10 Great Movies You’ve Never Heard Of

One of my practically useless skills is that I’m *very* good at knowing if I’ll like a movie having only seen a preview. This means that I don’t have to waste my movie-watchin-time on duds (like Forrest Gump. Yup! Not interested. Or…any of the 2015 Oscar nominees) , and I can try out movies that no one’s heard of.

So, here you go, now you can benefit from my skillz and check out these great movies!

*Don’t yell at me if you’ve heard of/seen [one/some/all] of these, they’re just fairly obscure, so it’s not my fault if you watch as many random movies as I do.

They are in no particular order.

Mad Hot Ballroom1. In the New York City public school system, 5th graders are taught ballroom dancing. This documentary follows groups of these dancers from a few different schools. It’s about dancing, yes, but it’s more about life. The kids are adorable and hilariously awkward, and the story is heart-warming, heart-breaking, and suspenseful (who will win the championship competition???).

Rated: PG

Millions_DVD_cover2. Directed by Danny Boyle (who later directed Slumdog Millionaire), Millions is about a boy in England who is wrestling with the recent death of his mother when he comes across a large sum of money. We root for him as he works out right and wrong and watches those around him do the same. It’s sweet, funny, and heart-wrenching. The movie is surreal at times, reflecting a child’s fanciful imagination, so it has a nice comical, light-hearted feel amidst the gravitas of the subject matter. And ugh, the kid is so dang cute especially with his British accent.

Rated: PG-13

Station Agent3. This movie has gotten a bit of notoriety lately since its lead actor, Peter Dinklage, is in Game of Thrones (Tyrion). But I saw it before anyone had ever heard of him, so there! The Station Agent is about a man who moves into an abandoned railway station that he has just inherited. He’s an extreme introvert, but he nevertheless gets pulled into the lives of the locals. The characters are charming and well-developed, and the movie just explores their gentle, tentative relationships with one another. It’s simple, but deep.

Rated: R

Win_Win_Poster4. Written and directed by the same guy who did Station Agent, it has a similar feel. A handful of characters are thrown together through strange circumstances and form sweet relationships that portray some of the most human experiences that you’ll find in a movie.

Rated: RFour Lions5. It is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. Believe it or not, it is a comedy about a group of jihadist men who seek to engage in acts of terror. I can’t really describe it any more than that, so I guess you’ll just have to watch it.

Rated: R

Lbs6. Lbs is about a man who escapes to a remote cabin in the woods in order to lose a great deal of weight. He teaches himself a completely new way of life, as he is forced to fend for himself in the semi-wilderness. The format of the film is unique, as it is not a documentary, but the journey is real, since the actor (who is also the writer) really did *SPOILER ALERT* lose the character’s weight.

Rated: Unrated, but I’d give it a PG-13

Timer_film7. What would it be like if we all had a countdown clock to the moment when we will meet our soul mates? What if you’re already in love with someone? What if your clock indicates that you don’t have a soul mate? What if you won’t meet your soul mate for another 50 years? Would you want to know? Is ignorance bliss? Is it ethical? Wouldn’t things get messy? TiMER explores all of these questions in a nice light romantic comedy way.

Rated: R

Sound_of_my_Voice_poster8. Sound of My Voice follows a couple who join a cult led by a woman claiming to be from the future. They join for the sole purpose of exploring the cult’s inner-workings and eventually exposing its leader’s scam. But…maybe it’s not a scam after all?

It’s well written/acted/directed, and you end up just as torn as the main characters. The ending is one of those that divides viewers. Most people will have an opinion about the truth, but the movie certainly won’t tell you what to believe.

Rated: R

Inhuman Resources9. I had to throw in a horror movie. 🙂 This is a little like Saw: people stuck in a physical and psychological trap, and they have to analyze themselves and those around them in order to survive. (I’m not sure why the poster is in graphic novel style…it’s not animated.)

Rated: R

The Fall10. You guys. This is a such a good movie, but it’s kind of hard to describe..? First off, who’s seen Pushing Daisies? Guess who that dashing man on the left is. That’s right, The Piemaker himself. Next, it’s got the surrealism and visual  power of the director’s better know movie: The Cell. The Fall’s storyline was created as the movie was being made (based on what the actors improvised in earlier scenes), so it’s a lot like a dream (things change that shouldn’t change, time and place is somewhat fluid, etc.). In short, it is the visual representation of a child’s perspective of adult events.

Rated: R

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The Truman Show

carI’ve always suspected that my life is like The Truman Show, where I’m secretly being filmed at all times, and everyone in the “real world” is watching my (boringest ever) show. Yes, it’s super egotistical (yeah, because I’m soooo interesting that anyone would want to film me), and totally paranoid (it is actually supposedly some sort of fear of judgment/self-judgment), and basically insane. I even thought this was happening BEFORE the movie The Truman Show was made. So you can imagine how nuts I went when I saw that they had made a movie referencing MY movie. Boy was my producer playing games with my head.

Aaaanyway. I’m not actually crazy, I don’t actually think this is happening. It’s just kind of a “feeling” that I have. It’s basically a little inside joke I have with myself. So it’s funny to me when stuff like this happens:

I walk around Lake Calhoun a lot, and when I was there a couple of days ago, I passed this couple (a tall bald guy and shorter blonde woman). I remember them because the guy was holding this small stereo that was playing upbeat music SO LOUD that I could hear it from far away and wondered where the heck that super loud music was coming from, until I saw them ahead of me.

Well. I was there again today, and they were there. Same couple, same loud hand-held stereo, and we passed each other AT THE EXACT SAME TIME as before. I generally go to the lake around the same time of day each time (early afternoon), but I’m pretty sure this was at least about a half an hour different. What are the odds?

And this is what happens in The Truman Show. He starts realizing the truth when he notices that the people around him (the people hired to be “extras”) were always the same people, and that they were always doing the same thing at exactly the same time. They’re on a loop, they just go round and round!

My director is usually a little more on top of these details, but I found a crack in the system! I caught some of my extras in a loop!

Also, geez, this rain is serious business. At one point on the path around the lake, the lake had overflowed so far that the path is gone and you have to walk through about 4 inches (at the shallowest) of gross lake water. And then you squish squish squish in your sneakers the rest of the way around the lake. Yuck. And there were lots of places where the lake had just risen much further than it normally does, leaving scenes like this:

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A List of CA-razy Movies I’ve Seen

I’m not necessarily recommending these movies to anyone, because most of them have a fair amount of disturbing or offensive material in them (something that I find intriguing, but that most others find…ya know…disturbing and offensive). I’m just listing these for the heck of it, and if you happen to have seen one of them (or more), feel free to discuss with me!

DogtoothEverybody stay away from Nicolas Rapold of the New York Times, because he apparently finds hilarity in the most depraved places. I suppose there are some humorous parts to this movie, but mostly it’s just disturbing (but in a very interesting way). This movie is from the viewpoint of three young adult siblings who have been raised in a perverse world created entirely by their father (and to a lesser extent, their mother). They have never left their home, and have no concept or even awareness of a world outside of their compound. The story surrounds their growing distrust of the only life they’ve known, and their search for something outside of it.

TeethThis movie is about a teenage girl who discovers that she has a set of teeth in…a…sensitive…place…. There was a fair amount of shock-gore, but it actually had some interesting things to say about feminism, gender roles, and sexual power.

Bad Boy BubbyA guy has been held captive in a small apartment by his perverted mother for 35 years. Through a lucky turn of events, he is freed, and has some CRAZY experiences as he discovers the real world. He looks like a psychopath on the cover, but the character is actually pretty sweet. Crazy, but sweet.

Girls Will Be GirlsThis movie stars 3 actors in drag, playing 3 women trying to make it in Hollywood. The jokes are shamelessly offensive or just plain wacko, and the movie gets weirder and weirder as it goes on. There are lines in this movie that make me fear for my life because I’m laughing so hard that I can’t breathe. But it is weird.

CubeThis is one movie I would recommend to people (as long as you can handle a modicum of gruesomeness). This movie takes place inside a series of nondescript white rooms (cubes), where a handful of people have been trapped. The plot revolves around their attempts to escape and to understand just what this cube is and why they have been placed inside of it.

Troll 2Are there any trolls in this movie? Not a one. Is this a sequel? Nope. And the weirdness has only just begun. This movie is infamous for its weirdness and its poor quality in all areas (acting, writing, direction, EVERYTHING), but eventually developed a cult following. It’s about a family that ends up in a small town full of people who may or may not actually be people and who may or may not be trying to kill them. But the plot isn’t really important. It’s not super disturbing or offensive, just super weird.

PrimerThis movie is about two guys who build and use a time traveling device. It’s not the fun romp through history (“Wheee!!! Here we are in Ancient Greece!” “Oh look! There’s Napoleon!”) that other time travel movies are about. This is about the nitty gritty of time travel (the mechanics of it, the ethics of it, etc.). And apparently you have to watch it multiple times to even begin to follow it. I’ve only seen it once, and I wasn’t that confused, but that’s just because I’m not smart enough to have been confused. I knew early on that I was just going to have to go with the flow, and not try to figure out exactly what was happening and when. I think the smarter you are, the harder it is for you to understand this movie. It’s also notable because it was made by some independent dude (Shane Carruth) for $7000.

gummoI can’t really remember if anything happened in this movie. All I can remember is being really weirded out and grossed out. And it almost ruined spaghetti for me.

Mulholland DriveI couldn’t leave this movie off of this list. This is probably the first really nutty movie I ever saw. I eventually figured out what I believe was happening in the movie, after reading others’ explanations online. But when I was watching it, I was losing my mind. At the time, I didn’t know that movies could be this weird. The basic description of this movie is that it follows the “adventures” of a woman trying to start an acting career in Hollywood. And then there’s a a cowboy? And a blue key? And tiny old people? And some horrifying swamp creature thing behind a diner? What?

And then of course there’s every Kubrik movie. Also, American Psycho, Caligula, Battle Royale, and Donnie Darko. All fairly out-there.

What am I missing? (I haven’t seen Oldboy or Audition yet, though I intend to.)

Fall Fun!

My uncle and aunt came to town last weekend, and we did a bunch of fun activities!

I was really lazy and took almost no pictures, but I’ll try to make do.

We went to Trail of Terrrorrr!!!!….where I sat on the Throne of Swords (the Game of Thrones throne…which was actually from the Renaissance Festival, and Trail of Terror basically just gets their leftover walkaround actors and props apparently).

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My mom was a trooper and went even though she wasn’t really that into it. And all of the haunted house actors flocked to her like bees to honey. It was entertaining. 🙂

Then we sat around the bonfire and talked about deism vs. theism.

Next day, we celebrated my dad’s birthday with a wiener roast.

And Sunday, we watched Halloween-y movies:

^ Only the best movie ever.

[A Tale of Two Sisters]

I like this movie, though upon a second viewing, it might be more interesting to think about afterward than it is to actually watch it. When I saw it the first time, I was enthralled throughout, but having watched it with other people who hadn’t seen it before, I could see how it might be too strange for some people to really get into. It’s something different, so I like it.

Another Movie

And how about a movie about this lady? How many Holocaust films have been made? Most of them have been fiction. This crazy story is totally real! And totally inspiring.

Irena Sendler

This woman lived in Warsaw, Poland during WWII, and sneaked her way into a job in a ghetto during the time of the Holocaust.  She did this in order to save children. Irena organized an underground railroad-style* smuggling operation  to transport Jewish infants and children out of the ghetto and to safety via boxes, suitcases, sacks, coffins, the sewer system, and secret passages.

She managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants.

Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazis broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely, as she resisted giving up the names of her co-rescuers. She narrowly escaped execution, and was eventually delivered to safety after a Gestapo officer took a bribe from her friends to sneak her out.

After her release, she continued to rescue people, including her future husband! Talk about a romance.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, in a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family, though usually there was no one left alive. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize, but was not selected (she lost to Al Gore, for An Inconvenient Truth). Irena died in 2008 at the age of 98.

Look at this face:

*Speaking of the underground railroad. Why. the hell. has there not been a major motion picture made about Harriet Tubman?

Movies That Should Be Made

All right. It’s pretty clear that Hollywood is out of ideas. Sequels and prequels are everywhere. Do we really need a third The Hangover when the second one wasn’t all that popular? They’re making a SIXTH Fast and Furious. They’re remaking every movie that was ever semi-successful. And everything else is just re-workings of the same tired, formulaic crap they’ve been pushing on us for years.

So. Apparently they need help. Well, no worries. I’ve got some ideas. How about making movies about some of the lesser-known, yet fascinating women throughout history? Everyone’s heard of Joan of Arc and Amelia Earheart. But there are tons of women whose lives would make incredible stories, without even needing much Hollywood revamping.

Here are just a few:

Nellie Bly

This young woman, at the age of 16, talked her way into a journalist position at a local newspaper. After serving as a foreign correspondent in Mexico, she returned to the U.S. and decided to fake insanity to get herself admitted into an insane asylum, as a means of exposing the horrible conditions there. Her reporting led to a government investigation and overhaul of the agency in charge of the mental health system.

THEN, at 24, she came up with the idea to travel around the world (unchaperoned), turning the story “Around the World in Eighty Days” into reality for the first time. She made it around in under 80 days, setting a world record, and the newspaper stories following her travels were hugely popular.

Oh and throughout her lifetime, she invented some things and cared for orphans. So….yeah…pretty fascinating in my opinion.

Hedy Lamarr

Yeah, so you might know her as a classic Hollywood screen siren, but ALSO, she was a mathematician and inventor. She was born in Austria (her real name was Hedwig Kiesler), and married young to a rich, overbearing older man. He kept her locked up in his castle (is this a Disney movie?), and threw lavish parties, which were attended by the likes of Adolph Hitler and Mussolini. During these parties, she would sit there looking pretty and stupid, but she’d be listening in on the political conversations, and her interest in science and technology was piqued. She escaped from the castle by drugging her maid and dressing in her maid’s clothing, and fled to Paris.

While making films in Hollywood, she invented a new technology for a secret communication system, to be used to thwart the Nazis. This technology laid the groundwork for modern wireless communication like that used in Bluetooth devices and Wi-Fi internet connections. Who knew?

Mata Hari

She was a circus horse rider, exotic dancer, courtesan, and spy for the Germans during WWI. Sex, war, intrigue. A perfect anti-heroine.

So there ya go. Three blockbusters right there. Now I know that everybody’s squeamish about making female-driven movies. But I’ve got two words for you: shut up. People will watch your movie if it’s good. END OF STORY. So get over your white male selves, and make good movies for a change.

56 Up!

I LOVE this series. I saw the most recent, 56 Up, tonight.

I fell in love with these people as children, and it’s so wonderful to be able to catch up with them once in a while. Here are some thoughts on some of my favorites.

Look at this face:

Ugh, so cute. He reminds me so much of my brother when he was a kid. Neil (shown here at age 7) was so sweet and happy and adorable. He had a lot of spirit. “I’d like to be an astronaut, but if I can’t be an astronaut, I’d like to be a coach driver.” “We don’t do much fighting in school because…because we think it’s horrible, and it hurts.” “We pretend we’ve got swords and we make the noises with the swords fighting and when somebody stabs us, we go ‘ahhhh!!'”

When we see him next, at 14, he’s been away at boarding school, and my heart just breaks for him. It’s like something broke inside of him. I think that the atmosphere at that type of school can be good for some people, and some people can thrive in it, but for some people, it’s just crushing. I think that’s what happened with Neil. He talks about how important the sense of competition at his school is, but his face is filled with such sadness and distress.

I think he needed an environment that was more supportive and encouraging. He has always been very competent, intelligent, and sensitive, and with the right atmosphere, he could have found a place for himself and felt successful and secure and happy. Unfortunately, I think he has seen his lack of successes as faults in himself (mental defects, unpreparedness for the real world, inability to move toward positive action, etc.), when I think it was rather a fault in his nurturing and environment. After years of floating from one uncertainty and sadness to another, by the time of the 56 taping, he had carved out a bit of a home for himself. He lives in a town that he likes, has social connections, and does work that seems somewhat fulfilling. But I just still feel for him. He still seems to be unhappy with himself, or with who he has or had been at various points in time. I just wish for him that one day he could feel at peace with his whole being and with his place in the world.

 

Nick. So cute. When asked about girls: “I don’t want to answer that…I doo-on’t answer those kind of questions.” Talking about what he wants to do when he grows up: “I’d like to find out all about the moon and all that.” One of the cutest was when he was SO DELIGHTED talking about city people, “They’d like to come out for a holiday in the country when we’d like-when I’D like to have a holiday in the town!” Yeah Nick! Also, a little side-note thing that gives me a kick, he’s the kind of person who finishes a word, and then finishes it again. I find this to be a pattern among really studious, intellectual people. It’s mostly noticeable when he’s asked about fighting, and he says, “I have quite a lot of fun when I fight- [takes a breath]-ight.” I think it’s so adorable.

Then we see him at 14, looking all hipster-y and shy.

He goes on to do very impressive science-y things, and works as a professor in Wisconsin! And he married a woman (possibly the most beautiful woman in the world?) who works in Minneapolis! Super cool! He’s always really endearing, self-deprecating, and sensible. Very likable.

 

I’ve always liked John (the one on the left), though most people I’ve heard from haven’t liked him. They find him to be a stuffy know-it-all or something. He’s the one who said (at the age of 7), “I read the Observer and the Times.” He has always had a lot to say, and I found it charming at age 7, and impressive as he got older. He does sound at first blush like one of those out-of-touch, “I say old chap” kind of fellows, but if you listen to what he’s saying, he makes a lot of good sense. And he’s refreshingly honest. At 14, when asked what he’s ambitious for, he replies, “Fame…and power” with this smirk that says “I know how bad that sounds, but it’s the truth.”  He has the same knowing smirk when he says that if he had the political power, he “wouldn’t allow any strikes.” When his friend, Andrew, points out how difficult it would be to get elected into parliament with that stance, John says, “You can always decide on your policy once you’re in.” How true! I just love that he knows exactly who he is, he knows exactly how others might perceive him, and he doesn’t allow that to change him. And he’s damn smart.

I was soooo happy to see that Paul and Symon are happy. (These two:)

 

There were times in their earlier interviews (7 and 14) that they just looked so sad, lost, and lonely.

Ya just want to give all of them a big hug (but you can’t, because you remember that this all happened 50 years ago!). I feel like a mother, brimming with pride and happiness as I watch them blossom and create their lives in this little snow-globe of a view that I’m given. My little kids are all grown up.