Deep cuts: Director's Edition

A celebration of obscure movies from renowned filmmakers

Deep cuts: Director's Edition

Great directors are celebrated for their most well-known works – the consensus films on the filmography. Scorsese? “Goodfellas.” Clint Eastwood? “Unforgiven.” These are righteous and rightful monuments. But any long career has its pockets of surprise – forgotten gems and wayward experiments, pet projects and subjects for reappraisal. The cinematic equivalent of a pop star’s deep cuts, they can yield intense off-kilter pleasures. Here are five of my favorites to try over a week or two of exploratory streaming. (Feel free to nominate your own favorite deep cuts in the comments.)

Robert Altman: “Brewster McCloud” (1970) – The director’s follow-up to his breakthrough “M*A*S*H*,” and it almost sent him back to the minor leagues. But I saw this in the movie theater when I was, what, 13?, and was transported by the wild, anarchic whimsy of a fairy tale about a misfit boy (Bud Cort, above, a year before “Harold and Maude”) who lives in the Houston Astrodome and tries to fly away from the world on homemade wings. The casting and the details still shimmer: Sally Kellerman as a fallen angel; dear old Margaret Hamilton getting a send-off worthy of her best-known role, the Wicked Witch of the West; and a dazzle-toothed, saucer-eyed, newly hatched newcomer named Shelley Duvall. Give it an indulgent try. (For rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Microsoft.)

The Coen brothers: “Miller’s Crossing” (1990) – What’s the rumpus? The brothers’ third time at bat finds them simultaneously cherishing and sending up the 1930s gangster genre with delightful invented slang and a great, weary performance by Gabriel Byrne (above left, with Albert Finney) as a second-level hood playing both sides against the middle. (Streaming on Starz and DirecTV; for rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, Microsoft, Redbox, AMC On Demand.)

Clint Eastwood: “Hereafter” (2010) – Eastwood was making films all over the map at this stage of his career, and this one, a tripartite examination of what lies beyond the curtain of death, befits a filmmaker staring down his ninth decade. Matt Damon (above right) plays a parapsychic who can speak to the dead but wishes he couldn’t. Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron’s kid, above left) has maybe the best role of her career as a woman who can’t resist the Pandora’s box that is her mind-reading new boyfriend. One of Eastwood’s oddest and most overlooked films and one of his best: Don’t ask why there’s a tsunami sequence in this movie, but it’s a stunner. (For rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, Microsoft, Redbox, DirecTV.)

Martin Scorsese: “Bringing Out the Dead” (1999) – Scorsese and “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader reunite for a different tour of New York hell, seen through the eyes of an EMS driver (Nicolas Cage, above, at his most mournful) headed toward spectacular burnout. Scorsese makes movies about sinners and he makes movies about saints; this is one of the few to muddy the waters.  (Streaming on Amazon Prime and Kanopy; for rent on Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, Microsoft, Redbox, AMC On Demand.)

Steven Soderbergh: “The Informant!” (2009) – A reminder that Matt Damon (above) can be a brilliant character comedian when he has a mind. In Soderbergh’s hands, the true story of a corporate whistleblower who worked with the FBI to expose a price-fixing scheme becomes an outrageous farce about a delusional nebbish convinced he’s in a spy movie. It’s a blistering satire, the kind that usually closes on Saturday night but thankfully lives on in streaming-land. (For rent on Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, Microsoft, Redbox, DirecTV.)

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