So you consider yourself a real
, a regular Anthony Lane.
You fear the idiocy of the upcoming summer movie season. You know the most famous directors and own their most famous films.
But frankly, Scarlett Johansson, that ain't worth a damn. If you really want to win friends in nerdy glasses and influence coffeehouse conversations, buy these less well-known classics by the masters (all available on DVD), and flaunt them in your
entertainment unit for maximum effect.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
The iconoclastic, overlapping-dialoguing Altman is justly beloved as the most fluid and adventurous of moviemakers; this funny-sad tale of two gamblers on a spree is his most criminally overlooked film. And it's nice to recall a time when a quirky guy like Elliott Gould could be a leading man.
The Royal Tenenbaums
The reigning king of oddball comedies dropped a dud with his last effort, the uninvolving, unfunny
Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou
, and his American Express ad is as annoying as Robert DeNiro's is pretentious. But Anderson's little-seen, pitch-perfect debut is an oddly moving treat that's a sharp exploration of male friendship. And it introduced the world to the winningly slack humor of brothers Luke and Owen Wilson.
Joel and Ethan Coen
The Big Lebowski
You've got a genre; the Coen brothers have a fresh take on it. Love them or hate them, the Coens always spin something new out of an old form, and
revitalized the gangster flick with zinging retro patter and complex plotting. It features arguably the finest performances of Gabriel Byrne and John Turturro's careers, and showcased Marcia Gay Harden before her Academy Award-winning turn in
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather, Part II
Following the triumph of
The Godfather, Part II
, Coppola released this dense, unnerving thriller concerning privacy, power and paranoia (it was the Watergate era) that's no less rich or involving. Few films have ever used the medium's potential so fully or so well, and the ending promises to creep you out for weeks. (For advanced film geeks only: Brian DePalma's later
basically weaves together the plot of this film and Michelangelo Antonioni's
Dressed to Kill
Some people can't forgive DePalma for the disaster that was
Bonfire of the Vanities
or his more recent dreck, but there was a long stretch when he made more great movies than anyone. His talent first came to widespread notice with this dark, controversial comedy starring a very young Robert DeNiro as a Vietnam vet who falls in with a Black Power group -- enough said.
North by Northwest
Shadow of a Doubt
OK, it's hard to call any Hitchcock thriller "underappreciated" given the vast ink dedicated to the Master of Suspense, but
Shadow of a Doubt
is often overlooked in the pantheon. Hitchcock himself is said to have loved this film best among his work, and Joseph Cotton's turn as the charming Uncle Charlie (and also, alas, the "Merry Widow Murderer") holds up remarkably well.
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork Orange
Full Metal Jacket
Kubrick made some of the movies' most ambitious, sprawling works, but he earned his stripes on this racetrack heist film noir that flies by like a thoroughbred at the three-quarter pole. The stentorian Sterling Hayden is commanding as the mastermind of the gang, while Elisha Cook Jr.'s memorable performance as a clueless cuckold steals the show. The screenplay was cowritten by the pulp master Jim Thompson, who also penned
, later turned into another superb noir starring John Cusack and Angelica Huston.
"Kurosawa" and "samurai" are as linked in film history as Bogey and Bacall, but sandwiched between his two greatest epics is a truly heartrending, incomparable drama.
A downcast civil servant, played with immense grace by Takashi Shimura (who next starred in
, proving his remarkable range), learns that he has terminal stomach cancer and struggles with how to live out his remaining days.
That such potentially mawkish material proves so profound only underscores Kurosawa's enduring genius.
The Fog of War
The Errol Morris DVD Collection: Gates of Heaven
The Thin Blue Line
His vivid portrayal of Robert S. McNamara finally secured a long-overdue Oscar, but Errol Morris has been making some of the funniest, sharpest and intelligent nonfiction films for more than a quarter-century.
This trio, about pet-cemetery owners, the oddball-but-wise residents of a backwater town and a botched death-penalty investigation, respectively, offers an essential primer.
In 1964, the lovely Catherine Deneuve sang her way through the famously romantic
Umbrellas of Cherbourg
. A year later, she was cast as a sexually repressed young woman who goes insane and may or may not be raped and commit murder. Guess which one Roman Polanski directed?
isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's unsettling as hell and a remarkable piece of filmmaking.
Often described as Scorsese's most "personal" film,
tells the story of low-life hoods in New York's Little Italy. Stronger on character than plot, the movie pushed Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel to stardom and introduced the world to a visionary director. (Good bar bet: Ask a film buff Scorsese's
? Wrong! It was
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
, upon which the long-running sitcom "Alice" was based.)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Raiders of the Lost Ark
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Before the sharks and aliens and ghosts, Steven Spielberg made a perfect little action movie -- for television, although this first feature eventually got a small theatrical release. Here's the plot: On his way to work, guy in car passes semi truck. Unseen trucker spends rest of film taunting and then trying to kill guy in car. It's almost pure cinema, with no unfair editing tricks or special effects. E.T., go buy it.
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Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.