I want to highlight some of the most criminally underseen films of 2009. Most are without any American distribution and others may just get small (and potentially unnoticeable) releases next year. It’s quite sad that many of these movies will never have the opportunity to find an audience. There is word of mouth potential for all of them. They just need the proper marketing campaigns. Here are 13 little seen films that you should be looking out for.
I Am Love – Earlier this year Oscar winner Tilda Swinton may have given the performance of her life in Julia. Yet the film played in no more than 4 theaters throughout its theatrical run and got virtually no awards consideration. When I Am Love premiered at the Venice Film Festival last fall, she may have topped herself again, mastering the Italian language with a Russian accent. Let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself and the film gets a release it deserves. The film revolves around the very wealthy Recchi family in Milan. When Emma Recchi (Swinton) has a passionate affair with a young cook, the family’s traditional structure begins to unravel.
The Clone Returns Home – Drawing comparisons to Tarkovsky (no easy feat), it’s a film that begs the question: if a body can be cloned, can its soul be as well? In a not so distant future we follow an astronaut who is killed in a freak accident while working on a space station. His widow is distraught to learn that he consented to have his body substituted with a clone implanted with all this childhood memories. Unfortunately, the clone is flawed and becomes obsessed with the memory of his brothers death. This meditative film has been floating about the festival circuit for over a year and still there’s no American distribution in sight.
Everyone Else – Hailed in Berlin for its startling realism. Maren Ade’s film follows a well-to-do German couple, who go on a long holiday in Sardinia. They’re both around 30 and are successful in their creative fields of work. Everything seems to be going well for them both personally and professionally, but during this trip their relationship starts to disentangle when they meet another seemingly perfect couple.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench – Billed as the first Mumblecore musical, director Damien Chazelle tries to combine gritty Cassavetes-like realism with the magic of classic MGM musicals. The film follows the two lovers (Guy and Madeline) though their first meeting, their breakup and their inevitable reunion. Also contains a beautiful score by Jason Hurwitz.
The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle – If only this film had Michel Gondry’s name attached (even as a presenter), it would already be a classic among hipsters everywhere. Alas David Russo’s wildly imaginative debut feature is barely known outside the festival circuit. This quirky coming of age tale involves government experiments, addictive cookies and male pregnancy and it also features a wildly diverse indie soundtrack.
Life During Wartime – It’s got raves in Venice but wound up not getting much love at Toronto. North American critics may be tired of filmmaker Todd Solondz and his uncompromising style, but his latest may be his most mature work to date. Here he is willing to bestow some forgiveness on the characters from his 1998 landmark Happiness.
Love Exposure – Sion Sono’s virtually unmarketable four and a half hour epic is about the son of a catholic priest who decides to master the art of upskirt photography. Filled with home-made special effects and plenty of hilarious sex farce, it’s a passionate testament to the limitless imagination of film.
The Loved Ones – This little Australian horror film came out of nowhere at last year’s Toronto film festival. Its premise sounds a bit conventional at first – a rebellious teen’s prom plans with his girlfriend are nixed by an obsessed wallflower, who as it turns out is a psychopathic killer. The film combines torture porn with Sweet Sixteen-style laughs. It’s destined to be a horror classic in years to come.
Police, Adjective – Before talking about this film, it must be said it is part of an ongoing artistic renaissance in the Romanian film industry. Film after film (4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 12:08 East of Bucharest) has been a scathing indictment of society of past and present. Police, Adjective is no different; it captures the mundane and time-consuming work of the Romanian police force. A young officer is pressured to arrest a teenager who offers hash to one of his classmates, but he has a crisis of conscience; he doesn’t want to ruin the life of the young man over such a minor offense. The film (considered a comedy by many) gets its laughs from the absurdity of the system.
A Room and a Half – Renowned Russian animator Andrey Khrzhanovskiy tried his hand at live action feature film and the results have been enchanting. This innovative biopic on the life of Russian poet Joseph Brodsky weaves fiction, documentary footage, stills, and animation to create a cinematic portrait unlike any other.
Trash Humpers – The infamous originator of shocking cult classics (Kids, Gummo, Julien Donkey Boy), Harmony Korine, is back with another film. This one, shot on grungy videotape, features a demented family who literally go about humping trash, among other offenses. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the film is that has received some very good reviews. Take a look at the “trailer” and decide for yourself.
A Town Called Panic – The Belgian animation duo of Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar have fashioned a new cult classic. Any fans of Robot Chicken will surely love this film. It simply involves a plastic cowboy, an Indian, and a horse. It’s based on their web show (which can be seen in its entirety on YouTube).
Wild Grass – Possibly the most promising on the list to become a classic. Eighty-seven year old film legend Alain Resnais helms this surreal love story and he’s as confident as ever. It follows a 60-ish man who may be in the beginning stages of dementia; he finds a wallet and becomes obsessed with the woman who lost it. The bizarre film sounds virtually unmarketable so kudos to Sony Pictures Classics to picking this one up for distribution next year.