The Hidden Gems List (1997)

My Hidden Gems list is an in-depth look at all the films I feel are in some way, underseen, underappreciated, or just plain unknown, and they really shouldn’t be that way.

I have a lot of lists of films I really like on this blog. But there are a lot of films out there that I like, so it can be overwhelming for someone who just wants to find a few movies to watch. Plus, I assume that people reading this know enough about movies and have seen enough to where they know what big shit (Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, etc) they need to see. I don’t need to tell you that. Plus, everyone loves when you can find a movie that not a lot of people know about that’s really good that you can now show other people who don’t know about it.

So the idea was to write, in depth, about some movies that I love that I think people need to see. From each year. And what I’m gonna do is go very slowly go through all of them, and give them their time in the spotlight. And then you can read them and maybe find some to go, “All right, I should check that out,” and maybe add them to your Netflix queue.

The idea is to give you things to see (specifically ones I feel most people would ignore, have ignored, or would assume it wasn’t something they need to see, that I think are really good and worthwhile that not enough people know about), and to show some love to more stuff than the big things from each year. We get enough of that. The big stuff is always there, but it’s these ones that fill out a collection.

You can always buy a diamond, but isn’t it more fun to pan a gem from the rest of the dirt? Here are 1997′s gems.

1. Breakdown

    • I fucking love this movie. Pure B movie fun. I remember watching this movie so many times at random hours of the morning. It’s so good. Here’s the pitch: Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan are driving across the country. Their car breaks down. They stop a passing trucker, who agrees to take the wife to the next town so she can call a tow that can pick him and the car up. So she goes. Then Russell realizes his car is okay. Someone pulled out a wire or something. So he puts it back in and goes to the town. Only the people in the bar where the only phone is have no idea about the wife. She never came in, they say. They’ve never even seen her. And now Russell has to figure out what happened to his wife. It’s amazing. It’s so good. This is one of those great B movies they’d have made in the 50s. I’m telling you. It’s so great, and I can almost guarantee you haven’t seen this. And if you have, then you know. Love this movie.

2. The Full Monty

    • Not sure if it’s that hidden, but it is a gem, and one that possibly has been/will be relegated to being one of those films where everyone knows, “Oh, yeah… that one where the guys strip,” without actually seeing it. That’s the way it was with me. I never saw this and only did because of the Oscar Quest. And when I watched it, I thought it would be one of those Four Weddings and a Funeral movies… where it wasn’t anything special and was the product of everyone liking it at the right time and the whole thing just snowballing. Turns out, this was really fucking good. This is a tremendously entertaining movie, and is one I fear people may not see because they already “know” what it’s about. And that’s not right.

3. The Game

    • I love this movie. Again, I’m not sure how much of a hidden gem this is, but whatever. ’97’s not a particularly strong year for hidden gems. This movie, though — so much fun. And it’s definitely one of those Fincher movies that gets lost among the bigger stuff. All I’m gonna say is, if for some reason you don’t know what this is/haven’t seen it — go watch it soon. You won’t regret it.

4. In & Out

    • This has been one of my favorite movies since it came out. It’s so hilarious. Kevin Kline and Joan Cusack are fucking spectacular in this movie. In case you didn’t know, this movie is based (in the very, very loose sense of the word. More like, taken to the extreme) on when Tom Hanks won Best Actor for Philadelphia and thanked someone he knew who was gay. So this movie… it’s about Kevin Kline, an English teacher at a small town high school. He’s engaged to Joan Cusack, who he’s been dating for a long time, and finally proposed to. Both of them used to teach Matt Dillon, who has now gone on to be one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. And he wins an Oscar for playing a gay, crippled soldier. And at his acceptance speech, he thanks Kevin Kline, and says he’s gay. Which is kind of a bombshell, because Kline is like, “I’m not gay.” And this leads to a whole crazy comedy, where everyone is wondering if he’s gay, and it causes the wedding to be put into jeopardy, and then the media shows up — it’s really funny. Definitely one of the most underrated films of the 90s, right here.

5. Jackie Brown

    • Everybody forgets about this film when they think about Quentin. This is one of his best films. I like this better than Reservoir Dogs. I think this is such an underrated movie. And while I know anyone who really loves Tarantino will have seen this, and anyone who really loves movies will have seen this, I still feel like there’s a scary number of people who still haven’t seen this movie. And that’s not okay.

6. Kundun

    • It’s a Scorsese movie. The end. I know it’s his least accesible one, and is definitely an outlier in his filmography, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is still a Martin Scorsese movie and is made with the utmost craftsmanship and class that all his films are made with. I can 100% guarantee that this is the Scorsese movie that even the biggest film buffs won’t have seen. The Age of Innocence and After Hours are one thing, but this — even Scorsese fans will go, “No thanks.” You don’t have to say it. I know.

7. Mad City

    • I only vaguely knew about this movie because I heard Travolta talk about it once on Inside the Actor’s Studio. He told a story about how he couldn’t cry no matter how many takes they did. And on this one particular take, Dustin Hoffman ad-libbed one little line, and it made Travolta lose it. For some reason I remembered that story and went, “Well, it’s these two, how bad could this movie be?” So I put it in my Netflix queue, figuring I’d see it at some point. Then the Top Tens of the 90s list came around, and it gave me an excuse to see this. And I was blown away by how good it was. First, it was directed by Costa-Gavras, who also made Z and Missing, two really good films from the Oscar Quest. And it’s not actually about what it’s about. Which I was happy about. The setup is that Travolta is a museum security guard who gets laid off. And it comes at the worst possible time (you know, wife, kids, school payments, etc), and he just loses it. So he takes a class full of kids on a trip at the museum hostage. Meanwhile, Dustin Hoffman is a reporter who is also in the museum, interviewing the curator, and he goes out and tells everyone this, and it becomes a national story. And eventually the film becomes about what the media does to people. Since they’re on the scene, making up stories and creating a story, and how that alters the situation at hand and dictates what the outcome of it is going to be. It’s a very strong film, one that I was surprised I hadn’t known about for so long. And I know people. I know people haven’t seen this. People my age — there’s almost no way people have actually seen this movie. Which means I have to beat the drum for it. Since it’s really good, and I know this is almost forgotten nowadays. And it shouldn’t be. This is better than almost all the other films of 1997 that are out there.

8. The Rainmaker

    • Another one I fucking loved, despite not seeing it for almost 15 years after it came out. Fortunately this was part of the Oscar Quest, so I knew I’d see it eventually. (Scratch that. No it wasn’t. I thought Voight got nominated, but he didn’t. He got nominated for a Globe, not the Oscar. I saw this for my 90s list.) But it was always one of those movies that was in my Netflix queue (since… Francis Ford Coppola, Matt Damon). I knew I was going to see it, but it always managed to stay around #180 in my queue and never really found its way to the top. So finally when I saw it, I went, “Holy shit, this is great.” Look — there were like five major John Grisham adaptations made in the 90s (plus one in the early 2000s). They’re this, The Pelican Brief (which is the only one I still haven’t seen. But will, since it’s Alan Pakula, and is on my Directors list. So I will, at some point), The Firm, A Time to Kill, The Client and Runaway Jury (which is the early 2000s one). Notice anything about those movies? They’re pretty much all hidden gems (except The Firm, which I think most people know about because of Cruise) in that you expect them to be throwaway entertainment, yet they’re all really solid films that are better than that. (Oh, now that I think about it. They also made The Chamber into a movie in the 90s. That’s really the only one that’s not that great. But still, really strong percentage nonetheless.) I’d say, of all the Grisham films, this one makes a solid case for being my favorite (though I’m always gonna be partial to The Firm). It’s really great. To the point where I was expecting just some easy movie to watch that was all right, and I got something that was really great and entertaining. 

9. The Sweet Hereafter

    • This is a film that’s on most people’s top tens list for the decade, let alone 1997. I’m not crazy about this film, but that comes from a place of people talking so highly of it and getting into that whole Oscar thing, which is where shit gets contentious. On a pure film level, this is a very powerful film that stirs up some very strong emotions. It’s one of those films that really makes you feel something. It might not be the same thing that everyone else feels, but you definitely feel something. And it’s very well-made. This is one of those movies where everyone needs to see it just to see what they get out of it, if anything. I don’t care what your feelings are about this movie — you should see it.

10. Wag the Dog

    • And this movie. This is one of those movies that got lost on my radar for a long time. I saw it lie three or four years after it came out and fell in love with it. And I watched it a bunch and loved it. Then, while I went on to watch more movies, I forgot about it. Through college, I forgot about it. During the Oscar Quest, I forgot about it. Then one day (I think for the 90s list), I thought, “Man, I haven’t seen that movie in years. I should rewatch it.” I think it’s because I’ve always referenced that movie (because it’s so fucking good), but never really remembered how great it is as a whole. So I put it on, and man — does this movie hold up. It’s so fucking funny. David Mamet is amazing. His dialogue here is so funny and works so well. This is a perfect movie. It really is. And because it’s very 90s, and has strong ties to the Clinton scandal (even though they actually were in production around the time the scandal broke), I feel like people who have seen it might dismiss it as a product of the 90s and not think to watch it again. Which leaves it sitting there, waiting to be discovered by everyone who hasn’t seen it, and rediscovered by people like me, who go, “Damn, I really remember liking that a lot. Why haven’t I thought about that in almost a decade?” But seriously — if I can stress one thing upon you enough — if you have any trust in my taste in movies and haven’t seen this movie — give this one a shot. It’s fucking funny. And there are so many famous people in it with great roles, and David Mamet (when has he really steered you wrong?) wrote it, and Barry Levinson directed it. Trust me on this. This is one of the best films of 1997, bar none.

– – – – –

(Note: Here’s something I never thought to say, which I assume is implied in the articles — these are really only based on the movies I’ve seen. One movie I haven’t seen from this year, which I know is very highly regarded and would definitely fit on this list, is The Ice Storm. But I can’t put it on this list until I see it. So I just wanted to remind everyone that I can only recommend what I’ve seen. Eventually I’ll see all these movies I haven’t, but at this point, I’m still in the process of watching so much stuff that it may not be immediately. I’m kind of surprised (and grateful) it hasn’t come up yet. But I figured it’s worth mentioning. Since there are other ones that could easily be on this list, and possibly might at some point, when I update them. Oh, and another thing that probably is worth saying — I’m only gonna recommend stuff I actually like. Which should go without saying, but you never know.)

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One response

  1. Great work on this blog, but no Contact?? Love that movie.

    December 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

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