You know those movies at the video store that you've never heard of, but that have lots of famous people in them? And you know it must
have sucked, or else you'd have heard of it? The Gift is the counter-example.
It was great, with Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank,
and an intense Giovanni Ribisi. I think the
problem with this film (strictly in terms of no one seeing it, mind you) is that
they didn't know how to pitch it, and to whom.
Its kind of a horror movie, so people who don't like horror movies will never
see it (Hi, Mom), but it moves to slowly, with actual, you know, characters and stuff,
for fans of slasher-porn. No, that's not fair. I love a good scare, but the point is that if you are going for the scare-rush, this movie will probably disappoint you. It is a horror movie in the same way The Sixth Sense was (which you
should also see if you haven't already).
The Mothman Prophecies
Not as good as The Gift, but in the same vein, in that
it is a horror movie that will bore straight-up horror fans. If you liked
the X-files (the show, the show, for God's sake, not the movie), you will
like this low-key blend of the eerie and the dramatic. Richard Gere was not at all
annoying in this picture.
The Lion In Winter
A delight. Double and triple crosses, enough to make your
head spin, with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn having the time of their
lives. And a very young Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.
You can take your Airport movies - this is the most horrifying
plane crash movie by far. And yet it does not dwell at all on the violence
or horror of the crash itself. When it begins the crash has already happened, and
Jeff Bridges has survived. You spend the rest of the movie trying to figure
out if he has undergone a mystical transformation as a result of his brush
with death, he is crazy, or just a self-absorbed asshole.
Out Of The Past
If anyone ever asks you to define the term "film noir", just
wordlessly point them to this movie. It is THE perfect example of the genre.
Doom and foreboding hang over this movie like a cloud, with a femme fatale,
a byzantine plot, and a tough guy trying to go straight who gets sucked back
into his former life of crime. Robert Mitchum is, as ever, laconic. I've seen
it three times on the big screen (yay, Brattle Theatre in Cambridge!) and
would love to see it again. I like Casablanca as much as anybody, but for my
money, Out Of The Past is right up there. Oh, and Kirk Douglas gets to chew
the scenery in a way that will freak you out because of his similarity to
The Enemy Below
OK, I have a weakness for submarine movies. Like Out Of The
Past, this one also stars Robert Mitchum. If you liked The Hunt For Red
October, you will like this. It is WWII, and Robert Mitchum is the captain
of a navy ship, and the whole movie consists of a cat-and-mouse with a
German U-boat. Sub movies are kind of like courtroom dramas in that
there is a lot of communication, but it must take place over an extremely
constrained and/or formalized channel. After trying to kill each other for
the entire movie, without ever meeting, Mitchum and the U-boat commander
know each other perfectly, and come to respect one another as equals.
Starring Terrence Stamp.
He is a Brit who has just been released
from jail, and while he was put away, his daughter died under suspicious
circumstances in L.A. Now that he's out, he is determined to get to the
bottom of the situation. This is not the best movie you will ever see,
but it is a solid B-movie with that rarest of endings, a twist that
makes perfect sense, and does not seem like a too-clever-by-half
Laputa (The Castle In The Sky)
Miyazaki is hardly unknown, but he is
known more for his later movies like Spirited Away and Princess
Mononoke. Laputa is a lush animated fantasy that takes place in
a sort of alternate Victorian world. It is simply breath-taking.
If you like this sort of thing,
rent it. And also rent his wonderfully sweet My Neighbor Totoro.
Notes From Underground
A modern take on a book by Dostoevsky (which
I have never read), this movie is in my Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movies film series. If you feel isolated
and are filled with brutal self-loathing, and your self-loathing is really
just a specific case of the general loathing you feel for all of humanity,
you are not alone - see this movie.
OK, so you've probably heard of it and may have seen it.
I'm including it because I've run into tons of people who would
definitely like or love this movie who won't give it the time of day.
It is bitterly funny, angry, and smart. Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, whatever
you might think of them, have each never been better. It is a satire
of modern life, in the best sense of the term. Someday I'll include it
in my Guy Angst Film Series along with American Beauty and About Schmidt.
The Iron Giant
A non-computer generated animated feature by Brad Bird (who also directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille) about a boy
in the 1950's who befriends a huge robot from outer space. Cold war paranoia intrudes in the form of a pesky government agent who is determined to neutralize the robot one way or another. It is hard to say what exactly it is about this movie that makes it so funny, warm, and charming, but trust me, it is.
Italian/Mexican very, very weird movie. Incredibly vivid, moving, and disturbing. If you like David Lynch in his stranger moods, you will like this movie.
A mind-fuck movie in the vein of The Matrix. I can't imagine why
more people haven't heard of this movie. Its even got Jennifer Connelly doing sultry musical numbers. If you like Matrix-style sci-fi, you will almost certainly like this movie a whole lot, although it must be said that some people
hate Kiefer Sutherland pretending to be Peter Lorre. It worked for me - what can
I say. Just where is Shell Beach?
One of my Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movies. Johnny Depp is a cop who goes deep under cover to infiltrate the mob, and Al Pacino is the
mid-level enforcer who takes him under his wing. It is, of course, about the
relationship between the two men: Depp wrestles with his ambivalence, caught
between two worlds and value systems, and Pacino is the aging
criminal whose career had stalled out, and who tries compensate for
the fundamental shabbiness of his existence with swagger and
an outsized sense of honor.
This bleak movie contrasts interestingly with the Godfather movies, which
made the mob life seem somehow grand and larger than life.
Larry Fishburn (back when he WAS Larry) also goes deep under
cover to infiltrate the mob. This is, more than Donnie Brascoe, a
by-the-numbers crime genre picture, but considerably better than most.
The too-neat ending betrays the subtleties and ambiguities of the rest of the
movie, however. Kind of like how the cute twist at the end of Unbreakable
makes the movie only half as good as it was up to that point.
Bullets Over Broadway
People love to bash Woody Allen's later work, and
largely with good reason. Like most people who don't make their living
watching and writing about movies, I haven't actually seen a whole lot
of his recent stuff. But this one was a keeper - a lighthearted fable
about art and artists. John Cusack is a young (bad) playwright full of
pretension and ambition who gets shown a thing or two by mobster
Another Happy Time Feel Good First Date Movie. Nick Nolte is
a man wrestling with a bunch of inner demons, mostly resulting from his
crappy upbringing by his alcoholic abusive father, played by James Coburn.
Nolte is one raw, exposed nerve in this movie, contrasting sharply with
his brother (Willem Dafoe) who reacted to their shared childhood by
becoming a repressed automaton. It is mostly about Nolte (Dafoe narrates
but otherwise is hardly in the picture). See it - Nolte and Coburn are
The Wild Bunch
Hardly an undiscovered gem, I know, but still most modern
moviegoers haven't seen it. It is a western: a bunch of aging outlaws in 1913 get together for one last job (we all know how well that works out).
The movie is beautiful to look at, and has a poignancy about it, as these
guys know that their careers, and the whole western
way of life are quickly coming to an end.
Another under-rated horror film, and under-rated for the
usual reason: it would bore straight-up thrill seekers. Be warned: it is
pretty bleak in tone. Tim Robbins plays somewhat against type here, and
it works very well. Creepy and affecting, and very poignant. Although,
like Unbreakable, Jacob's Ladder was compromised by a too-cute twist ending.
Sorry to get all Euro-arty on you, but if you are interested in
the intersection of art and ambition (or expediency) (see Bullets Over Broadway, above), or if you are interested in Nazis, you should see this movie. It
is about a theater group manager in Wiemar Germany who allows himself to
be held up by the Nazis as a poster child for the German Kultur. He
thinks he is using these thugs to advance his career, but of course
by the time he realizes just how deep they have their hooks into him,
he is nothing more than their puppet. There. I've blown the whole movie
for you. See it anyway. Hope you don't mind subtitles.
Another movie that was overlooked because it is difficult to
categorize. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a guy who has a similar problem
to the one Guy Pearce had in Memento: brain damage that affects his memory.
He gets sucked into a heist by some unsavory types. Jeff Daniels has a
wonderful role as his blind mentor/room-mate. A heist picture that is too
much about the characters to draw the Ocean's Eleven crowd.
City of Lost Children
More subtitles, but it hardly matters in this movie. It's all about the visuals.
This movie comes as close as any live action movie I've seen to seeming like
a cartoon. Trippy and steampunky.
If all you know about John Woo is his American movies, you are missing out.
I saw a preview of this film and it was three minutes of mayhem. I figured
that they had cobbled together the violent climactic scenes from the
movie for the preview, but no! They had simply taken a random three minutes!
But don't be put off - believe it or not, this is a joyful, tightly
choreographed ballet of violence.
Children Of Men
Of all the movies that can be lumped into the "post-apocalyptic" genre,
this one is by far the move realistic and the bleakest. It takes place in
the near future, in which a mysterious global infertility epidemic has
sent all of mankind into a kind of self-destructive cycle of despair,
and pretty much everything has gone to Hell. Clive Owen stars.
This is an affecting movie that you will remember for a long time.