Mishima – This is Paul Schrader’s best film. It’s not well-known as its set in Japan, is about a gay writer. It sets up a variety of stories in many styles that illustrates Mishima but is about his internal struggles and rage. It’s hugely influential and was produced by Francis Coppola and George Lucas. (Kill Bill and later Scorsese owe a huge debt to this without ever quite being as good)
Slacker – Richard Linklater’s Slacker was first released film, although was not his first full-length film (his first film was the wonderful Its Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books). It moves between people and has no narrative push. Instead it watches people who exist, are eccentric, who are getting on with their lives. It’s about the conversations and odd events that exist in daily life which are not talked about. It pre-dates nineties cinema and is a large influence on it. It was once famous but now seems to be forgotten. This is wrong as the reason why it was a success was because it is wonderful.
Empire Of The Sun – This was a commercial failure for Steven Spielberg. It starred a young Christian Bale, was about a boy who survives a Japanese prison camp, and goes from a normal selfish child to a darker young adult. It is very unsentimental about how people betray one another and survival techniques under dire circumstances. Due to its subject matter, it has been generally ignored since release (as was A.I., another dark under-rated Spielberg film)
Grosse Point Blank – This was the film that inspired this list. In the late 1990’s this film was a major cult film, which also made decent money. It was a rare crime film that wasn’t a Tarantino knock-off, was romantic, had its own left-ish identity, was about how people sell-out and disappoint without ever putting that on the surface, mixed comedy with dark undertones that were well-spaced. John Cusack looked ready to be a star after it. In the decade following, Cusack has remained an interesting actor but like the film has fallen away somewhat. This film deserves better.
Out Of Sight – This is still a well-known film but had a high-impact on release but is now seen as simply a George Clooney movie. It’s a terrific Steven Soderberg crime film, very funny, earthy but romantic, has a narrative that jumps back and forth, and has a relaxed atmosphere. It’s been consigned to been a star vehicle when it’s that actor’s best film by a long way, especially following Clooney’s fairly samey output in the last decade.
Raising Cain – A DePalma film made in the follow-up of a huge disaster, is a wonderful tongue-in-cheek self-parody that also has some great moments. It has dream sequences, which becomes dream sequences within dream sequences (Inception would use this idea), had multiple personalities (much of late nineties cinema, including Fight Club, would follow-on from this), and flying babies (not much in the way of influence here). It also has John Lithgow playing multiple characters. It’s terrific and also very funny.
Bound - The Wachowski’s first film, a lesbian gangster movie, that made a huge splash when released, and then became less impactful generally when the Wachowski’s made The Matrix, which became the film to talk about. This is a problem as Bound is a wonderfully handled, stylish suspense film, with some nasty moments and theatrical villains. It also has a great sex scene early on.
Field Of Dreams – The Costner factor makes this fall away from its proper standing. It’s a rare type of film, a potentially sentimental film that avoids all the traps and underplays most of the emotional moments, to greater effect. It’s one of Costner’s best performances but is now an under-seen film. Its ripe for rediscovery. (also see The Untouchables, another well-liked film of yesteryear which is now rarely commented upon)
The Fisher King – The Robin Williams factor does the same for this film. It is a minor Gilliam film (although far superior to The Brothers Grimm) but the writing, direction and Jeff Bridges’ lead performance should have kept it far more prominent in the public’s mind than it is. Even Williams is good. But it just seems to have fallen into an odd TV screening and little cultural impact. Which is a shame. Its status as a minor Gilliam film will likely keep it there.
Fearless - Another Jeff Bridges film. This is a terrific film about a man who survived a plane crash, who feels blessed. It has stunning visuals from director Peter Weir, who is one of those directors who can create eerie sustained mood. The ending of Bridges returning to humanity and all of its foibles, is a stunning sequence.
Used Cars – A jet-black comedy from Robert Zemeckis, who would soon be making Back To The Future. This stars Kurt Russell as a cynical used car salesman, and has scene after scene of incredibly cynical interactions and manipulations, including keeping dead people seemingly alive, lying to the dead man’s daughter about him being alive, and interrupting a presidential speech to advertise used cars. It ends with a huge, farcical car chase with hundreds of used cars. It’s wonderful.
The Beast – This film was little seen on release and has been a minor cult film ever since. It deserves far better. It’s about a soviet tank getting lost in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, and stars Jason Patric. It was directed by Kevin Reynolds and has a terrific accumulation spite and anger between the tank crew. It also has one of the best action scenes in the last decade, as Patric tracks the tank over the mountains ranges, to get revenge on the crew who betrayed him. It’s a major eighties film.
Highway Patrolman – This is Alex Cox’s return to film-making after Walker, a film that saw him black-listed from Hollywood. It’s one of the great films of the nineties and was completely ignored. It concerns itself of the trials of a short, newly decorated patrolman, who has to deal with the law in Mexico and life. The description is basic but the film is stunning. (Cox’s follow-ups Death And the Compass and Three Businessmen, are major nineties films, which show how a career can get back on track artistically after a disaster by focusing on the basics of film-making).