Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Favorite Underrated Dramas - Phil Nobile Jr. ""

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Favorite Underrated Dramas - Phil Nobile Jr.

Phil Nobile Jr is a writer and producer of non-fiction television content, and in his spare time is privileged to write about film for and its new print publication Birth.Movies.Death - More of a film enthusiast than a critic, Phil's first film memory is watching The Exorcist from the backseat of his parent's station wagon at the drive-in in 1973. You can find him on Twitter at @PhilNobileJr.

His column on what's interesting in the world of streaming movies at the moment - Phil's Big Streaming Pile - is always a great place to get recommendations.
Movies aren't sports and I am inherently opposed to ranking them. So this is not a "top five" or even a "five favorite" list; rather, it's simply five films I think more people should see. I hope you watch them and agree with me!

THE HILL (1965) - I could probably give you a list of underrated dramas consisting of nothing but the collaborations between Sean Connery and Sidney Lumet. Their first collaboration, set in a British military prison camp in North Africa, is almost avant-garde compared to most mainstream 60s cinema (stark black and white photography, no musical score to speak of, and an ending that presages the pessimistic nihilism of the 70s. with its long takes and big performances, the film feels like a bridge between Lumet's live television dramas and his later efforts. Today, film studies focus on Lumet's New Hollywood years and the gritty realism he brought to his celebrated films, but much of the director's teamings with Connery - this film, The Offence, The Anderson Tapes - are often quite bolder and more experimental than any of his more well-known work.

PATTI ROCKS (1988) - Before Clerks, this indie from the late 80s made some waves when it was slapped with an X rating for language. Billed as a "Serious comedy", this partially improvised character piece (a sequel to an undistributed feature from 1974 called Loose Ends) goes to some dark places as it unfolds, as two friends (Chris Mulkey and John Jenkins) drive all night to convince the younger friend's mistress (Karen Jenkins) to have an abortion. The drive is what critics noted upon release; it's a vicious, hilarious and uncensored look into how men (these men, at any rate) talk when no one is listening. The men crack themselves (and, for a time, us) up as they ratchet up the raunch, but things get quite serious when the men arrive at their destination. A VHS staple in its day, this film (which hosts in Mulkey one of the great performances of the decade) has never even made the leap to DVD.

THE INDIAN RUNNER (1991) - A temperamental young actor, more famous for his scraps with tabloid photographers than his film work, decides to make his directing debut with a script based on a song by the biggest rock star in the country. Sounds like a recipe for an embarrassing vanity project, but Sean Penn's The Indian Runner (based on Bruce Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman") is a heartfelt, ambitious first film about blood ties, bad seeds and the plight of the American farmer. Viggo Mortensen and David Morse are top-notch, and it's though it's not Charles Bronson's final film, it's his final GOOD film, a touching swan song for the legend. The film had an extremely limited theatrical release and was one of those titles that seemed to take forever to turn up on DVD, though it's popped up occasionally on MGMHD, to my delight.

MINNIE & MOSKOWITZ (1971) - I loaned this John Cassavetes gem to a friend, who later said "why isn't this on the Criterion box set?" It's a darn good question, and one that points up just how certain works fall through the cracks. One assumes it was a rights issue that kept this title (as well as the director's Husbands and Love Streams) from being allowed entry into the hallowed halls of Criterion, and it's a shame. Minnie & Moskowitz might be the director's most accessible film: though it's full of Cassavetes' trademark improvisational indulgences, it's got a lightness of touch and a good heart, tracing the rocky beginnings of a love story between a free spirit (Seymour Cassel) and a sad, guarded "kept woman" trying to reclaim her life (Gena Rowlands). It also contains two eminently YouTube-able scenes: one between Cassel and fringe genius Timothy Carey; and an exchange between Rowlands and Val Avery that might be the funniest blind date ever committed to film.

TRUE BELIEVER (1989) - James Woods plays a burnt-out civil liberties attorney whose unsavory clients pay him in marijuana. When an idealistic young paralegal (Robert Downey Jr.) presents him with an opportunity to defend an innocent man, he dusts himself off and goes up against the District Attorney (Kurtwood Smith) to fight the good fight one more time. This is a possible nostalgia pick, as this potboiler from the 80s was on cable seemingly every day, and it's just an unsubtle, satisfying, juicy piece of left-wing propaganda with a score that will stick in your head for months. Funny, overwrought, touching, and full of great character actors, it should maybe be a nostalgia pick for more people.


SteveQ said...

You, sir, have excellent taste in films! I loved Patti Rocks (more than most as I recognized the roads where they drove) and, trting to find a source for "Loose Shoes," ended up having someone read me the screenplay over the phone.

Anonymous said...

Sad that something like PATTI ROCKS has never made it to DVD. It was a real kick in the teeth "comedy". I saw part of it on a cable a year or so ago, so get your DVRs at the ready.
I also really admired the heart in TRUE BELIEVER.

Will Errickson said...

Man, that PATTI ROCKS VHS box was everywhere...

I'm making my way thru MOSKOWITZ on Netflix now. Those 2 scenes are indeed YouTube-worthy!