Are you running out of movies to watch in quarantine?
The deeper we get into quarantine the less I have to watch. I often find myself rewatching my favorite films, but I know I need to branch out. That's why I have been picking famous filmmakers and trying to watch every movie in their catalog.
And you know what?
Some of them sucked.
But a lot were great!
That's why I wanted to make a list of 10 auteur directors and their criminally underseen classics. You know, the deep cuts that people never bring up when they compliment overarching works. So let's go through 10 of those titles and I'll pick out some of my favorites.
[Got movies you think should be on this list? Put them in the comments. We all need more to watch.]
10. The Color Purple - Steven Spielberg
I talk about Spielberg way too much. But let's be honest, he's made so many movies that they often fit into almost every article we write here as examples. The Color Purple is a movie that is always overlooked when it comes to Spielberg. It came in the mid-80s when no studio was smart enough to make a movie starring an entire cast of black people. Even when that movie is based on a Pulitzer prize-winning book. Spielberg used his clout and was able to get the $15 million budget to make the movie. It made $142 million at the box office but has been relegated to history among his blockbusters.
Roger Ebert wrote of The Color Purple, "The world of Celie and the others is created so forcibly in this movie that their corner of the South becomes one of those movie places – like Oz, like Tara, like Casablanca – that lay claim to their own geography in our imaginations. The affirmation at the end of the film is so joyous that this is one of the few movies in a long time that inspires tears of happiness, and earns them."
9. Salvador - Oliver Stone
The name Oliver Stone usually makes us think of epics like JFK and Platoon, but Salvador is a real treat as well. It's a movie about an American journalist covering the Salvadoran Civil War who becomes entangled with both sides. It contains a legitimately great James Woods performance and shows how complicated war and humanity can be under pressure.
Derek Adams of Time Out said, "Boyle, as portrayed by the excellent Woods, is naïve, manic, and dangerous. He suffers terror and humiliation, risks death, and re-discovers his professional integrity. Stone's film (co-written by Boyle with the director) is about North American ignorance, Central American tragedy, and how the two are related. The polemic may seem obvious and at times laboured, but the action sequences are brilliant, and the film does achieve a brutal, often very moving, power."
8. The King of Comedy - Martin Scorsese
The movie that inspired Joker is having time in the spotlight now and I don't want it to go away. This is one of a handful of Scorsese's famous black comedies, and it's about as dark as they come. It's about fame, obsession, and the grittiness of New York in the 1980s. The story came from De Niro's actual experience with a stalker.
As Scorsese said, "The guy was waiting for him with his wife, a shy suburban woman who was rather embarrassed by the situation. He wanted to take him to dinner at their house, a two-hour drive from New York. After he had persuaded him to stay in Manhattan, [De Niro] asked him, 'Why are you stalking me? What do you want?' He replied, 'To have dinner with you, have a drink, chat. My mom asked me to say hi.'"
7. A Simple Plan - Sam Raimi
When we think of Raimi we either think about Spiderman or horror - and this movie has neither. It's a slow burn dark comedy of errors about money found in the wilderness. What really stands out is the direction of the ensemble. Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton, and Bridget Fonda bring chaos into every scene.
Matt Zoller Seitz cited Paxton's performance as Hank to be the best in his career, stating "The film might constitute Paxton's most sorrowful performance as well as his most frightening... an outwardly ordinary man who has no idea what kind of evil he's capable of."
6. Until the End of the World - Wim Wenders
It's weird that the U2 song at the end of this movie is more famous than the actual title. One of the reasons this was often overlooked was that the cut was not the one the director favored. Now a cult classic, the 287-minute cut was the best-reviewed and the one everyone says contains the authentic science fiction vision.
As Sam Weisberg from The Village Voice said, "Before, one left the theater befuddled; one now leaves the theater equally befuddled but also moved, even genuinely disturbed."
5. Tape - Richard Linklater
I love Linklater. He has one of the most interesting careers jumping from studio movie to indie. But Tape was supposed to be a breakout. It starred Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. It's a tight little thriller that takes place in a single location. It would be a buzzy hit today but back then it fell into relative obscurity.
Dennis Harvey of Variety said, "Three actors yakking in a single drab interior, shot on HD video: It's unlikely this poverty-program recipe has, or ever will again, yield results quite as entertaining as 'Tape.'"
4. Strange Days - Kathryn Bigelow
Why does it feel like every future-based movie thinks Los Angeles will be a pile of sleazy slums? Well, if I was going to live in one LA dystopia, it would be the one directed by Kathryn Bigelow where I could get high on my own fantasies.
The lasting impact of the CGI in this movie and the morals are still relevant today. As Roger Ebert said in the Chicago Sun-Times, "What stays from the movie are not the transient plot problems, however, but the overall impact. This is the first movie about virtual reality to deal in a challenging way with the implications of the technology. It's fascinating the way Bigelow is able to suggest so much of VR's impact (and dangers) within a movie - a form of VR that's a century old. As the character Faith observes: 'One of the ways movies are still better than playback - the music comes up, and you know it's over.'"
3. River of Grass - Kelly Reichardt
Independent cinema was huge in the 90s. It was easy to miss out on movies because it felt like we were always being overtaken with a wave of them. When Kelly Reichardt came on the scene her movies were not for everyone. She wasn't trying to go mainstream. She wanted to challenge us.
And the results divided many. And we also missed some titles.
Brian Tallerico reviewed the movie in 2016, saying, "The kind of meandering apathy that Reichardt is going for in River of Grass can be tough to connect to as a viewer, and it’s interesting that her films became more resonant when they switched from what is kind of a comedy to drama. How do we deal with our insignificance? Cozy and Lee don't really deal with anything. We barely care about Cozy and Lee because it feels like Reichardt barely cares about Cozy and Lee. There are enough times when Reichardt’s wit and skill comes through to make it worth a look in its restored version, especially if you’re a fan of her later work, but it’s almost too ethereal, it slips through your fingers when you try to grab it. Although that could be the point."
2. School Daze - Spike Lee
I struggled with picking this movie, because I think Spike Lee as like 5-6 completely missed gems, from Clockers to Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, the guy makes underseen hits. I went with this movie because I think it is a hilarious comedy that would go gangbusters if it was released today.
Jourdain Searles wrote about the movie for Thrillist and said, "In a nation built on slavery and white supremacy, the importance of HBCUs cannot be overstated. They provide black people with a space all our own to learn and grow with each other away from racial biases, and they're often the foundation of networks of black professionals, which prioritize the success and prosperity of black people. School Daze is keen to acknowledge this, while also critiquing the effects of the aspirational status mentality that can often blind us to the suffering of the African diaspora."
1. Cloud Atlas - Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Last but certainly not least, I wanted to pick something really current that maybe scared people away. This ensemble movie takes us through the entirety of time. We get glimpses of them in fantastic costumes and playing out incredible scenarios as they try to define love, time, and happenstance.
As Tom Huddleston from Time Out said, "This is a movie which cuts from spry comedy in an Edinburgh old folks’ home to an eyepopping flying car chase in futuristic Korea without breaking stride; a film which casts Hugo Weaving as a Nazi conductor, a bleach-blond contract killer, a big-breasted nurse and Old Greg from ‘The Mighty Boosh’; a film which piles on the action, the romance, the philosophical inquiry and the silly accents until the viewer is left punch-drunk and reeling. Seriously, what’s not to love?"
Again, if you've got films that you think should be on our list, put them down in the comments. It's always a good time for a movie binge!