What do Allison Anders, John Cassavetes, and Alfred Hitchcock have in common? Aside from — in spite of? — being great directors, they’ve all made films that for whatever reason failed to land with the critics, the public, or both. But are their “failures” those of the filmmakers or of imagination on the part of the audience?
In the list of underrated movies by great directors that follows, IndieWire argues that often it’s the latter. These are films that were misunderstood — in several cases, by their own makers, which is part of what led to their public dismissal — or that never had the chance to be misunderstood because they were barely seen due to vagaries of timing and marketing. While they don’t necessarily represent the directors’ best work (though in a handful of cases, they do), they’re all better than their reputations and filled with pleasures characteristic of the filmmakers’ oeuvres.
The criteria for selecting these movies was fairly simple: They had to be films that, in one way or another, were underappreciated at the time of their release and remain so today. This is different, in some cases, than unappreciated; Martin Scorsese‘s “Cape Fear” was a hit and garnered its share of respect, and even a once-lambasted bomb like “Eight Million Ways to Die” has seen a slow but steady rise in popularity thanks to partisans like Quentin Tarantino. The question is whether these movies are as well regarded as they ought to be, and our answer is no!
“Cape Fear,” for example, isn’t just a solid foray by a great director into conventional genre filmmaking — it’s a Scorsese classic that deserves to be ranked alongside masterpieces like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “Casino.” (Interestingly, “Raging Bull” and “Casino” got even more mixed reviews in their time than “Cape Fear,” but quickly underwent critical reevaluations that have thus far eluded that film.) In 1991, “Cape Fear” had the bad luck to be Scorsese’s follow-up to “Goodfellas,” a game-changer that not only represented a giant leap forward for Scorsese but for cinema in general. Probably any movie that the director made after “Goodfellas” would have been seen as a letdown, and the fact that he chose a commercial assignment like “Cape Fear” left him even more open to criticism — never mind that some of the greatest American movies ever made, from “Touch of Evil” to “The Godfather,” began as similarly mercenary endeavors for their helmers.
Therein lies the issue at the heart of this gallery: too often movies by iconic directors carry the baggage of what came before and can’t be judged on their own merits in their own time. Maybe devotees aren’t in the mood for a director to try something different, like Walter Hill did when he shattered the genre he had previously valorized in “Wild Bill.” Maybe they simply weren’t able to get to the theater fast enough to see the movie before it closed due to bad luck and bad marketing. And in several cases in this list, the directors did themselves and their movies no favors by publicly expressing their own dissatisfaction with the work — when John Cassavetes trashed “Big Trouble” it more or less shut down any debate about the movie, since if its own maker didn’t like it, who would?
Well, maybe a lot of people if they actually gave it a chance. Here we present that film and 16 others that deserve another look — listed in no particular order.
With editorial contributions by Ryan Lattanzio, Wilson Chapman, Alison Foreman, and Kate Erbland.
Martin Scorsese: “Cape Fear”
Although “Cape Fear” was a hit in 1991 and even received Oscar nominations for Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis, it belongs on this list because it never really got the credit it deserved for being a full-blown Scorsese masterpiece — there was a sense in the reviews, even from Scorsese partisans like Roger Ebert and J. Hoberman, that the movie was a commercial sacrifice to endure so that he would be enabled to make more “artistic” films. (In his “Sight and Sound” piece, Hoberman weakly stood up for the movie by writing of Scorsese, “We need him. He needs a hit.”) The idea that Scorsese was slumming is completely bizarre, given that “Cape Fear” is filled with the director’s preoccupations and obsessions and doesn’t dilute its scathing vision of a family coming apart for one second. All one has to do is compare “Cape Fear” to any number of the other stalker films of the period (“Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Unlawful Entry,” etc.) to see how transgressive and personal it is — what escapist Hollywood studio movie of that or any other era has scenes of marital discord as rough as those between Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange here, or would dare to take the Juliette Lewis character where Scorsese and screenwriter Wesley Strick take her (implying that she is attracted to De Niro’s Max Cady partly because he wants to kill her father)? The Cassavetes influence, always present in Scorsese’s work, is at its most obvious in “Cape Fear,” a movie so brutal in its view of marriage, guilt, and weakness that it makes “New York, New York” look like “The Story of Us.” The fact that Scorsese explores these ideas in the framework of a relentlessly entertaining thriller isn’t a compromise; it’s the source of the film’s greatness. —JH
David Fincher: “Panic Room”
You’d be forgiven if, in the course of gazing at David Fincher’s enviable filmography – “Seven” to “Fight Club,” “The Social Network” to “Mank,” the all-timers “Zodiac” and “Gone Girl” — you forget about the wicked little claustrophobia machine he cooked up in between “Fight Club” and “Zodiac.” For any other filmmaker, “Panic Room” would be a highlight, a smart, nasty domestic thriller that they (including Fincher himself!) really don’t make anymore. Prolific screenwriter David Koepp’s basic premise is aces (and right there in the title!): A mother and daughter (the perfectly cast Jodie Foster and pre-“Twilight” Kristen Stewart) move into a swanky new townhouse that comes fully equipped with a state-of-the-art panic room. Super! What a delightful piece of added value! What they don’t know — but the three very different would-be thieves who break in during their first night in the joint do — is that the floor of the panic room is kitted out with a raft of bearer bonds. All the classic thriller tropes apply but are heightened by Fincher’s tense directing, the tangible sense of place, and strong performances (including Jared Leto getting truly scary, post-“Requiem for a Dream”). Tightly scripted, tautly directed, and still smart after all these years, it’s a gem in a filmography lousy with them. —KE
Hal Ashby: “8 Million Ways to Die”
After helming some of the best American films of the 1970s — “Harold and Maude,” “The Last Detail,” “Shampoo,” “Coming Home,” “Being There” — Hal Ashby crashed and burned in the 1980s, directing several movies in a row that were plagued with production problems and taken out of his hands by antagonistic financiers. By the time he got to “Eight Million Ways to Die” in 1986, Ashby’s clout had diminished to the point that he was thrown off the picture several times and had nothing to do with the final cut that was a critical and commercial disaster. Many of the creative forces involved with the film (not just Ashby but screenwriters Oliver Stone and an uncredited Robert Towne) disowned it, but don’t trust them —“Eight Million Ways to Die” is a neo-noir treasure jammed with worthwhile elements. First and foremost is a strong lead performance by Jeff Bridges as Matt Scudder, an ex-cop and barely recovering alcoholic who takes on a drug and prostitution ring run by the slick and sleazy Angel Moldonado (a terrific Andy Garcia a year before “The Untouchables”). Nobody does weary resignation crossed with edgy burnt-out resentment like Bridges, whose performance here stands alongside similar turns by William Petersen in Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” and Michael Mann’s “Manhunter.” All three films were part of a mid-’80s noir resurgence that felt like a delayed reaction to the success of Lawrence Kasdan’s “Body Heat” — and that, in Ashby and Friedkin’s case, seemed autobiographically reflective of their tarnished places in the film industry. —JH
Kathryn Bigelow: “K-19: The Widowmaker”
Kathryn Bigelow’s epic submarine adventure was (and remains) her most expensive film when it came out in 2002, and a commercial disappointment that kept her out of the director’s chair for six years until she came roaring back with her Academy Award-winning triumph “The Hurt Locker.” A riveting thriller, “K-19” should have been as popular as “The Hunt for Red October” or “Crimson Tide,” but evidently the idea of Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson as Soviet military officers wasn’t something a mass audience was interested in or willing to accept. Ford and Neeson are actually quite good in the movie (the oddness of them playing Russians is forgotten after a few minutes), and the film as a whole masters the art of creating tension in tight spaces. Almost the entire film takes place in a submarine, but Bigelow never feels limited by the constraints; the movie is visually alive with one arresting composition after another, and the images are expertly assembled to generate an almost unbearable sense of claustrophobia. “K-19” isn’t as much fun as “Point Break” or as ideologically provocative as “Strange Days,” but as a flawless exercise in nail-biting suspense, it’s impossible to beat. —JH
Allison Anders: “Grace of my Heart”
Indie icon Allison Anders’ foray into studio filmmaking didn’t find an audience when it was released in 1996, but its pleasures have only grown deeper and more obvious in the more than 25 years since. The heart of the movie is the richly detailed story of a singer-songwriter (Illeana Douglas) who struggles with others’ lack of faith in her voice — and then with her own loss of faith — before infusing her art with the triumphs and regrets in one of the most overwhelmingly affecting climaxes in all of American cinema. As a character study and portrait of the difficulties creative people have reconciling work and love, “Grace of My Heart” contains all the emotional power and anthropological authenticity of Anders dramas like “Things Behind the Sun” and “Gas Food Lodging,” but the film also operates on a whole other level as a sweeping portrait of an epoch in popular American music that starts in the Brill Building of the early 1960s and ends with the West Coast singer-songwriters of the ’70s. In between, Anders gets to cover a wide variety of styles and movements, all conveyed through original songs written for the movie that sound classic yet fresh, like the music the film is paying tribute to would have sounded in its original time. The same could be said about the film as a whole, which feels both completely of the period in which it takes place and like something that could only have been made in the mid-1990s, an age when the American independent film movement and the studio system intersected in a way that allowed auteurs like Anders to broaden their ambitions and expand their canvasses. —JH
John Carpenter: Memoirs of an Invisible Man
After writing and directing the most savage, uncompromising film of his career with the independently financed “They Live” (1988), John Carpenter made one last stab at big-budget studio filmmaking with the 1992 Chevy Chase vehicle “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” to disappointing commercial and critical results. In spite of its initial reception, “Memoirs” is a fascinating film on a number of levels – more fascinating, perhaps, than Carpenter realizes. It’s one of the few movies on which Carpenter declined to take a possessory credit, but his signature is all over “Memoirs” in its deft juggling of emotions and genres (it veers from romantic comedy to science fiction to escapist action to existential weariness) and dynamic Panavision framing and expressive use of anamorphic lenses. The movie has the infectious charm of a Hitchcock chase film like “Saboteur” or “North by Northwest,” yet like the latter has a bitter taste at its center — as the invisible man of the title, Chevy Chase is consistently angry and depressed, and his alienation from the characters and world around him make this “comedy” unsettlingly dark. Critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has suggested that there’s something autobiographical about the character as a projection of Chase’s sense of alienation from his own persona, and there also seems to be more than a little of Carpenter — no stranger to alienation and cynicism himself — in the acidic main character. —JH
Mike Nichols: “The Wolf”
Mike Nichols’ silly and sinister 1994 werewolf allegory more closely resembles a workplace drama than an outright horror movie. This expensive genre exercise, which met critical confusion at the time, takes very seriously the idea of… what would happen if Jack Nicholson, the editor-in-chief of a publishing house, were attacked by a wolf and became one? It’s a classy smarthouse horror yarn for adults — I daresay Elevated Horror before that became a now-pejorative thing — with a physically and emotionally feral Jack Nicholson but also a luminously beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer stealing the movie as she does. She plays Laura Alden, the daughter of the publishing tycoon (Christopher Plummer) who takes over Will’s (Nicholson) business and ousts him from the company. She’s solemn, withdrawn. But Will forms an uneasy bond with her over a peanut-butter-and-jelly lunch before she becomes witness to his lycanthropic transformations and ends up his confidante. And aided by the unsettling swirls of Ennio Morricone’s score and cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno’s languid slow motion, those scenes ooze an inexorable terror as a now-hirsute and fanged Will hunts down deer in the woods surrounding Laura’s Vermont family estate. Stewart’s replacement is played by a smarmy-as-ever James Spader, with whom Will has an expertly staged animalistic showdown. But it’s ultimately Laura who wields the smoking gun and Nichols who builds a movie around an actress who never fails to bring an effortless charm and glamor to any role. Nichols had a hell of a time piecing this Columbia Pictures release together, alienating his original screenwriter Jim Harrison, who basically abandoned Hollywood altogether. And there was the casting musical chairs of Mia Farrow (then entangled in the Woody-Soon-Yi of it all) dropping out, and Sharon Stone turning down the role that went to Pfeiffer. Sure, Nichols made better movies before and after (he had “Postcards from the Edge” and “The Birdcage” on either side), but he’d never again be so comfortable and confident in a genre ordinarily outside his ambit. —RL
John Cassavetes: “Big Trouble”
Indie pioneer John Cassavetes didn’t make too many forays into studio filmmaking and when he did he often regretted it, never more so than when he stepped in to finish this 1986 comedy as a favor to his friend Peter Falk after original director (and screenwriter) Andrew Bergman bailed. The fact that Cassavetes was so dismissive of the picture has led many of his acolytes to dismiss it as well, which is a shame since it’s a warm and funny comedy in which Cassavetes’ exuberance and generosity toward his performers and audience are fully present. A clever comic riff on “Double Indemnity” that reunites “The In-Laws” costars Falk and Alan Arkin, “Big Trouble” is packed with the kinds of eccentric supporting performances that characterized all of Cassavetes’ most satisfying films: Beverly D’Angelo, Charles Durning, Paul Dooley, and many more provide fully realized comic performances rich enough to sustain entire movies on their own, and the director orchestrates the chaos with the same delirious abandon that he applied to more classic Cassavetes works like “Faces” and “A Woman Under the Influence.” While the ends are different and “Big Trouble” is certainly nowhere near as emotionally penetrating as those earlier movies, it does successfully merge Cassavetes’ idiosyncratic comic voice with a satisfying farcical structure in which both sides are well served; the movie has more flavor than a typical formula comedy thanks to the director’s touches, and perhaps it’s OK for Cassavetes’ rougher edges to be sanded off, just this once, in the service of a rousing crowd-pleaser. —JH
Bob Fosse: “Star 80”
Workhorse workaholic Bob Fosse’s last feature film before he died four years later in 1987 was “Star 80.” The beautiful horrors in fictionalizing (but with much painful verisimilitude) the final years of murdered actress and Playmate Dorothy Stratten are the work of a dark-hearted man exhuming his wearying soul. Mariel Hemingway, who fought for the role and even got breast augmentation surgery prior to shooting (though she’s said that cosmetic surgery was entirely of her own volition and not for the picture), is devastating as an ingenue being groomed and gaslit by her possessive, jealous freak husband Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). He brutally raped and murdered her in their Los Angeles home in 1980 while Peter Bogdanovich (with whom she was having an affair) put the finishing touches on the film he hoped would properly introduce her to the world, 1981’s “They All Laughed.” She was 20 years old, still just a kid from Vancouver whom Snider pulled out of a part-time job at a Dairy Queen and thrust violently into the spotlight.Roger Ebert at the time argued that Roberts deserved an Oscar nomination for his unhinged, sweaty, manic turn as Snider, but noted that the Academy doesn’t like to award actors who play sociopathic creeps without a soul. (That’s since changed, as we can see from the likes of Best Actor Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.”) Fosse wrote “Star 80” around Snider’s character, not Stratten’s, which led to much ire, including opposition from both Playboy’s Hugh Hefner and Bogdanovich himself. (Roger Rees plays him as a man named Aram Nicholas in the film). Both Hemingway and Roberts stare into the abyss with unflinching performances that turn “Star 80” into the closest thing Fosse ever made to a horror movie. But the filmmaker was true to himself and to the subject: There was no happy ending or redemption. And as awful as the inevitability of Stratten’s fate is in “Star 80,” Fosse’s filmmaking sings and sizzles. It’s a stylistic tour de force and a god-tier swan song from one of our greatest directors. —RL
Clint Eastwood: “The Eiger Sanction”
Clint Eastwood’s 1975 riff on James Bond is both one of his most entertaining movies and one of his most unusual — and easily one of his most underrated. Both an effective Cold War thriller and a sly spoof of the genre, it’s a film filled with oppositions and contradictions of the sort that would make Eastwood’s later work like “Unforgiven” and “Mystic River” so rich, but here the stylistic acrobatics and thematic complexity are presented as ingredients in a pulp thriller rather than a prestige picture. An explicit statement in favor of elitism that’s also filled with lowbrow humor and blunt violence, a macho adventure film that questions and challenges mainstream assumptions about masculinity, race, and sexual orientation, and a deeply cynical satire punctuated by genuine feeling, “The Eiger Sanction” is one of Eastwood’s most tantalizingly audacious works. It’s also one of his most visually striking thanks to some spectacular European location work and mountain photography, and looks forward to the wild tonal experiments of “Sudden Impact” and “The Rookie” — two more Eastwood gems that deserve to be held in higher esteem. —JH
Joe Dante: “Explorers”
Director Joe Dante’s 1985 follow-up to “Gremlins” walks a similarly unconventional line between Spielbergian sentiment and Tashlinesque pop satire, with an undercurrent of unsettling melancholy thrown in for good measure; yet unlike “Gremlins,” this potent blend failed to connect with a mass audience. Why is a total mystery, given that there’s warmth and wonder to spare in the first half of the film as friends Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, and Jason Presson build their own spaceship; when they actually manage to rendezvous with the aliens who have been communicating with them, the movie shifts gears to become a gloriously silly barrage of jokes, sight gags, and pop culture references before shifting gears again to become a quiet meditation on the inevitable disappointments of dreams realized. The special effects by Industrial Light & Magic and make-up wizard Rob Bottin are extraordinary, yet for once don’t overwhelm the intimacy of the performances; Dante is that rare director who knows how to dazzle us with spectacle without smothering the actors underneath the pyrotechnics. While there are emotional threads (like an oddly abbreviated love story) and thematic connections that aren’t completely developed or resolved — the result of an accelerated schedule imposed on Dante to hit a summer release date — “Explorers” is ultimately one of the most enchanting and resonant fantasy films from an era that was filled with them, and a worthy companion to later Dante gems like “Matinee” and “Small Soldiers.” —JH
Alfred Hitchcock: “The Paradine Case”
“The Paradine Case” is the fourth and least well-known of Alfred Hitchcock’s collaborations with producer David O. Selznick, who clearly was working some things out in this movie — he wrote the screenplay, and its story of a married lawyer (Gregory Peck) who becomes obsessed with a gorgeous client accused of murder (Alida Valli) has obvious parallels with Selznick’s own life at the time. (His marriage had recently imploded thanks to his infatuation with actress Jennifer Jones.) Selznick’s personal investment in the material gives “The Paradine Case” exceptional intensity in the scenes depicting Peck’s almost comical lust for Valli, who is clearly not to be trusted, and then Hitchcock doubles down on the film’s psychosexual intricacies by melding Selznick’s preoccupations with his own. Among other things, Hitchcock was one of the cinema’s great chroniclers and analyzers of the institution of marriage — he was every bit as probing when it came to the subject as Paul Mazursky or Ingmar Bergman — and the relationship between Peck and his wife (Ann Todd) in “The Paradine Case” is both painful and touching thanks to Hitchcock’s acute understanding of the ways in which long-married couples can wound and heal one another. It’s also one of the director’s most feminist works, with a running motif in which the upper-crust men with whom Peck associates shut out, abuse, and otherwise exploit the women in their lives. In one of the movie’s creepiest scenes, judge Charles Laughton goes full Roger Ailes on Ann Todd, and the scenes in which a room full of men decide Valli’s fate are unsettling and resonant. Hitchcock conveys all of these complex ideas with uncommon concision and clarity via subjective tracking shots and intricate choreography of both actors and camera that looks forward to even more ambitious formal experiments in “Under Capricorn” and “Rope.” —JH
Ron Shelton: “Hollywood Homicide”
Forget “The French Connection.” The best chase sequence in the history of American movies begins almost an hour-and-a-half into Ron Shelton’s 2003 action-comedy and doesn’t let up for 20 minutes, taking the characters and audience from Beverly Hills to Hollywood in a thrillingly choreographed pursuit filled with visual invention and verbal wit. The barrage of increasingly impressive practical effects and stunts inspire a sense of awe with which CG can’t compete, and it’s all as funny as it is exciting thanks to Shelton’s many clever Hollywood-centric touches (local traffic helicopters getting involved in the chase, a Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony interrupted, etc.). The whole movie, in fact, is a kind of sly satire on Hollywood buddy movies — Hollywood lore has it that the director wanted to call the movie “Hollywood Homicide 2,” but the suits didn’t get the joke — but Shelton has his cake and eats it too by delivering a pastiche that’s better than most of the movies that inspired it. That climactic chase, by the way, isn’t even the film’s only classic set piece; a dual interrogation scene in which Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett’s characters are simultaneously questioned by internal affairs in adjoining rooms with two-way mirrors is one of the funniest and most elegantly constructed comic sequences Shelton ever conceived — which means it’s one of the funniest and most elegantly constructed comic sequences anyone ever conceived. Shelton is exalted among film buffs for his witty sports comedies (“Bull Durham,” “Tin Cup”), as he should be, but had this and his earlier “Dark Blue” been the hits that they should have been he would also be recognized as one of the best action directors of the post-Peckinpah era. —JH
Steven Soderbergh: “The Underneath”
Steven Soderbergh disliked this 1995 neo-noir so much that it motivated him to reboot his entire career; feeling he had squeezed all the life out of the material with his formalism, he went back to ground zero for the funky DIY comedy “Schizopolis,” which recharged his creative batteries and sent him on the path that would lead to “Out of Sight” and beyond. Soderbergh’s self-criticism aside, “The Underneath” is a fascinating piece of work, an ennui-drenched heist film that turns the bleak worldview of ’40s film noir into the stuff of absurdist comedy. Its depiction of a man so clueless that his attempts to correct past mistakes result in nothing but tragedy provides a provocative bookend to the equally lacerating portrait of male self-absorption in “sex, lies, and videotape,” and the structural playfulness of Soderbergh’s pseudonymous script is entertaining from beginning to end. After making the movie, Soderbergh said that there should be a cinematic police force entrusted with arresting any director who thinks of an idea like combining Antonioni’s “Red Desert” with an armored car heist movie, but he was dead wrong: It’s exactly the unusual tension generated by those two disparate styles that gives “The Underneath” its haunting kick. —JH
Oliver Stone: “The Hand”
Michael Caine creates one of the cinema’s indelible portraits of male rage as a cartoonist who loses his hand in a car accident only to see it return as a manifestation of his resentments; the murder spree that ensues and Caine’s steady mental breakdown results in a hallucinatory nightmare with both the eerie surrealism of “Eyes Without a Face” and the razor-sharp clarity of a Hitchcock film. According to the extras on the movie’s Blu-ray, writer-director Oliver Stone saw “The Hand” as a compromise in which the balance between psychological suspense and explicit terror was never properly achieved; thus, we have another instance in which one must trust the tale, not the teller, since in fact “The Hand” is an impeccably calibrated thriller in which the more graphic horror moments flow organically from the internal tensions Caine and Stone establish. King Baggot’s high-contrast cinematography is slightly more garish than the more sophisticated work Robert Richardson would contribute to subsequent Stone directorial efforts, but it perfectly expresses Caine’s splintering psyche and gives a nice pop art feel to the fable; although in many ways it’s a stylistic exception in Stone’s oeuvre, the film provides an early glimpse of the feverish intensity that would characterize more ambitious later works like “JFK” and “Any Given Sunday.” —JH
Damien Chazelle: “Babylon”
After years as a filmmaking golden boy, “La La Land” director Damian Chazelle experienced his first major critical fumble with “Babylon,” his three-plus hour epic about dreamers and schemers in the Silent Era of Hollywood and the heartbreak of being cast out from success when the industry and the world move on without you. The project, which feels like both a eulogy to cinema as a concept and a desperate attempt to affirm that it will live on forever, was greeted with jeers by critics and shrugs from general audiences, its monster ambition only matched by its monster failure at the box office. But despite the film’s obvious flaws, its strengths are stronger than many gave it credit for. Chazelle, an excellent craftsman with the capability to bring gorgeous images to life, has never created more lovable or human characters than the ones seen in this film, from the striving Manny (Diego Calva) to the insecure fading heartthrob Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt). Many of the film’s sequences, including the entire 20-minute opening party scene and the extended cross-cutting film shoot sequence, would be career highlights for any other director, and it’s enthralling to see Chazelle, typically so buttoned up, let loose and attempt to get a bit messier. “Babylon” is best seen as a fable, a broadly told classic tale about how showbiz chews up the little people and spits them all out and how the medium remains enthralling despite all that. Through that lens, the film’s ending — the most ridiculous, galaxy brain, and somehow endearingly emotional sizzle reel in the history of the medium — isn’t just an appropriate final scene, it’s the only ending the film could ever have. Like Margot Robbie’s freewheeling Nellie La Roy, the messiness of “Babylon” is exactly what makes it so great. And even the film’s biggest haters can’t deny that Justin Hurwitz’s score absolutely whips. —WC
Tim Burton: “Frankenweenie”
Your mileage may vary on the more divisive entries in Tim Burton’s scattershot filmography; see Disney’s live-action “Alice in Wonderland” and “Dumbo” remakes or the cult classic alien invasion comedy/Ed Wood homage, “Mars Attacks!” But “Frankenweenie” stands out as the most criminally undervalued animated work from the man behind Halloween-time staple “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and mainstay makeup tutorial inspiration “Corpse Bride.”
The 2012 stop-motion masterpiece offers a feature-length expansion on Burton’s short film of the same name to delightfully creepy success. It tells the tragicomic story of Victor Frankenstein: a Super 8-obsessed young scientist whose beloved dog, Sparky, is unceremoniously mowed down chasing a fly baseball into the street. When Victor pulls a “Pet Sematary” and resurrects his four-legged best friend, Sparky isn’t quite the same… and neither are the dozens of other creatures that descend on the town when kids at school foolishly copy Victor’s science project. With countless references to B-movie masters of yesteryear and some particularly great casting — Winona Ryder is an excellent Elsa Van Helsing — “Frankenweenie” will bring your love for Burton back from the dead.—AF