Reading Kenneth Turan’s Never Coming to a Theater Near You, I noticed that a lot of the films he writes about were acclaimed, but not big hits. They include critics winners and Best Picture nominees. The following 13 films (yes, my list of dozen has 13) are much more neglected. They are not just films ignored by the Academy Awards. There are plenty of great films that failed to garner a single Oscar nomination but are widely considered classics and written up on lists of great films (Modern Times, Paths of Glory and Touch of Evil being the prime examples). The are also other great films like Oh What a Lovely War! and The Ice Storm, that even though they were also ignored by the Oscars, received other awards and critical acclaim. Likewise, there are great cult films on the no Oscar nomination list (Reservoir Dogs, Big Lebowski). What I’m trying to do here is throw a spotlight on great films that I don’t feel have been given their due. Collectively, these 13 films received 1 BAFTA nomination and 2 Golden Satellite nominations and nothing else. None of them are commonly found on lists of the best movies of all time. Few of them are even considered the best work by their respective director. None of them have been listed on Roger Ebert’s Great Films series. And though two of them have been given Criterion Collection releases, some of them aren’t even available on DVD. But I invite you to discover them. I give every one of these films four stars and some of them are among my favorite films of all time.

1 – The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo) – 1936

This film has one of the great scripts ever written, the best performance Leslie Howard ever gave, one of the best performances Bette Davis ever gave, a pitch perfect gangster from Bogart (who only got the part because Leslie Howard, who had been in the stage version with Bogart, insisted upon it). It’s got absolutely the right ending. Because Leslie Howard died young (shot down in a plane during WWII) and his best known performance (Gone with the Wind) was one he was badly miscast in, people tend to forget how great an actor he was.

2 – Michael Powell

Two of Michael Powell’s films have been on Ebert’s Great Films list (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Peeping Tom) and his Red Shoes was nominated for Best Picture and is loved by Scorsese, but to me, the two best Powell films are the ones often overlooked: A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and A Canterbury Tale (1944). Both films were adjusted for American release (Canterbury had a new beginning and ending tacked on and Matter had its title changed to Stairway to Heaven). Both films deal with the culture gaps that happened when Americans went to England during WWII. But both are perfect films, one an offbeat romance, one an offbeat mystery and neither deserves to be forgotten. Oddly, even though A Matter of Life and Death had a revival in 1995 (I saw it at Cinema 21 in Portland) it still has not been released on DVD.

3. Night and the City (Jules Dassin) – 1950

Ed Harris is often listed as one of the most underrated actors because he still hasn’t won an Oscar. But Ed Harris reminds me (in ability and looks) of one of our great all time underrated actors: Richard Widmark (who died just a few months ago and whose great career was only marked by a Golden Globe for Best Newcomer and 1 Oscar nomination). Night and the City is the performance of Widmark’s career as a desperate wrestling promoter in London, one of the great forgotten noir films (albeit one with a Criterion release on DVD).

4. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone) – 1969

Overlooked because of the Man with No Name Trilogy and the critics who love Once Upon a Time in America, this is Leone’s masterpiece. By 1969, Westerns were going out of vogue, but 3 of the best Westerns of all time, all very different films came out that year, the three best movies of that year (The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are the other two). Once Upon a Time in the West has one of the great scores in history, a bravura pre-credit sequence and the masterful casting of blue eyed Henry Fonda as a cold blooded killer (with the great line “You’re wearing a belt and suspenders. How can you trust a man who can’t trust his own pants?”).

5. Badlands (Terrence Malick) – 1973

Unfairly passed over for Days of Heaven, this is Malick’s true masterpiece, one of those great films that puts a small fictional spin on an essentially true story (the Starkweather homicides), this movie affected Bruce Springsteen so much he wrote an entire album (Nebraska). Plus, this is the brilliant start of two great careers (Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek).

6. Watership Down (animated) – 1978

Just missing out on my 10 Best Animated Films list, but making my 100 Greatest Novels list, this has always been one of my favorite films, but has always been hard to find. I think people turn away for three reasons: the metaphor for WWII (including the Nazi rabbits), the fact that even though it is animated it is not a kids film, and because animation has become so much more advanced. But this is a great story with a great British cast for the voices.

7. The Long Good Friday (John MacKenzie) – 1980

In spite of the brilliant performance that essentially made Bob Hoskins, not to mention a fantastic Helen Mirren as his moll (and an interesting turn by a very young Pierce Brosnan as an IRA terrorist), this film is largely forgotten. But Hoskins is brilliant and the fierce, violence of his character is an interesting departure from those who mainly know him from Roger Rabbit.

8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer) – 1982

Still the best of the Star Trek films, much like the second best (First Contact), it focuses on revenge. It has much more warmth and humor than the first film and is more tightly constructed than any of the sequels with the original cast. The most amazing sequence is the 4 minute countdown from the activation of the Genesis device, which takes up 4 minutes in screen time and a is a masterful example of the importance of good editing.

Extra note on this:  My mother said I should have mentioned her in this paragraph.  For my eighth birthday, my mother took me, my brother Kelly and my sister Stacy to see a double feature of this and Superman II.  It scarred her for life.  It’s been 26 years and she still says to me, “Is that the one with the ears?”

9. A Perfect World (Clint Eastwood) – 1993

Made the year after Unforgiven and three years after Dances with Wolves and this film directed by Eastwood and starring Eastwood and Kevin Costner (whose performance as an escaped convict is the best of his career) was a box office failure and got zero nominations from any awards group. I watched it opening weekend and thought it was brilliant for its ambiguity and thought it should have been nominated for Best Picture. I still think it.

10. In the Bleak Midwinter (Kenneth Branagh) – 1995

Retitling this film A Midwinter’s Tale for American audiences didn’t help as no one but me and Kari saw it. I own it on video, own the screenplay, love the film, watch it all the time. I even asked its star Michael Maloney (who I ran into in Borders when I still worked there) if there were plans for a DVD release and he didn’t have an answer for me. A small black and white film with Branagh’s regular troupe of actors (three of whom would be in his 4 hour Hamlet the next year) about a group of actors putting on Hamlet in a church at Christmas, this is a treasure that seriously no one has ever seen. But it’s sweet and charming and funny as hell.

11. Solaris – (Steven Soderbergh) – 2002

Though the original is on Ebert’s Great Films list, the remake was savaged when it came out. Roger Ebert addressed that soon after it came out in an Answer Man question. Mark Wahlberg can complain that the Ocean sequels aren’t very good (this from the guy who starred in Four Brothers), but that’s because when Soderbergh and Clooney team up for something probing and thoughtful, people turn away. People want to be entertained, and this film, like Unbreakable, had incredibly piss poor marketing. It’s a fascinating science fiction film on the nature of love and loss and shows the immense range that Clooney has developed.

12. Silver City (John Sayles) – 2004

I still can’t believe this film didn’t get any love from any awards group. Its director is one of the best working today, its cast is top notch, it perfectly skewers W. with a great performance by Chris Cooper and Karl Rove with a hilarious performance by Richard Dreyfuss. Perhaps its political satire was a bit too much for people. But it’s funny and insightful and needs to be appreciated.

I’ll be back on Sunday for the final installment of the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century.

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