Obscure Movie Corner

I always hate it when I see a list of "Movies you've never seen before" or somesuch on the internets. It just seems so... presumptuous and conceited. Like all lists, sometimes they're good, sometimes they stink, usually they're somewhere in the middle. Well, recently a friend of mine asked me for some recommendations for movies he might not have seen (based on a discussion in meatspace about Christopher Nolan's first film, Following, a movie he had not seen). "Go deep," he says, so I did. This all happened on twitter though, and that 140 character limit is a bit chafing. Plus, it seems like an interesting topic for this here blog, which will also let me bloviate about these movies at length. I always enjoy highlighting the offbeat or obscure movies out there on my blog, and one thing you'll notice about some of the below recommendations is that a lot of them have shown up on the yearly Kaedrin Movie Awards or Top 10 lists (2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006) or elsewhere on the blog. But sometimes I think they get buried and again, I always like an opportunity to shine a light on obscure movies that folks don't talk about much... So here we go:
  • Following - Might as well start here, since this is what inspired the list in the first place. It's Christopher Nolan's first film, and you can very much tell that it's from the same director as the breakout Memento. The premise is that a young writer starts following random people he sees on the street. The point is to get ideas for his writing, but of course, he eventually follows the wrong person and hijinks ensue. It's a small movie, told asynchronously (though not quite as mindbending as Memento, it's still a pretty interesting exercise in editing and storytelling). It's actually something I'd like to revisit sometime, but if you haven't seen it and you've enjoyed Nolan's work, it's worth tracking down. And it's on Netflix Instant, so it's pretty easy to find!
  • Fish Story - This is the first movie that came to mind when tasked with obscure movies someone might not have seen. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura has been slowly gaining a cult following amongst film nerds of late (I became aware of him at last year's Fantastic Fest), and with efforts like this, it's easy to see why. I don't really want to say much about this - it's pretty rare in this day and age that you get to sit down and watch a movie without knowing anything about it. Not that knowing basic premise is all that damaging to the viewing, but still, I had a really nice experience in part because I didn't know anything about it going in... Also on Netflix Instant, so definitely something to add to your queue and watch ASAP. Alas, not much other stuff from Nakamura is available in the US (but if you get the chance, A Boy and His Samurai is also great).
  • The Mission - The first of three Johnny To movies on the list, this is one that doesn't seem to get a whole lot of attention, but I really love it. To gets overshadowed by other Hong Kong action directors like John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Ringo Lam, but for my money, he's the best director working in Honk Kong today. This one is a relatively straightforward gangster tale, but it demonstrates To's distinctive style well. Woo is known for choreographing beautiful, almost balletic action. To seems to have a more meticulous, intricate, chess-like strategy to filming action that is really quite striking. This movie features a lot of it, where you see a team of bodyguards take up positions, and To films it in such a way that almost all of them are on screen, despite the fact that they're well dispersed around the area. Really striking stuff. Not available on streaming, but readily available on Netflix DVD...
  • Breaking News - Another Johnny To movie, this one included mostly for the opening action sequence, which is absolutely astounding. I actually mentioned it a while back in my post on long takes, and this thing is really quite well done, and again demonstrates To's ability to stage intricate action sequences. The rest of the movie is solid, though it never quite reaches the heights of that opening again. Still worth checking out. Again, available on DVD.
  • Mad Detective - The last of the Johnny To movies, this one is quite a bit more wacky than the preceding films. It's got a strange, supernatural element and a sorta elliptical storytelling style that I think is quite striking. There's not a ton of action here, but To's knack for intricate staging still plays a big role. [Full Review]
  • Hard Candy - I'm not entirely sure how obscure this one is, but people rarely seem to bring it up. It's one of Ellen Page's breakthrough movies, and a well deserved one at that. Be forewarned, it's got some heavy stuff in it - it's about a pedophile and features only two characters and one major setting. It's difficult to describe, but it manages to generate a lot of tension, and quite strangely, your sympathies sorta shift around as you're watching. Not everything is what it seems! Worth watching.
  • Brick - Again, not really sure how obscure this one is, but this mashup of high school and film noir is definitely worth watching if you haven't seen it. Also a good idea to catch up with director Rian Johnson's early films before he hits it big time with Looper. Speaking of which:
  • The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson's sophomore effort is perhaps not as tight as Brick, but it's still a blast. It hits all the con movie tropes while still managing to carve out an identity of its own, and while the ending isn't quite perfect, it's still better than I was expecting. It's a lot of fun, with a neat, twisty plot and some great performances (particularly Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi, who are just delightful in this movie).
  • Timecrimes - Best director name ever Nacho Vigalondo's intricate time travel tale that illustrates a chain of consequences that result from a mistaken, 1 hour trip back in time. Cascading paradox avoidance and a light tone, though it doesn't shy away from its darker side. Really wonderful little film, and I can't wait to see more in this vain from Vigalondo. In the meantime, you should also be able to check out his other film:
  • Extraterrestrial - More of a romantic comedy than anything else, it is set on the backdrop of an uneventful alien invasion, giving it an interesting vibe on what could have been a simple retread. May disappoint fans of Timecrimes, but I had a lot of fun with it.
  • The Man from Earth - Definitely among the most obscure movies on this list, it's also a very low budget movie that mostly takes place in a single house, featuring a bunch of conversations by some academics and their buddy, who's moving on. For a film that is very talky, there's a pretty well established dramatic throughline, and some interesting twists and turns. Well worth a watch.
  • Tucker and Dale vs Evil - A neat little movie that turns the Hillbilly Horror subgenre on its head. It's a ton of fun, especially for folks acquainted with horror tropes. By the way, don't watch the trailer for this, as it gives away a lot of the jokes. I've sung the praises of this one for a while now, and I know I've turned at least a couple people onto it... why not check it out yourself?
  • Gambit - Near as I can tell, this is hugely obscure, and I don't know why, as it's quite spectacular. It's something of a heist film, starring a very young Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine... It's got an unusual structure, but that only serves to keep you off balance, and things never quite go the way you'd expect. Unfortunately, it's no longer available on Netflix Instant, and they don't have the DVD either. But it is available on Amazon Streaming (for purchase). I really wish this were more widely available, as it's a really wonderful addition to one of my favorite genres (the heist film). If you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up.
  • Blood and Black Lace - Ok, so probably not that obscure for Horror genre hounds like myself, but if you haven't had the chance to check out the Italian Giallo films, this is an excellent place to start. It's one of the few films that can lay claim to birthing the slasher sub-genre, though it doesn't feature any of the excess that sub-genre is known for. Still, it's got a body count and a masked killer, but it's impeccably filmed and well worth watching for any student of the horror genre.
  • M - Alright, so this one is definitely not obscure by any stretch of the imagination, except insofar as people from my generation tend to be somewhat ignorant of films made before the 1960s (ok, unwarranted sweeping generalization, but I think you can see my point). If you've ever hesitated about this movie, don't, it's exceptional. Fritz Lang's classic tale of a serial killer (of children, no less) who runs afoul of the local criminal element (in a beautifully ironic twist, the police get so frustrated that they can't find the killer that they crack down on the typical criminals, who quickly get sick of this and resolve to find the killer themselves so that they can get back to business as usual). Lang's brilliant expressionism, along with great performances and photography, make this film an absolute classic.
  • Martin - This might be my favorite of George Romero's movies... and it's not even a zombie movie. It's about vampires. Sorta. It's actually a pretty unique and modern take on the vampire, much more interesting than a lot of contemporary takes. Seek it out.
Well, I could probably go on like this for another 10 or 20 movies, but I'll leave it at that for now...