Streampix Watch: Ten Sleepers to Keep You Up

by | December 3, 2013 at 5:45 PM | XFINITY Streampix

Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in "Midnight Run" (Universal Pictures)

The best thing about Streampix is the opportunity it offers to catch up on movies that might have eluded you the first time around, or even the second and third.  The following titles aren’t necessarily obscurities—they include the work of top-flight, Oscar nominated directors like Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh and Robert Altman, along with stars like Jack Nicholson, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert De Niro and Bill Murray. For whatever reason—perhaps their very quirkiness and unique sensibility—they have been unjustly overlooked, but in the middle of awards season and ubiquitous Ten Best Lists, here are Streampix’s 10 Underrated Sleepers:

A Mighty Wind”:  In the wake of the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” their loving, but pointed description of the Greenwich Village folk scene circa the early ‘60s, Christopher Guest’s 2003 “mockumentary” covers some of the same turf with a genial spoof featuring the reunion of a Peter, Paul and Mary-styled trio for a TV special. The film stars Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy along with regular members of his acting company Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Harry Shearer, Jim Piddock, Ed Begley Jr., John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch. One of the original songs from the film, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” written by Levy and O’Hara, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, and performed at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony by the pair in character. It won the Grammy Award as Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media category.

After Hours”: Before his new “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the last comedy Martin Scorsese directed (unless you count the Sacha Baron Cohen sections of “Hugo”) was this 1985 decidedly low-budget black farce in which Griffin Dunne plays a yuppie who ventures into New York’s then-edgy, downtown Soho neighborhood, where all sorts of mishaps befall him. The movie also stars Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, Catherine O’ Hara and Cheech & Chong (?!!). It was the film Scorsese directed in between “The King of Comedy” and “The Color of Money.” Memorable scene: Dunne is trapped in a full body sculpture resembling Edvard Munch’s famed painting, “The Scream.”

The Border”: British director Tony Richardson helmed this 1982 study of a border guard, played by Jack Nicholson in one of his most intense performances, caught up in the trafficking of illegal Mexican immigrants. A movie that spotlights an issue that still plagues us, it also starred Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine and Warren Oates, with a memorably atmospheric, brooding original score by bluesman Ry Cooder.

Defending Your Life”: Writer/director Albert Brooks’ prescient 1991 comedy examines a man who dies in a fiery car crash (trying to retrieve a fallen Barbra Streisand CD cover) who must make a case that he deserves to go to heaven. Meryl Streep plays his afterlife love interest, with a cast that also includes Rip Torn as his legal rep, Lee Grant, Buck Henry and Shirley MacLaine as herself. Includes a hilarious scene in a sushi bar.

Hollywoodland”: Ben Affleck gives one of his best performances in this 2006 period film noir as George Reeves, the man who played Superman on TV, with Adrien Brody the detective who tries to solve his mysterious 1959 death. The top notch cast also features Diane Lane and Bob Hoskins. It was only one of two feature films helmed by veteran TV director Alan Coulter, the other being the 2010 Robert Pattinson romance, “Remember Me.”

King of the Hill”:  Written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, based on the memoir by A.E. Hotchner, this 1993 feature, his third after “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and “Kafka,” follows the adventures of a resourceful 12-year-old (Jesse Bradford) who is abandoned by his parents in St. Louis at the height of the Depression and forced to fend for himself in a squalid hotel. The movie also features Karen Allen, Jeroen Krabbe, Lisa Eichhorn, Spalding Gray, Elizabeth McGovern, Katherine Heigl and Adrien Brody. Look for rap star Lauryn Hill appearing in a small role as an elevator operator. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the same award won by “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” in 1989.

The Man Who Wasn’t There”: The Coen Brothers’ haunting, luminously black-and-white 2001 feature about a barber (Billy Bob Thornton) in 1949 California and his efforts to blackmail the rich man (James Gandolfini) having an affair with his wife (Frances McDormand) recalls the noir plot of the siblings’ first feature, 1984’s “Blood Simple” as well as 1996’s “Fargo.” The cast also includes Coen regular Jon Polito, as well as Scarlett Johansson, Richard Jenkins and Tony Shalhoub.

Midnight Run”: Martin Brest, best-known for directing “Beverly Hills Cop” and notorious as the writer/director of the legendary 2003 disaster “Gigli,” created one of the greatest odd couple road movies of all time with this 1988 feature. The film memorably teamed Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin as a bounty hunter and the crooked accountant he must accompany from New York to L.A., respectively, while dodging the mob, the FBI and a rival bounty hunter along the way. A memorable cast also includes ace character actors Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano and Philip Baker Hall in this seamless blend of comedy and action. Classic exchange: “I know you all of two minutes and already I don’t like you,” says De Niro, while Grodin answers, “Gee, that’s too bad. I really like you.”

The Player”: Robert Altman’s 1992 movie based on the novel by Michael Tolkin, who wrote the screenplay is a poison pen satire about the film business, one of the best this side of “Sunset Boulevard.” Tim Robbins plays a beleaguered studio executive receiving mailed death threats, who murders an aspiring screenwriter (Vincent D’Onofrio) that he believes was behind the harassing postcards. The eclectic cast includes Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Lyle Lovett, Dean Stockwell, Richard E. Grant, Sydney Pollack and Dina Merrill. The movie was also packed with real-life cameos by the likes of Steve Allen, Harry Belafonte, Karen Black, Gary Busey, Cher, James Coburn, John Cusack, Peter Falk, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Joel Grey, Anjelica Huston, Jack Lemmon, Malcolm McDowell, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Rod Steiger, Patrick Swayze, Lily Tomlin, Robert Wagner, Ray Walston and Bruce Willis, all playing themselves.

Where the Buffalo Roam”: Almost 20 years before Johnny Depp tackled “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1998, Bill Murray and Peter Boyle played variants on the characters of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo in this 1980 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s groundbreaking journalism directed by Art Linson. Thompson’s obituary for Acosta, “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,” which appeared in Rolling Stone in October 1977, serves as the basis of the film, although screenplay writer John Kaye drew from several other works, including “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.” “The Great Shark Hunt,” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Thompson served as “executive consultant” on the film.