We all love a blockbuster. We have all queued up for the cinema to see the latest big budget fantasy epic, or the newest addition to a super popular franchise. But what about those movies that fly under the radar for seemingly no reason? Many of them have big stars, or were directed by acclaimed directors, some have a cast of unknowns and are directed by new comers, but the one thing that every film on this list has in common is that they are all good. But not just good, really good, and they each deserve much more attention than they currently get. So have a look at our list of totally underrated movies, they will really knock your socks off, and provide you with a wonderful viewing experience.
All Over Me
This is a 90’s coming of age lesbian drama that boasts an impressive sound track, and embodies 90’s teen angst perfectly. It was released in 1997 and written and directed by sisters, Alex and Sylvia Sichel. The movie follows Claude (Alison Folland), a disenfranchised young girl about to graduate from high school. She is besotted by her beautiful friend Ellen (Tara Subkoff). Ellen has a troubled new boyfriend, and has less time for their previous intimacy. Claude has a part-time job at a pizza joint in her multiracial neighborhood in New York City, and makes lots of new friends there. Due to meeting a wide range of people from across the spectrum of society, Claude slowly comes to the realisation that her feelings for Ellen are lesbian in nature. Realising that Ellen does not share her affections, Claude, along with her new gay friend Luke, go to a lesbian bar. Here, she meets Lucy (Leisha Hailey), an older woman who opens her mind and her heart and completely rocks Claude’s world. The movie perfectly encapsulates the raw, emotion fueled landscape, that each young girl must traverse on the way to her burgeoning womanhood. It is far more than just a typical coming of age movie though, and is laced with a grit and realism that transcends typical ‘teen movie’ fare. Sublimely portrayed by a cast of immensely talented actors, this movie is one of the most personally affecting films anyone who has ever been a teenage girl will ever see.
As with all of Larry Clark’s movies, Ken Park is seriously good, seriously intense and seriously bleak for the most part. It was released in 2002 and was written by Harmony Korine, who based it on Larry Clark’s personal journals and stories. For starters, this movie is raw, disturbing and honestly not one for the younger members of the audience. Strictly over 18’s and with good reason. There are many depictions of graphic sex, graphic violence and even touches on the unsavoury area of incest. The sex that is featured in the movie is real and not simulated, so this is definitely one for the adults. Now, once you get past the gratuitous sex and the shocking violence, what you are left with is a bleak and unrelenting look at modern day youth culture. It follows the lives of a group of Californian teens, skaters, stoners, rockers and misfits. The title character, Ken Park, is a ginger, freckled kid, who performs an act of violence, right after the opening credits. We don’t really hear about him again until the end, when we find out what drove him to it. The rest of the movie is concerned with the kids who knew Ken: Shawn (James Bullard), who’s sleeping with his girlfriend’s mother; Peaches (Tiffany Limos), who lives with her devoutly Christian dad, a widower worshiping at the altar of his dead wife; Claude (Stephen Jasso), whose macho dad despises him; and Tate (James Ransone), a weirdo who lives with his grandparents and loudly berates them. At it’s core, Ken Park is about people lost in a haze of contempt and despair, trying to wrest some love or relief out of their own desperate situations.
Another movie written and, this time directed, by Harmony Korine, Gummo was his directorial debut and was released in 1997. It follows the lives of teen friends Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) as they navigate the ruins of a tiny, tornado-ravaged town in Ohio, that is populated by the deformed, disturbed and perverted. Gummo is an impressionistic portrait of a half-imaginary Midwestern suburb, and confirms Harmony Korine as a creative force to be reckoned with. The movie is often times a hugely unpleasant experience, though, but then, isn’t that just art doing it’s job? When the two teenage protagonists aren’t killing stray cats, they’re sniffing glue, paying for sex or messing with life support machines. Aside from its adolescent preoccupation with depravity, the movie is saved from freak show voyeurism by its unerring starkness in the portrayal of its characters. The movie intertwines scripted dialogue with improvisation, often within the same scene. Gummo is breathtakingly original, and absolutely true to its time.
Lilya 4-Ever is a 2002 Lukas Moodysson movie, and has been lauded as the bleakest, most depressing movie ever made. It depicts the harrowing tale of a young teenage girl, abandoned by her family and left to her own devices. She slips into a downward spiral of sex and degradation. Lilya (Oksana Akinshina) is a 16-year-old girl, coming of age in the poverty stricken streets of the former Soviet Union. Lilya’s mother (Lyubov Agapova) has told Lilya that she is to move with her to the United States with the mother’s new boyfriend. Lilya becomes obsessed with this idea, however at the last minute, she is told that she will in fact be staying behind with her aunt Anna (Liliya Shinkaryova), and she’ll be joining her mother later on. Lilya’s aunt soon takes control of the apartment and places her in a much smaller apartment a few blocks away. Lilya is now left to her own devices, and spends most of her time with her best friend, and a 14 year old boy, Volodya (Artiom Bogucharski), who is suicidal because of being thrown out of his home, and has a serious problem with alcohol and drugs. When Lilya’s friend meets a man in a nightclub who pays her for sex, the two friends embark on a downward spiral that culminates in a dark and tragic end. It is a stark and unyielding movie that will draw you in, and leave you devastated. A movie that will haunt you for days afterwards in a truly brilliant piece of cinema.
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
This movie was based on the book of the same name by JT Leroy, the controversial pen-name of Sarah Albert. It follows the life of a young boy called Jeremiah, (played by Jimmy Bennett, Cole Sprouse, and Dylan Sprouse), being brought up by a loving foster family. One day all of his safety and stability are ripped away from him, when his tear away, alcoholic, drug addled teenage mother, Sarah (Asia Argento), shows up, and whisks him away. The child is forced into a life of crime and debauchery, and subjected to a litany of abuse, at the hands of the string of men his mother invariably brings home. One such man is played by a hugely creepy Marilyn Manson, and another played by Jeremy Renner. Salvation comes in the form of the boy’s ultra-religious grandparents, but soon Jeremiah’s mother returns. Maternal love binds the pair together on the road, until Sarah’s desperate and depraved lifestyle finally consumes her, and threatens to do the same to the boy. There is no happy ending here, no feel good factor to ultimately take away with you at the movie’s end. It is a cheerless and despondent look at the harsh realities of the hell some children have to live, when their parents are slaves to one vice or another.
The Cement Garden
In this chilling adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel of the same name, director Andrew Birkin brings us on a depressing, creepy journey through the devastating ramifications of familial abandonment. The film takes place in a dreary grey house, located on the fringes of an English town. The father (Hanns Zischer) is a degenerate pervert, while the mother (Sinead Cusack), is the epitome of the angelic matriarch. After his garden is paved over with cement, the father has a heart attack and dies. Soon after, the mother wastes away and also dies. This leaves the four children to fend for themselves. The eldest sister and brother, Julie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Jack (Andrew Robertson), take over the responsibility of caring for the two younger children, Sue (Alice Coultard), and Tom (Ned Birkin). Without the supervision and guidance of a parental role model, each of the children gives themselves over to their secret desires and longings. Jack hides in corners, and becomes a chronic masturbater, while Julie uses her blossoming sexuality to lure Jack into an incestuous relationship. Even the younger children begin to behave in unusual ways. Sue barely speaks, and obsessively journals everything that happens to her, and Tom feels that deep inside himself, he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body. The children hide the mother’s remains in the basement, and live off her bank account. No one suspects a thing, until local sleaze ball Derek (Jochen Horst), shows up and tries to court Julie, which threatens to blow all of their secrets wide open. A darkly disturbing look at what unbridled eroticism, and unchecked sexual boundaries, can do to developing youth. It is also, at its heart, a tale of a family at odds with the world around them, and struggling to stay together as a unit.
I Shot Andy Warhol
On June 3, 1968, radical feminist Valerie Solanas shot pop culture artist Andy Warhol in his Manhattan studio.This movie tells that story, but not through Andy Warhol’s version of events. Instead, the movie focuses on the extraordinarily skewed perspective of the deeply troubled Solanas. Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor) is an aspiring young writer, in love with her craft. She moves to New York City and supports herself by entering into a life of prostitution. In her search for acceptance amoungst the New York elite, Valerie encounters controversial artist Andy Warhol (Jared Harris), and various other colourful eccentrics of the New York art scene. Valerie becomes obsessed with the idea that Warhol should produce her play, ‘Up Your Ass’. But when she realises she is, in fact, the butt of everyone’s joke, Valerie becomes enraged, and starts a violent feminist movement, and pens the ‘S.C.U.M Manifesto’, (S.C.U.M stands for the Society for Cutting Up Men). Eventually, her rage reaches fever pitch. and Valerie shoots Andy Warhol. In this powerful portrayal of a snapshot of pop culture history, filmmaker/screenwriter Mary Harron attempts to shed some light on the troubled Solanas’ motivations. On record, it has been recorded that Solanas acted in retaliation, after Warhol banned her from his inner sanctum, however the real reasons for her bottomless rage soon become apparent. Solanas was sexually abused as a young girl, and turned to prostitution in high school. She also struggled with her sexuality as it became clear to her that she was a lesbian. By the time college rolled around, Solanas was an established man-hater. It was her dream that her Society for Cutting Up Men would become a major movement, but in the end, Solanas was the only member. An intense look at an equally intense woman, I Shot Andy Warhol is a cadenced gaze at a turbulent and chaotic crime.
The Doom Generation
We literally could have included all of Gregg Araki’s movies on this list, and it would have been full of just as many amazing and unknown, or underrated movies. The Doom Generation is one of our particular faves of his, though. It was originally billed as: “a heterosexual movie by Gregg Araki,” but The Doom Generation is much more than that. It is his eponymous teen movie, brought to us seeped in the stylistic bad taste that only Gregg Araki can pull off. Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) and her boyfriend Jordan White (James Duval) are disenfranchised teens. Amy is a mean-girl, speed freak, while Jordan is a soft spoken, scene kid. Both of them claim to be virgins, however Jordan is still terrified of contracting AIDS. On a road trip, the pair happens upon the alluring Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech). Xavier is a charming, enigmatic drifter with a penchant for murder. The three form an unlikely alliance and bond, as they embark on an endless road trip across middle America. Xavier’s worldly influence on the young couple raises issues of loyalty and sexual identity. It builds to a violent and devastating climax, and is filled with cutting, scintillating wit, and scathing cynicism. The movie is also speckled with a host of eccentric cameo appearances, including comic Margaret Cho, actress Parker Posey, musician Perry Farrell, ‘Hollywood Madame’ Heidi Fleiss, and onetime Brady Bunch star Christopher Knight. This is the middle installment in Araki’s ‘teen apocalypse trilogy’, which also includes 1993’s Totally F***ed Up and 1997’s Nowhere, and offers a bleak and nihilistic look at the disaffected youth of America.
Andrew Fleming’s 1994 movie, Threesome, is a little less involved than most of the films on this list but no less enjoyable. The movie follows the story of three unlikely college roommates at a sizable public college. Eddy (Josh Charles), Stuart (Stephen Baldwin), and attractive co-ed Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle), are thrown together by happenstance. It is a modernist spin on the traditional love triangle story. Girl falls for guy, guy falls for other guy, wrong guy falls for girl. The complex situation leads to sexual experimentation and strained relationships. It is a well-constructed, hilarious, touching, and thought provoking ‘bizarre love triangle’. Each of the characters are instantly likeable and relatable, and the story is intelligently woven, and laced with idiosyncrasies, sewn together with a raw, emotional undercurrent. Eddy’s struggle with his own latent homosexuality is both edifyinga and heartwarming, but Lara Flynn Boyle steals the show as the blossoming ingenue. It’s a sweet story of love, friendship, and the struggle to find yourself in those formative college years.
We are right back in with the heavy hitters with this one. This is a movie that should be on everyone’s ‘to watch’ list. It is an unbelievably good movie, and is honestly, one of Kevin Bacon’s absolute best performances. It follows the story of Walter (Kevin Bacon), who, after 12 years in prison for pedophilia, returns home. Very few people are aware of his conviction, and he is determined for it to stay that way. He finds an apartment where he’s regularly visited by his parole officer (Mos Def), and gets a job at a lumber mill. He meets, and starts a relationship with a coworker (Kyra Sedgwick) and forms the kind of human bond that he has been yearning for in order to normalise his existence. This relationship becomes too much for him to manage, though, and his new world begins to dissolve. Slowly but surely, rumours begin to spread about Walter, and as his past crimes become common knowledge, he embarks on a reckless, high-risk friendship with a young girl. Also during this time, he notices a man loitering near a schoolyard, and recognises the grooming practices he himself once employed. He realises this man is a child molester, prowling for his next victim. Rather than approach the police about this, Walter decides to take matters into his own hands, and goes full vigilante on this insidious stranger. His life begins to steadily unravel, and we are led to an inevitable climax, that is brimming with poignancy and sadness. This is a lean and unapologetic tale about a particular faction of society, all too often rendered in simplistic, monochromatic, ‘right versus wrong’ colors. As you watch this movie, you will find yourself being dragged into an intense whirlwind of conflicting emotions. In equal parts disturbing, creepy, and moving, Bacon’s performance manages to pull sympathy from its reluctant viewers. A bold and poignantly told tale, nestling into its characters to draw out raw and candidly revealing performances. The Woodsman is an amazing piece of cinema, both difficult and compelling to watch.
You could make a list of 100 underrated cinematic gems and not even scratch the surface of the library of glorious movies out there. These are just a few examples, but the next time you sit down to watch a movie, instead of going with the tried and true big blockbusters, why not take a moment and search for something a little different? You might find something much more rewarding for your viewing pleasure.