This series of (some of) my favourite under-valued movies begins here.
A Very Long Engagement
I’ll let you in on a secret: I wasn’t crazy about that darling movie Amelie. In fact I didn’t like it. If Amelie herself had been played by an ugly 50-something everyone would call her a nosey busy-body. The fact she’s a beautiful young Audrey Tatou means she is impossible to disagree with. I find that disagreeable -whether I disagree with her or not.
And another thing, my favourite Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies to date are the ones he made with Marc Caro (Delicatessen and my real favourite City of Lost Children), but those gems are at least much praised by anyone who mentions them. A Very Long Engagement though, was all but forgotten soon after its release. At least I don’t notice any fuss over it. Outside of France, bien sur. This is a shame because it rivals the best of them.
Again Audrey Tatou blesses the screen with her natural charms and screen presence, but this one is much more of an ensemble piece with a cast of (it seems) hundreds. This can make it confusing at times to remember who’s who and what’s going on, but nonetheless it only makes you want to see it all over again from the start right after watching. We’ve all seen films about soldiers living with the affects of war, but this is more about the people who stayed at home and how they manage to recover (or not). It’s never depressing or overly sentimental -at least not in a bad way. Beautifully shot, perfectly played by all the cast. Lovely story -the type that seldom escapes the Film Formula Factory these days. Watch it in wonder and awe. …And it’s unfair of me to say I prefer those earlier films since they are nothing whatsoever like this one so any comparison is moot. It would be like me saying I prefer paper over soap. I have no idea what that means either, but watch A Very Long Engagement. You won’t regret it.
(There’s a slightly longer view of this movie now available here if you’re interested. No spoilers!)
In this World
If you don’t know already, you’ll be put off as soon as I tell you what this film is about. Trust me, I know you will. Can I get away with telling you it’s a thriller? No? …OK, it’s about some boys whose family pay to have them leave their village in Afganistan (before the current war, as writing in 2009) and be smuggled into England. To say the journey doesn’t run smoothly is putting it mildly.
BUT WAIT! Come back… it’s not a preachy “oh woe is this shame” movie. It is a thriller as I said. You will be on the edge of your seat and you will know you’re not being lectured. Michael Winterbottom has made some great movies. This is one of his best.
They Shoot Horses Don’t They?
Yes yes, I know. That box art looks maudlin. Don’t let that put you off though. If you’re like me you’ve wondered many times what everybody ever saw in Jane Fonda. I’ve even seen her in her hey-day and wondered that. Could it just be they’re in love with her father Henry? I’ve often asked myself. Other Fondas are hit and miss.
But anyway, I saw TSHDT (as I like to call it) relatively recently (mid-2000s) for the first time and was blown away. It’s an amazing recessionary tale of survival and dance. It’s like X-Factor (which I hate too!), The Running Man, Rollerball and The Cannonball Run rolled into one. As ridiculous as it sounds, it concerns a depression-era dance marathon that just about never stops… last one standing takes the grand prize of $1,500!!
I am told such things existed in real life, but it’s hard to fathom how it was allowed.
These people are desperate. They put on a show of their life -and yours. Even Red Buttons (who never did much for me either it has to be said) works his socks off and delivers an amazing performance.
And Jane Fonda… oh boy. She is amazing in it too. And looks stunning.
Sydney Pollack directed a number of really good solid movies, including Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, The Firm and others. I believe They Shoot Horses Don’t They? is possibly his best.
The King of Masks
Not so much underrated as rarely seen, King of Masks features the greatest cinema performance by a child ever. The movie is heartbreaking and uplifting -but never in schmaltzy sentinemtal ways.
Tip: The less you know about the story before watching, the better. But I’ll tell you this much… it’s about an old man looking to pass on his knowledge and secrets to the grandson he never had.
It’s a movie that doesn’t show China in the best light, so for that reason can be hard to find. Well worth the effort.
Budget constraints keep this movie from being the all-time-classic it should rightfully be. With just a teensy bit more scope it would easily sit alongside films like Once Upon a Time in the West or Unforgiven.
Guy Pearce is told he can save his younger brother if he goes into the savage wilds and kills his “mad” older brother. A proposition indeed.
What I would (still) absolutely love to see added to the film is an initial half-hour-or-so showing the three immigrant brothers step off the boat in this ‘new world’, full of fear, hope and innocence. *That* alone would catapult this movie to the position in which it belongs.
Please -do yourself a favour before the inevitable Hollywood remake… do not look at any still pictures from Failan (even the one pictured here!) because they all make it look dire.
Man marries (for ‘mob reasons’) a girl he meets in a registry office. They split with barely a word spoken between them. Much later he falls in love with her -but is it too late to find her?
It’s hard to do this film justice in a synopsis that doesn’t spoil the plot. It’s a gritty film -not the romantic mush it looks like. It’s also top-class filmmaking.
This list of under-rated movies starts here.