Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Best Films I Haven't Seen

Every once in a while in the conversations among film nerds, the question comes up: what important, influential, well regarded, or much beloved films have you neglected to see, and why? Since we're in the middle of August and the summer movie season is winding down, I thought it was a good time to take stock of the titles that have been sitting on my "To Watch" list for too long and maybe figure out why they're still there, while I've made time for so much dreck lately. Below are eleven films I really should have seen by now, not counting titles that simply keep slipping my mind like "Bottle Rocket," "The 25th Hour," "Three Kings," "Papillon," and "Fletch." Let's see if I can break down a few more of those irrational movie-watching prejudices still lurking in my head, shall we?

"In America" – Directed by Jim Sheridan, "In America" follows the struggles of an Irish immigrant family in new York. I know it must be much better than the twee premise suggests, but I'm wary of a film that pings so strongly as a feel-good tearjerker. I don't mind tearjerkers, but I respond very badly to the manipulative ones, and I'm not convinced this isn't one, even though it's won over lots of fans.

"Dancer in the Dark" and "Breaking the Waves" – A pair of Lars von Trier's most well-regarded films, both about women down on their luck, dealing with hardship and despair. I've seen Von Trier's other work, enough to know that he's capable not just of breaking my heart, but stomping on it repeatedly, and leaving a bloody mess. I prefer to tread carefully with this man.

"Almost Famous" – A young writer goes on tour with a 70s rock band that is on the verge of hitting it big, and becomes embroiled in their behind-the-scenes troubles. Rock 'n' roll and groupies may be a popular fantasy for some, but I never understood all the fuss. And writer/director Cameron Crowe? Well, he's capable of very good things and very, very bad things. Which is this?

"Pink Flamingos" – There's every reason for me not to want to watch "Pink Flamingos." It was deliberately made to be an exercise in bad taste, a low-budget, gross-out, shock-fest foisted on the world by the cheerfully amoral John Waters. But if I got through "Salo," surely this couldn't be nearly as awful, right? I mean, how shocking could something made in 1972 for $10K be?

"Pretty in Pink" - Well, I don't much care for "Sixteen Candles," and everything I've heard about Molly Ringwald's other big John Hughes movie suggests I'd like it even less. Ths story revolves around a working-class girl vacilating between two beaus while trying to hide the fact that she's poor. And it doesn't help that so many viewers seem to believe that she picks the wrong guy in the end.

"Anchorman" – I'm at the point where I'll recognize that someone is making an "Anchorman" joke, but I still don’t get the references. What's keeping me away from this comedy is remembering clips of Will Ferrell in the ads in full SNL buffoon mode, but not striking me as particularly funny. But apparently the move is well loved by many, so why should I let a bad marketing campaign get in my way?

Everything by Satyajit Ray – I confess "Pather Panchali" is the only Indian film I've ever seen. So still on my list are the other two films that make up Ray's "Apu Trilogy" and all of Ray's other films. My lack of familiarity with the Indian culture is the main culprit here, and the knowledge that watching these films is probably going to take more effort than watching everything else on this list combined (with one exception).

"South Pacific" - I grew up on musicals, including the ones by Rodgers and Hammerstein. "South Pacific" is one of their most famous and well remembered, but I've been avoiding it like the plague for years. Every time these two try to be serious and socially progressive, to me they come off as dismissive, insensitive, and boring – see "Carousel" and "Flower Drum Song" for starters.

Everything by Todd Solondz – I admit this guy intimidates me. The way people talk about him and his work always makes me think I'm not quite ready for what he has to show me, which is probably ridiculous. Then again, I know that his films deal with heavy themes and are full of explicit sexual content and other risky material. All the signals I'm getting say to approach with caution.

"Sátántangó" – Because though Belá Tarr is great, this movie is still seven hours long.

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