Indulging in too many important, indulgent, and lengthy Oscar movies can drain a person’s appetite for cinema. Without even a single Oscar nomination among them, these more inventive, lower-budget, and much shorter movies could re-ignite jaded filmic passions, one way or another.
Charlie Chaplin Collection (expiring 3/15)
Over the course of his long career, Charles Chaplin was nominated for four Oscars, won one (for Best Score of all things), and received two “special” Oscars, but before all that, he made these glittering little gems. Netflix has collected them as the Charlie Chaplin Collection (1914): 35 amazing short films, mostly two reels (about 20 minutes) each. Highlights include One A.M. (1916), in which a drunken Little Tramp tries to get himself home and into bed in a house where every single object seems to turn against him. The Immigrant (1917) is notable for its early combination of comedy and sentiment, and Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) is a remarkable early example of a “meta-film,” in which Charlie’s awareness of the camera provides much of the humor. Don’t miss these cures for whatever ails you before they expire.
The Limits of Control (coming 3/16)
Jim Jarmusch’s films are often funny, but The Limits of Control left nearly everyone baffled. It’s so completely deadpan and with so few clues and entry points that everyone just assumed that it was too “cool” and “arty” for its own good and snubbed it. Yet it’s well worth looking at. In what there is of the story, a stoic, mysterious, well-dressed hitman (Isaach De Bankolé) navigates several locations, meets with several people, and obtains several clues and instructions before arriving at his final destination. It could mean anything, and that’s the beauty of it. Tilda Swinton and Bill Murray are among the international cast, and Christopher Doyle provided the incredible cinematography.
Michelle Williams usually earns an Oscar nomination for anything she does, but not the brilliant, existential Western, Meek’s Cutoff (2011), which challenged most regular filmmaking rules. Director Kelly Reichardt tells a story of a wagon train heading West, led by the good-natured storyteller Meek (Bruce Greenwood), and including the tough, wise Emily Tetherow (Williams). The outfit begins to run low on water, and when they manage to capture a lone Indian, there’s some discussion as to whether the Indian could save them, or lead them into a trap. Astoundingly, the movie isn’t actually about the answer to this question, but rather the journey itself. Additionally, Reichardt deliberately films in a narrow aspect ratio, de-emphasizing the wide-open spaces and freedom of the Wild West.
Bronson (expiring 3/11)
Film nuts now know Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn for his incredible movie Drive (2011), but his filmography includes many peculiar items, like the episodic crime film Bronson (2009). Tom Hardy, who has gone on to big roles in The Dark Knight Rises and other mainstream movies, stars as “Charlie Bronson,” a ferocious prisoner who behaves in the most abominable ways for no other conceivable reason than to amuse himself. He loves to beat people up (though he never kills), and when he’s sent to the sanitarium, he decides he prefers jail. Hardy is the reason this works; with a bald head and a huge, handlebar moustache, he’s frightening and mesmerizing at the same time.
One of the best crime films of recent years, Henry Bromell’s Panic (2000) was more or less dumped after squeamish producers saw negative test scores from young Neve Campbell fans. Given that this was actually the story of a middle-aged hitman going through a life crisis, that’s not too surprising. William H. Macy (at top) is superb as Alex, a hitman who works for his domineering father (Donald Sutherland) and would like to quit and go straight. He’s constantly sad and suffering, but can’t confide in his wife (Tracey Ullman). He begins seeing a shrink (John Ritter), but meets a beautiful young woman (Neve Campbell) in the waiting room and begins an affair with her. Bromell, a veteran of TV, concentrates on clean surfaces and wide, empty spaces and makes a most satisfying debut. (His second feature goes into production this year.)
Director Steven Soderbergh has done almost everything, from indie experiments to Academy Award winners to box office smashes. Half a decade after winning a Best Director Oscar (for Traffic), he made the ultra-low budget crime drama Bubble (2006), which remains one of his best and least-seen efforts. It takes place in a dismal small town where workers drive past bait shops to get to their jobs in a doll factory. Co-workers Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) and the older Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) get along well until Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) joins their team. Soderbergh shoots in ultra deep widescreen, highlighting the small town spaces and creepy doll parts.
Slacker (expiring 3/16)
Richard Linklater’s breakthrough feature Slacker (1991) was a brilliant idea for a low-budget movie. Seeking to capture the mood of a generation that did not want to get stuck in dead-end jobs like its parents, the movie simply moves from one free-thinking character to another. If one character is speaking, and another wanders by, the film follows the second one, etc. Armed with his witty, wordy script, and some colorful characters on the streets of Austin, Texas, the rest could be done with little fuss. The result is still thoughtful and hilarious, as well as an essential snapshot of a certain time and place.
The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle
Though it never received a big release, David Russo’s The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle (2009) is a very unique horror comedy that deliberately plays around with American ideals of work and family. Dory (Marshall Allman) loses his data-entry job and gets a new one as a night janitor in a marketing firm. One of the firm’s clients makes packaged cookies that taste oven-hot right out of the wrapper. Dory and his fellow janitors begin eating them, getting addicted, and suffering their weird side effects. Natasha Lyonne and Tania Raymonde co-star, and Vince Vieluf is terrific as Dory’s mentor in the new job.
Middle Men (expiring 3/10)
Very few American movies deal with sex and/or pornography in a matter-of-fact way, but George Gallo’s Middle Men (2010) does just that. It tells the so-amazing-it-must-be-true story of two ne’er-do-wells (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) who accidentally invent the internet porn industry by developing a way to accept credit card payments online and then charging $10 to look at dirty pictures. When their business explodes, they make a deal with a Russian mobster for more porn, but when the deal goes bad, middle man Jack Harris (Luke Wilson) is called in to fix things. Unfortunately, the lure of huge money, glamour and sex begins to weigh on him and challenge his stable family life. Real-life porn star Jesse Jane makes an appearance.
When Will I Be Loved
Many viewers and critics were turned off by maverick director James Toback’s When Will I Be Loved (2004), a sexy, depraved look into the life of a pretty, bored female opportunist. Vera (Neve Campbell) has sex with men for money, has sex with women for pleasure, and also paints a little. It’s enthralling to see her negotiate for what she wants, especially compared to her boyfriend (Frederick Weller), who has just as much attitude, but less success in his business and sexual transactions. Toback stays mostly inside Vera’s apartment, his camera restlessly circling around her, as if to find all three of her dimensions. It’s sleazy to be sure, but also fearless and fascinating.
- Bill Cunningham New York (3/13)
- Gulliver’s Travels  (3/15)
- House on Haunted Hill (3/15)
- Metropolitan (3/16)
- Potiche (3/17)
- The Southerner (3/15)
- UHF (3/15)
- P.S. (3/22)
- The Wasp Woman (3/15)
- Whale Rider (3/22)
- Women Art Revolution (3/20)