The following represents a personal selection of films whose quality and artistic voice did not get the recognition nor the accolades they deserved post Y2K scare. While some didn’t fly under the radar, their intent either received a lukewarm response or was met with general chagrin. Many of the others simply did not find a sizable target audience to elicit any notable conversation.
Watchmen (2007) Directed by Zack Snyder
The notion of superheroes with extremely flawed characters and dark vices is explored stylishly in this adaptation of Alan Moore’s celebrated graphic novel. What sets Watchmen apart from the genre regulars is the unapologetic fashion in which society is rendered toxic and a overall stained construct. It handles the notion of our annihilation while also exploring the splintered baggage that accompanies the obligations of public servicemen. While violence and fatalism are crucial factors of the equation, there remains enough poignancy and reflection to see the story as an intense statement of extreme drama and heightened stakes. With one of the best opening credit sequences you are likely to find, the escapism involved still bears some ugly truths within.
Road To Perdition (2002) Directed by Sam Mendes
While most would not consider Tom Hanks a suitable candidate to play a mob hitman, surprisingly the seasoned actor brings some extraneous qualities to the typical screen archetype. Like Watchmen, this story derives from a graphic novel yet is a grounded tale of trust, loyalty and principle. Where this film excels at premium is the technicality director of photography Conrad Hall executes the framing and drama of the cinematography- truly stuff for the ages. Good supporting roles from Daniel Craig, Paul Newman and an extra creepy look at sociopathy from Jude Law add to the excellence of this period crime drama.
Hugo (2011) Directed by Martin Scorsese
This is a movie made for lovers of cinema, the inception of film across the decades. While Scorsese is celebrated and worshipped for complex mature movies, his shift of tone and subject matter shows the full prowess of his long-practiced craft. There is significant love and respect put into Hugo’s onscreen story- originally a children’s book set in 1930s Paris following an orphan boy who lives in a hectic French train station. The mystery presented within a warm aesthetic makes for a feel good watch that attracts a bond between modern and classic movie-making.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) Directed by Sean Durkin
There is palpable nervous energy present throughout a narrative which slowly exposes the manipulation of a convent ‘family’ headed by its dominant figurehead. The paranoia of a recent cult coop-flyer, played masterfully by Elizabeth Olsen, is depicted brilliantly through hazily-motivated characters, masterful editing and heavy contrast within the film’s visual palette. When such an unsettling tone is presented with eerily uncomfortable magnetism, it becomes hard to look away and become disinterested. This is one that stays with the viewer after its conclusion.
I’m Not There (2007) Directed by Todd Haynes
Six characters embody the unique expressions of folk songwriter Bob Dylan in a compilation film with much artistic merit. Although a bit abstract for some, anyone a fan of Dylan’s quirky nature will appreciate the way it honors the bona fide identity of his music and lifestyle. There’s a lot to be said for an unconventional structure that sought the attention of high list actors Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett and Richard Gere in which none were the focus. Renditions of classic Dylan tunes make for an obviously soulful soundtrack, bringing home a degree of authenticity coupled with prominent usage of black and white photography.
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)- Directed by Sydney Lumet
Sometimes the most intriguing stories are the ones in which there are no decent human beings by the majority. The calculated efforts of two brothers, played intensely by Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, to scheme a robbery bring with them an unanticipated chain of cause and effect that reverberates all around them. Although it appears as a run around conmen plot, the truth of this film is far darker and sociopathic than standard crime fare.
The Wackness (2008) Directed by Jonathan Levine
Your everyman’s expected coming-of-age story but this one is done integrating psychiatry and marijuana with mid ’90s New York City hip hop culture in the summertime. Upon high school graduation, antisocial pot-peddler (out of an ice cream cart) Luke Shapiro forms an unlikely friendship with his shrink, a manic Ben Kingsley, while also falling for his stepdaughter. Not many people seemed privy to this delightful drama that successfully blends young attraction with the ever-present notion of purpose. The NYC rap game circa 1995 is well-represented as the music of choice.
One Hour Photo (2002)- Directed by Mark Romanek
While Robin Williams was most known for his comedic, fun-loving material, the deceased actor was more than apt at doing drama. Perhaps no role represented Williams’ versatility greater than that of lonely Sy Parrish, retail photo technician. One Hour Photo packs extreme creepiness with humane sympathy and the sterile nature of corporate America. Despite being an examination on familial bonds, this independently-released character study adopts a melancholic thrill towards its unforgettable climax that will uncomfortably question the viewer’s convictions.
Two Lovers (2008)- Directed by James Gray
Realism. When displayed at an optimal level, can be more evocative than even the most ambitious of design or imagination. Sharp dilemmas and emotional unrest plague a bachelor that is torn between the affections of two women (who hasn’t been?) Add in the biological clock stressor and modest ambition in life and what is put on screen is a character that represents disenchanted middle-aged city dwellers everywhere. Situational interactions are written organically; there is unspoken depth everywhere in a script that lends itself quite appropriately to a dramatically heightened ‘slice of life.’
Where The Wild Things Are (2009)- Directed by Spike Jonze
Those who took their children to see a sweeping, fantastical joy ride of familiarity and non-specific plot points could only leave satisfied with the latter. What Spike Jonze instead does is give a somber voice to the struggles of childhood and facing anxieties that accompany leaving innocence behind. Whether or not the film was mis-marketed, by no means is this a film for children in the sense that the mature nuanced subtleties require life experience as well as heightened sensibilities. The art direction is immaculate, utilizing a methodology in special effects and design that was collaborative and consistent. When working with themes of extreme emotional resonance, the trick to high art is to avoid melodrama and present them intuitively. All of the decisions made were appropriate to the vision of the creative team and what they set out to accomplish; Where The Wild Things Are proves that vision to be completely independent of audience expectations. While surely panned by purists and nostalgists, what undoubtedly remains is a complex work that uses specific tools to leave delicate but lasting strokes.
Entries 11-25 To Be Posted In Part 2