It’s one thing to get a movie recommendation from a friend or family member, but what are the underrated favorites of the people that make your favorite movies? I reached out to filmmakers of every genre to get their one recommendation of an underappreciated movie you absolutely have to see. If you’re yet to watch these underrated gems, you now know what you’re doing this weekend.
ADAM MCKAY - The Big Short
A movie that very few people have seen: Idiocracy by Mike Judge: a movie that was inexplicably buried by the studio that released it. The great Mike Judge predicts the Trump phenomenon in this comedy that hilariously follows through on the anti-intellectualism and consumerism that have swamped America for the past few decades. I believe it’s the Dr. Strangelove of our time.
TODD FARMER - Jason X
As a writer of many movies no one has ever seen, I feel extremely qualified to take on this issue. Let’s go off the top of my head by genre. For Action and/or comedy I vote for KISS KISS BANG BANG. Downey Jr and Kilmer? That alone should be enough. For Horror I’ll say IT FOLLOWS. Because this one will not only follow you home but stick with you for many dark nights to come. Animation goes to IRON GIANT. Vin’s Metal Groot will become your new best friend. Sci Fi is a tie between MOON and EX MACHINA. Both will freak you out in the very best of ways. And if you’re under 20 I suggest every movie made before you were born.
CHRISTOPHER MCQUARRIE - The Usual Suspects
I’m often asked to name three of our four good films and, while the list always rotates, one title is always there:
Written by David Mamet, Directed by Sydney Lumet and starring Paul Newman - all at the top of their game - the film tells the story of Frank Galvin, a rock-bottom alcoholic attorney who is handled a case involving medical malpractice at a Boston hospital owned by the Catholic archdiocese. The case ensures Galvin an easy, and desperately needed, payday. If he settles.
But Galvin’s tattered conscience, and a flickering need for redemption, cause him to reject a settlement and take the case to court despite insurmountable odds. He finds himself pitted against the Catholic Church, the medical establishment, his own clients and the most formidable legal team in Boston. At stake are his client’s hopes for a normal life and the remnants of Galvin’s ruined career, along with his very soul.
Lumet’s direction and Mamet’s screenplay are both sublimely restrained and Newman’s performance is a career best. The film avoids every trope of the modern courtroom drama. Voices are never raised, grand speeches are never made and tension borders on unbearable. Incredible supporting performances by Jack Warden, James Mason and Charlotte Rampling make it a drama without equal.
JON CRYER - Pretty in Pink
The Act of Killing – it’s the funniest documentary about the Indonesian genocide you’ll ever see.
AARON MOOREHEAD - Spring
An easily missed movie I love is Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST. Same guy who did High-Rise, it’s him at his most grounded, with very few resources (but the movie doesn’t suffer for it in the least). A controversial, but stunning, third act. If movies were feelings, that movie is Dread.
JAMES GUNN - Guardians of the Galaxy
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.
MAX LANDIS - Chronicle
My answer to this is easily Love Exposure. It’s the ultimate in cinematic achievement to me; it’s a great movie, but beyond being a great movie, or perhaps existing in collusion with that subjective opinion, are the objective facts of the film, first and foremost, that it’s four and a half hours long. Love Exposure is wildly funny, deeply disturbing, never loses momentum or becomes boring, and maintains a coherent narrative despite multiple dives into flashback, in media res other stories, and craziest of all, fantasy sequences. You’re with it the whole time. More than any other film, in my opinion, it is a testament to the idea that with a strong enough vision, executed deftly, there truly are no fucking rules in storytelling.
NEAL EDELSTEIN - Mulholland Drive
Jean Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai. It’s sublime art masquerading as a movie. Melville built and painted the sets himself at his own studio, often shooting inserts alone at night when his crew had departed. He is the original auteur.
SIMON BLACKWELL - Veep
Not a movie, but a three-part 1983 British documentary called Unknown Chaplin. It uses previously unseen rushes to illustrate Charlie Chaplin’s working methods. Chaplin rehearsed on film - a huge luxury in those days- and ordered all such footage to be burned. Luckily some survived. It’s a portrait of a great artist at work in his absolute prime, radiating creativity. The most inspirational thing I’ve ever watched.
ERIC ENGLAND - Contracted
One of the most criminally underrated and under-seen films that I’m constantly recommending to folks is KILLER JOE. A dark, hilarious and twisted crime story set in Texas about a trailer trash son (played by the amazing Emile Hirsch) that owes money to some folks, and with the help of his idiot father, decides to hire a professional by the name of Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey) - who happens to be a Sheriff in Dallas - to knock off his Mother for life insurance money. When they don’t have the cash to hire Killer Joe up front, he takes Hirsch’s sister (played by one of my favorite actresses working today, Juno Temple) as collateral and things begin to get complicated as they start to fall in love? Directed by none other than William Friedkin himself, this film is the epitome of bold storytelling. It shocks. It awes and it was one of the earliest events of The McConaissance. If you’re looking for a movie that’s gonna stick with you for the rest of your life, I highly recommend this one.
SLASH - Nothing Left to Fear
I Saw the Devil.
JUSTIN BENSON - Spring
Because I’ve been watching her TV show The Girlfriend Experience, a deep cut that comes to mind is Sun Don’t Shine by Amy Seimetz. I saw it at a festival in Sweden and from the opening scene you know you’re dealing with a maturity that’s beyond most of us young filmmakers hoboing around the film fest circuit. Amy is someone who has been hustling at writing, directing, and acting for a long time, and is an inspiration to me for working non-stop at what you love no matter how big or small and seeing where it leads you. The thing that strikes me as especially so impressive, is if you watch both Sun Don’t Shine and The Girlfriend Experience, you can really see a similarity despite the fact that The Girlfriend Experience is obviously on that bigger TV scale: it’s the tone and voice of someone who has put in the work of having those things that working your ass off for years and years will get you, even if you didn’t always know where all that energy is going.
BRIAN LYNCH - Minions
One of the most underappreciated comedies of all time is 1984’s THE LONELY GUY.
I don’t remember the movie in theaters, and I myself only saw it on TV when I was home sick from school. It got me from the first image, a greeting card that says SORRY I DIDN’T COME TO YOUR PARTY, and then opens to reveal BUT I WASN’T INVITED. The movie stars Steve Martin, and that should be enough for you to want to watch it. It co-stars Charles Grodin, and if you’re not onboard now, there’s no helping you. It’s about a recently dumped guy who has to figure out how to survive being lonely in New York. Going to dinner by yourself? Simply act like a food critic so people think you’re alone on purpose. Want to seem less like a loser to your neighbors? There are handy cardboard cut-outs of celebrities to put in your window.
It’s brilliant and surreal and hilarious. It’s like if Carl Reiner and Woody Allen had a baby. Also Doctor Joyce Brothers is in it, if that’s your thing.
AARON ABRAMS - Hannibal
Nine Lives written/directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Nine short films, each one starring a brilliant actress, each one shot in a single 10-12 minute take, each one capable of making your heart explode. Just thinking about the one starring Robin Wright and Jason Issacs makes my guts burst all apart.
JAY DUPLASS - Cyrus
The underrated movie I think is a masterpiece and stand by until my dying day is JOE VS. THE VOLCANO.
ERINN HAYES - Children’s Hospital
I think everyone should go watch Force Majeure, it’s this beautiful and honest piece of film making that really stuck with me. Nothing is forced and the performances are incredible. It’s so great.
SIMON BARRETT - You’re Next
I tend to have delved into more obscure cinema than most people I know, so I could easily rattle off a list of dozens of movies I think everyone should see that they probably haven’t (the first five that come to mind would be Too Many Ways to Be No. 1, *Aro Tolbukhin: In the Mind of a Killer, The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, *The Neighbor No. 13 and Ghosts… of the Civil Dead, so there). But this time I’m going to recommend my favorite porn film that everyone should see: Café Flesh, a true art masterpiece that is unfortunately currently almost impossible to find a decent copy of. Set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the vast majority of the world’s population are “Sex Negatives” who become violently ill if they attempt any physical intimacy, the rare Sex Positives work in nightclubs, performing sex acts onstage for their Sex Negative audience. An obvious allegory for pornography itself, the metaphor is driven home by how hilariously non-erotic the sex scenes actually are, all of them set to jarring electronic music and featuring the performers in bizarre costumes and surreal, nightmarish scenarios. The audience, when shown, mostly appear to be miserable, sitting grimly, sweating and watching. At the time of its release in 1982, porn was still a theatrical experience, and I can’t imagine how viewers seeking actual prurient thrills would have reacted to the avant-garde experiment of Café Flesh. However, the film did develop a cult audience on VHS, which is how I first saw it and had my mind irreparably damaged for the better. As a bit of trivia, one of the co-writers of Café Flesh, Herbert W. Day, was in fact a pseudonym for Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight and I, Fatty, aka the guy Ben Stiller played in that one movie about how he wanted to shoot heroin into his neck.