I just finished listening to another sci fi/fantasy type young adult book called The Knife of Never Letting Go. It was good, I think, though in general an upsetting story it was very well done. I won’t review it here now though, because it’s the first in a trilogy and I’d rather finish all three before writing about them, as it ends on a dramatic cliff hanger and how I feel about the book will be impacted a lot by what happens next.
Instead, the Oscars are in a few weeks and so I’d like to put forth my own nominations. I am not going to do a ten best of the year list, because I think if you look up any critic’s you’ll see a lot of my movies are on their lists too, and I’ve already listened to podcast after podcast about the ten best films of the year, and if I make up a list I’ll just feel like I’m regurgitating what I’ve already heard.
Instead here are ten recent, or at least relatively recent, films that I think have been largely overlooked… both by most critics and by audiences in general. I found that they seemed to pair off neatly as I wrote them down, so in groups of two I present to you, movies I love but that other people either hate or don’t know about.
The Dystopian Romance Category:
The most recent movie on this list is “How I Live Now” The audiobook made it onto my top ten list of 2013, and this movie did not shame its source material. Directed by Kevin MacDonald who also helmed the picture “The Last King of Scotland” and starring the wonderful Saoirse Ronan this is a beautifully crafted movie with a strange but bewitching sense of pacing and world. Things start out slow and almost languorous as the film captures main character Daisy’s arrival to her cousin’s house in England. But things soon escalate to the frantic and nightmarish as war enters their lives. I was incredibly touched and affected by the book, but was still caught off guard by the raw emotional impact the movie had on me, it left me reduced to a useless floor puddle as the credits rolled. Still I cannot recommend it enough as a truly well-crafted and beautiful film with an amazing actress at its center. You can rent this on Amazon Prime Streaming for a small sum.
With Keira Knightley, Carrie Mulligan and Andrew Garfield all in starring roles I’m surprised that “Never Let Me Go” didn’t get more attention than it did. The book this movie is based on is a phenomenal piece of writing, and while I don’t think the movie quite lives up to the novel’s tight and careful plotting, the film still delivers on everything needs to. The three actors involved certainly don’t hurt it. It also has a strange, slow pace which some may find off-putting but that I found worked great with the setting and subject matter. While the plot may sound conventional, a love triangle, an English boarding school… it is set in a future that is anything but. And while they’re there to help along the main themes, the sci fi elements of the story aren’t at all what it’s about. What the movie and book both explore is very similar to what “How I Live Now” explores. Life is short and hard, and love really matters and sometimes missed opportunities are missed forever. If that sounds too bleak than maybe neither of these movies are for you, but that would be a shame, because they each explore these themes in ways that are worth seeing. This is also available for rent on Amazon.
The Sci Fi Action Category:
I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Jake Gyllenhal, but I swear, “Source Code” will win you over even if you aren’t a huge fan of his. Centered around a guy who’s sent back in time (sort of) over and over onto a train that’s about to explode, the premise may sound gimmicky but it definitely is immediately suspenseful and enaging. And anyhow, the film transcends it’s a-bit-too-precious concept and ventures into real meaty narrative territory as it proceeds. For instance, when compared to Tony Scott’s “Deja Vu”, which has a very similar plot, it holds up as not only smarter and better written but as all around more substantial. And the ending, while at first blush seemingly a bit sappy, packs a strange and wonderful punch that most Hollywood films lack. Directed by Duncan Jones of “Moon” semi-fame, “Source Code” was uneasily received by both critics and the general public, neither of whom seemed to know what to make of it. But I firmly believe that if more people saw this fast paced, fun, suspenseful movie it would find its audience in no time and I can’t wait to see Jones’ next movie, ”Warcraft”, even if it is based on, well… Warcraft. Source Code is available for rent on Amazon streaming.
I think more people have seen “I, Robot” than most of the other movies on this list, so I’ll keep my description limited: Will Smith at his best, Allan Tudyk is always amazing, James Cromwell, Robots, SOOOO much fun, Alex Proyas (who directed Dark City). Just re watch it already and admit you really like it, even if Bridget what’s her head in the lead female role is not that great. (Also while writing this I just discovered Proyas is directing a movie about Egyptian Gods coming out in 2016. Sign me up.) I, Robot is, again, available on Amazon to stream if you rent it.
The Ricky Gervais Comedy Category:
OK so I love both these movies so unconditionally that it’s extremely hard for me to recommend them without sounding like I’m being paid by the studios to do so… and the reality is each of these movies is not perfect, they do have some rough patches and are shaggy in the plotting department, but I find they both redeem themselves completely with their strength of movie character.
“Ghost Town” has Tea Leoni, who is hilarious and wonderful, as well as Ricky Gervais who is also hilarious and wonderful, and Greg Kinnear who is… well… er. Let’s move on. This movie overcomes a saccharine plot where Gervais’ grouchy dentist character has to learn to love through the help of ghosts, to actually provide a serious, realistic depiction of a budding relationship. They’re hard. They hurt. People make mistakes and some things don’t turn out OK… but underlying the whole film is a base of human compassion that makes you believe maybe they will turn out OK, sometimes at least. Look on Amazon to rent this streaming!
“The Invention of Lying” might have its flaws but it wears it’s earnest heart on its sleeve so proudly it’s difficult to begrudge it its existence. Set in a world where no one ever lies and can only tell the truth, Gervais plays a screenwriter who suddenly develops the ability to lie. Again, the plot is gimmicky, but in my opinion (though many critics disagree with me) it overcomes it by sheer force of its charm and wit. Also, like Ghost Town, it’s a romantic comedy that succeeds outside the conventional template of a romantic comedy. People can be jerks, and relationships aren’t easy, and sometimes lying is good. When I first saw this movie it was in a theater with my mom and I sat, completely transcended to a plane of pure joy as I was watching it. When I exited the theater, I found while my mom had liked it, she had not had at all the same wonderous experience I had watching this movie. Upon reading reviews, I found many critics I love strongly disliked it. Maybe it just clicks with me on a level it doesn’t with most people, I don’t know, but I do know I love it. Amazon has this one available for rent also. Netflix is really striking out in the streaming department in regards to these movies I’m recommending.
The Fun Legal Thriller Category:
I was expecting near nothing from each of these movies and was pleasantly surprised in both cases to find that they were smart, well written, well acted and genuinely suspenseful thrillers.
If I have a soft spot for Jake Gyllenhal I have a bigger, blinder one for Tom Cruise. Yes he might be bonkers but there’s just something so charming about his performances that I love. He does a great job in “Jack Reacher” but he’s not even my favorite actor in the movie, Wener Herzog, who I often loathe as a director but adore in his few acting appearances, has that honor. Is he the villain? You guess. But let’s just say they don’t waste his accent. Rosamund Pike is also great in it. This IS streaming on Netflix! As well as free to stream on Amazon Prime.
Matthew McConaughey may have blown up in 2013 but in 2011 he made a pretty great movie with “The Lincoln Lawyer”. Also staring are William H Macy and the divine Marissa Tomei. Super fun and satisfying movie. Both these films are great if you want to see evil brought to justice in a smarter and more down to earth way than they do it in your average super hero film. This movie is available for rent on Amazon Prime.
In the Movies You Should See if You Love Me category are:
In “Saved” Jena Malone stars in this movie about what happens when a good Christian girl gets pregnant when she’s 16. I saw this in college and it just really stuck with me in a satisfying way. I like that while it isn’t a vicious satire the fact that its claws aren’t that sharp doesn’t detract from the point it is making, but in fact helps to make it. I just think it’s a great little movie so full of good intention that it soars. One could argue it has a “Christian” message at the end that betrays its own themes but I disagree with that. I think the message in the end is Christian in the best sense of the word, saying only that people should treat each other as they would want to be treated, and it’s hard to find fault with that assertion. This movie is streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
“A Very Long Engagement” is a movie that was critically acclaimed, as far as I can tell, but that not nearly enough people have seen. While “Amelie” is the more “popular” film directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (I say popular in quotes because it’s not like it’s a blockbuster or anything) this is the better film. And I do love “Amelie” as well, before you get up in arms, I just think this is a superior movie. I have seen it probably half a dozen times and it moves me to tears without fail. So well-acted, so well put together, so suspenseful and heart wrenching that its nearly 3 hour run time flies by, this movie is on my list of films everyone in the world should see. It follows Matilda as she searches for her fiancé in the wake of WWI, stubbornly refusing to accept that he died in the war, the more she uncovers the better the story gets. Part mystery story, part romance, part war film this movie transcends genre and instead approaches perfection. And it is only 2 bucks to rent on Amazon. So do that now.
And on that hyperbolic statement, I’m out!