These would get my vote.
Given my husband’s profession, friends often ask us for movie recommendations. Some of our very favorite films are small, independent pictures that few people see, but contain nevertheless great filmmaking, resonant stories, and important themes. (The emergence of Netflix makes them all the more accessible these days.--I only WISH they were paying me to say that!) So just in time for the Oscars, here are a handful of our lesser-known but long-time favorite movie picks (minus the obvious classics):
Double Indemnity (This was probably a blockbuster at the time, but hardly anyone our age has seen it.) Squeaky-clean Disney star Fred MacMurray (and yes, I actually did some design projects for his lovely wife, June!) plays against type as he plans the perfect murder in this excellent 1944 thriller.
Men Don’t Leave (Netflix, I’m told, doesn’t even have this one. I don’t even think it’s available on DVD. What a loss! But feel free to borrow our decades-old VHS copy!)
We saw this back when we were first married, and we’re still quoting lines from it. One of our favorites: “Your night thing’s on wrong.” (Watch it, and you’ll see why we love it). What this film says about family relationships, love, loss, and the role of men in our lives is poignant and timeless. Jessica Lange gives a great performance, and Joan Cusack’s quirkiness never fails to crack me up!
Truly, Madly, Deeply
A little like Ghost, only ten times better. A romantic comedy set in England, written and directed by Anthony Minghella, that defies conventions, and is understated, unpredictable, honest and (yes) haunting.
Lars and the Real Girl
Such a sweet, honest portrayal of a bizarre yet innocent relationship, and what it takes to move on. I was especially moved by the family and church community’s compassionate response to this unusual circumstance.
Susan Sarandon completely redeems herself after that horrible Bull Durham movie with this indie gem, where she plays a mother obsessed with finding a miracle cure for her son’s rare illness. I can still hear her cooing, “Fly away to the Baby Jesus!
More Susan Sarandon. A great story about a family with a son who’s a soldier in the middle east. They find out the village where he’s stationed was bombed, and spend a long weekend together waiting to hear word of his survival. What this has to say about family, healing and hope is powerful. I found the garage-cleaning scene particularly moving and mememorable, as it becomes a metaphor for making progress in our lives.
It doesn’t get much better than Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. Especially back when they were still married. This is a suspenseful thriller involving a past life, and it is unforgettable.
Strangers On A Train
Oh my, the ultimate innocent-conversation-turned-creepy! As per the title, two strangers on a train muse about the plausibility of committing a crime with no attachment. But then it turns out one of them was serious. Yikes!
Children of Heaven
Shoes! A pair of siblings in Iraq try to SHARE a pair of shoes, taking turns racing to school, handing off the shoes as if in a relay, in an effort to prevent one from being punished for losing his. A deeply moving story of siblings and sacrifice, which takes place in abject poverty...and yet the colors are rich!
Waking Ned Divine
That one scene of the old man riding naked on his bike is totally worth the price of admission. But I am also intrigued with the premise.... A man in a small Irish town holds the winning lottery ticket...and dies before he can claim his prize. The rest of the townspeople attempt to secure (and share) the winnings. What a story! What a wild ride!
Two little British boys stumble across an accident...where a freight train showers them with money...millions! Of course they are hiding it from the adults in their lives, and of course they are being stalked by criminals.
Essentially cast off for the summer, Haley Joel Osment is sent to live with a pair of eccentric uncles. The boy is guileless and unassuming, and the uncles are hilarious! Watching them shoot at traveling salesmen, firing off their shotguns from the front porch, is awesome. --And that’s just the beginning!
We saw this first as a stage play, in a small-but-crowded theater in L.A. Mary Steenburgen was amazing as a woman who holds her family together while caring for her ailing father. Diane Keaton plays that role in the film version, opposite a selfish and estranged Meryl Streep, who is mother to a disturbed young Leonardo DiCaprio. I especially love the lines about the way the light refracts through the panes of glass Bessie hangs in Marvin’s room. Such simple pleasures. This film is surprisingly not depressing, as the tagline states perfectly: “A story about the years that keep us apart...And the moments that bring us together.”
Six Degrees of Separation
An amazing story about deception, and being deceived. Donald Sutherland plays an art critic. Will Smith plays...well, you’ll see. And maybe see a bit too much. (Brief, shocking nudity). What stays with me is the response to the deception, the way they tell and retell the experience until they reduce the entire thing to a cocktail-party anecdote. And I use this line in my art classes all the time: Donald S. tells his son’s second grade teacher, “They all paint like Matisse. How do you do it? Let me study with you.” And the teacher replies simply, “I know when to take their paintings away.” Brilliant!
Captain Abu Raed
An airport janitor finds a pilot’s cap in the trash can and wears it home. The neighborhood kids are convinced he’s a real pilot, and he enchants them with stories of his imagined world travels, ultimately having a life-changing role in some of their lives. We saw this at Sundance a couple of years ago and could not believe our good fortune. We don’t always love what we see there. (Sometimes we don’t even remotely LIKE what we see there.) But this one captivated everyone in attendance, and ultimately won the audience choice award. I have been waiting and watching for it to come out on DVD and it finally was released last month. So now you can find it on Amazon. (yay!)