12 Underrated Movie Gems
On a cross-country drive, in a desolate stretch of the Southwest, a nice guy (Kurt Russell) and his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) get stranded, and she goes missing. Director/co-writer Jonathan Mostow's R-rated thriller is a minor masterpiece of gritty, convincing, at times unbearably suspenseful action. While it was a sleeper hit when it came out, it has been largely and unjustly forgotten. But 13 years later, it holds up way better than so many flashier action flicks — though Russell's giant cell phone is good for a laugh, and of course the damn thing never works when he needs it most. —Jess Cagle
Calling this Jean-Claude Van Damme's best film is the definition of a backhanded compliment. So let me add that it's also one of the best action flicks of the '90s. As a time-traveling lawman, he does what you expect (bust skulls) and one thing you don't (prove he can act). — Chris Nashawaty
Dumped in theaters in the doldrums of February 2007 with little advertising fanfare, Breach never stood a chance with audiences. Which is almost criminal, because the movie's a terrific political thriller. Based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, the veteran FBI agent convicted in 2001 of spying for the Soviet Union, Breach stars a brilliantly creepy Chris Cooper as Hanssen; a convincing Ryan Phillippe as the young agent tasked with busting Hanssen via an undercover op; and a no-nonsense Laura Linney as Phillippe's FBI handler. The espionage on view here is hardly glamorous: Much of the story unfolds, at a rather deliberate pace, in FBI offices that look like a dank basement. Yet director Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) still manages to make this tale of treason nothing short of fascinating. — Missy Schwartz
I absolutely loved the comedy Prime and was flabbergasted when hardly anyone else seemed to care about it. Meryl Streep was at her funniest as a therapist who finds out her son is dating her client, played by a charming Uma Thurman. It was hilarious and people just didn't seem to pick up on it. —Dave Karger
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
People tend to complain about the dire state of the romcom, yet the terrific Definitely, Maybe — quietly released in February 2008 — has been continually overlooked (was it the Oasis reference in the title?). Ryan Reynolds is at his most charming playing Will, a soon-to-be divorced dad to precocious 10-year-old Maya (Abigail Breslin), who is curious about his life before marriage. As Will reflects on the past, we flashback to his romantic entanglements with three very different women (Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Isla Fisher), in this unpredictable and very satisfying romantic comedy. Bonus: Kevin Kline shows up and steals every scene he's in. — Sara Vilkomerson
10. GIGOLO JOE
FROM A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
PLAYED BY Jude Law
PROGRAMMING Humanoid hustler Joe accompanies young ''mecha'' David (Haley Joel Osment, above left) on his Pinocchio-like quest to find the Blue Fairy and become a real boy.
SPECIAL FEATURES Joe, who struts to his own soundtrack of old love songs, can alter his hair color and his accent according to the whims of the client he's, um, servicing.
WHY HE PUSHES OUR BUTTONS David may be A.I.'s protagonist, but it's cynical Joe, with his contempt for the humans who've built him, used him, and discarded him, who gives the movie its kick.
Big Love's Bill Paxton plays a very different kind of religious family man in his 2002 directorial debut, about an axe-wielding serial killer who thinks he's on a mission from God. Part Atticus Finch, part Se7en's John Doe, he shares his visions with his two impressionable young boys to disastrous results. Years later, his seemingly-conflicted son — Matthew McConaughey in non-mimbo mode — confesses his father's sins to the cops, but the jarring conclusion might shake your own faith. —Jeff Labrecque
20th Century Fox buried Mike Judge's Brave New World-on-nitrous-oxide dystopian comedy in an unmarked grave, dumping it in just 135 theaters with no marketing support whatsoever, and the result was a paltry $444,093 box office tally. It deserved way better. A Rip Van Winkle story set in a post-apocalyptic dumbed-down America, Idiocracy wrings scathing satire out of a bleak vision of the future that seems more frighteningly plausible by the day. — Josh Rottenberg
Far and Away (1992)
It's almost impossible to find a defender of Ron Howard's Gilded Age immigration epic, but here's one. With its forbidden romance between a wealthy Irish landlord's daughter (Nicole Kidman, fragile as bone china) and a poor sharecropper's son (Tom Cruise, in the last great role to tap his cockeyed boyishness), Far and Away pulls a star-crossed love story out of class conflict the same way Titanic would five years later, though with decidedly less CGI and a more honest look at the immigrant experience. With exuberant Old Hollywood flair, Howard created his own American foundation myth, complete with a larger-than-life depiction of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893 that would have made David O. Selznick take notice. —Christian Blauvelt
Death to Smoochy (2002)
The target — Barney-type children's shows — may be tired, and the humor occasionally broad, but this arsenic-laced comedy, in which children's charities are a front for the mob and Robin Williams plays the moral antithesis of Patch Adams, is just so perfectly, nastily hilarious. It's a satire so black, it's purple. —Keith Staskiewicz
Galaxy Quest (1999)
On a quest to find one of the funniest films of the past 15 years? Well, look no further than 1999's Galaxy Quest. Yes, I'm serious. First, there are the stars — Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and the not-yet-famous Justin Long — who go where few award-winning actors have gone before: slapstick comedy. Then, there's its undeniably delightful Star Trek-inspired premise, which is appealing to both nerds and anyone who has ever met a nerd. (So, everyone, really.) Sure, the movie is stupid. But when you consider how well it still holds up today, it's stupid like a fox. Or a Thermian. —Kate Ward
Tommy Boy (1995)
This road trip comedy about a slacker dude forced to grow up after his rich dad's death, with Chris Farley and David Spade, did nothing for me on first viewing — though I was drunk at the time, too, which you think would have helped. But when I saw it again, this time sober, I laughed my arse off. The movie has the same pathos that so many laud in Judd Apatow's recent sex comedies — but without any of the language or raunch. Farley is the sweet and goofy doofus; Spade is the perfect straight man foil; they're great together. It's a sincerely earnest, old-fashioned tale about male friendship and a son getting over his dad's death. And it gets better and better with repeat viewings — when sober. —Jeff Jensen