Sunday, January 6, 2008

Some Overlooked Films Worth Your Time

Every year there are a few films that come out that I just sort of stumble upon and end up watching, and thank god for those films because they end up being such pleasant surprises. No hype beforehand to distort your perception of them, no unfair expectations placed upon them, etc.

While there are a lot of films that came out and undeservedly bombed at the box office, and I would sort of like to champion those films as well, I thought it would be worthwhile to turn the spotlight on some films I might not have even heard of had it not been for reading up on films. Each of these films should be available on Netflix either now or in the near future.

The Rape of Europa
This is a meticulously researched documentary about what happened to much of the world-renown artistic works in Europe during World War II.

Now, it does help that I took some valuable art history courses in school, so I had some familiarity with the artists, if not the works themselves. But, I don't think it is entirely necessary to have that knowledge to appreciate the film and it's topics -- it merely enhances it.

To go too much into the film is going to be difficult because so much is brought to the table here. But, I think one of the most fascinating aspects of the film is that the story continues on today. No one knows what became of some of these major works... were they destroyed? are they hanging somewhere in a museum without anyone knowing how it got there? Is it hanging in some one's home who inherited the painting from an ancestor who looted a bombed out museum? is it still sitting in an undiscovered underground bunker? or was it lost forever in a bombing? We may never know for sure what became of all these paintings or sculptures, but the mystery makes this one of the best documentaries of the year.

The Devil Came On Horseback
While much has been made of the conflict in Darfur, I don't know how many people understand it, what led up to it from a historical perspective, what the root causes are for the immediate conflict, and what is going on politically to do something about it.

Back when Hotel Rwanda came out, I know a lot of people were horrified about why we didn't do anything and how we could allow this to happen. Well, it's happening again, and we aren't doing anything now either.

I was able to catch another documentary on the topic called They Turned Our Desert Into Fire and that film (which is also a worthy watch, but it isn't readily available. At the screening I saw, the director said his film should be on PBS later this year) increased my knowledge on the topic as well. But this documentary in particular does a respectable job of exposing you to what is happening from a first hand account from a man who has been there and explaining the conflict. Certainly worth the time, if for no other reason than to educate yourself about the Darfur conflict.

Lady Chatterley
When I initially heard of this film, my mind automatically conjured up memories of sleepovers with friends and staying awake to watch the late night Cinemax soft-core porn that this literary character has probably become most synonymous with.

But, this isn't your trashy 13-year-old's shower nozzle masturbation material. It's undeniably erotic, but it maintains the highbrow pedigree that a Lawrence novel adaptation should have.

One thing that surprised me the most, and also probably kept me out of the theater for it was its nearly 3-hour running time. yet, when I Netflixed it, I was never bored. I appreciated watching the story develop and it was a beautiful film to look at as well. And in the titular role, Marina hands is a real find. She has a natural beauty and charisma that was well suited for the role and brings a lot forth from the character.

Despite every reservation I had, I though this was a fantastic picture and deserving of a wider audience.

This is a remake of a Dutch film by the director Theo Van Gogh, who was supposed to direct this film as well, but was infamously murdered in broad daylight in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist, so Steve Buscemi, who had already been tapped for the lead role, stepped into the director's chair as well.

It's actually a pretty interesting film. At times it seemed to be a story that would better lend itself to the stage, although it never felt overly stagey to me.

I know Sienna Miller more from tabloids than I do from her work as an actress. She's the one who whored around with Jude Law while they were still married and that made her a name. And while she has been in other films, the only other thing I'd seen with her in it was 2004's Layer Cake (also a very underrated film), but she had a minor role in that.

Here, I think she was a revelation. She nails the part and exudes the sexuality needed for the role (and I think her being a tabloid magnet actually sort of works). But it's basically a story where two characters end up sort of stuck with one another and truths get revealed while deceptions are thrown in the mix. It's really quite interesting to see how it all plays out.

Red Road
This is actually a rather curious film that I stumbled upon and new nothing about the film itself, but also the movement it is a part of. To read more about Lars Von Trier's "Advance Party" concept, here is some more information.

Now, I have my reservations about the concept myself, due in large part to Von Trier's own inability to live up to the challenges he sets forth. But taken on its own, this is still a pretty damn fascinating film, in which a Scottish woman, who monitors the town's comings and goings as a surveillance monitor finds someone from a dark chapter in her past back in her town. And the obsession that follows and where it leads is pretty damn fascinating. It also helps that the two lead roles are phenomenally acted by Kate Dickie and Tony Curran.

While I'm simultaneously curious and skeptical about the two purported follow-ups, I'd be fine if this film stands on its own.

And while there are so many films to champion in a given year, I think these films are ones that deserve to be seen, and most are readily available through Netflix (The Rape of Europa hasn't been released yet, but the others are all available on DVD), these are some good year end films to check out that you may not have heard about or been exposed to, but are well worth your time.

No comments: