A friend was coming to Chicago to visit her two sisters, and asked if I had any movie rental recommendations. That was quite a wide assignment, I said, given that I have no idea what kind of movie she liked – let alone that the three sisters together liked. Comedy, adventure, thriller, foreign, romance, sci-fi…
I did my best putting together a list, knowing what little I did of the three, all accomplished professionals. I figured that since the list is done, I might as well post it here. Keep in mind that this is not even remotely a definitive Moves To See list. It's focused on these three sisters. Without knowing their specific tastes. And I chose to come up with lesser-known films that they were less-likely to have seen. And I didn't want to take too much time researching and thinking about this, so it was done pretty quickly, in about a half-hour. I have no doubt that if I took more time and had different criteria, the list would be significantly different. And there were others I even thought of including, but decided there was a limit, and stopped since I didn't want to inundate her with an interminable list.
So, again, this is not a definitive list in any way, shape or form. Just something I dashed off given the limited criteria I mentioned above. And which I thought would be fun to post here, to help end out the year, perhaps even if you're looking for something to rent on New Year's Eve.
So, here then are some random thoughts.
A few movies I loved that few people have seen, let alone even know about –
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.” Julianne Moore should have won the Oscar for this, but almost no one saw the movie, and she wasn’t even nominated. It's a brilliant performance. Based on a memoir about the author’s indomitable mother who, in the 1950s, helped raise her large family (whenever her well-meaning, but irresponsible, often-drunk husband, played by Woody Harrelson, screwed up their lives) by regularly entering product write-in contest in the newspaper and winning so much of the time. The full title of the book it's based on is "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio -- or How My Mother Raised 10 Kinds on 25 Words or Less." The movie also has the single greatest ending to a true-story film I've ever seen.
“Proof”, based on the Tony-winning play, about a young woman determined to prove her brilliant father isn’t going crazy by trying to prove the theorem he’s spent a lifetime working on. With Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, co-starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and directed by John Madden, who directed "Shakespeare in Love" and "Mrs. Brown."
“Rosewater” is the movie that Jon Stewart took time off from “The Daily Show” to write and direct. It got a tiny release, almost insignificant, but it’s really quite good. A true story about a journalist in Iran who is arrested for supposedly dealing with an American spy, who actually was just “correspondent” from “The Daily Show.”
“Kon-Tiki”, a very good recent retelling of the famous documentary (and book) about an effort to prove how civilization migrating from Asia, as a group of men build a raft and attempt to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
Slightly Better-known Movies, but Still Under the Wire –
“Temple Grandin” – an HBO movie that won the Emmy for Outstanding Made-for-TV film. Really wonderful. A true story about a young woman with autism who confronts it head-on and ends up breaking through major stigmatisms and becomes a famous animal behaviorist. It won seven Emmys in all, including Outstanding Actress in a Mini-series of Movie for Clare Danes.
“Ball of Fire,” a classic screwball comedy from the ‘40s, where a gangster’s girlfriend has to hide out among a household of seven adorable, brilliant and totally innocent academics who spends all their time indoors researching and writing an encyclopedia. Loosely based on “Snow White and the 7 Dwarves,” with Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper (as one of the academics).
Several Brilliant Foreign-language Films –
“Character” (or “Karakter”) – one of my favorite films of the last 25 years. This 1997 Dutch movie was the Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, and it’s like a long-lost Dickens novel -- as well as a long-lost film directed by David Lean (“Dr. Zhivago,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Great Expectations, “Oliver Twist.”) The story has the sensibility particular of "Nicholas Nickleby," telling of a young man from a poor background, trying to make his way in the business world, whose every move seems blocked by the omnipresent town elder, but who has a friendly benefactor guiding him. A love story, too, as he also tries to discover the story of his past.
“La Vie en Rose” – Marion Coitillard became only the third foreign-language actress to win the Oscar as Best Actress, in the life story of singer Edith Piaf. And though I suspect more people saw this than would have otherwise because of the award, my guess is it still hasn't been seen by many. It's a tour-de-force performance, but a very well-done movie beside that.
“No Man’s Land” – Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, beating the hugely popular “Amelie.” It starts out as a war movie about the Serbo-Croatian War, and then suddenly takes a huge turn with one of the great twists I’ve seen in the movies. (So great that I’ve never told anyone the plot, not wanting to give it away.) It’s largely a personal drama over a specific dilemma that is utterly gripping. Since the U.N. plays a major role, probably 25% of the film is in English, making it more accessible than most foreign-language films. I saw this at an "awards screening," and the response in the room was so visceral that when people asked me my "Oscar predictions," they were stunned that I said this (which they hadn't heard of) rather than "Amelie," which they'd seen and loved. But I was right. It won.
“Joyeux Noel,” – Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film (that should have won), based on a true story in World War I, when several armies were facing each other in trenches on Christmas Eve, and they get the idea to call a one-night truce. It’s absolutely wonderful – taught, but endearing and beautifully made. It lost the Oscar to a South African film, "Totsi," which was good and had a Very Good Message -- but (and I know this is all personal taste) "Joyeux Noel" was just an exquisite film and a total joy..
“Hero” – probably the most gorgeously-photographed movie I’ve ever seen. In fact, I was so taken with it that I wrote an article about the film (here). It was made by famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou, an artist of impressive craftsmanship, who best known to American audiences for directing the otherworldly spectacular opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The story is good, and interesting, albeit a bit thin, an adventure about a swordsman’s journey for retribution against a warrior, but the movie is so amazing beautiful to watch that it sucks you in with every frame..
“Lagaan” – another Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film from India. It’s VERY long (about 3-1/2 hours), and has traditional India goofiness, like big musical numbers that break out for no reason, but an extremely accessible, fun story – basically “Rocky” meets “Romeo and Juliet.” The word “lagaan” means tax. The film takes place when the British still ruled India, and the local tax is raised on a poor village, which they can’t pay. But they make a bet with the British governors – if they can beat the British at cricket, there will be no tax. If they lose, though, the tax will be tripled. There's one slight problem – the villagers don’t know how to play cricket. A British girl is in love with a young man from the village, so every day she sneaks over to teach them how to play.
And okay, that’s enough. Other lists may vary...including my own. But that's a quick start.
But here's the opening 10 minutes of "Character," co-adapted from a novel and directed by Mike van Diem.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor