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Hidden Gems | Manolo for the Big Girl

Hidden Gems

I love movies.

My DVD collection overrunneth all attempts to organize it, I spend a lot of time watching movie channels on TV, and I make regular visits to my local film theater (a resurrected Art Deco movie house with an additional Googleplex just a brisk walk from my home) because I love movies so much.

Yes, I have a taste for bad movies. They’re no end of fun. I also love Great Films. Casablanca and Citizen Kane get watched pretty regularly at Casa Twistie, along with quite a few other classics.

And then there are the hidden gems. You know. Those films that came and went in a week that nobody you know saw, but that you cannot live without now that you’ve seen them.

I’d like to share of a couple of my favorite gems with you.

The first is for either German speakers or fans of subtitles, but it’s well worth the trouble if you can get past having to read the film at the same time you’re watching it. It’s a quirky comedy called Good-Bye, Lenin! which tells the story of Alex. Alex grew up in East Germany, raised by his mother, a true believer in The Party. When Alex’s mother suffers a heart attack and slips into a coma for eight months of 1989, she has no clue that the Berlin Wall has fallen. Her doctors tell Alex that any shock might bring on another heart attack, so he does what any loving son would do: he creates an elaborate fantasy for his mother that Germany is still divided, that the Decadent West is still on the other side of the wall, and that this will always be.

Good Bye, Lenin!

The charm of this film lies in the very real relationship between mother and son, and the loyal group of friends who do their best to help Alex keep the fantasy in place. Twistie recommends this one highly. Order it from Amazon.com, put it in your Netflix queue, find it where you can.

Not up for subtitles? Like mimics? In that case, you might do worse than try out Little Voice. Shy, nervous LV (Jane Horrocks) lives under the thumb of her overbearing mother (played by Brenda Blethyn). When the mother takes up with a seedy, two-bit theatrical agent (Michael Caine) he discovers LV’s hidden talent: she’s a world class impressionist. He tries to make a star of her. When the film came out, they had to run  a disclaimer in the credits to the effect that Miss Horrocks did all those voices herself because test audiences assumed that she was lip-synching.

Little Voice

Add in brilliant performances by Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor, and Phillip Jackson, pigeons, and some of the world’s worst variety acts and you’ve got a winner. Again, Twistie recommends highly.

Looking for the perfect second feature to show with Harold and Maude? Look no further than Wilby Wonderful. Why? Because along with Harold and Maude, it’s a feel-good film about suicide. Yeah, kind of a difficult balancing act to pull off, but this one does it with panache. The cast is a Who’s Who of modern Canadian film and television actors: Paul Gross, Callum Keith Rennie, Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Maury Chaykin, Rebecca Jenkins, Daniel McIvor (who also directed).

In the small Canadian town of Wilby, a single day leads to huge changes for a group of residents whose lives intertwine in ways small and large. I really can’t tell you a lot more without ruining it for you, but trust me, this is a delightful film full of warmth and charm unsullied by cloying sentimentality.

What about the rest of you? Do you have a film you love that nobody’s ever heard of? Tell us about it!

27 Responses to “Hidden Gems”

  1. chachaheels October 10, 2009 at 9:04 am #

    Maybe this is not so unknown, but I still love watching Alison Anders’ 1996 film Grace of My Heart. It’s a fantastic movie about all those women who wrote in the Brill Building in the 1960’s, the early music composer/singers like Carole King and Ellie Greenwich who really made an impact on the music of that era by writing for stars like the Ronettes, the Supremes, Lesley Gore, etc. etc….before they began to record their own music in their own voices. The cast is amazing, including Illeana Douglas as Edna Buxton/Denise Waverly, and John Turturro as the Phil Specter-like Joel Millner. The soundtrack includes Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach, Kristin Vigard, and many of the Brill Building’s stars themselves. It’s got great music, a wonderful cast, and a funny, moving, romantic but never sentimental story about a woman who goes from being a frustrated but gifted music writer to an accomplished and strong performer, with a powerful talent and voice of her own.

  2. Emily October 10, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    Oooh, these all sound interesting. I’ve heard of them, but have never seen them.

    By the way, getting back to your “bad movies” post—today is the birthday of Edward D. Wood, Jr!

  3. Jane October 10, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    A New Leaf: Walter Matthau is a curmudgeonly rich playboy who loses all his money. Elaine May is the awkward, botany-loving heiress who might provide a way out — if he can stand her long enough.

  4. Jane October 10, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    I should add that one of the reasons I love A New Leaf is because the heroine is smart and not particularly “beautiful” by Hollywood standards.

  5. Gryph October 10, 2009 at 10:47 am #

    I LOVE Wilby Wonderful. Another movie starring the extremely handsome Paul Gross is Getting Married in Buffalo Jump, well worth viewing if you can actually find a copy!

  6. Genevieve October 10, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    Not sure how unknown this is (it did win several awards…) but Black Orpheus is a favorite of mine. It’s the Orpheus/Eurydice story, but it takes place in Rio, during Carnivale, during the 50s (so subtitled, the movie is in Portugese).

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053146/

  7. pamici October 10, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    I’m not much of a movie person, but these sound interesting. I probably don’t like movies for the same reason I don’t like mainstream fiction: obvious plots, obligatory victimization of women and children, etc. Thanks so much for the suggested reading and watching lists! My favorite hidden gem movie is “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” Richard Dreyfuss, Tim Roth and Gary Oldman about 20 years ago. It takes two minor characters from Hamlet and makes the most amazing story with them.

  8. pamici October 10, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    Ooo, nice touch with the link, Genevieve – here’s mine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100519/

  9. Christine October 10, 2009 at 3:40 pm #

    I love Enchanted April with Joan Plowright etc. I don’t know how well known it is here in the US.

    I meant to comment the other day, that my favourite “bad” science fiction movies are “Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Phibes rises again” with the fantastic Vincent Price.

  10. perletwo October 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm #

    “Still Crazy,” one of those little British ensemble comedies, this one starring Stephen Rea and Bill Nighy and Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall and many other people whose names I can’t think of right now. In this one, Rea tries to recapture his glory days by reuniting 70s proto-rock band Strange Fruit for the revival of the music festival at which they disbanded. Now, of course, they’ve got 20+ additional years on them, the strains that broke them up are all still there under the surface, and there’s an unexpected twist to the legend of the band’s breakup. Fun, clever stuff and surprisingly good music – I’ve got the soundtrack on my iPod.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0149151/

  11. La Petite Acadienne October 10, 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    I’m sure you folks have heard of it, but most people I know haven’t: Eat Drink Man Woman. Ang Lee directed it, and it’s got fantastic acting, lots of food porn, and some nifty little plot twists.

  12. Katy October 10, 2009 at 7:28 pm #

    I think this one is getting more attention, but I highly recommend “Let the Right One In”. It’s a Swedish film, get it with the subtitles. It’s everything I never knew I wanted in a vampire film. Very little gore, but just….perfect.

  13. Jessie October 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    I love Harold and Maude.And either noone knows it,or they shake their head Sadly.
    Another unknown i love is Yellowbeard.Monty Pyhon meets Mel Brooks meets Cheech and Chong.its amazingly hilariously stupid.

  14. jen209 October 10, 2009 at 10:08 pm #

    My roommate dragged me today to see the re-make of Fame with her. The whole time I was watching it, I was thinking to myself about a movie I own that is essentially about the same thing, but done SO much better. The movie I speak of is Camp: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0342167/

    It’s about a bunch of misfit kids who go to a performing arts summer camp. None of the people in it are famous, though many of the kids SHOULD be. Think Fame, but funnier, quirkier, more authentic, and with more heart. There is a cute boy, and two African American boys dressed as characters from Fiddler on the Roof. What more could you ask for?

  15. dcsurfergirl October 10, 2009 at 11:18 pm #

    There’s lots of great hidden gem flicks. For me, it’s Lily Was Here, Loves of a Blonde, Shall We Dance? (original Japanese version), Hairspray (original 1988 version) and Persepolis. Have fun checking them out.

  16. perletwo October 11, 2009 at 8:01 am #

    Thought of another one, in the horror category: Session 9.

    The filmmakers got a few days’ access to this huge, fantastically spooky abandoned mental hospital and worked up a movie to shoot there on practically no money. Five asbestos removers working there alone (Peter Mullan, David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Brendon Sexton III, writer Steven Gevedon) getting more and more creeped out. One of them starts listening to the session tapes for a patient who killed her family, and then…bad things start happening.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0261983/

  17. Chelsea October 11, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    My hidden gem is Empire Records. I LOVE that movie. It’s not completely unknown-and Liv Tyler and Renee Zelleweger are both in it. But seriously, it still affects me every time I watch it.

  18. jeannemarie October 11, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    LOVED “Goodbye, Lenin”! The description sounded sad, but it’s not at all. Funny, charming, sweet, ridiculous and all so incredibly believable. A great movie – Hmm… Maybe I should rent it again!

  19. Anonymous October 11, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    I’ve seen almost all of these, and the ones I haven’t? Are on The List.

    Two of my favorites:

    “Italian for Beginners” — a Danish movie by a woman who is/was part of the Dogme 95 movement (using natural light, handheld cameras). Most Dogme 95 movies are dark and depressing (Lars von Trier). This is a sweet movie about a bunch of lonely people who all meet at an Italian language night school class. Has subtitles.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0243862/

    “Dear Frankie” — a really great movie with Gerard Butler (rrraoarrr) before he was superfamous. It’s about a woman who has been lying to her son about his father, and due to circumstances she needs to find a fake father fast. It’s just a sweet, lovely movie. Also stars Emily Mortimer and Sharon Small who plays Havers in the Inspector Lynley Mysteries. It’s set in Scotland so you may wish for subtitles. (heh) Everyone I’ve recommended it to has gone out and bought the dvd.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377752/

  20. Eva October 12, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    Shirley Valentine – a British woman goes to Greece and finds herself – funny, funny, a little sad.

  21. ChloeMireille October 12, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    I have an unabashed love of the original “Death Race 2000”, not that sad remake that came out a few months ago. DR2000 was originally a dark comedy, not an action flick, starring a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine.

    It’s a Roger Corman film, so there’s a lot of violence in it. The movie was made in 1975, but it somehow manages to be a commentary on “How far is too far” in reality TV.

  22. Twistie October 12, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    So many good movies!

    I can definitely second the calls for Shirley Valentine, Getting Married in Buffalo Jump, Harold and Maude, the originals of Shall We Dance and Hairspray. I’ve also found a couple titles on this list that are going to go on my personal ‘to see’ list.

    Oh, BTW, thanks so much, Emily, for that bit of trivia! As it happened, I was attending the wedding of two very dear friends of mine that day who are both huge fans of bad/tacky horror films. They were greatly amused to learn that they had – by pure happenstance – chosen such an auspicious day for their vows.

  23. Twistie October 12, 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    Oh, and I’d like to add that I’m deeply amused by the fact that Let the Right One In made both the hidden gems and the glorious turkeys lists! Clearly opinion is deeply divided on it.

  24. Belle October 13, 2009 at 12:50 am #

    Some of my favorite ‘hidden gems’:

    Cosi – Toni Collette and Rachael Griffiths are featured together again in this movie about an aspiring director who decides to put on Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte in an Australian mental institution. This is one of those total catharsis movies — you will laugh and cry, occasionally at the same time.

    Bread and Tulips – Fans of Shirley Valentine or Enchanted April might enjoy this movie about an Italian housewife who is accidentally left behind at a rest stop while she and her family are on a vacation tour. Things get exciting when she decides not to go back to her passionless former life.

    Wasabi – This is a really fun Luc Besson action adventure that stars Jean Reno as a renegade French cop who discovers he has some personal issues with the Yakuza that need sorting out. Make sure you get the subtitled version — the dubbing on the English language version is unbearable.

    Thanks for the great tips, everyone!

  25. Cone October 13, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    New Waterford Girl is one of my favourite movies of all time. SO funny. And most people haven’t heard of it because it’s one of these independent Canadian films…stars Mary Walsh, Liane Balaban, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Nicholas Campbell…

  26. chachaheels October 14, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    (I love New Waterford Girl, Cone! The very best “how to tell he loves you” test ever commited to film).

    I think Let the Right One In got both good and bad reviews has a lot to do with the subtitling on the North American DVD release–I’ve talked to people who’d seen it in the theatre with subtitles, and then purchased the DVD only to find that the subtitling had been redone and apparently written by a lousy translator.