Here are my top twenty interesting, off-the-beaten-path movies of the decade, in no particular order. Of course, I’m glad this isn’t a job requirement, since a list is too limiting. This list includes movies that I thought were different and interesting. Not all were critically acclaimed, either. Still, something about each one just stands out. Some of these are action pics, but they are not your standard shoot ’em up style. None on the list are major movies.
1. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006)
A strange man with an amazing sense of smell learns how to make perfume and then murders women in search of the elusive perfect scent. It’s a disturbing, dirty, compelling movie. Alan Rickman has a small but interesting part. The Rotten Tomato consensus says that it’s impossible to feel sympathy for the movie’s antihero.
Director: Tom Tykwer. Box Office: $2,101,584. Trailer
2. Mysterious Skin (2005)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of my favorite young actors, stars as a gay male prostitute who develops a friendship with an awkward boy. The boy suffers from blackouts and thinks this is caused by alien abductions. The two go on an adventure to discover the truth. Very disturbing and moving.
Director: Gregg Araki. Box Office: $508,387. Trailer
3. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (2000)
A slow (but not in a bad way) movie about a family’s life in Taipei with many narrative strands threaded together and knotted at the funeral of their grandmother. My favorite strand is about the young boy who takes pictures of the backs of people’s heads so people can see what they look like from behind.
Director: Edward Yang. Box Office: $1,136,776. Trailer
4. Heist (2001)
You can’t go wrong with a David Mamet film. It stars Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, and Rebecca Pidgeon. This movie is about a heist, obviously. Gene Hackman plays a thief who’s face was caught on security camera so he decides to retire. He accepts one last job to steal some gold and then the plot twists unfold. The relationships in the movie are complicated and well-developed.
Director: David Mamet. Box Office: $23,287,872. Trailer (after commercial).
5. Tom-Yum-Goong: The Protector (2006)
An action pic starring Tony Jaa, the Thai martial artist. Jaa plays the guardian of a village’s war elephants. Elephants are an important part of Thai history and culture. When one of the village elephants and her calf are stolen by a crime syndicate, Jaa goes to Sydney to rescue them. It is a moving story embellished with some amazing Thai martial arts scenes (Muay Thai).
Director: Prachya Pinkaew. Box Office: $11,905,519. Trailer
6. Wonderland (2003)
The movie follows legendary porn king John C. Holmes and his descent into an ugly mire of problems that eventually leads to his involvement a set of brutal and mysterious murder in Laurel Canyon. The role really fits Val Kilmer, who is supposed to be a real asshole to work with but whom I’ve always adored. Holmes is also the inspiration for Boogie Nights. The film has a pretty decent soundtrack.
Director: James Cox. Boxoffice: $1,031,087. Trailer
7. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002)
Two hot teenage boys, Juilo and Tenoch, go on a road trip where they meet a sexy older woman. The three of them deepen their relationships with each other as they travel to a remote but beautiful village. The movie is listed as a comedy, but it is bittersweet. It was also a big break for Gael Garcia Bernal.
Director: Alfonso Cuaron. Box Office: $13,622,333. Trailer
8. Banlieue 13: District 13 (2004/2006)
An urban sci fi action picture set in 2010 surely deserves a place on this list. A gang in a walled-off Paris ghetto acquires a nuclear warhead. The heroes must retrieve the warhead. The most fascinating thing about the film is the parkour (really interesting stuff, a must-read), which is a type of acrobatic martial arts. It is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragons without special effects. Visually stunning. The screenplay is also by Luc Besson, who’s hit or miss, but list-worthy
Director: Pierre Morel. Box Office: $1, 150,592. Trailer
9. The Waitress (2007)
First of all, it stars Mal (Jeremy Sisto) of Firefly. Second of all, it’s very funny. It’s about a diner waitress who makes amazing pies with bizarre names. Married, she has an affair with the new gynecologist in town. Romantic comedies get tired boring because they are constrained by the genre. This one is charmingly quirky. Plus, it has Andy Griffith who is dear to my white trash heart.
Director: Adrienne Shelly. Box Office: $18,699,755. Trailer
10. Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
This Bollywood film is an epic, sprawling mess. It is the story of the cross-cultural marriage of Emperor Akbar the Great (Muslim) and Jodhabai (Hindu), a Rajput princess. What started out as political expedience turned into a love story. Although the historical context is somewhat accurate, the story itself is fictional. The film was prostested for its misrepresentation of the Rajput people and was banned, though the ban was lifted. Like all Bollywood movies, the couple breaks out into song instead of kissing. Still Jodhaa is played by Aishwarya Rai, who is gorgeous. Most significantly, Rai wins Akbar’s heart through her expert swordplay. My husband and I saw it for Valentine’s day. It was very romantic.
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker. Box Office: $3,336,296. Trailer
11. Spartan (2004)
Another David Mamet film. Another role for Val Kilmer. Typical of Mamet films, it’s filled with confusing plot twists. The daughter of some politician is abducted and Kilmer has to rescue her.
Director: David Mamet. Box Office: $4,291,858. Trailer (after commercial)
12. The Lookout (2007)
Another movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose character suffers from memory loss after an injury in a car crash. He’s managed to find himself a job a a janitor in a bank. Some thieves, who learn about his disability, manipulate him so that they can rob the bank.
Director: Scott Frank. Box Office: $4, 538, 656. Trailer
13. Donnie Darko (2001)
A suburban teenage boy is haunted by a giant bunny rabbit. It’s a genre-blending, confusing, dark comedy/sci fi. I can’t even begin to describe it. Plus, it has the amazing, unforgettable, and intense theme song, Mad World.
Director: Richard Kelly. Box Office: $4,700,00. Trailer
14. Munich (2005)
Movies with guns are awesome. Capers, action pictures. Sweet and shiny and glossy movies with guns are even better. I would give up dialogue for the sleek look. I’d give up sleek for Mamet or Tarantino style dialogue. Munich is an intense movie but it’s not a typical action film. The movie is about the Mossad’s retaliation against the Palestinian terrorists supposedly behind the Munich massacre. It shouldn’t be on an “overlooked” list, since it made nice box office returns and since Steven Spielberg directed it. But it’s certainly not the first thing people think of when gun movies come up.
Director: Steven Spielberg. Box Office: $47,379,090. Trailer
15. Grizzly Man (2005)
Timothy Treadwell was a grizzly bear expert who lived with the bears in Alaska during the summers. He filmed himself interacting with the bears over a five year period. In 2003, his mauled, half-eaten remains were found in a park. Famous director Werner Herzog builds a film around Treadwell’s footage. The film is an interesting portrait of an odd man.
Director: Werner Herzog. Box Office: $2, 899,138. Trailer
16. Bad Santa (2003)
Hysterical movie about a drunk asshole who gets a job as a department store Santa who, along with his elf in arms, has an annual department store heist. Watch it and laugh. A big hit, but easily forgotten since it’s a Christmas movie. Christmas movies don’t usually make people’s movies of the year lists.
Director: Terry Zwigoff. Box Office: $59,936,060. Trailer
17. Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
The “stolen generations” of Aboriginal children in Australia is not a prominent conversation in the US. These children were taken by the white government in order to breed the darkness out of them. The rabbit proof fence itself (over 2000 miles long) was built as a means of “pest exclusion” to contain rabbits after they overran Australia. The reason the rabbits got out of control was the lack of any natural predator to kill them when they were imported by white settlers. The relationship between the fence and the stolen generation becomes the setting for the movie. Three young girls, who are taken from their mother and put in a camp for “half castes,” escape and attempt to return home. All they remember is that they lived next to the fence, so they follow it for 1,500 miles.
Director: Phillip Noyce. Box Office: $6,031,193. Trailer
18. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2004).
Set in a Buddhist monastery, this South Korean film follows the life of a monk as he grows from boyhood to manhood. Each season is a period in the monk’s life. As a youth, the monk desires a girl, and this desire complicates his life. As a result, he steals a statue and leaves the monastery and his master. In later seasons, the monk returns as a grown man and confronts his past. The film is visually stunning and the story is bittersweet. (I seem to be using those words a lot.)
Director: Kim Ki-Duk. Box Office: $2,105,230. Trailer
19. Three Iron (2005)
A young man delivers flyers from house to house to see if their owners are home. If they are gone, he breaks in and hangs out but never steals anything. In one house, he’s caught by a woman who’s married to a brutal husband. A relationship unfolds between the young man and the wife.
Director: Kim Ki-Duk Box Office: $167, 892. Trailer
20. The Secretary (2002)
Such a fun movie. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a secretary who self-mutilates. She is hired by James Spader’s character, who is a closet sadist. The two develop a sweet D/s relationship where he disciplines her in some charming ways. Definite fun.
Director: Steven Shainberg. Box Office: $3,806, 471. Trailer