The English Patient
We all love us our Seinfeld, but English Patient earned and deserved every scrap of acclaim it absorbed on its path to that Best Picture Oscar. Patient is one hell of a sensual movie, all textiles, crafty breezes and open-mouth kissing. And the shot of Ralph Fiennes emerging from the cave…
Say whatever you want about Johnny Knoxville. Say whatever you want about the politically incorrect premise of the film. I don’t care. This movie is funny and smart, and nobody recognized it. From what I can see, people are just turned off by the subject matter. Too bad for them. Also, see Pumpkin, which isn’t quite as dismissed, but equally funny and smart.
Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
Many of the movies that most people don’t like that I can’t help loving are ridiculous action movies, and this is one of those. The first Under Siege is a fairly well-respected actioner in the Die Hard-on-a-whatever vein (a battleship, in this case), with Steven Seagal doing his job and a cast of great villains, including Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey. Hey, that worked, why not move it to a train? This movie should be awful (and maybe is) but I can’t help enjoying its pure escapism, and Eric Bogosian slumming as the villain.
This movie pisses off a whole lot of people. It takes a huge gamble on an absurd and glib twist. I think the twist works, and is hilarious. I’m in the minority.
Steven Spielberg’s follow up to his massively popular Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a box office bomb. A satire of WWII films and action movies in general, 1941 is funny. I’ll admit that the average Spielberg fan will have a hard time digesting this straight, over-the-top comedy, but it doesn’t deserve the lack of recognition that it’s gotten over the years. Go back to it, get yourself out of the Spielberg mindset and prepare for some enjoyment.
The movie that brought John Woo to the United States is Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best. That’s not saying much, of course, but this stylish action movie deserves more love than it gets.
The Sum Of All Fears
Ben Affleck’s Lazenby-worthy turn as Jack Ryan (taking over from Harrison Ford, of Patriot Games and Clear And Present Danger, who himself took over from Alec Baldwin and The Hunt For Red October…) is only one fine element of an underrated action classic that features Liev Schreiber playing spy games and slitting bad guy throat. That should be enough for any reasonable viewer, but just in case, Fears‘ Presidential cabinet includes Morgan Freeman, Alan Bates, Bruce McGill and Philip Baker Hall. Also, Affleck’s button-cute love interest is Bridget Moynahan.
Life Is Beautiful
Roberto Benigni’s film has been maligned for a number of reasons. Some (the fact that he beat out Spielberg for best director) have been spot on; others (the accusation that the film makes light of the Holocaust) are misguided. In fact, Benigni seems to recognize the gravity of the Holocaust by turning to comedy in order to survive it. Genocide is not a game, but turning it into one might be the only way to get both yourself and your child through the madness of a concentration camp. The film is tender and open-hearted.
The Last Boy Scout
This ridiculous action movie has Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans teaming up. It’s poorly-written, overacted, thinks it’s much more clever than it is, and is gratuitously violent. But I have a soft spot for it, for whatever reason.
Though it spawned a terrible horror franchise that never should have been, the original Final Destination ranks among the smartest, scariest scary flicks of its decade. It’s quick, nasty, clever (but never insulting) and even the clear reshoot of an ending manages a body blow before the credits roll.
Ang Lee’s version of the Hulk was seen as too long and without enough action. It tanked at the box office and the Hulk franchise has been rebooted once since without much success. Too bad, because it was one of the most interesting of the slew of comic book adaptations that have come out in the past decade. The concept for Hulk is sort of lame, but Lee managed to squeeze every bit of emotional and psychological juice out of it. Audiences wanted something predictable, something that wouldn’t tax their intellect. Lee didn’t give them that. Also, Jennifer Connelly is in it, which never hurts a movie.
Boobs, gore, and wish-fulfillment (in this case, the wish being fratty American assholes cavorting around Europe getting theirs) drive my enjoyment of this generally reviled movie. Yeah, it’s torture porn, probably, whatever that is. And the sequel is terrible. But I stand by the original.
The best-looking movie Stanley Kubrick ever made is only his most genuine. Why? Because he lets the scenery do the talking. And the scenery is gorgeous.
I’m going to cheat a little bit with my #1 pick. John Ford is my favorite director, so this choice is a deeply personal choice. His final feature wasn’t hated so much as it was cast into oblivion before it even had a chance. No one saw it when it was released, because by 1966 no one cared about John Ford. It played briefly in sleazy theatres on 42nd street and then disappeared from all memory. It still hasn’t received any proper DVD release and even the best surviving prints are bad. The shame in this is that it’s one of Ford’s best and most ambitious films. It involves a group of largely female missionaries in China who are under threat of war and isolation. Anne Bancroft, in perhaps her best performance, plays an atheistic doctor who’s comes to the mission because she has nowhere else to go. Things get a little crazy. The dialogue of faith and gender is as complex and rich as anything in Ford’s work. I’ve had the privilege to see the film twice on a burned DVD and once in print. It’s a masterwork that needs all the help it can get.
The sequel-in-spirit to The Opposite of Sex was generally panned by critics, except for the surprisingly effective and emotional performance of Tom Arnold. In a lot of ways, this is a typical “indie movie,” a slice of life with interconnecting stories and a broad cast of characters. To me, it’s saved from falling into that trap, though, by being genuinely funny and sad.