September 20, 2015

What does it mean to call a film underrated?  Does it suggest that it wasn’t properly evaluated the first time around?   Consider a film like The King of Comedy (’83)… Because of the previous associations of director Martin Scorsese and star Robert DeNiro, the expectations were perhaps too high. Instead, moviegoers experienced a film of such irony that it made them uncomfortable. The King of Comedy was dismissed by critics and audiences alike; it is now regarded by many to be a masterpiece.  Is it  possible that the passing of time helps us “catch up” with some films and gives us a chance to re-evaluate them?  Hopefully, my list of The Twenty Greatest Underrated American Films will steer you to some of these extraordinary works that were not appreciated in their time.

In no particular order…

  1.  Cutter’s Way (’81 ) Ivan Passer  (The greatest film you’ve never seen.)
  2. Wise Blood (’79)  John Huston (Faithful adaption of Flannery O’Connor’s novel)
  3. Mad Love (’35) Karl Freund  (Grand guignol at its finest with an amazing performance by Lorre as Dr. Gogol)
  4. Where’s Poppa? (’70) Carl Reiner (Outrageous black comedy)
  5. The Scarlet Empress (’34) Josef von Sternberg (Ornate, puzzling, and visually stunning)
  6. Slaughterhouse-Five (’72) George Roy Hill (Near-perfect adaption of Vonnegut’s novel, financed by Universal!)
  7. Quick Change (’90) Howard Franklin, Bill Murray (Inventive, hilarious dark comedy)
  8. At Close Range (’86) James Foley (Moody crime drama, featuring a frightening performance by Walken)
  9. The Day of the Locust (’75) John Schlesinger (A surreal and downbeat film that alienated audiences in its day)
  10. The King of Comedy (’82) Martin Scorsese (As I mentioned earlier, a truly misunderstood film)
  11. The Night of the Hunter (’55) Charles Laughton  (An audacious film debut by Laughton)
  12. The Ice Storm (’97) Ang Lee (Haunting, spare statement on middle-class angst)
  13. Handle With Care (’77) Jonathan Demme (Funny, lyrical look at the universal need for communication)
  14. 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (’64) George Pal (One of the most imaginative and moving children’s film)
  15. The Seventh Victim (’43) Mark Robson (Val Lewton’s unusual film of infinite sorrow)
  16. The Long Goodbye (’73) Robert Altman Modern day Marlowe tale with a rhythm all its own)
  17. The Other (’72) Robert Mulligan (A quiet shocker)
  18. Night Moves (’75) Arthur Penn (Film Noir as existential dread)
  19. Housekeeping (’87) Bill Forsyth (One of the more haunting films I’ve seen)
  20. The Unknown (’27) Tod Browning  (Chaney’s finest hour in Browning’s sadomasochistic masterwork)

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