"Shaun of the Dead"--What would happen if the zombie-horror-film genre was made fun of with a movie that plays by its rules and ironically, acts as if these rules are ridiculous all at the same time? If you were smart a director, you'd get something like "Shaun of the Dead" which is one of those movies you see previews for and moan. However, it's also one of the ones (if you end up seeing) that you're so glad you did. Sure by the end, you're ready for it to be the end. But what's new? I can't think of a zombie movie I've watched without wanting it to be over sooner than it actually was, so let's toss that objection out. What you get when you come to "Shaun of the Dead" is a surprisingly smart and surprisingly stupid zombie movie that is tongue-and-cheek-to-the-max. It is a homage to zombie movies and a witty critique as well. Warning: best when viewed in large groups and with people who can tolerate a stupid fart joke every once and awhile.
"Tarnation"--Even if watching student films makes you want to puke--with their shaky camera movement and artsy-wannabe editing techniques--you still should check out (when you're in a gloomy mood) "Tarnation" and see how a man can take bits and pieces of his childhood, and piece together a full-length feature film. Johnathan Caouette's mini-masterpiece (partially because it seems like it's been 20 years in the making) will disturb you, make you cringe, make you squeam, and make you shake your head more times than you can count. It's a classic example of a movie you don't necessarily like but at the same time, you cannot help but admire the filmmaker for such a bold, unnerving, and emotionally naked way to allow film as art, do its healing through time. Caouette, a gay man in his late 20s living in New York, tells of his childhood, mostly shedding insight to horrible things happening to his mother, and its a really fascinating way of showing how family affects so many parts of our lives, even if we refuse to let it. Despite some very very very low-budget Apple iMovie editing moves that were used just way too many times for emotional impact, there are a handful of moments and scenes that stand out as so mind-jarringly out there, you'll swear you're watching the closest thing to reality filmmaking ever. And, it probably is the weirdest and most interesting film you'll see all year long, even if you end up hating it---so give it a chance.
"Mean Creek"--This movie (now available on DVD) is a perfect example of how a movie can somewhat go against the formal screenwriting three act structure, and still be pulled off as affecting and intense and oddly mesmerizing. "Mean Creek" is the kind of movie that is so simple, it feels like it could've happened in your backyard or something. It's about a bunch of young, stupid kids--yes--but it's also about every one of us. While many people may call it a movie that "goes nowhere," I'd have to disagree. This movie is on to something, and even if it doesn't quite totally latch onto it by the time the end credits are rolling, it has you hooked and it's the kind of movie that lingers in your head for days after you watch it (even though you think it won't). In a few words, it's haunting, ordinary, and way too chilling to be called stale.
"Maria Full of Grace"--I like to think of this movie as 2004's equivilent of "Whale Rider," only it's about Columbian drug mules and their ties with American drug lords, and how everything can really just go to S@ when you're dealing with the wrong kind of people. Kudos to the Academy for recognizing young Catelina Sandino Moreno (she is nominated for Best Actress, in her debut role--similar to Keisha-Castle Hughes was for "Whale Rider") which hopefully will make more people see this movie because it's just one those movies just about everyone needs to see. Again, you may not like it (almost all the movies on this list seem to be like that) but you can't just let it go by and watch it go from New Releases to Foreign to GONE at your local Blockbuster store. It's an eye-opening, unsettling movie, yes, and it achieves moments of intense suspense that no other Hollywood movie from this past year has, but it does so many more things than that, it really limits the film itself by comparing it to other movies because there's no movie that's like it. I wasn't a big fan of the movie "Traffic" back in 2000, so forgive me for that if you were one of those people who "loved it." I think this movie is much better, much stronger, and much more emotionally affecting than "Traffic" could ever be thought of as being. Why this got snubbed and "Traffic" did not, probably has to do with the lack of big names attached to this film and to the lack of a well-known American director but having said that, you really have no excuse now not to see this one...because it's in the New Release section right now and it's a perfect DVD rental flick.
Hope this helps. More to come later. Good night.