There are some movies that are so awesomely good that no one can forget them. They are there, and whenever someone mentions “great movie,” one of them are sure to come to somebody’s mind. They might even be recognized on a list you looked up because you wanted to become more cultured and know something about Lawrence of Arabia. Thanks AFI!
Then there are some movies that are so awesomely bad that no one can forget them. They are also there, and whenever someone mentions “pile of eye vomit” one of them are sure to come to somebody’s mind. They might even be recognized on a list you looked up because you wanted to remember what movies you’ve actually seen. Let’s face it: Disaster Movie is a lot easier to stay awake during than Lawrence of Arabia. Sorry AFI!
Finally, there are the “others.” Those that don’t seem to fill either of the two extremes. They end up floating in space, waiting for someone to notice them and possibly cult-filmify them.
It sucks to be in this category because rarely does a movie like this come to anybody’s mind unless someone starts a sentence with, “Hey, you remember that one movie, I can’t remember the name but…” A movie like this only ends up on lists like– well, this one. Something with “underrated” in it.
Anyway, I’ll stop rambling and delve into more specified rambling. Here are five movies I think are close to being in the former category but haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve.
1. Monster House
Yes, I am talking about the 2006 Halloween flick. Yes, I have no shame.
This film, in many ways, was a small masterpiece. The CGI effects were phenomenal (you see most of its greatness in the concluding scenes) and the voice cast suited the characters perfectly. It was executive produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg who had previously worked together on the Back to the Future movies so you know this is something that won’t disappoint.
The most stand-out part of this movie, more than the effects and the acting, was the story and the screenplay. It had a wonderful plot that was accented with smart dialogue and details. It had the fun, semi-scary parts for the kids but it also had a sophisticated story line under that. I’ll quickly summarize without spoiling:
DJ and his friend Chowder (yes he’s fat) have heard many legends about the house across the street. The legends derive mainly from the mysterious and scary Mr. Nebbercracker (yes, he’s old and cranky) who confiscates everything that lands on his lawn and forcefully tells kids not to enter his property. They end up being trapped in the house and learning the sad origins of Nebbercracker and his residence.
It is great. I can’t tell you anymore than that. The whole thing unravels beautifully until the very end which is happy but slightly heartbreaking (this isn’t a spoiler is it?) and it’s rare to find this level of writing in films today. Plus, did I mention Nick Cannon plays the funny black cop? Everyone loves the funny black cop.
2. Mary and Max
Another animated film, I know. This one takes the claymation route which is a fairly daring route to take since no one ever really uses it. Except for the weird ones.
This is a weird one, and not just because it’s Australian.
While it is an animated film and looks almost like one you can take your younger kids to, it deals with many dark themes and situations that are beyond the comprehension of such an audience. In other words: don’t take kids 13 and under to see this.
The film is based on a real life events (which is somewhat hard to find but I’ll link here). It chronicles the odd, pen-pal friendship between Mary, a lonely Australian girl, and Max, an older New Yorker living with Asperger’s Syndrome. As the film progresses, we see how both characters depend on the friendship, survived through years of writing letters and passing gifts back and forth, in order to get through their own lives filled with loneliness, insecurities, mental illness, and depression.
So it’s not your Wallace and Gromit-type claymation.
But it’s not all sappy-misery. There’s a lot of genuine wit, a lot of heartwarming moments, and a lot of interesting characters who help to lift this movie from the dark lagoon of a woe-is-me melodrama.
The scenes are also masterfully created. They’re all bathed in a brownish-gray with rare spots of bright red (most prominently, Max’s pompom) which probably serve as some sort of symbols. You can decipher the meaning of those for yourself; I can’t do everything.
I’m not one to pick favorites but I have to admit that out of all the movies on this list, this is probably the best one. In fact, if for some reason you only have time to to watch one movie on this list, I would pick this one… which begs the question as to why I didn’t put this at the very bottom or very top of this list because that would be a more sensible position. The answer is that I don’t plan my blogs out very well. Let’s move on.
We’re leaving the realm of animation and delving into something people generally have a lower opinion of: the romantic comedy.
In the last couple of years (mostly movies made from the 2000’s onward) romantic comedies have become almost synonymous with “crappy, predictable, chick-flicks.” Every movie follows the same formula: Get a pretty, somewhat aging actress (preferably one of the Jennifers) and a scruffy-looking actor for her potential love interest, create some ridiculous plot that prevents the two soul mates from being together, and somehow make them overcome this barrier, only to encounter another issue, break up, and then get back together by way of some grand gesture by said scruffy actor.
Waitress defies this tired formula and manages to be sweeter, funnier, and more romantic than the typical Jennifer rom-com.
The plot revolves around Jenna, a Southern waitress who is known all around for her amazing pies. She’s trapped in a marriage to an abusive husband, Earl, and dreams of gaining enough money to leave him and build a new life for herself. A pregnancy and secret affair with her doctor further complicates her situation.
Keri Russel, who plays Jenna, narrates this tale using the description of her pies, named after various events in her life (ex. “bad baby pie) and creates a vulnerable but resilient character. Unlike other rom-com heroines, she is truly independent and strong not because she’s head of an investment firm and can’t find the time to settle down, but because she faces her difficulties with grace and strength, and the ending is clear proof of that. I won’t ruin it though because I assume you will see this.
4. Where the Boys Are
Oh look! Another romantic comedy!
This one may not match the quality of writing and acting as the previous but it is still certainly one worth watching.
It takes place in Fort Lauderdale, that place in Florida hyper college kids visit during their spring break. And you know why they visit? Because of this movie.
It may have faded from public memory over the years but its influence in culture still lingers. There’s the example I mentioned above. There’s also the fact that this film was made in 1960- right on the crust of a cultural revolution in film when the Production Code’s influence was beginning to wane. It was one of the first of its kind to accurately portray the changing sexual ideals among adolescents of the era. There’s an interesting contrast in the length of the girls’ skirts and the frankness with which they discuss sex. It’s a good contrast, one that when paired with the witty dialogue and moving story line makes for a fantastic film.
To summarize: A group of four friends decide to vacation in Ft. Lauderdale for their spring break. There’s Merritt, the independent and assertive brain of the group who vocalizes her opinion that premarital canoodling can be good for girls very early in the movie- giving the audience an idea of how the rest of it will go. There’s her innocent friend Melanie who, inspired by Merritt, vows to lose her virginity on their vacation. There’s a girl named Tuggle who is kind of a tomboy (I don’t know if “Tuggle” gave that away or not), and despite this label defies the feminist stereotypes a person (like me) would apply to her. She wants to make babies and plans to find a man fitting to help her do so. Finally, an awkward girl who is thrown in mainly for comic relief and a musical bit completes the group. She is played by Connie Francis, one of the most popular singers of the time, and her musical bit has her singing the title song, “Where the Boys Are.” To be honest, her acting chops aren’t that stellar but the song is great.
They each meet different types of guys and go through different difficulties with each one. Merritt meets the ultimate WASP, a Brown-educated, well-bred, handsome senior who is instantly infatuated with her. Melanie finds herself a Yale student who she obliviously “dates” not knowing he’s using her for sex. This is a particularly important story line and takes the film into a more dramatic realm. Tuggle starts a relationship with a silly but lovable boy, also leading to an interesting story line later on. And Connie Francis’ character falls for a musician but I don’t think this pairing is at all very important. If it is, let’s pretend it’s not because I don’t really remember it.
The thing with old films is that if they’re not really, really great (Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, etc.) they get forgotten. This, unfortunately, is one of them.
But there’s a kind of richness in this film that really shouldn’t be neglected into film history. Watching it brings you into a weird state of nostalgia, whether or not you were alive during the time, and it enchants with bold and alluring acting from the main characters with an equally bold and alluring script.
Even if you’re not into classic cinema, I recommend you give Where the Boys Are a try. It takes on a different style than other older films, and might turn out to be a lot different than what you expect. That means it’s not in black & white. You’re welcome.
5. Sunshine Cleaning
Okay, back to the 21st century.
When a film has the talents of Emily Blunt, Amy Adams, and Alan Arkin you can’t really go wrong.
It’s about a dysfunctional struggling family consisting of an eccentric father, Joe (Arkin), a flippant sister, Norah (Blunt) newly fired from her job, and the main character, Rose (Adams) who has fallen from being the popular cheerleader in high school to being a single-mother, working full-time as a maid to support her family. In order to generate more income for themselves and find a (weird) way to bond with each other, the sisters decide to start a crime-scene cleanup business called “Sunshine Cleaning” with the encouragement of their father.
It’s different, quirky, sad, uplifting, and funny. It definitely has that Little Miss Sunshine feel (same producers) for those who likes that type of movie– and for those who don’t, you’re on the wrong list.
That’s it. I hope you enjoyed my rambling opinions/summaries, and will (hopefully) check out at least one of these films. I didn’t type this whole thing up for nothing, you ingrates.
Your beloved blogger.
P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, darlings! Make sure to stuff your face with all sorts of fats and preservatives. xoxo