Every year magazines and blog sites come out with their Top 10s and Best Ofs. But I wanted to do something a little different with films this year.
Lately I have been having these conversations with people that begin like: “Oh, have you seen blah blah blah” or, “Hey! I just watched on Netflix fill-in-the-blank.” I’ll get all heated trying to explain something I saw a long time ago that I liked, and the conversation will somehow end with me begging the person to GO SEE THIS FILM!
And, frankly, I feel like no one is listening to my suggestions.
Lucky for me, I have a blog!
So here it is folks: My top 10 List of Films that You May Not Have Seen, But Definitely Should. This list contains indie, obscure, foreign, and movies-made-on-the-cheap. Some might be familiar to film buffs and art students, but hopefully you find at least one thing that’s new to you.
These are not in any particular order of favorites or release dates or availability.
But, friends, PLEASE SEE THESE MOVIES!
And if you do, I promise to shut up about them, at least for a little while.
10. Dogtooth (2009) Greece
Ironically, I watched this movie with a boyfriend after a friend of his had recommended it. After viewing, he went to go discuss the film with said friend, only to discover that friend hadn’t actually seen it, yet—it was just on his “To Watch” list.
This movie is about thee most messed-up family arrangement I have ever seen portrayed in a film, next to only The War Zone (1999) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0141974/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1.
Without saying too much and giving it away, it is about a middle-aged tacky office worker guy, his frumpy, bad-dye job wife and their children. They have three kids who they raise homeschooled. They are so strict with these kids that the children never leave the premises of their home, and their house seems to be set pretty far out of town.
The catch to this arrangement is, the kids are older. Descriptions of the movie you will find online describe them as teenagers. But, to me, the oldest girl and the boy look to be at least in their 20s. They’ve lived in isolation, with only their parents for guidance and each other for “playmates” for their entire lives! And that is not the least of the warps and twists in this particular family (think abuse, incest, manipulation).
Things get bad, and then they get worse, especially for the oldest girl.
There is some metaphor going on with the family dog being perpetually away at discipline camp, but I haven’t been able to figure out what it stands for yet. Maybe after you watch it you can explain it to me a little better.
9. Head-On (2004) Germany http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0347048/?ref_=fn_al_tt_4
OMG, I have so many deep feelings, simultaneously, of love and disgust for this movie.
Not knowing very much at all from personal experience about the Turkish immigrant experience in Germany, I found the premise of this story and the characters to be enlightening. I definitely had my own cultural stereotypes about Turks, especially Turkish men, for some reason, and they got worn down in observing the men and women trying to sort through/love through/bleed through a very intense, diasporic, high-stakes marriage “agreement.”
The main character, Sibel, played by Sibel Kekilli is extreme and complex. It doesn’t hurt her at all in gaining my empathy that she is hot as ____. But aside from that, I love it when a character actually GROWS in a story, and this woman grows. She goes from being a desperate kid in a shitty family situation, to a freaky manipulator with jealousy issues, to a victim, to a mother to… I again don’t want to give up the ending! But by the end, I freakin’ love her, and that is why the end breaks my heart into a million billion tiny little pieces. (But I don’t want to tell you how!)
A warning: this movie contains MANY scenes of violence, especially violent acts towards women, that WILL disturb squeamish viewers., including one horrible unjust rape scene. These scenes bothered me very much, but I appreciate the overall story of this couple’s relationship so much, that they are worth grinding down one’s teeth for.
8. The Acid House (1998) UK
Remember the late 1990s? Remember how everyone went apeshit over Trainspotting, and for a while there was all this “heroin chic,” and all my friends got into British bands (or revisited Brit bands, some of the older ones), and the world discovered what a hotty Ewan McGregor could be, and we all wore skateboarding shoes and everyone owned a CD Walkman? Remember those sweet, sweet, simpler times?
Well, in the mix of the hype over Trainspotting, I got into reading Scottish writer Irvine Welsh. Many an hour I spent during my college years, pondering over his prose, trying to force out the crude dialect of my family’s Mother Tongue. And ultimately failing. And not really enjoying any of it that much.
In was during these formative and impressionable years when I tried to read Acid House the first time. It was frustrating and I didn’t get much out of it. I actually wanted to throw it away. But then I finally broke down and watched the movie, and suddenly, with the help of three-dimensional players, and a little more of the native articulation, I started to get it!
I am only adding this movie to my list for just one vignette out of the several. It’s been a while since I watched it, and I can’t remember if any of the violent or drug parts are well-done at all. But there’s this one utterly insane story about a guy who is in love with a girl, they have a baby together, and then she starts cheating on him with the upstairs neighbor. I couldn’t make out ANY of this plotline from the book the first time I tried to read it. Because, in the book, the dialect is just TOO bloo’y thick, mate. But once you see it acted out, it’s a love story of the worst kind with one of the most pathetic, hapless male protagonists ever. Incidentally, these are my favorite type of lovelorn characters; the ones who are most foolish and blinded by love that they must completely get their insides kicked in and their skulls bashed before anything ever changes for them. And even at the end of all of the humiliation and abuse, they still don’t learn their lesson. Aw, to be a young Scottish fool in love!
7. Thirst (2009) Korea
This film is long. But it’s crazy and intriguing, mainly for the state of existence that befalls this one main character. You see, he is a priest who accidentally becomes a vampire. That is f’ed up enough on its own! But then he gets romantically involved with a young, hot associate, and they have a twisted affair where basically everyone in their path gets killed or maimed. And this after the poor vampire priest vowed that he would be an “ethical” vampire, and not kill anyone who wasn’t dying already!
This is a brief, confusing description, and that is good. You need to see this thing in its entirely for it to come together. Be patient with the subtitles, because a lot of what the characters work out verbally is really good and responds to many questions of right and wrong that I’ve been considering for months, ever since I started taking this dang philosophy course online.
Also, the visuals in this film are unearthly and amazing. There is a scene with all these bright-ass fluorescent lights… well, I don’t even want to tell you. It makes my skin crawl just remembering how evil the undead can be in this particular movie.
6. Let the Right One In (2008) Norway
There has been a wave of American film companies remaking perfectly good foreign films and it’s pissing me off lately. A lot of people said that the Am. version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was pretty good. Still, I thought the Denmark version was stellar, and I find it hard to imagine the good ol’ USA could outdo it, so I refuse to see the follow-up.
As for Let the Right One In, see only the Norwegian one. I feel strongly about this, because I feel like the character Oscar HAS to be a little Norwegian boy for the story to work. This isn’t Freddy Krueger or Chucky! Yes, it is a vampire movie, but the vampire, Eli, is his friend. They have a special friendship this is kind and childish and it’s just not the same kind of friendship that a couple of American kids could really have. Ever. I’m sorry, but it’s just impossible for me to believe.
Huh. I realize I have a couple vampire movies on this list now, that seems like a pattern. I should also mention that quite a few of the aforementioned movies were suggested to me by my friend Andrew Francis Smrz from The New School. Andrew, if you are reading this, I am in deep need of your movie selections. You have a twisted mind, my friend, but also very good taste.
6. What Dreams May Come (1998)
I might be a hypocrite for this, but sometimes the stubbornness of the people I love nearly drives me to the screaming point. I used to date a guy who I begged and begged to watch this movie with me, and he refused time and again on the basis that he “doesn’t like Robin William’s schtick.”
Ok, ok, I get it. I get totally sick of Robin Williams being funny from time to time, too. I think I’d rather poke my own eyeballs out with wasabi-covered chopsticks than ever be forced to sit through an entire screening of Patch Adams. Jumanji, while Williams is supposed to be serious in that one, is equally painful, too.
But I have to give the guy his fair due. He once in a while has a moment of genius (Good Morning, Vietnam, Dead Poets Society). And I really think with or without Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come stands on its own depicting one of the most beautiful, imaginative filmic explanations of what happens to a person after death.
Of course there’s a love story involved. Of course! And of course it’s a doomed one. This is Jenna’s favorite movie blog you are reading. Sigh. I know, I can be so annoyingly heart-on-my-sleeve-y.
But the artistic direction is solid, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. has a very likable character, and there’s good psychology and the possibility of limbo.
I don’t know why, but this movie makes me cry every time.
5. Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)
So, similar to my Trainspotting/Irvine Welsh phase, I also went through a bit of a Hunter S. Thompson phase in college. For a while I was all Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing and I used to brag about knowing this columnist at the Tribune who had been a bit of an apprentice to Thompson back in Aspen.
However, I didn’t discover this film until much later. And I actually think that makes me appreciate it more. It doesn’t have the same rock n’ roll and flashiness to it as the movie version of Loathing, but it still has every bit of Thompson. At least, the hazy mystique of the man that I once dreamed about meeting in real life.
There is one huge difference between this one and Loathing. Instead of Johnny Depp as Hunter S., we get Bill Murray. And Murray’s one of those characters, I feel, who is like Robin Williams in the way that you either LOVE him, or you HATE him. I personally love him and think he could do no wrong. Even if he hit me in the face with a sock full of coins and poured hot coffee in my lap, I would still love him. The impressive transition that he undertakes puts him every bit in character as Hunter S. Thompson as Johnny Depp was able to pull off, too.
The characterization of “the lawyer” in Buffalo is completely different from the Benicio del Toro version. But I like the variance. It’s funny to have come to the older film later and hold it up in comparison to Loathing when I’ve now seen Fear and Loathing about 50 times. But I do think everyone should see both. AND read the books. There is a whole lot of alleged terrorism, and paranoia, and generally anarchy that just didn’t make it to the more popular movie that the books and Buffalo can help catch you up with.
4. The Headless Woman (2008) Argentina
I saw this movie on a moody, rainy, discombobulated day while in New York City, which was kind of thee best way and mood to see it. It’s a sleeper with only a couple spikes of action in it. It’s a blurry, beautiful, cerebral, whodunit that, in a wonderful way, puts you right into the “head” of Vero, the main character, a woman who is aging and who fears she might be losing her husband and her womanly charms. Something happens to her that she can’t quite explain, and the movie follows her around as she tries to put the pieces together. The problem is, we start to suspect or figure out that Vero is something of a faulty narrator. Also, the clues keep changing, almost as if someone is playing with her, or doesn’t want her to know the full truth of her predicament. This film is eerie and beautiful and puts me in a haunted mood just remembering it from five years ago.
3. Chronicle of a Summer (1961) Paris – Jean Rouch
This is a grad school/art school hit—a favorite—especially in programs studying documentary because it is often cited and credited as being the first film shot in the “cinéma vérité” style. Cinéma vérité is a style that is supposed to combine staged, but unscripted or improv situations and discussions before the camera in shots that are meant to highlight or exaggerate some of what’s going on. People like to talk about Godard’s staging and camera placement in considering vérité. But vérité applies more to a storyline-documentary hybrid style because a lot of the young experimenters in film often took just plain old regular folks off the street (and used their friends)—not actors—and thrust them into situations, and let had them explain their way through these things.
In Chronicle of a Summer, Jean Rouch takes his camera to the streets of Paris with this question to ask people: “Are you happy?” Seems simple enough. But the people he encounters, the situations he creates, and the answers he collects are diverse and ring with truth; they also vary wildly.
This was a film I didn’t like the first time I saw it. But I gave it a chance and it’s grown on me. Which seems to be a pattern for me with films, as with friends and even lovers–the ones I didn’t like straight-off-the-bat often end up being my favorites.
2. Secretary (2002)
I cited this as my favorite movie of all time for a very long time. I still love it very much for all that it is, but I don’t know if I can rightly say that it’s my “favorite” anymore. True, I own it on DVD, and true I have seen it more than a dozen times. But I think it came out at a particularly coming-of-age moment for me, and I associate it with that moment, and that’s why I find it special and will always have a place for it in my heart.
It is based on a fantastic story by Mary Gaitskill, who is one of my Top 10 favorite writers of all time, so that helps a lot. That’s all I’m going to say on this one…
1. Sans Soleil (1983)
There are a few people out there in the world with whom I am so in awe that I actually wish I COULD BE THEM, and one of those people is Chris Marker. Someday I will make my own Sans Soleil. Until that time, I only have this beautiful film to treasure and to love and to watch time and again for inspiration, and hopefully to introduce people to, as well. One of my favorite professors at The New School said that she often wished she could live in the world of Sans Soleil. To her, that was her “Zone.” It is a fragmented film. A film I can really only describe as a “These Are A Few of My Favorite Things” sort of film. It’s told as an epistolery tale, which creates an interesting dialogue between characters (real or imagined?) Yet, you could even watch it with the sound turned off, and that would be a knock-out experience, too. God. I just love this movie.
Some other great ones that didn’t make the list of Top 10, but are still pretty cool:
Stalker – Tarkovsky
I Am Curious (Yellow) – 1967 (USA distro. 1969)
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control! – Errol Morris, one of my fave filmmakers ever!
Rain (1929) – Joris Ivens
Cure for Pain (2011) – doc about the life of Mark Sandman from Morphine