Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In search of quirky movies

In December, I blogged two separate lists of movies from the past decade — my least favorite movies that I saw because they were critically acclaimed (my mom's meme), and my favorite movies from the decade (all of which happened to be critically acclaimed).

Looking at those two lists got me thinking: there's a certain niche of movies I tend to like, but it's difficult to label or even describe. So I decided to ask AskMetafilter for help finding more movies like this.

First I listed the movies in this category that I liked a lot (* = movies I absolutely loved):

Ghost World*
Boogie Nights*
My Dinner with Andre*
After Hours*
About Schmidt
Being John Malkovich
Run Lola Run
Zazie dans le Metro
The Royal Tenenbaums
The Truman Show
Man on the Moon
The People vs. Larry Flynt
American Movie
Heavenly Creatures
What Happened Was . . .
Then I listed the ones I was disappointed by (* = movies I particularly disliked):
Waking Life
Punch-Drunk Love
The Ice Storm
Away We Go
Coffee and Cigarettes
Lost in Translation*
Life is Beautiful*
High Fidelity*
American Beauty*
I Heart Huckabees*
Then I made some observations:
Genre: Most of them probably get filed under "comedy," but this label often seems insufficient. Others might be officially "drama" but seem too funny to merit that label. I apparently like movies that belong in a grey area between comedy and drama, though I don't know if I'd want to pigeonhole them as "dramedies."

Plot: Most if not all of these movies have an unusually loose, open-minded sensibility about plot. Sometimes this is overtly radical (Slacker, My Dinner with Andre), while some of the other movies have semi-conventional plots that unexpectedly end with tantalizing question marks. (Though I disliked Lost in Translation, I didn't dislike it for the same reasons some people did. That is, I didn't say: "This movie's terrible — almost nothing happens and the ending is ambiguous." On the contrary, I said: "Wow, almost nothing happens in this movie and the ending is ambiguous — I can't believe I didn't like it!")

Content: They might focus on dating/love/sex (Sideways), or they might be virtually devoid of traditional romance (Slacker). Many of them have an intellectual or philosophical or makes-you-think quality, but the message isn't necessarily obvious (can you sum up the "meaning" of Ghost World?).
Here are the recommendations from the AskMetafilter commenters.

There are about 60 responses, some of which include several movies, so it'll take me a long time to get through them all. Just to start out, it's clear I need to watch Welcome to the Doll House, Adaptation, The Limey, Rushmore, Before Sunrise, Repo Man, Something Wild, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Brazil, Mulholland Drive, A Serious Man,* Sex Lies and Videotape, Paper Moon, Claire's Knee . . .

The whole thing felt shamelessly self-indulgent — having 60 people help me build up my Netflix queue and analyze my taste. But if your cinematic tastes are similarly quirky, maybe the AskMetafilter thread will prompt you to see a movie you wouldn't have otherwise seen.

* This used to say "Barton Fink," but I changed it in response to the comments.


LemmusLemmus said...

Can we take this post as another request? In case the answer is yes, let me start off by saying that I second the recommendations for Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine and of course Before Sunrise.

Grobstein's is an interesting suggestion (although I don't see how it explains your dislike of High Fidelity); to suggest a variation, could it be that you dislike films that are trying too hard (not quite the same thing)? In which case you'll probably dislike Barton Fink - which I hated, though not quite as much as Claire's Knee. As someone suggested Rohmer more generally, however, do watch Claire's Knee - it's like all his other films, only more so.

Suggestions: Dazed & Confused (little plot, same director as Slackers), Midnight Cowboy, Diner. I'm also pretty sure Herr Lehmann would be right up your alley, but I don't think you can get it in the US (plus, dialogue-heavy comedies don't translate well).

John Althouse Cohen said...

Can we take this post as another request?


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I like almost all the suggestions from Metafilter and from Lemmus (Preston Sturges! Adaptation!), and I agree with Lemmus about Barton Fink -- I hated it, at least after a certain point latish in the film that sent the whole thing down the drain for me. However, I recently rented Fargo and liked it, and I loved their new one, A Serious Man; it's hysterically funny, although possibly less so for those who weren't bar mitzvah boys in the mid-Sixties (this film aims at an elite demographic).

I love this opportunity to name movies.

Eric Rohmer: yes Claire's Knee is the place to start. I've liked all his comedies, with reservations; usually I want to punch the leading man and tell the heroine off. (In fairness, these movies intentionally show misguided characters -- but does Rohmer realize how appallingly French they are?) Avoid his historical costume dramas if you value your time.

Of Godard, the most enjoyable are A Woman Is a Woman and perhaps Breathless. After about 1966 he gets oppressively political.

The recent French movie with Kristin Scott Thomas, I've Loved You So Long, is devastatingly powerful though a bit sentimental in spots.

Tell No One: exceptionally clever recent French mystery.

Extremely powerful Danish "dogme"-movement movie: "The Celebration." Family conflicts and secrets too intense for many viewers. Great intimate cinematography and editing.

Agnes Varda, the female director from the French New Wave: Vagabond, The Gleaners and I, Le Bonheur, Cleo from 5 to 7.

Japanese: Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, an adaptation of Macbeth, is sylistically and dramatically one of my favorite movies.

Ozu is an acquired taste. If you like him, you'll like all his movies. Tokyo Story is considered the best.

My favorite living director is that Japanese guy whose name I can't remember, Hirozaku Koe-eda, author of Maborosi, After Life, and Hana; the latter is the only movie I know that treats samurai as real human beings.

A Korean director: Ki-Duk Kim: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring Again; The Bow; and several I haven't seen. Quiet, spiritual, building to violent shocks.

Robert Altman: Gosford Park

Tom Noonan, a sort of lesser Wallace Shawn: The Wife (which stars Shawn). What Happened Was..., I haven't seen, don't know if it's available.

Shawn: Vanya on 42nd Street; Marie and Bruce -- haven't seen the latter, am looking forward to it.

late-period John Huston: The Dead, Wise Blood, Fat City. He's a great interpreter of novels.

Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran: Scent of Green Papaya and Vertical Ray of the Sun. Beautifully staged and shot, and the leading actress, the director's wife, is one of the most beautiful women on earth.

Richard Linklater rotoscope animations: Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly

More Charlie Kaufman, maybe it's on the list and I missed it: Synecdoche, New York: amazingly amibitious -- and successfully so.

late-period Fellini: City of Women: wilder than 8-1/2, and in color. And the Ship Sails On.

non-obvious Bergman choices: Sawdust and Tinsel, a delightful early film in which you can see his later themes and style developing. The Magic Flute: the opera. Fanny and Alexander.

John Ford: The Searchers; My Darling Clementine.

Other favorite westerns, quirky: Jeremiah Johnson; The Outlaw Josey Wales; Unforgiven.

Jacques Tati: Playtime and other movies. Amazing, intricate slapstick setups, almost no dialogue.

There must be more! Thank you for distracting me from paying bills.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Wow, thanks...

OK, I'm going to change "Barton Fink" in the blog post to "A Serious Man."

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

PS: I prefer Linklater's Before Sunset to Before Sunrise; I like both a lot.

John Althouse Cohen said...

What Happened Was..., I haven't seen, don't know if it's available.

I've seen it several times. I should have put this in my positive list (I'll update the post accordingly). It doesn't seem to be out on DVD. I have it "saved" on Netflix, i.e. they'll automatically it in my queue if and when it is released.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Aarrgghh, I left out the Brits!

Mike Leigh: Happy-Go-Lucky, Life is Sweet, Naked, Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy.

Gangster movies: Layer Cake, The Bank Job, Sexy Beast, Snatch.

classic: Powell & Pressburger: Black Narcissus; I Know Where I'm Going; A Canterbury Tale

(Irish) Once

beckett said...

Barton Fink is an excellent film.

Do not forsake it.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

By all means see B. Fink. It's smart, serious, and funny. That gets it into the room. But I ended up preferring to stay at the other end of the room with my own crowd.

LemmusLemmus said...

Ah - I've seen you didn't like Dazed & Confused. So much for the quality of my recommendations. But that won't keep me from remembering that I was going to suggest Altman's Short Cuts as a nonpretentious alternative to Magnolia. (I personally love Magnolia, but that's besides the point.)

John Althouse Cohen said...

Ah - I've seen you didn't like Dazed & Confused.

You're right, I did mention that in an earlier blog post -- but I was probably about 15 years old when I saw it. I'd give it another chance.