In the vast throng of films released every year and the even larger array of cinema ads we get bombarded with, it’s easy to lose sight of independent gems or films that for some reason or another fail to make a mark with the wider mainstream public. One of cinema’s greatest pleasures is its ability to offer constant discovery, so that you can always be on the verge of uncovering a new favorite or chancing upon an overlooked classic. With this in mind, here are my top 5 underrated films, open to unearthing at your leisure.
5. “Disconnect” (Henry Alex Rubin, 2012)
This excellent drama from last year seems to have undeservedly gotten lost among the barrage of cinematic releases, as it hasn’t stirred half the buzz it should have gotten for its sharp writing and powerful acting. Featuring a strong cast that includes Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard, and Andrea Riseborough, this gripping indie focuses upon the intertwining stories of strangers who have had their lives disrupted by the internet in some manner. It’s a strange wonder this film hasn’t been more disseminated, as its subject matter could not be more relevant today in the digital age and its intensity will have you paralyzed until the very last frame.
4. “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion” (David Mirkin, 1997)
This 90s high school cult classic somehow wasn’t nearly as treasured as monster hits “Cruel Intentions” or “10 Things I Hate About You,” and it has mostly become a staple of mediocre TV movie programming. And yet the dialogue is ridiculously quotable, the characters lovable, and the entire plot hilarious and nonsensical. Two roommates decide to attend their 10-year high school reunion and concoct a plan to impress their old classmates by claiming they have invented post-its. Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, Janeane Garolfo, and Alan Cumming in particular deliver the kind of performances that trigger crying-laughter, and the central duo’s musical number with choreography to ‘Time After Time’ stands out almost as much as their glittery, clueless outfits.
3. “Girl With A Pearl Earring” (Peter Webber, 2003)
If ever a film was deemed to be beautiful, this is it. “Girl With A Pearl Earring’s” stunning cinematography transforms every shot into a painting, replicating the exact lighting and tones of the Vermeer masterpieces that inspired its central narrative. Not to mention the fact that the film contains one of Scarlett Johansson’s only moving and complex performances; the tension she exudes in her relationship with Vermeer (exquisitely played by Colin Firth) can be cut with a knife, and exemplifies the extraordinary power of acting that can transform minimal dialogue into an intense chess match of infatuation and desire. As if that wasn’t enough, the film possesses one of Alexandre Desplat’s most beautiful and delicate scores, gracefully underlining the developing action.
2. “Copycat” (Jon Amiel, 1995)
There are scary thrillers. And there are unnerving serial killer films. And then there is “Copycat.” And for those who have seen it, being alone in your house afterwards will never again be the same. Sigourney Weaver leads an all-star cast with Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney in this undeservedly bypassed nail-biting thriller about a serial killer infatuated with the notion of copying past serial killers’ different methods in order to taunt a specialist who has sheltered herself inside her house for years after being attacked. Though many a serial killer film has come and gone, few are able to distinguish themselves as films that are severely traumatizing out of sheer filmmaking skill in the creation of suspense. Go ahead and watch it – I dare you.
1. “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005)
Someone needs to explain to me why a film that has a stunning cast, enthralling plot, and awe-striking writing has been seen by so few people and remains so very painfully under-appreciated. “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” was skillfully directed by and stars Tommy Lee Jones, who has never been better. The film follows his desire to avenge the unjustified killing of his good friend and Mexican ranch herder, Melquiades, after he is found dead among the lifeless desert plains near the Mexican-American border in Texas. With January Jones and Barry Pepper supporting, the film feels like a neo-western that confronts the kinds of swept-under-the-carpet issues so many before it had avoided. From its shrewd look at the lonely, quiet lifestyles of rural Texans to the eternally relevant prejudices surrounding Mexican immigrants, “Three Burials” is not afraid to make its audience uncomfortable; perhaps this is why it seems to have evaded popularity. Yet it not only revives the Western genre, but gives it a wholly original perspective that questions borders, heroism, and the great myths of the West that have pervaded our culture.