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Overlooked, Underrated, or Otherwise Unsung
Ten 21st Century Films You Might Have Missed
Last week’s Touch and Go listicle went over so well, I’m doing another one this week!
If I had to pick one thing, I’d say that my taste in movies is driven by the desire to see something I haven’t seen or can’t see otherwise. Be it ridiculous, unfathomable, violent, scary, or visual — just something I can’t see walking down the street.
Perhaps just my own personal cult classics, here are ten movies from this century so far that I don’t think are talked about nearly enough (in chronological order).
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002): I saw Bubba Ho-Tep in the theater. I’d just read Bruce Campbell’s first book, If Chins Could Talk, so I was primed. In a retirement home terrorized by an ancient Egyptian mummy, Campbell is Elvis Presley and Ossie Davis is John F. Kennedy. Writer-director Don Coscarelli manages to tackle some very serious topics from this madcap premise. I am still baffled that this movie hasn’t gotten a thorough and positive reassessment.
The Chumscrubber (2005): During my initial Donnie Darko (2001) phase, I watched a bunch of recommended-if-you-like movies. Most of them faded away while The Chumscrubber went on to become one of my all-time favorites (The only other one I can remember from that era now is The United States of Leland). How Arie Posin was able to get this cast for his debut as a writer-director is a miracle in itself. Allison Janney, William Fichtner, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Culkin, Glenn Close, Lauren Holly, John Heard, Justin Chatwin, Lou Taylor Pucci, Carrie Anne-Moss, Rita Wilson, Camilla Belle, and Jamie Bell all turn in stellar performances. I’ve recommended this movie to so many people and have yet to find anyone else who likes it.
Southland Tales (2006): I write and talk about Richard Kelly’s second film every chance I get. Its release was delayed so much that it almost came out in the future it was predicting (2008), yet watching it in the meantime, it seems like a documentary. “Ambitious” is a euphemism people use for a failed attempt at something colossal. This movie has a three-part graphic-novel prequel (The movie itself depicts parts 4, 5, and 6). It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. Another of my all-time favorites.
Shrink (2009): Featuring Kevin Spacey, Robin Williams, Mark Webber, Jesse Plemons, Gore Vidal, Dallas Roberts, a young Keke Palmer and a pregnant Pell James, Shrink makes me remember how much I love writing and writers. The movie, while largely about grief and recovery, is also about writing and stories. The score, which is unavailable anywhere outside the film, was composed by Brian Reitzel with contributions from Ken Andrews and others, and rivals my favorites.
Coherence (2013): I talk and write about this one every chance I get as well…
See above for my interview with writer-director James Ward Byrkit.
Maps to the Stars (2014): It’s hard to beat a writing and directing team like Bruce Wagner and David Cronenberg. Wagner is a novelist who co-wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) with Wes Craven and wrote the miniseries Wild Palms (1993). Cronenberg is, well, Cronenberg. Mia Wasikowska, Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Sarah Gadon, and Evan Bird all play their parts so perfectly understated. Alphabetically and conceptually between Magnolia and Mulholland Drive, Maps to the Stars explores fame, incest, and immolation in equal parts.
Inherent Vice (2014): Paul Thomas Anderson took on Thomas Pynchon’s hippy noir novel, and no one seemed to notice. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson, so there are too many people to name, but Joanna Newsom’s presence and narration deserve special mention, as do the brief but memorable appearances of Hong Chau, Martin Short, Jena Malone, and a raucous performance by Josh Brolin. Sometimes I pretend it’s Lebowsky Part Two.
Now do Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (2013).
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016): Based on Kim Baker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011), and not on the book of the same name, Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot features Tina Fey, Christopher Abbott, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, and Billy Bob Thornton. This movie really captures feeling uprooted by your own choices and the simultaneous longing for a home that doesn’t necessarily exist.
Lucky Day (2019): Lucky Day is the nearly lost almost-sequel to Roger Avary’s bank-heist classic, Killing Zoe (1993). Standouts in the cast include the amazing Clifton Collins Jr. and a completely unhinged Crispin Glover. If you like Avary’s other work or you prefer your Tarantino of a certain vintage, today is your day.
Mank (2020): Another one that makes me remember how much I love writing and writers, David Fincher’s Mank was written by Jack Fincher, his father. It tells the story of Herman Mankowicz, the state of Hollywood, and the political climate during his writing of Citizen Kane. Gary Oldman plays Mank and Amanda Seyfried plays Marion Davies, a movie star and mistress of William Randloph Hearst, media mogul and subject of Mank’s screenplay. As Mank himself put it, “You cannot capture a man's entire life in two hours. All you can hope is to leave the impression of one.”
As always, thank you for reading,