Last week Sight & Sound Magazine released their list of top 50 films as determined by a poll of fancy-pants critics. The big news is that Vertigo has dethroned Citizen Kane. But when I say “big news” I mean, “big news if you’re trying to make a news story out of popular opinion.”
If there’s one thing that popular opinion rarely is, it’s surprising.
And those of you who are looking for films to watch, you either have long ago seen both Vertigo and Citizen Kane, or have long ago decided you didn’t care and weren’t going to watch those movies because your mother was killed by a snow globe or something.
Those things are dangerous. Please shake carefully.
What you need, and what we will give you, is something much more valuable than a list of what critics adore. That’s a list of the 10 Best Films You Haven’t Seen.
These films were scientifically selected by first thinking about what sort of blogpost headline would get the most clicks and then picking 10 films that I love but which aren’t particularly popular. That is how science works. You cannot prove otherwise.
In alphabetical order:
Despite what you may reasonably think, American Psycho is not a slasher film or even a horror movie. It is, purely, a comedy. In American Psycho, we get Brett Easton Ellis‘s vivisection of ’80s consumerism and the yuppie lifestyle—only we get it from the joke’s point of view: the shallowest, most self-obsessed, inanest yuppie of them all. That’s Christian Bale and, in this film, he certainly thinks he’s a badass serial killer who loves Huey Lewis and the News. It’s a joke, get it? For those who think it’s misogynist and sadistic, you’re completely missing the point. The lead character isn’t the hero, he’s the fool.
I’m willing to bet good money that very few of you have even heard of this film. This is a feature by brilliant Czech animator Jan Svankmajer and, before you get twitchy, there aren’t any subtitles. Because it isn’t a film in which people talk. Instead, all that the handful of main characters do is go to extreme lengths to bring themselves to independent sexual satisfaction. And when I say “extreme lengths,” I am not exaggerating in the slightest. The “stories” intertwine, but this film is more of an experience than a drama. Not suitable for children or brush salesmen.
Dean Spanley is a little film. It’s a film that came and went and some critics took note and some old ladies saw it. You didn’t see it. There was no marketing budget and it didn’t sound like there would be explosions or boobs in it, and there weren’t. Instead, we get a cast of brilliant actors bringing an oddly beautiful story to life—a story written by Lord Dunsany, if you’ve heard of him. It’s Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, and Jeremy Northam sitting around tables and drawing rooms and talking. There’s nothing extraneous and nothing missing. It’s just excellent, in the same way a haiku can be excellent— simply and elegantly. Good for date night, family fun, or as a palate cleanser after Conspirators of Pleasure.
It is, unfortunately, difficult to get Hands on a Hard Body. It was available on VHS at one point, and someone is selling a DVD on eBay for $160. This is a crying shame because it is one of the best documentaries ever made. Here’s the pitch: a Texas auto dealer runs a contest in which contestants have to continuously touch a pickup truck. Whoever keeps their hands on the truck for the longest time without squatting or leaning on the truck wins it. The contest lasts days. People. Go. Crazy. If you manage to get a copy of this, let me know.
Monkees are people too! But not real people. Unless, wait, are they? In this acid-freakout, non-linear, lab experiment, the poor, maligned members of the Monkees try to discover whether or not they have any free will using an ice cream scoop and a skull drill. Is it art? Was that Frank Zappa? How big do they make vacuum cleaners? Important questions such as these aren’t answered in Head, a film written and directed by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson. Yes. That Jack Nicholson. This film is like going to see the new Jason Bourne film only to discover Katy Perry is playing Bourne, and doing a better job than Matt Damon.
I am sorry, but you cannot watch John Dies at the End. This is because it has not yet been released—but it will be! And then you will, like me, watch it and walk out and say things like, “BLARF! Huff-huff-huff-freeblefreeble! Did the what??? That’s not the same axe.” John Dies at the End is the kind of film that makes you think, “No, THAT was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” after every scene until it’s over. Then you realize it did not make a whole lot of sense but do you care? No. No you don’t. You just go to see it again. Directed by Don Coscarelli who made Bubba Ho-Tep.
Perhaps you are curious as to what it’s like working on an independent film? It is like Living in Oblivion but generally less funny and it lasts a lot longer. Tom DiCillio made this movie after a fairly disastrous gig directing his first feature, Johnny Suede. While he claims Oblivion isn’t about that experience directly and that the “lead actor” character of Chad Palamino is in no way supposed to stand in for Johnny Suede‘s lead actor, Brad Pitt, he is a big fat liar. Yep. He’s a liar-liar-lying-pants. Everyone in this movie is great and the scenario gets more authentic as it gets more warped. Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Peter Dinklage, and an eye patch star.
Not many people went to see Monsters when it was in the theaters. I only went because I had to get out of the house and it was starting at a convenient time. I thought it was going to be some sci-fi/horror thing about giant bugs. It’s not. It’s film about travel, relationships, and stepping away from society. There also happen to be giant bug-cephalopod things. It’s one of very few films that I’ve felt perfectly satisfied by. The two lead actors are a real-life couple and their rapport is perfect. The director, Gareth Edwards, did all the effects himself at home and they look better than many I’ve seen in $100 million dollar movies. His budget was well under a million bucks. Like half of that. So the next time someone tries to tell me that Clerks is anything but a giant turd of a film and awesome for being low-budget, I am going to make them watch Monsters after I bludgeon them to death with a DVD of Cop Out.
The less I tell you about A Pure Formality the better. It’s a psychological thriller. It’s by the same director who made Cinema Paradiso—Guiseppe Tornatore—but it’s much better than that fluff. Starring Gerard Depardieu and Roman Polanski and a lot of rain. Suitable for brush salesmen.
You didn’t go to see The Sound of Noise when it was briefly in theaters because you are a giant idiot. That’s okay. We like you anyway. And you can make it up to us and yourselves by watching it now. Here is why you will love it: because it is so creative that you will watch it and then get mind-pregnant. You will have a whole litter of mind-babies just because you watched The Sound of Noise, a Swedish film about musical terrorists. You will watch it, because I just told you to, and then you will tell everyone that you saw something original. And when’s the last time you did that? Never. You’re in line for the remake of Total Recall right now and reading this on your phone. Fool! The Sound of Noise is on Netflix streaming this instant. Jesus. I give up.
For more ideas of what you should be watching with your valuable cinematic entertainment hours, check out our growing list of recommended films. You could also send me free DVDs because I like free stuff.