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The best films you've never seen

Toby Kebell as Johnny Quid in RocknRolla
Toby Kebell as Johnny Quid in RocknRolla
Dark Castle Entertainment & Studio Canal

In my early 20’s I worked at a video store. I’m hesitant to reveal which particular company, but let’s just say that it rhymed with “blockbuster." The pay sucked, the hours weren't great, and trying to manage a team of people who only took the job as a last resort – half of them fresh out of high school – was a constant headache. It was also by far my favorite job I've ever had.

One of the reasons I loved it so much was because of the interaction with customers. That’s not to say I enjoy customer service. Most customers were rude, annoying, and worst of all had absolutely horrible taste in movies. But once or twice a day, some trusting soul would enter our DVD domicile and ask me for a suggestion. These were the moments that made it all worthwhile: getting the chance to share great films with people who may have otherwise never given them a second glance since they weren't given a full section on the wall with hundreds of copies the way classics like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” did.

So today I would like to share that same experience with my readers. This article will detail some hidden gems that you may not have seen or even heard of before. It’s worth noting that many of these films are foreign because most Americans don’t realize that they make films outside of Hollywood.

Hell, half the films coming out of Hollywood are just remakes of foreign films.

That’s a subject that we’ll get into another time, but for now we’ll focus on some under-appreciated films that I'd love to recommend. So, in no particular order, here are some wonderful movies you all should check out.

Sin Nombre - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Sin Nombre - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating Focus Features

Sin Nombre - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating

“Sin Nombre” ("Nameless") follows two South Americans teenagers as they risk their lives to cross the border into the United States. Sayra is a teenage girl who finds herself all alone on her dangerous trip north to live with family in America. Casper is a young member of one of the largest gangs in Mexico, but after a violent encounter with the brutal leader of the gang, he too finds himself on the run. “Sin Nombre” is the perfect balance of drama, suspense, and action all encompassed in a film about love and sacrifice. It's main source of beauty comes from the flawless acting of its two unknown stars Paulina Gaitan and Edgar Flores. A simultaneously uplifting and tragic film. It is definitely a must see.

Let the Right One In - 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Let the Right One In - 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating Sandrew Metronome Distribution

Let the Right One In - 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating

Some of you may have seen this film's American remake, “Let Me In”, which as far as adaptations go, wasn't half bad. But I can't think of a film I’ve recommend more over the past few years than “Let the Right One In”, a Swedish vampire film unlike anything you've ever seen. Dark and gorgeous, "Let the Right One In" is much more cerebral than the horror films of today; mainly gorefest, slasher films.

When young Oskar notices a new girl in his neighborhood, who appears to be his age and doesn't seem to be affected by the frigid winter temperatures, the boy with no friends soon finds himself unable to shake this odd girl. What is her secret? Her windows are covered with cardboard, she only comes out at night, and bodies drained of their blood keep showing up around town.

But at least Oskar finally has a friend. Right?

Moon - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Moon - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating Stage 6 Films

Moon - 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating

If you learn nothing from this article, learn that Sam Rockwell is one of the finest actors working today. In “Moon” he plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the final days of a three-year space mission and anticipating his return to his family back on Earth. However, long periods of complete solitude, or perhaps something much more sinister, has begun taking its toll on Sam as he begins to wonder if he’s really alone.

The most shocking part isn't that he's not alone, but what else is up there and what connection it has with the company Sam works for and his impending trip home. Not many actors can pull off the various stages of emotion this character must go through as well as Mr. Rockwell. He’s like salt; he makes everything he’s added to just a little bit better.

Rocknrolla - 59% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Rocknrolla - 59% Rotten Tomatoes rating Dark Castle & Studio Canal Productions

Rocknrolla - 59% Rotten Tomatoes rating

Perhaps when compared to director Guy Ritchie’s earlier efforts, “Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”, “Rocknrolla” might not be the best of the trio. But Oh, is it loads of fun.

The story surrounds a small group of friends, known around London as “The Wild Bunch,” who are approached by a shady Russian’s accountant to steal large sums of his money, which in turn causes a spiral affect that drags in the likes of some of London’s most dangerous gangsters, city coordinators, music promoters, and one delinquent rocker named Johnny Quid.

"Rocknrolla" has an all-star cast, who at the time of the film's release were mostly unknowns. The main members of "The Wild Bunch" are the charismatic trio of Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy. Academy Award nominee Tom Wilkinson runs the town with help from his head enforcer, Archie, played by Mark Strong. So there we have Leonidas, Heimdall, Bane, Carmine Falcone, and Sinestro in one movie. Then there's Karl Roden as the encroaching Russian "businessman", Thandie Newton as his devious accountant, Jeremy Piven and Ludacris as Johnny Quid’s extremely frustrated promoters/managers along with their assistant Gemma Artenton.

Fun movie, great cast, wonderful music, frenetic pace, and a strong, intertwining narrative make this one of my favorite underrated gems. Rotten Tomatoes has it ranked at 59%, which is at least 20% low in my opinion.

Coriolanus - 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Coriolanus - 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating Icon Productions & BBC Films

Coriolanus - 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating

Most people hate Shakespeare for many reasons, but I think what bothers people the most is how hard it feels to connect to “genius” when it is so different from what we know today. That is why modernizations of Shakespeare’s work are so important and Ralph Fiennes, in his directorial debut, creates a world that is engaging, terrifying, and completely engulfing. Fiennes plays Caius Martius Coriolanus, an Army General who would rather live in the blood and guts of battle than the pressed suits and dinners of a Statesman. That along with his inability to hold his tongue, which often offends people, causes an uprising that leads to his banishment. His only recourse, join the group of rebels he’s fought so long lead by his arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler) in order to take his revenge on the country that cast him out despite the scars he’d accrued defending it. Fiennes is absolutely electric and the modern world he creates perfectly accentuates the drama Shakespeare intended.

Attack the Block - 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Attack the Block - 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating Film4 Productions & Studio 6 Films

Attack the Block - 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating

An indie British film with an unknown cast, aside from Nick Frost, about an alien invasion in the London ghettos? No wonder you’ve never heard of "Attack the Block", but I can assure you that if you give it a try you will not be disappointed. The movie involves a group of troublemaking teens who find and kill an alien – and these are by far the most original, terrifying alien beings I’ve seen on film. This causes a flood of aliens to descend on the city wreaking havoc as they hunt down the young group of friends. Made by the producers of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”, you can expect some “jump out of your seat” moments as well as a good amount of laughter. My advice – see it as soon as possible. You’ll thank me later.

The Angel's Share - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating
The Angel's Share - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating Sixteen Films

The Angel's Share - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating

“The Angel’s Share”, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize, is the tale of a group of criminals on a work release program who scheme up one last “crime” that will give them the chance to move on with their lives. The group is led by Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a thug who’s been in and out of the system since childhood. However, he’s recently fallen in love and the two are expecting a son which makes Robbie reassess his life and set his sights on going straight. Unfortunately, a long standing family feud and his girlfriend’s reluctant father both pose threats to his new plan. Perhaps this little heist could help him and his family finally find the peace they’re searching for.

In Bruges - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating
In Bruges - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating Focus Features & Film4 Productions

In Bruges - 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating

Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes star in this hilarious dark comedy that follows the ups and downs in the life of a hit-man.

After Ray's (Farrell) first job for his new gangster boss Harry goes awry, Harry (Fiennes) sends him along with Ken (Gleeson), the more experienced hit-man who's taken Ray under his wing, to the quaint city of Bruges, Belgium to lay low and await further instrctions. Ken views it as a peaceful respite from the murder-for-hire business while Ray struggles to calm his nerves in a city he loathes and repeatedly mocks, when that anger is really towards himself.

While Ray ponders his future, Ken must make the most important decision of his life – help his friend cope with a tragedy or do the job Harry sent him there for - to kill Ray.

It’s odd to call a dark comedy “heartfelt”, but if it is in fact possible, “In Bruges” hits the nails right on the head. Great performances from the leads and loads of laughs. Suffice it to say two characters discuss the topic of "midget race wars". I settle my case.

Sexy Beast - 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Sexy Beast - 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating Recorded Picture Company

Sexy Beast - 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating

What a stupid title right? Well, it is kind of stupid, but the film behind the cover is a compelling look into mob relations. The enormously underrated Ray Winstone plays Gary, a gangster who has retired to Spain where he enjoys swimming and drinking with friends. That is until the day that Don shows up. Don, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, is a foul-mouthed ball of unpredictable who’s been given the task by the big boss (Ian McShane) to assemble a team of trustworthy criminals to pull off a bank heist. Once Gary tells Don that he won’t do it, we quickly see why it is Don who’s been put in charge of such a task. Kingsley, better known as Ghandi or the faux villain, ‘The Mandarin’, in Iron Man 3, plays completely against character and eats up every second of screen time then spits it back at us.

Detachment - 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Detachment - 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating Tribeca Films

Detachment - 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating

57% on Rotten Tomatoes? Are you kidding me? This isn’t your typical substitute teacher comes to new school, connects with students, and helps them pass the SAT’s story. No, no, no…this is a much harsher look at the reality of the school system and the children whose lives are shaped by it. Adrien Brody plays Henry, a substitute teacher who has enough demons of his own to fill a classroom. He suppresses his problems by helping students, though he fears that getting too close may dent the perfect shell he’s placed around himself. Then one day a young runaway cracks his shell right in half when he feels pity for the young girl and allows her to stay with him. This film isn’t all happy endings and fairy dust. It’s bitterly real, reminiscent of the ‘90s cult film “Kids”. It’s a real glance into the malaise of school-teaching and its effects on the equally passive students. Most importantly, it serves as a cautionary tale to our teachers – don’t overlook these kids and don’t assume that they’ll be fine.

Bronson - 76% Rotten Tomatoes rating
Bronson - 76% Rotten Tomatoes rating Vertigo Films

Bronson - 76% Rotten Tomatoes rating

If “Rocknrolla” helped Tom Hardy knock on Hollywood’s door, then it was his incredible performance in the biopic “Bronson” that swung a wrecking ball right through it as Hardy portrays one of the most dangerous inmates in Britain’s history.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), “Bronson” is told in two forms. One is Bronson, surging with insanity, narrating the events of his "celebrity" life while on stage performing for an audience in full clown makeup. These scenes are intertwined with the literal depiction of Bronson's time in and out of prison, telling the story of how a petty crook became the most notorious criminal in England. Hardy is so good that he borders on unsettling - at the very least, jarring.

If you thought Tom Hardy was terrifying as Bane, just wait until you get a load of Bronson.