For some reason, cable television will always be in a rut of showing the same 40 movies each year, and that sucks. Variety is the spice of life, and exactly what’s missing in the realm of “well-known” movies that populate channels like TBS, TNT and AMC, among others. So, in a state of nostalgia, and an attitude of recommendation, I offer (what I think is) the most under promoted/worthy movies out there (and there’s a bunch out there).
1. Wonder Boys
I meet many fans of Tobey Maguire that only know him from Spiderman, and have never seen his earlier genius in stuff like this and The Ice Storm. I can only conclude that this excellent character study of a film is not prescient due to the main character (Michael Douglas, no!) being quite the stoner. Too bad the powers that be missed the message completely on this one; the scene where he throws his bag down is ultimate.
And the characters in this movie all seem to interact like a force of nature, yet are consumed by the very trappings that come with being writers.
2. The Sugarland Express
Early evidence of Steven Spielberg’s cinematic prowess can be found throughout this 1974 flick with the tagline “A girl with a great following.” It has the intimacy of a heartfelt human drama as well as the expansive, chaotic elements inherent in 70s era Spielberg fare (many scenes from Jaws come to mind). Based on the true story of Robert and Ila Fae Dent, Steve’s first theatrical film features the first use of a tracking shot in a car from front to back seat, and signified the beginning of a career-long partnership with composer John Williams. It’s basically a chase movie with an uncharacteristically negative ending for Spielberg, but it’s a lot of fun getting there. (WATCH IT)
3. The Ghost and the Darkness
Every once in a while I’ll see the cable networks showing Heat, the other excellent Val Kilmer flick made around 1996. This one, while similar in themes of violence (albiet animal savagery, not human), is a suspenseful gem of the highest caliber. The way the story plays off the similarities between the pair of marauding lions and the two men (Kilmer, subdued, and Michael Douglas, fantastic) tasked with hunting them down is a brilliant touch. And yes, Douglas makes this list twice. Dig this:
For me, this was the movie that helped bridge the gap between teenhood and adulthood. I actually broke off a part of my sunglasses in order to channel the character of Gardener Barnes, played with acerbic Texan wit and depth by Kevin Costner. The road trip story is a non-stop adventure the likes of which are rarely caught on road trip films, filled with laughs and thoughtful moments. The sequence where Judd Nelson’s character skydives is a perfect blend of plot twist, suspense, and score. Everyone should be aware of this movie. (WATCH IT)
5. On the Waterfront
The video above is just a taste of the awesome power of this movie. Karl Malden’s indignation, Brando’s doubts, Eva Marie Saint’s vulnerabilty are all on perfect display here, and the entire film is an exercise in doing it right. (WATCH IT)
But basic cable being what it is, we’ll just have to settle for the worst, and hope for the best. At least I keep seeing this one on AMC, and it never gets old…
(Credits> Wonder Boys: Paramount, The Sugarland Express: Zanuck/Brown, The Ghost and the Darkness: Constellation Entertainment, Fandango: Kevin Reynolds)