A few weeks ago, The Reel Place fan Tyler Jorgenson requested a list of great lesser-known titles. Mind you, these are only some, but it is a good start. Enjoy!
Away We Go (2009)
Anyone who has ever had a kid knows that it is no easy feat – especially if it was an unplanned child. Perhaps because I found myself in that same situation three years ago, it was very easy for me to connect the characters in Away We Go.
John Krasinski (Jim Halpert from The Office) and Maya Rudolph (former Saturday Night Live cast member) play a couple who unexpectedly are expecting their first child. Both have decent jobs, but are nowhere near where they would ideally like to be when starting a family – both financially, emotionally and in their relationship. The one thing they are sure of is that they don’t want to raise their child where they currently live, so off they go in search of the perfect place to raise a family.
While Away We Go isn’t a story-driven narrative, because of how natural and down-to-earth it is, you become wrapped up in the characters. Krasinski and Rudolph both given noteworthy performances that should have earned them recognition during awards season. Combine their performances with Sam Mendes’ (Revolutionary Road) subtle and fantastic directing, a sweltering soundtrack and you have a perfect package.
Henry Poole is Here (2008)
Another character driven piece, Henry Poole is Here tells the story of a quiet man (Luke Wilson, Vacancy) who moves into a nosy neighborhood. Wanting to distance himself from everyone else, his plans are thrown askew when a catholic neighbor notices a water stain on the side of Henry’s home that resembles Jesus Christ. All of sudden, people are traveling from across the state to see it, disrupting Henry’s self-loathing, changing him for the rest of his life.
I usually avoid feel-good movies because they are filled with textbook manipulation – but Henry Poole is Here is far from being a typical feel-good flick. Again, the characters are honest and real. Check it out – it is a great family-friendly feel-good rental.
Before he made Slumdog Millionaire and after he made 28 Days Later, director Danny Boyle made Sunshine, a science-fiction space thriller. The sun is been quickly dying. Sunshine is fading. The earth is freezing. Mankind is dying. A team of the world’s best astronauts, physicists, engineers and scientists has been sent to space in a unique ship headed towards the sun. Their mission: to re-ignite the sun.
Being one of the best “little-known” movies, it is also comprised of some of the best “little-known” actors. Cillian Murphy seems to be loved amongst the directors he works with. Sunshine is Murphy’s second film under Boyle, the other being 28 Days Later. He has also done three with Christopher Nolan. Murphy played Scarecrow in Batman Begins, reprised the role for one scene in The Dark Knight and played “the mark” in Inception.
The rest of the Sunshine cast includes rising actress Rose Byrne (TV’s Damages, Get Him to the Greek, Knowing), Chris Evans (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and next year’s Captain America), Cliff Curtis (The Last Airbender, Live Free or Die Hard) and Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Kick-Ass).
Although Sunshine may not be 100% scientifically accurate, it is still a fantastic piece of filmmaking.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
British writer/director Edgar Wright won over America with Shaun of the Dead, a hilarious comedy that celebrated the awesome long life of Zombie movies. Staring the same two knuckleheads, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Hot Fuzz is an even funnier comedy that celebrates Hollywood action flicks.
Most people are unfamiliar with both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The best thing I can compare these two Wright films to is Zombieland. While honoring the genre, it sure knows how to poke fun at it.
The Mist (2007)
Even I didn’t want to see The Mist when it came out. Not only did it look cheesy, but knowing that it was based on a Stephen King story made me even less interested.
In small town America, a group of townsfolk take refuge from a thick ominous cloud of mist in a grocery store. Before long, they realize that there are people-killing creatures in the mist. As the trying situation gets even more tense, some of the people begin to lose it and the film poses the moral question, “What is the bigger threat: people in a high-pressure scenario or the monsters outside?”
While the theatrical version is good, the special two-disc DVD or Blu-ray edition is where the film is allowed to truly shine. Director Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) originally intended for the film to be shown in black and white, appearing more like an old ’50s horror movie than a contemporary one. On the special editions he was able to show you the way he wanted you to see it and the black and white really sells it.
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
Most rom-coms are the same typical thing over and over again. But every once in a while you get a gem like this.
Definitely, Maybe begins with a curious girl (Little Miss Sunshine‘s Abigail Breslin) asking her divorced father (Ryan Reynolds, Van Wilder) about his previous relationships. Keeping it inconspicuous, he tells the stories of the three times he has been in love in his life. After she has heard all three stories, she has to guess which one is the mother. Just like the young daughter, we, the audience, have no clue which one is the now ex-wife.
The film is honest, down-to-Earth and unpredictable – easily my all-time favorite chick-flick.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Being in my list of top five films of all time, I strongly recommend this film. It brings creativity to a new level – not only in storytelling, but in filmmaking too.
Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura) play Joel, a lonely love sick man who cannot get over his neurotic ex Clementine (Titanic‘s Kate Winslet). To heal himself of this deep wound, Joel is going to have her erased from his memory by professionals while he sleeps. As the memory erasing begins, in the middle of reliving the moments as they are erased, Joel decides he doesn’t want to go through with it – but he can’t wake up.
I know – it sounds odd. But it is absolutely brilliant – a must-own!
The Ex (2006)
Zach Braff (Scrubs, Garden State – which also belongs on this list), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Amanda Peet (Saving Silverman) star in this hilarious farcical comedy. After Braff gets fired from his job, he and his expecting wife (Peet) are forced to move out of the city and into the neighborhood she grew up in. The main reason for the move is so that he can work a steady job along side his father-in-law. At his new hippie place of employment, Braff meets “the ex” – a wheelchair bound optimist who seems too good to be true (Bateman). Wackiness ensues.
Surprisingly, several great comedic actors lend themselves to small roles within the film. The list includes Paul Rudd, Amy Adams, Amy Poehler, Charles Grodin, Fred Armisen and Romany Malco.
The Ex can usually be found in Walmart’s $5 bin – it is definitely worth the five bucks.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Despite the main storyline sounding like it could get crude, Lars and the Real Girl is one of the most innocent modern films.
Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) plays the odd lead Lars. After their parent’s death, Lars and his brother (Paul Schneider, Elizabethtown – which also deserves to be on this list) and sister-in-law (Emily Mortimer, Shutter Island) move onto their inherited property – but Lars wont move in. He resides in the converted garage.
One day, Lars finally comes into the home for a nice family dinner and brings an unusual guest – a lifelike sex doll that he talks to and tries to convince everyone is real. At first, you don’t know whether Lars is mentally sick or just pulling a freaky trick on everyone. You will never guess where the film is headed.
Much like Henry Poole is Here, Lars and the Real Girl is a family-friendly feel-good film. Although one of the lead characters is a lifelike, like-less sex doll, the film doesn’t have one bit of sex-related material.
After 3rd Rock from the Sun and before Inception, Joseph Gordon-Levitt did an awesomely unique Sundance film called Brick. The easiest way to describe Brick is as a “modern day film noir.” Everything about it – including the dialogue and its delivery – is spot-on classic noir.
When his girlfriend goes missing (LOST‘s Emilie De Ravin), like a detective trying to crack a case, Brendan (Gordon-Levitt) risks all to find the truth behind her disappearance.
Not containing a single swear word, anything sex-related or offensive, Brick should not be rated R. There is mild violence and a few drug dealers/users – but again, nothing offensive.
I hope this list gives you somewhere to start in considering great little-known films for home viewing. If this is feature you would like to see more often on The Reel Place, let us know and we will keep them coming!