Frequently, when I read comments in a positive review, I’ll often see something along the lines of, “This looks good. I’ll check it out when it arrives on DVD.” It’s probably a movie you expect to like, but maybe not enough to check out in a theater, where you limit yourself to only a few films a year. I totally understand.
But a lot of times, those same movies that you tell yourself you’ll check out one day, you totally forget about before they arrive on DVD. Unless someone prompts you, a friends goes on at length about how great a film is, or a particular pop-culture website harps on about the film every other day because it stars Ryan Gosling or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, there’s often no one around to remind you to check out that movie you said to yourself that you’d like to check out one day.
I’ve assembled a list of 12 movies that I think would fit that criteria for many of you. Not amazing, life-changing movies that are frequently discussed, but good movies that deserved to be seen but that aren’t often cited in conversations or on pop culture websites. Consider them recommendations, a way to scratch a curiosity itch you had no idea you had.
Sex Drive — If you are a hypothetical 16-year-old curious about the teen comedies that came before you, but short on time (all that band practice and all), there’s really not much need to visit Better off Dead, Fast Times, Weird Science, Road Trip or even American Pie. You can get a pretty good taste for all of them by watching Sean Anders’ Sex Drive. I don’t say that as an insult: If you have to introduce a new generation of teenagers to teen comedies, you may as well borrow/steal/pay homage from/to some of the best. And Sex Drive takes some of the better elements of all of them, mixes them up, throws a decent soundtrack over it, and the result is a pretty fucking fun movie. Sex Drive may just become this generation’s Road Trip to Superbad’s Can’t Hardly Wait. And I’m OK with that. — DR
Warrior — Unlike Moneyball, which successfully subverts the sports-movie formula, Warrior doubles the formula and quadruples the emotion. It’s Rocky times two: Twice the violence, twice the underdog story, and twice the acting capabilities. There’s absolutely nothing new here, but Warrior capably wrings every last bit of rousing, feel-good energy out of the tired sports-movie template to create an astoundingly entertaining film that just happens to be about MMA. Warrior boasts a potent combination of superb acting, vicious beat-downs, and two populist underdog tales that hit all the brain’s red spots. It’s one terrific endorphin high, folks, and if you can tolerate the intensity of the sport, I can’t recommend Warrior enough. — DR
Fright Night - Director Craig Gillespie — whose erratic c.v. includes Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock — does a fine job with some strong action and suspense sequences, and the script from Marti Noxon, though slow to start, eventually finds its footing. I don’t want to oversell the finished product, nor simply say it’s a good film simply for being confidently different from its predecessor. But it does have its moments, and it finds a decent balance between mayhem and humor without overstaying its welcome. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, even if it’s less than inspired. — Daniel Carlson
The Crazies — The Crazies, director Breck Eisner’s remake of the 1973 George Romero film, is more than just a remake. It’s a veritable melting pot of zombie and horror movie tropes. In addition to obviously retreading the basics (though softening the overall effects) of the original, it borrows heavily from just about every zombie and world-gone-mad movie from the last 30 years. Given that caveat, The Crazies is entertaining, and a moderate success within the more generic framework of the genre. — TK
Slither — I could start off by getting all academic on you and talking about the conscious role of the metaphor of sexual violation in horror films, or I could get all polysyllabic on you and use words like “polysyllabic,” and while I can’t promise I won’t commit those sins later on in this review, dear reader, I will say at the start that Slither is one hell of an entertaining ride. It’s a comedy filled with acid-spitting zombies and a horror film full of laughs and one-liners, and the fact that the film manages to gleefully straddle the divide between such diverse genres is just one of the many things that makes it so much fun. Writer-director James Gunn uses humor to ground the outlandish situations in reality, to keep us giggling past the graveyard while telepathic slugs from outer space infect townsfolk and eat stray dogs (I’ll explain). Slither isn’t a great film by any means, but it’s certainly a good one. — DC
Harry Brown — It’s such a simple premise: Someone you care about is beaten badly or killed, so you track down the criminals that perpetrated the crime and perpetrate a little whoopass of your own. What makes Harry Brown so effective and so powerful is its lack of frills. It’s a gritty, ugly, almost documentary-feeling film. There aren’t huge stunt sequences or flashy one-liners. There’s no Harry Brown signal, no footage of low-income citizens giving their opinions into a news camera, no little kids dressed up in a Michael Caine mask playing in a playground. There’s just one man, upset that his friend was murdered, taking out the trash. And goddamn is it fun to watch. — Brian Prisco
Hollywoodland — The dueling stories often make Hollywoodland feel like two separate films in search of greater meaning: One film is a brassy detective thriller about a lonesome private dick chasing a murder and possible cover-up that extends throughout Hollywood; the other is a soberly paced drama about the trappings of fame and one man’s sad descent into a life he never really wanted. But by attempting to merge the two, Coulter winds up with an ungainly film that never seems to know what it wants. It strives at times to be a period drama with elements of a crime thriller, and also to be a potboiler with poetic flourishes. And here’s the kicker: They’re both good movies. Just incomplete ones. — DC
Fired Up! — Fired Up! is not, as one would expect, an easy replica, or a facsimile thereof. And while it does pay homage to its forbearer, Fired Up is a classic in its own right, a film that deserves its place at the top of the cheer pyramid. It has done justice to the dying memory of spirit fingers, laser-catting greased lightning and summer lovin’ into the mist. This ain’t your typical beauty school drop-out, machacho. Bring It On set the benchmark, but Fired Up has brought it forth. There is no duh in this dumb, my precious little ones. It is all spirit sticks and spanky pants. It’s a new world order, folks. This ain’t a Paul Blart world we’re living in anymore. There’s a new leader of this Cheer-ocracy. It’s name is Fired Up. — DR
The Illusionist — You can never trust a magician. You know from the outset that he’s bent on deceiving you, something that only grows clearer despite his repeated promises that there’s nothing up his sleeve. But he insists his hands are empty, and the audience willingly complies for the sake of the show. At their best, filmmakers attempt to pull off the same kind of trick: They propose to tell you the truth, but do their best to work in a few surprises and a revelatory ending. And we go along with it, too, since the whole point of being amazed is to act — to believe — that the story will be ordinary, only to feel that familiar rush of excitement and gratitude when the filmmaker pulls a whole warren of rabbits out of a battered hat. And if all that sounds way too cornball for you, well, tough rocks. Writer-director Neil Burger’s first feature, The Illusionist, is a dazzling display of textured storytelling, a moving tale of romance and political strife, and the rare period drama that doesn’t bore you to tears. And did I mention the magic? — DC
The Bank Job — The phrase “based on a true story” is already a meaningless one, even if you aren’t a post-structuralist, but the “real” story behind the infamous Baker Street bank robbery of 1971 is an imaginist’s wet dream. The crime was never solved, owing partially to a government-imposed gag order, or D-Notice, which forbade press coverage and fueled the fires of speculation. Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, working from real transcript evidence, think they have the juice on what was behind the crime. And lord is it juicy! But whatever the case (and whether or not you care), The Bank Job is a ridiculously entertaining thriller; like a well-thrown stone, it skips pleasantly over the better part of two hours without sinking under the unnecessary weights of character or melodrama. — Phillip Stephens
Shoot ‘Em Up — Here is the best analogy I can offer up for Michael Davis’ action-porn flick, Shoot ‘Em Up: It’s like having amazing, blistering skint-knee intercourse, only to discover after the fact that you were fucking an inflatable doll (mind you, a gorgeous lifelike inflatable doll that looks like Monica Bellucci or Clive Owen — take your pick); it may be completely empty inside, but it’s the goddamn ride of your life. Seriously, I feel like my liberal ass just returned from an NRA convention and inexplicably gushed walking from the gat to the glock table with a steel erection, only to leave with the dirty memory of Charlton Heston’s hot old-man breath tickling the back of my neck as he whispered into my ear, “Come to the dark side, you pinko hippy cocksucker.”
Goon — Goon, written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse, is the unholy bastard child of Rocky and Slap Shot, with the dynamite mechanics of Major League thrown in for good measure. It’s not so much a movie about hockey as about my favorite part of hockey, the enforcer. It’s hilarious and violent, a sweet love story punched in the face with a knuckle dragging sports blowout, with profanity fountaining out like a shook-up soda can. From the opening shots of blood splattering ice as a tooth slowly tumbles to the rink, asskicking abounds, and from opening buzzer to final bloody dukeout, Goon pummels you with gleeful abandon and you’re left dazed and smiling. Albeit short a few choppers. — BP
X-Files: I Want to Believe — I Want to Believe is not actually a very good movie, so all the reviews (including our own) would have us believe. It’s probably true, but for me, this film is a classic instance of, “I really need to see it, but forgot about it before I ever got around to it.” Massive X-Files fans like myself got worked up in a tizzy, and then we all lost interest once the reviews came out. The movie only made $20 million at the box office, and most folks like myself probably said to themselves, “I’ll watch it when it comes out on DVD.” I still haven’t. I really should. Maybe I’ll get around to it before they make another X-Files movie. Hopefully, I won’t forget again. — DR