A list like this will always attract two groups of people: one group looking to count the movies they’ve already seen, and another hoping to discover ones they haven’t. The most passionate film fans will rarely be surprised by any suggestion, but those with more diverse interests are likely to unearth a hidden gem which reflects their taste.
Here are ten lesser-known films which are usually found only through active search or outside recommendation; they are, each in their way, classics worthy of your time.
1. I Walk the Line (1970) – John Frankenheimer
Witness Gregory Peck as you’ve never seen him before in this underrated film by the legendary John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate). Peck plays a small-town sheriff who is feeling restless in his marriage and develops a relationship with a younger local woman.
This, of course, leads the lawman into a series of complicated and compromising positions relating to his family and his job. Watching the usually upstanding Peck live a double life while operating on both sides of the law is a treat too good to pass up, and Tuesday Weld is perfect as his love interest. Throw in a soundtrack by Johnny Cash, and I Walk the Line comes easily recommended as worthwhile viewing.
2. The Prisoner (1955) – Peter Glenville
Witness two titans of cinema going head to head in this psychological duel of a film featuring Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. These two legends are not only the stars, but also the only main characters in the movie. Guinness plays a devout Cardinal who’s been imprisoned under accusation of treason; Hawkins is a tenacious Communist interrogator determined to break the will of the Cardinal and exact a confession.
Through harsh questioning and sleep deprivation, the Cardinal’s faith and resolve are severely tested. The Prisoner is an intelligent film featuring two supremely intelligent actors at the peak of their powers, and it’s a perfect showcase for their considerable talents.
3. Pretty Poison (1968) – Noel Black
Pretty Poison is an underrated cult thriller always deserving of more attention. Anthony Perkins plays Dennis Pitt, a disturbed young man who’s recently left a mental institution. He passes himself off as a secret agent in order to impress a local girl, played by Tuesday Weld, and the two set off on a series of fake missions.
But when one of their adventures escalates, with disastrous consequences, Dennis’s fake identity leads him into a world of trouble. Torn between protecting his love interest and saving his own skin, his life spirals out of control to a point where the only escape may be a life of crime which he never wanted. Perkins and Weld are in top form, and are unforgettable in Pretty Poison.
4. The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) – Wim Wenders
From a story by Bono and Nicholas Klein comes the artsy, eccentric film The Million Dollar Hotel. Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire) was the perfect person to helm this project, which centers around a group of mentally ill people living in a dilapidated hotel. When one of their own turns up dead, it’s unclear whether the cause is suicide or murder.
Enter a mysterious FBI agent, played by Mel Gibson, who’s determined to get to the bottom of the case. Gibson rounds out this quirky cast with a performance unlike any he’s ever given. Could the residents of the Million Dollar Hotel be more sane and conniving than it seems, or have they maintained innocence in their world gone mad? Featuring original music by U2, this is an offbeat and memorable film.
5. The Belly of an Architect (1987) – Peter Greenaway
An artistic film about Art, The Belly of an Architect is a unique viewing experience. Brian Dennehy plays Stourley Kracklite, an American architect constructing an exhibition in Rome. While dedicating enormous time and energy to his work, Kracklite’s health starts to deteriorate in ways that eerily mirror the life of the 18th century architect whose style he is emulating.
In addition, his marriage begins to crumble, and the architect feels that he may be accomplishing his Art at the cost of his very life. Filming with a beautifully symbolic style, director Peter Greenaway has created a classic film which is also a tribute to the creative process of the Artist.