Top ten films you’ve never heard of

30Nov08

by The Great White Gypsy

 

You’ve probably seen most of these titles on the shelf at your local video store.  You may have even picked a couple of them up, looked at the pictures, but then put them down and rented Definitely, Maybe instead.  You could have a friend who’s told you about a couple of them, but you never bothered to look further.  Well, now is your chance to do something about it.

These ten films are (as far as director and screenwriter) essentially one hit wonders from the last few years.  In the music industry, a one hit wonder gives you a damn good two minute song that stays on the charts for a year, and then gets pulled up from the depths on VH1 a decade later.  In the film industry, a one hit wonder is generally a guy who writes and directs a film, gets a respectable cast, and then a straight-to-DVD debut.  Half of them are garbage.  But the other half are the ones with substance, a soul; they are the reason I love film.  These are some of my favorites.

 

1.  Laurel Canyon (2002)

Written and Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko

Starring: Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, Natascha McElhone, Alessandro Nivola

 

An amazingly personal look at the dynamics between mother and son, newlyweds, and the desire to balance goals and relationships with self-discovery and hedonism.  You would think a married couple living with the groom’s mother would be confining, but McDormand isn’t your mom, she’s your best friend’s pot smoking, rock n roll mom.

 

2.  Moonlight Mile (2002)

Written and Directed by: Brad Silberling

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Ellen Pompeo

 

Gyllenhaal coming to terms with his fiancée’s violent death (Hoffman’ and Sarandon’s daughter).  Themes of guilt, grief, moving on, and forgiveness.  Very realistic and emotional, well written and actually well acted (I’m not a Jake or a Susan fan, but they were really good).

 

3.  The Salton Sea (2002)

Directed by: D.J. Caruso

Written by: Tony Gayton

Starring: Val Kilmer, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guzman, Doug Hutchison, Anthony LaPaglia, Deborah Kara Unger

 

Borderline noir about Kilmer’s quest for revenge after the shooting death of his wife.  Twists and turns, compelling characters (D’Onofrio is the best coke dealer ever).  Caruso’s best film, and all the proof I needed that Kilmer is an underrated actor.  Cinematography and soundtrack are amazing.

 

4.  The United States of Leland (2003)

Written and Directed by: Matthew Ryan Hoge

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, Chris Klein, Jena Malone, Lena Olin, Kevin Spacey, Michelle Williams

 

Gosling is Leland, a simple-minded teen accused of murder.  Cheadle is his counselor; Spacey is his estranged, asshole-of-a-writer father.  Everyone is trying to figure Leland out, but he shows them all their own reflections.  The somewhat docile tone of the film makes the isolated violence and emotional outbursts all the more meaningful.

 

5.  A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004)

Written and Directed by: Shainee Gabel

Starring: John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson, Gabriel Macht, Deborah Kara Unger

 

Philophiles and literary enthusiasts must see this.  Travolta actually did an off-the-radar film, and he is really good.  You sympathize with him, but you really don’t want to.  The great dialogue and literature references all mask the message that the hardest thing to do is forgive yourself.

 

6.  Imaginary Heroes (2004)

Written and Directed by: Dan Harris

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch, Jeff Daniels, Michelle Williams, Kip Pardue

 

What happens when you realize that your idyllic, simple suburban life is a sham?  When Pardue commits suicide, his family must deal with the aftermath.  Very raw and emotional, but the argument against it is that it puts the audience through too much pain, and the ending doesn’t make up for it.  I disagree.  I think it very realistically shows how, with all the hardships normal people go through, you have to make the most of whatever outcome you get.

 

7.  Brick (2005)

Written and Directed by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Emilie de Ravin, Richard Roundtree, Meagan Good

 

Levitt’s girlfriend is killed, and he goes on a noir-ish mission to find those responsible.  I say noir because the dialogue is right out of the thirties.  It does take a little getting used to, because it’s actually high-schoolers in 2005, but if you keep an open mind, it’s a great concept, and very well directed…ya mook.

 

8.  The Chumscrubber (2005)

Directed by: Arie Posin

Written by: Arie Posin and Zac Stanford

Starring: Jamie Bell, Camilla Belle, Justin Chatwin, Glenn Close, Rory Culkin, William Fichtner, Ralph Fiennes, John Heard

 

The Chumscrubber is a video game character that brings about the destruction of suburbia.  Actually, it’s a teenager who commits suicide, and his best friend finds his body.  The idea is that the Chumscrubber is an antihero who forces the community to reevaluate their lives and values.  If you haven’t caught on yet, I like when white suburbia gets taken down a peg.

 

9.  Hard Candy (2005)

Directed by: David Slade

Written by: Brian Nelson

Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh

 

Creepy, creepy, creepy.  Wilson finds a 15-year-old (Page) on line, and seduces her into coming to his house for some fun.  But she is actually the one in control, and proceeds to torture her antagonist-turned-victim in really messed up ways.  It blurs lines in a big way.  Should we despise Wilson for being a sexual predator, or feel bad for his misfortune?  Should we cheer for Page for turning the tables, or condemn her for violent hypocracy?  Who is right, who is the victim, and what is really forgivable?

 

10.  Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)

Written and Directed by: Miranda July

Starring: John Hawkes, Miranda July

 

This is about…wait, what is this movie about?  I’ve seen it four times, and every time I love it, but every time I don’t know why.  The dialogue and characters aren’t just realistic, they’re uber-realistic (conversation is awkward and clumsy at times; I can’t relate, but I know people who can).  It is essentially about everyone’s need to be accepted, loved, and valued for who they are, rather than who they think they should pretend to be.

 

You may still be skeptical, but think about this: D.J. Caruso and David Slade aside, these are all one hit wonders by writer/directors who never did anything else.  However, look at the casting.  Everything besides #10 is full of big names.  Even if you don’t trust me, trust the actors.  Most of them know what they’re doing.



One Response to “Top ten films you’ve never heard of”

  1. 1 No-e

    you just liked Laurel Canyon because you have a hard-on for Christian Bale.


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