Last week I purchased a copy of The Best Movies You Never Saw by Joseph W. Smith III upon the recommendation of a high school friend, a worthwhile buy for film fanatics.
In it, Smith presents a brief overview of why he believes his choices are “under-the-radar films that were overlooked, unjustly trashed—or just plain terrific.” The entries average about a page (sometimes a tad more, sometimes less), each offering a brief synopsis along with the reason that Smith recommends the film.
As in most “best of” types of lists, the fun is multilayered. Of course, what order one chooses on these layers is personal, but first I checked out which movies I’d actually seen. I scored 58 of his 300, leaving lots of possibilities.
Next, I looked through unfamiliar titles to see which ones may be of interest, usually reading those entries a bit closer to start compiling a list of what to look for.
Smith makes that task easier with an appendix listing titles under divisions of cast members as well as both general and specific categories. He’s also provided a “bonus” list of well-known titles he recommends.
Eventually, people like me also start reading the entries to see if we agree or disagree with the writer’s assessment. Finally, and inevitably, we start compiling our own list of titles Smith missed in his volume and wailing “why?” to the heavens for such injustice.
Well, it’s not that traumatic, but I’ve always found that the fun of comparing personal notes on books, music, art in general, and especially film is in the personal contention of what should be ranked and where.
“What” we love and “why” is the pursuit for most of us when looking to the past, whether the topic be sports or movies.
Exchanging e-mails with Smith, I learned—not unexpectedly—that he contemplates a follow-up to this book, prompted by both his own interest in revising the topic and to address the aforementioned lists of missing titles he’s received from others.
So, with that in mind, I offer my own series of titles I didn’t see in his pages that I hereby nominate for a spot in any follow-up Smith offers. Like him, I’ll follow a somewhat alphabetical order except where I might offer a set of thematically-related films. I’ll try and keep my overviews brief, but that’s only to be able to get in as many titles as possible.
It’s my hope that once readers get through binging on the newer streaming offerings on Netflix, Amazon Primes, Disney, Apple TV, or whatever, they might search out some of these older movies to spend some worthwhile time with.
THE BEDFORD INCIDENT
For those of us of a certain age, the Cold War gave rise to many interesting films: Fail Safe, Seven Days in May, and the darkly comic Dr. Strangelove come to mind first, along with the conspiracy movies such as Three Days of the Condor.
The Bedford Incident offers the Naval version of these story lines as a journalist (Sidney Poitier) does the equivalent of a “ride-along” on the USS Bedford, a destroyer escort sailing the North Atlantic while tracking a Russian submarine. His assignment is to interview its commanding officer, an officer who’s been passed over for promotion yet survives because his renegade behavior keeps producing results.
The captain, portrayed by Richard Widmark, may not be favored by the admiralty, but his crew is devoted to him to a degree of being cult like. The film opens with all hands at battle stations, their captain having earlier called general quarters. This particular commanding officer maintains a state of intense alert that eventually morphs into obsession for both the Bedford’s Ahabesque captain and his crew.
Added to the cast is Martin Balsam as a reservist doctor who finds himself inserted into this seagoing madhouse and a young Donald Sutherland as a Navy corpsman.
The story ends in an unexpected yet feasible way that perhaps scared me the most because I watched it just prior to being assigned to one of the very class of warships depicted here and as part of the Atlantic fleet during that era.
Like the present-day paranoia inherent in The Bedford Incident during the time of its release, Terry Gilliam’s too-often-unknown Brazil takes us to a future that may as well be a rebirth of the Spanish Inquisition combined with the society of Atlas Shrugged.
In the case of Brazil, the dystopian society seems far too contemporary in terms of action if not appearance. Jonathon Pryce tries to make sense of a society buried under redundant, useless, and constant paperwork wherein a literal “fly in the works” leads to the arrest and torture of an innocent man who finds himself charged with terrorism.
Ian Holm plays Pryce’s beleaguered office manager with comic nervousness that predates the cubicle workers in Office Space while Katherine Helmond, his “proper” mother, fits into this madhouse society all too well.
Meanwhile Robert DeNiro plays a renegade HVAC technician, himself classified a terrorist because he refuses to file the proper paperwork and permits with the government before making repairs. A cameo by Bob Hoskins rounds out a first-rate cast of other Gilliam favorites in a story that should unnerve anyone who remembers our country prior to the Patriot Act.
Directed by William Friedkin, this movie bombed both financially and critically, which is too bad because I find it an interesting study of one’s descent into madness.
A vet suffering from extreme PTSD begins dragging his girlfriend into his belief that the government has injected (or inserted) “bugs” into his body. The main problem with this film was that it was marketed as a film from the director of The Exorcist, setting up expectations for a film of that nature when it is more a psychological horror story than a supernatural one.
Starring Michael Shannon as the vet, Ashley Judd as his love interest and partner-in-insanity, and Harry Connick, Jr. as her abusive, ex-con ex-husband, Bug began as a play and translates nicely onto the screen. Two aspects of the film that stood out to me involved its setting and its characters, not surprising given its stage origins.
The movie opens with a sweeping long to medium camera shot that ends on Judd standing outside her residence, an isolated, low-rent motel, best described as one that, if you’d been driving all night along and were really tired and saw such lodgings coming into view, you’d opt to keep on driving.
In addition, the way the interior of her room degrades becomes a physical manifestation of the mental decline of the two main characters. When her ex comes in to a maze of hanging strips of flypaper bathed in blue light reflected by foil-covered windows and the sound of buzzing ballasts, we know we’re getting to the point of no return for Judd’s character.
The most sobering aspect part of that scene is that Connick’s character—an abominable person—proves to be the voice of reason here.
Bug may represent Judd’s best portrayal of a role, and Connick is great as her ex-con and abusive ex-husband. Shannon, of course, excels at being demented characters and actually got this job because of his portrayal of that character onstage.
Bug is not action, nor is it laden with special effects, but it is as unsettling a story as 1948’s The Snake Pit, another often-overlooked movie focused on an insane asylum for women.