If there is one lesson that film fans should become aware of as quickly as possible, it is the simple lesson that the reputation of a film doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it might. There are innumerable great films out there, and given just how subjective film is, there are bound to be some truly shunted and disliked films out there that you, and others, can side with much more than you’d ever anticipated… and it has to be said, discovering them does make you feel like some great cinematic crusader stumbling across their first buried treasure. Anyway, before this tangent becomes an article by itself, today we’re going to go over ten films with reputations harsher than they really deserve!
1. The Toxic Avenger (Lloyd Kaufman, 1984)
Let’s get the absolute silliness out of the way first and talk about Troma’s infamous The Toxic Avenger. A notoriously silly low budget affair, Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult classic has gradually gathered something of a reputation as a good example of the so-bad-it’s-good trend that seems to have been the reason Troma was ever successful in the first place… however, this also suggests that none of the brilliant moments in The Toxic Avenger are intentional, and it has to be said that the accusation is painful considering just how loopy and aggressively over the top this film is. It is funny to the point of stomach pain, but also shockingly violent with… maybe not good, but impressive special effects to say the least. They’re totally cartoonish, but they sure make you squirm.
It just seems a shame that a movie that goes as all-out as this one does should be shoved into the restrictive box of so-bad-it’s-good, when it’s clear from the offset that there has been a hell of a lot of effort put into making this film as lovably silly and hypnotically goofy as the final product is. It’s an odd kind of wonderful, and the only films quite like it are some of Troma’s other output, like Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986), so to diminish the quality of such a unique and genuinely fun film feels quite mean – it’s time we got to spreading the love of this one a little more!
2. Jersey Boys (Clint Eastwood, 2014)
With a filmography as sprawling as Eastwood’s, there are bound to be at least a few films that fall into the never-ending abyss of films that no one really knows about. Thankfully, in Clint’s case, most of those films are his minor works that are mostly just entertaining and… sometimes fun. In the case of Jersey Boys however (along with a couple of other more buried greats), it feels like a truly brilliant film has been forgotten about and left in the dust of more expansive films by Eastwood.
Overshadowed by the other film Eastwood directed in 2014, American Sniper, Jersey Boys is actually an incredibly slick biopic mainly following the private lives of the Four Seasons. Whilst Eastwood’s film does admittedly follow many of the tried and tested tropes of the musical biopic genre, it does enough new and exciting things formally to still make this an incredibly impressive film and one that deserves to be recognised as more than just another Eastwood film.
3. Allied (Robert Zemeckis, 2016)
It has to be said, we’d never have expected to be praising this film in particular, but Zemeckis’ Allied is an absolute showstopper and it simply cannot be ignored here. Even I have to agree – Allied looks really quite bland – but on the fateful day that it found itself in the DVD player, it clicked entirely. It is impossibly slick, with both Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard giving excellent performances in this merging of family melodrama and espionage thriller that looks at the theme of trust within the smaller-scale settings of a family and how this can have effects on much larger, more generally important exterior issues, too.
With Kiyoshi Kurosawa calling it his favourite film of the 2010s, clearly something great is going on here, and the form makes it clear, being so brilliantly controlled that it’s often a little hard to believe, with the use of Sirk-style mirror shots and the excellent shot blocking mixed with the use of hyper-actively modern CGI and digital cameras in a classical Hollywood film setting… it’s just incredible, and seriously some of the most exciting filmmaking of recent memory.
There is something to be said for any film that grabs ahold of a classical plot and drags it forward, but to do it in the way that Zemeckis does here with an entirely modern and futurist approach really makes Allied stand out beautifully among a slew of mediocre spy films. This is one of those wonderful exceptions, another Skyfall or Man From UNCLE that just gets it right in the most satisfying of ways. Hell, I’d even say that it is better than both of Skyfall and the Man From UNCLE!
4. Last Days (Gus Van Sant, 2005)
Gus Van Sant has had one of the more mixed careers in mainstream Hollywood, making some huge hits both critically and commercially and some films that are almost completely dead in the water. Similar to Eastwood, this may be because of just how large Van Sant’s cinematic output is, but it’s still a shame to see a film like Last Days slide under the radar. The film is vaguely based upon the last days of the life of Kurt Cobain, looking at the poignant loneliness of a musician who spends most of his time really quite isolated and in his own head with people who don’t seem to care much about him at all.
The film uses the slow pacing to really draw out the emotions, with the lack of expression becoming surprisingly haunting rather than uninteresting and Van Sant relying more on the subtleties of the performances and the smaller moments within the script to sell the melancholic feel. The use of long takes and almost solely diegetic sound also add a great deal to this feeling of simply living in the moment, creating a film that is both overwhelming beautiful and starkly lonely in the process. It’s a stunner, a sad stunner but a stunner nonetheless, and it remains one of Gus Van Sant’s most overlooked films to date.
5. Domino (Tony Scott, 2005)
Tony Scott’s work seems to have largely been dismissed simply the premise that they were bigger budget blockbusters, and in the case of Domino in particular some shunning was bound to come from the fact that this film is absolutely balls to the wall levels of hyperactive and experimental in its extremely aggressive editing, but even then much of the criticism received by the film is exaggerated and really quite harsh.
Many read into the film as a misogynistic fantasy, which also feels a little unfair considering that Scott’s camera in Domino is so aggressive that it leers over just about everything, far more intent on capturing the violence of the lives of the protagonists than anybody’s body, but I digress. It’s just a surprise to see a big budget mainstream film go to such extremes visually, creating something absolutely distinct and unlike anything else out there entirely. Tony Scott’s work of the 2000s as a whole is baffling, but this one might just take the prize of being the greatest – it is on another plain.