Underrated Gems, or:
How I Stopped Worrying and Used the Word “Gems” When I Swore I Wouldn’t
by Stephen Simons
After writing several TV Worth Watching columns I have developed an appreciation for just how subjective the viewing experience can be. After watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because no less than five friends promised me it was, oh, so . . . just . . . wow (spoiler alert . . . it’s not), I reviewed some of my personal favorites. And guess what? I do the same thing.
What about Bob is an entertaining movie, and Bill Murray is one of the greatest entertainers of our generation, but if I hadn’t watched that movie with my high school friends about a dozen times, quoted it constantly, and attempted to recreate scenes with a handheld camera, I probably wouldn’t even remember it, certainly, it wouldn’t have made this opening paragraph.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my best movie experiences of all time because I went and saw it with my older brother, in a theater so crowded we had to sit in the corner of the second row. I was 14. It was the first Indiana Jones movie I ever saw in a theater. Walking out I wanted to jump on moving cars, chase Nazis, and generally have a John Williams soundtrack playing as a background to my life.
I saw Armageddon on my last date with my future wife, right before she left to join the army.
Those are just a few examples of how the experience can take an average movie and weave it into our being in such a way that we think it was the movie that was special. This is why a whole generation of women are unable to understand why their daughters don’t love Dirty Dancing like they should. It also helps me comprehend why Monty Python and the Holy Grail is quoted more than Monty Pythons actual funny stuff!
But there has to be some way to rise above our purely subjective responses, right? I believe so. Movies are filled with cheap tricks, flashy lights, and forced sentimental moments designed to turn off our inner critic and suck us in. Those are the movies we beg our friends and loved-ones to see only to sit around in embarrassed silence at the end muttering something about it being better in the theater.
I can help. There are rules, after all, to good story telling, plausible characters, and cohesive worlds. For a comical run-down of some of these rules you could watch Red Letter Media’s deconstruction of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. You could go to college. You could read a book. Or you could just watch the movies I’m about to suggest. I think you should do 1, 3, and 4.
But definitely do 4, because am going to present some lists of movies I think are worth watching, either because they are well written, reveal truth, have some uplifting value, or simply entertain. My first list includes only movies that came and went (or are long gone) and didn’t get the credit they deserved.
Here are 21 movies you probably haven’t seen, but should:
1. Titanic (1997) PG-13
Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet put in A-list performances in this little gem of undiscov. . . *muffled laughter* . . . ered passion. I’m sorry . . . This movie will be number one on my overrated list, but it doesn’t belong here
1. The Iron Giant (1999) PG
A boy discovers a 50 foot tall alien robot in the woods near his home. This movie has gained a bit of popularity since Cinema Sins references it often, also Vin Diesel voices the robot (I am Groot).
2. The Rocketeer (1991) PG
An airplane pilot finds a top secret rocket back-pack, making him the target of Nazi spies, assassins, the US Government, and Howard Hughes. A young Jennifer Connolly supports an otherwise unrecognizable cast in this entertaining flick.
3. Secondhand Lions (2003) PG
A mother drops off her teenage boy at his uncles dilapidated farm instructing him to find their hidden riches. Micheal Cane and Robert Duvall bring this movie alive with their rendition of true adventurers past their prime.
4. Holes (2003) PG
Perhaps the only prison story suitable for children. A boy, played by a young Shia LaBeouf, is sent to a correctional camp for children where they have to dig holes in the desert for mysterious reasons.
5. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) PG
Ben Stiller’s best movie may be his least well known. This movie, like the title character, barely keeps one foot in reality as Walter begins to live his life for the first time as a middle aged man.
6. About Time (2013) R
All the men in Tim’s family have the uncanny ability to travel to any previous point in their own lives, but can he actually make his life better with each redo? Watch this on a date.
7. The Fall (2006) R
A depressed WWI patient spins fantastical tales for a little girl in an attempt to convince her to sneak him a suicidal dose of medication. Lee Pace is an underrated, underused actor.
8. Odd Thomas (2013) PG-13
Some truly bad dialogue doesn’t stop this story from pulling you in. Based on a Dean Koontz novel, expect the bizarre and gross.
9. Mud (2012) PG-13
A mysterious loner befriends two teenage boys. Fans of Matthew McConaughey know that he’s played some of the most original roles in the last few years.
10. Chef (2014) R
Carl Casper, played by Jon Favreau, quits his job as a five star chef after a twitter war between him and a food critic goes viral. The movie is really about him rediscovering his love of fine cooking and reconnecting with his son as he drives across America in a food truck.
11. Dark City (1998) R
You may find it hard to believe that this movie predates The Matrix and you’ve never heard of it; low-key, noir, and still gripping sci-fi.
12. Pontypool (2008) Not Rated (but it’s PG in Canada . . . yeah. . . they’re crazy. I think it would be “R” for gore, but a tame “R”)
Sit in the basement of a church, re-purposed as a local radio station, and listen with a gravely voiced DJ and his two assistants as the world outside decays into insanity. One of the most original takes on the painfully overdone zombie genre.
13. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010) PG-13
Scott must defeat his girlfriends seven evil exes. I’m not a big Michael Cera fan, but for once his constant uncomfortable “persistence in the face of insecure hesitation” shtick actually works.
14. Rushmore (1998) R (barely)
Before there was Napoleon Dynomite there was Rushmore . . . and Rushmore is better. Also, Bill Murray. This is one of the few Wes Anderson movies I really like. and it is Wes Anderson . . . so, expect the Royal Tanenbaum, Grand Budapest, style humor.
15. Galaxy Quest (1999) PG
I just keep forgetting that many people haven’t seen this movie. It takes about thirty minutes to set-up, but it’s a great satire of the entire Star Trek franchise.
16. Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan (1982) PG
Ok, this is celebrated as one of the best original Star Trek movies, but I’m concerned that the recent reboot will overshadow the original. I love Benedict Cumberbatch (yes. . . love), and the new Star Trek movies are entertaining, but seriously, don’t miss the original.
17. Tremors (1990) PG-13
Giant underground worms terrorize people in a tiny mountain town. This movie is underrated!
18. 12 Monkeys (1995) R
Probably the most accessible of Terry Gilliam’s movies (which is not saying much), this movie has so much going for it; Bruce Willis, a young Brad Pitt (practicing his Tyler Durden impression), time travel, and world-ending-biological terrorism!
19. Margin Call (2011) R
Did you ever wonder what happened when the housing bubble burst and markets crashed worldwide? No? Would you believe someone made a truly entertaining, suspenseful movie about it?
20. Primer (2004) PG-13
Primer will also be featured on my list, “low-budget wonders that restore my faith in the future of cinema.” (working title) A group of engineers build a time machine in their garage. You will have to watch this movie twice before you understand it. The third time you watch it will be just because you want to.
21. Unbreakable (2000) PG-13
I’ll never understand how, with so many M. Night Shamalamadingdong disasters out there, people forget that he actually made TWO good movies. And Bruce Willis stars in both of them! This movie, much like Sixth Sense benefits from multiple viewings.