The Gift
You know those movies at the video store that you've never heard of, but that have lots of famous people in them? And you know it must have sucked, or else you'd have heard of it? The Gift is the counter-example. It was great, with Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, and an intense Giovanni Ribisi. I think the problem with this film (strictly in terms of no one seeing it, mind you) is that they didn't know how to pitch it, and to whom. Its kind of a horror movie, so people who don't like horror movies will never see it (Hi, Mom), but it moves to slowly, with actual, you know, characters and stuff, for fans of slasher-porn. No, that's not fair. I love a good scare, but the point is that if you are going for the scare-rush, this movie will probably disappoint you. It is a horror movie in the same way The Sixth Sense was (which you should also see if you haven't already).

The Mothman Prophecies
Not as good as The Gift, but in the same vein, in that it is a horror movie that will bore straight-up horror fans. If you liked the X-files (the show, the show, for God's sake, not the movie), you will like this low-key blend of the eerie and the dramatic. Richard Gere was not at all annoying in this picture.

The Lion In Winter
A delight. Double and triple crosses, enough to make your head spin, with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn having the time of their lives. And a very young Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

Fearless
You can take your Airport movies - this is the most horrifying plane crash movie by far. And yet it does not dwell at all on the violence or horror of the crash itself. When it begins the crash has already happened, and Jeff Bridges has survived. You spend the rest of the movie trying to figure out if he has undergone a mystical transformation as a result of his brush with death, he is crazy, or just a self-absorbed asshole.

Out Of The Past
If anyone ever asks you to define the term "film noir", just wordlessly point them to this movie. It is THE perfect example of the genre. Doom and foreboding hang over this movie like a cloud, with a femme fatale, a byzantine plot, and a tough guy trying to go straight who gets sucked back into his former life of crime. Robert Mitchum is, as ever, laconic. I've seen it three times on the big screen (yay, Brattle Theatre in Cambridge!) and would love to see it again. I like Casablanca as much as anybody, but for my money, Out Of The Past is right up there. Oh, and Kirk Douglas gets to chew the scenery in a way that will freak you out because of his similarity to his son.

The Enemy Below
OK, I have a weakness for submarine movies. Like Out Of The Past, this one also stars Robert Mitchum. If you liked The Hunt For Red October, you will like this. It is WWII, and Robert Mitchum is the captain of a navy ship, and the whole movie consists of a cat-and-mouse with a German U-boat. Sub movies are kind of like courtroom dramas in that there is a lot of communication, but it must take place over an extremely constrained and/or formalized channel. After trying to kill each other for the entire movie, without ever meeting, Mitchum and the U-boat commander know each other perfectly, and come to respect one another as equals.

The Limey
Starring Terrence Stamp. He is a Brit who has just been released from jail, and while he was put away, his daughter died under suspicious circumstances in L.A. Now that he's out, he is determined to get to the bottom of the situation. This is not the best movie you will ever see, but it is a solid B-movie with that rarest of endings, a twist that makes perfect sense, and does not seem like a too-clever-by-half Mamet-style contrivance.

Laputa (The Castle In The Sky)
Miyazaki is hardly unknown, but he is known more for his later movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. Laputa is a lush animated fantasy that takes place in a sort of alternate Victorian world. It is simply breath-taking. If you like this sort of thing, rent it. And also rent his wonderfully sweet My Neighbor Totoro.

Notes From Underground
A modern take on a book by Dostoevsky (which I have never read), this movie is in my Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movies film series. If you feel isolated and are filled with brutal self-loathing, and your self-loathing is really just a specific case of the general loathing you feel for all of humanity, you are not alone - see this movie.

Fight Club
OK, so you've probably heard of it and may have seen it. I'm including it because I've run into tons of people who would definitely like or love this movie who won't give it the time of day. It is bitterly funny, angry, and smart. Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, whatever you might think of them, have each never been better. It is a satire of modern life, in the best sense of the term. Someday I'll include it in my Guy Angst Film Series along with American Beauty and About Schmidt.

The Iron Giant
A non-computer generated animated feature by Brad Bird (who also directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille) about a boy in the 1950's who befriends a huge robot from outer space. Cold war paranoia intrudes in the form of a pesky government agent who is determined to neutralize the robot one way or another. It is hard to say what exactly it is about this movie that makes it so funny, warm, and charming, but trust me, it is.

Santa Sangre
Italian/Mexican very, very weird movie. Incredibly vivid, moving, and disturbing. If you like David Lynch in his stranger moods, you will like this movie.

Dark City
A mind-fuck movie in the vein of The Matrix. I can't imagine why more people haven't heard of this movie. Its even got Jennifer Connelly doing sultry musical numbers. If you like Matrix-style sci-fi, you will almost certainly like this movie a whole lot, although it must be said that some people hate Kiefer Sutherland pretending to be Peter Lorre. It worked for me - what can I say. Just where is Shell Beach?

Donnie Brasco
One of my Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movies. Johnny Depp is a cop who goes deep under cover to infiltrate the mob, and Al Pacino is the mid-level enforcer who takes him under his wing. It is, of course, about the relationship between the two men: Depp wrestles with his ambivalence, caught between two worlds and value systems, and Pacino is the aging criminal whose career had stalled out, and who tries compensate for the fundamental shabbiness of his existence with swagger and an outsized sense of honor. This bleak movie contrasts interestingly with the Godfather movies, which made the mob life seem somehow grand and larger than life.

Deep Cover
Larry Fishburn (back when he WAS Larry) also goes deep under cover to infiltrate the mob. This is, more than Donnie Brascoe, a by-the-numbers crime genre picture, but considerably better than most. The too-neat ending betrays the subtleties and ambiguities of the rest of the movie, however. Kind of like how the cute twist at the end of Unbreakable makes the movie only half as good as it was up to that point.

Bullets Over Broadway
People love to bash Woody Allen's later work, and largely with good reason. Like most people who don't make their living watching and writing about movies, I haven't actually seen a whole lot of his recent stuff. But this one was a keeper - a lighthearted fable about art and artists. John Cusack is a young (bad) playwright full of pretension and ambition who gets shown a thing or two by mobster Chazz Palminteri.

Affliction
Another Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movie. Nick Nolte is a man wrestling with a bunch of inner demons, mostly resulting from his crappy upbringing by his alcoholic abusive father, played by James Coburn. Nolte is one raw, exposed nerve in this movie, contrasting sharply with his brother (Willem Dafoe) who reacted to their shared childhood by becoming a repressed automaton. It is mostly about Nolte (Dafoe narrates but otherwise is hardly in the picture). See it - Nolte and Coburn are powerhouses.

The Wild Bunch
Hardly an undiscovered gem, I know, but still most modern moviegoers haven't seen it. It is a western: a bunch of aging outlaws in 1913 get together for one last job (we all know how well that works out). The movie is beautiful to look at, and has a poignancy about it, as these guys know that their careers, and the whole western way of life are quickly coming to an end.

Jacob's Ladder
Another under-rated horror film, and under-rated for the usual reason: it would bore straight-up thrill seekers. Be warned: it is pretty bleak in tone. Tim Robbins plays somewhat against type here, and it works very well. Creepy and affecting, and very poignant. Although, like Unbreakable, Jacob's Ladder was compromised by a too-cute twist ending.

Mephisto
Sorry to get all Euro-arty on you, but if you are interested in the intersection of art and ambition (or expediency) (see Bullets Over Broadway, above), or if you are interested in Nazis, you should see this movie. It is about a theater group manager in Wiemar Germany who allows himself to be held up by the Nazis as a poster child for the German Kultur. He thinks he is using these thugs to advance his career, but of course by the time he realizes just how deep they have their hooks into him, he is nothing more than their puppet. There. I've blown the whole movie for you. See it anyway. Hope you don't mind subtitles.

The Lookout
Another movie that was overlooked because it is difficult to categorize. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a guy who has a similar problem to the one Guy Pearce had in Memento: brain damage that affects his memory. He gets sucked into a heist by some unsavory types. Jeff Daniels has a wonderful role as his blind mentor/room-mate. A heist picture that is too much about the characters to draw the Ocean's Eleven crowd.

City of Lost Children
More subtitles, but it hardly matters in this movie. It's all about the visuals. This movie comes as close as any live action movie I've seen to seeming like a cartoon. Trippy and steampunky.

Hard Boiled
If all you know about John Woo is his American movies, you are missing out. I saw a preview of this film and it was three minutes of mayhem. I figured that they had cobbled together the violent climactic scenes from the movie for the preview, but no! They had simply taken a random three minutes! But don't be put off - believe it or not, this is a joyful, tightly choreographed ballet of violence.

Children Of Men
Of all the movies that can be lumped into the "post-apocalyptic" genre, this one is by far the move realistic and the bleakest. It takes place in the near future, in which a mysterious global infertility epidemic has sent all of mankind into a kind of self-destructive cycle of despair, and pretty much everything has gone to Hell. Clive Owen stars. This is an affecting movie that you will remember for a long time.