While making my way up the IMDb Top 250, I was asked countless times, “Have you seen this film?” or “Is this on there?” The answer was almost always no. It’s hard to pick the “best” movies, and surely there are greats left off, but the ranks of the IMDb stuff quite a few good ones in there. Favorites, cult classics, and legendary stalwarts of cinema populate the list, but occasionally there were some very clearly underranked features. So, in a great gesture of pompous judgment, here are what I felt are the ten most underrated films on the list.
(You might notice the mentioned rankings on the IMDb Top 250 that I’m referring to is slightly different than the current list. I “froze” the list from August 17th, 2015 when I started watching them all from bottom to top. Here it is.)
Leonardo DiCaprio became famous for his roles in Romeo + Juliet and Titanic, and it took two decades to shake off his teen dream image and win an Oscar. Likewise, Scorcese spent several years watching the actors he directed win awards, never receiving the praise he deserved from the Academy. These two brilliant conductors of cinema come together for this suspenseful and dramatic story of a pair of investigators who search for the truth at a psych ward, which is not what anyone expects. The twists are plentiful, but it’s DiCaprio’s performance that makes this film something special.
I’ve read elsewhere that this one might be overrated, brought to the forefront because of Finch’s “mad as hell” tirade. The screenplay and script writing cannot be overlooked, however — the film addresses some television quirks far ahead of the trend, and Faye Dunaway as Christiensen personifies an industry rife with hypocrisy. Network deserves its accolades apart from the IMDb Top 250, and rightfully holds a firm position in the AFI 100.
This French thriller is set on the hard streets of downtown Paris — difficult to visualize with the way the city is romanticized in most films — whereas three young friends with too much time on their hands and hate in their hearts are tracked in the wake of a riot. One of the guys stumbles upon a gun, vowing to kill the next cop he sees. The rest of the film is a tightrope walk of tension and a web of prejudice and revenge that resonates with modern social issues on a deep level.
I immediately concede that Charlton Heston, in all his legend, is utterly rigid to a comic level in Ben-Hur. The film is still a masterpiece of effects, setting, and cinematography unmatched in the era. Naturally, it is carried by the still-incredible chariot race scene, but still has a screenplay and supporting cast that seems to be consistently overlooked.
Quite possibly the most bizarre ranking on the whole list, The Wizard of Oz‘s standing on the IMDb Top 250 does not reflect the film’s indelible influence on our culture and on cinema as a whole. Memorable characters, innovative effects, and symbolism inhabit the movie from end to end. We fall in love with Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion in spite of Dorothy’s naivety, and the Wicked Witch of the West stands as one of the greatest villains of all time.
DeNiro is such a boss. How do you pick? Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Noodles in Once Upon a Time In America, or Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull — especially in the 70s and early 80s, you can’t go wrong. But the screenplay of The Deer Hunter might be the only film of his earlier work where the movie managed to outshine his performance. It’s hard to find a place to start without gushing about this tremendous take on the Vietnam War, but if there’s anywhere to begin, take a look at the roulette scene about an hour into it.
I read elsewhere that The Best Years of Our Lives is the best film you’ve never heard of, and this is truth without question. Produced a mere year after V-E Day, the story picks up with three soldiers taking a plane back home at the conclusion of the war. A great struggle and fine victory for the U.S. indeed, but the real troubles begin when they land and have to reacclimate to a normal home life. World War II in film in the 50s is highly romanticized; The Best Years of Our Lives skips the patriotism and political correctness and tackles personal and social issues with no restraint.
Like Scorcese or Spielberg, it’s hard to pick a magnum opus for Stanley Kubrick. 2001 and The Shining might be his most prestigious work, but Barry Lyndon is the true underdog of his canon, and perhaps even his finest. The story follows a brave but naive man who stumbles into misfortune through a series of connected events — often related to his own pride — but eventually finds his way into great wealth. The whole premise is tongue in cheek, akin to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and is both a reflection of human vice and folly as well as a play on social norms of the 18th century. Humorous and tragic from cover to cover, it’s a film that shouldn’t be dismissed.
I was five films into the list, and this was already the third foreign feature. The first two had been fair, but Departures was an instant personal favorite, and stood as one of the best films on the list all the way to the end. Every great film seems to explore death on some level, but end up turning preachy or grisly about it. This Japanese masterpiece is a stunning reminder of the fragility of death, the value of tradition in the face of the unknown, and the importance of family. You’ll probably cry, both because of the story and because it seems to be over too soon.
1) Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (2003)
IMDb Ranking: 235
My Ranking: 45
It seems pretentious to title a film by seasons, and then traverse through each season in order. This preconception is quickly erased when you realize what the Korean film Spring is actually trying to do. This is not a “year in the life”, but the seasons of an entire life, both of a boy learning to become a man, and a teacher struggling to establish a legacy before the end of his days. The setting is breathtaking, taking place entirely on a small lake with an isolated house in the middle, creating a interesting dichotomy in the tranquility of the Buddhist tutelage and the hurdles of humanity and morality. Still one of the finest films I’ve ever beheld, and you’ll instantly agree once you get a chance to see it.