I love finding maligned film gems, those pictures that open to disastrous reviews, get dumped by the studio, and slowly build their small, passionate cult following through word-of-mouth by ardent devotees. Once in a while, a single passionate critic can sway me to check something out. Blade Runner was one such film. It was pretty universally panned when it came out. But I happened to be lucky enough to read a review by the excellent Joel E. Siegel (as distinct from the Joel Siegel who reviewed films on Good Morning America) in the Washington, DC City Paper. Siegel's original 1982 review isn't online, alas, but it basically said, Ignore those other critics; this film is amazing. [UPDATE: Siegel's review is here.]
On the strength of that one review, I saw Blade Runner when it came out and was blown away. Blade Runner was lucky. It somehow survived its original dumping and is now widely considered the best cyberpunk film ever made.
Other films aren't as lucky. John Boorman's 1990 Where the Heart Is is another favorite I saw on the strenth of a single review (John Powers in the L.A. Weekly? 8/9/10 NOTE: Nope, Charles Taylor in Salon). Where the Heart Is is another one of those horribly reviewed films that turns out to be astonishing, a very beautiful farce about creation and destruction, love and magic. The only excuse I can think of for its generally terrible reviews is that it's too European for mainstream American critics--even though it takes place in New York and stars Dabney Coleman, Uma Thurman, Suzy Amis, and Joanna Cassidy.
Here's a really longshot film for you to put on your Netflix queue: Company Man. I first read about the film back in 2002 in Esquire Magazine. Film critic Tom Carson, defending a film almost universally deplored, called Company Man "the funniest cold war farce I've ever seen." Carson had been a State Department brat during the time period and he thought the film captured, in it's own wacky way, the real feel of that world.
I'm a State Department brat myself, though from a somewhat later period. Carson sounded as if he knew what he was talking about, and I loved his passion in defending the film: "About midway through, I was marveling that a movie this sharp and entertaining could have gotten such dismissive, peeved critical notices." Carson's review really sold me on the film and I've wanted to see it ever since.
Well I just caught Company Man on IFC (Independent Film Channel), and I thought it was one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Carson wasn't kidding; I checked the external reviews off the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and the general consensus is scathing. People hated this movie, and in some cases thought Sigourney Weaver, John Turturro, Dennis Leary, Allan Cummings, and a host of other big name actors gave career-worst performances. Virtually everyone, excepting Carson, found the whole production completely flat and cheap.
Metacritic, which assignes a meta-rating to films based on an overview of a large number of critics nationwide gave Company Man an 18. Out of 100. Next to the 18, which has a red background, is the color key: Extreme dislike or disgust. That's only two points up from Showgirls (16) and two points down from Corky Romano (20).
They're all wrong. They had no idea what they were seeing. The film's a scream.
Through the Miracle of the Internet (and it is a Miracle), I found the original review I read in a doctor's waiting room over five years ago:
In From the Cold
Company Man reminded me of Dick, another one of those films funny to those who remember thirty- to forty-year-old history with something akin to fondness. And another political farce (this one about Watergate) you may want to check out.
8/9/10 Update: Siegel's Blade Runner review, along with the story behind it is here.