Forget Me Nots

We asked 30 directors to name favorite films they feel are underrated or unfairly neglected. Rent a few, and see if you agree!

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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 please 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 fund 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."

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 review, 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 aspect 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."

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."

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