Some movies hit the top of the blockbuster list instantly because they’re just that great. Others catch a few nods from the critics but amass huge cult followings. Then there are those underappreciated gems that, while being entertaining and well-written, are side-lined while such shameful offerings as Mall Cop rake in mindless viewers. (Yes, believe it. Mall Cop was the longest running movie at my local theater. It makes me cry inside too.) So, here are a few movies I’ve come across that deserve more than just a passing glance in the five dollar video rack.
In no particular order:
1. Hostage – Police negotiator Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) thinks he’s talking three juvenile delinquents out of holding two suburban kids for ransom. The delinquents think they have an easy payday from the kids’ wealthy father. But when the source of daddy’s illegal funds gets involved, Talley finds himself dealing with two hostage situations: the wealthy swindler’s family, and his own. Fast-paced, with a strong script and sympathetic characters, it will keep you guessing.
2. The Butterfly Effect – Ashton Kutcher never struck me as the dramatic type, but his role in this sci-fi thriller is poignant, believable, and compelling. It opens on Evan, a troubled mental patient who has spent his life repressing his most painful memories. When he finds a way to access and relive these lost scenes, he thinks he has the key to saving himself and the girl he can’t forget–but with every change he makes, the future alters in ways he could never forsee. Dark, eerie, and cleverly put together, with an ending even Hollywood can’t sugarcoat.
3. Garden State – Romantic comedy meets indie meets drama. After ten years of absence, Andrew Largeman (Zack Braff) returns home to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Desperate for meaning, he takes a break from the numbing pills forced on him by his father and finds real life experiences in his oddball old friends and a quirky, equally troubled girl named Sam (Natalie Portman). The plot builds slowly, but the characters are unique and lifelike players in a story balanced by touching drama and understated humor.
4. Labyrinth – What do glam rock, Jim Hensen, and leather pants have in common? This bizarre fantasy musical featuring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, and a supporting cast of cute and creepy muppets. When Sarah accidentally sends her crying baby brother to the clutches of the Goblin King, she has 13 hours to find him in the center of an impossible maze before the King turns him into a goblin. But don’t be fooled; this is no children’s movie. Sarah’s search is fraught with sinister enemies and suspicious allies in a place where even the walls are determined to trap her forever.
5. Anastasia – In an age of helpless Disney princesses with superficial love affairs, Don Bluth offered a compelling and fantastical answer to the mysterious disappearance of a real-life royal. Dimitri (John Cusack) is a con-artist with a get-rich-quick scheme–return the lost Grand Duchess to her surviving family for a pretty reward. Anastasia (Meg Ryan) is a spunky, self-reliant tomboy with a striking resemblance to the missing girl. When Dimitri meets her and convinces her that she must be the real Anastasia, neither of them know that she really is the lost Duchess, or that the dastardly fiend who killed her family is back to eliminate her. An updated fairytale with a competent heroine, a realistic romance, and songs that will be stuck in your head for months.
Happy viewing! And soon, Part 2.