This is an article I wrote for the Huffington Post a decade ago, in 2006. There's no particular reason to post it here now, indeed there's no particular reason to post it again, period, at this point. But I like the subject matter, which still deserves attention. So, there.
It's a piece that's called "Four Great Movies You May Never Heard Of." I've referred to a couple of them on this site -- Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Also, the point of the article isn't as "valid" a decade later, since several of the films have built up a bit of notoriety over the years and been shown on television from time to time. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, being one, but most notably, The Greatest Game Ever Played, which was massively unsuccessful and near-totally unknown when it was.first released, but has become quite successful on the Golf Channel with several repeat airings each year. (Something which points to how wonderful it, in fact, is and how much people love it, once they get a chance to see it.).
Still, these four films all remain vastly unseen, even unknown to most people, compared to how wonderful they are, and deserve the attention. And it's the "unknown" part that is most intriguing about them.
When the article was written at the end of 2006 in December, these four movies weren't just unsuccessful, but as close to literally unknown to the general public as they were. One of them, The Greatest Game Ever Played, was made by Disney, and a good friend of mine had been a VP at the studio only a couple years earlier, and he prided himself at being an Industry Maven (which, in fact, he was) -- yet even he had never heard of the film...from his own recent studio. I kept nagging him to see it, if he could find it, something he was reticent to do, being about golf. But somehow it popped up at a single theater in Los Angeles, and to his credit he made his way over -- and utterly raved about it to me afterwards, stunned by how wonderful it was and equally boggled that the studio just dumped it to the degree that even he didn't even know about it.
Same with The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. A friend didn't have a clue what it was, never heard of it (like most of America), and then came across it (at a non-theatrical screening, I believe) and checked it out, if only to shut me up finally. And just completely enthused about how great it was.
There's also one thing I want to emphasize. I make the point in the article, and I think I make it clearly, but when this was originally posted, people still missed the point. So, I want to reiterate it even more clearly. I'm referring to the criteria I use here for including these four movies.
Every year there are countless great movies that moviegoers never hear of. Most of the time, they're small, independent films that barely get released. So, no matter how wonderful, it's understandable why you never hear of them. Sometimes, they're from studio, but with minor casts (perhaps picked up and released for contractual reasons), and no matter how great, just fall under the wire, since studios aren't set-up to handle those properly. Occasionally, they're terrific big-name films that totally flopped, but had some fair recognition, and just didn't make it. And rarely, they're really lousy films that deservedly flopped but a handful of people dearly loved them and claim that they're unfairly overlooked. After I published the article originally, comments started coming in from readers nominating their own favorite, lesser-known movies over the years. Most were interesting choices, but all completely missed the point. Hence this reiteration.
The point here is different from all that. The guideline I used was that a movie had to meet four criteria. It needed 1) to be from a major studio or major distribution company, 2) that had highly-recognizable, well-known stars in it, who had fairly wide popularity, and 3) wasn't just a mere flop or even little known, or a "cult favorite", but -- at the time -- was almost totally, literally unknown to almost the entire public. Completely unaware of its existence, to the point of almost being un-released. Oh, and #4 -- something I thought would have been obvious, but wasn't: it had to be from that year. Only if a movie met all four standards did I include it. Because only then was it absolutely bewildering why these wonderful films were near-utterly unknown.
I've done one additional thing for the re-posting here that wasn't part of the original article -- after the description of each film, I've now included a video of its trailer.
Here then, from 10 years ago is the article. Four still-deserving, little-known, rarely seen, some still-unknown absolute gems.
Four Great Movies You May Never Have Heard Of
As the Academy Award season has now officially opened its door of greeting, and Hollywood has begun the dance of screening next year's hopefuls to voters, entertainment thoughts turn to visions of sugarplums and movies that got overlooked. "How could that person not get nominated?!!" is a traditional refrain one hears bemoaned annually around water coolers.
(Why anyone is actually, deeply concerned about this, unless you're a Hollywood agent - or didn't get nominated yourself - is another matter entirely.)
But stepping back a moment, what about movies that get literally overlooked? Not movies that got some notice, but just weren't deemed one of the "five best" in a category. Not movies that had their fair shot, but simply didn't catch on.
No, what I'm talking about is something very different: wonderful and noteworthy movies from the previous Oscar season that were so utterly unsuccessful you may not have even heard of them. Major movies with major stars from major companies that barely got promoted when they were released, and when award season came, their companies didn't bother to re-screen them for voters.
Four movies from the previous Oscar season come to mind. The criteria here are movies that 1) got so completely dumped that you may likely not even be aware of them, 2) were not obscure, little films to begin with, but rather high profile, and 3) were gems.
Being a gem doesn't mean they're intended for everyone. Most gems aren't. But they all are beautifully crafted, intelligent and wonderfully entertaining for the audience they were meant.
By the way, the question is not "Why didn't audiences go?" It's "Why didn't these movies ever get promoted?" At the very least, companies know that off-beat treasures get high attention by Academy voters. And those are the kind that would most benefit. Last year, for example, the Best Actress category had Charlize Theron in "North Country" and Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents," both small and unsuccessful. Those got nominated for Oscars. These four - equally wonderful and just as high-profile - you likely haven't even heard of.
It's all personal taste, certainly. No doubt there are people who did see these and not liked them. But this isn't a debate about likes. Here are four high quality, notable movies from last Oscar season - from major filmmakers and major companies - which got so completely, utterly overlooked that…you may not have even heard of them.
"Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang"
Hardly obscure participants - it starred Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer, and was the directing debut of its screenwriter Shane Black, who wrote such monster hits as "Lethal Weapon" and "Last Action Hero." This movie took the film noire detective genre and hilariously turned it on its ear, joyously playing with all the conventions, right down to the last goofball scene. Violent at times with some rough language, it's an action-filled buddy movie, with clever plot twists all over the place and unexpected humor around every dark, shadowy corner. And you probably haven't heard of it.
"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio"
This featured a stunning performance by Julianne Moore which, for my taste, was the second best by an actress last year. (The best was also not nominated, Joan Allen in "The Upside of Anger." I don't include that here, since it did respectably at the box office, although her oversight is bizarre.) "Prize Winner" also had a memorable supporting performance by Woody Harrelson as Moore's deeply loving, but angrily drunk husband. It was beautifully written and directed by Jane Anderson who has many significant TV credentials ("When Billie Met Bobby" and "…the Alleged Texas Cheerleading-Murdering Mom.") And based on a popular book, there certainly was an audience for it. Extremely quirky and richly underplayed, it's the true story of an indefatigable housewife who kept her 10-children family together during the 1950s by winning jingle-writing contests for products. It's an emotional, funny movie that requires appreciating subtlety, but there's glorious subtlety exploding everywhere. It has one of the great lines of dialogue in the last 20 years (when I saw the movie at the Writers Guild of America, the roomful of fellow screenwriters literally gasped in appreciation), and one of the more moving final sequences ever. And you probably haven't heard of it.
This is probably the biggest surprise of all, because of its dazzling pedigree. It stars Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, and was directed by Oscar-nominated John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love"). It's based on David Auburn's Tony Award-winning play. And features a supporting role by Jake Gyllenhaal. No one is obligated to like this movie - but I would imagine you'd like to have at least known about it. Moreover, Paltrow's vibrant performance is my third favorite by an actress last year. And like all three, not nominated. (When people write it was a weak year for actresses, that's simply not true. Here are three brilliant performances - Allen, Moore and Paltrow - they just didn't get nominated.) The movie tells the story of a brilliant young woman whose genius scientist-father has gone mad, and while she's tracking down what may be his greatest discovery, there's concern that she might be going mad, as well. This is class, intelligence and quality in every nook. And you probably haven't heard of it.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played"
Not in the same category as the others, but thoroughly overlooked for a different reason. This is a superbly-crafted, intelligent, utterly feel-good, inspirational true story from…Disney! If any studio was perfect for promoting the bejeepers out of such a joy, these are the folks. They live for this. It's beautifully directed by actor Bill Paxton and thoughtfully written by Mark Frost, who had a huge hit with "The Fantastic Four" and co-created the iconic series "Twin Peaks." No name stars [UPDATE NOTE: That turns out not to be entirely accurate, since it starred a young Shia LaBoeuf, at the start of his run to popularity), but it's the story that's riveting. Get this: at a time (1913) when golf was solely a private gentleman's game dominated by the British, the film tells the remarkable true story of Francis Ouimet, a dirt-poor 20-year-old amateur who overcame breathtaking hurdles to became the first amateur to win the U.S. Open, defeating a British legend - using a 10-year-old boy (playing hooky from school every day) as his caddy! This is a film about personal conviction, class division and unthinkable dreams, far more than "about" golf. But beyond the extraordinary story - which changed sports in America - it's simply a gorgeously-made movie. And you probably haven't…well, you know.
Thank goodness for DVDs.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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