We've all heard about Lebowski Fest, the annual pilgrimage for fans of The Big Lebowski, and heard tales of midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and, more recently, the phenomenon of Tommy Wiseau's The Room and the detailed forms of audience participation it requires. The world of cult films has always placed certain demands on its adherents, but the fractioning off of the taste and dollars of cinema goers has redefined the terms and meanings of cult films to simply apply to a film with a small yet rabid following. There are cults such as Rocky Horror that require a costume and props, and then there are the cult movies that are more akin to a quest to turn people onto the good news a great film brings.
A cult movie is just an underappreciated gem, championed by a select few, whether it was shot in Hollywood or Mumbai. It's a movie that more people should get on board with, if you can convince them. Since there's cachet in being the first to something, here are a few choice movies to build a cult around and some advice on how to unleash your fervour for the movies on your friends, colleagues and classmates.
The Quick and the Dead
Already a big name in cult movies (Evil Dead, anyone?) Sam Raimi's reinvented Western recommends itself in two ways: Raimi's outsized filmmaking style, in turn inspiring outsized performances from pre-superstardom Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Following gunslinger Sharon Stone as she arrives in a dusty frontier town for an elimination shootout, this is a film with a huge grin on its face---exemplified in the bullwhips and spurs on the soundtrack, Stone's scenery-chewing performance and the director's inimitable joy infused into every frame.
The Quick and the Dead is on TV a lot. Impress your roomies with your unique yet crowd-pleasing taste as you drop the remote on this gem.
The Painted Veil
The spaces for romances on cult movie lists are usually reserved for the Tarantino-scripted True Romance and the wonderful cross-generational romance Harold and Maude. Though The Painted Veil isn't schmaltzy enough to appeal to a broad audience, more people deserve to be turned on to this tragic romance by virtue of its epic scope and down-to-earth emotionality.
Based on the W. Somerset Maugham novel, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts play Walter and Kitty Fane. Their marriage in shambles, they pack off to cholera-ravaged mainland China and fall in love as they learn to forgive one another for their trespasses. Rent it for a girls-only movie-night, veering away from the insipid and uninspired doldrums of the romantic comedy grindhouse.
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Ground has barely been broken on this cult. If this cult were condos, you'd be buying based on a floor plan. The Goods flopped in theatres this August helped by a sound critical drubbing and a healthy backlash against star Jeremy Piven.
It deserved neither---the film is a solid, goof-ball comedy with a straightforward story, a phenomenal ensemble cast (James Brolin, Ed Helms, Craig Robinson, Alan Thicke) and surprising left-field twists and turns. It's also as funny as hell. Part of the joy of being a film lover is to be able to introduce wonderful little-known treats to the uninitiated. The Goods is your opportunity to do that.
Another critically derided gem. Michael Mann's actioner is fun and exciting for its boundless machismo, who's-who cast of international character actors (Gong Li, Ciaran Hinds, Eddie Marsan, John Hawkes); bloody, tense action and an involving bromance between Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell. That's right: its core story is of an international drug ring probe during which Foxx and Farrell find their differing investigative methods come between their partnership and must learn to trust one another again.
It is a potent examination into strong, heterosexual relationships between men and the things that come between them. The shitty reputations films gain dissuade the faint of heart from picking them out of the crowd, but the film-lover possesses a quixotic streak that compels them to reclaim a film's notoriety for the better. Do so with Miami Vice.
The New World
In 2006 The Village Voice reported a couple of months after the film's New York release that devoted fans of Terrence Malick's retelling of the Pocahontas story had turned the film into something of a rapturous cult experience during its initial theatrical run. The author, J. Hoberman, wrote that "the response to The New World reflects the collective utopian yearning still bound up in the movies." Furthermore, he related a Brooklyn screening where the audience stayed in awed silence until the end of the credits.
As many viewers will be riveted by Malick's visual poetry and enveloping atmosphere as will be put off by the ruminative dialogue and meandering pace. Depending on how you feel about The New World, use the film to determine who your friends really are.
Punisher: War Zone
Like The New World, Punisher: War Zone already has its devotees: comedian Patton Oswalt entered it into his "Is This Happening" movie club, including it along the illustrious likes of Running Scared, Deep Blue Sea and countless other mainstream films that traffic in zesty mayhem. It's the kind of film that includes a heartwarming scene where a diverse group of people put aside their differences and work together for a common cause.
Except that they are implored to do so by the sociopathic villain Jigsaw (Dominic West), and the common cause is to slaughter the unstoppable Punisher (Ray Stevenson), and the diverse group of people are all horrifically stereotypical ethnic gangs, and Jigsaw stands in front of a billowing American flag as he makes his speech.
It's all so over-the-top, thrilled with its own body count and convinced that the height of wit is brain splatter that its giddy, violent charm may put people off.
Once again, use it to determine who your friends really are.
Other movies that deserve your attention
The Long Good Friday
A London crime figure (Bob Hoskins) gets what-for in this British gangster pic that is oh-so-not Guy Ritchie.
Another entry in the ABBA-movie genre, Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths sparkle as two Aussie gals looking for good lives of their own.
Eddie Murphy should watch this movie and take notes: Richard Pryor certainly didn’t lose his edge when he went family-friendly in this comedy about a nightmarish cross-country relocation.
The Dancer Upstairs
John Malkovich’s directorial debut about an investigation into a (fictional) South American guerilla revolution drips with intrigue, atmosphere and Javier Bardem’s uncalculated sexiness.
Glengarry Glen Ross
Commerce students unite and feel the power of Alec Baldwin’s “Always Be Closing” speech.