This article is going to cover ten movies from the last decade that, for one reason or another, audiences (what few that saw some of them) didn’t like but were films that I admired. Some of these films received critical acclaim while others were completely lambasted but I happened to enjoy them. Many of them were flops while one was a blockbuster hit and another was a solid hit.
As always it is my hope that with these films there will be some you haven’t seen and my opinion might incline you to seek them out. Of course the other side of the coin is there may be films on this list you saw and agreed with the general population and may have you wondering how it is I have computer access while being locked away in a rubber room.
But I will get my revenge in the article following this one when I list ten movies I absolutely disliked that were box office hits and well liked by most.
Here is a look at the ten movies I liked that most of you didn’t. They are listed alphabetically.
BIRTH – This film opens with an absolutely beautiful shot of a man jogging through Central Park while it is snowing (I have a particular weakness to scenes of snowing) and drops dead of a heart attack. This man is Nicole Kidman’s husband and she is shattered by his unexpected death. Several years later Kidman has moved on. She is engaged to a good man and her life is back in order when a child appears in her life claiming to be Kidman’s husband reincarnated. Soon Kidman can’t get the boy out of her mind and even begins to believe his story and her life starts to turn upside down again. This is a provocative, thoughtful drama that was best known back then for the backlash the film got for what turned out to be a tame, much ado about nothing scene where Kidman and the boy share a bath together briefly. I found this to be a strong film that had many ways it could go and left the viewer guessing up until the end.
BUG – Director William (The French Connection; The Exorcist) Friedkin’s best film since 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. is this simple drama, based on an off Broadway play, starring Ashley Judd in an Oscar caliber performance as a lonely waitress holed up in a dumpy motel room hiding from the world as she continues to grieve the loss of her son some ten years earlier. Her abusive ex-husband is a recent parolee constantly harassing her and soon she is introduced to a drifter (the superb Michael Shannon) and the two begin a sexual affair. Soon the drifter begins seeing the bugs infesting the room and the waitress becomes as paranoid as he is but are the bugs real or imagined? This is a talky but powerful film that showcases two terrific actors doing what they do best. Friedkin wisely films it much like a play with not too many close-ups as we witness two people descend more and more into (real or imagined) madness. Not for those that need action to propel a story as most of the film takes place in the motel room.
DEATH TO SMOOCHY – Regular readers of my articles should know that my absolute favorite genre of film is the black comedy because they are so difficult to achieve success with. Think about how hard it must be to curry laughs from situations that are hopelessly serious and when films like that can make you laugh it makes it all the more amazing. Death To Smoochy tells the story of a washed up children’s television host (Robin Williams) who drinks himself to oblivion and then wakes up one day to discover he is out of a job and has been replaced by a schlub (Edward Norton) who is hopelessly naïve and has no idea the nasty business he is getting into. Soon Williams vows revenge on the innocent new host and sets out to ruin him any way he can. Audiences were apparently turned off by its mean spiritedness but that, for me, is what made it so successful. Director Danny DeVito refuses to let up and turn it into a simple comedy for fun. The punch lines are sometimes cruel but very funny and the laughs are well deserved.
FEMME FATALE – Director Brian (Carrie; Dressed to Kill) DePalma returned to his roots from the 70’s with this Hitchcockian thriller about a diamond heist at the Cannes Film Festival and the woman who double crosses her partners and then takes the identity of another woman and leaves the country. Seven years pass and the woman is now the wife of the American Ambassador to France and is photographed by a nosy photographer that sets in motion a revenge plot by the team that was burned by her. The woman will stop at nothing and do anything to protect her identity. This is not your average, straightforward thriller but a complicated one that requires your attention. DePalma, famous for his set pieces, opens the film with a beauty as we intercut between the team setting up the robbery to the film festival guests arriving to the woman seducing another woman (part of the robbery) in the bathroom in one of the most seriously sexy scenes put on film.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – I often get into a spirited but friendly argument with friends who disliked the comedy Dumb and Dumber. Their reasoning for not liking it is always the same. They thought it was stupid. My retort always is and always will be, “What did you expect from a movie called Dumb and Dumber?” Of course it is supposed to be stupid but that is the charm of the film. In the case of Indy 4 I always ask if people really expected this film to be as good as the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark? My expectations were elevated but not high going into this film and I came out just over two hours later having enjoyed several of the well directed chase scenes, the return of Karen Allen as Marion (even if she is a bit under utilized) and seeing Harrison Ford with his trusty hat and whip in tow. Yes the story gets sillier as it goes and there are some ridiculous scenes in it but the film is well paced and Steven Spielberg’s confident direction makes it worthwhile. It’s no classic but in the series of four I would place it third just ahead of the overstuffed Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS – From last year comes this black comedy that somehow failed to find an audience despite a strong cast including Ewan MacGregor, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey in this story of a reporter (MacGregor) covering the war who is out to lose himself in romantism of it all when he comes across a special forces agent (Clooney) who claims he is the key to winning this and all future wars with psychic warfare. This is quite an oddball film that is alternately serious and hilarious as we follow several different stories that all come together. It’s not a perfect film but a very enjoyable one with strong performances helping to make this outlandish story almost seem totally believable.
PAY IT FORWARD – This strong drama somehow failed to find an audience in its initial release but remains a potent drama that is extremely moving. Haley Joel (The Sixth Sense) Osment stars as a young boy with an alcoholic mother (Helen Hunt) who is assigned by his facially scarred teacher (Kevin Spacey) to think of something to change the world and put it into motion. His plan is to pay it forward. Someone does a favor for you then you do a favor for three other people. Soon this idea has taken the country by storm and everyone is affected including his mother and teacher whom the boy hopes can get passed their emotional troubles and become a couple. Apparently audiences didn’t buy the premise and were turned off by the downer ending but I got caught up on it and thought it was a wonderful movie.
PUNCHDRUNK LOVE – Boogie Nights writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has crafted this most oddball of love stories starring Adam Sandler, very good in his first serious role, as a business owner with a major anger issue. He can’t hold down a romance, he over spends on a phone sex operator who turns the screws on him and he saves store pudding coupons that he has figured out will get him a round trip ticket because of a mistake in the small print regarding its rules. The film is smart but very difficult to watch because Sandler’s character is so hard to wrap one’s liking around but he eventually grows on you. There are plenty of oddball moments (the film opens with a car flipping down the street and there is the continuing tale of an abandoned children’s piano) but the film ultimately won me over with its romance between Sandler and Emily Watson. This is not an easy film to watch and it is easy to see why mainstream audiences were turned off by it but I enjoy it if only for the reminder that there is some talent running deep in Adam Sandler despite what his comedies might show me.
STUCK ON YOU– The wacky Farrely (There’s Something About Mary; Kingpin) Brothers concocted this bizarre but hilarious comedy starring Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as twin brothers conjoined at the hip by their liver. Thanks to a lifetime of teamwork the two have come to live fairly normal lives despite it all and even share a business together. Things get complicated when Kinnear decides he wants to leave Rhode Island and head to Hollywood to achieve his dream of being an actor. Damon has no choice (obviously) but to go with him but has a secret – he has been chatting online with a woman who wants to meet him and she is unaware of his handicap. Wait until you see their first date. This is a no holds barred comedy and the Farrely’s remind me of Mel Brooks in his best days. They will do anything for a laugh and most of the time they pull it off despite a ridiculous premise. The film also has a heart and creates some true emotion towards the end of the film. Cher also appears as herself and looks to be having a blast and we also get a cameo from Meryl Streep. It’s not a great film but a very funny one at times.
THE VILLAGE – M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller about the lives of people in a quiet, isolated village many years in the past that live in fear of creatures that inhabit the surrounding woods. The elders of the group (including William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver) teach the youngsters that the population has an agreement with “the others” that the citizens will stay out of the woods and the creatures will not penetrate the town. Of course some teens decide to test the pact and soon “the others” are coming. Joaquin Phoenix stars as an adventurous man wanting to go into the woods and see what he can find. He is smitten with Hurt’s young blind daughter (Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron) who is also loved by the town’s simple-minded helper (Adrien Brody). After a shocking moment of violence the daughter must set out into the woods to find a doctor and soon everything comes together. As with Shyamalan’s previous work this film has a twist that I, personally, didn’t see coming but many said they did. This is not a great film but it is the last good Shyamalan film and one worth giving a chance to.