by Adam Riske
During 2023 I watched and wrote about many 2003 releases for my 2K Replay column, but also watched many that I didn’t write about. Some were new-to-me, others old favorites, and some were movies I didn’t care for on their initial release but now I recommend. Here are 10 I consider underrated.
A Guy Thing – I’m normally not a fan of comedies dependent on the main character lying to everyone, but A Guy Thing has a zany go-for-broke energy that works right away and is sustained the entire movie. Pairing that with a fun cast (including Jason Lee, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair, and a very funny Thomas Lennon) and you have MGM early 2000s comedy gold.
Thirteen – This was a tough sit (I purposely watched all the depressing 2003 movies at the beginning of the year like I was ripping off a band-aid), but I’m glad I saw Thirteen. It’s terrifying (don’t let your daughters become friends with bad girls, I don’t know how but promise me you won’t let them) and very well-acted by a then relative newcomer Evan Rachel Wood. It’s impressive that this very powerful movie was co-written (with director Catherine Hardwicke) by one of its stars, Nikki Reed, who was only 14 years old at the time. For her to be writing about the events in this movie with hindsight and wisdom as a 14-year-old is especially jarring.
Underrated Old Favorites
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd – Here’s a comedy that’s unexpectedly funny and feels like a movie that got away with something when no one was looking. Erik Christian Olsen and Derek Richardson play a young Lloyd and Harry and they’re both amazing at approximating Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels; mannerisms from the original Dumb and Dumber but also bringing their own unique and funny spin to the characters. Like A Guy Thing, this one is nuts and will go anywhere to land a joke including the greatest poop smeared on a wall moment since Never Talk to Strangers. It’s a weird qualifier sure but every movie deserves their own unique flowers.
Head of State – Politically this film (which came out pre-Barack Obama running for President) is dated but it’s still very funny with a lot of good hit-and-run style gags. Head of State is by far my favorite of the Chris Rock star vehicles and captures his political humor and sketch comedy silliness well. The movie is like Chris Rock’s stand-up comedy routine – he’ll throw 100 jokes at you in a quick succession and at least half of them work.
Poolhall Junkies – An essential and sublime entry in early 2000s frat boy cinema. It’s so embarrassing that it transcends the douche chills and goes back around to being awesome. This take on The Hustler (written, directed, and starring Mars Callahan, who is like if John Cusack did an imitation of Good Will Hunting Ben Affleck in the Matt Damon Rounders role) is ego cinema at its finest. Callahan’s character knows all the angles and he’s awesome and he’s not shy about letting you know. If you’ve never seen Poolhall Junkies, you have a mission to Mars. If you have, get your ass back to Mars.
Tupac: Resurrection – This is one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen and an interesting use of the documentary format in which Tupac Shakur posthumously tells the story of his life and death in his own words using archival footage and interviews. It’s rare to see a movie about a person’s life and feel like you really understand them over the course of two hours, but this movie accomplishes that. It’s equally captivating and frustrating which encapsulates the man himself – a dynamic performer who you’d hope would have gotten out of his own way had he lived longer.
Underrated Second Chances
Dreamcatcher – I was shocked how much I enjoyed revisiting Dreamcatcher this year compared to how I felt about it in 2003. Back then the pedigree of its stacked cast (including Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, and Damian Lewis) and the creative talent behind the camera (director Lawrence Kasdan from a script by William Goldman) promised an elevated Stephen King horror experience. With those expectations put aside, I appreciate this movie much more now as a weird, creepy B-side to The Mist (which, to be clear, is much better than Dreamcatcher).
Hulk – This is one of the few movies I remember seeing on opening night where most of the audience booed while the end credits played. At the time, I thought Hulk was boring and pretentious; almost contemptuous of an audience simply wanting to have a good time. After the past 15 years of that and only that in most superhero movies, I’m more a fan of the chances Hulk takes. For better or worse, it’s the work of an auteur (Ang Lee) doing exactly what he wants to do. I also find the action sequences exciting now because they’re spread out enough where each is impactful and not dulled by scene after scene of weightless superhero jostling monotony.
Happy New Year everyone and see you in 2024 at 2K Replay where I revisit the films of 2004.