8. Shadow of the Vampire
A movie about the making of the movie Nosferatu in 1922. Willem Dafoe, who received an Oscar nomination for the role, plays Max Schreck, while John Malkovich plays Director F.W. Murnau. The movie suggests that Schreck was actually a vampire and Murnau promises to give him the leading lady as payment once the film is complete and explains away his strange behavior as being part of the method he requires to play the part.
Schreck, however, seems unwilling to wait until the end of filming to receive his leading lady and takes some payment elsewhere. Dafoe is a revelation here and Malkovich is also excellent. This is a highly original work, which while being deliberately paced, is nonetheless engrossing throughout. It received a score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes and 71 on Metacritic but was only able to manage $8.2 million at box offices in the United States.
9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
No samurai was able to save the box office fate of this film, which made a razor thin $3.3 million on American soil. Directed by Jim Jarmusch, who has made some wonderful films, the movie stars Forrest Whitaker as a hitman and self-taught samurai named Ghost Dog, who swears loyalty to the small time crime boss named Louie, who once saved his life. When Louie is deemed expendable by his superiors, Ghost Dog springs into action and dispatches Louie’s many enemies in highly stylized fashion.
The film is quirky but stays on course due to the consistently applied warrior philosophy of the central character. The film was originally screened at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and went on to receive generally positive reviews, with an 82% score of Rotten Tomatoes and 67 on Metacritic, making it a film that was definitely worthy of a much larger audience.
Karyn Kusama’s debut as a Director was critically well received, registering an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 70 on Metacritic. This, however, did not translate into large theater audiences, as the film earned only $1.5 million in the United States. The film tells the story of Diana (Michelle Rodriguez), a bad tempered young woman prone to trouble who learns to harness her aggression and develop discipline and self-respect in the boxing ring.
Despite lacking any previous boxing training, Rodriguez is completely credible in the role and gives a very strong performance. The training scenes have authenticity and first time Director Kusama, who also wrote the script, displays an attention to detail and storytelling in the film that should have been rewarded with a much wider audience.
Despite its 91% Rotten Tomatoes and 77 Metacritic scores, this is a film that vanished without a trace, earning less than $800,000 in American theaters.
The film stars the fabulous William H. Macy as Alex, a middle age man with a bad marriage and a job as a hit man in the family business that he desperately wants to leave. Controlled by his overbearing father Michael (Donald Sutherland), Alex finds his life unravelling, so he decides to begin seeing a psychiatrist (John Ritter). One day, while waiting for his appointment, he meets and is immediately attracted to Sarah (Neve Campbell). Alex decides to pursue Sarah, knowing full well the potential pitfalls involved.
This is an expertly told tale of family dysfunction and a man adrift in his own life. It is at times quirky, funny, and occasionally offensive. A gem that slipped away unnoticed.
12. The House of Mirth
Directed by Terence Davies, the film stars Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, and Eric Stoltz and is based on a novel by Edith Wharton. The film details the delicate social balance required to navigate the time period and how fragile status and standing could be, particularly for a woman. Anderson is the story here, as her quest for a wealthy husband causes her to miss a chance at true love. In a cruel twist, she is banished by society and her friends after being falsely accused of having a relationship with a married man.
The film is literate, absorbing, and beautifully filmed. However, despite being critically praised (81% on Rotten Tomatoes and 78 on Metacritic), the film failed to find a significant audience and only made $3 million in the United States.
13. The Yards
James Gray (Little Odessa, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z) is an excellent Director, and although The Yards is certainly not his best film, it is certainly worthy of greater support than the flimsy $900,000 it generated.
Expertly acted with a cast of Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, James Caan, Charlize Theron, Ellen Burstyn, and Faye Dunaway, the film tells the story of corruption at the Queens subway yards, where one company uses sabotage to discredit the work of another company in order to win contracts. Leo (Wahlberg) is just out of prison and needs a job, so his friend Willie (Phoenix) pays him to be a backup on these sabotage runs. Things go wrong one night, Leo is identified, and quickly becomes a liability to those he works for.
The film was moderately reviewed, quite likely underrated, and received Scores of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and 58 on Metacritic. This is a gritty drama that definitely deserved better.
14. The Five Senses
In this Canadian film, five characters, each representing one of the senses, have their stories unfold and interconnect over three days in Montreal. The film was nominated for nine Genie Awards (the Canadian Oscar), including a win for Director Jeremy Podeswa, and uses the characters represented by the five senses for a deeper examination of human relationships. The film also allows viewers to more deeply consider our connection to these five senses, on which we depend so completely but frequently take for granted in our daily lives.
The film easily moves between the comic and the tragic, with Director Podeswa demonstrating great control over the material. With the exception of Mary-Louise Parker, the cast is predominantly Canadian and the film is well acted throughout. While receiving moderate reviews on Metacritic (56), the film faired better on Rotten Tomatoes with a score 73%. Unfortunately, this unique and well executed film went virtually unseen, as it generated less than $500,000 at theaters in America.
Another Canadian film, which also happens to be one of the first for Denis Villeneuve, who is now one of the best and most respected filmmakers in the world. Even with this early film, the sense of style and storytelling ability are present. The film focuses on Bibiane, a young woman who hits a fishmonger with her car on a rainy night. The man subsequently dies and Bibiane’s life unravels in anguish and guilt, until, at last, she meets the person who may allow for her redemption.
The film is nonlinear, at times surreal, and some of the action is narrated through the voice of a fish. Critics seemed to recognize the early quality and the film was well received, rating an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 66 on Metacritic. The box office, however, was another matter entirely. The opening weekend produced only $25,000 and film totaled only $33,000 in the United Stated. Given Villeneuve’s subsequent success, a retrospective look at this film might be in order.
Author Bio: Greg Smith is a life long film enthusiast who has just returned to Canada after over five years in Asia. He has been involved with a film alternative in Canada as both a writer and board member and has also published poetry in various journals.