Movie Recommendations

22 Films You Probably Haven’t Seen but Should

We all have our favorite little movies. "Little" not necessarily in the sense of low-budget (for all I know, you liked “Waterworld”) but in terms of box office popularity. These are the kinds of movies about which we think: How is it possible that more people didn't flock to see them? And we wish we had a way to convince our friends to give them a shot.

Well, here’s my way. Presented for your amusement are 22 films I think got unfairly bypassed in the stampede to be the first on the block to see the latest studio blockbuster. My guess (my hope, really) is that anybody who reads these little reviews and watches these films will find at least a third of them worth the trouble, although not necessarily the same third as someone else. That’s the experience I had when I wrote more in-depth reviews for an in-house newspaper at Deloitte in my previous (business) life.

First, however, let me urge you to read my short essay, "Using Critics.” This is vitally important, and will explain why I think every critic ought to provide a brief statement prior to presuming to act as an arbiter of taste. If you have no awareness of a critic’s biases and baseline tastes, you can derive little real benefit from his or her reviews.

On that note, here are some things about my taste you should be armed with:

First, I’ll tell you that my likes and dislikes regarding la cinema are, to say the least, unconventional. I tend to like films that are complex and wordy (“The Lion in Winter”) and those which don’t serve up a purely linear story on a platter (“Glengarry Glen Ross”). I find it a rare occasion in which even a transcendent performance can transcend a bad script. (It didn’t in “Donnie Brasco”.) I admire filmmakers who step outside the bounds of studio formula (“Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street,” “Angel Heart”), but I have keen radar for those in which it’s evident that the makers either didn’t much care about their craft or were so cynical about what audiences would pay to see that they treated the film as they would a weekend lawn-mowing project (“Ghostbusters II,” “City Slickers II”).

I don’t feel compelled to deride a movie just because it appealed to billions of people (“Titanic”), and I also don’t feel the need to praise a film because it was the personal statement of an eccentric filmmaker whom the cognoscenti are supposed to admire (“Blue Velvet”) or is a darling of the oh-so-with-it cinema crowd (“Blue Velvet,” again). But if the oh-so-with-it crowd is right, I won’t hesitate to say so (“Citizen Kane”), and I might as well tell you that I believe “Casablanca” really is one of the best movies ever made. And while we’re at it, same goes for “The Godfather.” both I and II. But I hated III.

I thought “Terms of Endearment” was one of the worst major pictures ever made. I didn’t like “Phenomenon“ because I thought a terrific premise was completely abandoned in favor of a sloppily sentimental manipulation of emotion. But I liked “Ghost” because I thought its expression of heartbreak and loss was well-handled. I abhor the fad of films that glorify the mentally ill as the only truly sane and wise people among us (”Being There”), which is why “What's Eating Gilbert Grape?” is such an honest. albeit upsetting, movie.

I admire Robert DeNiro, Jeff Bridges, Anthony Hopkins, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Kate Nelligan, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Harvey Keitel, Robert Duvall and Holly Hunter. I think Brad Pitt isn’t given nearly enough credit for the brilliant actor he truly is. I’ve had enough of Whoopi Goldberg, who really isn’t so cool and hip that she can carry a movie simply by showing up, and I’ll continue to think Jack Nicholson is over-rated until he decides to play a different character again, as he did in “Batman.” Same goes/went for William Hurt, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. If I had to pick the best of all time, it would be either Lawrence Olivier (at least before the remake of “The Jazz Singer”) or Gary Oldman. “Pre-method” movie stars like Gary Cooper bore the hell out of me.
There. Now you have some idea of the baseline whence my opinions spring. On with the films.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Pinocchio (1940)

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Betsy’s Wedding

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29th Street

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Forbidden Planet

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The Dead Zone

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The Twelve Chairs

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Raising Arizona

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My Blue Heaven

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The In-Laws

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Three Days of the Condor

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Somewhere in Time

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Pumping Iron

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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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Small, Touching Films That Got Lost in the Noise

Saving Grace


Big Night


Other Worthy Films


Here Comes Mr. Jordan



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