Movies are a magical world which take me away from my own life, but the films I watch tend to tackle the hard questions in life. They make me think, laugh, cry, and wonder about my place in the universe.
Since we’re all still sitting at home, I thought I would make a list of some my favorite underrated gems I like to recommend to others.
A Separation (2011)
This Iranian drama is an extremely realistic movie. It is about human conflict. No one is a hero or villain.
When the film is over, you will feel for everyone. You will be conflicted about whose side you want to be on. You will put yourself in the position of many of the characters and question what you would have done.
Battle Royale (2000)
Battle Royale is a Japanese dystopian action thriller film. The film follows a group of junior high-school students who are forced to fight to the death by the Japanese totalitarian government.
If you’ve see Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, you know what kind of over-the-top gore to expect. There is a lot of inner conflict with the characters who tackle the issue of friendship and the aftermath of suicide. Despite the violence in the movie, it makes you think.
Cargo is a Swiss, hard scifi movie about people on a deep space ship with a mysterious cargo. The cargo is not an alien or zombie virus. It’s so much more.
Cherry 2000 (1987)
In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, who do you choose to save? The sex robot or the real woman.
In 2017, the United States is fragmented between civilized areas and wastelands. Society is hypersexualized due to a requirement of contracts for sexual activity. Female androids, gynoids, are used as substitutes for wives. When Sam Treadwell’s gynoid, a Cherry 2000 model, short circuits, he is told she is beyond repair.
Cherry’s memory disk, however is okay. If he can find a new body, which is no longer made, he can replace her. The only place a body may be found are in Zone 7, a dangerously lawless area. Treadwell hires Edith “E” Johnson, a tracker to take him to the factory.
Trap a bunch of people in a giant cube with 17,576 rooms and force them to keep moving. Many of the rooms are rigged with traps designed to kill them. It is a simple premise, but well-executed.
Dark City (1998)
The movie follows John Murdoch, an amnesiac, who finds himself suspected of murder. Murdoch attempts to discover his true identity and clear his name while on the run from the police and a mysterious group known as the Strangers.
Make sure you see the director’s cut. It doesn’t have narration at the beginning, which spoils the whole damned movie.
Demolition Man (1993)
John Spartan, a tough, rule-breaking cop is framed for a crime by the crime lord Simon Phoenix. They are both cryogenically frozen only to be revived in 2032. They find society has changed. Crime seems to have been eliminated. How can you not like a movie where Denis Leary gets to deliver the lines in the video above?
I’ve been a fan of Judge Dredd since a friend introduced me to the 2000 AD comics in 1991. Dredd is judge, jury, and executioner in Mega-City One, a dystopic metropolis covering most of the former East Coast of the United States. The movie captures the world of Dredd.
Ma-Ma, a drug lord, has her headquarters in Peach Trees, a 200-story slum tower block. She has been selling Slo-Mo, an addictive new drug which reduces the perception of time to one percent of normal. Dredd and Psi Judge Anderson are sent to stop her.
There are also several nice details in the film that are a call out to fans of the comics.
For me, the film hit all the things I like about Dredd – the satire, the gritty world, the violence. I think it also helped that Karl Urban is a Dredd fan himself and has a deep understanding of the character. If you want to see a true representation of Judge Dredd and don’t have time to catch up on nearly fifty years of comics, watch the film. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
Libria is a totalitarian state established after World War III. Emotions and emotionally stimulating objects are forbidden. Citizens must take a daily injection of Prozium II, which suppresses emotions. John Preston, an enforcement officer, accidentally misses a dose and begins to experience emotions. He starts to question morality and tries to remain undetected in a world where he could be killed for his new-found feelings.
Director Kurt Wimmer told Dreamwatch magazine, “the paying customers seemed to get it,” and the critics, “didn’t seem to see that the film had a different message than Fahrenheit 451 or 1984.”
That’s right. I get it and I love it.
Gattaca is a great film and not just because one of the main characters is called Irene.
In a future society, the world is driven by eugenics. Children are conceived through genetic selection to have the best hereditary traits of their parents. Vincent Freeman was conceived naturally and has struggled his entire life to overcome the legal genetic discrimination in the hopes of achieving his dream of traveling into space.
The film questions the use of technology to produce perfect children while exploring the idea that we can create our own destinies instead of letting society determine it for us.
The soundtrack is amazing. Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law provide great performances in one of the most well-made science fiction films I’ve ever seen.
In Time (2011)
I didn’t think Justin Timberlake could act. The movie has an intriguing premise even if the entire story is a little shaky. It had me thinking about the idea for days.
In the movie, people stop aging at age twenty-five. Paper money is no longer used. The economy runs on time, literally. Each person has a clock on their arm that begins a one-year count down on their 25th birthday. The clock determines how long they have to live. The rich are essentially immortal. The poor regularly have less than twenty-four hours.
Iron Sky (2012)
After their defeat in 1945, a group of Nazis escaped to the Moon. They built a space fleet to conquer the Earth, with a planned return to victory in 2018. Do not take this film seriously. It’s campy, over-the-top fun.
Jagten (The Hunt)
This 2012 Danish drama is absolutely stunning. The story follows Lucas, who lives in a small Danish village. Sometime around Christmas, Lucas becomes the target of mass hysteria after being wrongly accused of sexually abusing a child in his kindergarten class.
Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely phenomenal as Lucas. The movie is gut-wrenching and asks a lot of hard questions. As Roger Ebert noted, Mikkelsen’s performance, “is a nuanced portrait of a fundamentally decent man grappling with a world that has decided to treat him indecently.”
Live. Die. Repeat. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
This was a surprisingly decent and fun film. I had stopped watching Tom Cruise films for several years because I couldn’t get past his bat-shit insane beliefs in Scientology. I’m really glad I caught this film.
In the film, most of Europe has been invaded by an alien race. Major William Cage is a public relations officer with no combat experience. He is forced to join the landing operation against the aliens. Cage is killed, but begins looping back in time by one day. Each time he dies, he retains the memory of what happened. He finds Rita Vrataski, a special forces officer, to help him learn how to fight and find a way to defeat the aliens.
Sam Bell is nearing the end of a three-year, solitary stint mining helium-3 at the Sarang Station on the far side of the Moon. Two weeks before his departure, Bell begins suffering from hallucinations.
I enjoyed the scientific realism in the film. It’s a hard science fiction movie and we are confronted with the question of what it means to be human. It explores our emotions, what they are, how real we are, what is going to happen when we die, and how do we deal with it.
Jake Gyllenhaal deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of Louis “Lou” Bloom, a stringer, or freelance photojournalist, who records violent events late at night in Los Angeles and sells the footage to a local television news station. It’s dark. It’s thought-provoking and Gyllenhaal is extra creepy.
Pacific Heights (1990)
Pacific Heights is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve read stories about horrible tenants over the years, but this psychological thriller is riveting.
Drake Goodman and Patty Palmer purchase an expensive 19th-century house in Pacific Heights. They decided to rent one of their first-floor apartments to the Watanabes. They rent the other apartment to Carter Hayes. When they attempt to evict Hayes, the horror begins.
Pandorum knows exactly what it is – a science fiction horror story – and it does that well. It’s a solid flick with a cool premise and many surprising twists.
After humans depleted Earth’s resources due to overpopulation, humanity built Elysium, an interstellar ark, to carry 60,000 people on a 123-year journey to Tanis, an Earth-like planet.
The crew are rotated biennially to maintain the ship while the passengers are in hypersleep. At some point in time, Corporal Bower and Lieutenant Payton, awaken, but are suffering from partial amnesia.
The ship is experiencing power surges caused by its unstable nuclear reactor and the men cannot access the bridge. Payton remains in the room to try to access the ship’s computer while Bower travels through the ventilation system in an attempt to reach the reactor.
Pandorum explores the potential psychosis caused by deep space and triggered by emotional stress. Rotten Tomatoes said the film had a bloated, derivative plot. They can bite me.
I really want to tell you what the movie is about because it is such an interesting movie. I can’t because anything I say will spoil the entire movie. You should go into it with no knowledge of what’s happening and you will thank me for it later.
Red Planet (2000)
In 2056, Earth is completely screwed due to pollution and overpopulation. Automated missions have seeded parts of Mars with atmosphere-producing algae in the first stage of terraforming the planet. When the oxygen levels drop, a crew is sent to find out why.
Red Planet didn’t get enough praise in my opinion. There’s a reason Red Planet is on my DVD shelf and not Mission to Mars.
Running on Empty (1988)
The film follows Annie and Arthur Pope, who were responsible for bombing a napalm laboratory during an anti-war protest in the 1970s. An underground network of supporters has been helping them ever since. Their son, Danny, is now in his teens and wants to go to college.
The film is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. If you understand the social history behind the movie, what you see is an emotionally powerful movie about relationships and a desire to be who you really are.
In 1996, as part of a new military training program, orphans are selected at birth and raised as highly disciplined soldiers. They are trained to be ruthless, obedient killers without a moral code of conduct. They have no exposure to or understanding of the outside world.
In 2036, at age 40, Sgt. Todd 3465 is a battle-hardened veteran and the best soldier of the original 1996 infants. A new group of genetically engineered soldiers, designed with superior physical attributes and a complete lack of emotion except unparalleled aggression is introduced.
They outperform the old soldiers in every way. In a combat exercise between the two groups held at the top of climbing chains, Todd is knocked down and presumed dead. He is dumped with other garbage on Arcadia 234, a waste disposal planet supposedly uninhabited.
Todd makes his way to a colony of residents who crash-landed there years ago. He forms a bond with Nathan, a mute boy, who was traumatized by a snakebite as an infant.
This is a quirky gem in which Todd, played by Kurt Russell speaks only 104 words in the entire movie.
Critics hated the movie. I enjoyed watching Todd learn about socialization and the difference between right and wrong. As the movie progresses, his humanity begins to emerge.
The Thing (1982)
American researchers in Antarctica encounter a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form which assimilates, then imitates other organisms. The researchers are overwhelmed by paranoia when they realize they cannot trust each other because any one of them could be the “thing.”
They Live (1988)
If you have ever heard the quote, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum,” and you haven’t seen They Live, do yourself a favor and go watch it now.
As drifter John Nada arrives in Los Angeles, he hears a street preacher warn about how “they” have recruited the rich and powerful to control humanity. He doesn’t pay much attention at first, but he soon discovers there’s an entire world he can’t see.
They Live is a film is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It also features an almost six-minute long brawl, widely considered on of the best fight scenes ever put on film.
Slovene philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Žižek said, “They Live is definitely one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Hollywood Left. … The sunglasses function like a critique of ideology. They allow you to see the real message beneath all the propaganda, glitz, posters and so on. … When you put the sunglasses on you see the dictatorship in democracy, the invisible order which sustains your apparent freedom.” I agree. Go watch it.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
Gilbert Grape, 24, is a grocery store clerk who cares for his morbidly obese mother and mentally impaired younger brother, Arnie.
The performances of every actor sells the movie, which is tender, moving, and heartbreaking. Film Review praised Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, calling it, “a performance of astonishing innocence and spontaneity,” bringing “a touching credibility to a very difficult part.”
You can’t watch this movie and not cry. You won’t walk away from it unchanged by the human condition and how you view others.