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Beef Up Your Movie Knowledge: A Guide to the Best Genre Flicks You've Never Seen

By Brian Salisbury, Hollywood.com Staff

As the end of January approaches, that New Year's resolution you were so adamant about just a few weeks earlier is already starting to fall by the wayside. Suddenly, the gym seems farther away, cigarettes call your name, and you haven't even taken the cellophane off that scrapbook you bought. While we can't do much to help you with those fading pledges, there is one resolution to which we can assist you in remaining faithful.

If you made it your charge to watch a more diverse assortment of films in 2013, in essence to become a more well-rounded cinephile, we're here to keep you on track. Here is our comprehensive guide to help you begin to branch out:

Action

Bronson vs. Marvin

The '70s were a great time for action films, and the two biggest names of the era were Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. Here's a sampling of their best.

The Mechanic: Bronson takes a young Jan-Michael Vincent under his wing; showing him the ropes of contract killing. The complex relationship between the two characters, the slow, methodic storytelling, and the dramatic ending make this one of ol' Charlie's finest.

Point Blank:Lee Marvin inhabits Donald E. Westlake's Parker in this gripping, deliberate crime thriller from John Boorman. Why anyone would want to mess with a guy like Lee Marvin is beyond the limits of reason.

Death Hunt: Can't decide which actor to watch first? Why not watch them both in this early '80s wilderness actioner. Violent, well-constructed, and featuring one of the decade's most interesting games of cat-and-mouse.

Asian Fists and Firearms

Whether it's martial arts or automatic weapons, the action cinema of the East tends to be more brutal and bombastic than Hollywood fare. If you liked The Raid: Redemption, do yourself a favor and track down…

Tiger Cage: Legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping expertly directs this unsung cops vs. criminals actioner. The opening sequence, an unfettered gauntlet of carnage, alone is well worth the price of admission; an unfettered gauntlet of carnage.

Ip Man: Donnie Yen brings to life one of China's most beloved historical figures, and does so with some of the fastest and most impressive kung fu in recent memory.

Hard Boiled: John Woo earned his reputation working in Hong Kong, and Hard Boiled may be his masterpiece. Chow Yun-fat eloquently dances through Woo's gorgeous bullet ballet.

Contemporary Foreign Action

Sleepless Night: France may not be the first country one associates with action cinema, but they've made huge strides in recent years. Sleepless Night is a single-night nonstop crime story that rages through a nightclub like a force of nature. The cinematography, pacing, and exceptional performances create an organic sense of tension.

Man From Nowhere: Nobody, but nobody, does revenge movies like Korea. The Man from Nowehere is a savage, uncompromising descent into the darkest recesses of the soul of someone we still, despite everything, herald as a hero.

Solomon Kane: It took a French/British/Czech co-production to finally bring Robert E. Howard's puritanical superhero to the big screen, but it was worth the wait. Solomon Kane combines horror, fantasy, and superhero conventions to create a truly unique filmic experience. James Purefory broodingly and perfectly inhabits the titular antihero.

Offbeat Westerns

These aren't your granddad's horse operas.

Dudes: A cross-country road trip turns tragic for a trio of rockers in this outstanding '80s gem from Penelope Spheeris. She uses punk rock to breathe new life into an age-old genre. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea has a prominent role in the film.

Sukiyaki Western Django: A wild mashup of Yojimbo and Sergio Corbucci's Django, Sukiyaki Western Django is somehow still unlike anything you've seen before.

Comin' At Ya!: Of this group, Comin' At Ya! most closely resembles a traditional spaghetti western, but the filmmakers behind it were keen to bring back the then-languishing 3D technology. If you thought the recent spate of 3D films in theaters were gimmicky, just wait until you see the prolific and hilarious instances in which Comin' At Ya! finds ways to, well, make things come at ya.

Film Noir

The Long Goodbye: Possibly the best film on this entire list. Elliot Gould, as Philip Marlowe, wafts through a seedy, almost dream-like Los Angeles. Gould's effortlessly charming performance is enhanced by Robert Altman's superb direction and a marvelous, if slightly unusual John Williams score. An absolutely masterful film that, incidentally, makes a great double feature with The Big Lebowski.

Elevator to the Gallows: Film noir is sprinkled with traces of Hitchcock in Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows. A fledgling criminal murders his boss while their office building is empty, but his escape is hindered by a busted elevator. Tense, engaging, and given a pulse by a smoky cool Miles Davis score.

The Killing: An early Stanley Kubrick film hits upon the director's substantial talent for storytelling. A flawless racetrack heist gives way to squabbling and conniving between a team of crooks. Its great cast anchored by Sterling Hayden, The Killing is gorgeously shot and harrowing to the last frame.

Buddy Cop Movies

Freebie and the Bean: It's hard to do buddy cop films better than Freebie and the Bean. James Caan and Alan Arkin set the standard for unlikely law enforcement duos, constantly at each other's throats as they do all in their power to get the better of crooks and thugs. Their banter is among the film's greatest strengths.

Nighthawks: Sylvester Stallone doesn't get a lot of credit as an actor, and maybe rightfully so, but in 1981's Nighthawks, he and Billy Dee Williams are a formidable team. The perpetually fuming pair take on an international terrorist played to icy perfection by Rutger Hauer.

Busting: Elliot Gould returns to the list, this time working alongside Robert Blake to bring down a crime boss in Peter Hyams' Busting. These two are laughably bad at their jobs at the onset, and that is meant as a compliment, but their ability to get serious when it really counts gives the movie a great deal of charm.

Next: John Travolta, Blaxploitation, and Stranger Than Fiction Docs

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Documentary

Entertainment Docs

These Amazing Shadows: This documentary charts the inception and institution of the National Film Registry. As it progresses, citing more and more of its inducted titles, it becomes clear that what the film is really documenting is the sense of ownership all cinephiles feel toward their beloved movies.

American Movie: Wannabe Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt, and his attempts to finish his no-budget opus, is the subject of Chris Smith's cult documentary. Borchardt may be a self-parody of Midwestern bumpkins, but his quest communicates a very niche slice of the American dream.

Best Worst Movie: Troll 2 is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, and yet all these years later the movie still has a thriving cult following. Filmmaker and Troll 2 child star Michael Paul Stephenson examines the phenomena of Troll 2 by speaking with fans, critics, and fellow cast members alike. Ultimately, Best Worst Movie is a loving tribute to film in all its forms.

Human and Cultural Docs

Senna: Phenomenal documentary about racing icon Ayrton Senna. So much archive footage of his racing existed that the doc could follow nearly his entire career firsthand. Moving, exciting, astounding; a testament to the irrepressible desire to win at all costs.

Winnebago Man: Years ago, Jack Rebney became a cult icon thanks to the infamous, rage-filled outtakes of his RV commercials. When filmmaker Ben Steinbauer tracked him down, he discovered a very complicated human being uncomfortable with his celebrity. A heartbreaking portrait of madness, obsession, and the confounding ongoing social experiment that is the Internet.

Resurrect Dead: An investigation of the bizarre, paranoia-spouting tile art popping up all over the world. Enthralling, thought provoking, and downright creepy. It really is best to go in as blind as possible.

Thriller

Voyeur Thrillers

These are films in which the primary character sees or overhears something that puts their lives in considerable danger. Oh yeah, it has its own subgenre.

Blow Out: Brian De Palma is a name most people know, but not everyone has seen his 1981 masterpiece Blowout. In another of De Palma's many homages to Hitchcock (and Michelangelo Antonioni), Blow Out stars John Travolta as a movie sound engineer who catches a murder on tape. Painstakingly paced for maximum effect, and featuring stunning photography, Blow Out is not only arguably Travolta's best performance, but also John Lithgow's finest turn as a villain.

The Conversation: Francis Ford Coppola and Gene Hackman bring to life the story of a professional eavesdropper who suddenly gains a conscience when he believes a woman he's taped will be killed. Hackman is dazzling as the complex, introverted blue-collar spy and the film's ending is wholly heartbreaking. There's a reason the movie tends to turn up on many critics' "greatest films of all time" lists.

Sorry, Wrong Number: Reaching back a bit, Barbara Stanwyck stars in this 1948 thriller about an invalid woman whose phone line gets crossed and she overhears her own murder being plotted. Originally a radio play, Stanwyck's empathetic performance netted her an Oscar nomination.

Revenge Thriller

Man on Fire: No, not the one with Denzel. The 1987 original stars Scott Glenn as Creasy, the ex-CIA agent working as a bodyguard for a rich family in Italy. When the girl he's charged with protecting is abducted, Creasy goes on a Biblical-scale rampage. So yes, the story may seem familiar, but the Scott Glenn version is darker and grittier… if you can believe that.

Rolling Thunder: Major Charles Rane thought his troubles were over when he was released from a Vietnamese POW camp, but when a gang of outlaws comes for the rare coin collection his hometown gave to him upon his return, his family is murdered in the process. Rolling Thunder is a benchmark for revenge cinema. Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), the movie is honest, exhilarating, and boasts a quietly brilliant performance from a young Tommy Lee Jones.

Vigilante: A group of factory workers moonlight as a vigilante unit, supplying cold justice when the legal system fails. When gang members murder their colleague's son, he reluctantly joins their outfit. Robert Forster leads an incredible cast in this grimy, bare-bones urban revenge thriller from Maniac director William Lustig.

Horror

B&W

I Bury the Living: Albert Band directs this unusual story of a cemetery caretaker who, through the simple action of putting a pin in a board, seems to have the power to kill. Conceptually enticing, fantastically executed, and featuring a most disorienting dream sequence, I Bury the Living is far better than its midnight movie façade.

I Walked with a Zombie: Jacque Tourneur delves into voodoo origins of zombie mythology with this unsettling 1943 horror gem. The imagery in this film, especially that of the motionless zombies, is absolutely chilling. If nothing else, it's a refreshing change of pace from the zombie fiction pervading pop culture at present.

Eyes Without a Face: A distraught surgeon begins abducting women to try and perform a face transplant for his disfigured daughter. A frightening, but altogether touching horror film, Eyes Without a Face's face transplant scene apparently had audience members fainting in the aisles at the time of its release.

Monstrously Underrated

Alligator: Monster movies don't always get their fair shake, and that uphill battle is made all the more difficult for film's release after Jaws. Alligator is a tremendous accomplishment in terms of practical effects, and boasts the likes of Robert Forster and Henry Silva among its cast. Director Lewis Teague would later turn his talents from giant alligators to rampaging dogs in the film adaptation of Stephen King's Cujo.

Night of the Creeps: Fred Dekker may have only worked in Hollywood for a short time, but he created some extraordinary genre fare. Night of the Creeps takes the drive-in sci-fi sensibilities of the 1950s and slams them into the '80s like a wayward comet. As funny as it is freaky, Night of the Creeps is the raucous tale of space slugs turning coeds into astro-zombies. Tom Atkins shines as a displaced pulp detective.

Night Warning: It may not seem at the onset that Night Warning is a monster movie, but as we slowly get to know the eccentric Aunt Cheryl, played with no shortage of menace by Susan Tyrrell, it becomes clear that she is a monster far more terrifying than any werewolf or demon.

The Alternative Slashers

Alone in the Dark: Taking a page from the standard slasher playbook, Alone in the Dark injects the innate fear we all share of the elderly. What? No one else? Fine. Jack Palance and Martin Landau lead a quartet of escaped geriatric mental patients terrorizing the family of their new doctor. As satirical as it is scary, Alone in the Dark slashes victims and 80s youth culture simultaneously.

The Burning: Woefully not as heralded as Friday the 13th, The Burning is a wrenching, uncompromising camp slasher. The cast of teen kill fodder includes Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens, and Holly Hunter, and the scene on the raft is one of the most disturbing sequences of the genre. The killer may look like the Gorton's fisherman, but he's at least twice as frightening.

Tourist Trap: Teens on a road trip experience car trouble at an out-of-the-way location where they are picked off by a maniac. Sound familiar? True, the setup is a bit cliché, but the severely eerie imagery and well-developed boogeyman sets Tourist Trap heads above many of its slasher brethren.

Italian Post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi

In the 1980s, an entire film industry sprang up in Italy around taking whatever sci-fi film was popular in the United States and fabricating cheap imitations with very little regard to copyright laws.

After the Fall of New York: When John Carpenter struck post-apocalyptic gold with Escape from New York, Sergio Martino threw together a nowhere-near-exact copy entitled After the Fall of New York. It doesn't have Kurt Russell, but it does feature significantly more cyborgs, ape-men, and headband-wearing heroes.

1990: Bronx Warriors: Enzo Castellari stretched the plagiarism of this odd subgenre a bit when he ripped off Walter Hill's The Warriors for 1990: Bronx Warriors. Vic Morrow and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson turn up in this entertaining circus of the least intimidating gangs in filmdom; including one that closely resembles a troupe of Bob Fosse dancers.

Warrior of the Lost World: If you've ever been watching The Road Warrior and thought, "this could use a talking motorcycle," you're in luck. 1983's Warrior of the Lost World is a glorious failure on a number of levels, but whose absurdity demands to be seen.

Classic Teen Comedies

Zapped: Scott Baio comes into possession of a magical remote control that gives him almost unlimited power…he uses it mostly to look up girls' skirts. It's sort of like if Carrie White were recast as a horny teen boy.

Meatballs: Bill Murray's surprisingly sympathetic, while still typically sardonic, performance elevates what could have been a standard summer camp comedy. Highly enjoyable, and ultimately very heartfelt.

Corvette Summer: Mark Hamil hits the road running when the car of his dreams is stolen. Released amid the Star Wars craze, Corvette Summer is a parade of strange and wonderful characters, all dotting a affecting adventure that breezes by with the impish joy of an actual summer vacation.

Exploitation

Blaxploitation

There are actually so many great blaxploitation films, and the genre is broken down into so many subcategories, that it seemed pertinent to list the best of some of the stranger subgenres.

Boss: Fred "The Hammer" Williamson stars in this stellar blaxploitation western. A bounty hunter declares himself sheriff of a small town, despite the angry outcry of its racist citizens. Imagine Blazing Saddles, but played with less intentional humor.

Slaughter: Former NFL runningback Jim Brown slips into a tux and aptly becomes the black James Bond in Jack Starrett's excellent blaxploitation spy film. Also features one of best blaxploitations theme songs this side of Shaft.

Blacula: William Marshall, better known to most as The King of Cartoons on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, dons the familiar cape and fangs, but arises as a decidedly different breed of vampire in Blacula. Brazen at times, artful at others, Blacula is by far the best blaxploitation horror flick.

'70s Carsploitation

Do you like your movies with added horsepower? The 1970s has enough souped-up, piston-pumping cinematic power to rev your engine.

Gone in 60 Seconds: Believe it or not, that Nicolas Cage movie about car thieves is a remake. While the 1974 original doesn't have the same star power, it does feature one of the longest, and most dangerously unsupervised car chases in cinema. It's like watching a fantastically irresponsible street race…because that's more or less what it was.

Two-Lane Blacktop: A triumph of the gearhead film genre. Starring folk singer James Taylor and the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, Two-Lane Blacktop is a fuel-injected travel log; Kerouac with a hemi under the hood. It's an introspective take on the fierce individualism of the 70s as opposed to the vehemently defiant, politically charged Easy Rider.

Vanishing Point: A glistening white Dodge Challenger blazes across the wide-open landscape of the American west. Its driver, Kowalski, takes a bet to drive from Colorado to San Francisco in less than 15 hours. Why does he do it? Because he wants to know if he can do it. This sums up the magnificent macho egoism of Vanishing Point.

Hixsploitation

An unapologetic celebration of good ol' boys running moonshine, butting heads with the local law, and various other aspects of perceived southern culture.

White Lightning: Burt Reynolds became an international superstar thanks to the likes Hal Needham and Joseph Sargent. In White Lightning, Reynolds plays an ex-con who teams with federal agents to go after a corrupt, shine-running sheriff who killed his brother. It's preposterous action-packed mustachioed mayhem in the swamp. Ned Beatty is outstanding as the dirty-dealing sheriff.

Walking Tall: Joe Don Baker becomes an icon in his own right when he played notorious embattled lawman Buford Pusser in this tale of southern-fried vigilantism. As much as this film has earned a reputation as a dopey piece of exploitation, it's actually quite powerful and each emotional beat is both well-earned and deeply-felt.

Next of Kin: Proving that hixploitation didn't go extinct in the 1970s, John Irvin's Next of Kin finds Patrick Swayze as a Chicago cop hunting for his brother's killer. Unfortunately, his older, hillbilly brother (played by Liam Neeson) is also hunting for justice. Next of Kin is a rowdy culture clash marked by impressive shootouts and enthralling friction between two brothers on opposite sides of civilization.

Inexplicably Weird

Miami Connection: A cosmic mystery of a movie. An Orlando dojo proprietor throws together his own cinematic saga of rival bands, cocaine, and motorcycle-riding ninjas from Miami. It remained unseen until an Alamo Drafthouse employee purchased a 35mm print; prompting a Blu-ray release. Do yourself, and the universe, a favor and see Miami Connection.

Zardoz: John Boorman's second appearance on the list is, shall we say, not as prestigious as the first. Zardoz is what would happen if a drug trip could manifest into a person who then swallowed a handful of amphetamines. Sean Connery turns up, god knows why, in this fantasy epic about a tribe of gun-toting, spandex-clad warlords who worship a floating head that vomits rifles. And that isn't even the weirdest part. Good luck.

Lord Love a Duck: '60s high school comedies aren't supposed to be difficult to digest, but then 1966's Lord Love a Duck is far from the typical high school comedy. Starring Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowall, Lord Love a Duck is a satire of popularity and schoolyard castes that spirals out of the director's control and morphs into a psychotic crime story that leaves everyone scratching their heads. Still, a must see.

[Photo Credit: Golden Princess Film Production Limited; United Artists; Filmways Pictures; Lionsgate; Cinerama Releasing]

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