Monday, June 3, 2013

The Underseen Masterpieces

The hardest part about compiling this top ten of best underseen films was not mulling over the order of the list (though that was difficult too, of course), but deciding which movies qualify as "underseen" in the first place. After all, most great films have been seen by depressingly few people. In the end, I simply used good old IMDb and decided that those gems that are rated by only about five thousand users or less especially need more people praising them. To put this number in perspective: basically every Nolan, Tarantino or Lord of the Rings-related movie has been rated by hundreds of thousands of people (and most of those movies also place very high in the IMDb Top 250, but the less said about that mess, the better).

First, ten honorable mentions (in chronological order):

Summer Interlude (1951, dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Vanya on 42nd Street (1994, dir. Louis Malle)
Wild Reeds (1994, dir. André Téchiné)
Morvern Callar (2002, dir. Lynne Ramsay)
35 Shots of Rum (2008, dir. Claire Denis)
Involuntary (2008, dir. Ruben Östlund)
Lourdes (2009, dir. Jessica Hausner)
Archipelago (2010, dir. Joanna Hogg)
Wuthering Heights (2011, dir. Andrea Arnold)
Sister (2012, dir. Ursula Meier)

Update: I forgot about The House of Mirth (2000, dir. Terence Davies), which probably wouldn't have cracked the top ten, but is definitely worthy of a mention.

If I ever make a list of best taglines,
"Nothing tests faith more than a miracle" will be a strong contender.


10. Opening Night (1977, dir. John Cassavetes)

Gena x 4

9. Julia (2008, dir. Erick Zonca)

"It's time MY luck changed, and it's time something went right for ME for a change!"

8. Rachel, Rachel (1968, dir. Paul Newman)
7. Alps (2011, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
6. 3 Women (1977, dir. Robert Altman)

It's a shame, and also kind of weird, that despite being a Best Picture Oscar nominee directed by Paul Newman himself, Rachel, Rachel is so little-seen. It's also a shame that despite the well-deserved success of Dogtooth, Lanthimos's follow-up didn't get much attention, because they're pretty much equally awesome in my book. 3 Women isn't exactly the most typically Altmanesque film that Altman ever made, but I actually prefer it to the "overlapping dialogue" ones (not that some of those aren't great as well).

5. Code Unknown (2000, dir. Michael Haneke)
4. Summer Hours (2008, dir. Olivier Assayas)
3. Cría cuervos (1976, dir. Carlos Saura)

Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (love that title) might be my favorite Haneke, though it's a tough call between it, The Piano Teacher, Caché and Amour... In any case, it's great. I think the people who will find Summer Hours especially moving will be the ones who know from their own experience what it's like to lose one's childhood home in one way or another. And speaking of childhood, I'd be surprised if anything ever surpasses Cría cuervos as the best movie about it in my opinion.

2. Safe (1995, Todd Haynes)

"I lo... I love you. I really love you. I love you."

1. The Green Ray (1986, dir. Eric Rohmer)

If I had to choose my favorite film ever, it would probably be The Green Ray, but if I hadn't happened to hear it mentioned in some podcast a couple of years ago, I might still have no idea that it exists. I would be glad if even one person discovers a new movie to love thanks to this list.


  1. Thank you Jan for mentioning Cria Cuervos. It's criminal how little this film is discussed. It's probably one of my ten favorite films of all time. That other little seen film starring Ana Torrent (The Spirit of the Beehive) also is suffering the same fate. She gives astonishing performances in both.

    1. I was actually just planning to rewatch The Spirit of the Beehive today! I found it a bit too heavy on symbolism the first time around, whereas Cria Cuervos works amazingly well both as a coming-of-age story and an allegory. And Ana Torrent is almost certainly the best child actor I've ever seen (though I've read great things about Victoire Thivisol in Ponette).