Obviously I love to write about cinema. In fact there are few things I enjoy more. I can expound all day long on the intricate artistry of The Godfather, (yes, I prefer the original) Bad Lands, Blow Out and Night of the Hunter. I can go on ad nauseam about There Will Be Blood, The Third Man and Strangers on a Train. But, really, what self respecting movie buff can’t?
The following are ten really good movies, that most people–movie buff or not–haven’t seen. They are small films, mostly independent, made without extravagant budgets and A-list star power, that still manage to enthrall, provoke and entertain impressively. Two are masterpieces.
10. A Blast of Silence (1961) directed by Allen Baron – Existentialist film noir; an emotionally destitute hitman (Allen Baron) from Cleveland makes a business trip to the Big Apple at Christmas and gets a life altering hankering for human connection. Ultra realistic depiction of depravity and soullessness against a non glam NYC backdrop. Fantastic opening sequence and voice over from veteran character actor Lionel Stander. A precursor to Taxi Driver.
9. Bad Company (1971); directed by Robert Benton – Revisionist Western; in the vein of McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Unforgiven, humorous deconstruction in a story of two shiftless young men (Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown) dodging the Union Army draft and each other’s treachery during the Civil War. Witty screenplay and stunning cinematography complement a great follow up to then newcomer Jeff Bridges Oscar nominated performance in The Last Picture Show.
8. Blue Ruin (2013); directed by Jeremy Saulnier – Thriller/Crime Drama; bloody revenge yarn about a drifter, living out of his broken down car, who exacts vengeance on behalf of his murdered parents while seeking self respect. Winner of the International Film Critics Award of the Cannes Film Festival 2013, made on a shoestring budget with a no name cast (except for Eve Plumb of The Brady Bunch). Director Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room) is one to watch.
7. Cold In July (2014); directed by Jim Mickle – Thriller; a mashup of genres and influential films culminating in a story of intrigue, sex trafficking, serial murder, the Dixie Mafia, regret and retribution. Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard and Don Johnson. Convoluted, action packed, thought provoking and far-fetched–a flawed but sparkling gem.
6. No Way to Treat a Lady (1968); directed by Jack Smight – Black Comedy/Thriller; a tour-de-force performance by Academy Award winning actor Rod Steiger playing a serial killer who is bitten by the theater bug while suffering from a bad case of mommie issues. Skillful mining of familiar tropes and good acting all around, (George Siegel, Lee Remick) but it is Steiger that elevates this to a must see.
5. Runaway Train (1985); directed by Andrei Konchalovsky – Thriller/Action; an ambitious, masterfully directed film with fantastic special effects and stunt work and especially, outstanding editing on a modest budget of $9 million. Jon Voight and Eric Roberts (both nominated for an Academy Award, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively) star as escaped convicts on a train, sans a conductor, headed for a suicidal curve and a nearby chemical plant. Rebecca De Mornay co-stars as an apprentice engineer hurtling toward death with two murderous men and no access to the engine room. Riveting.
4. Transsiberian (2008); directed by Brad Anderson – Thriller; yet another “train movie”. This one’s about a straight laced, American couple on the Trans-Siberian Railway who befriend another couple–friendly, but there’s something a little off about them– who are transporting a collection of rare dolls. The funny thing is the straight laced couple keeps seeing high quality (identical, really) knockoffs of the dolls in souvenir shops. Starring Woody Harrelson, Emily Mortimer, Kate Mara and Ben Kinglsley. A Taunt, yet intricately plotted, movie that keeps you guessing.
3. Mystery Road (2013); directed by Ivan Sen – Contemporary Western/Crime Drama; Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) an Aborigines detective in the Australian Outback investigates the murder of a teenage indigenous girl amidst corruption and not so subtle racism. Quiet. Atmospheric. Seamless. And then all hell breaks loose. Director Ivan Sen wrote the screenplay, the musical score and acted as editor and cinematographer. It is a gorgeously shot film. A landmark feat of filmmaking. Aaron Pederson–charismatic, handsome and gifted–should be an international star.
2. The Proposition (2005); directed by John Hillcoat – Revisionist Western; Australian film about a marauding band of bushwhackers and rapists, The Burns Brothers Gang, who terrorize the outback. Guy Pierce stars as Charlie Burns, commissioned by the military Marshal of the territory (Ray Winstone) to track down and kill his older brother and leader of the gang, Arthur, (Danny Houston) whereupon simpleminded younger brother Mickey–who is facing the gallows–will be released. Brutal, barren and unforgettably oppressive, John Hillcoat’s film is also steeped in truth and is eerily beautiful. With the screenplay and music written by the fabulous Nick Cave and famed French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme behind the camera, The Proposition is a little known masterpiece.
1. One False Move (1992); directed by Carl Franklin – Thriller/Southern Gothic; before Sling Blade there was One False Move. Billy Bob Thornton cut his teeth on the screenplay along with Tom Epperson and co-stared. Veteran television character actor and director Carl Franklin was tagged for the project with an estimated budget of two million dollars. Accustomed to directing sitcom episodes, commercials and shorts, the shoestring budget actually gave Franklin some unfamiliar wiggle room–and boy, did he make the most of it. Rarely do I describe a film as perfect. One False Move is one of those wonderfully odd exceptions.
The story is a relatively simple one: Three ruthless drug dealers/killers (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) are on a cross country crime spree, or so it would seem. But persuing detectives get wind that the female member, Fantasia, (Cynda Williams) has a son in a spot in the road town of Star Arkansas. They alert the hick town sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who is excited about the prospect of rubbing shoulders with big city policemen and tracking down the two male killers. But when Fantasia is caught on surveillance tape killing a Texas Ranger, a skeptical Dale is confronted with the evidence and things get complicated. Dale knows Fantasia and her family. He likes them. They’ve gotten a raw deal in life to which Dale is all too aware.
One False Move is an absolute piece of cinematic art and superb storytelling at every level. They hardly ever make them like this. Now. Then. Or ever.