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Winter Sleepers: Movies You May Have Missed
by Collin Souter

Many of you will stay home and watch video rentals this holiday season and I don’t blame you. Look at all the crap they keep putting into theaters! Furthermore, most of the summer crap has been polluting the New Release shelves of your local video stores. Okay, Chicken Run, X-Men and Gladiator did come out in the same week. But, after that, what do we get? More crap. Road Trip, Coyote Ugly and Scary Movie to be exact. You may not know this, but there exist other sections of your video store, sections that carry strange films, obscure films, films you have decided to pass up, films that you may have heard about but decided to pass up since “the title is too weird.” As the ads for American Beauty kept telling us, look closer. These little films just might be the kind of entertainment you’ve been looking for.

American Movie—An American classic. Well, maybe not now, but give it a few years. Chris Smith’s hilarious and beautiful documentary chronicles the ups and downs (mostly downs) of independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt and his attempts to make a low-budget horror film in his home town of Menominee Falls, Wisconsin. An inspiring and heartfelt vision of the American dream, which will leave you chanting, “It’s alriiiiight, it’s okaaaaaaay. There’s something to live foooooor. Jesus told me soooooo!” A must-see. (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Bride With White Hair 1 & 2— While the heavily-hyped Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (coming out in December) will invite comparisons to The Matrix, it would be worth noting that the fighting styles of Crouching Tiger actually comes from a long tradition of Hong Kong action films, such as Tai Chi II, The Heroic Trio and Executioners, in which gravity does not exist. Ronny Wu’s Bride With White Hair saga stands as the most ambitious in this genre, combining an operatic Romeo and Juliet-like fairy tale with an epic quality worthy of David Lean and Bernardo Bertolucci. Best if watched back to back. (Tai Seng)

Cannibal! The Musical!—Just so you know, I’m not just recommending stuffy, serious art films. Trey Parker (co-creator of South Park) made this film while still in college and it stands as one of the top 10 funniest films of all time. This shpadoinkle film tells the story of Alfred Packer and his merry gang of gold miners who get lost in the Colorado mountains and have to find a way to survive. So, what do you do when if you get lost in the mountains, the temperature has dropped below freezing, and you haven’t eaten in days?
Sing, of course! “Let’s build a snowman/ We can make him our best friend/ We can name him Shannon/ Or we can name him Beowolfe/ We can make him tall/ Or we can make him not-so-tall/ Snowman!” Other songs include, “It’s A Shpadoinkle Day,” “Hang The Bastard, Hang ‘Em High,” and the soulful ballad, “When I Was On Top Of You.” (Troma)

Children Of Heaven—Director Paul Cox (Innocence) claimed to be depressed about the state of cinema until he saw this Iranian movie at a film festival where none of the children in the audience spoke the film’s language. Still, they had no problem following the story and actually cheered at the end. That would be more than enough to restore my faith in cinema. Children Of Heaven tells one of those simple Bicycle Thief-type stories about two impoverished siblings, one of which loses her shoes. The kids try to keep this a secret from their parents so they won’t get in trouble. It may not sound like great entertainment, but I found more heart, humor, suspense and beautiful visual storytelling in this film than most films released from this country over the past five years. In Persian, with English subtitles. (Miramax)

Citizen Ruth—Writer/director Alexander Payne (Election) has carved quite a niche for himself as one of America’s best satirists. Here, an un-recognizable Laura Dern stars as a glue-sniffer who wants to get an abortion and ends up being the poster child for both the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers. Payne takes Dern’s side of the issue, which means he does not take any side. He gives both sides of the abortion issue a good talking to. Just as funny and biting as Election, making Payne an artist to watch for. (Miramax)

5 Corners—This 1988 film stars Tim Robbins, Jodie Foster and John Turturro in a simple story of a rapist (Turturro) who gets released from jail and his former victim (Foster) who tries t enlist the aid of a macho-hero-turned-pacifist to protect her. Completely ignored in its theatrical release, it has grown in stature over the years. There still has yet to a movie quite like it. John Patrick Shanley’s screenplay has many quirks, especially when the detectives rationalize blaming the mysterious murders on Indians who lived decades ago. Turturro should have been nominated for an Oscar. Not for penguin lovers.

Hard Eight—Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut plays as confident and assured as his two films that put him on the map, Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Hard Eight tells the story of a poor loser (John C. Reily) who meets a strange man (Phillip Baker Hall) who offers to help by showing him how to cheat in Las Vegas. The two eventually develop a father and son bond, and family secrets begin to reveal. Also starring Gwenyth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. (Sony Pictures Classics)

The Ice Storm—What happened to the ideal nuclear family of the 1950’s? Where did it all go wrong? Ang Lee’s 1997 drama makes a subtle attempt to answer that question with this Watergate-era family drama about infidelity and teen-age dry-humping between two suburban families. Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood and Christina Ricci give career-peak performances in a film that eerily evokes its time with so much attention to detail, one feels as though they had been watching a film made in 1973. Think American Beauty, 30 years ago. Also, and I hate to say this, but it has one of the coolest (some would say funniest) death scenes in movie history. (Fox)

A Little Princess—No, not the Shirley Temple film. This 1995 re-make has been made with just the right blend of beauty, enchantment and sadness. A privileged young girl has been forced to work as a servant in a boarding school after her father has been thought to have died in the war, but the power of imagination and the will to remain a good and decent person prevail. Uplifting, flawlessly shot and edited, a great movie for all ages. Patrick Doyle’s score should be studied by anybody interested in film music.

Smoke Signals—Sherman Alexie’s book comes to life in this funny and moving film about life on an Indian reservation. Actually, it has more to do with two Indians traveling together from the reservation to Arizona. One learns how to deal with his father’s death, the other learns that admitting to having seen Dances With Wolves over 100 times does not make for a cool Indian. The movie also shows what life would be like as a weatherman for an Indian reservation radio station. “Not much happening here. One of these clouds looks like a horse.” (Miramax)

Unstrung Heroes—Diane Keaton directed this family drama about a boy named Franz Lidz, who converts from atheism to Judaism after learning of his mother’s deadly illness. Rarely has a film depicted the love between a mother (Andie McDowell) and son as beautifully as this film does. Michael Richards tones down his Seinfeld shtick as one half of a pair of conspiracy theory-spouting uncles, who teach Franz how to think for himself. John Turturro plays Franz’ stern, scientific father who would rather his son change his name back to Steven. Richard LaGravanese’s script, based on the novel by the real Franz Lidz, demonstrates again why he has become one of the industry’s most sought-after writers. Every character has a voice, and they don’t have to shout in order to be heard. (Hollywood Pictures)

Waking The Dead—This film didn’t get much of a release this year, but it deserves to find its audience now that Fox has released it on video. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly star in this romantic heart-breaker, which tells the story of two idealists (one for the right, one for the left) who fall in love and have a long-lasting relationship despite their political differences. Tragedy ensues, as Connelly dies fighting for her cause, leaving Crudup to try and keep his strength to fight for his, while being haunted by his memories of her. Moving without being pandering. Visually beautiful, without being gimmicky. (Fox)


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originally posted: 12/03/00 10:20:02
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