Ten Best: Films you’ve probably never seen
Brick A film noir set in a high school and starring Jason Gordon-Levitt (“3rd Rock from the Sun,” Ten Things I Hate About You), Brick crackles with the kind of dialogue that exists only in movies. There’s utterly nothing realistically teenage about any of the characters, but that’s almost a plus. It’s almost inspiring watching a nebbishy dodgeball victim in glasses playing the badass as he tries to solve his ex-girlfriend’s murder, particularly the scene where he stomps all over the coked-out football player to prove himself to the local crime boss.
Murder by Death Originally a made-for-TV movie written by Neil Simon, Murder brings together parody versions of seven of the greatest literary detectives of all time into one house to solve a murder. Featuring Truman Capote as their mysterious host and Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan stand-in (in a performance that could never be gotten away with today) Murder is delightfully silly while deftly mocking the conventions and cliches of detective fiction.
Six-String Samurai How’s this for a premise? In 1957 the Russians dropped the bomb on the United States, leaving much of it a desert wasteland. Elvis took power in Las Vegas and ruled as king for 40 years. As the film begins, the king is dead and every rocker for miles around is headed for Sin City to vie for the crown. Our hero, a Buddy Holly look-a-like with glasses taped in three places and a katana sword strapped to the back of his guitar, becomes reluctant guardian to a newly orphaned boy along the way as he evades Death (who looks a lot like Slash from Guns n’ Roses) and his minions. A rock-a-billy ninja kung-fu with a swingin’ soundtrack, this is wierd for wierd’s sake.
Undercover Blues Dennis Quaid and Katherine Hepburn play a husband-and-wife team of spies dragged out of retirement in this cute parody of spy capers. Set against a lovingly employed backdrop of pre-Katrina New Orleans, this quirky little comedy is surprisingly clever in the stars’ verbal back-and-forth. Stanley Tucci’s bumbling thug gets annoying at times, but overall the film makes for a diverting 90 minutes.
Iron Giant The directorial debut of Brad Bird, who went on to greater heights with Pixar’s The Incredibles and this summer’s Ratatouille, is also his most touching work. Hogarth, a fatherless young boy in the 1950s, befriends a monstrous alien robot living in the woods surrounding his house and must protect it from a government agent. Evoking the mood of the decade, Iron Giant juxtaposes the innocence of the Cleavers against the paranoia of the Red Scare as Hogarth teaches his metal friend about being human and free choice. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you don’t at least get misty-eyed, you have no soul.
Children of Men The best science fiction uses the future to comment on the present, and Children of Men extrapolates from our current xenophobia regarding immigration and the gradual surrender of our civil rights to a future in which no babies have been born in 18 years, and the loss of hope has caused madness to descend on humanity. Clive Owen plays a man reluctantly entrusted with the hope for humanity’s future. Alfonso Cuaron’s cinematography, particularly the carjacking scene early on and the street battle (which is a twenty-plus minute single take), is nothing short of amazing.
Brotherhood of the Wolf Yes, it’s in French with subtitles, but the concept is more than worth the reading. Following reports of a strange monster ravaging the 18th century countryside, the King sends the royal naturalist and his Native American companion (who are both skilled in the martial arts) to investigate. Once there they discover a conspiracy lurking behind the monster, as well as a barely-dressed Monica Bellucci. It’s a kung-fu horror movie period piece, something for everyone!
North by Northwest I hesitated to include this, as any movie buff worth his or her salt should have seen this at least twice by now. That said, it’s got Carey Grant, the smoothest cat to ever walk the planet (seriously, James Bond lays awake at night wishing he was that cool) and Eva Marie-Saint, perhaps the most platinum of the Hitchcock blondes (who recently played Ma Kent in Superman Returns). Watch for the scene between them in the dining car. I needed to pause it and go have a cigarette the first time I saw that one.
SLC Punk You know that emo/goth/punk kid in your life with the cry-when-I-masturbate haircut? Sit him down and make him watch this movie. Basically a treatise on why anarchy as a lifestyle doesn’t work and rebellion is more about attitude than clothes, it features Matthew Lillard (in the first role I’ve seen him in that hasn’t made me want to punch him in the face) as one of the only two genuine punks in conservative ’80s Salt Lake City.
Equilibrium This movie suffered from being released so close to The Matrix sequels and it’s similar highbrow concept paired with kinetic action sequences. Christian Bale plays a Grammaton Cleric, soldier of a futuristic society that has banned emotions, forcing its citizens to take sophisticated mood-moderating drugs and forbidding any art that might arouse the passions (which is to say, any kind of art worth making). Sort of a Brave New World with guns, this movie ultimately makes the bold statement that feeling things is good, but the fight scenes make up for its lack of intended depth.