Wednesday, July 21, 2004

"You've gotta see this!"

Today over in the DVD Verdict forum, The Jury Room, someone asked the forum members to name obscure films they often recommend to others. I'll port my "you've gotta see this!" list over from the Jury Room, and expand a bit on each entry.

1. If you like quirky action flicks like Big Trouble in Little China, you've gotta see Streets of Fire: one of my ten all-time favorite films. See my previous spiel touting this undiscovered gem.

2. If you like the films of Quentin Tarantino, you've gotta see Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, maybe the best of the QT pastiches. It's dark, violent, and definitely not for the squeamish, but director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Runaway Jury) and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Con Air) create a compelling underworld milieu with fascinating oddball characters and a culture and language uniquely its own.

3. If you liked Phone Booth but thought it could have been done better, it has been: you've gotta see Liberty Stands Still. Kari Skogland's barely-released hostage-in-the-open drama is laced with political rhetoric that will either outrage or excite you — depending on your views about the Second Amendment — and contains a perfectly balanced pair of tight, skillfully nuanced performances by Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino (the "Liberty" of the title), two marvelous actors who rarely are hired for anything this challenging.

4. If the woman in your life has exhausted the list of chick flicks that will keep you awake and intrigued, you've gotta see Lovely and Amazing. Four fine actresses -- veteran Brenda Blethyn (Secrets and Lies), the underappreciated Catherine Keener (S1m0ne), the delightful Emily Mortimer (Scream 3), and nine-year-old newcomer Raven Goodwin (The Station Agent) -- combine to bring to life a seriously dysfunctional family of American women. Ms. Mortimer is called upon to play one of the most difficult scenes written for any actress since Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet, and does so to perfection.

5. If you want to see talents like Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, Dana Delany and Mary Beth Hurt strut their stuff in a superb film practically no one saw, you've gotta see Light Sleeper. It's the kind of film whose premise sounds so off-putting you're tempted to dismiss it out of hand: the tragic lives of an ex-junkie drug dealer (Dafoe) and his manipulative boss (Sarandon). That hasty dismissal would be a mistake. Writer/director Paul Schrader spins an intricate morality tale of decisions made and consequences rendered.

6. If you just want to stare at the screen goggle-eyed, you've gotta see Heavy Metal. Yes, it's juvenile, goofy, crude (both in content and style) at times, and a horribly dated relic of its era. It's also an amazing sampling of the state of animation art (outside the confines of the Disney fortress) in the early 1980s, by an incredible array of animators that would be impossible to duplicate today. If you were alive and listening to rock radio in the late '70s, the soundtrack alone -- featuring such classic artists as Blue Öyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, and Journey -- will leave you nostalgic for the days when electric guitars were king and sweaty men with shoulder-length hair and open shirts ruled the airwaves.

After I submitted my list, a Jury Room regular reminded me of a seventh worthy candidate: Lantana.

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