Thursday, April 28, 2011

21 Films You Should See That Maybe You Haven't

I made up this list for a swap over at Swapbot, and I was inspired to share it here. It's a highly idiosyncratic list, populated with highly idiosyncratic commentary. Some of the films are old classics that deserve never to be forgotten, some are quirky little films, etc., and let's just get to the bloody list already!

Blame It on Fidel—This is a French period piece set in early 1970's Paris. It follows the changes in the life of a young girl as her parents become more politically active during this turbulent period. I love this film for its compassion—it is sensitive both to the world of a child, so dependent on structure and sameness, but also to the difficulties faced by the parents who are trying to do the right thing.

As It Is in Heaven—I just saw this Swedish film recently, and I think I'm in love. Starring Michael Nyqvuist from the Millenium trilogy, this film follows a world-renowned composer who returns to the hometown of his youth and takes up a small church choir, with transformational results. This film really feels like it approaches the sublime, particularly at its climax, which manages to be gut-wrenching and beautiful with no dialogue whatsoever.

Inside Daisy Clover—An older piece that, despite a handful of big names, barely crawled onto DVD. This is a “Star is Born” type story, following a young Natalie Wood as she goes through the Hollywood studio star-making machine. Superb performances from Christopher Plummer and Robert Redford round out the cast, but what I really love here is the darkness of the film and its tumultuous climax.

An Education—This British period piece, set in the 1950's has the charmed combination of a strong story and a gorgeous “look.” The costumes, the hair, the general cinematography are all unmissable, but so is the acting and the dialogue and the story's quiet feminism and uplifting righteousness.

Desk Set—This is an old Hepburn and Tracy classic, and I will confess that you may have seen it. But then again, you may not have, and that would be a terrible shame! Dry wit, Hepburn at her funniest and most ripely beautiful, and a fun story are just some of the charms of this film. I recommend it for an evening when you're feeling a bit blue.

Alice Through the Looking Glass—This is the Kate Beckinsale version, and I will say straight off that it's a little odd. But, really, what Alice adaptation isn't a little odd? Featuring an adult Alice, it nonetheless is otherwise a faithful Looking Glass adaptation, with some beautiful visual homages to Tenniel's illustrations. I like to watch this and dream.

To Sir with Love—Another old classic, this one starring Sidney Poitier. I have watched this film many times and have never lost my affection for it. It's about a teacher who turns a group of frankly horrible students in one of London's worst neighborhoods into somewhat less horrible students! Seriously, though, inspirational (though, warning, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate should you happen to be a teacher).

Picnic at Hanging Rock—a creepy little Australian film based on the novel of the same title. Beautiful, frightening, completely unsatisfying but massively thought-provoking, this is a modern masterpiece.

Angel and the Badman—John Wayne stumbles into...Quaker country? Yes. Gail Russell cuddles tiny lambs! And John Wayne must decide whether he's willing to shed his bad guy image for the girl he loves. Seriously, Wayne does a bit of actual acting here, and it's a charming film, a departure from his usual.

Still Crazy—Great film about a group of washed-up 70's rockers trying to get their shit together to do a reunion tour. Stellar performances from Stephen Rea and Bill Nighy here. Funny, heart-warming, and generally just a good, off-beat time.

Little Miss Sunshine—What can I say about this film? That Greg Kinnear has never been more brilliant in his career? That it understands multi-generational family dynamics sensitively? That it is a love story about middle class America? That it makes you weep with pleasure? Yeah, something like that.

Cold Comfort Farm—More Kate Beckinsale, but this time dry as a good martini in this wicked little film based on Stella Gibbons's delicious novel. Stand-out performance by Ian McKellan, but generally just hilarious and really faithful to its wonderful source.

Holiday—I spoke earlier of a ripely beautiful Katharine Hepburn, but this is the place to catch her delicate youthful beauty. This film drips with silver screen elegance as Carey Grant tries to negotiate his engagement to a rich beauty all the while dreaming of seeing life and discovering what it has to offer. A film devoted to learning about happiness? Yes, please!

Masked and Anonymous—This film starring Bob Dylan is an odd little piece that could easily have been a piece of pandering to an aging star's vanity but instead becomes a piece of important cultural commentary. Watch it for the acting, the music (well, if you like Dylan), and the oddly poetic story.

But I'm a Cheerleader—In this campy but sweet comedy, a girl discovers love at the “gay rehabilitation camp” she's sent to. It's hilarious, and it's a little bit heartbreaking at the same time. Watch it when you want a little non-traditional romance.

The Lion in Winter—I'm not obsessed with Katharine Hepburn! I swear! But how could I leave this film out? When I think of brilliant acting, I think of this heavy-hitting historical drama about Eleanor of Aquitane and Henry II. This is history as Edward Albee might have written it.

Enchanted April—And, to lighten things up a bit, a pretty villa in Italy where everyone finds happiness. And Alfred Molina! I love the setting for this film and the beautiful cinematography. Watch it and dream of your next trip abroad.

Bread and Tulips—Or perhaps Venice is more your thing? This Italian film about a housewife who hitchhikes to Venice has its own share of enchantment and a little more substance than the previous film. Could almost be watched without the subtitles, for while the dialogue matters, everything important is conveyed through gestures and the expressions on the actors' faces.

Stealing Beauty—Have you noticed this is the Italian section? Young Liv Tyler goes to Italy to lose her virginity. No, seriously. This film is smart and beautiful and nervy as it follows its heroine's emotional journey towards maturity.

A Patch of Blue—This early Sidney Poitier film from the 1960s traces the developing relationship between an African American man and an abused blind girl. It is by turns a sweet romance, a distressing melodrama, and a think piece about American racism.

The Closet—One for the road, because why not? This French romp starring Daniel Auteuil is simply hilarious. Aware that he's about to lose his job for being too dull, the hero takes on a new persona as a homosexual. Improbable? Mais oui, but who cares when it's so fun? The best part of this film is that Auteuil does not camp up his homosexual performance, but merely lets others and their perceptions do the work for him.

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