The Alvin Awards, a bucket list of under-appreciated movies

The second best treat that this  Gypsy seeks when he comes back onto the grid is access to a library card and the chance to raid the DVD collection of the town library.   Walking my fingers through the stacks, sometime I find something I missed when it was released –- movies that never rose  high in public awareness.  Yet they are gems.

Today I nominate a couple of movies for best obscure feel-good movies I’ve ever come across.

Secondhand Lion (released in ’03) is the story to two lovable eccentrics living in the middle of nowhere, played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall (who is on my short list of great actors of all time) play the uncles.  A likable nephew (Haley Jo Osment, already a polished actor at the age of 13, might have stolen the show playing off lesser stars than Caine and Duval) is unloaded on them by his ditzy mother (Kyra Sedgwick, who did not have to tweak her character at all to transport it to the lead in the TV series, The Closer).

One of my bonus criteria for judging a movie is that it seems the actors are having fun making the movie.  I think every lead in this movie went home at night snickering that some damn fools were giving them a paycheck for showing up on the set.

Mystery Alaska is my second nomination.  Where was I in 1999 when this was released, and why wasn’t I notified?  Mystery is an Alaskan town that has pond hockey and nothing else.  The primary story is that a professional hockey team is scammed into coming to town to play against the locals.  The plot trajectory arcs toward outcome of the game–that is our high-stakes investment in the plot.  And this story line alone could carry the film.  But there is also a pizza-oven full of everyday drama.

Here are three teasers, although they may appear to be spoilers.

“All I got is hockey and fornication, and when I don’t have hockey any more, I’ll be and old drunk like my father.”

“All we have in this town is dignity and illusion.  I suggest we keep them.”

“I’m a premature ejaculator.”

Now, I ask you, set your mind to visualize the scene in which those lines would be uttered.  I’d watch a movie that had no other redeeming feature than the run-up to those lines.

Don’t make a lot of trips to the refrigerator or you might miss when the “Skank, I’m pregnant” sign appears.

Russell Crowe has the biggest role in the movie, and I liked how far he stepped outside of his variegated career to lead this one.  Burt Reynolds did the same as a supporting actor.  They were carried on the shoulders of a half-dozen well-drawn and well-executed characters.

Mystery Alaska will deliver some spontaneous laughter, and if it doesn’t produce a tear or two, you aren’t half trying.

I realize two is a short list. My hope is the comments section will produce some recommendations for us all.  The criterion is a movie so underappreciated many of us might never have heard of it. Although I chose two feel-good movies, other genres may be nominated.

***Here are early nominations from regulars on the bus***

Searching for Sugarman available on DVD late January. (Thanks to M. Kaplan)

The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror, a better title, imo): An historical film noir set during the French Revolution. 1949, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, plus Richard Basehart who’s a terrific Robespierre and a little-known actor named Arnold Moss as Fouche, along with stalwart Norman Lloyd. Great cinematography throughout.  (Thanks to Thomas Burchfield)

Topkapi, a  heist movie from the early 1900s, set in Turkey and adapted from Eric Ambler’s The Light of Day, Peter Ustinov heads the cast. (Thanks to Thomas Burchfield.)

Nobody’s Fool, a Richard Russo story, with Paul and Bruce and Melanie.  (Thanks to Dave LaR.)


About allevenson

Writer (of stories, journals, email dialogues), Reader (of books written by friends, recommended by friends, and works-in-progress of friends), Hiker (never met a trailhead I didn't like), Biker (more scenery for the buck than hiking) and lately, Blogger (about my Year on the Road at
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9 Responses to The Alvin Awards, a bucket list of under-appreciated movies

  1. M. Kaplan says:

    Searching for Sugarman is a virtually unknown , wonderful movie available on DVD late January.

  2. tburchfield says:

    I like your suggestions, AL. here are two of my own offbeat choices, though not of that genre:

    “The Black Book” (aka “Reign of Terror,” a better title, imo): An historical film noir set during the French Revolution. (Who knew such a thing existed?), made in 1949, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, plus Richard Basehart who’s a terrific Robespierre and a little-known actor named Arnold Moss as Fouche, along with stalwart Norman Lloyd. Great cinematography throughout. It’s what they call a “tour de force.” (I plan to write more about it in an upcoming column on my page).

    Another movie that doesn’t get much play is “Topkapi,” a very exciting and amusing heist movie from the early 190s, set in Turkey and adapted from Eric Ambler’s “The Light of Day,” (another good novel by a much-favored author of mine). Peter Ustinov heads the cast as a seedy, maladroit adventurer who gets sucked into a scheme to steal the world’s most valuable jewel. The heist itself is truly thrilling and hair-raising the movie is rich in atmosphere and characterization.

    (If you go to my page, you can read my grumble about the latest Batman movie, plus a tribute to another great traveler (like AL), Huell Howser, who passed away last week,

  3. David L says:

    A Richard Russo story, “Nobody’s Fool” with Paul and Bruce and Melaniie is one of my favorites (I don’t remember the rest of them). Poignant, funny, easily engaging – a genuine slice of life as we want it to be and occasionally remember. Russo is a terrific story teller and of course these actors are superb. Hard to go wrong with this one.

  4. Colleen Rae says:

    ‘Secondhand Lion’ was indeed a superb film. I haven’t seen ‘Mystery, Alaska.’ Thanks for the recommendation.
    I recommend ‘Nothing Personal ‘- a quirky film about a lonely woman who is invited to bunk with an equally quirky man in Ireland. Excellent perfomances. Another fav of mine is – ‘Sideways,’ made in the CA wine country. A lovely film about an insecure man and a blow-hard man who feel their oats in Sonoma County. ‘Fargo’ is another fav of mine and a classic. Recently I saw ‘ Limitless’ a gem of a film about a man who takes a drug that increases his intellectual powers as well as his physical powers. Keeps you on the edge of your seat.

  5. Bruce Bethany says:

    Living In Oblivion written and directed by Tom DiCillo, starring Steve Buscemi, is a hilarious
    romp about getting an Indie Pic off the ground. Terrific. Also Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, a
    wonderful love story about a retired Cuban barber, Robert Duvall, and a hard-drinking seaman, Richard Harris who live in Key West. And also Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me with
    Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick, about the dynamics of a (what else?) dysfunctional family. Lonergan wrote and directed another film, Margaret, about a young woman’s, Anna Paquin, long ruination caused by her selfishness. One more: Shame, directed by Steve McQueen, with Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, a brilliant raw tale of a male sex addict.

    • Bruce Bethany says:

      I also recommend two extremely funny films: I Love You To Death, about a Seattle Pizza
      man, Kevin Kline whose wife, Tracy Ullman, and mother Joan Plowright plot to kill him, but fail on every try. Outrageous. Also What About Bob? where Bill Murray is a psychological basket case being treated by shrink Richard Dreyfus, whose life is ruined by Bob’s seemingly innocent intrusions into his private domain.

  6. Michael says:

    Second hand was terrific, so was sideways, which has a book sequel “vertical” and it is equally funny. The best of all for me: “Intouchables” which is french with subtitles and that takes nothing away. Just did not want the film to end. A total delight!

  7. karen wittgraf says:

    Oh- nothing can compare to the old 60’s movie, “Zorba the Greek” with Anthony Quinn (a master of characterization and Alan Bates. I still laugh and cry on that one and jump up to dance with Zorba. Johnny Depp in a strange Stephen King movie “Secret Window” is one not to miss also.
    If you can get any one of these- watch and respond to me! Oh- and “The Waking of Ned Divine” filmed on the Isle of Man is wonderfully witty, emotional and philosophic…the music alone will have you teary.

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