Are you getting sick of the endless parade of summer blockbusters? Can't take another superhero epic? This list of under-the-radar gems is the perfect antidote. (m4tick/Flickr)

Knowing about a good thing before other people do is almost as pleasurable as telling them about it. Everyone has “I bet you haven’t seen this” movie picks, making the effort to capture under-the-radar gems strenuous for even the most prolific viewers.

When compiling a list of excellent movies unknown to most people, I tried to span genres, decades, and countries. Stereotyping foreign fare as strictly for culture snobs may be widespread, but, sadly, films from abroad need more help being discovered. My choices are often not American, and these mostly independent, dark films are anything but mainstream.

So why now? Summer is a great time to catch up on the things that passed you by, the to-do lists of leisurely dog days. Don’t worry: Some of the content may be downbeat, but I’m recommending plenty of frisky entertainment to get the popcorn popping.

Without further ado, here are the undeservingly under-seen:

1. “Force Of Evil” (U.S., 1948)
It’s heresy to compare films with “On the Waterfront,” but “Force of Evil,” made six years earlier, forces consideration of that question. It’s a Cain and Abel tale of two brothers caught up with numbers-running gangsters. A great film noir, with hyper-poetic dialogue so visceral it becomes the action, it’s but a historical footnote in the careers of blacklisted writer-director Abraham Polonsky and star John Garfield.

2. “In A Lonely Place” (U.S., 1950)
Humphrey Bogart’s name may be synonymous with bigger titles, but “In a Lonely Place” is the most unusual of his career. The did-he-do-it murder mystery is preempted by caustic inside Hollywood satire and issues of moral complexity gray as Bogey’s ashes.

3. “Woman In The Dunes” (Japan, 1964)
Existential questions and a glistening eroticism distinguish this avant-garde masterpiece about an entomologist who meets a strange woman living in the dunes. Why she is there, why he stays, and what bugs have to do with it, are all casually shocking revelations, set to lyrical images and a screeching soundtrack.

4. “The Hill” (U.K., 1965)
In a North African army prison during World War II, a new British arrival, played by Sean Connery, battles a sadistic guard’s rules. It’s the grittier cousin of “Cool Hand Luke,” with nail-biting realism supplanting the cool, and few endings administer climaxes of titanic outrage like this one.

5. “The Ipcress File” (U.K., 1965)
James Bond by way of ‘The Third Man” meets “The Manchurian Candidate,” yet this star-making turn for Michael Caine has its own voice. It’s giddy on style, peppered with audaciously canted camera angles, and lubricated with an easy-to-hum-impossible-to-forget score.

6. “Proof” (Australia, 1991)
“Look into my eyes, but they won’t look back,” says the blind photographer, in a film that may seem like a recipe for indie metaphor purgatory, yet is a funny-sad examination of three lonely people trying to make a go at being less lonely and failing often. Russell Crowe, more limber than we know him now, has yet to make a better movie.

7. “Not One Less” (China, 1999)
A heartwarmer about a 13-year-old substitute teacher who goes in search of her student when poverty forces him to look for work in the big city. Controversially, director Zhang Yimou may have caved to Chinese government censorship in order to get funding, but there’s historical poignancy in the trail of implicit criticism he leaves behind for us to interpret.

8. “Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father” (U.S., 2008)
A one-of-its-kind documentary that uses sleight of hand to relay a family chronicle. The less you know coming into it the more seismic the surprises.

9. “Cell 211” (Spain, 2009)
When prisoners riot, new guard Juan pretends to be an inmate to save his own skin. Things get complicated when he turns out to be good at being bad. Brutal violence, outlandishly entertaining plot shifts, and a sobering sense that this will not end happily prevail.

10. “A Perfect Getaway” (U.S., 2009)
A honeymooning couple befriends an edgier couple in Hawaii as bodies pile up and misdirection rules. Self-aware, chewy dialogue (one character warns of “red snappers” when he means herrings) pitched to the rafters elevate the B-movie genre trappings to squirm-first-laugh-later levels. Cheap thrills are priceless when done this right.

11. “The Wise Kids” (U.S., 2011)
Most of my unseen films unsettle; “The Wise Kids” touches. Three college-bound Charleston, South Carolina kids measure their feelings about sexuality, faith and friendship against the yardstick of their Christian community. Marked by a refusal to satirize religious values, an uncommonly decent response to a young man coming out, and transparently open-hearted performances from kids who never let sincerity bottom out into naïveté, this indie treasure is a glass-three-quarters-full view of life.

12. “Pariah” (U.S., 2011)
Black cinema gets a jolt in the arm with writer-director Dee Rees’s filmmaking debut, a coming-of-identity heartbreaker about a Brooklyn teenager learning to love herself as gay in the face of community and family resistance. This aching, loving film finally puts black characters into an LGBT world typically dominated by white men.

13. “Sleep Tight” (Spain, 2011)
Ghoulish story of a deranged apartment doorman whose mission it is to make his tenants miserable. This is a perversely enjoyable exercise in taboo-challenging suspense — the nerve of the thing is in never flinching from its maliciousness — and the frights are spectacularly earned.

14. “Goon” (Canada, 2012)
Want a smash-mouth hockey flick that makes “Slap Shot” look like Masterpiece Theatre? A gross-out comedy that has more laughs-per-minute than any Judd Apatow? How about a sprinkling of heart? “Goon,” with Seann William Scott in lovable doofus mode as a hockey enforcer butting knuckles with a splendid Liev Schreiber, slashes all the boxes.

Most of the above films are available via Netflix, with streaming options like Vudu and Amazon Instant Video also serving as terrific resources for the ones that slip through the cracks.

For the truly ambitious, here are some more: “The Bad Sleep Well” (Japan, 1960); “Harakiri” (Japan, 1962); “Hombre” (U.S., 1967); “Murphy’s War” (U.K., 1971); “The Parallax View” (U.S., 1974); “The Conversation” (U.S., 1974); “Thief” (U.S., 1981); “Lucas” (U.S., 1986); “Close-Up” (Iran, 1990); “The Rapture” (U.S., 1991); “Before the Rain” (Macedonia, 1994); “Memories of Murder” (South Korea, 2003); “I’m Not Scared” (Italy, 2003); “Kontroll” (Hungary, 2003); “Intimate Strangers” (France, 2004); “Mysterious Skin” (U.S., 2004); “Days of Glory” (Algeria, 2006); “Strangers” (Israel, 2007); “Tulpan” (Kazakhstan, 2008); “Wendy and Lucy” (U.S., 2008); “Revanche” (Austria, 2008); “Terribly Happy” (Denmark, 2008); “Easier with Practice” (U.S., 2009); “Of Gods and Men” (France, 2010); “Tyrannosaur” (U.K., 2011);  “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (Turkey, 2011); “The Island President” (U.S., 2011); “Shadow Dancer” (Ireland, 2013); “Stories We Tell” (Canada, 2013).

Share your off-the-radar picks in the comments section, because being in the know is second only to discovering the secret stashes of others.

Tags: Film/TV

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • DR

    a perfect getaway was awful

  • Kathy

    In A Lonely Place is extraordinary.

  • Ben Glish

    “Man Facing Southeast,” a brilliant parable filmed in Argentina, is on my Top Ten Favorite Films list.

  • Jazz4111

    “Whistle Down the Wind” (Alan Bates & Hailey Mills) I’ve seen about half the movies on this list – “Woman in the Dunes” on my all time top ten list

  • Mule

    Dear Mr. Beatty,
    I see that, according to the “About this Contributor” sidebar, you’ve spent time in the northeastern states of Connecticut and New Hampshire. Now while those states are not nearly the hockey meccas that, say, Minnesota is, you should still have a hearty respect for the obvious brilliance of Jay Baruchel’s masterpiece “Goon”. “But good man, I saw fit to include your favorite quirky, well written and brilliantly directed hockey comedy on my list, so certainly it’s obvious I respect its genius,” you will retort. Nay, good sir, I admonish you that including it alone is not enough. “Goon” is #1 at everything it does. Merely including it in your list is an insult; to dare say there are 13 underground films better than “Goon” Is simple heresy.
    We are not amused, sir. We respectfully request that you correct this egregious error immediately. Without an immediate retraction and correction of this list, we will be forced to occupy every single coffee shop within a 12 block radius of your offices while wearing paisley dress shirts and loudly ordering sports drinks and water nonstop, making it impossible for you to ever enjoy a coffee based beverage while you’re at work again.
    “Goon” fans everywhere (and we ARE everywhere)

  • weetiger3

    Not a bad list. “In a Lonely Place” is one of my favorite films. I have to say though, most of the films on your list for the “truly ambitious” are even better bets that any true cinephile should be familiar with. The Conversation? Belongs at the top.

    • Aaron Beatty

      Good point. Yes, The Conversation is a classic, but in everyone’s haste to celebrate The Godfather(s) and to a lesser extent Apocalypse Now, The Conversation is woefully sidelined. It’s better suited to a most unfairly forgotten category perhaps. It is in my top ten of all time.

  • con

    Thank you. I’m *very* grateful for your suggestions. One always rates these types of ‘check out these lesser known films’ lists by how many we already worship – or despise – and then takes advantage of the rest, or not. In my case, there were some in my top 10 so…brilliant! We’re on the same page. Many thanks.

  • Marc Roche

    Tampopo is my fav….my wife’s is Cuckoo.

    • BostonDad

      Tampopo was great, so was “Jiri Dreams of Sushi” in it’s own quiet way, but for sheer warm pleasure in every sense: Avanti, with classic swinger performances of Jack Lemmon and John Mills daughter, Juliet Mills. AND the brilliant support: Clive Revill as hotel manager supreme, Carlo Carlucci, who we all need to fix our lives. Makes you want to get on a plane !

  • houseofboys

    My boys, early teens, stumbled upon “Play On” on itunes and have watched it numerous times; it’s a B movie to be sure but the father/son tension wrapped up in sports and sprinkled with some accessible humor seems to be just the right recipe for early teens who are after all themselves B actors working so hard to become A list.

  • cuvtixo

    “Not One Less” – A heartwarmer about a 13-year-old substitute teacher… Talk about slave labor! No 13 yo should have to work as a substitute teacher!!! ;) PS I’ve done it for $30/day- and the high schoolers, laughing, knew how much I got paid, too.

  • swrobles

    Nights of Cabiria Fellini movie that was the inspiration for Sweet Charity

  • Elaine

    A great list but I can think of two Academy Award winners, The Fugitive with Henry Fonda and Delores Del Rio and Viva Zapata with Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando and Jean Peters.

  • ElliFrank

    My very favorite movie that no one has seen is “Doro no Kawa” (The Muddy River), which was the amazing directorial debut of Kohei Oguri. It was released in Japan in 1981, when there were not that many powerful Japanese films being produced.

    Doro no Kawa is a powerful and poignant film about two young boys who befriend each other in Osaka after WWII. The father and mother of one of the boys, Nobuo, run an udon (noodle) shop on the banks of a river, and the mother of the other boy, Kiichi, and his sister, Ginko, works as a prostitute since she has no other source of income after her husband died during the war.

    This movie is beautifully filmed in black and white, and captures the struggles of daily life, including small and large moments that shape the characters’ identities and culture of their changing country. In many ways this is an anti-war film without being direct or heavy handed about it. More than anything, it is a timeless story that moved me deeply.

    Oguri directed this film with the power of Ozu or Mizoguchi, and received several awards for it. It was also nominated an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For some very strange reason, the film was never released on dvd or dubbed into English. I wish someone would find a way to do this because it is more than deserving of finding a new audience!

  • BostonDad

    ANYthing by Mike Leigh !

  • Ken McKlinski

    Wake In Fright was recently remastered, and provides an Australian take on the 1970s theme of having an intellectual thrust into a more rugged environment with abrasive social situations, The Naked Kiss was a suprise for the tone and subject for a neo-noir film of the early 1960s, demonstrating that every era has cinema with an edge to it, opening a path for progressive movies and characterizations that we have today.

    • bargal20

      What a career arc Ted Kotcheff’s had. From “Wake in Fright” to “Weekend at Bernie’s”.

  • Roland Krundt

    This is a superb list! Anyone who likes THE HILL and WOMAN IN THE DUNES is fine by me. I’d already seen (or ordered) half the pictures, but was grateful for the others. Have ordered most of the unseen ones from Netflix — leaving out only extreme violence, horror, and/or phone sex.

    I’ve made two shorter lists of my own faves, which you may enjoy. URLs below:


  • Jacki

    I loved a Perfect Getaway!

  • Pitbull

    Goon is great!!!!!