25 most undervalued films
*since 2000* part II
Moon (2009)- Directed by Duncan Jones
The premise has been done before: secluded spaceman floating in the noiseless dark, artificial intelligence robot with charming voice, a mission of heavy importance to the people of Earth, etc. What makes this an interesting science fiction film is the quality that everything is done with- from sets to special effects to an escalating plot that finds unique footing to acting. Oh yes, the acting. There is only one character with significant screen time aside from the aforementioned A.I. robot, GERTY. Sam Rockwell does a great job commanding the screen as an astronaut mining for an essential source of energy on…the moon. The duality required of Rockwell was answered in a compact, intimate film full of mystery, intrigue and revelations sure to stir a response.
"Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends."
25th Hour (2002)- Directed by Spike Lee
Spike has always been a controversial filmmaker. He has loyal fans, steady enemies and divided hot-button opinions. What is undeniable is the exceptional nature of New York City event-flopping following (through strategic flashbacks) of convicted drug dealer Montgomery Brogan’s (Edward Norton) final day of freedom before doing a long bid in prison. Through slick camerawork, gruff dialogue and incredible side performances from Barry Pepper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rosario Dawson and Brian Cox, a memorable American movie powers through to the very end.
"Donuts don’t wear gator shoes"
Black Dynamite (2009)- Directed by Scott Sanders
Outrageous yet respectful of the ’70s blaxploitation filmmaking wave, Black Dynamite is a both parts homage and parody. Anyone looking for an over-the-top romp will be satisfied by how much appreciation was displayed for specific genre-fare. The character has undoubtedly made for niche fanfare in other media but nothing is greater than Michael Jai White’s alpha Afrocentric street-trooper. One particular ‘light bulb on’ sequence makes for some of the funniest exchanged dialogue of recent memory. Fans of comedy and general eccentricity should not overlook the jive.
Punch Drunk Love (2002)- Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Yet another parking spot for a vehicle driven by an actor typically associated with comedic schlock. In this instance, Adam Sandler stars in Paul Thomas Anderson’s distinct story of a rage-filled loner who finds a romantic connection amidst a hotline extortion con and a substantial chocolate pudding promotion. Sounds odd, huh? That’s because it is but at the core, is a high note heart-warmer about finding hope despite being an oddball with severe social quirks. What manifests visually on screen is just as remarkable, with carefully selected shot framing, a color palette which highlights the irregular perceptive views of the protagonist but with the beauty of an auteur.
"I’m not a nice person"
Little Children (2006) Directed by Todd Field
This powerhouse drama was Oscar quality in many respects but did not receive the consideration most likely due to taboo subject matter- including a registered sex offender played masterfully by Jackie Earle Haley. Critiquing suburban America by exposing its vices and skeletons has long been intriguing cinema as preceded by Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and The Virgin Suicides, helmed by Sofia Coppola. Although the heart an be deemed mostly rotten at its core, there are moments of levity that include darkly humorous exterior narration; this device aids in communicating novel-like characterization. Kate Winslet is once again adept at portraying a miserable housewife, sinking into an extended affair with a married father seeking admiration. There are enough moments of intense anxiousness which convey the dark hemisphere of the domestic middle class.
"I ain’t ever seen you without your guns"
The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007) Directed by Andrew Dominik
A western ensemble unlike any other, the harrowing look at the relationship between Brad Pitt’s Jesse James and his dubious admirer. The loyalty trading lackey of the larger than life infamous U.S. outlaw is woven throughout a rich depiction of historical gospel. Much like Little Children, secular narration provides insight into the mindful feelings of the efficient and established James gang; the side cast more than pulls their weight within a closer than comfort family dynamic to Jesse’s authoritative cause. With stunning atmospheric photography, equally remarkable as the visuals is a subdued script prime to suck the audience into a cornucopia of murky intent and condemnation.
Jason, Freddy, Myers. We all need someone to look up to.
Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)- Directed by Scott Glosserman
One of the advantages of low-budget filmmaking is the creative freedom to take chances. That is on display in this tremendously clever horror-comedy; in a world which the rampages of movie serial slashers Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, we are introduced to silver-tongued serial terrorizer Leslie Vernon as he takes a documentary team through the rigorous preparation of his next slaughter. More of a deconstruction of slasher fare than an actual horror movie, the exchanged dialogue plays on common tropes and archetypes found in the sub-genre.
"You & I share DNA. Is there anything more lonely than that?"
Adaptation (2002)- Directed by Spike Jonze
Charlie Kaufmann’s meta dry-humored script about the creative process and intrinsic personal passion deviates heavily from the standardized Hollywood formula. Nicholas Cage’s dual roles displays one part neurotic, anxiety-consumed screenwriter as Kaufmann himself and one part eccentric dolt, portraying his fictional twin brother. The work is self-referential in many regards, even including the production of previous Kaufmann-Jonze collaboration Being John Malkovich. The struggle of a word artist to write a film using a nonfiction novel about wild orchids is only the tip of the iceberg of a nuanced meditation on obsession.
Every man fights his own war.
Jarhead (2005)- Directed by Sam Mendes
A Gulf War era account of Marine life is portrayed with gritty realism of the daily grind the tour enlisted call reality . The actors involved organically embody the manic intensity as well as the vulnerability of tumultuous emotions. What makes Jarheadstand apart from the highly concentrated genre of military war films is the appreciation of how monotonous and fruitless these heralded duties often are. In fact, this isn’t even a war film in the sense that there is no battle action nor dramatized depictions of front line action. The remarkable psychological portrayal of Marines in transit, separated from home, family and friends upholds a bona fide slice of life amongst the alpha-pride community of the Corps. Hoo Rah.
"Life is like the surf, so give yourself away like the sea."
Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) – Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
A coming-of-age road trip. Sexual maturation. Early adulthood expectations. Those are just a few of the themes touched on in this Mexican drama woven with fibers of fun-loving abandon. Viewers who can handle subtitles and revelation-granting cinema will assuredly see the power in Oscar-winning Cuaron’s early piece. Although melancholic in its progression, the chemistry between two best friends and their middle-aged muse bring joyful clarity to the freedoms of friendship and spontaneity. Mexican countryside is on full display as are beach villages set amongst shifting civil and political realities. The more profound shifts communicated, however, are the fluidity and unrest that one undergoes during their personal intrinsic journey.
Once (2006)- Directed by John Carney
Comparable to the entry above, Once is a grounded story with nuanced sensibilities about filling personal void. Perhaps due to them not being American-based work, both exemplify subtly powerful filmmaking that did not get widespread recognition domestically. Part of the resonance of the low-key Dublin love fable resides with the soundtrack written and performed from the two leads: real life musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Wholesome intimacy is communicated through the music that the signer-songwriters create, also reflective of their budding romance. The film makes the most of its traditional Irish roots- both atmospherically and traditionally.
"How do I know? I saw it on TV"
Zodiac (2007)- Directed by David Fincher
Due to being released in a historically superlative year for movies and filmmaking, the period piece about the unsolved San Francisco murders did not get the attention its quality correlated with. A meticulously-crafted investigative mystery, the visual flare used for an ominous late ’60s setting harmoniously unfolded with the detailed tuning of a signature Fincher film. Packing paranoia, enigma and social commentary of the general public into such a specific work as seamlessly as the entirety required was a task only top filmmakers can get away with. Sure it’s long and is written to cover intricate details but momentum is maintained very well through impressive performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.
The Fountain (2006)- Directed by Darren Aronofsky
More of a Zen Buddhist experience than a mere movie, never before has death been used so fully in a work of art that is the film equivalent to a triptych painted in oil. A man desperate to find a way to thwart the terminal cancer of his wife is heady enough material but to transverse time and represent symmetrical material hundreds of years before and after present day is quite ambitious. This is not a viewing for everyone; the experimentation within this device could prove to be either awe-inspiring or pretentious; either interpretation has merit. There exists too much exemplary imagery and high brow attempts of conveyance to overlook a one-of-a kind artistic impression of this caliber. With more of a cult following than a familiarity, those devoted to the medium in any capacity should give this a whirl.
"From womb to tomb, we are bound to others."
Cloud Atlas (2012)- Directed by Tom Tywker & The Wachowskis
In remaining with polarizing filmmaking of the highest ambition, the final film of my millennial snubs appropriately spans five centuries in six separate story lines which all share ambiguous connective tissue. The cast- which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess, among others- all embody multiple characters drenched with diversity; this is in regards to geography, ethnicity, culture, class and motive. A remarkable if not convoluted plot, Cloud Atlas is similar to The Fountain in some aspects yet is even more ambitious in its script but without the restraint, capped by a highly sentimental and wondrous score. Profound messages of love, tolerance and decency are transmitted all throughout an intensely creative drama that offers moments of levity. Anytime three major directors are required to execute multiple aesthetics within a singular message, cinephiles need be certain to entertain the intentions of a project of this magnitude. Cloud Atlas is a most worthy selection; the artistic direction needed to tell a creatively expansive tale with heavy does beauty and soul among its corruption makes for a moving, unforgettable experience.