6. The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
IMDb rating: 6.9
Charles Grodin stars in The Heartbreak Kid (not to be confused with the lousy Ben Stiller remake). Elaine May, the director, is most known for being the ying to Mike Nichols’ yang. They were a popular comedy duo in the 1950s. While there are comparisons to The Graduate, directed by Nichols, The Heartbreak Kid is a mature, perceptive film that stands away from the regular rom-com product. Neil Simon, a playwright known for his particular brand of comedy, wrote the script.
Grodin plays Lenny, a squeaky, shallow man, who has just married Lila (Jeannie Berlin, Elaine May’s daughter). He’s already dreaming of a better wife while en route to his honeymoon. As luck would have it, on their honeymoon, Lenny runs into the flirtatious Kelly (Cybill Shepherd). He immediately plots to overthrow his marriage and vehemently pursue Kelly. There are laughs aplenty, especially with Grodin and how much he weasels around. His performance is energized and dynamic, with impeccable comedic timing.
What makes this film remarkable is how it isn’t just a comedy for kicks or a romance for kisses. The film is about desire and the thrill of its conquest as well as being an acute survey of the male ego. Lenny is driven by the attractiveness of his own lies. He desires pursuit more than possession.
7. Miami Blues (1990)
IMDb rating: 6.3
Hard-boiled and Himalayan salted, Miami Blues is a quirky crime caper. Alec Baldwin is a handsome, crafty convict who gets into hijinks around Miami, particularly with a sweet, impressionable prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and, quite literally, a toothless cop (Fred Ward). The look of the film is striking—fluorescent colors abound. Miami Blues oscillates between an absurdist tone and a seriously violent manner.
This is a special, underrated film because of the excellent performances and the surprisingly rich subtext. Baldwin’s role is consumed by his delusions of power. He’s committed to carrying out his vigilante, dangerous justice. Fred Ward’s cop is dumb, dogged, but quite sympathetic. Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is played with great detail and warmth. She’s wishful and dreams of Baldwin as more domesticated than he’ll ever become. She’s not ready to accept reality or the truth behind Baldwin’s eyes, adamant about her American dream.
There’s a scene in a grocery store where Ward and Leigh exchange ingredients, and its underlined with such innocence and masked sadness. We come to feel bad for these two, because they’re so sincere, and don’t deserve the havoc brought into their lives by some outlandish convict with mad, blue eyes.
8. The Rain People (1969)
IMDb rating: 6.9
Francis Ford Coppola’s first decade as a filmmaker was strange and diverse, until he dissociated from the studios to make a truly independent film. Hitting the road with a small crew, The Rain People is a uniquely, somewhat experimental, American film. It’s an honest portrayal of feminism.
Natalie (Shirley Knight) decides to leave her husband one morning and trek across America, on her own, to fill the void that she feels has become her life. She’s unsure about her marriage or her first-trimester pregnancy. Along the way, she grows fond of a man-child ex-footballer (James Caan) and a charismatic patrol cop (Robert Duvall).
Coppola impresses a sad poetry on the film with his use of flashback. They’re interpolated quickly, quietly, and lyrically. These characters, the main trio, are damaged and complicated. This film was the expert beginning to the all-time talent whose next film was, of course, The Godfather.
9. Shampoo (1975)
IMDb rating: 6.3
Warren Beatty starred, produced, and co-wrote Shampoo. He assembled a dream team of production. Hal Ashby as director. Paul Simon as composer. Robert Towne, hot off of Chinatown, to help co-write. It was a massive box office success and mostly critically acclaimed. But after 40 years, Shampoo’s stature has seemingly dwindled. For a film so evocative of its era, so forthright and wonderfully well made, how could this be?
Beatty plays George, a hairdresser in Beverly Hills. He’s insatiably promiscuous and driven by the American ideal of entrepreneurial success. We follow him and his various endeavors on the eve of the 1968 presidential election.
Beatty has only been in 22 films, but remains one of cinema’s exemplary talents.
As a tremendous public figure, he would often create characters that invert his global image. Shampoo follows a thematic trend from Beatty, of faux-masculinity and insecurity of the male ego. Others include Bonnie & Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Bugsy.
10. Stoker (2013)
IMDb rating: 6.8
Chan-wook Park, director of the masterful Oldboy, tackles his English-language debut with tremendous visual prowess. Where the script is lacking, the film compensates with intense flair and brooding poetry. Mia Wasikowska is India Stoker, who comes-of-age in this macabre ballad, following the death of her father.
Park throngs the frame with excellent compositions and sagacious detail. He juxtaposes India’s innocence with more sinister undertones. After a devastating scene where India unwillingly accomplices a murder, she’s seen washing in the shower.
Initially, she appears to be emotional and grieving, but when the camera gets closer, we become shockingly aware of India’s pleasure. This scene illustrates one of the clever angles of the film, how something will appear one way but comes to have a darker, disturbing truth.
Author Bio: Matthew Lagalante is a recent graduate, based in New York. He’s a freelance writer/filmmaker. Follow him on Twitter: @Cinemaquanon.