(Note: This piece has been published over at Go, See, Talk!. Below lies only a preview of the full article. To view the full article, just click here!)
Entertainment Weekly recently published their definitive guide to the 50 best movies “you’ve” never seen. Those indiscreet quotation marks have a sincere, innocent purpose; I’m genuinely not sure who this list is meant for. From the sound of the article, it’s for everyone, but I’m fairly confident that really dedicated film fans have at least heard of movies like Idiocracy, Moon, 24 Hour Party People, Bubba Ho-Tep, and Enter the Void. (And also are aware that movies were being made before 1992.) While I’d wager the average moviegoer isn’t familiar with these titles, I’m just as confident that few among that fifty are unknown to serious cinephiles.
So how do you challenge bona fide film lovers? I should again stress my pure intentions here; EW’s efforts have actually inspired me. Now, I don’t have it in me to crank out a list boasting an equitable tally of films, but I have seen a lot of obscure, little-known, or simply underrated movies in my time. And I do love introducing people to new films they potentially haven’t even heard of (just as much as I love being introduced to such films myself).
So it comes to this: I’ve got twenty films listed below. You may have heard of some of them. You may even have seen a couple. One or two of them are less obscure than the rest, but either remain sadly forgotten by time or have just fallen by the wayside. Are they all misunderstood or overlooked classics that everybody must see? Maybe not. But each is wonderful in its own way, and very much deserving of your attention:
Last Life in the Universe, 2003, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang– When you take the Japanese Johnny Depp out of his home country, land him in Bangkok, place him in the role of a suicide-obsessed, anal retentive librarian, and steer him into the path of two bickering sisters, you get Pek-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe. You also get a surprising number of overt references to star Tadanobu Asano’s work with Japanese shock auteur Takashi Miike. Winking and nudging aside, Last Life in the Universe is genuinely sweet, contemplative, dark, gentle as a rule and violent in fits and starts as we learn more about Kenji’s family and past. It’s worth seeing for the stunning, quiet, and utterly perfect cinematography alone, but Asano makes for a solid recommendation too.
Everything is Illuminated, 2005, Liev Schreiber– I suspect more people have seen this than not; Liev Schreiber isn’t exactly an unknown, and neither is Elijah Wood. Couple that with the critical love the movie earned during its theatrical run seven years ago, and Everything is Illuminated comes close to being disqualified from this list. But it’s not an award-winning smash hit, despite being so well-received, and, well, that’s a shame. On the surface, this is a small, compact story, but it reaches very far backward through time and history and in effect becomes a much larger story in the process. Schreiber keeps us anchored, though, and so do the lead performances from Wood and gypsy punk-reggae-rock band Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hütz.
Six-String Samurai, 1998, Lance Mungia– Quotable to its core, Six-String Samurai also makes for a strong samurai riff too. Weirdly, though, it’s the rock ‘n roll and Wizard of Oz elements that make this movie sing. One part homage to the Fleming classic, one part all-encompassing tribute to rock music– acting as both a dirge to and a celebration of its history and its future– never really adds up to anything you expect it to be, but that’s all part of its charm. Anyone with any affection for the likes of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Slash, the yellow brick road, and jidageiki films would do well to pick this up and check it out immediately.
(Head on over to Go, See, Talk! to read the rest of this list!)