Forget Me Nots

griffith night moves

Twenty years ago, Movieline magazine asked 30 directors to name a movie they thought was underrated, overlooked or neglected.  The results ran in the July 1996 issue.  Here is the list of movies filmakers from two decades ago recommended.

Everybody has a secret list of favorite movies besides the universally recognized classics. Well, almost everybody. A few filmmakers whom I asked to contemplate the most understand, unappreciated movies of all time were afraid to go out on a limb and venture beyond Citizen Kane. But most of the people I asked were enthusiastic, because it got them to thinking about movies that were secreted in their personal pantheon. The list I compiled from 30 filmmakers is deliciously eclectic. Not a single film was mentioned more than once, which testifies to how quirky any list of unappreciated movies is bound to be. These underrated films run the gamut from high seriousness to low camp. Some of them are so obscure that it was hard to find anything written about them, while others had drawn good reviews, but in the view of our respondents, still failed to receive their just due. This far-reaching, unpredictable list may lead readers to make a few happy, even shocking, discoveries.

1. BRYAN SINGER (Public Access, The Usual Suspect). “The Devils by Ken Russell is a movie everybody should see. It has some of the best dialogue, characters and subject matter that I have ever seen in a movie. There’s a moment when Oliver Reed is being brutally tortured, and they ask him, ‘Do you love the church?’ Her answer, ‘Not today.’ What a great line. I saw it for the first time five or six years ago on video, and then I saw an uncut print. I’ve seen it a dozen times. It’s an awesome movie that was dismissed by a lot of people-Leonard Maltin gave it 2½ stars in his book.”

2. SYDNEY POLLACK (Out of Africa, Sabrina). “I still remember the mood and hypnotic story line of Night Moves. I actually worked on that project at one time. The writing was good. Some people thought it was pretentious, but I liked the ambition of it. I thought Arthur Penn did a good job directing it. Gene Hackman’s performance as the detective was exceptional. That movie has a lot of qualities, but it had no audience at all.”

Bridges - Fearless

3. EDWARD ZWICK (Glory, Legends of the Fall). “I deeply admired Peter Weir’s Fearless, I thought it was ambitious, provocative, soulful. It didn’t get very good reviews, and people shied away from seeing it, probably for the same reason that they have a fear of air travel. It forced you to contemplate your own mortality. I can find fault with some aspects of the movie, but Jeff Bridges’s work in it was really brave, and the ending had a profound impact on me. Peter Weir is one of the few directors whose work I would line up to see on opening day. One thing I like about his work in his willingness to be open to metaphysical aspect of things. You see that in The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock, too, Fearless reminded me of the touchstones of our moviegoing experience from the ’60s and ’70s, the ones that draw some of us to make movie in the first place.”

4. JODIE FOSTER (Little Man Tate, Hope for the Holidays). “Paul Schrader’s Mishima is a film that managed to make the audience relate emotionally to a truly unsympathetic, doomed character while at the same time honoring the beautiful, theatrical tone of Mishima’s own work.”

5. RON SHELTON (Bull Durham, Tin Cup). “Fat City is the best sports movie ever made and my favorite boxing movie. It’s also my favorite story of guys struggling on the edge of anonymity. It has a great cast–Jeff Bridges, Stacy Keach, Susan Tyrrell. I had read the novel while I was playing baseball in Stockton. The novel is set in Stockton, so it struck a chord for me. A year later I saw the movie, and it knocked me out. Then it disappeared in about a day. I’ve seen it since then, and it holds up terrifically. But it’s a movie that is never revived.”

6. ROBERT BENTON (Places in the Heart, Nobody’s Fool), “The Tree of Wooden Clogs by Ermanno Olmi is a masterpiece that no one knows. I was at a dinner party recently, and we were talking about how hard it is to do religious pictures that don’t seem soppy. We were saying that Dead Man Walking is the closest to a genuinely religious picture that anyone has made recently, and we were all trying to think of other pictures with a religious feel to them. I mentioned The Tree of Wooden Clogs, and no one at the table had heard of it. You know, underrated movies are different at different times. If you had asked me this question in 1970, I would have said Rio Bravo was the most underrated. Now, everyone loves that movie. A lot of older American movies have been discovered, but now it’s the European movies that have been forgotten.”

Sugarland Express

7. LILI ZANUCK (producer, Driving Miss Daisy; director, Rush). “Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, The Sugarland Express, is a movie I liked long before I met and married Richard Zanuck [one of the movie’s producers]. I think one of the reasons nobody went to see it was that the title was off-putting; it sounded like a children’s movie. Actually, it was an incredible handling of an adult subject. It was a much smaller movie than his later films, yet it contained everything we’ve come to love about Spielberg’s work. And you can see his sensitivity to children in the way he handled the child, who happens to be my stepson.”

8. STEVEN SODERBERGH (sex, lies, and videotape, King of the Hill). “I saw Richard Lester’s How I Won the War for the first time about 15 years ago and thought it was somewhat obtuse. I saw it again recently and thought it was amazing. For one thing, it was intellectually ambitious. You just don’t see that quality in movies anymore. It was incredibly daring to do that movie in Britain in 1967, which was still relatively soon after World War II. It’s aggressively unsentimental; it punctures a hole in the nostalgia that inevitably grows up around any conflict after a certain amount of time has elapsed. I think it was poorly received because of the films that Lester had made prior to that–the Beatles movies and The Knack and How to Get It. People took a superficial view of the movie; they thought it was just saying war is bad. But it’s not really about war; it’s about war movies, about the mythology of war–how we create an aura that is positive when the reality is obscene.”

9. DAVID KOEPP (screenwriter, Jurassic Park; writer-director, The Trigger Effect). “The Silent Partner is a brilliant thriller that came and went. It has an ingenious script. It stars Elliott Gould as a bank teller and Christopher Plummer as a bank robber whom he outsmarts. Everybody should have seen it, but nobody did–except in Argentina, where it was a huge success. I’d also cite The Return of the Living Dead, which is a little lowbrow, but the best of the Living Dead movies. It’s filled with a love of everything undead; it’s wonderfully funny and gross and imaginative.”

10. MICHAEL TOLKIN (writer, The Player, writer-director, The New Age). “I saw George Axelrod’s Lord Love a Duck when I was in college, and I wondered why no one knew this movie. I thought it was as incredibly funny and sharp in its way as Dr. Strangelove. There were such delicious, black-comic ideas like the cashmere sweater club that Tuesday Weld belongs to. Comedies tend to get overlooked; they aren’t taken as seriously as they should be.”

Barry Lyndon

11. CHRISTOPHER MÜNCH (The Hours and Times, Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day). “I think Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was unappreciated in America, though it was very much appreciated in Europe. It was attacked for having a weak story, because it was beautifully photographed. Actually, Barry Lyndon has a strongly structured narrative with good characters. The historical detail was meticulous but not overpowering. Sometimes the art direction overwhelms a movie because the other elements are feeble. But in Barry Lyndon the art direction serves the story.”

12. MICHAEL LEHMANN (Heathers, The Truth About Cats and Dogs). “Seconds, directed by John Frankenheimer, is the first movie that popped into my head. In some ways it’s dated, but it’s still a terrific movie. It’s a hard movie to see. I’m constantly telling people to track it down. I told one of the cameramen I worked with to look at James Wong Howe’s phenomenal cinematography. The movie has a great performance by John Randolph, and also a very understated, very natural performance by Rock Hudson. I worked for Francis Coppola on Rumble Fish, and I felt he was going back to the style of Seconds when he made that movie.”

13. CARL FRANKLIN (One False Move, Devil in a Blue Dress). “Quick Change isn’t one of the great movies of all time, but it stands out in my mind. People were howling when I saw it, but it stayed in theaters about a week. I saw it again on cable. In fact, I’ve found myself enjoying that movie over and over again. The urgency of the situation was intense and funny. Bill Murray, Geena Davis and Randy Quaid were all good, and the actor who played the cab driver [Tony Shalhoub] was hilarious.”

14. STACY COCHRAN (My New Gun, Boys). “Everyone hated A Perfect World. That came and went so quickly. I was getting marched into corners when I told people I loved that. But I thought Kevin Costner was fantastic. I was completely moved and transported. No one else was. Another Clint Eastwood movie that I liked was The Beguiled. To a little girl growing up in New Jersey, that was exactly how I wanted to see him–trapped and helpless.”

15. JOEL SCHUMACHER (Batman Forever, A Time to Kill). “My favorite film of all time is The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. It’s a savage tone poem to greed and sex and violence. Whenever I mention that at a junket, people will say to me, ‘You’re sick, Joel.’ Most people don’t rush to see a film about cannibalism, but it’s Peter Greenaway’s greatest film.”

16. BARRY LEVINSON (Rain Man, Avalon).  I Remember Mama is completely outside the zone of things we want to embrace at this time. Because it’s sentimental, we discard it. The title alone makes you want to stick your finger down your throat. But it’s actually extremely well directed by George Stevens. Irene Dunne gives an exceptional performance, and the film really captures the feeling of a first generation American family.”

Brief Encounter

17. ADRIAN LYNE (Fatal Attraction, Lolita). ”Brief Encounter was admired when it first came out, but people never seem to speak of it today. They talk of David Lean’s other movies–the Dickens films and Lawrence of Arabia. But I think Brief Encounter is his best picture. It’s the most glorious love story. There’s a particular shot that I love, when Trevor Howard has left for the last time, and Celia Johnson runs out onto the platform with the thought of suicide. The camera starts to tilt and keeps tilting, so that you think you’re inside her head. I don’t know how he got that shot. I met David Lean at Cannes one year, and I asked him about it. At first he claimed not to remember, but when I pressed him, he talked about another director who had ripped that shot off. Lean wasn’t the nicest man, but Brief Encounter is still a devastating movie.”

18. JOHN FRANKENHEIMER (Andersonville, Seconds). “The Battle of Algiers is unknown today except among real cinephiles. Even most directors have never heard of it. I think the movie has been completely forgotten. But it was never that well-known in this country except among a very highbrow art-house crowd. It’s the definitive movie using documentary technique in drama. Pontecorvo did a brilliant job. I run it for every crew before I start a movie,”

19. JAMES TOBACK (screenwriter, Bugsy; writer-director, Fingers). “I like two movies from Charles Bukowski’s writings, Barfly and Tales of Ordinary Madness. Both of them are completely uncharacteristic of what movies are supposed to be. They’re about what happens after you fall through the bottom, in other movies about characters on the edge of disaster, they usually prevail. In those two movies, by contrast, there’s no resurrection. Both movies had directors with an acute, unsentimental feel for that world; it’s interesting that both were non-Americans, Barbet Schroeder and Marco Ferreri. Barfly had a few cult supporters, but it came and went quickly. Tales of Ordinary Madness, on the other hand, was completely ridiculed and panned. I guess it’s because falling through the bottom is not something most people want to look at. It’s like averting your eyes from a homeless person.”

20. JOHN CARPENTER (Starman, John Carpenter’s Escape From LA.). “The ultimate underrated movie is Orson Welles’s Falstaff [aka Chimes at Midnight]. It was destroyed by The New York Times, and it just disappeared. But it’s one of Welles’s most brilliant films. As usual, Welles ran out of money, the sound is out of sync, it’s shot in grainy black and white, but it’s a masterpiece. There’s great acting by people like John Gielgud and Jeanne Moreau. The battle sequence is one of the most brilliant I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how he got some of the effects. That sequence has an indelible impression on my brain. I thought I’d never do anything as good as that, and I’ve proved myself right.”


21. CLIVE BARKER (Hellraiser, Lord of Illusions). “Not every underrated movie is obscure. Sometimes an underrated movie can be hiding in plain sight, I would pick Cleopatra. Because of all the notoriety surrounding the production, the film itself was overshadowed. My dad took me to see it when it first came out. I go back to it annually, and it’s still magnificent. It represents world-making on a level that Hollywood can never achieve again. The movie has wild physical pizzazz and kitsch and grandeur. The further we get from historical movies, the more they seem like wonderful mechanisms. Nobody talks about Queen Christina or The Scarlet Empress as historical realism. I think we’re now far enough from Cleopatra to see it as a beautiful artifact–a completely entered-into fantasy. It’s about spectacle and breasts, the massage scene, the battle at sea. What’s not to like?”

22. PEN DENSHAM (The Kiss, Moll Flanders). “Things to Come is one of the first science-fiction films. I’m a fan of the producer, Alexander Korda; he was the Selznick of the British film industry, a man of great intelligence. It was directed by William Cameron Menzies. It has a wonderful pacifist story by H.G, Wells; it predicted the coming of World War II. Because it came out of England, it didn’t get the attention of American science-fiction films. But it has all epic scope and daring. It’s a totally visionary work that had an influence on all the Lucases and Spielbergs who came later.”

23. DAVID O. RUSSELL (Flirting With Disaster, Spanking the Monkey), “The Heartbreak Kid may have been well received when it first came out, but I never hear people talk about it anymore. It has great acting, unpretentious direction, and it’s darker than anything else Neil Simon ever wrote. I think the reason it’s been forgotten is that people focus so much on directors today, whereas I feel all directors are very hot and cold. It’s not that I love Elaine May’s work in general. I just love this movie. Shampoo is another movie from the same period that people have forgotten. Both of those movies had classically ’70s unsettling endings. Nobody does dark endings in comedy anymore.”

24. PHILIP HAAS (The Music of Chance, Angels & Insects). “Oedipus Rex by Pasolini is a movie I first saw as a teenager, and it has stayed with me. I think Pasolini is as seminal a figure in cinema history as the other Italian directors, like Fellini and Visconti, who are much better known. Franco Citti, who was in a number of Pasolini’s other movies, played Oedipus, and Silvana Mangano played Jocasta. It looked like they had lifted the rest of the cast from the North African desert. Parr of it is set in ancient times, and part of it is set in the 20th century, so it’s very Freudian. It suggested to me there was a way to re-create the past and not make it look like a museum piece. It felt absolutely authentic.”

Arnold - Conan

25. ANDY WACHOWSKI (codirector, with his brother Larry, of Bound). “My brother and I both love John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian. I think it was underrated because it had two things working against it–the sword-and-sorcery genre and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But this movie has his best and most natural acting–before he started acting. The whole movie follows Conan from the time he’s a child: he grows up wanting to kill this one guy. At the end he finally meets up with his enemy, played by James Earl Jones, who has this great speech trying to persuade Conan not to kill him, Jones basically says to him, ‘Where would you be without me? I made you into the great warrior you are today.’ Conan thinks about that for a minute, then chops his head off. That was a really cool ending.”

26. SIMON WINCER (Free Willy, The Phantom). “I would pick The Wind and the Lion, written and directed by John Milius. The film is based on a true incident which took place at the turn of the century. Sean Connery gives a lowering performance as a Moroccan sheik, and Candice Bergen is exquisite as a kidnapped American. It is a great character study of two men–Connery as the sheik and Brian Keith as Teddy Roosevelt–the wind and the lion.”

27. HENRY JAGLOM (Eating, Last Summer in the Hamptons). “John Cassavetes’s first film, Shadows, forever changed the face of U.S. cinema in ways that have never been acknowledged. Shadows is hardly ever mentioned, but this small, personal, grainy, entirely improvised movie, shot on the streets and alleys of New York City, was the very first ‘independent’ film. Brave and daring and entirely without precedent, Shadows hit aspiring filmmakers like a stroke of lightning, freeing us at last from all the rigid rules and restraints that Hollywood had imposed. Anyone who has been seriously committed to making truly independent films over the last three decades since Shadows first appeared, owes this amazing film–and John Cassavetes–an eternal debt of gratitude.”

28. RICHARD PEARCE (Country, A Family Thing). “D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, a documentary on Bob Dylan, deserves to be rediscovered. It’s an amazing document of the ’60s. It had a sense of authenticity at the time, but if you see it now, it has a different quality. It looks aesthetically beautiful. The primitive quality of it epitomizes a particular style of filmmaking. Every gob of grain looks like an aesthetic decision.”

29. TIM HUNTER (River’s Edge, The Saint of Fort Washington). “I would pick Mandingo. Relentlessly lurid and positively reveling in stereotypes, this epic potboiler of interracial lust on a Southern plantation probably sheds more light on the roots of racial hatred in this country than any dozen more politically correct films on the subject. In fact, to see this late hot-house flowering of director Richard Fleischer’s checkered career, with its utterly demented, go-for-the-jugular script by Norman Wexler, is an experience that leaves one gasping with the question, ‘How the hell did this picture ever get made?!’ They certainly couldn’t do it now.”

30. KEVIN REYNOLDS (The Beast, Waterworld). “Terrence Malick’s Badlands is an amazing film, definitely underrated at the time. Very few people went to see it. I feel it was Martin Sheen’s best work. He had a certain detached absurdity that hasn’t been duplicated in any other film.”


Stephen Farber wrote about favorite female stars’ costumes in the September ’95 issue of Movieline.


Posted on July 29, 2016, in Movieline Articles, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. daffystardust

    Night Moves takes some patience to get through, but it really pays off when you do.


  2. I agree with daffy, Night Moves is definitely worth watching.

    The Battle of Algiers is on my “must be seen once” list. It’s a very realistic, even-handed film about events that were very recent history at the time it was made. Badlands is another excellent film, with great performances from both Sheen and Sissy Spacek.

    I didn’t find either The Silent Partner or The Wind and the Lion quite as memorable as they were to David Koepp and Simon Wincer, respectively, but they are both good films.


  3. Ooh, I really like “The Silent Partner” too (one of those overlooked Canadian tax shelter films). Christopher Plummer’s characters gives off all sorts of signals in that film (He’s definitely a sadist, among other things). And that actress Celine Lomez? Wow, I thought she was lovely, although her character clearly liked danger way too much. It was also fun for me to view how Elliott Gould’s character evolved throughout the film. Hey, and there’s John Candy too (although his role is slight).


  4. I’ve always been a bit mystified why ‘Fearless’ doesn’t get more love. So much so that I rewatch it every few years to check that I’m not losing my mind, and yes, it really is rather good.

    ‘Barry Lyndon’ is just getting a summer cinematic re-release in the UK – is that happening there too? Definitely on my list to see on a proper screen.


  5. I’ve seen about half of the movies listed. Some are good, some are not.


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