- > Columns
- TODAY'S NEWS AND HOOTS
- Feature - Lloyd Kaufman: The Kotori Interview
- Feature - Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop
- Feature - Losing LeBron
- Feature - The Crazy Legend of Slowhand Jack
- Feature - The Giving Lens Gets Focused
- Notes From A Polite New Yorker
- Tommy Digital's Pussy Cocktails
- The Octopus Files
- Wasims Rants
- The Guys You'll Meet on Earth, But Not in Heaven
- Slippery Id
- The Shameful Truth
- Writing for the Sake of It
- Void Creation
- Frankly Speaking
- Pulling At The Fringes
- These Altered States - America Trying to Become Itself
- The Worthless
Through the Cracks
The Greatest Overlooked Flicks of the Decade
Movies are to me what music was to TCM2's Choptop: It's the juice inside my drink cup, the fuel that floats my boat, the source of my passion and mania. And I'm not the only one. For people like me, there is no Top Twenty List of the Year or a solid well-defined roster of The Best of the Decade. For people like me there are simply too many titles to choose from.
Many people might think this isn't the case, reflecting on a Year or Ten and saying to themselves, "But there were only 30 films playing at the Cineplex this year. How hard can it be?" But that is to discount the hundreds, even thousands of titles that come to us in the mail, on demand, on the Internet or in our e-mails. Some play theaters, but most do not. Tons never see any form of legitimate distribution and, in more cases than is probably fair to the artists involved, these flicks are forgotten before they enjoy a proper audience.
While ruminating on this fact, KillingBoxx.com's Will Colby and I have often talked about the importance of documenting those pictures which slip through the cracks, the movies in the margins or those dealt a crappy hand prematurely. This is why Will writes about What Ever Happened To Aunt Alice? (1969, Lee H. Katzin) when he could be covering the new Resident Evil sequel, and why I dedicated my first review for KillingBoxx.com to William Malone's much-maligned studio bomb Fear Dot Com when I should have been interviewing Wes Craven about his first 3D outing.
While these other movies get plenty of ink, film aficionados run the risk of overlooking some of the most pertinent or significant pieces of cinematic posterity, for no other reason than they haven't been bought up by cable networks for late-night rotation yet. More probably, they were sold off to some lazy video distributor after the big boys took a beating at the box office.
The same is true of any calendar year. And, in terms of a decade, the New Millennium has not been kind to its B titles and modest artistic triumphs. To look at the jug half-full, it can be argued that these titles will rise again thanks to the restorative powers of DVD and its actionable role in cinematic posterity. But strap on them beer goggles and look again and you'll see that the Recession has reduced marquee stars to third-tier roles in direct-to-DVD fare that may be every bit as hard to find in the next twenty years as the Poverty Row titles of the 40's and 50's are today.
Why? Because the mainstream public is a snobbish and cynical tribe and once your Tom Sizemore does a movie like Ring Around The Rosie (2006) there's no more taking him seriously. Maybe for us, but not for "Them." Consequently these titles will be ignored or scoffed at and, in two or three decades from now, when someone's little brother or son asks them to recall a kick-ass "old" movie, the last thing they will remember is Bringing Out The Dead (a terrific Scorsese flick from 1999 that co-starred Sizemore, in one of his best and most unbridled roles and which, thanks to unresponsive box office figures and media dichotomy, is hardly ever mentioned when discussing the Great Marty's canon).
That is why a list, such as the one that follows, is requisite to the preservation of modern cinema. If the bored and disappointed moviegoer is ever going to have an alternative to the latest Adam Sandler coming-of-age-in-my-forties "comedy" or Hollywood's newest attempt at turning an Eighties lunchbox icon into a summer blockbuster, they're gonna need to know where to look.
The last ten years is as good a place as any to start our search. It's 2011, after all. Happy New Year!
Cecil B. Demented (2000, John Waters)
The New Millennium gave us many things. A basement full of canned food and space ice cream; too many rolls of duct tape to count; gun-toting neighbors disappointed that they didn't have the chance to blow a hole in your chest; and an economy momentarily stimulated by the government-media complex's mass production of Y2K fear. It also gave us Bruce Willis's obese midget self in the form of Spencer Breslin in Disney's lackluster The Kid (not to be confused with the Chaplin masterwork of the same name).
2000 saw the manufacturing of reality-obsessed sequels (Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2), desperate attempts to capitalize on the success of the black comedy formula of the 80's and 90's (Drowning Mona), desperate attempts to capitalize on the success of Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty (Lucky Numbers, Get Carter, Battlefield Earth) and John Travolta's desperate attempt to make Scientology seem cool by adapting L. Ron Hubbard's most preposterous prose into an even more preposterous sci-fi film (again, Battlefield Earth).
Amidst the drudges of this abominable year in filmmaking, the crowned King of Bad Taste rose from his bobby socks purgatory (Cry-Baby, Hairspray) to give us a scathing indictment of the Hollywood dream machine ("Gump Happens," "All my directors fuck me!"), and a fond send-up of underground cinema elitism ("I'm a Satanist, I'll be doing your make-up").
This film, dismissed by the majority of mainstream film critics and rejected by a Waters fanbase who shunned him for "selling out" after his excursions into poppy puff piece with Hairspray, was- more than any other, including his previous Serial Mom- an example of Waters not just returning to his roots but setting them on fire. Literally! Where Serial Mom Beverly Sutcliffe set fire to one of the witnesses to her murder spree, Cecil B. Demented is such a raving lunatic for his Art that he convinces his leading lady to set fire to her own head!
In the flick Stephen Dorff is the crazed underground "auteur" with a tattoo of Otto Preminger, the Emperor of Hollywood iconoclasts (The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder), on his forearm. And, together with a ragtag group of his fellow film "purists" (drug addicts, thugs and former-porn stars similarly branded with the namesakes of Kenneth Anger and the bunch), he decides to kidnap a washed-up H'wood movie celeb (Melanie Griffith) for the sake of forcing her to star in his transgressive Indie opus.
The resulting flick is 85 odd minutes of chaotic, anarchic comedy fun, the kind that holds nothing back and asks its audience to do the same. Some scoffed at the gun play and dated movie references found throughout (The Postman 2, Forrest Gump 2: Gump Again), but watch the flick, give it another go and tell me what Cecil B. Demented is if not a return to form for the Godfather of Grue who gave us the subversive singing sphincter antics of The Filthiest People Alive with his ground-breaking Pink Flamingos and grossed us out and made us laugh throughout the Seventies and Eighties (Female Trouble, Desperate Living, Polyester).
This is John Waters at his ornery, angst-y, self-deprecating and all-too-obsessed best. Where else are you gonna see the rising star and brilliant thespian Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?) with a scraggly beard, shouting at an A-list celebrity to, "Tell me about Mel Gibson's dick and balls!?" Nowhere, that's where! "Demented Forever!"
Bamboozled (2000, Spike Lee)
Considered by some to be Spike Lee's worst movie next to School Daze, this blackest of black comedies is actually a terrifying satire of race relations and mainstream media and just as important, if not more so, than his Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X. Bamboozled is Lee's premonition of a near-future where a ghettoized American pop culture indulges in a renaissance of Minstrel programming, with real-life tap dancer Savion Glover and a very bigoted and bitter Mos Def taking center stage.
Glover and performance partner Tommy Davidson are two virtually homeless street cats who dance for spare change, until a manipulative network exec, himself a Creole black man who feels superior to the rest of his race, convinces them to don black face and eat watermelon for a live studio audience of ignorant Caucasian lower-middle-classmen.
The runaway success of the show isn't nearly as scary as the consequences of the same, when Mos Def and his crew decide to broadcast a show of their own: a live execution.
The performances and cinematographic energy drive the flick, thanks in part to the digital video photography (a first for Lee, utilizing 15 cameras for each set-up), and the thoughtful script Lee wrote (his first sole screenwriting credit since 1998's unwatchable and illiterately-titled He Got Game). Here the questions are asked and the answers are found in the actions and meditations of its myriad characters, every one of them a traitor, in one form or another, to both themselves and their people.
Michael Rapaport is a stand-out as the white studio exec who thinks it's okay to call people "nigger" because his wife is part-black.
Sometimes a film fails to drum up business or impress the critics because it is light years before its time. I believe Bamboozled to be one of those flicks. At the time of its release, American culture was still mired in the relatively new PC movement. But given the nature of mainstream media in the 21st Century- the open chest autopsies of CSI, the openly-gay sidekick of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, the homosexual and vagina jokes of Two & A Half Men, and the decidedly frank and venomous humor of Tosh.0, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.- I have to think Bamboozled's time has finally come.
"Yes, continue, great niggerologist."--Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans, Bamboozled)
Other Movies From The Margins of the Double O: Gangster No. 1, Screwed, Animal Factory, Takeshi Kitano's Brother, Gossip, The Cell, 100 Girls, Rape Me
The Pledge (2001, Sean Penn)
If this were a Ten Best List of 2001, this year would start with Mulholland Drive, stroll over to Donnie Darko, linger on Hannibal and go from there. But we're talkin' marginalized blues here, Bubba. So let's talk two of the biggest name talents in the Western world coming together for a flick that was not only under-appreciated but poorly marketed.
Directed by Sean Penn (The Indian Runner, The Crossing Guard, later Into The Wild) and starring none other than Jack "Here's Johnny" Nicholson, The Pledge cost $45 million to produce, was dumped on the public with nary any fanfare by an under-whelmed Warner Bros. and went on to gross $19. million at the domestic BO (that's "box office," not "body odor," though you'd think this movie had a bad case of it).
In the flick Nicholson is a retiring police chief in a blustery winter lumber community who gives a grieving mother his word that he will find her missing daughter and bring justice to her presumed killer. Over the course of the film we catch obscure glimpses of her captor, a shadowy figure that we may or may not confuse with a creepy local Tom Noonan.
The film is a classic mystery movie, one where a languid pace and subtle character development take precedent over cheap scare tactics or jump cuts. The Pledge charts the mental and emotional deterioration of a man of the law in his twilight years, and the filmic techniques of the by-now seasoned helmsman Penn (who had already proven himself as a skilled actor) provide us with a tragic moving picture that puts us behind the fragmented visions of a foolish promise keeper, as he searches for answers he may not be able to find.
A nuanced performance by Jack Nicholson to rival his own legendary portrayals of Jack Torrance (The Shining) and R.P. McMurphy (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), not to mention Benicio del Toro at the advent of his powers as a mentally-deranged woodsman, give The Pledge a reason to be remembered, and the juice to make you keep your own pledge to revisit it. Right?
Frailty (2001, Bill Paxton)
Sean Penn ain't the first Hollywood actor to try his hand at directing. He's just one of the few, along with Clint Eastwood and Steve Buscemi, to be any good at it. Veteran character actor (and now star of HBO's Big Love) Bill Paxton chose this film for his own directorial debut and, like many of the flicks Paxton has appeared in, there was no knowing what to expect.
As it turns out, Frailty is a taut, carefully-structured and honestly-written portrait of an austere Fifties family unit, and the disintegration of that unit in the wake of a devoted father's vision from God. Paxton pulls double duties as Mr. Meiks, the father of Young Fenton and his little bro Adam.
Daddy Meiks is the perfect father, until a sword-wielding angel of God appears to him in a series of visions and instructs him to "slay demons." Unfortunately for Fenton and his little brother, it's gonna be hard to aid Daddy in his quest to perform God's will because these demons look and emote just like any other human being. They are people, just like you and me...or are they?
Frailty is documented from what we are told is the perspective of the adult Fenton, a child who suffered at his father's hands for his lack of faith in both the Lord and the Hands of God. We are presented with sundry scenes in which the youthful boys are coerced into going along with their father to assist in what looks to us like kidnapping and murder, but which Paxton's patriarch repeatedly swears is merely destroying the Devil's minions.
The movie opens and closes with the surviving brother, now grown up (and portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) laying all cards on the table and spilling the beans to Powers Boothe, an FBI agent with a dark past who was ready to shut the book on a series of unsolved disappearances before McConaughey came along to offer directions to some shallow graves.
The above might sound like a backwoods slasher film, but Brent Hanley's script and the performances egged on by the well-versed Paxton serve the characters and the audience well. This is the greatest sort of thriller, the kind that remembers to make its protagonists and antagonists human.
The exchanges of dialogue and the tiny hints concealed in the characters' body language in each scene is what good films are supposed to be made of: compelling, astute and subtle grace of movement. Every gesture is worth watching many times over.
Other abandoned and eschewed Bill Paxton titles include The Vagrant (a must-see black comedy), and his prosthetic-enhanced bit as the grotesque Chet in Weird Science, John Hughes' least-celebrated 80's teen flick and, also, his weirdest.
Other Movies from the Margins of ‘01: Pootie Tang, 15 Minutes, Wet Hot American Summer, Formula 51, Human Nature, Exit Wounds, Domestic Disturbance and The Case of the Jade Scorpion.
2002 to 2003
There is a king's ransom of undeservedly unacknowledged films from this period, but for the sake of brevity I will list them without exhausting word count or giving plot away. They are, in no particular order: Spun (2002), Death to Smoochy (2002), Slackers (2002), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), Dahmer (2002, starring Jeremy The Hurt Locker Renner), Highway (2002), 800 Bullets (2002), 13 Moons (2002), Shinya Tsukamoto's A Snake of June (2002), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), Identity (2003), Dreamcatcher (2003), 11:14 (2003), Tinto Brass' Do It! (2003), James Wong's remake of Willard (2003, starring Crispin What Is It? Hellion Glover), I Love Your Work (2003, directorial debut of actor Adam Hebrew Hammer Goldberg and a damn good one!), Beyond Re-Animator (2003), and Gozu (2003).
House of Voices (2004, Pascal Laugier)
Before Martyrs, the French horror phenom that put him on the map and got him attached to an ultimately doomed remake of Clive Barker's Hellraiser, Pascal Laugier did a flick in ‘04 called Saint Ange, released Stateside as House of Voices.
This slow burn suspense-mystery is no Martyrs, but like any good feature debut it shows the promise of a sterling talent in his early and, in this case, auspicious gestation. The First Act plays like Turn of the Screw meets Stir of Echoes, and anyone familiar with The Orphanage might yawn at the film's primary location, a massive orphanage in the European countryside. But the Second Act's Shutter Island-like dementia is an indication that this one is heading somewhere exciting.
Laugier is one of those "smugglers" Scorsese has written about, a director who knows to conceal his recalcitrant thinking in a stew of conventionality. By structuring this story as a run-of-the-mill spook story in a Gothic edifice, Laugier throws us off our guard so that, when he delivers the final awe-inspiring blow we are effectively sucker punched, bitch-slapped by the twist and the underlying themes.
The Third Act ramps up the mystery and ratchets up the suspense, taking a page from Ye Olde Kubrick (see: The Shining) with some avant-violin score. It is here, with jagged broken glass, bare feet and bloody belly that the beautiful waif (played by the wonderful Virginie Ledoyen, she of The Backwoods and The Beach) comes to the inscrutable conclusion of her journey, and Laugier throws everything at us like a pie in the proverbial kisser.
With strong command of frame, shutter speed, contrasting tableaus, filters and F-Stop, auteur and company dexterously make good on the magic that made cinema an art form- the perfect marriage of audio and visual working in tandem to get your skin crawling and your mouth falling open.
Look for a shot of Ledoyen stomping up and down in a mud puddle, and the subsequent match cut to her bare feet in a dirty shower for all that makes cinema poetry in motion. A similarly brilliant composition can be found in the first sequence of 2010's likewise-underrated As Good As Dead.
Where Indie films are concerned, 2004's biggest loser- and one of its most enjoyable casualties- had to be Imaginary Heroes, Dan Harris's dramedy about a dysfunctional family's evolution in the wake of their athlete son's suicide. The film- starring Sigourney Weaver, Emile Hirsch and Michelle Williams- had a budget of $10 million and made only $228,524 in domestic box office. Funny and sad how audiences miss out and studios miss the point.
Next Door (2005, Pal Sletaune)
Pål Sletaune is not a name familiar to most, if any, American moviegoers...but he should be. His diverse oeuvre of films, including Naboer (aka Next Door), have all the wacky plot points (You Really Got Me) and J-Horror-esque domestic terror (Babycall) to fuel a dozen American "reinterpretations."
With Next Door, Sletaune traps us in a pair of rooms with what seem like revolving doors, walls and ceilings so claustrophobic as to crush the soul (think the trash compactor from Star Wars under the influence of Special K), and embroils us in the action between a socially-awkward recently-single man and two odd, lascivious occupants of the apartment adjacent to his own.
There are twists, there are trysts, there is a bloody sexual come-on that will be singed on your retina for all time. It's the kind of film that makes Polanski's apartment films and Lynch's confined edifices look like a jaunt through the Wonka Factory.
Sletaune and Company take the canted or Dutch angle to new and warped places in the flick, and this pushes the already far-out premise that much further over the edge. Next Door was the first film to receive an 18 + rating in Norway in seventeen years and, when you see the picture, you'll know why. Provocative, perverse, perfection.
Afghan Knights (2007, Allan Harmon)
"Haunted by the fact that he left a man behind in Afghanistan, a soldier pulls together a special task force to save his comrade." That is the synopsis given for this film over at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). And not only does it succeed in creating an underwhelming description of an elaborate plot, it also does zero justice to the film's plenitude of genre attractions. This isn't Saving Private Ryan, nor is it some low-budget Direct-to-DVD rip-off of Spielberg's war epic or any other war film before or after it.
Allan Harmon's Afghan Knights is a war film about different wars altogether: the war of the soul (regret, self-destruction, betrayal and self-betrayal), the war of ethnocentricity (the American's blind hatred of all Middle Easterners, the British hatred of American cockiness), the war of history against its persecutors (ghosts of Mongolian soldiers still forging a never-ending battle against their oppressors), and the war of purpose (a soldier is still a soldier, even after they've returned home from the battlefield, still married to their uniform and their platoon).
(Human) liver-eating, flaming specters, glowing scepters and hidden agendas drive this unique mystery-actioner. Rape, murder, thermal imaging, and drum-beating, mind-rupturing Afghani Wendigo-children are but a fraction of what this Russian doll of a picture has in store. But you'd never know it from the sand-blown shoot-em-up DVD cover that focuses all of its attention on supporting actor Michael Madsen, using the Scream-Drew Barrymore poster technique to sell the film on the strength of Madsen's abridged presence alone. Madsen and a machine gun, that's all this movie is, at least if you go by the cover alone. But to do that would be to write off a flick that's got a lot more going on than the action-horror premise at its surface.
"They sent you here to fight a war you don't even comprehend," one character says, and talk about trenchant words of wisdom! This line alone speaks volumes about the real War On The Middle East and the poor buggers who enlist in it.
What makes Afghani Knights more than a simple D-to-DVD action schlocker, is how a goofy concept (Mongolian ghosts wreaking havoc on a special tactics unit) is handled with seriousness and commitment to craftsmanship in this supernatural splinter cell saga.
Michael Madsen is at his best since playing Vic Vega (1992's Reservoir Dogs) or, at least, the disenfranchised former-hitman Bud in Kill Bill, Vol. 2. Here, Madsen is buoyed by dark clothes and shades (that make him seem ageless and cool as ever) and an exceptional ensemble of relatively unknown actors (Steve Bacic, Chris Kramer, Mig Macario and Gary Stretch, among others). He is afforded the opportunity to play a role worthy of his hero- the late Robert Mitchum- and pulls it off in spades, taking no small modicum of joy in kicking over tables, smoking a hookah, ogling a desert trollop and staring down his young charge (Bacic).
But Madsen's not the focus here; rather, the target is hit by a rogues gallery of jaded war veterans who return to Afghanistan on a rescue mission (that's really a ruse to retrieve a dangerous artifact), and end up embroiled in a web of ectoplasmic activity. The showdowns are fastidiously paced, the rough-hewn dialogue succinct, well-researched and believable (scores of military specialists were brought in as consulting producers), and the characters multifaceted and eclectic.
What we have with Harmon's Afghani Knights is a war film for the 21st Century, one where a soldier accepts his buddy's secret homosexual dalliances without prejudice but takes serious offense at his pal's refusal to share his mother's famous homemade cookies.
Despite all that, or because of it, this A-team of Special Ops mercenaries seems like a cadre of real hard-boiled dudes, instead of movie bad-asses. John Carpenter fans should dig this supernatural Middle Eastern western. It looks, sounds and feels like Escape from Afghanistan, or Ghosts from Mars meets The Thing, if you prefer. Afghani Knights scores extra points for containing both one of the most unsettling laughing scenes in history and one of very few genuine jump scares of the last ten years or more.
Sleuth (2007, Kenneth Branagh)
A Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again)-directed remake of a Harold Pinter-scripted film, with the original film's then-young star (Sir Michael Caine) returning to reverse roles as the older gentleman ensnared in a Harold Pinter scenario of deception, trickery, cat-and-mouse traps and razor-wire dialogue…written by Harold Pinter and acted by Caine and Jude Law. Pinter writing. Branagh directing. Caine and Law doing proper acting. Nuff said. What are you, a cunt? How did you miss it the first time ‘round?!
Weirdsville (2007, Allan Moyle)
Two Canadian junkies, as portrayed by two then-rising Hollywood stars (Scott Speedman and Wes Bentley), have to dispose of their promiscuous friend Matilda's body after she overdoses on a hot shot of heroin. As they go through withdrawal and struggle to find a suitable place to bury their friend's body, they are pursued by a group of privileged white wanna-be Moonies and a cavalcade of pissed-off midgets in Viking helmets. Along the way they break into a rich dude's house, take a hostage, smoke some dope and fall in and out of love with each other in a bleak Canadian snow globe.
It's no wonder this film, directed by Pump Up The Volume auteur Allan Moyle, was lost to obscurity. It never stood a chance with a plot like that. And to think, all Allan Moyle and his crew were concerned with were giving it a saleable title (see DVD Special Feature with test groups deciding film's moniker). Also against it were completely erroneous comparisons to Danny Boyle's film adaptation of Trainspotting, a far more nihilistic film that shares junkies and only junkies in common with this overlooked Indie gem.
With Weirdsville, Moyle gives us a triumvirate of characters so deplorable and clueless that we have to work to care about them. In this way, we travel with them to their point of prospective redemption so that if/when there is a pay-off, we feel as fortunate as they do. This, coupled with the flick's multitude of unexpected actions, witty but never forced dialogue and gritty sense of realism in an otherwise surreal nightscape, make this more than another drug movie.
Other Movies From The Margins of 2007: Grindhouse (the Rodriguez-Tarantino double-feature with theatrical faux-trailers), Mr. Brooks, Shoot Em Up, The Lookout, I Know Who Killed Me, P2, The Nines, The Ten, Martian Child, Smiley Face, I Want Candy, Stuck, Slipstream, Spiral, The Go-Getter, Homo Erectus (Precursor and, some would say, inspiration behind Harold Ramis's equally-underrated Year One), Noise, Flakes, What We Do Is Secret, Kabluey, Storm Warning, The Living Wake, The Blue State, Turn The River, Mad Detective, Big Man Japan, 100 Tears, Steam, Exhibit A, Blood Car, Murder Party (see my review here), Brutal Massacre: A Comedy, The Devil's Muse, Being Michael Madsen, Interstate and more.
These were bad years for good movies. Fabrice Du Welz gave us Vinyan, a palpable story of two grieving parents probing the esoteric depths of a shady and dangerous rainforest, in search of a tribe of small children whom the bereaved mother believes have her missing son. Despite the film's existing in a dank recess between Apocalypse Now, Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Lord of the Flies, Du Welz's Vinyan only made less than €4.5 million overseas, with no record available for its less-than-publicized domestic release. Stateside it may have played the rare art house theater, but was ultimately dumped on DVD by Sony Pictures Releasing. The only extensive attention paid to it was, of course, by Fangoria Magazine who saw in it the kind of true, deep-rooted domestic horror that transcends genre. Still, ask a friend or co-worker if they've "caught Vinyan" and they'll likely think you're talking about a new strand of Venereal Disease.
2008 was also the year that a big studio gave character actor vet and acclaimed writer/director Peter Berg a massive budget to direct a super-hero movie, and Berg handed in Hancock, a dark-as-coal action/comedy that could have, very easily, put Will Smith's success on the skids. With Hancock an unsuspecting and, apparently, unwilling mainstream American audience received a super-hero who drinks himself nasty, wears a twelve o' clock shadow, dresses like the crack head who hits you up for dollars outside your neighborhood convenience store, cusses at small children, torments petty criminals, and destroys millions of dollars worth of public property to fight crime that he doesn't even seem to give a shit about. In a word, an "asshole," but don't call Hancock that to his face or he'll chop your hand off or throw your adolescent child into the firmaments.
Berg's Hancock is the first anti-hero hero movie with an alcoholic superman, and a sub-plot about a tragic love that can never be reciprocated without resulting in devastation and death. What Hancock proves is that great storytellers can still make great movies and get them financed with big studio money, so long as they are willing to get hurt at the box office and see their film buried by a myopic public with no tolerance for genre-blending or realism in fantasy.
2008 also gave us Nicholas Winding-Refn's exceptional and exceptionally-obscure Bronson, and the long-awaited adaptation of Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train which Lionsgate released direct-to-DVD without proper marketing dollars behind it. Carter Smith's adaptation of Scott B. Smith's The Ruins came and went without being heralded as the Kubrickian tale of terror that it was, and Neveldine/Taylor (Crank: High Voltage) scripted the malevolently morbid and mischievously slick twist-and-turn med student macabre of Pathology with MGM throwing it up on a handful of select screens before promptly dumping it on DVD.
John Cusack and Joshua Seftel gave us War, Inc., the sharpest satire of the military-industrial complex since Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove…Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love The Bomb. When I saw War, Inc. at a screening in Manhattan, the only audience was an usher on his lunch break and two teenagers who'd heard that Hilary Duff looked like a slut in it. The usher remarked that he much preferred the relationship comedy of Must Love Dogs...and that Hilary Duff did, indeed, look like a slut...an incestuous one.
2008 saw the release of actor Thomas Dekker's directorial effort Whore, the superb Jennifer Aniston-Steve Zahn rom-com Management, the Famke Janssen-starring supernatural chiller 100 Feet, the David Mamet-directed mixed-martial arts movie Redbelt, the galvanizing thrill-killer "police procedural" of Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, the peculiar and pathos-plentiful dramedy Lymelife, the smart and subtle socio-philosophical take on the zombie genre of Pontypool, the acerbic societal observation and expertly-paced revenge satisfaction of While She Was Out, and the old school anthology greatness of Amusement and its Sellars-worthy character work by Wedding Crashers' Keir O' Donnell.
...and chances are, you have heard of few of these and seen none of them. If this is correct, waste no time. Fill your Queue now.
Joel and Ethan Coen, the dynamic duo behind Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink followed their Academy Award-winning No Country for Old Men with their smallest and most personal film to date, A Serious Man, in 2009. Sure enough, that was the year that all but the smartest critics or the most loyal Coen fan(atics) completely ignored that there was a new Coen Brothers movie available. The film had a budget price tag of 7 million bucks and grossed just over $9 million in the US, making back its money but hardly turning a profit for its financiers.
A domestic story about a Jewish Minnesotan family living a dysfunctional life in the late-60's, A Serious Man encapsulated all of the surreal existentialism of Barton Fink and all the odd and uncanny humor of the Coens' earlier films minus the post-Modern references or the screwball hi-jinks. Probably this, and the film's nebbish put-upon pathetic protagonist, were the reason why the film didn't have box office or audience appeal. Even more probably, the studio that released it just didn't know how to sell the public on a film whose poster and DVD cover focused on a picture of a nerdy little man in a short-sleeved dress shirt standing atop a roof beside a large retro television antenna. That man had the last laugh, though. He's now a regular on HBO's widely-acclaimed Boardwalk Empire.
In any event, A Serious Man is emblematic of this entire list, a masterful little picture that tells a solid story in an amusing way, free of the sight gags, fart jokes and pop culture ephemera of the mainstream sitcom.
‘09 also brought us The Fourth Kind, the most authentic (true life) account of alien abduction since Fire in the Sky, and with all the eerie atmosphere of The Shining. Its star, Milla Jovovich, had been riding high on the success of the Resident Evil franchise and was, by now, a legendary actress and presence. Paranormal Activity had come out in ‘07 and made mucho dinero for its producers and studio, so it's no surprise that Kind was financed, but it is surprising that audiences didn't give it a fair shake.
Thanks to On Demand menus and RedBoxes, folks are finally catching up with this movie over a year later, so if you're not one of them, probe your DVD provider and snatch up this mysterious sci-fi drama.
‘09 also brought us Vincenzo Natali's Splice. For my review of the film head over to KillingBoxx.com.
Movies From The Margins of 2009: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (a beautiful, phantasmagorical fable that struggled to find distribution maugre the many top shelf faces that filled in for the late Heath Ledger after he died midway through his role), Someone's Knocking At The Door (if you belong to Blockbuster By Mail or NetFlix you've never heard of this awesome drug-fueled thrill-killing splatter-drama because neither has had the balls to stock it. Read my review @ KillingBoxx.com), Jennifer's Body (a sharply-written horror-comedy for the Emo generation, with a hot soundtrack of alternative music, a hot demoness in the form of the hot Megan Fox, a hot script by hot It-scribe Diablo Cody and a hot job of directing with eerie ambiance and attention to detail by Girlfight helmswoman Karyn Kusama, but a cold reception at the box office. Only the Devil knows why this one didn't play. Worth the price of admission for Adam Brody‘s performance as lead singer of Low Shoulder alone), The Men Who Stare At Goats (a superb "true story" about military "Jedis" who use mind control to stop the hearts of goats, amongst other things. Jeff Bridges as a hippie Commandant and George Clooney going bat-shit with pretty much everything in sight...pure gold...and gold always goes through a period of depreciation. This one's stock will rise in time, so follow it), and many, many more.
Retrospect accounts for more than half of a person's perspective on these things. It's too early to list all the great films that have fallen by the wayside in the last year of the first decade of this grim New Millennium. Many of them are still in art house theater purgatory or enjoying relegation to the bottom shelf at your neighborhood DVD store (if such a place still exists by the time of this posting).
So here's a list of Movies From The Margins of 2010: After.Life, Run Bitch Run, Let Me In, Legion, The Experiment, Edge of Darkness, Hemo, Hesher, Peacock, Love Ranch, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, As Good As Dead, Road Kill, Meskada, Cherry Tree Lane.