5 Underrated Gems

Sometimes you’re up watching cable tv in the middle of the night and you come across a gem of a film and you wonder ‘why haven’t I heard of this film before?’

There are always film casualties along the way, movies that have been overlooked by audiences simply because of a bad marketing campaign or owing to a lack of star power.

I’ve compiled a list of five such movies because it’s high time they get some recognition.

5). Heavenly Creatures

Before Peter Jackson became famous for that Lord of the Rings Trilogy he made Heavenly Creatures. The film deals with the real life murder committed by two teenage girls.

Pauline Parker (played by Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (played by Kate Winslet) develop a friendship which veers toward the unnaturally obsessive as they create an extravagant imaginary world. Worried parents decide to separate them but the girls unable to bear it, plot to murder Pauline’s mother who they perceive to be their main antagonist.

Beautifully shot, Jackson manages to bring their adolescent imaginings to life, therefore accomplishing the difficult task of making the audience understand exactly how enveloped Pauline and Juliet were in their world. There is an underlying darkness in the tone of the film, we feel that something bad is coming, and although he manages to humanize these two women, Jackson ensures that there is no sympathy for their final act.

The film was a critical success but failed to perform well at the box office, it did however give Jackson a wonderful calling card.

Unfortunately the same could not be said for the Melanie Lynskey. This film illustrates what a talented actress Lynskey is and it’s a shame that she has been reduced to playing a supporting character in Two and a Half Men whereas the equally talented Kate Winslet has gone on to win Oscars.


4). Pleasantville

One word springs to mind with this film; originality. Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play a brother and sister who somehow end up in a rerun of an old 50s black and white tv programme.

They are warned not to change anything that happens in the programme, but that’s easier said than done. Reese Witherspoon goes on a date and introduces a young man to sex, this in turn leads to a sexual revelation and revolution in Pleasantville.

Toby Maguire too, begins to make changes, he teaches firemen how to put out fires, attracting the attentions of a young lady, and he tells his boss to paint and follow his true passion.

As the changes take hold in the town something strange begins to happen in Pleasantville; colour creeps into the black and white programme. Pretty soon the town is divided into coloureds – which are the people who have given in to learning new things and enjoying pleasures theretofore unknown – and black and whites. Suddenly there is a state of racial segregation in Pleasantville that bears more than a passing resemblance to Apartheid South Africa.

The films aim as stated by director Gary Ross was to illustrate that fear of change can lead to unpleasant social situations, and personal repression is something that should not be striven for.

Although the film has star power, neither Toby Maguire nor Reese Witherspoon were who they are now when the film was released. And although critically acclaimed one can’t help but feel that the film has been left by the wayside when it should be regarded as a classic and held up next to the likes of Being John Malkovich in terms of sheer uniqueness of plot.


3). Contact

When there are so many great sci-fi films around it’s easy to overlook Contact.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Space Odyssey 2001 and Blade Runner have all overshadowed their later counterpart but Contact is a film that stands on it’s own and has some real flashes of brilliance.

Jodie Foster plays Dr Ellie Arroway, a scientist whose mission in life is to make contact with life out there.

One evening, as she is driving, Dr Ellie notices something, her program is receiving a signal. The world is plunged into a frenzy as efforts are made to try and decipher the signal.

Religion and science clash and everyone is thrown into turmoil.

A machine is built that will facilitate a meeting with the aliens and Dr Ellie travels through a series of wormholes and ends up in a paradise-like environment where she encounters her father.

She soon realises that her father is not really her father but an alien who has come to greet her in a form that she will understand. The two talk and essentially make contact.

The film explores with thought what would really happen if we were to make contact with extra terrestrial life, it manages to highlight the conflicts the world would face as a result. The film also benefits from a number of breathtaking scenes, the first and most impressive being the opening sequence of the film.

Jodie Foster is at the top of her game, her expressive face adding more pathos to the story. And finally one word of mention to Matthew McConaughey who we see out of his RomCom comfort zone playing Foster’s romantic interest; his acting is solid but furthermore the fact that he is in this type of film makes for a pleasant surprise.


2). Corrina Corrina

Ray Liotta. Whoopi Goldberg. 50’s interracial romantic drama. Surprised? Me too.

Corrina Corrina is the story of a widowed man and his motherless daughter who both struggle to come to terms with their grief.

Manny (played by Ray Liotta) interviews a string of unsuitable nanny’s for his daughter until finally settling upon a straight talking black woman called Corrina (played by Whoopi Goldberg). The daughter warms to Corrina almost immediately and Manny too is charmed by her, and he begins to seek her out for company and comfort.

The film moves slowly and quietly, and we see the affection between these two characters gradually build. Liotta does a great job of being the widowed husband living under the shadow of sadness, which slowly lifts somewhat but not completely in Corrina’s presence.

Goldberg too, does a good job and we remember that she actually began her career as a serious actress in films such as The Color Purple before being hijacked by Sister Act, but it is definitely Liotta who steals the film.

The racial elements are touched on in the film but the treatment is not an in depth exploration which in a way makes the film all the more powerful. It concentrates on two characters falling in love and being immune to the prejudices of the world around them as all they can see is each other.

Corrina Corrina is a wonderful film and a rewarding experience, it’s just a shame that it found no audience.


1). Tremors

This film is fun from start to finish.

Tremors is an action adventure movie chronicling the efforts of a small group of residents living in a remote Nevada town against underground snake-like monsters.

That’s it really. No character examinations, no social issues bought to the fore, just a bunch of people fighting against monsters.

Kevin Bacon stars as Val, a superficial handyman, intent on getting out of his dull town with his friend Fred Ward, playing Earl. But the town might not be as dull as Val and Earl think as it is being attacked by monsters. With the help of the other townspeople and pretty yet intelligent Rhonda, a visiting student, we see how the humans try to outsmart their strange enemies.

This film doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is and it provides us with 96 minutes of pure unadulterated enjoyment. The lines are snappy and fun, the monsters are ridiculously kitsch especially when compared to the CGI monsters gracing our screens at present and with a dash of sweet romance thrown in for good measure, what more could you want?

So there you have it, 5 underrated gems, just waiting to be dusted off, discovered and appreciated. Hopefully one day these films will come to mainstream attention à la Fight Club.

Even though they didn’t find an audience first time round, there’s always a second time round.