If you’ve seen the first list designed to surprise and delight film fans, then you know what to expect. The promise of a great film you haven’t seen but ends up becoming a cherished favorite is one of sweetest things in life a movie buff can experience. In the continued hope of bringing you that moment of anticipation to you and your friends, I humbly present this new list.
Forget the recent ABBA film “Mamma Mia!”. Yes, I had to see it. I’m an ABBA fan. There, I’ve said it. For a “serious” lover of music, ABBA is perhaps the ultimate guilty pleasure, but Muriel’s Wedding is a far better ABBA film than that other one, without even really being a musical. The main character’s love of ABBA works it’s way into the film in a number of funny and enjoyable ways without people breaking into song in the middle of conversations. It’s about a young girl in Australia (Played byToni Collette) getting fed up with her life and running away from home to turn her life around. Part of this is her dream of being a bride, which is so strong she goes into bridal shops pretending to be engaged and looking for her wedding dress so she can try them on. With strong, but humorous characters, Muriel’s Wedding is a comedy/drama about living out your dreams, and how it’s a lot different than it might first appear.
Try to picture a drama about a down-and-out, but strangely charismatic country singer and comedian being discovered in jail, only to rise to become the toast of American Television. Now, make the country singer a manipulative bastard who’s rise to fame sets your teeth on edge and drives you mad, while fascinating you all at the same time. Got that? Now imagine that the country comedian I’m talking about is played by a young Andy Griffith. Andy Griffith never played another character quite like this. The 1957 picuture also starred Patricia Neil as a radio personality that discovers him, and Walter Matthau as a writer who finds himself along for the ride. The film was way ahead of it’s time. In once scene Griffith’s character is asked to endorse a vitamin pill. He goes into a tirade about how boring the little white pill is, and on the spot, concocts a plan to change the pill’s color to yellow and imply that it will enhance male virility. If Griffith’s bizzare plan doesn’t remind you of certain types of pills for modern men, you haven’t been paying attention for the last ten years. And when Griffith’s character “Lonesome Rhodes” gets into politics, suggesting that people should be fed “Capsule Slogans”, the phrase “sound byte” should be ringing in your head. “Lonesome Rhodes” may just be a face in the crowd, but when he rises to fame and fortune, he uncovers a lot of ugliness in American life and media. You’ll begin to watch out of curiosity and fascination with the characters, but you’ll stay for the unfolding story that does not disappoint. If anything sums up the phrase “Pop Culture Of Destruction”, this is it.
There are two versions of this film. A 1972 version and a 2007 version. I’m recommending the 1972 version. Sleuth begins strangely enough with a handsome young man going to visit an older gentleman who’s wife he’s been cheating with. Caine is the younger man, Sir Lawrence Olivier is the older. Olivier’s “Andrew Wyke”, a writer of detective novels, suggests to the younger “Milo Tindle” that he steal jewlery from the house so Wyke can make a nice profit from the insurance and Tindle can have enough money to please the woman Wyke is married to, but no longer loves. The mind games and word games that get played out between the “Young Stud” and the “Old Lion” are brilliant and deliciously wicked, and there are more twists in the first half than most films have in their entire length. This stage play adaptation is perfect for detective novel and film lovers looking for an old-school murderous romp that keeps you guessing right up until the end. Lovers of more recent fair, or a twist on the classic will enjoy Caine playing the “Old Lion” Wyke in the 2007 version. But frankly the twists are different and not quite as fun as the original, but still worth a look — especially for fans of Jude Law’s acting (as the “Young Stud” Milo Tindle) and Kenneth Branaugh’s directing.
4. Cyrano de Bergerac (1990 film)
This french production of the classic story with Gerard Depardieu as the lead character is a beautiful and well crafted retelling. The story of a man with a enviable soul, but an unfortunate flaw has been remade and redone over and over – the José Ferrer version, Steve Martin’s Roxanne to name just two- and each one has it’s charms. Perhaps the story of a brilliant and firey poet, in love with a beautiful woman that he believes he can never have because of his large nose strikes a chord in people. The irony of Cyrano De Begerac’s love and his ability to express it only through another suitor, who is a rather simple, but handsomer man, draws in audiences as it has since it’s debut as a stage play in 1897. The story and acting as well as the period costumes, the beautiful sets and the lovingly done cinematography make this a wonderful addition to any hopeless romantic’s DVD collection, and the perfect film to show to those who have never been lucky enough to see the beloved story of Cyrano played out before.
This one tends to elicit various reaction from people, so here is a tip: some you can trick by not telling them it’s a Woody Allen film. He writes (with Douglas McGrath) and directs it, but does not star. The film about a failed playwright who ends up with his latest play backed by gangsters starts slow, but builds characters and situations that end up drawing you in; A sexy, older lead actress with a penchant for melodramatic moments (a part that won Dianne Wiest an Oscar), a young actress with no experience but a mob boyfriend who insists she be in the play, a mob enforcer who turns out to be a better natural playwright than the author of the play etc etc. The slow start had a number of my friends wanting to turn this off at first, and I tended to agree with them. But the start is mainly setup, and setup that you will be glad you went through. It’s all provides fodder for a rolling comedy that builds up steam like a freight train leaving the station, and by the time it’s fully on the tracks and going full bore you’ll want to stay all the way to the end.
This is one I heard about for years, but didn’t see. When I finally saw it, I knew what all the fuss was about. It’s a low budget Muppet Movie on crack by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. It was made long before he was better known, and perhaps it’s just as well that it’s a bit of a cult classic. If it was better known perhaps the Tolkein estate might have made an even bigger fuss about the proposed Rings films. There are so many gross, bizarre and insane scenes here that people try to describe to you, but you really have to see for yourself. The opening number alone will have some people racing for the hills, but that’s the point. The ones who stay will be treated to a gross-out classic that many find to be sublime in its raucous and irreverent style. Call me sick, but I found it funny. And like many other before me, I’ve often tried to describe it to others…all in vain. It’s really just best to show them.
7. Withnail & I
Anytime someone you like very much recommends a film, there is always the fear that you might not like it. So when Paul Barnett, Anglican Bishop of North Sydney and respected classicist and historian, suggested this film to me, I picked it up with a bit of hesitation. But “Withnail & I” has a great script that will grab you from the begining, and three amazing performances from Paul McGann, Richard Grant and… well, let’s just say someone you may recognize, but from where? I couldn’t place the actor at first, but when I did, I nearly laughed my head off. Why someone hasn’t edited this into certain later blockbusters he’s been in, I’ve no idea. But the film is about two strange English layabouts who seem eternally up to no good and eternally troubled. It reminded me, in structure, of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — where two deranged characters go through a series of episodic encounters. But where as Loathing is about a twisted look at the American Dream, This is more of a twisted look at the English Nightmare. Set in 1969, the seemingly eternally hungry and thirsty (for a pint) duo try to deal with failure in a world that doesn’t care much for failures, and depression in a world set up to sweep failures under the carpet. Still, their endless scheming and depravity do scare up more than a few laughs, and the character will stay with you longer than you might expect. Pault McGann, best known to American audiences as The Doctor from the bad American television movie version of Dr. Who, is a far better actor than he’s given credit for. If only half as many people had seen this film as the American Who…. Richard Grant is also Brilliant (on a side note…go to YouTube and type in “Post Nosh”) and hilarious. Seek this one out if you’re looking for a strong cup of tea with a shot of lighter fluid in it.
8. The Dresser
If it isn’t obvious by now, I have a very big soft spot for great performances, and for great stage plays turned into great screenplays. The Dresser has all of these. Albert Finney is brilliant as an aging Brittish actor touring a World War II torn England. Once a great “lion of the stage”, he finds his mental and physical health deteriorating as he sets himself on a punishing Shakespearean tour. Beside him is an effeminate, seemingly timid man; his faithful dresser and backstage assistant played dead on by Tom Courtenay. As Finney alternates between shouting, exasperation and exaustion, Courntenay plays his ever-faithful dresser who puts up with the nonsense and manages to keep his boss’ mind and body together just long enough for the next performance. Courtney’s dresser may seem like a mouse of a man, but get in the great “Sir’s” way, and you’ll be facing a vicious cat protecting his litter – claws and all. The dresser is a testament to little people and the little things they do to hold together the worlds they love.
If you don’t know who Dorthy Parker is or have never heard of Algonquin Round Table, never mind. You will by the end of this film. But it’s not an educational film. It’s a very entertaining film filled with great performances, including Jennifer Jason Leigh as the famous writer, wit and original emo-girl Dorthy Parker. She drinks, she writes, she has love affairs with nearly everyone around, and she leads a rather remarkable life. It’s too bad she didn’t enjoy it more. But Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance, along side a large cast of extremely talented actors will lead you into Dorthy Parker’s world of brilliant and neurotic artists, and break your heart just a little.
I haven’t included any anime up to this point. Some people love it, some hate it. It is something of an acquired taste. But for those those that have acquired it, may I recommend Millennium Actress? The film has no giant robots, girls bathing in hot springs or fire fights, but you might just love it all the same. When a documentary film maker goes to interview a retired, famous actress, he gets drawn into her memories of her life and her movies – so much so that the line between reality and fantasy seem to blur. The exquisite nature of the animation, the wonderful voice acting and touching story pull you into an entirely other world in a way that would be difficult at best in a live-action feature.