Haven't done one of these in a while, they seem to get lots of hits. What can I say, I'm an attention whore, OK? Oh, and spare me the 'Well, I've heard of all of these films' messages. Obviously it won't apply to everyone, some of you out there are just as sad as I am and have likely seen some, if not all of these films. The operative word here is 'probably'. I think I've come up with a pretty decent list of ten that is far more obscure than other lists I've read. Enjoy!
10. The Incident (1967) - Now here's a startling, starkly-photographed film. The situation is simple and the characters are a bit stock, but this is strong, disturbing stuff. Martin Sheen (in a remarkable film debut) and wild-eyed Tony Musante are memorable as a couple of psychos who board a NY train and spend the night terrorising the passengers, basically breaking them down. For kicks, it seems. Whilst we all know the story of the passengers on board the fateful flight on 9/11 tried their best to fight back and take down their captors, the sad reality is that the more common situation is the one depicted here. Passengers here for the most part are picked on whilst everyone else is either too scared or frankly disinterested to help. And no one seems to notice the drunken bum asleep on the train the whole damn time. We don't want any trouble, and we'd rather not get involved. Sad, but often true, and the mostly apathetic passengers here will have you screaming at your television. I mean, they clearly outnumber these guys, so why don't they band together? They are infuriating...yet identifiable. This is intensely uncomfortable, nerve-wracking stuff from start to finish, with vivid turns by Brock Peters as an angry, rather militant African-American, Beau Bridges as a friendly good 'ol boy injured soldier who may be the only brave person on board, and Robert Fields as a seriously nervy gay man who provides an easy target for the two thugs. It's criminal how unknown this film is, it truly packs a wallop, especially one scene at the end with Peters, followed by the brilliant final shot.
9. The Last American Virgin (1982) - The Cannon Group made lots of shitty action films, as well as cheap, Israeli-lensed sex comedies during the 80s. But not only is this one of Cannon's crowning achievements, but it's a rare 80s teen sex comedy that stands out. No, it's not the all-time classic "Revenge of the Nerds" is, but it has something that practically no other film in the genre has: A realistic kick in the guts. Yes, it's all fun and silliness for the most part, but what everyone who has seen this film (which isn't nearly enough) remembers is the deflating, devastating, and yes, genuinely moving finale. It elevates the film from being a lark into a harsh dose of reality, as James Ingram's 'Just Once' reduces you to a blubbering mess. Oh yes, it'll happen, I promise you. Lawrence Monoson is the geeky teen looking to lose his virginity, Diane Franklin is the girl he wants, and Steve Antin is the jerk friend who beats him to the punch. Louisa Moritz has an hilarious cameo as a bored and horny Spanish woman, and there's an encounter with a hooker that is absolutely, positively nothing like "Pretty Woman" or even "Risky Business". Trust me, beyond all the randy hijinks of the first half, this one's got a sting in its tail that might hit home with you.
8. State of Grace (1990) - The only reason I can figure that no one ever talks about this 1990 Irish-American crime drama is because it was released the same year as the Italian-American gangster epic "Goodfellas", the pinnacle of the genre. But this Phil Joanou film is generally very well-regarded by the few who have seen it. Set in Hell's Kitchen, Sean Penn plays a former resident returning home after an unexplained ten year absence. He hooks up with extremely volatile childhood friend Gary Oldman, and former flame Robin Wright, who is sister to both Oldman and older brother Ed Harris. Harris is an Irish mobster currently trying to make peace with his Italian counterpart (a very fine Joe Viterelli), but unhinged Oldman destroys any chance of that after a drunken incident in a bar. This puts Harris (who likes to keep his own hands clean) in an impossible situation. That a film featuring Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Burgess Meredith (in a somewhat jarring but memorable cameo as an elderly tenant in debt to Harris), and a career-best turn by Gary Oldman can get overlooked is really mind-boggling to me. Oldman can go too far sometimes, but here he's scarily effective without being self-indulgently weird as is often his wont. It ain't "Goodfellas", but it's certainly one of the best of its type. The plot is too contrived and Joanou isn't the visual stylist Martin Scorsese is, but this deserves a much bigger audience.
7. Emperor of the North Pole (1973) - I really don't get why this one's been so forgotten over the years. Set in the Depression era it concerns hobo Lee Marvin and his younger companion Keith Carradine hitching rides on trains. They are pitted against a sadistic and brutal conductor named Shack (an incredibly mean Ernest Borgnine) who doesn't take kindly to freeloaders. At. All. A real 'guy' movie (from "Dirty Dozen" director Robert Aldrich, no less), Borgnine has one of his best-ever parts, and Marvin is the perfect choice for the grizzled, determined hobo. Lots of familiar faces, albeit in mere cameos in some cases. But this is one tough sonofabitch movie right here.
6. The Deadly Affair (1967) - Not one of Sidney Lumet's most well-known films, but this 1967 adaptation of a John Le Carre novel boasts a top international cast, colourful characters, and is definitely a film to see for fans of great British character actors. Harriet Andersson is a bit of a bore as British agent James Mason's wife, but the rest are top notch. Mason investigates the death of an ex-Communist official of the British Government (Robert Flemyng), not believing the initial cause of suicide. He receives help from sleepy, semi-retired but still tough cop Harry Andrews. Meanwhile, Mason's old spy buddy Maximilian Schell has turned up. This could've been an absolute classic if a better actress than Andersson were hired, and the villain not so completely transparent. However, it's still a terrific film full of interesting actors and performances. In addition to a cute cameo by a daffy young Lynn Redgrave, the film's best scene has Andrews roughing up a scummy informant played by the inimitable Roy Kinnear. The scene is a classic, the film itself is certainly worthwhile.
5. Clean and Sober (1988) - Michael Keaton has always been a versatile actor, but in this underrated drug addiction film from the creator of "Moonlighting" he shows genuine dramatic chops in what may be the best performance of his career. He plays a real-estate broker already in financial trouble when a night
of cocaine and partying sees him wake up the next morning with a literally frigid bed mate, and a whole mess of trouble awaiting him. He decides to flee to a rehab facility, but not for the right reasons. He doesn't even think he has a drug problem, he just wants to escape whatever trouble was headed his way. That simply won't do for no-BS drug counsellor Morgan Freeman, who doesn't want him wasting anyone's time if he's not going to admit to a drug problem. In addition to the excellent Freeman, M. Emmet Walsh gives a similarly realistic performance as Keaton's 'sponsor', and Kathy Baker is terrific as another addict Keaton attempts to romance. You've never seen Keaton like this- desperate, pathetic, going through detox, etc. It's a tremendously affecting turn that helps make up for the rather bland visual approach of the director. Not a flawless film but worthy enough to sit alongside the best in the genre like "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Lost Weekend".
4. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1983) - Almost all of Gordon Liu's entire family is massacred, and he seeks refuge with Buddhist monks. Phillip Ko is at first reluctant to accept Liu as one of them, fearing he has violent motives for wanting to join them and be trained by them. Obviously, being a martial arts movie, we know he's gonna become accepted, receive training, and kick arse seven ways to Sunday. My vote for the best Shaw Brothers martial arts flick (and possibly the greatest martial arts epic of all-time), this one's completely insane. It starts out rather sombre, but once the action kicks into gear, buckle up! Gordon Liu is rock solid as ever, but the scene-stealer here is Phillip Ko as a teeth-smashing monk elder. It's pretty damn violent at times, and is worth seeing for at least two action set-pieces: The first a fight between Liu and Ko, and the second is the wonderfully violent finale.
3. Wake in Fright (1971) - It may have been directed by a Canadian, but this 1971 outback nightmare is in many ways, frighteningly Australian. Steeped in a culture of beer-swilling, roo-shootin', gambling, and frankly intimidating machismo, it was not well-loved here in Australia on original release. It probably hit too close to the bone, but this city slicker thinks it got a lot of things uncomfortably right about certain parts of the country (and our drinking culture, which I'll never understand), and it's still a very effective film to this day. Gary Bond is the genteel English teacher who can't seem to get out of the dry, outback mining town of Bundayabba, where outward cheerfulness hides something sinister lurking beneath. Even the local copper, played by Aussie icon Chips Rafferty is a towering, intimidating figure. Donald Pleasence is unforgettable as the displaced English doctor who has gone to seed in drink. The kangaroo shoot (featuring real-life culling) is still hard to stomach to this day. It has been rediscovered by critics here and overseas and occasionally gets TV play, but I'd still wager most people here and abroad have never heard of it. It's hardly an Aussie tourism ad. But it's a powerful experience.
2. Voyage of the Damned (1976) - Not an Irwin Allen production, but certainly a disaster film, however this underrated all-star effort carries more weight than most. It's based on the true story of a ship load of German Jews in 1939 being transported to safe haven in Havana. Unfortunately, despite an apolitical, dutiful captain (Max von Sydow), it appears increasingly unlikely that they will be allowed to dock there. This ain't no "Poseidon Adventure" where you perversely enjoy the danger famous actors are put in, as the passengers suffer the harassment orchestrated by Nazi crew member Helmut Griem, and various political dignitaries pretty much wipe their hands of the situation, or at best, are merely
opportunistic (i.e. Orson Welles' wealthy Cuban industrialist). Some of the characters are more interesting than others (all Julie Harris really does is cry), but ultimately the tragic situation really draws you in and it ultimately moved me greatly. Max von Sydow is a tower of quiet, reserved strength and decency, Malcolm McDowell gets to play a nice German, and Lee Grant earned an Oscar nomination for cutting off her hair and doing her Lee Grant thing. Hey, she's good at it. Probably the most prestigious film B-movie scumbag Paul Koslo ever turned up in, playing a damaged, lower-class Jew. Worth seeing if you like disaster movies but want something with a little more substance than even the best of the genre like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno". It's nothing like those two films.
1. Streets of Fire (1984) - Labelled 'A rock & roll fable', this Walter Hill comic book-like action flick mixes styles from the 50s, 60s, and 80s into one helluva good time. Jim Steinman worked on many of the songs (others were written by Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and Bob Seger), which have a distinctly Meat Loaf/Bonnie Tyler vibe about them, and the blues rock score is by Ry Cooder. The film stars Michael Paré in his one good role as Tom Cody, a brooding mercenary-for-hire paid by dweeb Rick Moranis to rescue his client/girlfriend, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) from a gang of New Wave punks, led by Willem Dafoe. Complications stem from the fact that Cody and Aim used to be an item. It's MTV meets "American Graffiti" meets "Sin City", decades before "Sin City" was even a film. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe's Flock of Seagulls do vies with Bill Paxton's ridiculous redneck pompadour for bizarro hairdo of 1984.