I've spent nearly three decades as an entertainment journalist, seeing advance showings of movies and then interviewing the stars and filmmakers behind them. Often these people slip into promo mode, trotting out well-rehearsed cliches, oft-repeated anecdotes, and casual hyperbole to sell their latest project.
However, in the same way that I love that rare brilliant, catchy song on a great record that somehow didn't get overplayed into oblivion on the radio, I appreciate black-sheep films, the overlooked projects of actors and directors that went unreleased, barely released, or simply unappreciated by critics and/or audiences.
And guess what? I've discovered that the people I interview welcome the opportunity to discuss those overlooked movies, to defend them, to shed light on their intent, and perhaps to convince someone out there to check them out. They stop selling and talk, often quite candidly, about -- as Jeff Bridges calls them -- these little kids who didn't get their shot. So for the past few years, while interviewing the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson, George Lucas and Gwyneth Paltrow, I've made a point of asking about the one that got away, the film or films that deserved a better fate than they met at the box office.
Here's what some of them told me.
"The Amateurs (2005). Have you seen that one? It's sort of like my little kid who didn't get his shot. We had such a great time making it -- wonderful cast, great performances, really interesting, unusual film. The whole Frank Capra/porn element, marrying them, was kind of weird. Those kinds of things appeal to me.
"And then it got screwed. It was on the shelf for a couple of years because the distributor went bankrupt and blah-blah-blah, all kinds of stuff. It came out on DVD and it didn't get any attention. I think Ted Danson was just great in that."
"Once a movie comes out, there's nothing you can do, so I kind of let go of it. But I get a lot of people coming up to me about In Her Shoes (2005). That's a movie that people come up to me and say they loved and really related to the story. That's always great, because that's one of those films you make because you want to tell that story and have people relate to it and find answers for themselves. That and The Holiday (2006)."
"Oh, I think The Mosquito Coast (1986), which I thought was a really good film, really interesting thematically, beautifully made. At the time, I think, it was hard for people to buy the character. But it was well worth the stretch, I think."
"The World's Fastest Indian (2005). It wasn't widely distributed, and I don't think the marketing did much of a job of it, but it seems to have caught on with the public and they really like it. I still get calls from friends or people who come up and say, 'Hey, I loved World's Fastest Indian.' So I'm very pleased."
SAMUEL L. JACKSON:
"That I liked? 187 (1997). It was a good film. Just as the film was about to come out, the head of the studio's son got killed in New York. He was a school teacher. It was almost the same situation as the film, so it was almost like they didn't want to play that up in terms of 'This is what the film is about, and it just happened.' So it kind of got shuffled to the side."
"I think The Take (2007) is what we're talking about. The Take was only in one theater in L.A., only one theater in New York. It was pre-sold. It got accepted into Toronto, it was asked to be in Sundance, I know there'd have been a bidding war on it and it would've gotten what it really deserved, instead of this tiny little platform [release] that was almost guaranteed to fail if people don't run and see it.
"[But] I loved this thing about how any man, no matter how average, can be a hero. There's a hero inside if you're pushed far enough. I loved that about the script. Also the other thing was, what do you do when you're not really yourself anymore? You're half the man you used to be. What is that identity problem? I loved those things."
"I don't really have one. I've only directed six films. Out of those, the only one that hasn't been successful was THX-1138 (1971), which I love, but I know why. It was a little too esoteric for most people to watch. But I love it.
"That's the only one. American Graffiti (1973) and all the Star Wars films, obviously, were giant hits."
"I did a little Canadian film called Perfect Pie (2002), which I did before I came to L.A., before The Hot Chick (2002). It was really lovely. It was just a lovely, well-executed film, and so tiny and so very Canadian. But it was really beautiful, with great acting. It was with a Canadian actress, Wendy Crewson, and I played the younger version of her [character]. Alison Pill was my best friend, and she's a great actress as well."
"I think my brother [Jake's] film, The Good Night (2007). I feel like people came to it with the prejudice that he was my brother. I remember reading a really great review, actually, of it in New York magazine, where the guy copped to the fact that he walked in with an attitude, expecting -- I can't remember what it said -- but basically in essence it was, 'Oh, this is going to [tick] me off because this guy thinks he's a filmmaker. But actually he is one.' And he really loved the film.
"The people who loved the film really got it, but I think a lot of times we come to things with prejudice and with preconceptions, and it's so limiting. So I felt like he didn't get a fair shake in that way."
SARAH JESSICA PARKER:
"Oh, wowza. The Family Stone (2005), I guess, but that ended up being kind of a success. I loved that movie and I loved being a part of it, and I thought it was the most perfect thing for me to do after Sex and the City (1998-2004). I would do anything to work with [director] Tom Bezucha again, so, if that meant more people seeing it, then so be it."
GEORGE A. ROMERO:
"Well, let me run them all down for you! I had a lot of those, man. To some extent Knightriders (1981), until the DVD and video release.
"Bruiser (2000) is the one that's the most disappointing of all of them. I love Bruiser, and no one has ever seen it. A French company called Canal Plus financed it and all of a sudden, when we finished the film, you couldn't get those guys on the phone because they'd merged with Vivendi and then with Universal. 'Wait! Where are the guys that wanted to make this movie in the first place?' 'They're gone!'
"So it just got kicked out into the DVD sphere and nobody ever saw it. But I like it. I really like that movie."
"Revolver (2005), I would say. I think people misunderstood it immensely, especially in the U.K. It got a lot of bad press, and I think they all followed suit. [Director Guy Ritchie] has had a hard time with the British press. They really love to stick the knife in and, when they do, they really do stick it in. But if you give it its time, I think [Revolver] is a tremendous movie."