MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
If you're browsing through Netflix or your local video store trying to steer away from the new releases and find something special to watch, Leonard Maltin wants to help. The film critic suggests his favorite unheralded movies in his new book "151 Best Movies You've Never Seen."
Leonard Maltin, you couldn't stop at just 150?
Mr.�LEONARD MALTIN (Author, "151 Best Movies You've Never Seen"): No. You know, my editor said odd numbers are more intriguing than even numbers. That's an old show business axiom. I hope it's true.
BLOCK: So 151 movies, you call them unfamiliar films that failed to find a large audience for one reason or another. And let's start with one film that you love called "The Pledge" from 2001, directed by Sean Penn. And when you look at the lineup of actors, hard to imagine that this film didn't do better than it did.
Mr.�MALTIN: How could a Jack Nicholson movie with a genuinely all-star cast fail to find an audience? But this one did.
BLOCK: All-star cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren, Sam Shepard, Robin Wright Penn, Benicio Del Toro. It goes on and on and on.
Mr.�MALTIN: It's an amazing cast. Obviously they all liked the script, wanted to work with Jack Nicholson, wanted to work with Sean Penn and it's anchored by Nicholson in a wonderful performance.
I understand why the film wasn't hugely popular: It's a downbeat movie. But it's really good, very compelling story.
BLOCK: What do you love about it?
Mr.�MALTIN: Well, I love watching Jack Nicholson anytime, anyplace, anywhere. And here he plays a really interesting character. It's a man on the Reno police force who is about to retire. In fact, he's having a retirement party when a call comes in that there's been a crime. A little girl in the community has been attacked.
(Soundbite of film, "The Pledge")
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Jerry, for Christ's sake, you're retiring.
Mr.�JACK NICHOLSON (Actor): (As Jerry Black) I still have six more hours.
Unidentified Man #1: (As character) As far as I'm concerned, you're gone. It's Krolak's case. He's in charge. His call.
Mr.�AARON ECKHART (Actor): (As Stan Krolak) It's fine with me, if you want to leave your own party.
Mr.�NICHOLSON: (As Black) My coat's upstairs.
Mr.�MALTIN: He meets the parents of this poor, unfortunate girl. And he gives them his pledge that he won't rest until they capture the perpetrator, and it haunts the rest of his life.
BLOCK: There are a lot of indie movies in this book, and I was intrigued by the description of one of them called "Chop Shop." It's about young Latino kids who are basically fending for themselves in Queens, New York. Let's take a listen.
(Soundbite of film, "Chop Shop")
Mr.�ALEJANDRO POLANCO (Actor): (As Ale) Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, sorry for the interruption. My name is Alejandro.
Mr.�CARLOS ZAPATA (Actor): (As Carlos) And my name is Carlos.
Mr.�POLANCO: (As Ale) We are not going to lie to you, we are not here selling candy for no school basketball team. In fact, I don't even go to school. And if you want me back in school today, I got candy for you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: This came out a couple years ago from director Ramin Bahrani. Tell us about it.
Mr.�MALTIN: Oh, he's one of the brightest talents on the American independent film scene. This is his second feature, "Chop Shop." And he says he likes to make films about people you don't see depicted in movies, and he's true to that goal.
This is about this young boy who's on his own, fending for himself in a, you know, in a fairly harsh world in New York City. And he's taken in by a man who runs a chop shop, an auto body place that takes in stolen cars sometimes and disassembles them or just does body repair work.
The man who runs it is a nice enough guy who lets him sleep there and teaches him a trade, too, during the day. But this kid is kind of a - he's street smart, as you heard in that excerpt. He wants something better in life, though, and he's figured all this out for himself.
BLOCK: You know, Leonard, I think I had seen three, maybe four, of these 151 unfamiliar movies you have picked out here. So I'm right in your demographic. There are a number that were made by really huge, great directors: Ridley Scott, Steven Soderbergh. Do you think there are patterns, explanations for why these movies never made it big?
Mr.�MALTIN: Well, we live in the era of the blockbuster, Melissa, and the blockbuster mentality. It seems to me that movies come along now, and they're part of this big marketing machine, but there are an awful lot of films that don't have the money to spend.
They don't have those marketing and advertising budgets. They don't necessarily have the most marketable cast members. They're doomed: bad timing, bad luck, bad promotion, lack of promotion, mis-promotion.
Sometimes, there'll be a serious film that the studio will try to sell as if it's a comedy. I think that's true of "The Weather Man" with Nicholas Cage, which is a really good movie, very bittersweet film, but it has some humor in it, so all the previews and trailers used the comedy to try to sell the movie. And I think people catch onto that. I think there's an aroma of snake oil that people detect.
BLOCK: They stay away.
Mr.�MALTIN: And, in fact, what happens is everybody loses. The filmmakers lose because the audience doesn't come. They don't come because they don't think it's the kind of film they want to see, but they haven't been told what kind of film it really is.
BLOCK: Most of the movies you talk about in your book are from the last 20 years or so, but there are a few older ones. And I want to talk about one of them, a Frank Capra movie from 1933, "Lady for a Day." This stars May Robson as a woman named Apple Annie. She sells apples on the streets of New York.
And here's the catch. Her daughter's in Europe, she's coming to visit, and the trouble is that Annie has been pretending to her daughter that she's part of high society in New York. Here's a clip.
(Soundbite of film, "Lady for a Day")
Ms.�MAY ROBSON (Actor): (As Apple Annie) Hey dude, she thinks that I'm in high society. Wait till she gets a look at me. It's going to be funny when she finds out her mother is Apple Annie.
BLOCK: So, that's "Lady For A Day" from Frank Capra.
Mr.�MALTIN: And some people may know the remake, which was called "Pocketful of Miracles." Capra himself remade it in the early '60s with Bette Davis as Apple Annie and Glen Ford as Dave the Dude, played by Warren William in the original.
It's an absolutely charming - I would even say captivating film. It's a film that makes you feel better about your fellow man - that makes you feel that life can be better. I think that's a very high form of art. I don't think that's just escapism.
BLOCK: I was struck reading through this book, Leonard, by the number of actors and directors who were telling you that this forgotten movie that you loved was their favorite, not the one that made the most money, not the one that everybody knows, but this was their favorite one.
Mr.�MALTIN: Well, that's like shooting fish in a barrel, Melissa. If you - it's like saying that the runt of the litter is your favorite. A lot of these films are, in fact, labors of love. And if you say to their writer, director, leading actor that it meant a lot to you, that means a lot to them.
BLOCK: And you hear that a lot.
Mr.�MALTIN: Absolutely. I attended the Los Angeles Film Critics annual awards dinner, and the film "Precious" won several awards, and so there was a table of people representing that film, including the director, Lee Daniels, whom I'd never met before.
And at the end of the dinner, I walked over to him, and I said, I just want to tell you, I'm a real big fan of "Shadowboxer." Now that's his first film as a director that nobody went to see. He looked at me for a minute, startled, and he said: You just made my evening. And he gave me a big hug.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, Leonard Maltin, thanks for talking to us about some of the "151 Best Movies You've Never Seen."
Mr.�MALTIN: My pleasure, Melissa. Thank you.
BLOCK: And you can read Leonard Maltin's reviews of five more movies he guesses you've never seen, including a romance about the creator of "Conan the Barbarian" and a documentary on the Apollo space program. That's at our Web site, npr.org.