My intention when I compiled this list was to pay some attention to great films that have been overlooked, misunderstood or forgotten altogether. The films on this list received critical praise and some even earned Oscar nominations, but there are no blockbusters in the bunch. At the video store they wait to be rented, dusty and alone. For all you movie buffs, and hopefully a few converts, this is for you:
Bringing Out The Dead (1999): Some observers billed this film as "Taxi Driver-The Sequel," but closer inspection would have revealed that the two films are thematic opposites. Taxi Driver began like a dream and ended as a nightmare, while Bringing Out the Dead does just the reverse. Nicolas Cage plays paramedic Frank Pierce, careening down the New York streets with crazed partners and demons before his eyes. This
is a film about personal red-
emption-not the perverse form depicted in Taxi Driver but something far more earnest. This theme
is woven in visually, as even the darkest moments wear a halo of white light. Martin Scorsese's bravura filmmaking makes the
picture both exhilarating and
contemplative-most films are asleep by comparison.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993): If you were to liken movies to meals, this one would be a great dessert. This delightful caper rides on the chemistry between Diane Keaton and Woody Allen-she the bored wife obsessed with neighborly foul play, and he the nervous husband who'd rather stay in the dark. The title is a bit of a lark, as the movie is more of a marital comedy than a murder mystery. Alan Alda stars as a friend with designs on Diane Keaton, and Angelica Huston gives a killer performance as a sultry authoress with designs on everyone. Great acting, great dialogue and the last 10 minutes are sublime.
Quiz Show (1994): A perfectly constructed film if there ever was one. Based on the quiz show scandal of the 1950s, this film casts a critical eye not only on the events in particular, but on its two biggest spawns as well: celebrity and the power of television. Ralph Fiennes perfectly plays a man caught between his arrogance and his conscience. Quiz Show is brimming with exquisite detail and some of the most elegant dialogue ever to hit celluloid. Nary a flaw in performance, writing or directing-so see it.
High Fidelity (2000): A romantic comedy that is destined to become a classic, just as soon as people get around to watching it. John Cusack plays a record store owner whose romances forever fail him, and uses top five-lists as a means to analyze his life (I think I just had a breakthrough). Unlike most films of this genre, High Fidelity is entirely at ease. It is filled with people you know and conversations you've had. Those conversations are the heart of the film, ones which seem to be about nothing but are actually about everything. It is the first romantic comedy in years to have genuine wit, insight and an ending that has sentiment, but avoids being sentimental.
The Insider (1999): No matter how many times you see it, it never fails to reveal itself as a brilliant, complex tale of two men refusing to compromise. The Insider is based on the interview 60 Minutes did with tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, and how that story nearly destroyed Wigand and CBS. Russell Crowe is magnificent as Wigand, while Pacino gives one of the best performances as a 60 Minutes producer. Michael Mann directs the movie with a singular skill and perspective, making it dense and sensational all at once.