Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer
The top 10 from the past five years that nobody saw
With hundreds of films released every year in the U.S. and thousands across the world, we're bound to miss some good ones. A foreign film seldom gets the marketing or buzz it deserves in the states, and unless a domestic movie has a bankable star or a dozen car chases, it tends to routinely fall out of favor with the big studios.
To try and rectify this, I have compiled a list of 10 largely unknown films from the last five years that deserve recognition.
Tropical Malady – 2005
This is the Thai equivalent of Brokeback Mountain, but whereas Brokeback settles for sentiment and nostalgia, Tropical Malady is an unrelenting masterpiece, a Sideways meets Apocalypse Now. It’s a journey into the unknown, with the Thai jungle serving as the age-old metaphor. It’s divided into two parts: the first half develops the relationship between Keng and Tong, a soldier and a country boy. It’s fast and interesting even without delving into their physical love life. The second half, however, is where all expectations evaporate and a Thai folk legend about a shape-shifting holy man takes center stage. Tropical Malady will cause as many scares as shudders, and it may be the best film of 2005.
George Washington – 2000
Children in a small town join forces to prevent a tragedy from becoming public knowledge and potentially destroying a lot of lives. This potent portrayal of small-town dynamics is David Gordon Greene’s ode to rural America. The simple bucolic lifestyles first portrayed grow deeper and more personal throughout, making an excellent statement regarding Middle America and the malaise that seems to settle overtop of it in the media. Watch it for excellent performances from unknown child actors.
The Best of Youth – 2003
It’s funny, but I always thought of Italian politics as having ended after WWII. Little did I know that Rome is as tragic and intoxicating as ever. This film follows two brothers’ lives in Italy from 1966 to 2000. Kind of like the Italian Forrest Gump, the brothers have a knack for encountering every major event over those years and a tendency to embody various aspects of humanity. Of course, this film is European and as such has little or no sense of humor, but an excellent sense of dread. The Best of Youth is a tremendous tale of divergent family identity in the face of political and societal uncertainty.
Riding Giants – 2004
Imagine that everything you ever wanted to know about the history of surfing and especially big wave surfing were contained in a perfect little documentary. Then imagine that all of the profiles therein are as interesting as their subject. Finally, throw in Laird Hamilton, the greatest surfer of all time, and priceless documentary footage and you have a tiny inkling of how incredible this film is. It’s another Stacey Peralta flick, not totally different from Dogtown and Z-Boys, but infinitely finer in quality and in the scope of its arrangement.
Spartan – 2004
From David Mamet, the man behind Glengarry Glen Ross, comes Spartan, a Val Kilmer vehicle about a special US operative assigned to find a politician’s kidnapped daughter. The action is sparse, shocking, and believable, and the dialogue, as usual in any Mamet film, is real. This is Kilmer’s finest role since Heat, and one of the most overlooked action/adventure movies of the last five years. Look for William H. Macy in an incredible performance as well.
Primer – 2004
A couple of engineers stumble on a strangely powerful device in this low-budget thinking man’s movie. Set in the unidentifiable sprawl of suburbia, Primer comes across almost like reality TV at first, but eventually transcends its cinematography in exciting ways by pitting these men against each other as they finally find the answers they have searched for throughout their lives. Don’t be put off by the technobabble in the dialogue; it’s only there for effect. Focus on the story line and the premise and this film is sure to reward the patient viewer. Cool side note: The movie's director — first-timer Shane Carruth — made this killer movie for about $7,000.
Session 9 – 2001
Brad Anderson, the man behind The Machinist, just missed with this psychological thriller set in a real-life asylum in Massachusetts. A cleaning crew has a week and a half to make a dilapidated asylum fit for renovation. Everything is working perfectly, until things start to get weird and everyone involved in the project grows suspicious of strange forces at work. Strong performances by David Caruso and Josh Lucas highlight this powerful piece of intelligent cinema.
2046 – 2004
Another gem out of Asia, 2046 is too complicated to summarize here, but the basic premise is this: a writer whose novel is about a train that travels to the year 2046 suddenly comes across a shocking revelation. He thought his books were about the future, but apparently they are all about his own past. This is one of those films where the snake chases its own tail and eventually swallows itself, but the payoff is both intriguing and important. It will make you think for days and days.
Unknown Pleasures – 2002
Two wild Chinese teens find Western civilization to be their purpose in life. But in pursuing the pleasures inherent in instant gratification, they not only disillusion themselves, but they also ruin their connections to their own culture. Unknown Pleasures is a Chinese version of Kids—and just as disturbing. Director Zhang Ke Jia explores some incredible themes with this film, but the real beauty here is in its depiction of the new China. Anyone fascinated with what’s happening in the world’s sleeping giant will be enthralled by the urban scenery and grotesque overcrowding of China’s insane streets and dark nights.
Oldboy — 2003
This is The Count of Monte Cristo on methamphetamine. It’s an epic and unforgettable tale of a Korean man named Oh Dae-Su who, after a night of heavy drinking and carousing, gets kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years, the TV serving as his only friend in the world. He transforms himself during the first half of the movie from a careless rake into a philosophical warrior capable of extraordinary feats of strength and courage. But what separates this film from its swashbuckling inspiration is the truth of its cinematography and action. Never does one feel a sense of disbelief regarding Oh Dae-Su, and it’s that seriousness that elevates Oldboy above virtually every other revenge flick around—including Kill Bill. After Oh Dae-Su is released from his prison, a fight scene ensues that is perhaps the greatest piece of choreographed violence in history. It makes, literally, everything else look like kids stuff.