Among film geeks sometimes there is a competition to find the most amazingly good, bad, or underrated films to show your unsuspecting friends. On this list, you’ll find a little something in each category. Though no list can guarantee a 100% surprise factor, I’ve worked to whittle this list down to only the best choices (based on a variety of moods/tastes) for your next “Hey I know a film we can watch” moment. Some will elicit laughter and approval, others will elicit groans of existential despair and suicides. So choose carefully.
A hyper violent, bloody, meat-grinder of a bad kung fu movie. It has scenes that have launched a thousand animated gifs – heads exploding, stomachs punched into, fountains of blood – all ridiculously done and cheap. To top it all off, that’s not even the worst part.
The worst part is the script and story. If Mystery Science Theater had ever tried to tackle this, I’m sure everyone on the show would have ended up on the floor, vomiting profusely. This is perfect for that jaded pack of friends with sick senses of humor who love nothing better than to roast a bad movie. You might actually want to charge people to see this one.
A Martin Scorsese film about an autograph-hound and major geek who lives at home with his mother and stalks a famous talk-show host. The Johnny Carson style talk show host is played perfectly by Jerry Lewis. And who plays the geek? Robert De Niro. In one of the strangest parts he’s ever played De Niro moves through the script with a combination of nervousness and overanxious, outgoing energy that builds in every scene of uncomfortable social maladjustment.
And the script keeps the action moving. From the opening sequence where a full-on stalker (another amazing performance by Sandra Bernhardt) jumps into Jerry Lewis’ limo, to the next sequence where De Niro’s sleazy blue suit wearing “Rupert Pupkin” saves Lewis only to jump in the limousine himself and tries to turn his good dead into a chance to do his comedy act on the show.
De Niero’s Pupkin lives in a fantasy world that plays out as his attempts to get on the show and get closer to Jerry spiral further and further out of control and go beyond stalking. Despite all this, the film manages to remain hilariously strange and funny. Believe it or not, this may have been Scorses’ most upbeat film.
Gary Oldman (Leon, Batman Begins) and Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) star in perhaps the strangest play adaptation ever – based on perhaps the strangest stage play ever. Take two minor characters out of Hamlet, show what they do between their scenes with the main character and suggest a bizarre, out of sync universe full of strange word games, twists and turns on the classic story.
This one is more for the art crowd, but if you know the original Shakespeare play, you might find this one to your liking. Perfect for anyone who knows the original and wants to see something new and strange injected into the proceedings. You’ll never see Hamlet the same way again.
This is the movie you put in when all others have failed; for when the gang has seen it all, or think they have. A surrealist musical fantasy about a woman who falls into the sixth dimension where Hervé Villechaize is king, Danny Elfman is the devil and everything is designed to freak you out or make you laugh – or both. Not a good movie if you’ve been “indulging”. Better to see this one with a clear head and a clear notion that you will be entering a cinematic twighlight zone.
This deeply underrated Antonio Banderas flick might be director John Mcteirnin’s finest movie since the original Die Hard. Set in the 10th century, its the story of an Arab emmisary to foriegn lands who ends up fighting a terrible horde beside powerful Norsemen.
From the original book by Michael Critchton, this one has it all – culture clashes, skirmishes and battle sequences, a mystery to solve, and brilliantly drawn characters who argue, misunderstand, fascinate and ultimately respect one another as the action and emotional stakes build scene by scene. Yes, Antonio is Spanish not Arabic, but who cares.
The who thing has strong themes of finding common ground beneath deeply different cultures, but you’ll hardly notice as you are engrossed in the characters from scene one and pulled into another world. By the end, you’ll feel as though you’ve gone on a journey yourself.
If you know a crowd that loves a shot of strong dialog, liberally mixed with powerful characters, a lot of cursing and macho bravado (not to mention great performances), then they’ll love this story of desperate land salesmen trying to keep their jobs.
What? Salesmen? Are you kidding me? Try these salesmen: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey. The David Mammet play takes the idea of “real working men” and pushes it, and the language, to the breaking point. On-set the actors supposedly referred to it as “Death of a fuckin’ salesmen”, and the scene with Alec Baldwin detailing a sales contest where third prize is “you’re fired” early on is a classic.
Take six of the best actors there are and add arguably the best performances of their careers and some of the strongest dialog and character-driven story ever put to paper…. well, once you’ve see it, you’ll be talking this one up to your friends as well.
An epic for the “classic yarn” crowd. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s story of the same name, The Man Who Would Be King is about two British soldiers in India who set out for the uncharted wilds at a time when maps were still being drawn. Michael Caine and Sean Connery give Oscar worthy performances as two men hungering for fame, fortune and adventure who discover that finding everything you’ve ever wanted in life is only half the story.
For the “I love old movies” set, His Girl Friday is a doozie. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in one of the wittiest and most rapid-fire dialog laden films ever made. A comedy about an ex-newspaper reporter and ex-wife coming back to write for her ex-husband and ex-editor one final time.
She’s about to marry another man, but the scheming newspaper editor knows his sarcastic ex all too well and finds the story of the century to draw her in and try to draw her away from her dreams of living in a house with a nice picket fence.
He’s a crooked newspaperman who’ll say and do anything, and she’s on to him. Or is she? It’s a love story, a wacky comedy, and a comment on society all in one. As an added bonus it’s in the public domain which means you can legally download it here if you want to check out a piece, or better yet, the entire thing.
Create a cast of British crooks, each eccentric enough for their own movie, add some gypsies who seem to be speaking a language all their own, a diamond big enough to kill for, and shove them all together into a mass collision that any other director than Guy Ritchie might have screwed up… and that’s Snatch.
It fits into that “must be seen to be believed” category, and even after you’ve seen it you might not believe it. Stuffed with hilarious action, brilliant comic characters and a plot that will have you doubled over laughing and saying “No, they didn’t!” more times than you can shake a stick at. But “Yes, they did.” and by the end, you won’t be able to imagine it any other way.
I saved one of the oddest for last. Take two men, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, talking at dinner… and that’s it… except that these are two fascinating men, and that it’s based on the actor’s real life conversations. Detailing the conversation would ruin some of the fun, but they both come at life with a particular philosophy and set of experiences.
The stories they tell and the disagreements they have to pull you in, and make you want to grab a chair and quietly listen in on these two men’s dinner conversation. The film’s Wikipedia page has spoilers and more details for the squeamish, and it is an acquired taste. But for those who like the flavor, it’s a surprising and enjoyable movie that will stay with you for quite a while.