1. AMERICAN SPLENDOR (2003).
An original mix of reality and fiction illuminates the life of comic book anti-hero Harvey Pekar. Having gone through a phase of watching all the Paul Giamatti films I could find, I stumbled across American Splendor without really knowing much about the film and without really having a passion for comic books. What a find! Now knowing how Pekar was in real life, himself, Giamatti’s impression is nothing short of superb and uncanny, delivering that brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm-esque, cringeworthy humour that keeps you laughing but turning away from the screen.
1997, Captain Nascimento has to find a replacement for his occupation whilst attempting to take down criminals and drug dealers before the Pope comes to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. First of all, if you love City of God, run out and buy it; secondly, if you love task force-oriented dances of death, run out and buy it. I’d read about Elite Squad in passing. I’d heard that it competes with its other Brazilian tour de force, City of God. The reaction? An absolute masterclass of no-holds-barred, gung-ho mayhem!
When his best friend dies, a man (Peter Dinklage) born with dwarfism relocates to rural New Jersey to live a life of isolation, only to meet a talkative hot dog vendor and a woman dealing with her own personal issues. Wow! I had never seen anything with Peter Dinklage in before — I don’t watch Game of Thrones — so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I, quite literally, couldn’t stop laughing for large portions of the film. I don’t think you’re meant to be laughing, but you certainly are — a dark comedy if you like. A must-see!
A dedicated medical student at college and his girlfriend become involved in strange experiments centred around the re-animation of dead human tissue, when an odd, new student arrives on campus. Re-Animator was a film I had wanted to see for a long time… oh how it took me so long. I am not usually fond of films as weird and wacky as this, except for maybe Cronenberg’s films, but I had to see what all the hype was about. Does it live up to its cult status? Is Herbert West really the anti-hero we have heard so much about? Yes to both! Be prepared, but also bring the popcorn — entertaining is an understatement!
Chance, a carefree gardener, has never left the estate in which he lives until his employer passes away. His simple TV-educated utterances are mistaken for profundity. What a difficult film to try to sell! There is no action, twists, FX, and one-liners (despite being a comedy), but it is an absolute masterpiece! Peter Sellers once again proves why he is leagues above most comedians. His deadpan expressions combined with a naturally comical ignorance make for sheer delight. I loved it.
Set in the near future, an ex-burglar receives a gift from his son: a robotic butler programmed to look after his every need. But soon the two companions try their hand as a heist team, after Frank realises the robot isn’t programmed to acknowledge unlawfulness. It’s late at night, I’m stuck for what to watch, and I stumble across a film on YouTube called Robot & Frank. It has only a 7.1 IMDB rating, but I’ll watch anything over a 7 average. These were the circumstances. What I realised is that I love those late-night, accidental discoveries of films. It was a delight. The idea of watching a film about the awkward relationship between a man on the verge of what we think is dementia and a robot that bugs him constantly may seem fairly boring — on the contrary. It’s a psychosocial study played out on the screen and is thoroughly engaging.
Before elections, a spokesperson and a Hollywood producer join forces to “fabricate” a war in order to cover up a presidential sex scandal. I was immediately sold by this rather rare gem: two Hollywood powerhouses (Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman), Barry Levinson at the helm, and David Mamet as the scribe. Although not a masterpiece, it’s certainly an eye-opener as to what might actually be going on behind the scenes in both Washington and Hollywood. Moreover, we once again get to see De Niro and Hoffman on the screen together. Need I say more?
A satirical comedy that follows the machinations of Big Tobacco’s chief lobbyist/spokesperson, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes whilst attempting to remain a role model for his 12-year-old son. Aaron Eckhart became my hero after this film — how he could take on a role that promotes cigarettes and yet sound so convincing is beyond me. Such a performance! This was also the film that proved to me that Jason Reitman is definitely a talent in the directing/writing game. A must-see!
Two con artists try to swindle a stamp collector by selling him a sheet of rare counterfeit stamps (the “nine queens”). Nine Queens is a classic ‘who is conning whom?’ tale. With a great soundtrack, a truly warming ensemble of characters, as well as the mystery, this was the film that put the Argentinian film industry on the map for me. If you can work out from the off who the ‘real’ con artist is, you are a genius!
Two friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there’s something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they’ve built, wrestle over their new invention, a time machine. Being the only film I’ve currently watched by Shane Carruth, that is, a film with a budget of $7,000, Primer is simply extraordinary for a first effort. This is definitive proof that budget and FX are vastly unimportant, if you have a very clever storyline with a writer/director that can back up the storyline and make it work with the know-how and know-why of time travel theory and paradoxical predicaments. Impressive isn’t the word. Take a bow, Shane Carruth.
Written by Conley Low