Published On: Sat, Feb 23rd, 2019

With the Oscars Near, Here are some Underrated Films at Your Local Library

Parts of The New Hope-Solebury collection (left) and Lambertville’s (right)

The 91st Academy Awards are Sunday night, February 24. Theaters are quite far away from us, although On Demand options have made life easier for busy people.

To mark the occasion, I decided to comb through the DVD collections at the Free Library of New Hope and Solebury as well as the Lambertville Free Public Library.

Both locations have free DVDs available (for people who still own players) and I thought their collections were very under-appreciated. So I decided to focus on underrated films available at both locations, since movies are not the first thing one might associate with a local library. I examined the past 50 years (1969-2019) and chose two from each library for each decade.

1970s:

Michael Caine in his prime seems like the definition of old school cool, but I often wonder if contemporary people thought the same way. The Italian Job was not done for a house for his mum. Patton and Cuckoo’s aren’t really underrated, but New Hope was light on the 1970s. The Warriors is a great introduction for younger people who have no idea the grit and urban decay of New York City in the ’60s-’80s and is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sorts of elimination. Instead of kids, we get gangs. The film is probably due for a remake, but who could actually pull it off? Martin Scorsese? Spike Lee? It’s probably best left for television with multiple directors, if it ever happens.

1980s:

The Last Starfighter came in the aftermath of Star Wars and E.T. and was lost in the popularity of kid-friendly ’80s movies, but still features an intriguing plot of aliens recruiting an earthing to help them win an intergalactic war. The Trip to Bountiful begins too much like its play adaptation, but I saw this at my maternal grandparents’ local theater with my paternal grandmother. She cried. I didn’t want to go, but I’m glad I did. The movie shattered my worldview that elementary school problems were the center of the universe. A Fish Called Wanda combines British and American humor and really started my Kevin Kline bandwagon. Lambertville also has The Emperor’s Club, not good enough to make the following lists, and is hardly a Dead Poets Society knock-off, but I continue to be enamored by his performances. The Bear is an exhilarating nature-action film with little dialogue about a bear cub that gets adopted another bear and must outwit hunters.

1990s:

Falling Down hit me like an anvil, even as an optimistic high school student. I remember the controversy in the wake of the L.A. riots, I remember my dad’s copy of Newsweek, and I remember this being a supposed harbinger for the 1994 elections. This film has been used to explain the Trump era, and even if you think that’s hyperbolic, it’s still worth watching again to make your own conclusion. Priscilla featured General Zod in drag! It humanized drag queens and LGBT people to me as a teenager and was simply a fun movie overall. Maybe being set in Australia is what made it an international hit. The 1990s were a key time for breaking down these walls. Ditto to Chasing Amy which demystified lesbians and bisexuals to mainstream audiences. Director Kevin Smith is famously from New Jersey and this the final chapter and most mature of his “Jersey trilogy.” It also tried to shake the straight male narrative that your future girlfriend should be an untouched cherry; the film showed a female lead who was unapologetic of her sexual past to a male lead who just couldn’t accept it. Gattaca, despite some oft-cited plot holes, examines the very real future of genetic engineering and an “inferior” protagonist who tries to beat the odds.

2000s:

I had a dog my entire childhood and know this is very doggo friendly area, but this Christopher Guest mockumentary pokes fun at the Westminster Dog Show world and is comedic improv galore that should just be appreciated for Fred Willard’s part alone. Read One Nation Under Dog after watching. The Station Agent has New Jersey’s (and Game of Thrones’) Peter Dinklage in a sweet movie featuring three characters who normally wouldn’t travel in the same circles; it’s also set in the Garden State. Iron Jawed Angels is an HBO film where Hilary Swank portrays New Jersey’s Alice Paul. It was not until seeing this film and looking at Swank’s, Paul, in a straight jacket having raw eggs force-fed to her through a tube, that I truly grasped what suffragists did for women’s right to vote. I will be pairing this film with a trip to the nearby Alice Paul Institute when my children are old enough. Speaking of children, Children of Men is the film here I’m most thankful to have seen on the big screen. There are two famous single-shot scenes that will leave you on the edge of your couch and director, Alfonso Cuarón has, Roma, up for Best Picture nomination at this year’s Oscars.

2010s:

Drive is another chapter of the alternative L.A. Noir genre. If you need a visual, how about 1997’s, L.A. Confidential? Even the catchy theme song evokes an after-the-dark neon lights feel and the movie is probably Ryan Gosling’s best performance. Looper is a dystopian time-travel piece set with a premise that mob-style killers are sent back in time to eliminate victims in the past. There is an antagonist called, “The Rainmaker” who meets up with the past and future self of “Joe” (played by both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It’s an excellent thriller that never made the headlines. The Experimenter is an artsy film that chronicles, Stanley Milgram, whose infamous “shocking” experiments tried to measure, in a post-Holocaust world, how much evil “good” people can do just because of the presence of an authority figure. Black Panther needs little description here; it’s nominated for Best Picture on Sunday. I just would like to write that I’ve enjoyed Forest Whitaker’s career arc and he’s like a fine wine, who only gets better with age.

About the Author

- Steve Chernoski is a writer, film director and teacher who lives in Lambertville. Here's his website: http://stevechernoski.com.

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