Movies

These 10 Underappreciated Movies Make for the Perfect Quarantine Viewing Experience

Offbeat options for waiting out the apocalypse.

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Now that we have all the time in the world on our hands, filling it with movies has become an organized pursuit, and helpful film lists have proliferated online. Some of these seek to cheer us up—classic comedies, vintage musicals, all from happier times, of course—or to put our despair in perspective with dystopian exercises like 12 Monkeys, Mad Max, The Road, and suchlike.

I want to offer something different: a list of oddball movies that were under-loved at the time of their release and have remained under-seen ever since. Some of these films, like the 2009 Jennifer's Body, have been undergoing critical reevaluation and are now seen as lovable cult movies. The rest have also developed cults, of one size or another, but are still waiting for the full-scale love they deserve.

Jennifer's Body (2009)

The critical indifference to this high-school horror-comedy was baffling. (It scored a rotten 44% on Rotten Tomatoes.) Diablo Cody's screenplay—a marvel of sexy sarcasm—was the follow-up to her debut script for the 2007 hit Juno (whose director, Jason Reitman, is one of the producers here). And the star, Megan Fox, of the mega-budget Transformers franchise, delivered a luscious parody of her own sex-puppet image. Fox plays the titular Jennifer, a snooty cheerleader who falls into the clutches of an indie band called Low Shoulder, whose members are desperate to make it big and have decided to sacrifice a virgin in order to enlist Satan as their manager. Unfortunately, since Jennifer is not a virgin in any sense of the word, the band's attempted ritual goes wildly awry and a newly demonic Jennifer is soon embarked on a bloody rampage. Amanda Seyfried effectively mutes her own movie-star looks to play Jennifer's geeky friend Needy, and Chris Pratt, Amy Sedaris and J.K. Simmons are also on hand. (Now streaming on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, etc.)

Surveillance (2008)

Crawling back from one of the most widely detested debuts in recent film history—the 1993 amputation oddity Boxing Helena—director Jennifer Lynch (daughter of David) made this seriously creepy serial-killer feature. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond play a pair of FBI agents drawn to a slaughter site in the Nebraska hinterlands, where they interact with bent cops and druggy youths and search in vain for reliable witnesses. (There is one, but she's 11 years old, and who wants to hear what a kid has to say?) The movie has a bleak, sunbaked vibe and a most unsettling conclusion. It scored a limp 55% on Rotten Tomatoes and has yet to attract many second looks. It's never too late, though. (Now streaming on Amazon and Netflix)

The Fountain (2006)

Darren Aronofsky's time-tripping masterwork was seen by some—well, many—as a pretentious romance. But it's a spectacularly beautiful film that has steadily accumulated new admirers. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play Tom and Isabel, a couple whose love never dies. In 16th Century Spain, she is a queen dispatching him on a mission to the New World to find the Mayan tree of life. 500 years later—now—he is a research scientist searching for a cure for the cancer that is killing Isabel, who in this incarnation is his wife. He learns of an ancient tree in Central America whose bark may be the cure he seeks. In the year 2600 AD, we find Tom ascending through the heavens in a transparent bubble-ship containing a large tree. The glorious outer-space effects in this film are super-size blowups of microscopic chemical reactions (the work of optical-systems developer Peter Parks) and the magnificent score, by Clint Mansell, could become a permanent part of your life. (Streaming on Amazon, YouTube and Vudu)

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

Critics liked this grisly horror film a bit more than audiences—possibly because Lionsgate unceremoniously dumped the picture in second-run theatres and not a lot of people got to see it. Bradley Cooper is a hustling photojournalist named Leon, who chronicles the denizens of the night in an unspecified big city (it's L.A.). He becomes aware of a mysterious subway train that only runs at midnight, and naturally he wants to know more about it. This is as bad an idea as you would imagine. Alarmingly awful things befall passengers on this train, all of them doled out by a mallet-swinging brute called Mahagony (the naturally terrifying Vinnie Jones). Bloody violence is not in short supply (the movie is based on a Clive Barker story), but the Japanese director, Ryuhei Kitamura, really excels at building tension and dread, and also at oh-my-God editing. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon)

The Brothers Bloom (2008)

This second feature by Knives Out director Rian Johnson is an eccentric fairy tale of overflowing charm. A pair of sibling conmen (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) make the mistake of trying to swindle a wacky heiress (Rachel Weisz), who numbers among her hobbies kung fu, power ping pong, and chainsaw juggling (on stilts), and who would love to become a swindler herself. The picture flits all around Central Europe, but even with the brothers bringing in a daffy explosives expert called Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi), we sense that the big con they've planned, in Prague, will not be working out well. They should have sensed something amiss when their mark observed, "The trick to not being cheated is to learn how to cheat." (Streaming on Amazon and Vudu)

Black Dynamite (2009)

A wonderfully nutty tribute to '70s blaxploitation movies. Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular Black Dynamite, a CIA operative just back from Vietnam who is intent on terminating some evil honkeys who are funneling heroin into the ghetto. There's also a worrisome new brand of malt liquor that's hit the streets, an array of pimps and pushers and vintage purple clothing, ultra-low-budget martial-arts and car-chase action, and a ridiculous crime lord called Fiendish Dr. Wu. There are also many great lines (scoping out B.D.'s deluxe pad, one character says, "You must have an eight-track in every room"). Director Scott Sanders shot this movie in three weeks (and later turned it into an animated series on Adult Swim). He should be working a lot more than he does. (Streaming on Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu)

Hancock (2008)

Released at the dawn of the cinematic superhero age (the same year Iron Man inaugurated the MCU), Hancock appeared to confuse critics with its relatively subtle combination of underplayed humor and real emotion. Despite the presence of Will Smith and Charlize Theron, the movie bombed. It deserves another chance. Smith plays a super-guy called John Hancock, who has the usual powers of flight, strength, and immortality. John does a lot of good in the world, but he also causes a lot of collateral property damage, for which he is widely resented. So he's basically become an alcoholic living on the streets of LA. An admiring PR man named Ray (Jason Bateman) tries to help him and does; but then John meets Ray's wife (Charlize Theron), and the movie takes a sudden turn into wild and unexpected territory. Very much worth taking a chance on. (Streaming on Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu)

The Fall (2006)

Although he'd already made one feature in 2000—the distinctively gruesome sci-fi horror film The Cell—Indian director Tarsem Singh continued earning most of his living shooting commercials. Kind of brilliantly, he decided to utilize the globe-trotting required by this profession to make another movie, on his own dime. This resulted, after four years, in The Fall, an extremely outré and astoundingly beautiful fantasy film shot in Cambodia, Italy, Indonesia, Bolivia and China, among other far-flung places. It's a movie about stories and their telling and the heroes they require; but essentially it's a vast sea of surreal imagery into which viewers are invited to sink their heads. There truly is nothing else like it. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon)

Sky High (2005)

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is a teenager living in the large shadow of his superhero parents. His father, Steve (Kurt Russell), is a successful real estate guy better known in super-circles as The Commander; his mom, Josie (Kelly Preston), is the famously supersonic Jetstream. Will doesn't seem to have any powers of his own, so he's apprehensive about entering ninth grade at Sky High, where superhero offspring are sorted into two categories: some will become superheroes themselves, others—the losers in life's super-lottery—will become sidekicks. This is a Disney film, and thus family-friendly, but it's also witty and hip (thanks mainly to Russell, a Disney veteran who made his first movie for the company in 1968). Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the villainous Royal Pain and the principal at Sky High, wonderfully enough, is Lynda Carter. (Streaming on Amazon and Vudu)

Where the Truth Lies (2005)

Originally released with an NC-17 rating because of its unusually forthright sex scenes, this intricately noirish film by writer-director Atom Egoyan is a puzzle-thriller that deserves more attention than it has ever received. It focuses on Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), a famous comedy duo (think Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) who suddenly broke up in 1957, with no explanation, after a dead Miami woman's body was found in the bathtub of their New Jersey hotel suite. Years later, a young journalist named Karen O'Connor (Alison Lohman) agrees to work with Vince as a ghostwriter on his autobiography, hoping to get to the bottom of the breakup mystery. Then she encounters Lanny, and things get very, very complicated. The movie has a wonderful retro-kinky air, and Bacon and Firth are bracingly unsavory in ways they had never been before. (Streaming on Amazon and Vudu)

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  1. Sky High was good for a family movie. Hancock was good but a bit uneven. From what I remember, Black Dynamite was good. I never finished The Fountain. I haven’t seen the others.

    And that’s how you do movie reviews.

    1. Speaking of Hancock, is Charlize Theron African American? She is from the country of South Africa.

      1. I’ve been using her as an example to perplex wokesters since before Jane Fonda reintroduced that term to the public consciousness. It’s incomparably entertaining to watch the resulting illogical contortions.

        Other examples to use are Hoda Kotb (of NBC’s Today Show), and Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir on Star Trek Deep Space 9), though they are less well known than Theron. A more subtle one to spring on wokesters is Sidney Poitier.

        This also reminds me of how on-air journalists got themselves confused for a brief time while a black terrorist was being tracked down in France (might have been after the Charlie Hebdo attack, but I’m not sure). Initially, they referred to the guy as “African American”, which seems like an odd description for a French immigrant who had never been to the US. Then they started stuttering through “African French” for a bit. Simultaneously hilarious and pathetic.

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      2. Why yes, yes she is.

      3. My buddy applied to college as an African American. Got preference and was accepted. Caused some heartburn when he showed up.
        Same situation as Ms. Theron (but not as good looking)

      4. But she isn’t from America. She South African.

        1. She was granted US citizenship years ago. IIRC, she also retains her South African citizenship.

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    2. The Midnight Meat Train needs a better title.

      1. THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN is based (closely) on a Clive Barker short story, and changing the name would lose its built-in Barker-Fan audience. Probably not a great idea, since it really has all the hallmarks of his particular type of creepiness.

      2. “Midnight meat”… heh heh heh

    3. Lol

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  2. Midnight Meat Train was my nickname in college. Jennifer’s body wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it but I remember that much. Hancock was a bit before its time, in my opinion, it came out around the same time as the 2nd Hulk movie, and like most of those superhero movies was just a few years too early to make the hype train.

  3. Well, maybe if I’ve got really serious cabin fever, and need watch something which assures roving zombies that I don’t have enough brains to be worth eating…

    1. Knives Out is great, you still have to pay to rent it streaming though (6 bucks or so).

      1917 was impressive too.

  4. “Eraserhead”. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” if you need a laugh.

  5. I don’t want to be sedated during my government-mandated imprisonment.
    I (and you) should be PISSED!

    1. I for one am refusing it. I plan on taking my kid to a park this weekend and playing baseball. I hope someone tells me I can’t.

      I’ve gone out and done something in public every other day this week. Yesterday I walked around a 3 different stores and didn’t even buy anything. I’m generally anti-social; I’ve learned through this that I’m more anti-government than anti-social.

    2. oh, trust me, I am incredibly pissed. Fortunately, I live in a state where the governor tried to push back against a stay in place order for as long as possible (i think it’s technically just a recommendation even now).

    3. We can do both, and it’s probably not good for a person to be pissed 24/7. I’m not saying we should discard that anger, but we can direct it into productive uses, like…posts to the reason.com forums…yeah…

    4. am pissed. i’ve been to work every day and stopped @ one/more stores for me or my close elderlies every day … also I golfed last week

      the driving around 20 mph over all posted speed limits has been fun though

  6. Oh hell yes finally something useful

    1. Unlike you.

  7. I watched Under the Skin last night.
    Very good, not great

    1. ’bout sums it up…

    2. Caught “Netflix original” movie, Anon last night.
      Enjoyable, though not necessarily deep

      1. Started watching Death of Stalin last night but got distracted.
        Will fire it up today.
        Should have a receptive audience here.

  8. The first 2/3rds of Hancock is a really great movie. Too bad about that ending though. Drop the unexciting and unnecessary exposition and just have Hancock the character organically come around to being a good guy.

    For that reason I still think Chronicle is the better of the “anti-superhero” movies. It’s found footage which I know some people are not fond of, but it’s at least tonally consistent and builds the stakes into an exciting payoff.

    1. Chronicle’s also a movie that deserves more fans…

  9. Jennifer’s Body was good. Boxing Helena was awesome. I liked Hancock and Kelly Preston could read the phone book and I’d watch.

  10. “Very bad things” and “Clay Pigeons”. And “A simple plan”.

    1. A Simple Plan was awesome.

  11. Fuck Mark Ruffalo that eco-terrorist cunt who cost jobs in upstate NY.

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  13. “Sky High,” “Jennifer’s Body,” and even “Hancock” are among my favorites I can watch repeatedly.

    I don’t get their connection to a pandemic though. They aren’t even apocalyptic except to their protagonists.

    Thanks for the list, assuming the others are as good as the ones I have seen.

  14. I can’t find ‘Midnight Meat Train’ on Netflix

    1. Kirk: Yes, sorry — it was on Netflix, but no more. However, you can find it now on Amazon and YouTube

  15. The author seems to ignore the body of work that was done in the 20th century.

    1. Netflix does the same thing. There is very little 20th Century culture on the streaming services.

  16. “This second feature by Knives Out director Rian Johnson”

    The same Knives Out that was the worst overrated piece of shit woke trash film ever made? Rian Johnson should have his hands amputated and his eyes and tongue cut out so he will never approach a camera again.

    My pick– watch The Navigator: a medieval odyssey. The perfect film for the plague quarantine.

  17. Not sure what region you are in, but in the U.S. could not find a single one of these movies on Prime Video for streaming.

    1. Correction, did find “The Midnight Meat Train” but none of the others I searched for, were on Prime Video (even to rent?). Will have to try iTunes.

  18. Where the Truth Lies looks the most intriguing of the movies on the list I never saw or heard of. Has anyone beside Loder seen it?

  19. “Fox plays the titular Jennifer…”

    Titular… heh heh heh….

  20. Hancock was very good, a realistic and cynical take on the superhero genre. A little ahead of its time, as The Boys was well received last year.

    Haven’t seen the rest.

  21. There’s a great docudrama that everyone should see called Idiocracy. I can’t believe it’s not on this list.

    1. The Other Guys is currently on Netflix
      Great movie
      Should sate the cop-ridicule so popular in these parts

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  23. “Surveillance” is definitely worth a watch. Maintains its very creepy mood all the through without ever letting you up for a breath.

  24. there’s no accounting for taste

  25. Stay away from Surveillance! I have seen many, many movies in my time on this planet and it is absolutely the WORST.

    1. Huh. The “good watch” followed by “worst movie ever” suggestions make it intriguing.

      Might re-watch “The Fountain” and “The Cell” both amazingly beautiful. Both kind of lost opportunities, story-wise. The Cell just needed some changes in emphasis to make the equivalences between the hospital and the story-world clearer and more balanced.

      Others I can re-watch any time: Office Space and Idiocracy, Serenity, and Big Trouble in Little China. I know, I’m no cineaste, but it’s better than my wife’s list.

      1. NOT “The Cell”, his other movie “The Fall”.
        *()^%)*(&!!!

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