Now, this is interesting. I’m going to pick ten movies I’m betting you haven’t seen yet, because there is a long list of great movies available from Netflix that I’m sure you have seen already such as: About a Boy, Black Hawk Down, There’s Something About Kevin, In the Bedroom, The Station Agent, Like Water for Chocolate, Room with a View, Rain Man, The Shining, Sophie’s Choice, Leap Year, Silver Linings Playbook, Notting Hill etc. If you haven’t seen the aforementioned, by all means, start with them, but I’m guessing you have.
Now let me convince you to see ten of the lesser known films that I’ve recently watched and enjoyed immensely. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of movies that think a string of four-letter words is a script and whose visuals border and sometimes fall over into outright pornography. I don’t think characters are necessarily worth watching just because of their skin color or sexual orientation. And please, please not another Black history or AIDS movie. I’ve seen so many lately. Enough! What the following movies share are great characters and a memorable plot, good writing, great acting, and that something extra that makes a film like a great book, something to savor and treasure and pass on to people you care about. So, here goes.
A taut, mesmerizing story set in post WWII German by acclaimed director Christian Petzold, who also directed Barbara (another must see). Nelly (Nina Hoss), a famous nightclub singer, returns from the camps completely disfigured and undergoes plastic surgery until she is unrecognizable. Her only wish is to return to the life she had before, especially to her German husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), who is convinced she died in the camps. She seeks him out, testing the waters, before revealing who she is.
What happens then is breathtaking, resonating on so many levels. The personal – did he really love her and do all that he could to save her? Does she still want him? Does he still want her? Would it be possible to resume where they left off? Has more than just her face changed or has her soul been transformed as well?
And then there is the national-historical: crime and punishment in post-Nazi Germany. The ending blew me away with its combination of strength and subtlety. It’s a film that will leave an indelible impression on you.
A Late Quartet
A world-renown chamber orchestra that has been together many years faces the ravages of time as one of its members is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The beauty of this small, exquisite film directed and co-written by Yaron Zilberman is the way it brings us to understand the process of transition and aging. Along with the inevitable losses, there is so much to love and be grateful for as life-long partners, friends, rivals, and competitors face perhaps their last concert together, Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp. The music, when it comes together, is a homage to and an affirmation of life, despite the shadow of death hanging over us all. Inspiring.
An attractive married couple with two pre-teens go on a skiing holiday. They seem like an average family. But then, ten minutes into the movie, the family faces sudden danger. How they react during the crisis taints the entire family dynamic.
Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund, it’s been called a “disaster film without a disaster.” This is true. There is no disaster except human beings exposed in all their frailty, behaving very badly when overcome by existential fear.
Maybe because I once found myself and my family coping with a terror attack which found us in a hotel for the Passover Seder, which then blew up in our faces, I have a different perspective. You behave so differently than you think you will, then you want to. We all have idealized versions of ourselves patterned after the heroes we read about in newspaper stories that always rise to the occasion, exhibiting selflessness, courage, strength. Let me tell you, they are heroes because most people facing true danger behave quite differently.
I found the film mesmerizing in its slow measured way, and extremely intelligent in how it goes about revealing what really holds a man and woman together, and what tears them apart. Watching this unfold is better than any thriller, and much more relevant to the average human being. It also has some very unexpectedly funny moments
Female Agents (Les Femmes de l’ombre)
Louise (the lovely Sophie Marceau) is a female agent in the French resistance whose brother Pierre talks into undertaking a dangerous mission to rescue a geologist caught by the Nazis who has crucial information concerning the location of the D Day landing. The two recruit four more women, each with her own story. This is not only a riveting adventure movie, it is also a tribute to the brave women who fought the Nazis with all their heart, and soul, and might, and who often paid the ultimate price. Amazing acting, and a fast-paced plot with great heroes and despicable villains, just the way we like our adventure movies.
One of the great things about movies is their ability to enlighten. The discovery of true stories brought to life on the screen – granted with some poetic license- often give us an education we badly need, sometimes even changing the way we see the world.
Puncture is one of those films. Like the even more recent Spotlight -about the investigative reporting that finally broke the pedophile scandals being covered up by the Catholic Church, a movie now playing in theatres and well worth admission– Puncture removes the veil from the medical supply industry revealing the corruption and greed that is not only spreading disease but actually destroying lives. Many of those lives belong to front-line medical care workers -nurses, doctors, and medical personnel, who get accidentally stabbed by infected needles.
The movie opens with a mom getting her kids ready for school before going to work. Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) is a nurse, and in treating an out- of- control patient, she accidentally stabs herself with an AIDs-tainted needle. She is soon very, very ill.
Enter the scene two ambulance-chasing, low rent lawyers, high school friends Mike Weiss (Chris Evans, who is great in this role) and Paul Danziger (Mark Kassen). While Mike is a skirt-chasing cokehead, Paul is a serious family man. A mutual client asks them to meet with Vicky. They learn that as a result of her personal tragedy, a family friend and inventor has come up with a needle that retracts after use, making accidents impossible. Only one problem, despite successful trial at a major hospital, hospitals are refusing to buy it and protect their staff.
Their investigation opens a can of worms into how greed and giant corporations are able to sell inferior equipment, backed by lobbyist- created laws favoring fat-cats. It’s enough to get even Mike to briefly sober up and begin to put an all effort into changing the system. The dynamics of these two unlikely partners taking on the incredible task of exposing this and getting the safe syringes into hospitals before the inventor goes bankrupt and more innocent medical staff die ( not to mention the millions in Africa re-using infected plastic syringes spreading AIDS all over the place) is truly a heart-wrenching narrative not unlike Silkwood. The movie was actually written by the real Danziger and is (mostly) a true story.
I don’t know about you, but I love Michael Fassbender. I’d watch the movie just for him. But there are many more reasons that Slow West is worth your time. The incredible photography of the West for one. The touching story of sixteen year-old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) at the end of the nineteenth century coming to the U.S. West from Ireland to search for his long, lost love. Jay finds himself in dangerous territory until he is joined by the mysterious Silas (Fassbender) who agrees to get him where he wants to go safely. Is Silas sentimental? Or is he a bounty hunter looking for a girl with a price on her head? Is he a hero, or a villain? The story moves slowly, but interestingly, towards a violent and stunning climax in which the questions are answered, but others remain.
Out of guilt that I waited so long to watch this (it came out in 2004) I’m putting this film on my list even though I’m sure real film buffs have already seen it. If you haven’t, I understand. I myself am often guilty of skipping war movies, disease movies, civil rights movies, Holocaust movies. Hey, you just want to eat your popcorn and escape the headlines from ISIS, okay? That is not a crime. Still, you should see this because it’s a true story beautifully told about how in the midst of a genocide, one man stands in solitary courage determined to save lives. If you are thinking Schindler’s List, you wouldn’t be far off, except here we are in deepest Africa and the victims are Tutsis being massacred by Hutus.
Paul Rusesabagina (a wonderful performance by Don Cheadle), the manager of a luxury Belgium-owned hotel in Rwanda’s capital Kigali is a Hutu married to a Tutsi. In the chaos, hundreds of Tutsi villagers invade the compound looking for shelter. Like Schindler, he uses his considerable charm, skill and diplomacy to save as many lives as he can, despite the pressures of his own personal dilemma (his own children are targeted as Tutsi.) The despicable role of the U.N. as facilitators of terrorism rings true to my Israeli ears. A most moving cinematic experience.
Naked Among the Wolves(Nackt unter Wolfen)
Based on the widely read East German novel, this is the true story of a small boy smuggled into Buchenwald concentration camp in a suitcase by his father, and the dynamic among the prisoners who must risk their lives to hide him from the Nazis. It is the story of men who have lost everything and have everything to lose including their lives days before liberation, after a heroic struggle against annihilation. If the child is discovered, the Nazis will execute them all. Yet, they still can ask themselves the question: what does our survival mean if we stamp out the last vestige of our humanity and turn over a helpless child to the death machine? Their answer is a breathtaking revelation. Unforgettable.
This is how Roger Ebert summed up this movie in 2005: “Lizzie has fled from her abusive husband, and is raising her deaf son, Frankie (Jack McElhone) with the help of her mother (Mary Riggans). Instead of telling Frankie the truth about his father, Lizzie creates the fiction that he is away at sea — a crew member on a freighter named the Accra. Frankie writes to his dad, and his mother intercepts the letters and answers them herself. Frankie’s letters are important to her “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice.”
The deception works until, one day, a ship named the Accra actually docks in Glasgow. Frankie assumes his father is on board, but a schoolmate bets his dad doesn’t care enough to come and see him. After all, Frankie is 9 and his father has never visited once.
Lizzie decides to find a man who will pretend, for one day, to be Frankie’s father. Her friend Marie (Sharon Small) , who runs the fish and chips shop downstairs, says she can supply a man, and introduces the Stranger, who Lizzie pays to pretend to be Frankie’s dad for one day.”
I loved everything about this movie. The courage of the mother in making heartbreaking choices to protect her child. The character of the intelligent and sensitive little boy. And the delicate romance that leaves you feeling you’ve witnessed something kind and beautiful and affirmative.
This is a really inspiring comedy whose charm flows from the main character’s hard work and optimism. Becky Fuller, played by Rachel McAdams, is a young woman who loves her work in broadcast journalism, and is really good at it. Unfortunately, the field is competitive and fickle, and the movie begins with her getting fired from a job when she expects and deserves a promotion. Haven’t we all been there?
Her chance at redemption comes in the form of a job at a failing morning news show anchored by a morose, once-great, now close to being has-been ( Harrison Ford does a wonderful, convincing turn) newscaster whose demeanor and alcoholism are basically a death knell for the show which is about to be canceled.
Becky is determined not to let that happen.
The film, directed by Roger Michel, who directed Notting Hill, and written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who also wrote the screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada, keep the story fresh and alive, keeping you hoping against hope that the deserving heroine won’t find herself once again on the unemployment lines, and that her youthful hopes and talent will be rewarded.