5 Underrated Movies Of The Last Decade
Public opinion is everything for a movie. If you're faced with deciding what to spend way too much money to watch on the big screen, chances are you won't opt for the one that everyone swears is a giant piece of shit. That's understandable, but it also should come as no surprise that sometimes the people get it wrong. We talk about a few movies from recent memory that didn't get nearly enough respect on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked editors Alex Schmidt and David Christopher Bell. I'm also going to talk about a few right damn now.
National Lampoon's Vacation (The Remake)
It's rare for a movie remake to not be greeted with at least a little bit of skepticism from the people who enjoyed the original version. If they got it right the first time, what's the point of doing it again? While it's true that the answer to that question is almost always just "money," that doesn't mean every remake is terrible.
One example from recent memory is the universally-ignored 2015 remake of the Chevy Chase classic National Lampoon's Vacation. Seeing as how this is far and away the best and most beloved film in the National Lampoon arsenal, I get why people weren't in any hurry to see it remade. But at the same time, "best National Lampoon movie" isn't that great of an accomplishment when you look at the competition in that field. Yes, Animal House was great, and Christmas Vacation is one of the best straightforward Christmas movies ever made, but there's a lot of garbage in the running beyond those well-known titles.
You've seen almost none of these movies.
Stop being so goddamn precious about National Lampoon movies, is what I'm saying -- if for no other reason than you're selling yourself incredibly short by having never seen the surprisingly hilarious remake of Vacation. It stars Ed Helms, and instead of acting as this generation's Chevy Chase, he plays the role of Rusty, the son in the original film.
The story itself isn't remarkably different. It's still about a family trying to get from point A to point B on a cross-country road trip to an amusement park. It's not a groundbreaking plot by any stretch of the imagination. The ending is no more or less believable in either film. For both, it's the jokes that do all the heavy lifting, and the jokes in the remake are, I'd argue, every bit as strong as those in the original.
The plastic bag scene is one of my favorite movie moments ever.
In those rare cases in which the script references something from the original movie, it does so in a way that manages to mock the absurdity of some of the more famous scenes, while being absurd in its own special way. Case in point, the famous scene in which Chevy Chase flirts with Christie Brinkley as she drives past in a red sports car. I promise it doesn't end like this in the '80s version:
Does she survive? Watch the movie and find out!
Before you complain about me spoiling anything, that's in the trailer. Anyway, another highlight of the remake, just as in the original, is the vehicle the family takes on the trip. It's a fictional monstrosity called the Tartan Prancer, and this fake commercial for it could probably be stretched into a movie all its own.
Among the more attractive amenities are retractable cup holders:
Conveniently located on the outside of the vehicle.
A key fob that controls all essential functions:
Like unexpectedly popping the steering wheel off.
And mirrors that let you do this:
I'd actually use these.
I could go on and on about how shockingly funny this movie is, but in the name of not giving away the entire thing, I'll stop here. Just know that you're fucking up if you don't make it a point to see it soon.
The Lone Ranger
When Disney decided to turn The Lone Ranger into an epic Hollywood blockbuster, they had a few things working against them. For starters, most of the people who enjoyed that franchise as a child are probably dead by now. If not, chances are they still have little to no interest in seeing their memories rebooted by the likes of Armie Hammer and the nation's preeminent Native American actor, Johnny Depp.
Right, that was another problem. At a time when the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise had left us all sort of tired of Depp, Disney decided to cast him as Tonto, the already-kind-of-offensive Indian character who acts as the Ranger's sidekick. Have as many consultants from the Cherokee Nation on set as you want; it's still a move that's likely to upset people. Which it totally did.
I bet he's not a real pirate, either.
So the movie already had a few strikes against it when the first wave of critics started dishing out their reviews, and what they had to say about the rest of the film only made matters worse. The movie currently holds a 31 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
I'll admit that some of their complaints are plenty valid. The movie is way too long (almost two and a half hours), and as a result, tends to drag during the middle section. That was pointed out relentlessly in almost every review, but what got way less mention was that the beginning and end of the movie are goddamn fantastic. Yes, a flaw is a flaw, so that inexplicable running time means it's not a perfect movie, but by no means is it as bad as the trail of awful reviews it left in its wake seem to imply.
Harsh! Also ... huh?
For one thing, Hammer and Depp are a delight to watch. While his portrayal is far from authentic or culturally sensitive, Depp makes Tonto into a fascinating and oftentimes hilarious character who, despite the well-known meaning of his name, is usually far and away the smartest person in the room. It's also made clear that, just as was the case with history itself, Native Americans weren't the "savages" your grandparents westerns made them out to be, but rather victims of the white man's greed and lust for conquest.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative response The Lone Ranger received, it wasn't without its champions. Quentin Tarantino called it one of the ten best movies of the year when it was released, singling out the ending train scene in particular as an especially impressive highlight. He's right about that; it's a sight to behold. If you gave up on this movie halfway through, you did yourself a disservice just by missing that, if nothing else.
Again, I'm not saying The Lone Ranger is a perfect movie, just that it's probably way better than you think.
Related: Wait ... 'Power Rangers' Got Good?
The Purge: Anarchy
I've never understood the mockery we've directed at the Purge movies over the years. I get that the premise is kind of silly. If you're unfamiliar, the short version is that for 12 hours every year (right around my birthday!), the government makes all crime legal. Murder, rape, credit card fraud, Internet piracy ... you name it. The thinking is that giving people this release allows them to expel that unseemly criminal energy all at once instead of in smaller, harder-to-police outbursts throughout the year.
Again, I get that this sounds absurd, but it's called suspension of disbelief, motherfuckers. It's not a documentary. You don't know what kind of future movie science went into that decision. If it's working, who are you to judge? Just enjoy the movie and quit being a jerk about it.
Ethan Hawke was in the first one! Show some goddamn respect!
That said, I have always felt like they botched the first movie a bit. How? By taking that premise -- 12 hours of unbridled, nationwide criminal chaos -- and set the entire thing inside one dude's house. It still worked as a movie (and if you've never seen it, then I encourage you to do so at once), but I'll admit that it does leave something to be desired. That something, of course, being feel-good shots of all the violence and carnage happening in the streets.
It took a few years, but that action finally arrived in the form of the insanely underrated sequel, The Purge: Anarchy.
Critics and fans alike were united in their disinterest. The film clocks in at just over 50 percent on both sides of the Tomatometer, but I have to believe that a lot of that has to do with residual hatred for the first movie and a lingering distrust that a movie with this kind of premise could be at all watchable. Don't let that mislead you, though, because this is one of the finest sequels ever made. It delivers on all the promise the original held and then some, but it doesn't do it in an over-the-top way. One of the things that made the first movie great was the element of class warfare that permeates all of the action.
Surprise! Rich people are still monsters in dystopian futures!
When movies that don't do that well still get sequels, those follow-ups sometimes lean on the one thing people liked about the first movie to an excessive degree. This could just as easily have been that movie -- a condensed version of 12 hours of unchecked violence and nothing else. Instead, it ratchets the social commentary up a notch, but also shows us all of the chaos and anarchy a lot of us probably wanted to see in the first movie. It's kind of like The Punisher with a message.
Basically, The Purge: Anarchy is everything you probably wanted the first movie to be.
I already know there is little to no chance that I'll ever convince anyone that Movie 43 is worth watching. Remember that 31 percent rating I mentioned The Lone Ranger having on Rotten Tomatoes? Well, Movie 43 doesn't even crack double digits, clocking it at a mind-boggling four percent. I still to this day have no idea how I even decided to give it a shot. After all, the trailer makes it look like the stupidest fucking movie of all time.
Of course, that's because it quite possibly is the stupidest movie of all time. Still, stupid can be funny sometimes, and Movie 43 manages to prove that more often than not. It's presented as a series of ridiculous comedy sketches wrapped around a plot involving Dennis Quaid trying to sell all of this as a movie to a highly skeptical Greg Kinnear. In those individual sketches is where Movie 43 manages to be unexpectedly great.
For example, and I know this is going to be a hard sell, but the opening sketch, in which Kate Winslet shows up to a blind date with Hugh Jackman only to find that he's got a fully developed set of balls on his chin, is significantly funnier than the premise would have you expect.
Although even on paper that sounds pretty amazing.
Kate Winslet is a great actress. You shouldn't be at all surprised that she murders the role of "only person in the room who's acknowledging that this dude has balls on his chin" as only a true professional could. If nothing else, there's the sketch in which Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts homeschool their high-school-age kid, but with the understanding that high school is supposed to be the most miserable time of a person's life. Wanting to give him a truly immersive high school experience, they bully him ...
... throw parties he's not invited to ...
... and subject him to freshman hazing.
It sounds insane, because it totally is, but I promise that you haven't lived until you've seen Naomi Watts knock a stack of books out of her teenage son's hands before yelling, "Dropped your books, fuckface."
Or try to give him his first kiss.
Well fine, when I put it all that way, it sounds like they're just abusing the kid. I get that I'm not doing a great job of convincing anyone that this is all worth seeking out. When it comes to Movie 43, talking a person into thinking it's a good idea is nearly impossible. That's the entire point of the movie, after all. Your job as the viewer is to put yourself in the shoes of Greg Kinnear, the person hearing the pitch for this batshit-insane movie. As a cohesive piece of commercially viable art, it makes no fucking sense, but you keep listening anyway, because just the idea of something this dumb getting turned into a big budget Hollywood movie is entertaining enough.
I can sum up all the reasons I never saw Goon in one word: hockey. This is a movie about hockey, and like most Americans, I don't watch that bullshit. So before I started researching this column, I'd never even heard of this movie. A co-worker heard that I was writing about underrated movies and said I should check it out, so I did.
Also working against my desire to see it was the fact that the lead actor is Seann William Scott, whom I legitimately thought stopped working altogether well before this ever came out. Yes, I do realize he's in another movie on this list which came out after this one, and no, I haven't seen Ice Age: Continental Drift because I'm an adult, but thanks for asking on both counts.
Anyway, I'm glad he didn't stop working, because goddamn is this a great movie. Not decent. Not better than you expect. Not good. It is fucking great.
The plot is a lot like that Marky Mark movie about the bartender who tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles and somehow managed to make the team, except it's about a different sport and the lead actor never beat the shit out of someone for being Asian.
Also, it's a comedy, and a damn charming one at that. Seann William Scott (whom I'm mostly just going to refer to as SWS from here on out, because goddamn all those letters) plays a hockey fan whose dreams come true out of nowhere when he's asked to join a minor league team after the coach sees him beat the shit out of a player in the stands. Hockey needs players who are specifically good at fighting, because it's a dreadfully boring sport. Those players are sometimes called "goons," hence the name of the film.
I know, a movie about a guy who fights a lot while playing hockey is a tough sell. That's obviously one of the reasons almost no one has heard of it. But it's also one of those rare movies where the subject matter is almost completely irrelevant. If you like good movies, you'll probably like this one. It's that simple. Do you find SWS to be a little annoying? Watch this movie. You will forgive him for everything. This is the role he was meant to play. It lets him double down on the things that have always made his characters begrudgingly enjoyable, but strips away all the American Pie douchiness that made you feel guilty for it. He is a fucking treasure in this movie. Just a humble dude who knows his limitations, and in turn how lucky he is to have the opportunity that somehow fell into his lap. He also beats a ton of ass, which is great.
Like, almost the entire time.
It will sound like hyperbole on my part, but in a perfect world, he maybe would've gotten a little Oscar buzz for this performance. A Golden Globe, maybe? When do you see Seann William Scott carry a movie? It's not an opportunity he gets too often, and he makes the most of it -- just like the character he plays. If you don't watch anything else on this list, at least watch this. If you don't like it, you're dead inside.
Hockey still sucks, though.
Adam is on Twitter. You should follow him there @adamtodbrown.
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