After years of spouting lyrical about Donnie Darko and finding out that there is a very large section of the community who have never seen this cult wonder, I've put together a Pandora's Must See List of Films - films, many of which have been completely overlooked at the box office, or just relegated to the 'meh' piles.
Looking at this list, there are a couple of themes going - unusual characters, personality quirks, fantastic sound tracks - and a presence at the Sundance Film festival. These are some of the lesser known but rather special films that make the list out of sympathy, or special memories.
So here goes. My must see list of neglected, somewhat cult, somewhat obscure films that have tickled my fancy over the years.
1) Donnie Darko (2001) Director, Richard Kelly
Donnie Darko is a cult classic. I group people into groups - those who have seen Donnie Darko - and those who haven't. Other than a seminal sound track, a fantastic cast and a storyline that will have you thinking for months, what's not to love about it? My friend Bernie doesn't get the hype. Glen Waverley and Merijn are due to come over to see it soon - after all, Glen Waverley has put me through most of Tarantino's work now - it's time for me to get a bit of my own back.
The above scene is my second favourite from the film. The part about the sex life of smurfs which comes soon after this still makes me laugh. Gives more insight into teenagers of the eighties than I'd like to admit is true.
Just see it - put yourself in the "I've now seen Donnie Darko and I get what she's on about" group. Love it or hate it - I guarantee you'll be thinking about it for weeks after (and Patrick Swayze's cameo - priceless!)
Also, looking at the date, I wonder how this would have turned out if it was made post 9-11?
2) Garden State (2004) Director, Zach Braff
Garden State was written and directed by Zach Braff of Scrubs fame, which would put some people off this film in a heartbeat.
There is so much the adore about this film. A lot of people would read the storyline and think, "nah."
IMDB gives the storyline as:
"Andrew Largeman is a semi-successful television actor who plays a retarded quarterback. His somewhat controlling and psychiatrist father has led Andrew ("Large") to believe that his mother's wheelchair bound life was his fault. Andrew decides to lay off the drugs that his father and his doctor made him believe that he needed, and began to see life for what it is. He began to feel the pain he had longed for, and began to have a genuine relationship with a girl who had some problems of her own."
Seriously - this is up there with Donnie Darko as one of my favourite ever films. It is quirky. It is funny. It looks at people in a forgiving way - and it takes so much into consideration. A writer's dream of a film - worth it on so many fronts - for Natalie Portman and her guinea pig graveyard, for Peter Sarsgaard's best friend character - and for looking at life in a fresh way. Definitely worth a view.
3) Igby Goes Down (2002) Burr Steers
Nobody has ever heard of Igby Goes Down. It was in the cinemas for a week. A cautionary tale about a poor little rich boy in New York with a heap of dysfunctional characters with very strange lives.
The film stuck with me partly due to the strange family situation (what, I'm not the only one?) but also for Susan Sarandon, who play's Igby's mother. I have a copy of this on DVD. Strangely thought provoking. Hunt it out.
4) (500) Days of Summer (2009) Director, Marc Webb
Boy meets girl. Boy gets together with girl. Boy loses girl. Boy obsesses about losing girl. Non-linear plot. A fantastic dissection of a relationship and how it takes over your life. Joseph Gordon Levitt is wonderful as Tom, and Zooey Dechanel as Summer, the woman of his dreams and nightmares. Great, great film.
Also worth it for the seriously good version of the Pixies "Here Comes Your Man". Had to work The Pixies into this somehow.
5) Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) Director, George Armitage
Another great soundtrack. A wonderful, quirky cast (Joan Cusack as his secretary is sheer brilliance) and some of the best "bang-bang-you're-dead" violence around. And for anybody who's managed to be reunited with school friends, you will understand when Marcella describes the process as "It's just like everybody has swelled.)
6) Secretary (2002) Director, Stephen Shainberg
Edgy, controversial, sexy, thought provoking and fun. The film looks at the relationship between a young woman with issues who becomes the secretary to a very demanding man.
You can't leave this film without setting an opinion - which I reckon is recommendation enough. Were you titillated? Were you turned off? Did it fascinate or fail to impress. An interesting topic handled brilliantly. can't recommend it enough - but make sure no kids are around.
7) Lost in Translation (2003) Director: Sofia Coppola
A few things about Lost in Translation.
1) This is my life. How did they make a movie about my life like this?
2) This film is the best films about culture shock I've ever witnessed.
3) I'd turn for Scarlett Johansson in this film
4) To this day, I want to know what Bob said to Charlotte just as he was leaving at the end of the film.
For anybody who has every travelled to a country where the language and culture are completely different - a must see. This captures it to perfection. Beautifully shot. Funny in places, sad in others. Gives an outsiders view of Japan as well - and has put the place on my wish list of countries to go to.
8) Closer (2004) Director, Mike Nichols
Patrick Marber's "Closer" is my favorite play, and this, the movie of the play, does a good job of bringing it to the screen. One thing I love about it is that the supporting characters - Natalie Portman and Clive Owen, completely decimate the stars - Julia Roberts and Jude Law. They act them off the screen.
The script is phenomenal. The settings show London at it's finest - the London I used to know and love.
It also has the most devastating line ever delivered in a play / movie. Clive Owen, who played Larry on stage, receives this to perfection.
Worth a look just for the alternative views on love, infidelity, loss and London.
9) Peter Pan (2003) Director, PJ Hogan
"A kid's film!" you cry. Yeah, a kid's film - and a bloody good kids film. The English do great kids films for a number of reasons, the first being that they allow kids to be kids while entertaining the adults. There are some rather rocking undertones to this version of Peter Pan, where both Peter and Wendy are nearing adolescence. It also takes on JM Barrie's instructions that Mr Darling and Captain Hook should be played by the same actor - which reverbs through the movie as well.
I also dare anybody to see this film and come away not wanting to shout " I do believe in fairies!" for the next week.
Also worth a viewing for the character of Nana. Inspired casting.
10) Look Both Ways (2008) Director, Sarah Watt
Australian fare, there is much to love about this film about tragedy, hope, hardships and trials. The film is happy, sad, life affirming, life changing all at once. The experimental technique of blending a little animation in with the story is fantastic. It's also set in Adelaide, it shows a part of Adelaide rarely seen.
The other thing that really gets me about the film, Sarah Watt, the director, was battling cancer when she directed this film. Tragically, she died last year - a phenomenal talent taken - and a great person, as she proved to be when I met her at a writer's festival about six months before she died.
Another film to hunt out for the sheer joy of seeing something so very truthful.
11) Peter's Friends (1992) Director, Kenneth Branagh
This film has made the list for a number of reasons. Kenneth Branagh is under rated as a director. Hugh Laurie can sing. It's often dismissed as a British version of "The Big Chill" another film I could rant on about for being both great, under-rated and forgotten (William Hurt when he was gorgeous. Kevin Costner as the corpse)
I also have great memories of this film. Though I'm not sure I like being compared to the Emma Thompson character.
This gets me thinking. My next film list down the track. Films I should get to seeing one day. There are some shockers on that list.... The Godfather trilogy being number one of my list of fails.