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Unexpected Pleasures

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Mark Kermode Mark Kermode | 12:31 UK time, Friday, 22 June 2012

I recently saw the Danish film A Royal Affair and was really surprised by how brilliant it was. Which movies have you gone to without expecting anything very much and then found yourself completely knocked out by how great they were?

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  • Comment number 1.

    Headhunters, not so long ago.

    Missed whatever I wanted to see(can't remember now, says it all) and had a choice between Headhunters(which I'd never heard of before) and Battleship(which I didn't fancy and was a packed screening). Headhunters was virtually empty, had no expectations and first few minutes I was like "urgh...can't believe I've done this", but really got engaged by it. Mark is right, subtitles make no difference and I thought it was really good fun, a really solid movie and even better my review of it got read off on your radio show and Floyd and Boyd agreed with it!

    shame they're making an English version, just watch the original, great film.

  • Comment number 2.

    I saw Breaking Away last night - I'd say that

  • Comment number 3.

    It's a strange choice, but the film that I went into having low expectations and then came out thinking it was one of the best films I have ever seen was The Muppets (2011). I didn't know anything about the plot before I watched it, but I thought it was going to be awful. I thought it was going to be a case of the filmmakers taking something you loved in your chilhood and trashing it before your eyes. But after I had watched it, I had a big smile on my face. It had everything I wanted in it: fantastic characters, enjoyable songs, and a great story for everyone. In my opinion, one of the best family films of all time.

  • Comment number 4.

    It would have been 3 or 4 years ago when I saw In the Bedroom on TV. I had seen the posters online and due to the title I thought it would be a story about infidelity between a younger and older couple in a suburban setting a la American Beauty, how wrong I was. The film remains one of the most underrated and under discussed films of the last decade (despite the impressive Oscar nominations).

    It is one of the most fascinating and wonderfully subtle portraits of grief that I have ever seen on film. The way it approaches and represents suburban life is utterly refreshing and seemingly tries to do something new that we haven't seen before. It is also takes a few deeply unexpected turns that are still logical progressions of the narrative despite feeling out of left field, for example the film is by and large about vigilantism and asks brutal questions as to whether it is ever appropriate to take the law into your own hands. However there are no heroes nor clearly defined villains and when it chooses to walk down the dark path it keeps itself admirably low key.

    Performances are uniformly terrific featuring career bests from Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei and the remarkable Sissy Spacek.

    In the Bedroom is a stupendous piece of work that has something to talk about but remains unfathomably not talked about.

  • Comment number 5.

    For me a recent example would have to be Drive. At first I thought the film would be yet another showreel of car chases backed up by a paper thin plot that's been done to death. However it turned out to be the total opposite, and the film was so surprising and impressive that it turned out to be my favourite film of 2011.

    A classic example that comes to mind would have to be The Hitcher (the original 1986 version) At first I thought it would turn out to be a cliched and cheap splatter-fest of a film. Instead it was a brilliant psychological thriller that avoids the gore and frightens the audience with its suspence and cut aways. The Hitcher is a film that lets the audience's imagination do all the work, and further proves that our imaginations can sometimes turn out to be far more frightening and disturbing than what we see on screen.

  • Comment number 6.

    I knew "A Royal Affair" was going to be solid. It's based on a terriffic novel, Per Olov Enquists "The Visit of the Royal Physician". The book has become required readings in high schools all over scandinavia.

  • Comment number 7.


    I went to see it without knowing anything about it. I had no idea where the film was going. Ryan Reynold's had me on edge to the extent that his merely helping Carey Mulligan carry her shopping made me tense. RR's character is supposed to be an enigma - but for me the entire plot was an enigma. The brutal, shocking moments were therefore even more brutal and shocking because they were so unexpected. I've never been so glad for not knowing anything about a film before seeing it, and I'm sure that, had I known the plot outline (which isn't too distinctive, to be sure), I'd never have been so engrossed and thrown by the film. I certainly left with a very large smile on my face.

  • Comment number 8.

    For me it has to be J.J. Abram's Start Trek from 2009. My step father took me to the cinema to see it and he was really excited as he liked the television series. Myself on the other hand having not seen any of the television shows, thought it was going to be a bit 'geeky' and rather lame.

    I was proved completely wrong. I left the cinema in utter awe with a huge smile across my face. Star Trek is without a doubt one of the best surprises and most enjoyable cinematic experiences I have ever had. Can't wait for the sequel!

  • Comment number 9.

    Watching The Shawshank Redemption for the very first time is something I remember vividly. I sat down in front of the telly at 10 o'clock on a Sunday night (with school the next day) knowing only that it was a film based on a story by Stephen King. I had no expectations whatsoever - not quite what was asked for I know - but the story, the characters and the filmmaking of Frank Darabont and crew were so utterly compelling I ended up staying up past midnight to watch the entire thing. Pure joy.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nice question... I do not go to the cinema much any more, so most of my discoveries are on video. Two films spring straight to my mind, as those I sat to watch with very low expectations, but ended up thoroughly enjoying.

    At cinema 1980s... 'The Terminator'. I had seen 'Exterminator 2' the previous week or so, and saw that 'The Terminator' was coming out that day at another cinema... I almost never went into the first screening in the town where I lived, but regardless of very low expectations - simply and ignorantly because of the similar names - and was completely bowled over by what is now a well known film.

    At home during the early 1990s... there was nothing at the video library and I'd seen a video for rent there for a few weeks and not bothered renting it... so I rented 'Link' thinking it would be pretty awful... and, whilst it is not a major work of genius, it instantly became one of my favourite films... not because of quality (though it is not without merit) but because it was delicious to my taste and humour. It also made me a bit of a Terence Stamp fan - and actor who, at that time, I only knew from his turn as Zod in the theatrical 'Superman II' (which had underwhelmed me and still does)... I loved his turn opposite Elizabeth Shue in 'Link'... and a wonderful Jerry Goldsmith score too.

    I've only ever seen the American cut of 'Link'. I'd love to see the European cut which has more Stamp in it, I understand... but at present it is only a wish.

  • Comment number 11.

    I saw Sexy Beast at the cinema on its release because there was nothing else I wanted to see.

    It just blew me away to see a visceral Ben Kingsley verbal assaulting Winstone and knocking him down to breaking point.

    I remember the local write up said -
    "We haven't seen this. However it stars Ray Winstone, so there is guaranteed to be a few heads knocked together!"

    I was the only one who watched it at our cinema for the whole week of release

  • Comment number 12.

    The most recent example that springs to mind is The Raid, which I saw in February, a full three months before it came out on general release. It wasn't actually low expectations I had, rather that I didn't have any expectations as I had heard very little about it at the time.

    However, the film turned out to be a terrific surprise, and one of the best action films of the past decade. I would also add The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to the list, which I was very sceptical about having seen the trailer, but I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience, with some stand-out performances, particularly from Tom Wilkinson and Dev Patel.

  • Comment number 13.

    Oh, and only recently have I found a very real taste for the British New Wave... the words 'Kitchen Sink Drama' had put a false impression into my head - but some of these like 'Room at the Top' and 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' are among the best films I have ever seen.

  • Comment number 14.

    My biggest pleasant surprise was the much underrated 'Adventureland'. I watched that on a flight from Denver to London, normally I wouldn't watch films on a screen about the size of a matchbox but I thought "Ahh, this will be obnoxious Judd Apatow style rubbish."

    Boy, was I wrong. It was one of the most heartfelt comedies about romance (and specifically young love) I'd ever seen and is now one of my favourite movies. I'd honestly put it up there right next Annie Hall. Magnificent film.

    Also Batman Begins, not because I didn't know anything about it, but you're just very suspicious how well a reboot would go down. Especially since the last outing had been so bad. And I came out thinking "That wasn't just a great superhero movie, that was a great movie!! This rewrites the rule book for superhero movies!"

  • Comment number 15.

    The Prestige. Hadn't read the book before hand and wasn't reckoning on a film about a rivalry between two illusionists to be up to much....but it turned out be hugely absorbing - and I still remember the stunned twenty seconds of held breath after the final scene ended and the credits started to roll.

  • Comment number 16.

    @7 It was Ryan Gosling, not Reynold. Reynold's the one who ruined Deadpool!

    I'd say for me it was The Avengers. Mainly because I'm sick of Comic book adaptations (apart from the Batman ones) and I have very little confidence in Joss Whedon (Just go back to Buffy and Firefly and just look at the way he ends the episodes. He has no idea of how a ending should be, plus the attitude he had to Alien 4 was "It was everybody else's fault but mine the film sucked". Your bloody writer you should taken some of the blame for it), but The Avengers I found quite enjoyable and succeeded my low expectations. It seemed like the filmmakers cared for the characters and knew where they were going with the plot.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have to be honest; I saw this on TV and not in the cinema but it's the best example of this happening to me and the film in question is "The Breakfast Club".

    It was the late-night film after Match of the Day one Saturday evening so inertia was the initial reason for me watching it but I was soon dragged in and it remains one my favourite films to date. Only afterwards did I learn that it was as famous and loved as it is. It has lead me to look a more films for earlier decades that I might not have otherwise watched, greatly enriching my overall film experience.

    I think this also says a lot for catching films on TV. Although you might lose out on the cinematic experience by being in your living room, it can be the best place to be pleasantly surprised by a film that you have no prior knowledge of. This also gives us non-critics to experience of seeing films without the financial pressure of going to the cinema.

  • Comment number 18.

    i remember sitting on my own in the cinema and been very impressed with 'Gangster No.1', having gone to see it based solely on the fact that "i thought the poster was quite cool".

  • Comment number 19.

    I approached 'Lars and the Real Girl' with great scepticism ... can 'Ryan Gosling falls in love with a sex-doll' be met with any other feeling?! I was however unexpectedly impressed with the film. It charmed me, it amused me and I even felt moved at times by such an unlikely concept! A very pleasant surprise!

  • Comment number 20.

    Dead man's Shoes blew me away completely. I was amazed how good it was and how much I enjoyed it. I had no expectations at all and knew nothing about it, which I think can be a good way of watching a film nowadays!

    The Mist also amazed me. It sounded crap and the poster didn't fill me with great expectations, but, despite the dodgy cgi,it really took me in and captivated me, right up until its shocking ending. It's now firmly lodged in my top 10 ever movies list!

    Knowing nothing about a movie before you see it (no reviews,trailers,etc) definitely helps to watch it with no preconcieved expectations and judge it purely for what it is.

  • Comment number 21.

    Coriolanus, earlier this year.

    Typically, the only thing I enjoy less than Shakespear is a modern adaptation of his works, particularly those replacing period eras with a present day setting. Romeo + Juliet was an abomination and even the mighty Sir Ian McKellan couldn't salavage the turgid tedium that was Richard III.

    However, despite the odds (and my own prejudices), there was something incredibly powerful about Coriolanus and Ralph Fiennes' performance. I left the cinema in a near shellshocked state, despite having entered with the lowest of expectations.

    Unconvinced that the film would have had the same impact on me had I not seen it on the big screen, it demonstates that it's worth taking the gamble in heading to the cinema rather than always waiting for the DVD or TV release...

  • Comment number 22.

    Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

    I was totally unaware of this film, hadn't seen a poster, a trailer, a review, nothing, and wouldn't have given it a second glance but as it was "her" turn to pick I unenthusiastically agreed, and it blew, me, away .

  • Comment number 23.

    Christopher Nolan's entire filmography never fails to leave me side-swiped, but the one of his in particular that left me truly unexpectedly gobsmacked was Inception.

    I was very sneery about summer blockbusters at the time and often avoided them like the plague because I rather ignorantly assumed they were all like the Transformers films. Shortly after it came out, my brother kept pestering me to go and see with him; eventually I did and was bracing myself for a total train-crash of a movie...By the end, I was just paralysed by how intelligent, exciting and well-made it was.

    The only down side was that my brother had a ridiculously smug grin on his for days afterward.

  • Comment number 24.

    A film that I really was not expecting anything out of but turned out to be a masterpiece was a film that has been now called one of the greatest films of all time by Roger Ebert. I talk of course about Terrence Malick's Spiritual Masterpiece The Tree of Life. I found to be surprising because beneath all of the beauty and grandeur was a clear and visually told story about a family that gradually descends into turmoil. I rate that film as the Best Film of 2011 and that surprised me considering that I gave a negative review to The New World and I didn't think The Thin Red Line was as good as I thought it would be.

  • Comment number 25.

    3 films of which I knew nothing about or thought I knew something but didn't:

    1. Life is Sweet which I saw in Camden on a hot bank holiday Monday with about 6 other people. Still makes me cry every time I see the scene where Alison Steadman tells Jane Horrocks "the doctors told us you only had 3 days to live" and Jim Broadbent's finest performance.
    2. Fargo which I saw having only seen the poster - Steve Buscemi kneeling in the snow by a fence vanishing into the distance. Stand out moment: Every time I see him trying to drag the traffic policeman's body away from the car I think THIS TIME HE'LL MAKE IT before he gets seen by the passers by.
    3. The Shawshank Redemption which my wife and I had a copy of at home didn't watch for about a year. Conversation would run Me: "shall we watch a film?" Wife "Shawshank Redemption?" Me: "not sure I fancy that" (mainly because for some reason I had got it into my head it was some kind of pirate movie! So watched it for the 1st time and somehow unbelievably was unaware of the twist at the end and wasn't expecting it. It does pay to be a bit dim at times!

  • Comment number 26.

    As a former film critic for my college newspaper, I've had to see my share of mediocre and bad films. And yet one the movies I was looking forward to reviewing the least actually ended up being one of the best American films of early 2012: Josh Trank's deconstructionist superhero/horror movie, "Chronicle."

    Advertisements for "Chronicle" tended to make the film seem very contrived, not the least problem being the whole handheld camera P.O.V.-gimmick. And while "Chronicle" certainly had its flaws, in the end it was about as frank an exploration of modern young adulthood as I've ever seen in a film. I wouldn't say I was completely wowed by the film, but I appreciated just how completely sinister it slowly became. Furthermore, the more I think about the film, the more things I like about it.

    I think the great thing about pleasant surprises is that they can have a humbling effect. I've been pretty consistently disappointed in the later half of this year, with films that I hold high expectations for turning out to be mediocre messes. It makes me reflect on how one of the best experiences I've had with a film, not just this year, but in the past several years, was when it challenged my assumptions and viewing habits.

  • Comment number 27.

    I remember when I went to see Cabin in the Woods and, expecting it to be okay, I thought it was brilliant.
    Anyone who's dismissed this love-letter to 80s horror cinema can GET LOST in my opinion. As a horror fan like Dr. K, I loved the small references to countless films like The Evil Dead and, one of my personal favourites, Hellraiser, as well as the set-up of the slasher situation. The acting was top-notch from all involved and although I enjoy slashers where I can cheer for the killer (e.g. Friday the 13th), I actually did care for all the characters involved. The finale alone was worth the ticket price for me, even if the decisions made by the teens at the end were questionable. Nonetheless, in an age where our cinemas are flooded with rubbish like the Platinum Dunes remakes, Saw films...and Twilight, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard really have given all those franchises a much-needed kick in the backside and produced something that hopefully will be remembered as one of the few classic horror films made in our generation.

  • Comment number 28.

    I recently went to visit Edinburgh for a few days. I was excited to explore the film houses of the city and ventured into Edinburgh Film House to escape the pouring rain and to see what they were showing. My mother and I chose to watch the animate French feature 'Tales of the Night'. It was stunning. Filmed in the style of cut out silhouettes, the film told several short stories that originates from countries all over the world. The stories are played out by friends who meet in an abandoned cinema each night and act out the stories. The film was a real homage to early animation and was really glorifying the old techniques of cut out silhouette style animation. The film was suitable for all ages and filled with comedy, character and emotion. It was visually breath taking with the black silhouettes in complete contrast to the vibrant, multi-coloureed backgrounds. I came out of the screening feeling relieved about two things...

    1. I was relieved to have seen the film and to have discovered such a lovely and professionally run picture house.

    2. I was relieved that I saw it in 2D.

    Yes, I was horrified to hear that 'Tales of the Night' a film that glorifies an incredibly purposefully 2D style of animation was being shown in 3D in other cinemas across the country. How very pointless.

    It is without a doubt one of the best films I have seen all year and I do not think a better child friendly film will be released this year, without a doubt. Such a treat to watch.

  • Comment number 29.

  • Comment number 30.

    Gone Baby Gone.

    A really underrated film. A superb directorial debut by Ben Affleck and great lead performance from Casey Affleck.

  • Comment number 31.

    I went into Kick-Ass expecting it to be "Superbad with superheroes". Maybe I was unfairly jumping to conclusions, but the trailer with the inclusion of Christopher Mintz-Plasse made me think it would be full of unfunny sexist jokes and toilet humour. Just imagine how surprised I was when it ended up being my favourite movie of 2010. I never expected it to be as hilarious, and especially as gloriously violent and entertaining, as it is.

  • Comment number 32.

    WITHOUT A DOUBT, the film I had least expectations for was 'Warrior'.

    All I had seen about this film was the same poster on the underground showing two very well built men with the tagline - "Family is worth fighting for".

    From that, I concluded that this film was just going to be a brutal, thoughtless, fighting film with no plot or emotional attachment what so ever.

    What I got was the COMPLETE opposite. I could not believe how good everyone's performances were in this film. And yes, I know we all knew they were going to fight each other, but I did NOT prepare myself for the tears that ran down my face!

    I am man enough to admit I have not watched this yet without welling up.

  • Comment number 33.

    The film that surprised me the most recently was Woody Allen's "Whatever Works." I'm not a particular fan of Larry David, but his neurotic performance was hillarious and relatable. He played a better Woody Allen than Woody Allen.

  • Comment number 34.

    Got to agree with 'yourboywillis' that Scott Pilgrim surpassed all expecations as well. And one that was worth seeing at the cinema.

  • Comment number 35.

    Dead Man's Shoes- I had neither seen or heard anything about this film, until a wet Sunday afternoon it was available as an Ex-rental in my local Simon Mayo quiz show named outlet. It had an almost video nasty cover, two tone black and red, with a shilhouette of a man with an axe on the front. I literally picked it out because of the cover.
    That evening my girlfriend and I put it on and it absolutely took our breath away. It felt like no other film we had seen in quite a while, Raw , dark and intense. With an ending so powerful it's like a punch to the stomach. It remains to this day one of my favourite films, and one if asked I always say to people to try and get hold of.

  • Comment number 36.

    The last film I saw that really suprised me was Cabin In The Woods only a few months ago. I had only seen the poster and came in expecting it to be a fun but unspectacular horror film. Boy, was I in for a treat. It's one of those films in which I had no idea what was going to happen next, it's a really exciting and interesting spin on the horror genre and I'm really glad that I had not seen the trailer or read any reviews. It's not the scariest film I've seen, but certainly one of the most suprising to come out so far this year.

  • Comment number 37.

    One of the genuine 'wow' films was Neil Marshall's The Descent. Going in I knew it was a horror film about women in caves, but that's all. Coming out I thought it was one of the best horror films of recent times. It was tense and had you on the edge of your seat long before the real horrors began. A truly great film.

  • Comment number 38.

    In the '80s, New York City had maybe half a dozen second-run theaters that showed recent and classic movies, mostly in double- or triple-features. On two occasions, I discovered a film because it was playing opposite the one I'd gone to see, and had the time to stick around: "The Stunt Man" and "Resurrection." Wow, and wow.

  • Comment number 39.


    Although I was aware of really positive rumblings about this prior to its release, I went to the cinema with somewhat indifference because of my complete lack of interest in motor racing and knowledge of the sport. I couldn't believe how engrossed, thrilled and moved I was; I left the cinema overwhelmed with that buzz of knowing you've just experienced a work of genius. My favourite film of that year.

    More recently, I was really impressed by Delicacy. I thought that the ending garden sequence was wonderfully and brilliantly executed.

  • Comment number 40.

    For me, it's when I saw Donnie Darko at the Southampton Picturehouse when it came out. All I really knew about it was that it had Sir Patrick of Swaze in it and that there was a bit of a buzz about it. Wasn't expecting anything as mind twisting as that.

  • Comment number 41.

    'There will be blood' knew absolutely nothing about it. went with some friends and was blown away. great story, great characters, excellent soundtrack, mega dramatic. my friends thought it was crap. idiots

  • Comment number 42.

    The Station Agent

  • Comment number 43.

    When I was about 15 or so me and my mum watched "Downfall". Being 15, I had little or no interest in foreign language films but I was completely blown away by it. The one scene that I distinctly remember is where it dawns on Traudl how exactly Mrs Goebbels is planning on "saving" her children. To this day my hair stands on end remembering it

  • Comment number 44.

    I'm going to cast a vote for Joe Carnahan's THE GREY. I saw it on DVD yesterday. I expected an exploitative "vicious animals on the loose hunt the cool hunter" story from the director of THE A-TEAM. What I got was a very existential film, a surprisingly philosophical rumination on life and death with intelligent writing and great performances. Sometimes, that's the best kind of surprise.

  • Comment number 45.

    The last movie i saw which i was completely blown away by was when i purchased the Zulawskis movie possession i bought the film expecting a simple horror movie in the style of Cronenbergs early films however nothing had prepared me for the sense of dread and horror that the films atmosphere builds up, in fact i remember turning the movie off before it finished as i was completely overwhelmed by the sheer terror of the movie and its one of the few films along with audition that i think i would struggle to go back to.

  • Comment number 46.

    in 2002 me and my ex went on a date to the cinema (as you do) - out of the films available - i saw a poster with tom hanks on it and said let's watch that - walked out emotionally mind blown at how good Road to Perdition was

  • Comment number 47.

    Some great little films I watched without knowing much about them include - In Good Company, Pieces of April, Easier With Practice and Take Me Home.

  • Comment number 48.

    The last 'unexpected pleasure' I had in the cinema was due to a mistake, in 1997 myself and a group of friends from uni were going out to see Face/Off at the cinema, I was expecting little more than some scenery chewing from Messers. Cage and Travolta but was aware that my brain would require little engagement, in short, I wasn't expecting much from that evenings trip to the cinema. But due to one persons fortuitous error, we ended up watching the 1997 film Face (you can see what happened there can't you?) starring Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone , perhaps it was because it was so unexpected and that I knew nothing about this film, but it was ,by definition, a real unexpected pleasure. I won't say anything about the film, suffice to say, seek it out and you won't be dissapointed, especially if your brain is preparing to watch Face/Off...

  • Comment number 49.

    Like you Mark, I do often try to watch as much as I can and what better chance to do that than at film festivals? Here I often find many surprises and many disappointments. This year I had the pleasure of seeing TABU, by Miguel Gomes, which I knew nothing of, and came out of it absolutely stunned. A classic Marquesian story of forbidden love between a man and a pregnant married woman, set against the backdrop of colonial Mozambique and filled with touches of magical realism, either through the myths and credences of the local populace or small elements in their surroundings that somehow dictamine their fate, like the fact that they're just beside a mountain called Mount Tabu. It's shot beautifully, looks more like a film by one of the humanist masters of the 50s e.g. Satyajit Ray or Kenji Mizoguchi than anything else, even when half of the tale is set in present time. It's my film of the year so far.

  • Comment number 50.

    City of God I remember seeing on Channel 4 late one night and thinking it was a sublime piece of work.

    Paprika I saw some years back before Kon sadly passed and I loved how distinct and compelling it was and yes, the broken glass scene is similar to that in Inception and probably some other films before/after it.

    Boy A I remember knowing nothing of it, seeing it on Channel 4 and although I was a fan of Garfield (his small role in Sugar Rush was so endearing) before, he really impressed me in this.

    The Plague Dogs was recommended to me, so I saw it and it had some very shocking scenes! Ditto Where the Wind Blows and Watership Down but all very good, mature animated films.

    Hotel Rwanda I saw (another Channel 4 showing) and I wish I saw it at the cinema!

  • Comment number 51.

    Son Of Rambow.

    We were doing some bizarre election press conference style role play as an extra curricular add on to A level politics in a local cinema. At the end we were given the option of leaving or seeing said film for free. I decided to stay and having not heard anything about and the fact it was free lowered my expectations substantially. However I absolutely loved it (despite having not seen Rambo) and am surprised by the lack of people raving about it, apart from, if I remember rightly, the good doctor.

  • Comment number 52.

    Of the top of my head:-

    Leon (or The Professional) - I saw this when I was a student at the Odeon in Bradford in 1995. It just blew me away because the story had real heart and tenderness and characters I cared abaout and it also had brilliant action scenes in it.

    The King's Speech - I'd heard it was good and the critics were raving over it but I was not prepared for how wodnerful the movie was.

  • Comment number 53.

    Made in Dagenham - watched it on a long haul flight to Australia as there was nowt much else on offer on the in-flight cinema. Thought it was going to be another 'The Boat That Rocked' (ie an 'hilarious' take on the Sixties with lots of celeb cameos mugging it up on camera to a 'swinging, yeah baby' soundtrack). Was pleasantly surprised to find a mature, poignant and genuinely engaging period piece about a little-known episode in British postwar history.

  • Comment number 54.

    The Sea Inside: I went into the cinema having heard mixed things about it. I hardly ever cry in the cinema, but I couldn't stop the tears rolling down my cheeks at the end. A philosophical, funny, life affirming film with an amazing performance by Bardem.

    The other film was La Haine. I watched this thinking "meh, a French druggie/gangster movie". I was blown away. The social commentary, performances, humour, plot, the camera work - all of it brilliant, and stayed with me for ages after I'd seen it. I have the DVD and have watched it again recently. You can't tell it was made nearly 20 years ago.

    Agree with those who have said Shawshank Redemption and Scott P v The World.

  • Comment number 55.

    I rented Koyaanisqatsi knowing only that it was some kind of experimental film, i found it so utterly wonderous and hynoptic, i watched it three times before i reluctantly returned it, thinking it was one of greatest films ever made.

    Another time i watched The Divingbell and the Butterfly not knowing anything other than it won the Kermode award and loved it, but then i think everyone had the same experience.

    I have just got back from seeing A Royal Affair having thought the same thing you did, but after hearing your review i decided to give it a look. I didn't react to it like you did probably because my expectations were raised.

  • Comment number 56.

    Weekend (2011) indie British gay drama/romance.

  • Comment number 57.

    Stanley Kubrick's notorious 1971 classic, A Clockwork Orange. At 15 years old, all I'd seen of Kubrick's work was Full Metal Jacket, which was my favorite film up to that point, but I'd heard about Clockwork from researching Kubrick's filmography. From simply looking at the poster, I expected the film to be a Dario Argento slasher film from the '70s. I was completely caught off guard when it turned out to be perhaps the most bizarre surrealist dystopian science fiction film I've ever seen. From then on, I've been interested in filmmaking as an art form.

  • Comment number 58.

    Dr. K.

    A note on your first point. I also try and watch everything I can. I am one of those film buffs who love watching everything and anything I can get my hands on. Whatever it is I'll watch it.

    Here are just a couple that has surprised me recently:

    1. A Town Called Panic- I honestly had no idea what this film was or anything about only that it was an animation. I found myself loving this film. I don't know how to explain it amidst all the absolute insanity that it is A Town Called Panic. All I know is that I found myself with a huge grin on my face when the credits began to roll.

    2. The Grey- From the trailers, it looked like Liam Neeson beating up wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. It was also directed by Joe Carnahan whose last two films were the disaster that was The A-Team and the muddled mess that was Smokin Aces. Suffice to say that my expectations for The Grey were not high. Imagine my surprise then that what we got was almost an existentialist survival film with Liam Neeson on incredible form. While not a perfect film, The Grey really took me by surprise.

  • Comment number 59.

    The Road

    I hadn't read the book, and indeed I had only heard of Cormac Macarthy's work in passing and only saw it because I really liked No Country for Old Men, and I was completely stunned by the savagery and bleakness on screen, superbly backed up by a haunting, desperate performance from Viggo Mortensen. One of my favourite films of that year

  • Comment number 60.

    There is one film which I still can't believe how much it blew me away, and that is District 9. I had no idea what to expect but boy did I enjoy it. A unique idea set in a totally different location with believable performances from humans and aliens alike. Not to mention the visual effects and sound design. Absolutely brilliant.

  • Comment number 61.

    The film I instantly think of is 'Blood Diamond'. I went to see it with my girlfriend of the time expecting mindless action, a flabby script, and mediocre acting. We both emerged on the verge of tears, and entirely blown away, so low had our expectations been. It was THE film which highlighted DiCaprio's potential as a serious actor for me (I'd simply been judging him on 'The Beach' and 'Titanic'!!!), and I was just so surprised by a fast-paced action film which highlighted real issues and jerked my heartstrings.

    It is fairly rare for me to be entirely surprised by a movie, because I almost never see something without reading a few reviews, or knowing a little prior to the screening.

  • Comment number 62.

    Mark, c'mon, you don't actually pay full price for films, do you? Oh, and in answer to your question - '3 Monkeys' by Nuri Bilge Ceylan... and maybe 'My Dinner with Andre' by Louis Malle.

  • Comment number 63.

    Submarine... Saw it in my local cinema (Znojmo, Czech Republic) just because I was home from school and I really love going with my father to cinema to our local cinema, where are in average 10 people for screening (no mather what is the movie). I knew nothing about the movie. It was the only screening of Submarine in our city (as a part of art club evening) and I immidiately fell in love with the movie, the performances and music and everything...

  • Comment number 64.

    7 years ago during my first year at secondary school one of my friends put on Menace II Society. I'd never heard of it before and looking at the box my first thought was "Oh great a low-budget gangster flick". I started with no expectations and by the time the credits rolled I was blown away by everything from the acting to the script to the shocking ending. I ended up watching it everyday for a week, much to the annoyance of my room mates.

    Last year I stumbled upon a cheap copy of the film and have had the pleasure of rediscovering it, and cementing it as one of my all time favourites.

    While not surprising me as much as Menace II Society, another 2 films that I had low expectations for were Superbad and Gettysburg. I found both, however, to be extremely enjoyable and packing a lot of emotion which I did not expect, especially from Superbad.

  • Comment number 65.

    In Bruges. Had seen a short TV trailer where it seemed alright - much focus on the "I come from Dublin" line, and Farrell karate chopping the dwarf. So went along to it with expectations of a reasonably funny gangster lark. Instead, it was one of the finest films I've ever seen, one which perfects the balance of its ridiculous comedy and magnificently dark drama. Farrell has never been better, and it's surely up with my favourite Gleeson and Fiennes films.

    Makes me incredibly excited for McDonagh's next with Farrell, Seven Psychopaths. It also features Tom Waits, Sam Rockwell, Chris Walken, Woody Harrelson... salivating just thinking about the film. My higher-than-high expectations could cause for a disappointment, but frankly I have faith in it to be amazing.

  • Comment number 66.

    A Royal Affair was brilliant. absolutely 100% agree with you.

    ps. I never go to the cinema to see films I know nothing about or have low expectations - I simply can't afford it! Plus there aren't very many cinemas around that play anything more than 100% blockbusters - even my local indie theatre can't afford to bring in smaller films/documentaries etc. So I never have the chance to "know nothing about" since these films are shoved in my face all day via the internet/tv etc.

    Thankfully, though, I do have the internet and that allows me access to a multitude of films - the most surprising of which was The Woman In The Fifth by Pawlikowski. The best piece of work that Ethan Hunt has done since Gattaca and overall a lovely little film showcasing the lesser seen Parisian sights.

  • Comment number 67.

    Thank you for recommending this movie, the Guardian completely put me off this film with their throw-away: "another royal courts piece".

    #1. joemercersway wrote:

    Headhunters, not so long ago... shame they're making an English version, just watch the original, great film."

    That looks awesome. I recently read that Oldboy is doing the Remake (money) on an English version also.

    It's a good perspective that the Docteur can get through all these films good & bad alike; I find bad movies such a devaluing experience and equally dispiriting isthe nagging feeling that someplace, somewhere another good film goes missing instead! Always considered horror to be one of the worst genres and vampires especially. So when reading a summary in a newspaper in another language I got the gist that there was a vampire movie (not twilight!) that was actually good, from Sweden that set me thinking : Really?? I still went to the cinema full of disbelief and after the showing of Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In) it took me an hour or two to get over how good that film was made: A click moment. A film that caught me completely unawares that sticks in the mind is Secuestro Express. Some films work best, knowing nothing before you watch them.
  • Comment number 68.

    I remember going to see Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress at the Renoir about four years ago just because it was on and seemed somewhat interesting from the description. I have a copy but don't want to watch it because the impact it had on me from that first surprising viewing was so powerful.

  • Comment number 69.

    If you're talking purely cinema releases, it would have to be Burke and Hare. All I'd heard was that John Landis was back and that Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis was in it. I went in thinking it couldn't be as bad as some of Landis' 1990s work - and had a rollicking good time. I laughed myself senseless at Tim Curry's scenery-chewing doctor (spraying one of his students in blood and exclaiming: "That would be an artery!"), cackled at Paul Whitehouse falling down a hundred flights of stairs and getting up like nothing happened, and let out a small "Hurrah!" as Michael Winner went over the cliff without so much as a "calm down dear!". It reminded me of how much of a thrill I'd got seeing Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Lavender Hill Mob for the first time. Not a perfect film, but beautifully evocative and Landis' best work since Innocent Blood.

  • Comment number 70.

    The Fountain for me. Was the girlfriend's choice for the cinema and she chose the Fountain. Weisz and Jackman in a tale of love forever was the description I got, I groaned and went along with it. 10 minutes in and it was definitely my kind of film - beautiful visuals, fantastic visual effects, confounding plot and incredible soundtrack. Added bonus was it being my film choice for the week after.

  • Comment number 71.

    Last week i went to see `My Week With Marilyn` in Peel at our local film club. I knew absolutely nothing about it, and to be honest i wasnt expecting that much. I thought it would be pretty and nicely acted. I came out in a state of shock, with a massive grin on my face. Because THATS why i love cinema so,so much. I went straight onto facebook to tell others what i had just seen.I said it was absolutely bloody fantastic. And so it is, YABOO SUCKS to anyone who says otherwise.

  • Comment number 72.

    Okay I'm going to say Twilight: New Moon. I was a sneery man about the Twilight films before I saw them, I watched the first one and thought "yeah it was okay I can see why its target audience like it." I wasn't expecting that much of the second one. I was gripped throughout I cared about Bella's situation as an expression of loss and trying to move on and the difficulty of that. And I really liked the structure of the story and the development of Bella's character and her friendship with Jacob. And Martin Sheen's nuts performance was great and funny and odd. I enjoyed it a lot. And then you find out everyone hated it and everyone else thinks its the worst of the Twilight films. Sigh. But New Moon hooked me into the whole franchise and really surprised me in how good it was.

  • Comment number 73.

    I can think of two films I went to see with zero expectations what blew me away by how good they were. The first was Fight Club. I hadn't read the book and I didn't know what the story was even in general terms. I still grinning like an idiot when the twist was revealed.

    The other film was Zombieland. I went out on a social night out with workmates. They wanted to go watch a horror film and picked Zombieland by mistake (I knew it was more a comedy but kept quiet). No one knew whether it was any good but it turned out to be a brilliant little film.

  • Comment number 74.

    Star Trek 2009. I am a big Trek fan and but was unsure how they where going to stay ture to what all us trekies love about the show yet manage to reboot it at the sometime, but J J Abrams managed it. The film showed everything that was great about classic series yet made it seem fresh and new.

    Also Batman Begins. After Batman and Robin I was in know rush to see this film. Having heard only good things about it i finally got the DVD and was blow away. Not only did this film make me a Batman fan it also made me a Christopher Nolan fan and I was soon tracking down his other films.

    Other films that where an unexpected pleasure are:
    Source Code
    Dukes of Hazzard (Guilty Pleasure !!!)

    As where in the season for summer blockbusters maybe the question should be which films didn't live up what you expected, then again if we all started on that it would overload this forum.

  • Comment number 75.

    Rise of the planet of the Apes last year really surprised me. I went in with really low expectations: It was just gona be another mediocre summer blockbuster and tarnish the legacy of the original series of films.

    What I got was a great story, well acted, and blend of drama and action with effective CGI that dosnt look unrealistic. Rarely been more pleasantly surprised watching a film.

    That and Sex and the city two (just kidding)
    Thats for A Royal Affair tip doctor. As a lover of scandanvian cultural output and history and politics i was blown away. Superber mix of politics, emotional drama and period history setting, im now going to go away and research further into the events depicted.

  • Comment number 76.

    Batman Begins.

    Needless to say, the previous two installments had set the bar extremely low. So I just happened to catch Begins at a matinee, knowing next to nothing about it or its director. And boy oh boy, was my cynicism quickly blown out the theater doors. I can still hear the audience cheering at the end.

    The Bat was officially back!

  • Comment number 77.

    Not to say it's necessarily the last, but Refn's 'Drive' blew me away, and for a director who, until that point, had only ever struck me as someone I could take or leave, that is a big deal. I was mesmerized by the style, the pace, the simbyosis of everything involved to make the dreamlike existentialist thriller pretty close to perfect!

    'The Cabin In The Woods' should have been what you are talking about, but the weeks and weeks of reviews, all of which told me to expect the unexpected, meant I didn't find myself surprised. This does not take away from its freshness, of course, it's just a bit of a shame that the constant hype about how we "can't say anything" dulled its effect somewhat.

    I would finally add 'Warrior' from last year, one of those few occassions where I am a little shocked by your review lacking insight to a far greater drama than the poster or synopsis could ever have suggested. Many people agree on this one, Mark; perhaps, as you did with 'The Big Lebowski', you will give this film another chance and you can look to see what we all did: Beyond the headcracking sport is a very beautiful family drama?

  • Comment number 78.

    Royal Affair as well. I'd never seen a foreign-language film in the cinema until Monday, but sat down because I had a few hours to spare and was there anyway, and despite Dr K's warning wasn't expecting it to be as brilliant as it was. In my top 3 of the year, without a doubt, and I've seen a lot of films this years and a lot that I've really liked.

  • Comment number 79.

    Well, back in 2006 i found myself in a room with some friends and the film of choice was Woody Allen's Match Point. This choice was met with total disappointment from me as i simply cant stand Johnny O' Keefe (his real name) and i've often found anything by Allen to be completely boring. However, despite a fairy drab first half hour the film developed into a thrilling love story that i rate quite highly now and own on dvd to this day.

  • Comment number 80.

    Adventureland - Went to the cinema knowing very little about this film and was completely won over by it. Charming, funny, great central performances and an excellent soundtrack to boot.

  • Comment number 81.

    I rarely go to the cinema and watch most films on dvd. I have a habit of watching a lot of gay themed films and one of the random titles I was sent was Shortbus. Having never heard of it before I was not expecting much and had no expectations. However, I was so blown away I watched it again straight after.

    I love this film because I really identify with the James character in my past as well has having that post 9/11 generation feeling of being lost. I also loved how John Stuart Cameron is able to make the explicit sex shocking and then it becomes just part of the story.

    I know it is not everyone's favourite film but it is very personal to me and I have never felt so attached to such a film

  • Comment number 82.

    City of God- 2003...thought I was going to see a completely different type of Film. Oh how wrong I was... And oh how happy I was.

  • Comment number 83.

    Years ago, when we had second run houses that showed double bills of second run movies for a couple of dollars, I went to see The Greatest starring Mohamed Ali. As Dr. K would say, rubbish. So bad I was going to leave and not stay for the second feature. But as I was leaving, I noticed the projectionist was changing the aspect ratio of the screen, opening the curtains for a scope film. So I decided to stay and ended up seeing Assault of Precinct 13. John Carpenter's film was so exhilarating and cine-literate that I ended up leaving the theater and calling all my friends telling them they had to see this picture. If only, he had lived up to the promise of that first amazing film.

  • Comment number 84.

    I don't like to watch Horror movies Mark. In fact I go to great lengths to not watch any Horror movie. However, it was one of those days where stepping out wasn't an option, rain, thunder and what have you. I was too late to go for the movie I wanted to watch at my world of Cine. The only other option was Paranormal Activity. Now instinctively I didn't realise it was a horror movie. Not just that, I hadn't even seen any trailers of it, I didn't have a clue as to what I was getting myself into. Enough to say I came out not realising what hit me. I couldn't believe how scared I felt after watching the movie. Not had that feeling for a long time now :(

  • Comment number 85.

    When Darkness Falls (Näre mörkret faller)
    A Swedish film that I saw by chance at the Berlin Film Festival 2007. I knew nothing at all about it. It was very disturbing and moving and stayed with me for a long time! I never saw it since and wonder whether it'd still have the same effect on me. I should try to get a copy and watch it again...

  • Comment number 86.

    Not exactly a hidden gem but it was Drive for me too. I took the day off work with the intention of going to see a Melancholia/Red State double bill but missed the first screening and decided to give Drive a go even though i couldnt remember the reviews or if Mark had given it the thumbs up or not. In fact, i can remember seeing the poster while waiting for the ticket and thinking what kind of rubbish am i wasting money on here.
    I was completely gripped from the start to end. It was the film of the year for me, absolutely loved it, the story, the soundtrack, the whole feel of it.
    I was a bit dissapointed it finnished outside everyones top tens at the end of the year. I reckon it will grow in stature and be remembered long after some of the films deemed more worthy are forgotten, i know its gonna be one of those ones i watch at least once a year.
    Also really liked Red State later on so it was the best afternoon ive spent in the cinema for a long time.

  • Comment number 87.

    I finally seen Moneyball the other night, didn't know too much about it beforehand but I'm a fan of Pitt's more recent acting work (Jesse James..., Tree of Life, Benjamin Button). I though it was really great, good story (despite my lack of knowledge/interest in baseball) and Jonah Hill was fantastic aswell.

    A few others I'd say are The Rum Diary, Cabin in the Woods (Again...) AND one that'll no doubt irritate Dr K. but........JOHN CARTER!!!!!!!

    I'm a massive Pixar fan and had followed the film through it's development praying for it to get made then when it came out and I read/heard the reviews I was crushed but still insisted on seeing it. Going in with LOW expectations I really liked it!!!! Sure it wasn't perfect but I was drawn in by the characters and I know Dr K complains about how it kind of does what other sci-fi films have all done before (Dune, Star Wars......endless) but for me I just thought of when Burroughs wrote 'John Carter of Mars' and for me I could forgive those apparent 'flaws'...If you can too and enjoy a good film I'd say ignore Dr K and check it out!!!!

  • Comment number 88.

    I don't usually view French films, but recently I watched "The Page Turner" (La Tourneuse de Pages) and was completely bewitched by it. I didn't even know the film existed until the night I tuned into it, and when I did, I thought it was so delicately subtle, yet excruciating and compellingly devastating.

    Denis Dercourt's film also explores lesbian eroticism in a mature and extremely captivating way, revolving around music.

  • Comment number 89.

    ...meant to say I love Pixar and THUS I have become a big fan of Mr Stanton!

  • Comment number 90.

    I was once around a friends flat and we were looking for a film to watch and he pulls out this VHS of what he claimed to be a 'snuff' movie. I said 'rubbish, I don't believe you' and he said 'OK but it's suppose to be the scariest film ever made'.

    So we watched it and it turned out to be The Blair Witch Project. Now bear in mind this was at least 3 months before the UK release and when watched in this kind of circumstance, the perfect circumstance for this film I might add, it was pretty effecting stuff.

    In some ways I was kind of disappointed when i found out it was to be released in the cinema because I knew it was never going to have the same kind of raw edge.

    So there you go, an unexpected pleasure, albeit a disturbing one.

  • Comment number 91.


    While the last few movies that "knocked me out" include Avengers Assemble, The Muppets, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I had reasonable hopes they might. Drive came out of left field for me. I didn't really like Bronson which felt like a well done but very empty exercise in style (oddly you might accuse Drive of the same thing). But, whereas Bronson stole the Kubrick playbook for formalism and seemed to pulp Clockwork Orange and drain all personality and wit (all Clockwork, no Orange) to describe a repetitive (as a opposed to repeat) offender, Drive was precisely the kind of movie that Michael Mann should never have stopped making, neon cool, flashes of violence and getaway driver as ordinary blue collar job, and a man with a code. True, you're left a bit uncertain as to whether he isn't as much of a sociopath as Tom Hardy, but at least he's nice to Carey Mulligan. Who wouldn't be? It's the moral get out of jail free card equivalent to donating a Steiff teddy bear to every resident of an orphanage.

    All I knew about Drive going in was the cast, and the general set up from the soundclip where Gosling issues his terms and conditions for being the driver.

    Atmospheric, perfectly paced. Even the slightly Pinteresque longueurs between Mulligan and Gosling, gave an emotional depth. The violence, while ultra, is as quick and precise as Gosling's driving, and it ratchets up the tension throughout. The only mild criticism I had was that I would have liked another sequence in which Gosling could show off more of his elusive driving skill as mush as he does at the beginning of the film, otherwise pretty perfect.

  • Comment number 92.

    In Bruges was simultaneously hideous, touching and hilarious. I can't see how anyone could expect that of any movie.

    A Town Called Panic made me laugh til I cried - my kids took the DVD to school and got their French teacher to show it in class. They got as far as the swearing donkey...

    I expected The Lives of Others to leave me needing a happy pill, but the opposite was true. I watched alone when staying over in London and remember skipping through Covent Garden afterwards. The last time I'd done that was after watching The Matrix, a very different film.

    My kids were too young for the early Pixar movies, but I'd seen Bug's Life on video and wasn't exactly blown away. So when we saw Monsters Inc I suppose my expetations were low. I really was blown away. Ten years later it's still the only film everyone in my family loves.

  • Comment number 93.

    Several people mentioned Martin McDonagh's 'In Bruges', but I would like to argue the case for his brother John's film 'The Guard'. I went in with no expectations, as I had seen the other (as it turned out, lesser) movies at the local flicks and had heard little about this film. All I knew was Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle were in it and that was enough for me to buy a ticket.

    I left with one of the biggest smiles on my face for a long, long time! Delightfully witty, wonderfully acted by all the cast, thrilling, touching, subtly yet intricately plotted... all in all, a small but perfectly formed masterpiece.

    I enjoyed it more that 'In Bruges' - and I really liked that film too! One of my top movies of 2011!

  • Comment number 94.

    One of mine would be "The Happiness of the Katakuris" by Takashi Miike, I had one of those cineworld cards and needed something to do before I was in work so popped into the cinema and knew his name and loved "Audition" so decided to see that not knowing what to expect and what I got was the best musical I have ever seen.

  • Comment number 95.

    What automatically springs to mind for me, is Donnie Darko.
    I remember seeing the rabbit head poster with some ridiculous text about the world going to end or something. I had no interest at all, I thought it was going to be teen-infused Twin Peaks knock off. I got dragged to cinema by a group who wanted to it, I was out voted. I can't even remember what my choice was.
    Let's just say I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

  • Comment number 96.

    Bah! *wanted to see it.

  • Comment number 97.

    The Bridge to Terabithia. A kids movie so I expected it to have a standard Narniaish type of plot. It does (mis)lead you off in that direction for a while too...

    It actually turned out to be one of the most 'grown up' (I wish we could reclaim the words 'adult movie' so they meant a film-for-adults rather than porn) films I've seen for a while.

    I'll try not give spoilers, but around half-way through Bridge to Terabithia something happens that turns the story in a totally unexpected direction and explores some quite deep, dark themes. I imagine some kids must have found it quite upsetting.

    It still shows on TV now and again if you want to catch it.

  • Comment number 98.

    It has to be Battleship for me.

    Went in there expecting a total turd as my mates really wanted to watch it and couldn't stop laughing.
    Thought it was just going to be a great big Hasbro advert with Michael Bay action scenes.
    To it's credit the film was funny, had deaths I didn't see coming and decent characters that actually grow through out the film.
    Very surprised to find the film clearly had heart and was made by people who cared about their craft when it started off as "lets make a film about this boardgame"

  • Comment number 99.

    2 films that have blown me away in the last year are My life as a Dog by Lasse Hallstrom,a swedish film from 1985.Also A French film from 2008 called Summer hours by Olivier Assages.Both are Beautiful, Thoughtful,Moving and all i wish Hollywood films could be...storytelling and product placement free.

  • Comment number 100.

    Jamon Jamon!


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