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Six Lesser Known Great Films

July 6th, 2008

You may not agree–as usual, YMMV warnings apply–but here is a list of movies which I consider to be excellent, but which are either considered mediocre or passed under most people’s radar and are not very well known–or both. Suggested viewing when you have the chance.

Pleasantville: written by a former Clinton speechwriter, this movie starts out like a sitcom running a really good gag into the ground–but then slowly transforms into a masterpiece of social and political commentary. Randy Newman’s score is magnificent, and accordingly, the DVD has a special track dedicated to the score, with commentary.

Gattaca: It looks like a pretentious art film, but this story about a genetically defective man in a society obsessed with genetic perfection says volumes about the human spirit overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. You’ll get over the stylistic strangeness and unlikely arrangements when you realize they are in themselves metaphor and imagery designed to forward the story’s themes. A brilliant, touching movie.

Blast from the Past: an enormously pleasing comedy with Brendan Fraser playing to perfection a 30-year-old kid who grew up in a bomb shelter and is completely ignorant of the real world. His parents, played superbly by Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek as delightfully loopy characters, went into their bomb shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis and thought nuclear war destroyed the Earth when a plane crashes on their house. Fraser’s character is born there, and is raised with 1960’s Leave-It-to-Beaver sensibilities. He is forced to emerge in Los Angeles in the 1990’s, believing it is a post-apocalyptic world. Delightfully wacky.

What Dreams May Come: Robin Williams plays a man who is killed in a car accident after his children died in an accident themselves. He experiences the wonders of the afterlife, while his wife, already in a precarious state after losing her children, is destroyed when she loses her husband as well. William’s character is jolted from his heavenly bliss when he learns that his wife has committed suicide, and because of this, has condemned herself to the depths of what could be called Hell, a self-afflicted void of spirit. Williams must journey to those depths in the hope of rescuing her, potentially at the risk of becoming lost himself. Incredible cinematography and production design.

Sneakers: A funny techno-spy-adventure with a brilliant ensemble cast, where a hacker who recreated his identity after a college-days hack gone terribly awry leads a team of security consultants who specialize in testing and uncovering weaknesses in their clients’ technological defenses. The hacker finds his freedom is threatened when he is approached by government agents who would put him in prison unless he agrees to work for them–but would forever assure his safety, only if he steals a powerful new decryption key from a mathematician who could sell it on the black market. His team goes along with him and they arrange to steal the device–and then the bottom drops out from under them. Not high art, but wonderful acting you don’t want to miss, and a quirkily funny misadventure.

12 Monkeys: A film by Terry Gilliam, with Bruce Willis pounding out a good performance, but Brad Pitt unexpectedly stealing the show with an unforgettable performance. Willis plays a hapless worker in a post-plague future who happens to be suited for time travel. His mission is to go back before the epidemic begins and obtain a sample of the plague before it mutated, so the people of the future can devise a way to beat back the virus and reclaim the Earth. Time travel, however, tends to break the mind to a certain degree, and Willis finds himself institutionalized, treated by a doctor, played by Madeline Stowe, who slowly realizes with horror that her patient may not be as crazy as he seems. The story is hard to follow, and might be better watched more than once in order to understand and catch everything that’s going on, but once you “get it,” it’s a brilliant movie.

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  1. July 7th, 2008 at 02:52 | #1

    At least 3 movies are well known I think (at least in Europe): Gattacca, 12 Monkeys and the Robin Williams Movie…

    I might have some more suggestions for the list:

    “The Elephant Man” in which a ‘freak’ who was born with a deformed body is rescued from the circus by a doctor (Antony Hopkins) but tragically perishes by the influence of the English noble society of the early 20th century. What makes this movie unique is the fact that it is based on a true story.

    Also, another extraordinary movie is “The Cement Garden”, story about two siblings who are living a relationship after their parents died. The Movie is kinda old, don’t remember the year, but it is based on a nocel by the English writer Ian McEwan.

    A newer example would be the movie “A Scanner Darkly”. It’s a sci-fi movie about the influence of drugs and the manipulationing of people. Very well written and presented in an innovative style called rotoscoping.

    But those views might differ, just my few cents. :)

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