The forgotten. The underrated. The obscure. The underappreciated. The cult. There’s a million reasons why some films get consigned to a cinematic oblivion and there’s a million films that deserve it– These don’t. This is a monthly list that unearths the gems of cinemas past.
Grab your shovels and your pick axes, it’s time for Monsoon’s Buried Treasures.
01. One False Move (1992)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Plot: A small town police chief awaits the arrival of a gang of killers.
Originally meant to go straight to video, the film eventually went to theaters due to the overwhelmingly positive reaction from critics. Gene Siskel in particular who voted it his favorite film of ’92. I’m going to go one step further and say in addition to being the best film of ’92, its better than Fargo (1996), which most consider one of the best of the decade.
It’s that fucking good.
It’s a country fried neo-noir with phenomenal performances and a script filled with non-stop twists and turns. This is the best film the Coen Bros never made and in a perfect world, it would have the same prestige as any one of their masterpieces.
02. Prince of the City (1981)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Plot: A New York City narcotics detective reluctantly agrees to cooperate with a special commission investigating police corruption. However, he soon discovers that he’s in over his head, and nobody can be trusted.
Lumet is one of, if not the greatest director of actors who has ever lived. He directed 17 actors to Oscar noms and has almost as many masterpieces to his name but for some reason, the Academy, as well as audiences, straight up ignored one of his best–Prince of the City.
Starring a career best Treat Williams, Prince of the City is the more accurate depiction of police corruption than his previous film, Serpico (1973). It’s gritty, it’s raw and although there’s a lot of yelling and finger pointing, it never becomes melodramatic. It’s a goddamn classic that never should’ve been forgotten in the first place.
03. Runaway Train (1985)
Directed by: Andrei Konchalovsky
Plot: Two escaped convicts and a female railway worker find themselves trapped on a train with no brakes and nobody driving.
Mix the high octane thrills of Unstoppable (2010), with the character drama of a Lumet film and you have Runaway Train. Based on an unproduced screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, Runaway Train is an engrossing adventure flick that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. It also has a great performance from Eric Roberts. Which, quite frankly, should be reason enough to see it.
With apologies to Bronson and Norris, this is easily the best film produced by Canon.
04. Tiger on Beat (1988)
Directed by: Chia-Liang Liu
Plot: A seasoned cop and his rookie partner are a pair of mismatched partners in this Hong Kong action-comedy in the style of ‘Lethal Weapon’. The wacky twosome are up in arms as they try to solve the murder of a heroin trafficker
From 1986 to 1992, there was no man alive more badass than Chow Yun-Fat. Between the A Better Tomorrow trilogy (1986-1989), The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992)–not to mention the dozen or more films in between–the man was a veritable work horse who ran on ass kickery and carnage.
Sandwiched somewhere in the middle of all that badassness is, Tiger on Beat which is remarkably similar to every other Yun-Fat Film but with one major difference–it includes a fucking chainsaw duel. If that doesn’t put your ass in a seat, nothing will.
05. Zero Day (2003)
Directed by: Ben Coccio
Plot: Two troubled adolescents chronicle the events that ultimately lead up to a terrifying assault on their school.
Even though there has been roughly one school shooting every week for the last two years, the topic is still far too controversial for Hollywood to tackle. There’s Elephant (2003), Polytechnique (2009), Blackbird (2012) The Dirties (2013) and an episode of American Horror Story. That’s about it.
Which is understandable but I feel like it’s an important issue that needs more attention.
Taking inspiration from the most notorious school shooting in American history, Zero Day is a glimpse into the mind of two Columbine-esque killers. Modeled after the infamous “Basement Tapes” made by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the film is terrifying, yet powerful film everyone should see.
06. Rituals (1977)
Directed by: Peter Carter
Plot: Five doctors on a wilderness outing are stalked by disfigured, crazed killers.
If you’re the type of guy that watched Deliverance (1972) and went “This movie is good but I wish it was more disturbing and fucked up”, well brother, do I have the movie for you. Rituals is one of the rare horror films in which none of the characters do anything dumb. They don’t make any wrong turns, they don’t throw their map into the creek and they certainly don’t make fun of the locals. They’re just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Much like the film It’s aping from, Rituals is half character study and half brutal backwoods thriller. It’s unrelenting bleak but it never sacrifices character for gore. You care about the characters before the shit hits the fan, which makes their fates all the more tragic.
07. Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t (1992)
Directed by: Masayuki Suo
Plot: Professor Anayama, a former university sumo champion, blackmails graduating student Shuhei into joining the decimated university team, or he doesn’t graduate. Along with a pro wrestler, a fat guy and a white guy (such wackiness), the team begins training for competition, even though none of them cares about sumo at all. Gradually, they develop a love and respect for the traditional sport.
If done right, there is nothing more uplifting and adrenaline pumping than a sports movie. Because the majority of us, whether we like to admit it or not, are the scrappy underdog. We’re the guy getting our assess handed to us everyday, so sports movies act as a sort of wish fulfillment. If that asthmatic quarterback who has no earthly business being anywhere close to a field can win the big game, then I can do anything, goddamn it!
The more pathetic the protagonist and the bigger the struggle, means the more we’ll cheer at the end. Now, using that same logic, if a movie were to have, let’s say, five pathetic underdogs that have no chance at winning, wouldn’t it be five times better than either Rocky (1976) or the Karate Kid (1984)?
The answer of course, would be no because those films are amazing but that’s only because you haven’t seen Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t yet. A heart racing, crowd pleasing, uplifting sports comedy that is so beloved, it won the Japanese equivalent to the Academy Awards in the year it was released.
08. Dogfight (1991)
Directed by: Nancy Savoca
Plot: Before leaving to fight in Vietnam, a group of teenagers play a game where they try to seduce the ugliest girl they can find.
Just like his idol James Dean, Phoenix generated a cult following due to his untimely death at a young age. Most remember him for his roles in Stand by Me (1986), Running on Empty (1988), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and My Own Private Idaho (1991) and even the lesser known he’s made have been fondly remembered since his passing accept for Dogfight, which I’d argue includes his best performance.
There’s a million examples of romantic comedies that don’t work because of the lack of chemistry but one of the best examples of a film that does, is Dogfight. Phoenix and Taylor‘s chemistry is off the charts in this sweet, underseen gem. Their natural chemistry, as well as their fantastic performances anchor a genuinely sweet tale that deserves to be more well known.
09. Wild Style (1983)
Directed by: Charlie Ahearn
Plot: Zoro (‘Lee’ George Quinones), a break dancer, tries to balance his passion for his art and his personal life, particularly his strained relationship with fellow graffiti artist Rose.
The definitive hip-hop/dance flick, Wild Style is full of old school New York iconography and is ground zero for breakdancing and freestyle MCing. The acting and story leave much to be desired but it’s the films importance in documenting the beginnings of rap, that’s the main draw. A must-see for anyone interested in hip-hop music and 80’s culture.
10. Son of the White Mare (1981)
Directed by: Marcell Jankovics
Plot: A dethroned goddess-turned-horse gives birth to three superpowered sons who set out to save three princesses from three ancient dragons and reclaim their parents’ lost kingdom from the underworld.
A pastiche of various Hungarian and Eurasian folk stories, Son of the White Mare is a pop-art masterpiece. Imagine a remake of the Last Unicorn (1982) done by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack) while he was tripping on peyote and you’d come close to picturing its unique animation style. It’s an insane, one of a kind surreal fantasy that’s unlike any other film in existence.