Any and all "Top Ten Lists" are inescapably subjective, but some are, by their very nature, made even more so due to their specific category. For example, if I were to ask what the "worst sequel of all-time" was, many of you would simply scan your memory for the worst movie you ever saw that was a sequel, and understandably so. But this move, in and of itself, wouldn't actually answer my question.
Because when I think of a terrible sequel, I think first to how good the original was, and then the resulting difference between the two; I don't think of a bad sequel to a bad movie as "bad," if that makes sense. What I look for instead is the drop from how good the original was to how bad its sequel was; it's about the gap between them (which is why, in my opinion, the worst sequel of all time is still Predator 2).
Likewise, when I talk about "underrated movies," I'm talking about how good they are in relation to how little shine they received; I don't simply rank what I consider to be an underrated film in terms of its own quality. This means there are two points for you to keep in mind as you go on here: 1) The order of this list is not claiming that, for example, the #3 film is a better movie than the #9 film, but rather the space between its degree of quality and degree of recognition is larger, and 2) You will not find inarguable blockbusters, indie/foreign darlings, or prestige award-winners on this list, because all those would have received at least some measure of their appropriate amount of credit, as evidenced by their respective labels, and therefore cannot really be considered underrated.
So having said all that, let's get to it.
(Other than 2002's Frailty, which delivers an unexpected, subversive reveal of an ending, after having effectively stacked dread on top of dread up to that point. Bill Paxton continues to be a national treasure.)
A. Bedazzled (2000)
This is one of the great Harold Ramis's unheralded gems. Brendan Fraser's comedic (and occasionally dramatic) range is a revelation, while his chemistry with the intoxicating Elizabeth Hurley (playing the most tempting Satan you'll ever lay eyes upon, man or woman) works amazingly well. In addition, it's a screwball comedy that also manages to be about something as well.
B. Spy Game (2001)
Both simple and complex, this is a tale weaved so effortlessly, it seems, that sometimes the audience forgets how much is actually going on. Somewhere between an action movie and a thriller, while managing to deliver both, this film should've introduced a whole new generation to the magnetic charisma of Robert Redford.
The Top Ten
(Yeah yeah, I know I kinda cheated my way to thirteen movies on a "Top 10 List." Sue me.)
10. Miracle (2004)
A very well-made sports movie that thankfully didn't feel the need to overplay its elements. It already knew that the story it was telling was incredible (The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team's all-time upset over the USSR) so it stripped itself down and just let the audience come along for the journey. Kurt Russell as Coach Herb Brooks was terrific.
9. Master and Commander (2003)
An excellent period piece and a shining example of embracing stillness in storytelling. The story is meticulously paced — through sound plotting and engaging character work — and slowly builds to an appropriately awesome final battle that felt very real.
8. Proof of Life (2000)
Another very good Russell Crowe vehicle that took the audience into an interesting and dangerous world we don't usually get to see in movies (kidnap and ransom). The restraint the filmmakers had with the romance between he and Meg Ryan was very effective, allowing it to grow while also not letting it get out of hand, thus giving the story added tension and depth.
7. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Awesome performances from both Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce highlight a straight-forward, swashbuckling revenge story that the audience can't help but get into. (It almost feels unfair at times.) While it is true that many people have come to "discover" it in later years, they honestly shouldn't have had to.
6. Stardust (2007)
For the life of me, I'll never understand why this wasn't a bigger hit. It's the Princess Bride of its generation and just thinking about it makes me smile every time. It's positively gorgeous.
5. Speed Racer (2008)
Yes, it looks like a cartoon but, unlike the Star Wars prequels, it was supposed to. This is a great, hyper-realistic fable about a family above all else, and the ending always moves me. Most people completely missed what this movie was all about.
4. Big Fish (2003)
Probably my favorite Tim Burton movie because, for once, we weren't repeatedly bludgeoned with all the typical visual evidence of a Tim Burton movie. (Even by itself, I think we were all ready for a Johnny-Depp-in-pale-makeup break by this point). It's both fantastical while still grounded — in an achingly heartfelt way — and the father/son dynamic is some of the best you'll ever see.
3. The Girl Next Door (2004)
I always take crap from my friends for saying this is a better movie than Risky Business, but it totally is. It's not as iconic, obviously, but the characters are stronger and the story is much more engaging, in my opinion. It's got both sharp brains and a beautiful heart.
2. Lord of War (2005)
This one never got nearly enough credit. Nicolas Cage was absolutely amazing as an ambitious, morally vacuous arms dealer, and the story was both funny and tragic. For good measure, the film even successfully resisted those cliché moral judgments, as well as the stereotypical ending that's designed to make everybody feel better (i.e. where the main character has to get his just desserts).
1. Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The inspiration behind this entire list in the first place. This is a thoroughly engrossing, and sometimes terrifying, story that doesn't pull its punches, but also doesn't ever get excessive with its portrayal of the delicate subject matter it addresses. It walks that line beautifully, and then delivers an ending two equally good-hearted people can — and often do — disagree on 100%. Back in 2007, if the name of the director was Eastwood instead of Affleck, it would have cleaned shop at awards ceremonies.