Good Movies under the Radar

Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 2:54 am

Films You Might Not Have Heard Of

Everyone is familiar with blockbusters like Avatar, Transformers, and Men in Black. But for every Hollywood hit, there are those good movies under the radar that elude the average viewer (and even some diehard cinephiles). This list is devoted to shining a light on lesser-known titles deserving of your attention, whether they be foreign films, independent films, or those which never received a major theatrical release.

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Kontroll (2003) – Set in the Hungarian subway system, this Nimrod Antal film follows a group of beleaguered ticket inspectors as they interact with irate passengers, fall in love, and deal with a possible serial killer haunting the underground terminals. A decidedly different mixture of comedy, drama, and romance, with noteworthy performances from Sandor Csanyi and the lovely Eszter Balla. After this debut film, Antal would go on to direct Vacancy, Armored, and Predators.

Bad Boy Bubby (1993) – A bizarre Australian black comedy about a 35-year-old man (Nicholas Hope) who has never set foot outside his mother’s apartment. When he finally does, get ready for a bizarre journey filled with tormented animals, the mentally and physically challenged, matricide, fratricide, and some of the most disturbing rock n’ roll lyrics ever screamed aloud. Director Rolf de Heer used 31 directors of photography for the project, giving each scene a different look and tone.

Knightriders (1981) – George A. Romero is known for horror films, but this drama about a traveling renaissance fair demonstrates his ability to work outside the zombie genre. One large metaphor for the director’s struggle between selling out and maintaining artistic integrity, the movie revolves around Billy (Ed Harris), the troupe’s king who styles himself as an honorable knight of old. But these notions are constantly challenged by those around him, including a rival knight (Tom Savini), a sleazy promoter, and corrupt cops. While only the third film of his career, Ed Harris ably demonstrates the acting talent that would later transform him into a star.

The Battle of Algiers (1966) – If you’d like to better understand urban guerilla warfare (some would refer to it as “terrorism”), then give this groundbreaking Algerian/Italian film a look. Shot like a documentary, it follows both sides during the Algerian War and presents a balanced view of the motives of all those involved. Ennio Morricone provides the tension-filled score, and the cast of mostly non-professional actors lends a sense of realism to the violent events. The Pentagon held a special screening of the film in 2003 to encourage a discussion of the challenges faced in the recently occupied Iraq.

Pusher (1996) – The first Danish-language gangster movie, Pusher also helped launch the career of director Nicolas Winding Refn. Shot entirely with handheld cameras and on a low budget, it tells the story of Frank, an ill-tempered drug dealer who experiences about the worst day humanly possible. Between dealing with the cops, his idiot pal Tonny (the star of the film’s sequel), and his prostitute girlfriend, Frank must also contend with a Serbian drug lord who’s seeking repayment of a sizable loan. Filled with quirky characters, this is a must-see for fans of Quentin Tarantino.

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Special (2006) – Michael Rapaport gives the best performance of his career as Les Franken, a painfully shy meter maid who takes an experimental antidepressant and comes to believe that he possesses superpowers. It’s all in his mind, of course, but that doesn’t stop him from becoming a costumed vigilante and matching wits with his newfound “arch-enemy” (Paul Blackthorne), a corporate sleazebag who stands to lose big if the drug’s side effects are made public. There have been a number of films made in recent years about delusional men who turn to costumed heroics, but this one is the best of the lot.

I’ve Loved You So Long (2008) – I’m not usually a fan of movies about depressed women, but even I was bowled over by the performance of Kristin Scott Thomas in this French-language film about a woman who returns to her family after 15 years in prison. While she did receive a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination for her role, Thomas was snubbed by the Academy, an oversight that I still can’t understand.

The Signal (2007) – A surprisingly strong indie horror film about a mysterious signal which is broadcast through all communication devices and drives those who hear it insane. What makes it unique is that most of the main characters are under the influence of the signal, allowing it to stand apart from the tiresome wave of films pitting infected vs. non-infected. Split into three parts (each helmed by a different director), The Signal manages to combine black comedy and romance with plenty of gore.

City of God (2002) – It’s hard not to be reminded of Scorsese’s Goodfellas while watching this sweeping Brazilian movie about a group of kids growing into a life of crime in an impoverished suburb of Rio. Both Time and Empire magazines hailed it as one of the greatest films ever made, and it garnered four Academy Award nominations. If you like crime stories even a little bit, I urge you to see this film.

Beowulf & Grendel (2005) – Before he was a major star, Gerard Butler starred in this Icelandic tale of the heroic Beowulf and the monstrous Grendal. The film does an admirable job of deconstructing some of the myths regarding the hero and villain, much as Unforgiven did in the Western genre. The conflict between the old gods and the Christian faith is also dealt with, adding a unique twist to this period tale. Co-starring Stellan Skarsgard and Sarah Polley.

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If you’re looking for a quality motion picture that didn’t break box office records in the U.S., give these good movies under the radar a try. Sure, some will require you to read subtitles, but the truly lazy viewer always has the option of watching the dubbed version (though I don’t recommend it). Either way, you’ll find that a whole new world of filmmaking has opened up to you, and, hopefully, you will begin exploring movies beyond those by James Cameron and Michael Bay.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 26th, 2011 at 2:54 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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