Friday, April 5, 2013
Netflix This Movie! Vol. 20
We're all pretty bummed out today, but that won't stop us from watching more movies. That's all Roger Ebert would want. Nearly all of today's recommendations have the honor of being liked by Ebert. That's not why we picked them -- these were written prior to news of his passing -- but it makes for a nice tribute anyway. Honor his memory by watching movies he liked and by discovering new movies that hopefully you'll like, too.
Good Will Hunting (1997; dir. Gus Van Sant) Good Will Hunting is the type of indie movie that gives indies a good name. It's personal and authentic, has the balls to have a good story and tell it cleanly and in a straight-forward manner. Often indie movies are too cute by half, and this one isn't. The movie does a great job of making a cipher of a character (the brilliant genius and, let's be honest, thug) into someone you genuinely care about -- not just at the end, but the whole way through the movie. It's probably because Will is stuck, and that's a feeling you don't have to a genius to understand. I like so much about it: the performances (especially Matt Damon and Robin Williams), the sense of setting and that unbelievably fragile and sad Elliot Smith music. The dialogue is a little too cute at times, but that's the point -- similar to Ellen Page in Juno, it's a performance and a front from Damon's character. The scenes with Williams calling him on all his bullshit are just perfect. Lastly, the movie has a really sweet message about how much other people can help you manage troubles you are not equipped to handle on your own. I really adore this movie. It's my favorite from 1997.
Trollhunter (2010; dir. André Øvredal) Plenty of Hollywood movies miss the special effects mark, even with budgets north of $100 Million. Trollhunter does a lot with a little, knowing its limitations and using the low-budget reality-style format to take viewers on a tour of Norway's wilds as a trio of young student filmmakers tag along with a hunter they think is a bear poacher but who has really been hired by the government to control and the country's secret troll population. Like the best PBS nature special that never was, the film explains the different troll species from three-headed forest creatures to skyscraper-sized mountain trolls. The world building is fun, and the trolls—effects that are cleverly hidden by shaky cam and night vision footage—are even better.
A League of Their Own (1992; dir. Penny Marshall) I’m still in full baseball swing (get it?), so imagine my surprise when I discovered the total DEARTH of good baseball movies on ol’ NettyFlix. Mr. Baseball? Nuh-uh. Bull Durham? Nope. The Natural? No way, Jose. They don’t even have Major League, Major League II (Electric Boogaloo), OR Major League III: Back To the Minors. Luckily, Netflix DOES have a little gem of a movie called A League of Their Own about a women’s baseball team in the years following World War II. It stars Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks, all swinging for the fences (yuk yuk) in a really sweet movie that made a ton of money at the box office in 1992 but rarely gets talked about these days. There’s no crying in baseball, Tom Hanks? I disagree. This movie will have you crying…tears of joy. But you don’t have to take MY word for it.
Stardust Memories (1980; dir. Woody Allen) Reviled upon its original release (critics suggesting that Allen was biting the hand that fed him), this film was ahead of its time. Allen plays filmmaker Sandy Baron in a thinly disguised satire of Allen's ambivalent relationship with his own celebrity. Baron is convinced to attend a film lovers' weekend held by an esteemed critic, where his work will be screened and discussed. Allen portrays all of his fans as Fellini grotesques, predicts his own assassination at the hands of his "#1 Fan," and presents a sea of lost people, grabbing for autographs and reminding him they preferred his "earlier, funnier films." Featuring a cuter-than-a-button Jessica Harper, a great, disturbing performance by Charlotte Rampling, and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by the great Gordon Willis. One of my favorite Woody Allen films.
Swimming Pool (2003; dir. Francois Ozon, some French language) Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier do what they are best at (cagey aura of mystery, and the vamp, respectively) in this French film about a weekend of sexual tension, lies, and jealousy.
Quigley Down Under (1990; dir. Simon Wincer) They didn't make many good westerns in the '90s, and this is one of the decade's most underrated. Beautiful Australian photography, great, sweeping score, Alan Rickman doing another fantastic villain and Tom Selleck proving he had the goods to be a leading man in an adventure movie. All movies should be as entertaining as this one. It's excellent.