Friday, March 5, 2010

If only Oscar® had a category for Under-the-Radar...

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.

Lorenzo’s Oil
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!

Safe Passage
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.

Dead Again
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.

Second-hand Lions
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!

Marvin’s Room
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!)


Kimberly said...

Waking Ned Devine is one of my all time favourites! Reading through the rest of your list is going to have the effect of significantly increasing my dvd rental queue...and, I'm guessing, will bring much delight. Such intriguing reviews!

Kristina P. said...

It has been ages since I've seen any of these. I really need to see Lars and the Real Girl.

Kateastrophe said...

I have not met very many people who have even SEEN Dead Again and it's one of my most favorites! I'm still sad Kenneth and Emma didn't last.

LOVED Waking Ned Divine, LOVED LOVE LOVED Lars and the Real Girl and now I'm on a mad search for Men Don't Leave!

You're so great. Next time I'm home I'm stalking you. For reals.

InkMom said...

I haven't even read your post yet but I have to say first how great it is to "hear" your voice again!

Back in a minute.

InkMom said...

Ones I love already intermingled wuth ones I've yet to see. Can't wait!

Kazzy said...

Great recommendations! I will have to get some of those.

DeNae said...

The only one of these that I've seen is "Second Hand Lions", and we absolutely love it.

My mom said "Men Don't Leave" was the most depressing movie she'd ever seen! I'm going to have to check out some of these others, though. And I agree with KP; it's good to see you blogging!

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, my golly: I've actually seen some of these!

I feel so hip now.

Melanie J said...

I love lists like this! It gives me new things to look forward to.

I loved Lars and the Real Girl and Waking Ned Devine.

I miss you. How have you been? In small world news, we have a real life friend in common: Anne Arnold. How cool is that?

L.T. Elliot said...

I've seen a few of those and thank netflix, I'll see a few more! (And Dead Again? I LOVE THAT SHOW! Emma and Kenneth? Oh, why did they break up?!)

Sandy M. said...

Hi Jana! :)
I've seen about half of these. 'Second Hand Lions' was great. 'Lars..' was a real surprise - really very sweet and poignant and charming.

Some others I like that you might have seen:
'Shadowlands'. I loved the relationships between the university dons.
'Benny and Joon' with Jonny Depp. Funny and offbeat charming.
Anything with Greer Garson. Especially 'Mrs. Minerver' which is an old movie, but I love the graciousness of her character. Also 'Goodbye Mr. Chips'.
'Wit' with Emma Thompson. Brilliantly acted, and I love her impeccable elocution.

Your post got me all fired up about the Oscars in general and I wrote too much for a comment - so have posted it as a blog entry instead.


charrette said...


Oh, my --

Benny and Joon! Wit! How did I ever leave those two out?
Definitely on our lesser-known, long-time favorite list.
Jeff talks about Wit in his screenwriting classes.
Shadowlands was particularly poignant for me because I saw it not long after my mother passed away.

Definitely NOT too long a comment --
Thanks for chipping in!

charrette said...

Also, my friend Lynne responded via email to say "Where is Roman Holiday?"

Here is my response to her:
Roman Holiday is one of my all-time Faves as well.
There's a disclaimer in the first paragraph where I said I was intentionally leaving out the obvious classics to tout these lesser-known gems.

These are probably my real Top 10 (in no particular order):

Roman Holiday
North by Northwest
Its a Wonderful Life
The Sound of Music
To Kill A Mockingbird
Rear Window
Room With A View
Four Weddings and a Funeral
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Dan in Real Life

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I've only seen ONE of these! But I'm so glad to see your "voice." I was just thinking of you the other day and missing you. :)

Lara said...

I've seen two of these and loved them both. I love finding obscure gems! Thanks!

Justin said...

Love the list! (I saw the decades-old copy of MEN DON'T LEAVE and was really taken with it) And yes, if Netflix paid me for every time I sang their praises my student loans would be a fading memory.


Hugh Grant is My One Crush and Marvin's Room......One of the BEST! :) How are You, Jana? :)