Friday, October 28, 2011

Ten Obscure Films That You Must See

The following is a list of ten films that were not made for mainstream audiences, but should be seen by more people. They were most likely granted a limited release, and probably appeal to particular niches of society. The majority of these are independent or art house films. They are in no particular order.

Directed by: Neil LaBute
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy and Stacy Edwards
U.S. box office gross: $2,804,473

Here is a wicked film that toys with your emotions. The premise is that two misogynists (Eckhart and Malloy) devise a plan whereby they will seduce a lonely female co-worker only to shatter her feelings by breaking up with her. Things get interesting when one of men develops feelings for the woman. The two leads show impeccable comic timing, and Stacy Edwards is easy to empathise with as the vulnerable prey of Eckhart and Malloy.

2. SUBURBIA (1996)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Giovanni Ribisi, Steve Zahn and Jayce Bartok
U.S. box office gross: $656,747

Based on a play by Eric Bogosian, the film's premise is simple: a group of slackers philosophically converse on the corner of a convenience store whilst waiting for their friend who has 'made it' as a rock star to arrive. I use the term 'philosophically' loosely; they talk about a whole range of things, but it's generally pretty powerful stuff. And not all of their discussion takes place on that corner; they move around the neighbourhood, but that corner is their second home, where most of the discussion takes place. The rock star friend doesn't arrive at the film's conclusion, instead he and his publicist join the slackers fairly early in the film. This is very positive for the film, as his inclusion shakes things up.

The convenience store is run by a Pakistani couple who frequently challenge the slackers about their lives. "Don't you have lives to live? Why choose this particular corner? Don't you realise that you are wasting your lives? Get off my property! You are all drunken and stupid!" Those aren't the exact lines spoken, but you get the drift. The film touches on issues such as consumerism, racism, freedom of expression, fame, the monotony of life, the effects of drugs and alcoholism. Yes, the film basically consists of plenty of talk, but that's what makes the film as excellent as it is. The characters are so real, and it's likely that you will empathise with at least one of them. The film is so tragic, in that it shows us the dark side of life, but isn't that what we need to see as an audience, in an era where Hollywood seems to sugarcoat their films with happy endings? You see, the reality is that not everything in life will go your way, that some people just 'exist', and make nothing of their lives, that there are people who are more well-off than you. 'SubUrbia' opens our eyes to the harsh brutality that transpires everyday in our world, that we may not be aware of. 

3. BAD BOY BUBBY (1993)
Directed by: Rolf de Heer
Starring: Nicholas Hope, Claire Benito and Ralph Cotterill
Australian box office gross: $808,789

A twisted character study of a 35 year-old man who is confined to his home by his overly protective mother. One day he escapes and sets out on a perilous adventure. The outside world is one big dangerous labyrinth for Bubby. He is not aware of regular social conventions, and he is mentally retarded. Nicholas Hope's portrayal as Bubby is one of the most intriguing performances I have ever seen. It's a brave role to embody, and he did it justice. One of the great Australian films, and not for the casual film viewer: this one's a real thought-provoker. 

Directed by: Miranda July
Starring: John Hawkes, Miranda July and Miles Thompson
U.S. box office gross: $3,885,134

I often call Miranda July my favourite hipster, a term which she would undoubtedly detest. But there's this innate quirkiness to her that makes her films so sweet. The characters in this film are so strongly developed, and they are quite diverse. Only July would make one of the focal characters a shoe salesman. What I noticed about this film is how quiet it is. It's quite a relaxing watch. You don't have to keep up with plot twists or fast-paced action, because there is none to be seen. You can just sit back and watch lives unfold before your eyes. Was speechless during the credits; ending was intensely beautiful.

Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Owen Kline, Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney
U.S. box office gross$7,372,734

Semi-autobiographical story based on the experiences of director Baumbach and his brother coping with their parents' divorce in the 1980s Brooklyn. This film isn't sugar-coated. Baumbach makes use of a bleak colour palette to symbolise the feeling of isolation. All of the performances are genuine and heartfelt. I particularly liked Jeff Daniels' performance, as he broke out of his typical role as a rubber-faced funny man and took on a much weightier character. Jesse Eisenberg is also marvellous here, and it's likely that this is the role that laid the platform for his stardom. 

6. DEAD END (2003)
Directed by: Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa
Starring: Ray Wise, Lin Shaye and Mick Cain
U.K. box office gross: £106,801

Claustrophobic horror that plays on our most intense fear: the unknown. This film only needs a few characters and one main setting to make it work. I praise it most for its originality; I've seen very few horror films that are as inventive as this one. Is partially let down by the ending, in my opinion, but still very much worth seeing. 

7. GHOST WORLD (2001)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson
U.S. box office gross$6,217,849

If 'Hipster' was a film genre, this would be its most acclaimed feature. But do not fear! This film doesn't try to be pretentious. It knows that its lead characters are eccentric, and uses this as the source of many jokes. Can remember laughing to the point of tears while watching this - the wit is razor-sharp. Birch shows facets of her performance as Jane Burnham in American Beauty, but here she is allowed to inject more of herself into the film. Steve Buscemi never disappoints, but here he was especially effective playing Seymour. I often tell people that I empathise with Seymour more than any other character in the history of film. He is just so vulnerable here, and I ached for him on numerous occasions in the film.

8. HARD CANDY (2005)
Directed by: David Slade
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page and Sandra Oh
U.S. box office gross: $1,024,640 

I cannot believe that Ellen Page was only 17 or 18 during the filming of Hard Candy. The film is dialogue-heavy, and not only does she remember her lines, but she delivers them with conviction. Page plays a 14 year-old who lures a 32 year-old man into baring his darkest confessions to her after suspecting that he is a paedophile. The film is extremely graphic and is difficult to watch at times. Page becomes so absorbed in her role that I actually grew afraid of her, despite her natural innocence. Page and Wilson virtually carry the whole film, which isn't surprising since there are only five cast members listed in the film's credits. A gripping film that will etch itself in your mind.

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Hope Davis and Nicholas Hoult
U.S. box office gross: $12,482,775

I've watched this film a few times. It's one of those films that improves with repeat viewings. The colour palette is even bleaker here than in The Squid and the Whale, helped immensely by the fact that it's always snowing, raining or overcast. Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage) is an enigmatic character. Throughout the film, he tries to prove himself as both a family man and a businessman, but luck never seems to come his way. People launch fast food at him as they pass him in the street (a hilarious running gag). He is divorced from his wife and is jealous of her new boyfriend. Michael Caine's performance is pitch-perfect. He play's Cage's father and delivers his lines with cold apathy, which is more effective than it sounds. There are brief moments of sunshine in this film, and they feel rewarding, too. The film manages to be touching without being overly sentimental. Oh, and who said Nicolas Cage can't act?

10. CATFISH (2010)
Directed by: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Melody C. Roscher, Ariel Schulman and Yaniv Schulman
U.S. box office gross: $3,237,343

Documentary about a man who is filmed by his brother and friend as he develops a friendship with a girl over Facebook. I will not delve into the plot too much, because the less you know, the more rewarding the film is. I enjoyed how the film dealt with the theme of obsession; of a preoccupation holding your life hostage. The film's ending will either shock you or bore you, but either way, you most likely won't see it coming. It just HAPPENS, as though it is nothing out of the ordinary. Questions have been raised about the accuracy of the documentary. That is, if it is even a documentary, or merely a staged documentary. You can leave that up to yourself, although I'd like to think it's real.