Reel world is spell-binding. It captures a well-timed shot and wraps the audio-visual in a gambit that’s capable of rendering every imagination breathless. And even when the effort is not as immaculate as expected, the metaphorical expressions that an actor brings into the incognito is the ground that breeds blockbusters.
The work of a director is his either his voice or his void. So you’d wither be watching a Django of Freedom, a void inspired saga of victory …or a Dirty Picture, a voice of gutsy lusty contemporary women. It’s a blessing in disguise that those who create the gambits leave loop-holes for the critics to keep spinning cockpits of imaginations. That way there always remains a scope for interpretation. If you were to judge a movie by its directorial point of view, what would be your pick?
Just so you don’t turn around wincing and cribbing “Oh just another self-important article about rare, artsy films I should have watched”, I’ve tried to make it amply clear through the title that this post is about the films that were made for the consumption and acceptance by a wider audience, starring the biggest of names, and yet end up getting buried in the made-for-film festivals graveyard.
No, Cannes and its sisters don’t make or push careers even close to where box office can take them. For what it’s worth, there are numerous artists that went to Cannes with their first film and from thereon, the films (career) deserted them.
Believe it or not, the very-mainstream cinema gets its share of criminally ignored and less known films every year, regardless of who is starring in them. The COVID-19 situation might have lead to some films getting their due recognition on OTT platforms, since even the people with jobs during the lockdown have ample time for Netflix to grab their attention with a poster headlined by their favorite actor, starring in this film that they never ever heard of before.
The best and underrated mainstream movies you missed:
A Most Violent Year (2014)
If one has to take out a list of the most dependable actors in Hollywood, Oscar Isaac is going to figure somewhere at the top. A Most Violent Year casts him with another steady actor Jessica Chastain and the results are even more solid than you expected.
J.C. Chandor completes the trio of dependable artists from behind the lens. He spins a tale of a world that’s as real as it gets, where crime, greed, law, and politics happily, but precariously, co-exist. Right from the acting from its two leads to Chandor’s direction to the dark and beautiful cinematography, A Most Violent Year is a first-class ride.
The Place Beyond the Pines
Directed by Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines brings together two fan-favorites in Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling, and adds wonderfully effective Eva Mendes to the mix. To add to that, Cianfrance knits a tight film about children wearing the cross for the sins of their fathers through what was a brilliant attempt at bold storytelling.
For reason best known to nobody, The Place Beyond the Pines, even with the stellar cast is talked about as much as it should have.
Akin to a boxing match, Frost/Nixon was exhilarating from start to finish. You might call it a movie just based on an interview, I’d call it a first-rate political thriller that competes with the very best that Hollywood has to offer.
Ron Howard, in the midst of his very messy and mediocre adaptations of Dan Brown books – such as Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and so on – crafted a lean and mean political thriller that keeps you on the edge for the whole of its runtime of over 2 hours.
A road trip movie that is in a league of its own, Nebraska is shot in monochromes but brings to life the deserted streets and small-town dynamics of the old-timer state of Nebraska.
Bruce Dean and Will Forte headline one of the more nuanced and breezy films by Alexander Payne. Nebraska is “one of those rare motion pictures that is unapologetically human and yet provides you with a cognitive quiet.”
Very much aware that the the genre has its own big, wide niche, the Hollywood factory keeps churning out Westerns by the hour. Most of them are about men in the wild west, brandishing their guns and killing men and women for no reason, with not a lot of nuance and story thrown in. They even tried getting aliens on board, with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford leading the troop of humans, but the results were not very compelling.
However, clumsy violence is not nearly the case with the 2017 masterpiece Hostiles.
Directed by Scott Cooper, Hostiles happens to be one of the best and most grounded Westerns you will see. Cooper knows how to get the very best out of his cast, and, so, we see Christian Bale burning his way through our minds and heart. He is as raw as it gets. The honesty and intensity in his performances personifies tragedy and deep trauma that plagues his Capt. Joseph J. Blocker.
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas
With The Boy In Striped Pyjamas, the Holocaust genre got its share of cute. Ok, so that may not have been a very on-the-surface description of perhaps the worst period in history. Circumnavigating around the life of an innocent soul for whom Jews don’t qualify as humans (at least that’s what he’s taught) , this one is undoubtedly one of the cinematic delights, which surprisingly was trashed by critics! The fab thing is that somehow effigies spun around Nazi’s and businesses do seem to grab eyeballs.
Short Term 12 (2013)
Isn’t this just a really sad film that also happens to lifts your spirits like nothing else! Short Term 12 sent me through a whirlwind of emotions, and not for a second does it resort to manipulative dialogues, dramatic background score, actors overacting the shit out of emotional scenes – there were no maudlin impulses of a drama.
Much before she was the superhero or the Oscar-winning actor who some of us Marvel at and others turn around winching at – for her feminist theatrics – Brie Larson gave a wonderful performance that was subtle and soul-stirring in equal measures.
Ed Wood (1994)
Is there anything that Johnny Depp cannot do? Wait, let me think – he played a teenage rage in the 80s with 21 Jump Street and Edward Scissorhands – girls just lost their hearts and minds to him. Then, went on to play a slightly older version of that in Arizona Dream, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, etc. He then got into the groove of a wise, young man who could stand his own ground in classics like Donnie Brasco. Let’s not even talk about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – there are too many layers to uncover.
In Finding Neverland, we saw a gentle side of him, while he had already shown to us another side of him in a universe where he’s just the most bad-ass pirate ever to have walked God’s green earth. To pick the most gentle of words, he was brutal in Sweeney Todd – slicing and dicing throats of unassuming people just so he could help his friend run her restaurant. Then, in Dark Mass, Mr Depp played a gangster that we couldn’t make our minds on whether to hate him or admire his brains and guts.
In the midst of it all, in the first decade of his career, Johnny Depp played a whimsical character. He portrayed a man who is, unofficially or officially, the worst movie director of all time – Ed Wood. For what it’s worth, Tim Burton really hates Johnny Depp, for giving him the most uncomfortable and challenging roles of his career.
As they say, all great movies are conceived from a well written book, Shutter Island too is a genius’s brain soaked in imagination that ran miles while reading Dennis Lehane. Cawley and Sheehan maintain a sympathetic rhythm that Scorsese easily leads them into by his directorial supremacy. A parody of the genre that reigned in 1940s in Hollywood, Shutter Island is a some fresh oxygen for the senses.
The Contender (2000)
Much before making films with feminist overtones and undertones became an opportunity to be exploited for business, The Contender talked about issues that no one was really talking about and gave us something to ponder on – it just didn’t present them as issues.
Every profound message formed an integral part of the narrative as Joan Allen’s Laine Hanson challenged the conscience and tested the moral compass of us the viewer, while Jeff Bridges essentially played us on screen – a more evolved us, I might add.
Or, may be we identified more with Gary Oldman?
Life of Pi (2012)
Once again, a book running on the big screen! And that too in 3D J Personally, if I were to categorize Life of Pi between void or voice works of a director, I’d say that Life of Pi is definitely Lee’s voice on the parda.
Ang Lee wanted to raise voice against the popular perception that the story is impossible to be portrayed on reel. He made it! The beautifully captivating and absorbing moments when you subtly loose consciousness and entirely submerged in the onscreen castles in the sky – He made all that AND the tiger.
The Color Purple (1986)
(Uh, ok, this wasn’t recent! So you can sue me for that) The Color Purple was first written and then filmed. A movie splashed with true African-American struggle, it’s a stormy experience for anyone who wishes to experience goose bumps rising on the inside of your skin. Yes, that’s how much it impacts. It almost pinches you to your soul.
Iron Man 3 (2013)
With so much of cinema spinning around, let me admit, Iron Man 3 is the one and only from the series that I’ve watched. I’d never been crazy about The Avenger stuff. It was purely for the directorial praise that I plunged; and now I know I plunged for my own good. From the dialogues to the drama to the fight scenes to the comedy to the romance – everything was so well timed that you actually begin to believe yourself as a part of the fantasy. Needless to say, Iron Man 3 is wreckage free.
Steve Jobs (2015)
I read somewhere that this is the most anti-biopic film ever made and that just about sums up my feelings.
Steve Jobs breaks all the rules of making a biopic. Instead of “bringing to screen the amazing journey of Steve being a mischievous kid to becoming a technology wizard and the biggest name in world of computers”, Danny Boyle humanizes Jobs in the most unique way possible. Aaron Sorkin’s writes up an urgent screenplay that doesn’t leave any room to breathe.
One can only wonder how Danny Boyle’s first choice for the role, Leonardo DiCaprio, would have fared, but I can’t imagine anyone else doing as stellar a job as Michael Fassbender did. He was my guy for the Oscars. DiCaprio was my guy for The Departed and Blood Diamond….and for almost every other movie he has starred in.
The Straight Story (1999)
Troll me all you want. Call me unintelligent and incapable of making sense of the mind-bending films of the kind that David Lynch has made a career out of, but The Straight Story is my most favorite David Lynch movie by a landslide.
Phrases like ‘immersive characterizations’ aren’t usually associated with this film, but it dives deep into your heart, with an extraordinary grace and insight. On paper, The Straight Story is a road trip movie. In its bare bones, this Richard Fransworth starrer is like a gentle dream that lifts your spirits and chills your bone in equal measures.
Which one are you streaming today?
Crafting cinematic pursuits requires 3c’s – complete commitment, craziness, and creativity. Along with those 3C’s it needs a big F…for fantasies. Without a void or a voice that is daring enough to become a fantasy that can be reeled on to films it’s really difficult to imagine offbeat directorial works.
The extended lockdown may have meant that you’re feeling short of content. Perfect time to scour the OTTs for one of these films, even if just for a revisit.
However, if you have enough on your watchlist to last you a year, defer it by a few days and go back to the good, old joys of watching made-for-70mm-screen films.
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