One of the saddest things about the opportunity that we in the entertainment reporting biz have is that we often see a lot of great movies that get overlooked by the general population. Sometimes it is a movie that we see at Sundance or at the Toronto Film Festival and sometimes it is a limited release that never makes it out of NY or LA, but the story is always the same. Not every little film can be Juno. But thankfully there is always life on DVD, and for the following 10 films, it appears that the time is now (or at least in the next month or so) for you to reach out and discover them for yourself. So with that in mind, here is our list of 10 great overlooked films that deserve a chance to occupy space on your DVD shelf.
Ryan Reynolds stars as an obsessively organized efficiency expert whose life unravels when he finds out some potentially dirty little secrets about his marriage. Throwing caution to the wind, he goes on the run to explore the nature of love and forgiveness. This is probably one of the best performances we’ve seen from Ryan Reynolds, who is certainly no slouch. As well, we also get a few great supporting performances from Emily Mortimer and Stuart Townsend. Chaos Theory is one of the intelligently written, well-acted gems of the year — and if you missed it, you should certainly go back and check it out. It’s on DVD now.
Here we have one of the year’s quirky, misunderstood comedies, something that seems to be a growing trend. It follows the story of Charlie Bartlett, played by Anton Yelchin, a privileged young man who is sent to public high school after being kicked out of private school for various entrepreneurial activities. And in order to fit into his new school, he begins holding psychiatric sessions in the boy’s restroom and selling prescription meds to his classmates. That should probably be a good indicator as to why this film didn’t get much of a marketing push with the drug storyline. Then again, those who have seen the film will note that it is less about drugs and more of a dark comedy about growing up, dealing with life’s challenges and finding your place in the world. And in that way, Charlie Bartlett absolutely shines, mostly on the shoulders of its brilliant star and a great supporting performance from Robert Downey Jr. It’s on DVD now.
My Blueberry Nights
Much was made of Chungking Express director Kar Wai Wong’s My Blueberry Nights when it made its debut at Cannes in 2007, but since then it seems to have slipped out of the spotlight completely. Yet, despite a lack of publicity, it still sports an A-list cast that includes Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Jude Law and the cinematic debut of singer Norah Jones, along with some vibrant visuals courtesy of Wong’s personal directorial style. And while the story is a bit tedious, the film still clocks in at exactly 90 minutes, making the experience worthwhile overall. So if solid performances and an alluring visual presentation are enough to make you want to plop this in your DVD player, go for it. I know I did. It’s on DVD now.
Aaron Eckhart’s other 2008 movie, one that many of you will remember as one of the most epic and one of the finest films of the year — you remember, the one with Batman — might go down as his most notable performance, but Meet Bill is certainly his most surprising. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, Meet Bill tells the story of a middle-aged guy stuck in a world where he works under the thumb of his elitist father-in-law, puts up with his cheating wife and sneaks into the candy drawer to constantly fulfill his need for sugar. All of this leads him to his breaking point, one that ultimately forces him to find help from a high school student that he is supposed to be mentoring. Together, they turn both of their lives around. It is one of those simple feel-good stories yes, but it is also one with a lot of character and enough quirkiness to make it feel fresh. Chalk this up as one of 2008’s nice little surprises. It’s on DVD now.
It amazes me that the work of Stephen Chow, director of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, continues to go unnoticed by so many people. Chow’s knack for silly, but infinitely creative comedy is unbelievable. And with CJ7, he takes his brand of humor and adds a very heartwarming family element. The story focuses on a poor young boy (played by 11-year old girl Jiao Xu) who comes across an alien toy that could change life for him and his father. It is almost literally the Chinese version of E.T., but a little more fun. Chow delivers a great performance as the father, a poor laborer whose strict nature puts distance between him and his son. It is sad, really, that this film didn’t get more than its limited release, as it was quite a lot of fun. It’s on DVD now.
One of many Sundance films that will probably be on the “You missed it, now go buy it on DVD” list by the end of the year, Smart People is one of the most intelligently written and sharpest comedies of the year. It combines biting humor about a family in the intellectual community with some truly special performances from Juno’s Ellen Page and Sideways’ Thomas Hayden Church. Their storyline alone makes this film worth a look — and it’s just a sub story to the main plot line of a college professor, played by Dennis Quaid, who is not quite over the death of his wife, finding it hard to socialize with the average Joes on campus. Heartwarming and whip smart, Smart People is definitely one of my clear Sundance favorites. It’s on DVD now.
Son of Rambow
Son of Rambow is probably the film on this list that got the most attention, yet that still wasn’t enough. From the British duo who brought us The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it tells the story of two young boys in the early 80s from very different backgrounds who find friendship in the production of their own independent homage to the classic action flick First Blood. Mixing observations about religious extremism with the charming tale of friendship that overcomes all odds, this film absolutely shines. As well, it includes performances from young Bill Millner and Will Poulter that will blow you away. Hands down, this is easily one of the best film’s I’ve seen in all of 2008. It’s on DVD now exclusively at Best Buy.
When you think of Seann William Scott, you probably think of one character: Stiffler. Having seen The Promotion though, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot more to Scott than the one-note Steve Stiffler delivered in the American Pie series. In fact, Scott displays great comedic range alongside one of Hollywood’s best, John C. Reilly, and holds his own quite nicely. The Promotion pits them against each other as two assistant managers in a grocery store chain both fighting to become the general manager of a new store. As you can imagine, their rivalry creates a lot of funny situations, but it isn’t the slap-sticky or stupid humor that we’ve seen in movies like Employee of the Month. It has a very authentic and subversive tone to it. Calling it a dark comedy might be stretching it, but calling it a very successfully constructed comedy certainly isn’t. It’s on DVD on September 2.
If you remember back to April when Pathology went into limited release, you will remember that I openly stated that it wasn’t my cup of tea. In fact, it really seemed to fall flat on its promise of an intense story about a pathologist, played by Milo Ventimiglia, who gets caught up in a nasty, terrifying game to see who can come up with the perfect murder. The only thing I did seem to like about it was a wickedly fun, deviously driven performance from “Six Feet Under” star Michael Weston. But despite my own personal opinions about the flick, I am still holding onto the theory that there is an audience out there who will openly embrace it — the same sort of audience who beat down the cineplex doors to see a new Saw movie every year. And on DVD, where this particular audience spends a lot of its time, I think Pathology could do very well. It’s on DVD on September 23.
Here is another film that falls into the same category as the aforementioned Pathology — no, it isn’t a cut-em-up thriller from the guys who wrote Crank — it’s just another smaller film that might be worth a second look. It was a little too politically charged and outwardly unusual for my taste at first, but it did deliver some solid performances from the likes of John Cusack and Marisa Tomei, as well as a few shots of Hilary Duff slutting it up, sticking a scorpion down her pants — you know, the usual. It’s a rather unique experience that is certainly worth a rental, if not the risk of a purchase. It will be on DVD on October 14.
So there you have it – ten great films that are either already out or are coming soon to DVD shelves near you, all of which are very worthy of your attention. The only question that remains is whether or not you will go out and see them. As well, I am curious to see if there are any other films out there that you’d recommend along these lines. Feel free to share those in the Sound Off section below.