Since I did the 30 Most Overrated Movies last week, it's only fair that I give the underrated ones equal time. Sadly, I could only come up with 20 instead of 30…
1) Teachers (1984) Nice ensemble cast here—I really liked Nick Nolte in this one, as well as Laura Dern, and even the usually-annoying Ralph Macchio and Crispin Glover weren’t bad. A young Morgan Freeman also has a small role here. However, it was the late Richard Mulligan (of "Soap" and "Empty Nest" fame) who really stole the show playing the mental hospital outpatient posing as a substitute teacher—he was more qualified to teach than any of the stiffs the Raytown School District ever hired! Nolte also perfectly played one of those cool teachers you wanted to have in high school, and this was not a bad story either, with several good subplots. The only true horror was the totally unnecessary trumped-up piece of symbolism of JoBeth Williams not being "afraid to walk naked down the halls". I normally love seeing a woman take her clothes off in a movie, but in the words of the late Benny Hill, "If she hadn’t been blessed with those two warts on her chest, she would have no figure at all…" Hell, I have bigger breasts than JoBeth Williams does! She does have better legs than me, though…
2) The Hollywood Knights (1980) This one’s a guilty pleasure for me—I loved watching it on Friday nights on Cinemax back in the ‘80s. It’s sorta of a poor man’s American Graffiti crossed with a bit of Animal House, but it’s not a bad little movie, in spite of having Tony Danza in it. Great ‘60s soundtrack too, and you’ll never hear the song "Volare" again without thinking of Newbomb Turk! Those of you who’ve seen it know precisely what I mean…
3) Awakenings (1990) A highly-regarded film, yes, but not nearly high enough, in my opinion. Where were the Oscars for this one?!? DeNiro certainly should have gotten one—that had to be a challenge for him to pull off all the physical movements and still be convincing. And Robin Williams was phenomenal in a very understated role—he’s become such a good dramatic actor that apart from Good Morning, Vietnam, World According To Garp and Mrs. Doubtfire, it’s strangely ironic how mediocre his comedy films are. I also liked director Penny Marshall’s attention to detail in recreating the era the story took place in, even in the scenes where Williams and DeNiro are driving around town—it looked and felt like 1969, right down to Dr. Sayer’s Plymouth Valiant! Penelope Ann Miller—a rather underrated redhead, even by my standards—was pretty good here too.
4) The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Even though it’s highly-regarded, I still consider it underrated anyway—what a nifty freakin’ movie! Great plot, with plenty of twists and turns, and Morgan Freeman was terrific in this one. Tim Robbins was pretty good here too. Sorry, all you conservatives out there…
5) Last American Virgin (1983) This one was unfairly lumped in with all the other horny teen sex farce movies of the ‘80s (like Class, Private School, et al), but it’s worth another look if you passed on it the first time. LAV has a good storyline and features the lovely Diane Franklin (Monique in Better Off Dead), plus a surprise ending that sets it apart from those other flicks of its genre.
6) Better Off Dead (1984) John Cusack disses this movie now, claiming that it made him look foolish, but I beg to differ—this thing was damn funny in places. The Japanese guy talking like Howard Cosell, and the animated hamburger imitating Eddie Van Halen, not to mention the running gag with the paper boy ("I want my TWO DOLLARS!")—that was funny stuff! And what guy wouldn’t have loved to take those "language lessons" with Monique? Voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir? Oui, oui!
7) World Trade Center (2006) When I heard Oliver Stone was directing this, I was immediately skeptical, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t get one right for a change. Remarkably restrained (especially for him), it told the story of two firefighters trapped in the rubble in a very uplifting way. Even Nicolas Cage was good here. Well worth a look, if you passed on it because you thought it would be too depressing.
8) Dead Poets Society (1989) Even though it starred Robin Williams, the first time I saw this one, I got bored and gave up halfway through. To use a term from the movie itself, I thought it was "excrement", but I checked it out again some years later, and found it to be a pretty good film after all. Williams was once again very subdued here, but very believable too. What I still find rather unbelievable is that horny teenage boys in the ‘50s would be all that interested in poetry as a hobby, but it was a good story anyway. Carpe diem, captain, my captain!
9) A League Of Their Own (1992) Another highly-regarded film, yes, but I include it here because I think Tom Hanks should have gotten an Oscar nomination for playing the loutish Jimmy Dugan. Hanks usually plays the heroic good-guy character, and this was the first time he showed his range by playing a real horse’s ass, yet he made the guy lovable anyway. I love it when he comes out and waves his cap to the crowd at the first game, all the while muttering, "That’s right—kiss my hairy ass!" Oh yeah, the rest of the movie was pretty good too. Even Rosie O’Donnell gets high marks from me—for the first and probably only time in a movie! Madonna too, for that matter. Penny Marshall has turned into a helluva director, too—she’s far better at directing than singing…
10) Mask (1984) Now this is the film that Cher should have gotten an Oscar for instead of Moonstruck! She was excellent playing the drug-addict mother to Eric Stoltz’s disfigured Rocky character. Stoltz was brilliant too, as was the underrated Sam Elliott playing Gar the biker dude/father figure. Loved Laura Dern as the blind girl also. The scene where she says, "I’ve never understood colors" and Rocky hands her different items of varying temperatures to convey the various colors was really cool. It never occurred to me before that how colors mean absolutely nothing to blind people. See? In spite of what most Replublicans will tell you, you CAN learn something from movies now and then!
11) Ed Wood (1994) Probably the only movie I ever liked Johnny Depp in, it tells the story of infamous film director Ed Wood, the man who brought us Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda. Eddie was a couple fries shy of a Happy Meal, and this movie is a real hoot.
12) Full Metal Jacket (1987) Jesus H. Christ! R. Lee Ermey’s drill sergeant bit in the boot camp portion of the movie is the stuff of legends. You hated the som-bitch so much, but he was so fucking funny with the insults that you loved him at the same time. Example: "How tall are you? I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!" The second half of the movie is a bit more mundane, but it’s worth watching for the first 45 minutes alone.
13) Light Sleeper (1992) Ironically, I caught this film late one night on cable when I couldn’t sleep! Great movie that flew under the radar, it starred Willem Dafoe (one of my favorite actors), as an insomniac drug courier with a conscience who wants to get out of the business run by drug dealer Susan Saran-Wrap—er uh, Sarandon. Dana Delaney from "China Beach" (another favorite actress of mine) was excellent here too. It reminded me a bit of Pulp Fiction only minus most of the gory violence, and it was very atmospheric in places.
14) Mississippi Burning (1988) I let this one pass me by when it first came out, but it’s a damn good movie. Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman were great in this story about Civil Rights and racism in the ‘60s. Even "Hee Haw" regular Gaylard Sartain made a convincing enough redneck bigot sheriff here. And I loved seeing those Ford Galaxie 500s and other old-school cars of that era.
15) Young Doctors In Love (1982) Great soap opera spoof that took advantage of the wave of popularity caused by the whole "General Hospital" Luke & Laura thing. Totally silly plot, but very funny in places, and I’m sure many black people take great delight in watching the mob hit man played by Michael Richards doing himself in numerous times—shades of Wile E. Coyote! And if the "Philadelphia Fucking Philharmonic" ever comes to town, check ‘em out!
16) Sixteen Candles (1984) This one gets better and better every time I watch it. The Long Duk Dong bits alone ("Donger need food!") are priceless, and who better to play a geek than a geek like Michael Anthony Hall?
17) What’s Up, Doc? (1971) One of the few movies that I actually liked Barbra Streisand in! The chase scene near the end of the movie is a total hoot.
18) That Thing You Do! (1996) Since Tom Hanks directed as well as starred in it, he didn’t mind sharing the spotlight with the rest of the cast in this film about a fictitious ‘60s Rock group that makes the big-time. This was one of Liv Tyler’s better performances too.
19) Men Don’t Leave (1990) I didn’t like the main plot involving Jessica Lange in this one half as much as I loved the subplot involving Joan Cusack playing a young nurse who kinda sorta seduces Lange’s teenage son. Not the prettiest girl in the world, but there have been times when Joan was an absolute babe to me, and this was one of them—she is a redhead, after all. She was cute in Working Girl and Broadcast News too. Regrettably, the older she gets, the goofier she gets, and I find it sad that she feels the need to resort to hawking cell phones on TV now.
20) Cheech & Chong's Nice Dreams (1981) Probably the best of C&C's "Pedro & Man" movies, and the scene with Cheech scooting around on the floor in the straight jacket screaming, "Somebody PLEEEEASE scratch my balls!!!" just kills me! I also liked it when that druggie chick thought Chong was Jerry Garcia, and Cheech chimed in with, "Hey, I’m Santana, man!"