20 years of reviewing films! A retrospective of some under-the-radar titles going back to 1997

November 14, 2017

  It was a sunny Tuesday 20 years ago when I phoned the Sun-Gazette and offered a review of the new Mr. Bean movie. Fortunately, Lifestyles editor Robin Van Auken was willing to gamble on an unknown writer.

  Since then, I’ve penned nearly 1,000 features, often urging viewers to avoid mainstream junk and pony up for lesser-known gems.

  In keeping with that penchant, here’s an alphabetical baker’s dozen of “under the radar” movies from my two decades with your favorite home-town paper:

  “Appaloosa” (2008) Ed Harris wrote, directed and starred in this grand, old-fashioned Western with soaring music and meticulous production design. Co-starring Viggo Mortensen, Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons. (R)

  “Chef” (2014) Despite excessive profanity, this is an irresistible tale of a disgraced chef road-tripping in a food truck and reconnecting with his estranged son. Directed by -- and starring -- Jon Favreau; with Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson. (R)

  “Eastern Promises” (2007) David Cronenberg directed this devastating but ultimately hopeful thriller about a nurse (Naomi Watts) who gets in over her head with the Russian mafia -- particularly their enigmatic driver, brilliantly played by the Oscar-nominated Mortensen. But beware: Though generally quiet, “Eastern Promises” has several short scenes of shocking violence. (R)

  “Meet the Robinsons” (2007) Unjustly neglected time-travel fare from Disney, with a clever script, plenty of laughs, lovely animation and tearful redemption for its orphan-boy hero. (PG)

  “Moms’ Night Out” (2014) Though its ending is corny, this story of a date night gone wrong has an uproarious middle act, plus terrific performances from Patricia Heaton and Trace Adkins. (PG)

  “Patriots Day” (2016) Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and J. K. Simmons star in this underseen but gripping film about the Boston Marathon bombing. (R)

  “The Perfect Game” (2009) Low-budget crowd-pleaser about an underdog Mexican Little League team that made it to Williamsport for the World Series. Great music by Bill Conti; solid acting by Clifton Collins Jr. -- and by Cheech Marin as a gentle Catholic priest! (PG)

  “A Perfect Getaway” (2009) This twisty, thoughtful thriller is way better than its lousy reviews would indicate. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play a couple vacationing on a remote Hawaiian trail and coming to suspect that one of their fellow-hikers is a killer. (R)

  “Prisoners” (2013) I didn’t get to review this masterpiece about a furious father (Hugh Jackman) searching for his abducted daughter; but you won’t find a better thriller anywhere in your Netflix queue. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Blade Runner 2049”); photographed by Roger Deakins. Stellar cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo. (R)

  “Road to Perdition” (2002) This “the greatest movie you never saw” is a Depression-era gangster tale with Tom Hanks playing against type as a hit man on the run with his 12-year-old son (Tyler Hoechlin). Gripping story; superb photography by the legendary Conrad Hall; masterful score by Thomas Newman; and a supporting cast to die for: Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dylan Baker, Ciaran Hinds and Stanley Tucci.

  “Sing Street” (2016) Music-lovers shouldn’t miss this sensational tale of an Irish boy band in the eighties, from acclaimed director John Carney (“Once,” “Begin Again”). You’ll want to grab the toe-tapping soundtrack too. (PG-13)

  “The Walk” (2015) Criminally neglected gem from director Robert Zemeckis, about Philippe Petit’s daring tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center -- which he pulled off illegally and unannounced while the building was still under construction! (PG)

  “The Way Way Back” (2013) Another to-die-for cast stars in this painful but buoyant comedy about a 15-year-old boy on a beach vacation with a bunch of puerile adults (except for the water park worker who befriends him). With Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Liam James, AnnaSophia Robb, Amanda Peet, Maya Rudolph and Rob Corddry. (PG-13)

  Here’s to another 20 years of movies like these.

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