I got this idea from (Don’t Be) Too Timid and Squeamish‘s blog, “Sleepers: 10 more movies you’ve never seen, but should.” Check it out. I got some good titles there. My list might be even more obscure and make you rethink a continuing (or beginning) a relationship with me. I almost lost a friendship because I loved the movie, Blue Velvet by David Lynch. “And I thought I knew you,” is what she said after seeing the movie upon my recommendation.
The first four movies I’ve chosen are by Jim Jarmusch, who defines the true meaning of independent director, refusing to take Hollywood money in order to maintain creative and financial control over his films. He has a reputation for casting musicians as actors and making quirky, hip, comic, minimalist films. My kind of movie. In no particular order, here’s my selection.
1. Mystery Train (1989)
A Japanese couple obsessed with 1950s America goes to Memphis because the male half of the couple emulates Carl Perkins. Chance encounters link three different stories in the city, with the common thread being the seedy hotel where they’re all staying. You’ve never heard of most of the actors, except for Steven Buscemi in a brilliant stuttering and nervous performance, as well as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (famous for the song I Put a Spell on You) as the night manager. He’s in this one scene with Cinquee Lee as the bell boy that is hilarious.
2. Night on Earth (1991)
Five stories, each involving the relationship between a cab driver and his or her passenger, that take place simultaneously around the globe during the course of one night. In one vignette, Gena Rowlands stars as a passenger to Winona Ryder’s cab driver.
3. Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)
A comic series of short vignettes built on one another to create a cumulative effect, as the characters discuss things as diverse as caffeine popsicles, Paris in the ’20s, and the use of nicotine as an insecticide–all the while sitting around sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes. Steve Buscemi again, this time as a waiter, Bill Murray, Tom Waits (one of my favorite singers), Iggy Pop (another fav singer), Roberto Benigni (he won the Oscar for Life is Beautiful) and surprise, surprise, Cate Blanchett.
4. Down By Law (1986)
DJ Zack and pimp Jack end up in prison for being too laid-back to avoid being framed for crimes they didn’t commit. They end up sharing a cell with eccentric Italian optimist Roberto, whose limited command of the English language is both entertaining and infuriating -but rather more useful to them is the fact that Roberto knows an escape route. Tom Waits again; he plays DJ Zack and Jack is played by John Lurie, a jazz musician in real life, who heads the Lounge Lizards. Roberto Benigni (the guy who won the Oscar), is Roberto. Even though he was a little annoying, I can’t help smiling every time I think of his performance. This was the first movie I got trapped in a particular moment in a scene, and became spellbound. It was the scene where Tom Waits is standing in the street with the light from the bar across the street, reflecting off the water in the gutter next to him. A long scene with nothing happening. I don’t know what it was, but I hung there with him, not expecting anything. Was it the cinematography? The lighting? The magic of Jim Jarmusch? I later read that his movies have been accused of being slow-moving, moody and fastidious with a focus on intimacy.
5. The Fisher King(1991)
A former radio DJ, suicidally despondent because of a terrible mistake he made, finds redemption in helping a deranged homeless man who was an unwitting victim of that mistake. A Modern Day Tale About The Search For Love, Sanity, Ethel Merman And The Holy Grail. Terry Gilliam, an American, directed this wonderful movie. He was part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, responsible for the bizarre animation sequences. He also directed Brazil, another of my favorites. Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges star. Profound.
6. Starman (1984)
Jenny Hayden never did get over the death of her husband. So when an alien life form decides to model “himself” on the husband, Jenny is understandably confused if not terrified. The alien, or Starman, as he is called, has a deadline to meet, and kidnaps Jenny in order to meet it. He has traveled from a galaxy far beyond our own. He is 100,000 years ahead of us. He has powers we cannot comprehend. And he is about to face the one force in the universe he has yet to conquer. Love. Jeff Bridges again, this time as Starman. Karen Allen as Jenny. Do you remember her from Raiders of the Lost Ark? This one is directed by John Carpenter, Escape from New York, as well as a number of horror films.
7. Something Wild (1986)
A free-spirited woman “kidnaps” a yuppie for a weekend of adventure. But the fun quickly takes a dangerous turn when her ex-convict husband shows up. This was such a fun movie. Melanie Griffith plays the free-spirited woman. I hardly noticed her breathy little girl voice. This was the first time I was introduced to Ray Liotta, a terrific bad guy. Jeff Daniels plays the yuppie. A Jonathan Demme movie. Another of my favorite directors. He did Silence of The Lambs, Rachel Getting Married, Stop Making Sense.
8. The Milagro Beanfield War (1988)
In Milagro, a small town in the American Southwest, Ladd Devine plans to build a major new resort development. While activist Ruby Archuleta and lawyer/newspaper editor Charlie Bloom realize that this will result in the eventual displacement of the local Hispanic farmers, they cannot arouse much opposition because of the short term opportunities offered by construction jobs. But when Joe Mondragon illegally diverts water to irrigate his bean field, the local people support him because of their resentment of water use laws that favor the rich like Devine. When the Governor sends in ruthless troubleshooter Kyril Montana to settle things quickly before the lucrative development is cancelled, a small war threatens to erupt. Melanie Griffith again, as well as, Sonia Braga, Christopher Walken, and Ruben Blades, a Panamanian jazz singer, lawyer, actor, an icon in Panama who managed to attract 18% of the vote in his failed attempt to win the Panamanian presidency in 1994. Delightful movie. Directed by Robert Redford.
9. Swimming to Cambodia (1987)
One of Spalding Gray’s monologue pieces, Swimming to Cambodia features him taking a story that seems like it should have been only mildly interesting and turning it into poetry. Directed by the incomparable Johnathan Demme and featuring music by the brilliant and eccentric Laurie Anderson, Gray recounts his experiences in the filming of “The Killing Fields.” Gray’s words tell of bizarre, disturbing, exciting and moving experiences in exotic locales. His words move from beautiful to disgusting, hopeful to horrifying, and always with a masterful lyricism that places him as one of the absolute masters of the English language! Spalding Gray’s genius will be greatly missed. I saw him perform this monologue at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Can’t remember the year. He was primarily known for his “trenchant, personal narratives delivered on sparse, unadorned sets with a dry, WASP, quiet mania.” He suffered from depression and died of a presumed suicide by drowning in 2004.
10. Body Heat (1987)
Ned Racine is a seedy small town lawyer in Florida. During a searing heatwave he’s picked up by married Matty Walker. A passionate affair commences but it isn’t long before they realize the only thing standing in their way is Matty’s rich husband Edmund. A plot hatches to kill him but will they pull it off? This is one sexy movie. I refer to it in my blogs when I want to evoke sultry anything-can-happen moments. William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Mickey Rourke in their prime. Film noir at its best. (I could only get the Mickey Rourke segment to work on my blog, I urge you to see the actual trailer.)