20 Overlooked Movies of Great Actors That Are Worth Your Time
14. Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail (1973)
Two sailors (Jack Nicholson and Otis Young) are assigned to bring fellow seaman Larry Meadows (Randy Quaid) to justice across state lines after he is given an unusually stiff sentence for a petty crime.
Along the way, the three men get to know each other through their experiences in bars, restaurants and hotels.
The two men get to know their prisoner and empathize with his situation making it even harder to carry out their duties.
The screenplay by veteran scribe Robert Towne and direction of Hal Ashby (“Being There”) really bring the story to life through their words and storytelling.
The adventures the men have to show their prisoner one last good time really stay with you as they are interesting, poignant and funny at the same time.
Both Nicholson and Quaid were nominated for Academy Awards along with Towne. Interestingly, director Richard Linklater tried to make a sequel which never came to fruition in 2006. He wanted Nicholson to reprise his role and Morgan Freeman to take over for Young who had passed away in 2001.
15. Warren Beatty in The Parallax View (1974)
This movie finds Warren Beatty playing a reporter who begins an investigation with a TV newswoman (“Stepford Wives” star Paula Prentiss) after a Senator is murdered only to discover a high-reaching immense plot involving the Parallax Corporation. He decides to join their ranks in an attempt to learn the true nature of the conspiracy.
The word “parallax” is defined as “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight”.
The idea of the film is to present the viewer with facts and information regarding events depicted in the film from multiple points of view (“parallax”) and allow the viewer to draw their own conclusions. This is difficult to do with a film since there are always many influences (director/actor/editor, etc.) at play, but this film does it very well.
16. Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Jennifer Connelly in Little Children (2006)
We should all hope not to live in the suburban world writer/director Todd Field (“In the Bedroom”) crafts in the Massachusetts suburbs in this film.
This complicated story of suburban life, boredom and the yearning for something more exciting will draw you in to its narrative right away.
The characters start out just going about their daily lives of being home with their children or going to jobs they have no interest in, and end up connecting with each other in provocative and unusual ways. Their interactions become intertwined with each other and you marvel at the compelling lack or morals the characters display with some of their actions. Will marriages stay together or will they succumb to their forbidden desires?
As with several entries on this list, the acting by all parties is compelling, especially for Kate Winslet who never seems to turn in a bad performance. She seems drawn to controversial, romantic roles that are not afraid of crossing the lines of decency to tell the story. Winslet, Earle Haley and Field’s screenplay were all given Academy Award nominations in 2006.
17. Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli in New York, New York (1977)
When listing De Niro/Martin Scorsese collaborations, this one rarely gets mentioned which is too bad since it is such an interesting journey.
A saxophone player and up-in-coming lounge singer (Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli) have a chance meeting in a club at the end of World War II. Against her better judgement, she gets together with him and they begin both a business and professional relationship together. She gets pregnant, but he is not ready, so he leaves them. They both eventually find professional success as musicians apart from each other, but find each other again later in life.
The song “New York, New York” which was written for the film has become an anthem for the Big Apple and has had quite a legacy since its release. It is currently #31 on the list of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs. It was made most famous by Frank Sinatra, but also performed by many other artists including Tony Bennett.
The relationship between the two principle actors is what makes the film work along with several amazing musical performances and the film’s score. Their tragedy of a relationship leaves you with a somber, melancholy mood.
18. Al Pacino and Gene Hackman in Scarecrow (1973)
Both Al Pacino and Gene Hackman were two of the most dynamic and successful actors of the 1970s. Check out these select 70s filmographies:
Pacino: The Godfather Part I and II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, …And Justice For All and Bobby Deerfield. Hackman: The French Connection, The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation and Superman.
In “Scarecrow” the dynamic duo team up as oddball business partners making their way across the United States to Pennsylvania to open a car wash. The two become fast friends and take several detours in their route along the way to deal with personal baggage. They end up with a stint in jail before a profound event happens in one of their lives which has lasting effects on one of them.
The film feels like it is from the 1970s in look, style and substance, but that is a compliment. When you have two actors of this caliber, all you have to do as a director is say “action” and let them do their thing. A lot of the dialogue scenes are thoughtful and entraining and go on for several minutes each.
Hackman was quoted as saying when asked about his favorite film role, ” …there was a movie I did years ago , didn’t get much press , it was called Scarecrow.”
19. Steve McQueen in Tom Horn (1980)
Later in his career, Hollywood cool guy Steve McQueen become known for his ego and being difficult to work with. He said he “retired” after making “The Towering Inferno” in 1974, but still made a handful of films afterwards.
“Tom Horn” was no exception to this as the film had five directors some people believing McQueen directed a lot of the film himself. McQueen was also extremely ill with lung cancer at the time making things even more difficult. The film is the 2nd last one of his career, the last being “The Hunter”. Both films were released in 1980 within a year of his death.
The film itself is a true story about a former Army scout who goes to work for a cattle rancher to protect his land and livestock from poachers and thieves.
The townsfolk do not approve of Horn’s methods of enforcement and Horn ends up being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Before he realizes what is happening, it is too late and his fate is sealed.
McQueen was lucky to get the film made after his previous film, “An Enemy of the People”, was a commercial failure. Through the various directors and re-edits, “Tom Horn” also was not received well by critics or audiences. The film’s story and acting still hold up and it remains an extremely entertaining western adventure.
20. Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix in Quills (2000)
Writer/director Philip Kaufman (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Henry & June”) directs a fine cast headlined by Geoffrey Rush and Kate Winslet about the controversial French novelist, the Marquis de Sade, and his subsequent incarceration for pornography and descent into madness.
The Marquis has been confined to an insane asylum for his wild antics and publications; however, this does not stop him. He finds a way to get his writings out to the public anyways and they are reprinted through friends he has made within the asylum as well as other patients.
Events quickly escalate and there is tragedy within the asylum itself. Despite everything, the Marquis continues to tell his nefarious and lude tales even if he is the only one who reads them. The tragic and graphic nature of the story is not for everyone. There are wild sexual tales as well as every despicable act one could think would happen in an asylum.
Every character is well thought out and plays a critical role in the story, either in aid of the Marquis or trying to stop him. Geoffrey Rush was nominated for Best Actor in 2000 as well as the magnificent costumes of Jacqueline West and the Art Direction-Set Decoration of Martin Childs (art director) and Jill Quertier (set decorator).
Author Bio: Andy Kubica is a life-long cinephile. Having spend time as a video store manager, movie theater manager and the first DVD buyer for a former rental chain he now spends every waking moment reducing his film “bucket list”.