My Three Favorite Under-the-Radar Movies

I love good stories. I also love stories that do what they said they would do - if I go into a movie believing its a rom-com, my expectations are different than if I believe it's a high drama. You may like one (or none) of these movies. You've probably heard of them. None of them were made by independent filmmakers and they all feature big-name actors. Even so, a ton of people I've talked to have never seen these films, so I decided it was time to (once again) advertise for some of my favorites. 

Push (2009)


It's not perfect, but it's fun. Starring Dakota Fanning and Chris Evans.

This movie's a solid superhero movie, just not if you compare it to the budgets and scope of Marvel or D.C. In that sense, it feels sort of like a foreign film, a Western (there is a lot of not-shooting people because collateral) mixed with a spy movie. The bad guys are believable and the good guys are at a reasonable level of good-guy-ness (i.e. - Chris Evans is not playing Captain America in this movie). My favorite part is the way that the powers themselves are envisioned. The abilities seem logical and (honestly) it feels like it could be an X-Men spin-off (if Marvel wasn't spending much money). If you want to watch a fun adventure and see some characters kick butt, watch Push. The only caveat I have is that it ends in a bit of a cliffhanger with no sequel, but I tend to read it as a wabi-sabi ending, or an ending that, in its incompleteness, allows the viewer to participate in its creation. The Japanese are big on this; Flannery O'Connor did it a lot as well.

Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Want to feel postmodern without being angry? This is a great choice. Starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

 I've literally not met anyone who saw this movie who didn't love it. The plot is simple: 

A man named Harold Crick hears a voice in his head that says he is going to die. Meanwhile, an author can't figure out how to kill her main character: Harold Crick. 

The story is brilliant, told on the level of the novel-in-progress as well as the film; there are no unlikeable characters, and yet no one feels trite. Some of the best actors in Hollywood are in this movie, and Will Ferrell isn't obnoxious. If you have been wanting to start a new book, but don't have time for a whole novel, this is the alternative you've been looking for. 

Across the Universe (2007)


Rent's happy big brother. Starring Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood. 

Let me just be honest: I've watched this movie at least thirty times. I will watch it another thirty. Or seventy. Who knows? It's just great. 

Across the Universe is a musical set in the 1960's that uses only Beatles songs. It's heartfelt and a little gritty (some language, some nudity, lotsa drugs), but it somehow balances the loss of innocence and the retention of hope in a way that makes you feel a little.... well... as some friends described it: "I just got high off that movie" (I gave them a disclaimer before watching). In any case, it is a delightful journey of a plot with plenty of social commentary along the way.

However, what really makes the movie is the music. All of the songs selected are interpreted well and with reference to the original versions, but often featuring incredible topical revision because of placement (for example, leaving lyrics about love unchanged while changing the gender of the singer). If you like The Beatles, musicals, or coming-of-age stories, you will fall in love with these characters, this film, and hopefully join me on my next viewing. 


What movie should I watch next? Leave a comment!