. Lumet probably won�t be appreciated until he’s gone, but
Night Falls on Manhattan’s got a brain and enough true grit to exhume John
Wayne.

NN

7. The Arrival
(1996)

Before he gave us Vin Diesel as Riddick and teamed up
with Darren Aronofsky to provide a submarine full of ghosts, David Twohy brought
us this low budget science fiction flick. The only movie with the audacity to
cast Charlie Sheen as an astronomer, The Arrival is illogical and silly
but features aliens with backwards knee joints. In a world scoured by unrest and
terrorism, that’s all you really need. Funky-kneed aliens, Chuck Sheen, and Ron
Silver. There should be a wing at the Betty Ford Clinic devoted to this
flick.

The Defense: When Sheen confesses
to Silver that he looks �like a can of smashed assholes� the stage is set for a
pure guilty pleasure flick that’s nowhere near as bad as you�d expect. In fact,
it’s so great that it spawned a Patrick Muldoon
sequel!

NN

8. Time After Time
(1979)

Even better than the Cyndi Lauper song of the same name,
this film is a true classic. It has everything a great movie needs: humour,
violence, drama, and a time-traveling David Warner. Before he went onto to great
fame in the Wing Commander III CD-ROM game, Malcolm McDowell made for a
wonderful H.G. Wells who travels to the 1970’s to track Jack the Ripper (Warner)
and sample McDonalds’ fine menu. It’s a wonderful film with just enough of an
edge to not stretch its concept too far.

The Defense: There’s something
inherently cool about how a film suggests that Jack the Ripper would fit in
wonderfully in modern society, yet doesn’t try too hard to hammer the point
home. There’s something inherently scary about how kids these days wear their
hair as if it was 1979 again, but that has no bearing on this wonderful
movie.

NN

9. Brotherhood of the Wolf
(2001)

This film simply tried to cover too much ground and was
too long to grab the hearts of a sizable chunk of the moviegoing public. Was it
a horror film? Was it an adventure? Was it a period drama? The answer is yes. It
was all those things and many more, but the combination of kung fu, costumes
with ruffles, and French subtitles rendered it a cult classic. Screw that, it’s
one of the better films of the past five years and it proved that Mark Dacascos
is actually a damn solid actor. Fans of Double Dragon: The Movie
rejoice!

The Defense: There are several
nude scenes involving Monica Bellucci, including one of the best dissolve
transitions in cinema history. The curves of her bosom become the slopes of a
mountain and I don�t know whether to blush or buy a set of skis. A truly cool,
ambitious mini-epic.


NN

10. Gattaca
(1997)

Probably too subtle for mainstream tastes, Andrew
Niccols’ lofty sci-fi tale of a world where genetic purity has created a new
class system, and DNA tests at birth dictate your entire life, is a soft-spoken
treat. Ethan Hawke is the hero, held back in life by a potential heart defect,
who yearns to travel into space. Switching identities with the genetically pure
but accidentally crippled Jude Law is the only way to fool the system, but when
his boss at the Gattaca corporation is murdered and the police move in with
their forensic tests, discovery is a mere skinflake away. Like all the best
sci-fi, it’s a movie of ideas rather than action, with the brains of Asimov, and
the claustrophobic panic of great film noir.

The Defense: Ahead of its time in
many ways, Gattaca is the natural precursor to Minority Report, and a damn fine
yarn in its own right.

DW

11. Dragonslayer
(1981)

Before Peter Jackson kicked the fantasy genre directly
into the 21st century, this was the best little secret in a genre
known more for steroid infused maulers and low rent special effects. A solid
crew of actors, a respectful script, and a dragon that still looks better than
CGI make this the little fantasy film that could. Willow‘s a
pansy.

The Defense: The fact that this
film works in 2003 as well as it did in the early 80’s is all the evidence one
needs. As a bonus, there’s a nice little flash of nudity and it’s hard not to
laugh when future Emperor Ian McDiarmid gets his head sizzled to a crisp.
Prophetic early punishment for Attack of the Clones? I’d like to think
so.

NN

12. Equilibrium
(2002)

This film was treated like a door-to-door salesman in
Midian, but the fact is that this Christian Bale sci-fi actioner’s a lean, mean,
fighting machine. Taking cues from Orwell and Bradbury, Kurt Wimmer’s film has
the Dystopian thing down pat and when the lead character dishes out his own kind
of punishment it’s hard not to enjoy how sometimes the low-tech approach kicks
more ass than bullet-time and wire-fu can at a fraction of the
cost.

The Defense: When our hero takes
out a group of enforcement officials with cool, vicious precision to save a
puppy, you know you’re in for something special. It’s no coincidence that Bale
landed the coveted Batman role shortly after this film. Equilibrium gave the
actor a whole new coolness and unleashed writer/director Kurt Wimmer onto
Hollywood. These are good things.

NN

13. Deep Rising
(1998)

Truly great popcorn cinema is harder to
create than you think. It’s a tightrope between adrenalin-pumping, eye-popping
excess, and insulting the audience by going too far. It’s a tightrope that
Stephen “The Mummy” Sommers walked with indecent success in this witty
and gruesome monster movie about deep sea beasties wreaking havoc on a luxury
cruise liner. Buoyed along by a great cast (especially Treat Williams and Famke
“Lovely” Janssen in the leads) and featuring surprisingly decent CGI and gloopy
gore, it’s one of the most blissfully energetic action movies never to reach
blockbuster status.

The Defense: The kind of slick,
smart action movie that knows when to rein it in, and when to go full pelt.
Ridiculously good fun.

DW

14. Mouse Hunt (1997)

Since the double-whammy of The Ring and
Pirates of the Caribbean, everyone wants to ride the Gore Verbinski
bandwagon, but you can claim twenty bonus cool points if you’ve been on-board
since this overlooked debut. It’s hard to imagine how this movie got pitched,
but Laurel and Hardy meets Tom and Jerry must have been one of the
phrases used. Starring Lee Evans and Nathan Lane as greedy but stupid brothers
trying to renovate an old house in order to save their ailing string factory,
their plot is continually disrupted by a tenacious and borderline psychotic
mouse. The duo try increasingly explosive methods of killing the rodent
(including a poo-tasting Christopher Walken) with charmingly old-fashioned
slapstick results. It’s the Home Alone you can enjoy without slaughtering
braincells.

The Defense: Since overshadowed
by a deluge of CGI animal movies, Mouse Hunt has all the sadism of classic
cartoons, brought to stylistic life by two gifted comedians and a visionary
young director.

DW

15. Space Truckers
(1996)

There are bound to be some who’ll roll their eyes at the
inclusion of this tarnished gem on the list. But, frankly, screw you. Stuart Reanimator Gordon is something of a low-budget genius, and nowhere is
this more evident than in Space Truckers, a self-consciously camp sci-fi
comedy which, in truly circular Hollywood style, is a comedy take on
Alien, which in turn was a serious take on Dark Star. A thousand
times better than the similarly styled The Fifth Element, Dennis Hopper
and Stephen Dorff are the frazzled, squabbling sci-fi truckers of the title, and
as they get dragged into a nefarious plot involving square pigs and vicious
bio-weapons, we get to see such timeless images as George Wendt being sucked
into space, Charles Dance with a rusty cyborg penis and Debi Mazar in her
underpants.

The Defense: If every child was
forced to watch this instead of Agent Cody Banks, world peace would be achieved
within five years.

DW

16. The Blob
(1988)

Movies starring the less-famous siblings of big stars
are always good for some overlooked fun, and this 80s remake of the Steve
McQueen b-movie is a prime example. Starring Kevin “Brother of Matt” Dillon,
with what appears to be a mongoose on his head, you’ll be surprised at just how
much fun this movie is. Of course, horror remakes are all the rage now, but this
one (directed by Chuck “The Mask” Russell) sticks with the formula that
helped make The Thing more than a mere rehash. Insanely slimy and
gruesome, with lots of melting flesh, it’s worth watching just to see the Blob
explode out of Erika Eleniak’s tits, something previously only seen by visitors
to www.erika-tit-burst.com.

The Defense: Delivering more than
its fair share of sticky gore, while keeping the pulpy story zipping along, it’s
amazing this isn’t held up as one of the better horror entries of the
80s.

DW

17. Contact
(1997)

This film wasn’t a sleeper by any stretch of the
imagination. The expectations were high in fact, but when Contact came
out it was largely overlooked by most everyone. There were no battles, no real
aliens to speak of and a lot of talking and theorizing in their place so I
suppose people weren’t in the mood for a cerebral science fiction flick. Too
bad, since it’s one of the better true sci-fi films to dance across screens in a
decade. Thought-provoking and impeccably acted.

The Defense: Jake Busey is effectively creepy in this
film, and not in a “I survived Tomcats” way. Some of Jodie Foster and David
Morse’s best work is here and there’s a scene involving a little girl and the
mirror of a medicine cabinet that shows that Robert Zemeckis still has
directorial chops to spare.

NN

18. No Escape
(1994)

Though the original title of Penal Colony would
have increased the sale of tickets to ladies, this flick’s what got Martin
Campbell his Mask of Zorro directing gig. It’s a vicious old-fashioned
action flick with Ray Liotta as a former cop who leads an uprising against “Big
Brother” on an island colony of penals. It’s violent, free of any fat and
features some really strong moments. A good “little” film.

The Defense: Heads are severed at a swift rate, Lance Henriksen
plays a compassionate man, and Kevin “I’m not Matt” Dillon gets the business
given to him. How many films carry those credentials?

NN

19. Frequency
(2000)

While as far-fetched as they get, this little sleeper
features wonderful work by Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel as a father and son
separated by time but given one more chance to change their futures. Quaid’s a
fireman who took the big loss in the past, but who is strangely accessible to
his son in the future through a walkie-talkie during a freak storm. Makes sense?
Well, neither does the career of Lisa Kudrow. But I promise that this little
sucker will tug a heartstring or two.

The Defense: Sometimes you need a
little sap in your diet and this film manages to provide it but in the manly
chassis of a science fiction film. It’s not going to change your life, but it�ll
probably be a film you don’t mind popping in the player when your father shows
up and there’s not a match on the tube.

NN

20. Alien 3
(1992)

I know, you think we’re crazier than shithouse rats.
Well, we are. You have to be to work for this magazine. With that in mind, we’ll
go on the record and say that David Fincher’s oft-maligned installment in the
Alien series is nowhere near as bad as advertised. The acting is good,
there are some bold moves (you have to admit, you’d have killed Newt too), and
the last scene is a doozy. Go bash something else, dammit!

The Defense: Considering how
screwed up the making of this film was, it’s a miracle it didn’t turn out like
Ice Pirates. This film just isn’t all that bad, and the extended Quadrilogy cut
makes it only that much better.


NN

21. The Iron Giant
(1999)

If you’re one of the few who’ve actually seen this
stunning animation, then its presence in this list will come as no surprise.
Loosely based on the Ted Hughes poem, it’s the story of Hogarth, and the
adventures he has with a giant space robot which falls to earth near his town in
the 1950s. From the shrewd period setting, to the emotionally raw and
unflinching way it confronts issues of death and sacrifice, Iron Giant is
quite simply one of the greatest kids movies ever made. No, scratch that. It’s
one of the greatest movies ever made, period. See it, and be forever cursed to
weep silent manly tears whenever you hear the word “Superman”.

The Defense: Rising above the
mediocrity of kids cartoon movies like a beacon, Iron Giant is one of the most
undervalued films of all time. It’s a masterpiece.

DW

22. Young Sherlock Holmes
(1985)

The mid-80s saw such an explosion of great family blockbusters that
it was inevitable that at least one deserving candidate would slip between the
cracks. In amongst Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Back to the Future and
Return of the Jedi, this low-key gem was lost in the flood. Written by
Chris “Harry Potter” Columbus, directed by Barry “Rain Man
Levinson, it’s a smart and adventurous look at the early years of the
super-sleuth. Funny, yes, but also imbued with the same dark, foggy menace that
typified Conan Doyle’s books. It’s also the first movie to use CGI as we know it
today, with Pixar’s John Lasseter working on the “stained glass man”
sequence.

The Defense: Compared to what
passes for kids live-action movies these days, Young Sherlock Holmes is long
overdue it’s elevation to the pantheon of 80s
greats.

DW

23. She’s The One
(1996)

No, this isn’t the one where Jet Li’s Yulaw gets a sex
change, although I’d pay to see that flick if it’s ever made. This is Edward
Burns’ second directorial effort, a romantic comedy featuring Burns, Jennifer
Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Amanda Peet, and scene stealing Mike McGlone. It’s fun,
smartassed, and vintage Burns. Relationships start, end, cross paths, and all
that other chick flick stuff. Only good.

The Defense: Mike McGlone is a
riot in this movie, and his interplay with Burns is priceless. Their scenes with
onscreen father John Mahoney are especially good and their “fight scene” is
brilliant.


NN

24. The Cable Guy
(1996)

After the lowbrow success of Ace
Ventura
and The Mask, Jim Carrey was overdue his box office
comeuppance, and it’s a shame that it had to come with this, actually one of the
best things he did in his early career. Touted at the time as Carrey’s “dark”
movie, as he portrays a psychotic cable TV fitter who latches onto hapless
customer Matthew Broderick, it suffers by being not dark enough for those who
wanted real savagery, but was still too nasty for those who loved his bumbling
slapstick routines. Directed by the now-famous Ben Stiller, if The Cable
Guy
were released today it’d probably find a more receptive audience as we
know what to expect from both Carrey and Stiller. It’s certainly nowhere near
the disaster some gleefully painted it.

The Defense: One of Carrey’s best
films, and one that makes a lot more sense now he’s segued into “proper” acting.
Definitely over-hated.

DW

25. The Ref
(1994)

Known as Hostile Hostages outside the US, this is one of those
movies that slipped out unnoticed on release, but is now worth revisiting just
for the cast and crew, all of whom became respected and/or famous after the
fact. Denis Leary (then more famous as a stand-up) takes the lead as a cat
burglar forced to take a bickering family hostage on Christmas Eve. Pulled into
the middle of their bitter marital feud, the spiky one-liners fly thick and fast
helped in no small way by the presence of one Kevin Spacey as the hapless father
(in a dry run for the defeated Lester of American Beauty) and the late,
lamented Ted “Blow” Demme behind the camera.

The Defense: Marketed as a wacky
comedy, this is something more snarling and savage than the posters suggested. A
misunderstood gem.

DW