My Down & Dirty Dozen of the Coolest Movies You’ve Probably NEVER Seen
So everyone has their list of all-time favorite movies that usually include a number of mainstream titles that most of us have likely seen already. So I wanted to do a twist on that and compile a list of my favorite unique and worthy films that many of you may have never seen or in some cases even heard of. These are films that were either overlooked at the box office, poorly marketed or are just movie gems that picked up a following after their initial release.
Watch the trailers below, load up your Netflix que and feast on some of these delicious cinematic treats, presented below in no particular order:
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Long before he directed Lord of Rings, Peter Jackson (yes that Peter Jackson) directed this Academy Award-nominated coming of age story about friendship, fantasy and obsession based on a (spoiler alert if you click the next link >) true story. This is a brilliant little sleeper film that fell below a lot of people’s radar until it hit the video shelves after being nominated for an Oscar. It stars a teenage Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskeye both in their screen debuts as two teens who strike up an unusually close friendship and share an intense fantasy life where they fancy themselves royalty in an imaginary world of castles and strange lands. As the girls friendship grows into more and more of an obsessive psuedo-romantic co-dependency their parents plot to separate them…and without giving away anything, let’s just say that that’s when things really take a turn for the worst. If you have no clue what Peter Jackson did before Lord of the Rings, let’s just say he’s a director with incredible range when you count in this gripping drama and his outrageous comedy horror Dead Alive, which easily could have made this list as well. I recommend skipping the full story synopsis and just letting the film surprise you.
Directed by: Michael Schultz
If you are Black and above the age of 30, chances are that at some point your parents introduced you to Cooley High as my mother did the first time it was on tv and I was old enough to watch. Cooley High is the Black equivalent of movies like American Graffiti or Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It’s a funny, raucous and very moving account of the high school adventures of ghetto poet “Preach” (Glynn Turman) and his best friend High School basketball star “Cochise” (Lawrence Hilton Jacobs). The story takes place in 60’s inner-city Chicago as Preach and Cochise aspire to complete high-school and dream and look to life beyond the inner-city Chicago. This is definitely on my list of movies that I have to watch at least once a year and I rarely flip past it without watching to the end if I come across it on tv. It also has a bumping soundtrack of non-stop Motown hits. The biggest impression I recall this movie making on me was many years before I saw it when I was just a little kid, a group of my then teenage aunts and uncles came home from seeing the original release in the theater and some of them were still crying. They didn’t stop talking about how much they loved this movie for hours. This is an instant coming-of-age classic from another perspective that everyone should watch at least once.
Directed by: Roger Corman
This is a classic film from so-called “B-movie” director Roger Corman who is famous for his pivotal role in the early careers of such filmmakers and actors as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, James Cameron, Robert De Niro, Peter Bogdanovich, Joe Dante and Sandra Bullock. Don’t let the gory title fool you, Bucket of Blood is actually not a gorefest at all and there’s actually very little blood in it. In reality it’s a pretty funny and entertaining comedy-horror film in the vein of the original The Little Shop of Horrors (also by Corman). I highly recommend reading Roger Corman’s autobiography, How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime which recounts the story of the making of Bucket of Blood. It will give you a whole other appreciation of the film. The most notable bit of trivia behind it is that it was shot in just 5 days. I doubt many lesser filmmakers could pull off the same production in 15 days. That alone is impressive enough to watch.
Watch it on Netflix
This is a satirical French film that came out in the early 90′s. It”s an increasingly dark black and white comedic mockumentary about a small film crew making a documentary about a thief and serial killer named Ben, played by Benoît Poelvoorde who is the willing subject of their “documentary” film. The crew follows along on his various adventures and rolls their camera as Ben plies his trade – robbery and murder. It’s a film that really draws you in with absurd humor in the beginning and then slowly almost imperceptibly it becomes much darker as it progresses. It’s a very strange mix of outrageous humor and disturbing violence, mildly reminiscent of some films like A Clockwork Orange and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It’s really hard to say if Man Bites Dog is more funny or more dark, but it’s fascinating and unique film.
Directed by: Mira Nair
This sweet treat of a movie examines the culture clash that occurs when an Indian girl who’s family’s been expelled from Uganda falls in love with Black man in the American south. Deftly directed by Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding) Mississippi Masala stars a young Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury as the main characters, Dexter and Mina, and a slew of recognizable faces from the Bollywood scene. It’s a sweet and and often humorous tale of love, culture clashes, immigration and racial relations. Unlike many movies about race relations, Mississippi Masala is not one-sided or heavy handed. It presents a well-balanced and humanistic look at race that doesn’t demonize or point fingers, as much as examines and helps explain some of the very real reasons why race relations aren’t just black and white, but much more subtle, nuanced and complex.
Directed by: Boaz Davidson
Long before there was Porky’s, American Pie or Superbad there was the original teen sex comedy – The Last American Virgin. This is probably a film that many never saw, because it actually got an “X” rating when it was released in the early 80′s. That rating for teen sexual situations and some nudity is completely laughable now in comparison to all the graphic R-rated films that have come since. The sex scenes are pretty mild, the comedy is typically silly, but the real-life teen drama is unexpected and surprisingly well-executed for such a movie. It also has a killer 80′s music soundtrack with songs by Journey, Blondie, Quincy Jones and more. While I would not say The Last American Virgin is necessarily better than all the teen sex comedies that are clearly derivative of it, I will say that it’s just about the only one that managed to accurately portray the real-life hard knocks that come with being a teenager and trying to find your way and just survive dating, romance and sex. Again, I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s the only teen sex comedy that I’ve ever seen and said, “Yup, that’s exactly how it would go down in real-life.” It’s as funny and silly, as it is heart-wrenching and real at moments – and that’s not an easy balance to pull-off. Worth a watch.
Directed by: John Fawcett
I mentioned this movie on this blog last year and it definitely qualifies for a list of good and interesting films that have flown under the radar. Ginger Snaps is a Canadian production that actually has a solid cult-like following. I would deem it a teenage werewolf coming-of-age story. It’s smart and well-acted, with equal doses of horror and humor throughout and above all it feels fresh and original. It’s easily one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Ginger Snaps is also a rare case where the sequel is as good as the original, albeit with a very different plotline. (There is also a Ginger Snaps 3 that I haven’t seen yet, so can’t comment on, but heard it’s good and different than the others as well.) Watch it during a full moon and you just might turn.
Directed by: José Padilha
This is a very gritty and entertaining set of movies from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil that deal with police corruption in the slums known as “favelas”. It takes place in the exact same world as City of God only told from the cops’ perspective. So if you liked City of God, I think you’ll really enjoy this movie franchise. It’s not quite as stylized and flashy as City of God, but it’s every bit as gritty, real and compelling a drama about members of an elite squad of commando-style cops who struggle to clean up the streets and avoid becoming part of the corrupt system. The Elite Squad franchise is very popular in Brazil. I’d easily that the Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within is just as good, if not even better than the original. It’s cops, drug dealers, guns, corruption, violence and politics in the raw favela slums of Rio De Janeiro. What’s not to like?
Directed by: Sidney Poitier
This is a movie that my mother introduced me to when I was a little boy and long been an all-time favorite. It’s one of those flicks that might come on tv once a year on a Sunday afternoon and it’s always worth catching if you come across it. Buck and the Preacher is a western starring the great Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte as a wagon train leader and shady preacher respectively, whose circumstances force them to team up together to safely escort and protect a wagon train of newly-freed slaves heading west to settle. Along the way there are Indians, bounty hunters, racist town sheriff’s and nature itself that they must contend with just to survive another day on the harsh trail. The chemistry and acting between the two lead actors is incredible. The story itself is an interesting perspective on what life was like for the handful of Black people that went West after the Emancipation Proclamation. (On a side note Sam Pollard’s new documentary, Slavery By Another Name also talks about this period in a historical context.)
Directed by: Stefan Forbes
If you are into politics at all, this is a fascinating and eye-opening doc about the rags to riches story of the godfather of coarse political discourse and modern dirty politics. While I’d heard the name many times, I didn’t really know exactly who Lee Atwater was or what he did until I watched this doc. It’s a deep look at the man that changed the way democrats and republicans in America converse and campaign…and not for the better. He was a top advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and a rockstar Republican strategist and mentor to none other than Karl Rove himself. Lee Atwater quite literally “wrote the GOP’s winning playbook” as the poster says. The new style of destructive campaigning, the activity of political Super PACS and the political turned personal all make a lot more sense after viewing this intriguing doc about a fascinating man that reshaped our politics and country.
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn
This fairly recent release is probably one of my favorite sleeper movies of all-time. It has an all-star cast including Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“McLovin” from Super Bad), and a foul-mouthed young Chloë Grace Moretz. The plot centers around Dave Lizewski an everyday run of the mill comic book geek, played by Aaron Johnson, who decides to become a superhero even though he has no special powers and can’t even fight. Naturally, once he takes on his new superhero identity of “Kick-Ass” hilarity, unforeseen complications and lots and lots of ass-kicking ensue. This dark comedy has lots of stylized ultra-violence (if you’re into that sort of thing) and is gut-busting funny. It didn’t get nearly the attention at the boxoffice that it should have – probably due to poor marketing, but was well-received by critics – which says a lot for a dark action-comedy with a title like “Kick Ass”. And like others on this list it’s developed somewhat of a cult following. It’s a a very pleasant and wildly entertaining surprise if you haven’t seen it.
Directed by: Arnold Shapiro
I wrote about this film an it’s influence on me in the introduction to my first book, The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide. It’s a fairly famous documentary, but it came out in the late 70’s, so may may have been overlooked by many young people. It was the very first documentary I ever recall seeing and it’s still hands-down one of my favorite. Three decades before the Lock-Up reality shows were even pitched , there was Arnold Shapiro’s riveting Scared Straight. It’s about a program for juvenile delinquents that took groups of law-breaking teenagers into a state prison for a day to be “mentored” by a group of hardcore convicts serving minimum life sentences or longer. (I should point out here that prison mentoring is a whole lot different than regular old mentoring.)
I was about 9 or 10 years old when it came out and it was billed as a major TV event. They told parents to watch it with their kids. It was shown uncut and uncensored on primetime TV with a bunch of warnings about the language and subject matter. And it scared the living hell out of me! From that day to this, I largely credit that documentary for keeping me out of trouble with the law. It was the first of many docs that permanently changed the way I see the world. It’s a heavy dose of reality – prison-style. (But I don’t recommend you watch it with your kids, unless they are on their way to being really really bad.)
WARNING: Rated R – Very graphic prison language and descriptions in the clip below.
So that my dirty dozen of the coolest movies you’ve probably never seen. That should keep you busy a few rainy sundays. Hope you enjoy discovering these as much as I did when friends turned me on or when I stumbled across them for the first time.
What are some of YOUR favorite overlooked movies? Leave a comment below.