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Outside the Box - PHOENIX's Top 100 Not Quite Obscure Films

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I forgot the opening line.
So, I've never done one of these things, but I see lots of people having fun putting them together, and I've been meaning to do one myself for ages. First-up, I really didn't want to roll out the same old 100 movies we see all the time. So, what I did was limit myself to films which don't appear on the IMDb Top 250, or the Letterboxd Top 250. I checked every film, and made sure to pick personal favourites that are a little outside the box, or wouldn't usually be considered. I love all of these films a lot, and they aren't what I consider the best 100 films ever made. They are my favourites that land somewhere else for most - but you will probably spot a few you love as well


So, I'll go along at an easy pace. Lord knows I've already started enough projects that are still ongoing, and have a backlog of others that I don't want to start until I'm sure I'll have the time (or lifespan, seeing as long as some of these things go.) Just to reiterate - I don't consider these the best 100 films ever made - they're just movies I have a big crush on, and pretend they are the best. Some are, and others are great too - they all sit on my special shelf if I have them on DVD or Blu-Ray.
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I forgot the opening line.
100

WILLOW CREEK (2013)

Director : Bobcat Goldthwait


When I heard that one of my favourite filmmakers had made a found-footage horror movie I was as intrigued as I could ever be, and with Bobcat Goldthwait - well, I didn't need to check out the reviews. There's a sharp divide on Rotten Tomatoes - 80% critics and 34% audience, which makes sense to me. You have to love the guy to give this film it's due - and almost everyone will have checked out after around 40 minutes. This is a movie you have to work diligently for, and trust the person making it - most of it's really hard work, irritating, annoying, seemingly senseless and even a little dull and boring. But you have to force yourself to buy in and stay glued to the thing. If you do, and you're one of the 3/10 people who gets through the first hour, and one of the 1/10 people who have immersed yourself in it, then you're in for one of the best found footage horror endings I've ever seen and experienced. It scared the hell out of me - and includes an 18-minute bravura one-take that is truly remarkable. If you get it, then you'll love it. I freakin' do - I love it. Most people though, will hate this movie - and Bobcat makes sure those people have special reason to dislike it, pushing them beyond their comfort zone. I bought in, and though I'm really hesitant to recommend it (I generally don't), it belongs on this list as one of my favourite movies.



Nice. Lists of "obscure" films are always interesting to read. Look forward to it.
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I forgot the opening line.
99

TESTAMENT (1983)

Director : Lynne Littman


We've all seen the nuclear apocalypse in the same guise for the most part. Fire hot enough to melt steel, buildings blown apart in an instant and people fizzled to ash in one blinding flash. What we more rarely see is the On the Beach (1959) variant. Far from the explosive center of the war, the people in the town of Hamlin, a small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area, go about their lives as normally as they can - determined to preserve the life they loved so much before catastrophe. It turns out to be impossible, and the slow deterioration of all that made this such a great civilization is one of the saddest things I've ever seen on film. People, for the most part, have good hearts and contribute to making sure the life we have is good through mutual effort and meaning. Littman's film is a very original look at that through the guise of it being taken away, and I've never seen a nuclear war film like it. There's an emotional resonance here that's always lost in war films which commit to fire and fury, and fail to take heed of the slow ways life can unravel at in countries either at war or on the verge of defeat. In the end, there's nothing left - and all we have is a long lost civilization where there are traces of what was good, and what was precious. People should always remember that, and anger should always be tempered by just how good we have it in this age. I sincerely wish there were no nuclear weapons.



I forgot the opening line.
98

I'M STILL HERE (2010)

Director : Casey Affleck


I don't quite know how to term a lot of what we see in this, because there's a performance art edge to what Joaquin Phoenix goes through in I'm Still Here - I remember reading articles by journalists who genuinely thought he'd gone crazy - others hedged and were suspicious. In the age of Sacha Baron Cohen, and remembering Andy Kaufman, we can no longer be sure of anything really and almost expect odd incidents to be called out as staged - but still, it takes a brave soul to repeatedly humiliate yourself for entertainment purposes. Does this put a nail in reality TV's coffin? Unfortunately no, when we desperately want something to be real we don't even consider the alternative - which I think I'm Still Here, and many mockumentaries, are. In on the joke, the pleasure we take from this film is cleaner and less guilty, and therefore it's one of my favourite movies - but that doesn't mean it's any less important to watch on and wonder at that people were thinking and feeling when Phoenix seemed to be having some kind of episode on national television, or showing signs of dementia in a recording studio. Why isn't it called out by the people there? Because of his celebrity? Or was everyone in on the joke? All of this creates a lively debate in my own mind, which is another reason I like this. Unfortunately, Casey Affleck had to own up to some "unprofessional" behaviour during the making of the movie - I still love it, but it does add a slight taint to the movie. Still made my Top 100.



I forgot the opening line.
Nice. Lists of "obscure" films are always interesting to read. Look forward to it.
Yeah. It's somewhat, and not quite, obscure stuff - the well-versed probably know or have seen most of my list here. I wasn't sure what to call it. Slightly away from the mainstream. Very slightly and nearly but a little short of obscure.

My main thing was no stuff from the Top 250 lists of major film sites.



I forgot the opening line.
97

HARRY BROWN (2009)

Director : Daniel Barber


Sometimes a plain old meat and veg genre film can outdo itself and transcend the litter it would ordinarily be bunched with. Michael Caine, usually confined to being a supporting player in major blockbusters these days (this guy must have a couple of bucks saved away) proves that he can do more than handle a lead role. He'll take that lead role, break off a section of it, and beat you over the head with it. It's a strange feeling, but the young often mistakenly think of the elderly as innocent and inexperienced because at a certain stage there's a second childhood - but whether a lover or a fighter, they've had more sex and hurt more people than the kid who perceives them as out of tune and confined to early bed times. Harry Brown (Caine) proves that he's been places, psychologically, that the young murderers, drug pushers and punks could never dream of in the film bearing his name. They all realise, too late, that an Ex-Royal Marine who has survived the Northern Ireland conflict deserves a certain amount of respect. Daniel Barber pushes all of the requisite buttons, and pulls all of the levers you'd expect in your average revenge thriller in which Harry Brown is the vigilante "Batman" force of vengeance - and Michael Caine gives him an added depth we'd never usually see in one of these flicks. It's very violent, yes - sometimes gratuitously so - by by lord, those murderous kids were asking for it. I mean, they'd done more than trespassed on his lawn. I'd never do anything to displease Harry. This is one of my go-to genre vengeance thriller films.



I forgot the opening line.
96

SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006)

Director : Bobcat Goldthwait


Bobcat Goldthwait will often explore a topic rarely wrestled with on a feature-film scale. We all have secrets, and apparently everyone has secrets so preciously guarded that we'll never even tell loved ones (especially loved ones in some cases) what they are. They might only be a big deal to us, personally, or we may have done something we're ashamed of - and that's what Amy (Melinda Page Hamilton) has done in Sleeping Dogs Lie. It's a very specific thing, and unusual enough for me to admit I'd never have dreamed it up by myself. You might guess what it is, but it's a little more distinct and weird in detail. So if you're with the person you're going to marry, and you're asked to divulge your most innermost secret - would it be wise to actually do that, in case you're forever tainted by what's known about you? When Amy tells John (Bryce Johnson) there are unexpected consequences to her honesty - and we go on a journey. I have to admit that maybe this film wouldn't be on this list if it wasn't a Goldthwait one, but regardless, I'm interested in what he wants to toss about here - and the results are both comedic and have pathos. He has a certain ability to not just waste our time creating a black comedy that doesn't raise interesting questions. Sometimes we should not consider being honest the correct path to walk down, even if honesty seems the purer course - it doesn't only backfire on us, but our relationships and families. Nobody wins, and therefore the white lie truly earns it's positive moniker. This is a half-decent comedy, with a really great subtext and compelling insight.



96

SLEEPING DOGS LIE (2006)

Director : Bobcat Goldthwait


This is a half-decent comedy, with a really great subtext and compelling insight.
Yeah, I think this is a really solid film about the nature of relationships and what it means to be perceived in a certain way. I thought it was especially telling how her boyfriend ultimately processed what she told him and how he wanted to resolve things.

Nice. Lists of "obscure" films are always interesting to read. Look forward to it.
Agreed. A typical "best movies" list is just a list of 85 movies I've seen, 10 movies I know about and don't really want to watch for whatever reason, and maybe 5 "ooh, I'll have to check that out!" films.



I forgot the opening line.
95

NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (1971)

Director : Franklin J. Schaffner


Some films are born obscure and others sink soon after their release - but Nicholas and Alexandra was a wonderful discovery for me, never mind the lack of hype. Obviously, with a Russian portrait such as this, the visual beauty is going to be a given - and yes, this movie delivers in spades. From set deign to costumes to art direction - it's a pretty picture. But Russian history also has a richness that's ultra-rewarding for those with the patience to settle in and live it. The Russian royal family in the early 20th Century was an interesting study in ignorance and disembodiment. The pampered and lost members of this select society had no idea of what their subjects were living through - misery of the highest order - and what's worse, these poor souls were stuck in the 18th Century, clueless as to the changes afoot in this new age. They'd be preyed on by hustlers and charlatans (Rasputin is played by Dr. Who himself, a surprising Tom Baker) and led like lambs to the slaughter. I think most people viewed this as a probable 189 minutes of pain, and still do. For me, it was love at first sight - I mean, the incredible scale and momentous force of history make for cinema of the most marvelous kind, and so if you appreciate that kind of thing you might find this worth the effort.



I forgot the opening line.
94

TWO HANDS (1999)

Director : Gregor Jordan


Your love for Two Hands might depend on your ability to hitch your wagon to a protagonist who's not exactly the sharpest. For example, the main thrust of the film's plot takes off when Jimmy (Heath Ledger) loses $10,000 he's meant to deliver to a dangerous kingpin gangster, because it's pretty safe to just leave $10,000 to go splash around with some girls, right? Ledger didn't live long enough to give us a dozen great performances, but he hit his Australian peak in Two Hands as this dopey guy - often on the receiving end of words of wisdom from his dead brother (played by Steven Vidler) and trying to survive in this dog eat dog world of Kings Cross criminality. Two Hands has added features - the funniest bank robbery since Dog Day Afternoon, Bryan Brown doing what he does best as the deadly Pando, some very dark comedy and a gung-ho pace. Think of it as the Australian version of a Guy Ritchie gangster movie (it was released between Smoking Barrels and Snatch) - not for everyone, for sure, but definitely a chance to amuse and entertain someone who likes these kinds of movie. We hardly ever got the chance to see Heath Ledger let his hair down and do something fun and relaxed - after this he was all big-budget Hollywood - so seeing him this breezy in such a fun movie is often a panacea I need.



I forgot the opening line.
93

FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN (2009)

Director : Oliver Hirschbiegel


In the interests of reconciliation, a television interview is being recorded and a meeting has been set up with Alistair (Liam Neeson) and Joe (James Nesbitt) in different rooms. Preparing for this televised moment - they wait in a quaint cottage full of cameras, wires and lights. In 1975, Alistair had killed Joe's 8-year-old brother in front of him as he watched in horror. Unbeknownst to those who have set this up though, Joe is in no way as forgiving as those who have set this up think he is. Nesbitt is superb in this film, and his performance is seared into my mind - I don't know how he manages to convey the anguish he does, but that along with a plot I hardly ever know which way it's going even after previous watches - those are the reasons I really love Five Minutes of Heaven. It's also one of the best films about the Troubles in Ireland, because it does manage to give a sense of the complexities and turbulence a whole nation has to live with. Joe is hardly the only one, and neither is Alistair - most of those in proximity to the fighting, and those who lost loved ones and family members, carry it around with them every day. I think I'm a very Oliver Hirschbiegel-oriented film watcher - I connect with the urgency and historical depth his films have.



I forgot the opening line.
92

THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN (1985)

Director : John Schlesinger


It's one of the ultimate non-fiction page-turners, and for the adaptation John Schlesinger had the fortune of nabbing an in-form Timothy Hutton and outstanding Sean Penn as Christopher Boyce and Daulton Lee - two na´ve kids who start working in "Black Vault," which is a secure communication facility through which flows classified information. They're low level schlubs who one day ask each other, "Why not steal and copy some stuff to sell to the Soviets?" So begins one of the most bungling, silly spy work you've ever seen - but it works, and they find themselves trying to do more with less as Daulton's drug addiction spirals, Chris becomes frustrated and the looming cliff approaches. I suggest the book for those who haven't read it, but this was a fine film that didn't gain much traction on release. David Bowie and Pat Metheny Group cowrote and sing the title song. Just a really good all-round movie that deserves a place in any self-respecting film buff's collection.



I forgot the opening line.
91

THE MEDUSA TOUCH (1978)

Director : Jack Gold


If I had to rate first-time watches in order of how surprising they were, The Medusa Touch would be right up amongst the top choices. I don't think I ever saw a role that more suited late-era Richard Burton than the dealer of deadly disasters in this - John Morlar. Around him, Jack Gold creates such a suffocating atmosphere full of Hammer Horror-like dread that unexpected chills supplant an unready mind's functioning. The movie bats way out of it's own league, and because of this a slightly perplexed and embarrassed Gold was summoned to record commentary and interviews for subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray editions - but I couldn't be more happy to have the extra information because this is a hidden treasure that has weird spell all of it's own. Morlar - seemingly murdered, but actually absolutely incapable of dying has his case investigated by detective Brunel (Lino Ventura) and psychiatrist Zonfeld (Lee Remick) as he continues to cause deadly cataclysm and horror throughout the land in this thoroughly enjoyable supernatural thriller, made in the best tradition of 70s horror. So well made, atmospheric and chilly.



Nesbitt is superb in this film, and his performance is seared into my mind - I don't know how he manages to convey the anguish he does, but that along with a plot I hardly ever know which way it's going even after previous watches
I quite like him as an actor. I'll give a decently strong recommendation to Jekyll, a miniseries retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story. It isn't perfect, there are some really dodgy American accents in there, and the ending is a bit of a misfire, but on the whole I really like it and Nesbitt is a ton of fun in it.



I forgot the opening line.
90

PALINDROMES (2004)

Director : Todd Solondz


When I feel like challenging myself, I watch something like Palindromes - Todd Solondz movies are often a hard watch, but he worked hard in this early effort for some very specific outcomes and it makes for an original and thought-provoking film. Full of powerful moments that aren't at all easy to escape from until you actually turn it off or leave the room, you find yourself having to confront all of the emotions it brings out in you. Main character Aviva is played by eight different actresses that range in age, race, look and gender and undergoes a difficult early-adolescent journey - an immature desire to have a child driving her and leaving her open to various encounters with various men and boys. (All the while, she's unaware that previous pregnancy has rendered her unable to have children.) It's up to you to interpret as you see fit - but be warned that this is an extremely polarizing film, so chances are if you don't like it, you'll hate it. If you've seen any of Todd Solondz's films you will have some idea of the discomfort that might accompany portions of the film. There's no avoiding the darker implications of everything here - some of the acting is unusual, but I tend to take a movie of this sort as is, and not try to figure if there's a deliberateness to it. There usually is. This isn't a fun "we've got two hours to kill" movie - I have to feel up for it. It's one of my favourites - it still creates strong feelings, despite having seen it a few times. Suicide, statutory rape, sex and pregnancy whir around as we look on, desperately wanting to guide this person despite her willingness - but we're helplessly unable to.



I forgot the opening line.
89

13 MINUTES (2015)
aka (ELSER)

Director : Oliver Hirschbiegel


11 years after making Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel bookended the docudrama with a film about the true-life story of now-revered German Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) - the man who came so very close to assassinating Adolf Hitler in November 1939, only weeks after the start of the Second World War. What I found interesting was the personal journey he took - a non-believer, but not an ardent anti-Nazi, Elser dabbled with the communists in pre-war Germany and was too intelligent to fall for any propaganda. He immediately saw that the nation would be ruined in another war, and painstakingly planned and executed his attempted assassination. Hitler unexpectedly cut his speech in the Munich Bierkeller short because the weather dictated he had to catch an early flight - so when the bomb Elser set detonated, nearly completely destroying the place, only others were killed. Elser is soon caught, and that's where the film begins - taking us on his personal journey and his interrogation by officials who couldn't believe he'd acted alone. It's all fascinating, and much is a snap-shot of what life was like in Germany during the Nazi's rise to power, Elser's guilt, the love of his life and his subsequent treatment by the regime. It's not as good as Downfall, but I'm often compelled to watch this yet again, despite having seen it numerous times.



I forgot the opening line.
88

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (2004)

Director : Jared Hess


Okay, okay - not every film here is going to be "obscure", but I really like Napoleon Dynamite a lot, and it isn't in the Top 250 of the IMDb or Letterboxd. This is my kind of humour - but to make up for such a "seen it" or "I never want to see that" entry on the list, let me also recommend the very unusual 2009 Jared Hess movie Gentlemen Broncos, which has his usual brand of eccentric world-building and the added bonus of Jemaine Clement as villain sci-fi author Chevalier :

88.5

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS (2009)


Yes - also very good indeed!



I forgot the opening line.
87

SKINAMARINK (2022)

Director : Kyle Edward Ball


Cinema needs more stuff like Skinamarink to stop us all from becoming terminally bored and finally engage us again - our subconscious dream regions are fully engaged by a work of art here that guides us on a helpless journey into interpretive sights and sounds that appear and vanish. What we can make out is that there are two young boys here who seem to be trapped in an eternal nightmare - the windows and doors disappearing from their abode one night, and their parents similarly flitting away as they cling to the familiarity of the television set, trying to piece together scraps of voice, ghost, time and their slowly increasing need for this to end. But it never does - are they dead? Have they shifted into another dimension because of some disaster, or has their conscious thought been imprisoned through a shared mental illness of some kind? Our own mind fills many of the blanks, and for some strange and terrifying reason what we see in this film feels terrifyingly familiar. Not for everyone this one though - I can imagine coming across this in my early teens and rejecting it in a hostile manner. It takes a special kind of trust in what the filmmakers are doing to stay with this film from the start - and those that filter out the noise and concentrate on the dream will be transported, to an unsettling place.



I forgot the opening line.
86

NIGHTINGALE (2014)

Director : Elliott Lester


One man's attempt to express himself online, Peter (David Oyelowo), a vlogger, keeps us glued for a full 83 minutes as we start to unravel just what this man has done, what is driving him psychologically, and what he might do next. This is full of really funny stuff, tragic stuff and a whole lot of recognizable hurt and anger that we can relate to, and other stuff we really can't. It's amazing that Oyelowo keeps us in his grip for so long, but whenever I watch Nightingale I never waver - what a great performance. In this era of tragic instances where people have become unglued, where people feel so alone, where people feel misunderstood, it's interesting to be able to approach all of it from a fictional perspective. Well written by Frederick Mensch - well directed by Lester and such a great performance. A pretty great movie I'm actually in the mood to watch again - I don't know how they did it, but it works, so credit to them.