Everyone has guilty pleasure movies; films void of any value other than some unknown attraction to it. Some movies takes only seconds to grab an audience; others never hit their mark on the mainstream. They were doomed to live in obscurity or, like The Room or The Rocky Horror Picture Show, rise from the ashes of its own negligence to achieve stardom. Instead they came and went quietly, without many people knowing about them at all. None, I repeat none, of these films are bad films. They just didn’t find the audience they were hoping for. All of these movies have grossed less than $1 million at the domestic box office. These are my favorite movies with tiny box-office returns that deserve a viewing (or two).
–Wendy and Lucy– Released at the end of 2008, Michelle Williams starred as Wendy, a woman on her way to a job in Alaska. With little more than her dog Lucy to accompany her, they set off from the midwest to head north.
When I first saw this on the shelf, I was expecting a road trip movie. What I got was more poignant and heart wrenching than almost anything I’ve ever seen. Had something not crashed into my apartment complex three minutes from the end of the movie, I would have cried my eyes out, putting it high on the Movies that Made Me Cry list. I won’t give anything away, because this movie needs as little knowledge ahead of time as possible to get its full power.
Had this movie done better at the box office, I think Michelle Williams could have gotten an Oscar nomination, maybe even beating Kate Winslet (Kate deserves her Oscar, she’s undeniably talented and was long overdue for a win). But alas, Wendy and Lucy went by unnoticed. A crime for anyone who saw the film and understands its brilliance.
–Wind Chill– Staring Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes as a couple of college students heading home for Christmas. When Boy (Blunt and Holmes’ characters are never named) decides to take a more scenic route than the straight forward highway, they end up stranded. Now, far from cell phone signal and trapped in the middle of winter storm, they must to survive the night in Boy’s car.
It’s a simple thriller element that turns to horror when things start to happen around them. The car isn’t the best lifeboat and something is happening out in the snow. It isn’t a masterpiece, but this film is very effective at building suspense. Almost the entire movie is Blunt and Holmes sitting in a car. When the winter weather gets inclement, this movie (and The Shining and The Thing) are movies I want to rush home and watch. See the trailer for Wind Chill.
–All the Real Girls– David Gordon Green’s film got under my skin. The film is so believable that I am an emotional wreck everytime I watch it. The story follows Paul, a small-town womanizer who falls in love with his best friend’s younger sister Noel, played by the amazing Zooey Deschanel. We watch as Paul begins to grow tired of his ways and falls hard for Noel. All seems to go well, at least for the most part.
The most emotional part of the film is the act, when things change completely. Some may see it coming, but I honestly did not. I was so enraptured by the film, I wanted everything to turn out ok. I wanted an ending like in The Station Agent, but life isn’t always like that. Not a feel good movie at all, but a movie that is very relatable and beautifully acted. This is easily Zooey Deschanel’s best performance as Noel. We fall in love with her just as Paul does, and maintains her likability even after Noel’s downfall. See the trailer.
-The Girlfriend Experience– Steven Soderbergh’s avant-garde film about a prostitute is no sex-filled adventure. Instead, we follow Christine, a woman who sells “the girlfriend experience” to her clients. This entails being paid to act like and do everything an actual girlfriend would. We follow her out-of-order, segmenting her life so chronology isn’t a simple task. She’s interviewed, reviewed, and may have found a way out of her lifestyle. She isn’t some sex-starved harlot, Christine is merely a working girl who cares about art, culture, and life beyond her work. Sasha Grey steps into the role with fluidity. Grey’s approach to Christine is perfect. Her performance shows just how cold and disconnected her character has become. The film’s best quality, on top of a strong lead and engaging story, is the music. Soderbergh uses street performers’ music as the soundtrack, which he cuts into shots as pauses in the story.
–Southland Tales– Richard Kelly, the director of Donnie Darko, doesn’t get enough respect. Darko, easily one of the most important movies of the decade, took years to catch on. Kelly’s follow-up was something as ambitious as his first film: a day in the life of a handful of citizens on the last day of the world. The cast includes 4 SNL alumni (Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, and Cheri Oteri), Justin Timberlake, Dwayne Johnson, Mandy Moore, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar… and Christopher Lambert from Highlander. The film is littered with familiar faces.
The film follows Boxer Santaros (Johnson), a Hollywood actor researching his latest movie. He shadows Roland Taverner (Scott) as they patrol the city. After witnessing a fatal shooting, Santaros splits. He’s confusing his movie role with himself. As he sorts himself out, all kinds of conspiracies are happening.
The film is grand on scale and incorporates the same style of philosophy and advanced science that Darko did years before. It’s a wild ride, but a fun one if you let it be. Moby’s “Memory Gospel” towards the end is a really great scene. But watch for Justin Timberlake’s musical number about halfway through the movie. You’ll be singing along for days afterward.