When we walk in to a movie, be it a comedy, drama, horror film or action thriller, we know what to expect. Heck, Hollywood has programmed us to understand a cinematic experience even before we’ve seen a single extended take. Trailers spill the beans, pointing out meaningful moments and spoiler-esque plot elements as part of some no longer necessary marketing maneuver while the web works its wonders as part of Messageboard Nation’s desire to scoop its Internet competition and be first with any casting/creative choice. Besides, moviemaking has become a formula, a fixed point in a baffling business model’s bottom line which sees the same old things trotted out time and time again, hoping that you, as a clueless viewer, will ignore the blatant similarities and plunk down your hard earned dosh.
But every once in a while (a ‘blue moon’ would be too regular), films defy their expectations. Usually the result of some artistic ambition or a back door deal with Tinseltown’s indie identity, there are times when you go in anticipating one thing, only to get something else in return. It’s not a matter of bad PR or a lack of perception. It’s just that we have become so blinded by what the artform provides that our own bias clouds our keep an open mind. With that in mind—and the 9 July DVD/Blu-ray release of a perfect example of this ideal at Number Eight on our alphabetized list—we offer 10 films that suggest one thing, but are much, much more. Sure, they may stay locked in their genre dynamics, or their previous incarnations, but then they break free, bringing along with their invention a clear sense of why many of us fell in love with the medium in the first place.
Let’s begin with something both baffling and brilliant:
After David Lynch’s TV series fizzled, failing to ignite the imagination of viewers who stuck it out for two wholly uneven seasons, the filmmaker vowed to bring everyone’s favorite town full of eccentrics back to the big screen for one final hurrah. What he provided, instead, is the greatest kiss off an artist has ever provided to his adoring public. First, Lynch abandoned the cliffhanger ending of the TV show for a prequel explaining Laura Palmer’s last days, then began the film with a weird detour into an FBI case involving another victim of the demonic ne’er-do-well, Bob. And things just got more surreal from there.
Danny Boyle doesn’t do “conventional”. His addicts in Trainspotting are just as funny as they are flawed, and his zombies in 28 Days Later are merely misguided citizens infected with a horrifying rage virus. So when he announced a sci-fi epic about the saving of the sun, many believed they’d be getting the typical tired future shock. What Boyle provided was a perfect companion piece to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, another amazing look at man’s place in the universe spiced up with both philosophy and thrills. It’s a masterpiece of meaning from a man who just can’t make an uninteresting film, even when he fails.
The title is the first hint that something slightly unusual is going on here. This isn’t a movie about the annual college rite of passage, but a look at those who trade their entire future for a few days of sun, fun, sex, and other (often illegal) indulgences. In this case, writer/director Harmony Korine pushes the very limits of the notion of personal freedom, giving four young ladies the chance to let loose and escape their social shackles. The result, guided by white rap ringleader Alien (an amazing James Franco) is a descent into personal Hell, with no one coming out unscathed.
Kevin Smith wanted to make a horror movie. He told everyone that this would be his own personal take on the overdone genre. What he delivered instead was a masterpiece of audience manipulation, a movie that starts out one way (a group of horny guys decide to hook up with some trailer park MILF), veers off in another direction (an amazing mid-movie monologue from actor Michael Parks), and ends up a Waco style stand-off between the FBI and religious nuts. Oh, and the Rapture may play a part in it as well. A terrific take on what it means to believe and be duped by same.
If you could pick one ‘70s icon to make a comic book movie, something based on the classic cartoon character and his spinach loving hijinx, who would you choose? Steven Spielberg? George Lucas? Heck, even Francis Ford Coppola? Here’s guessing Robert Altman wouldn’t be high on your wish list, and with good reason. His experimental approach to realism made for some of the era’s most uncompromising works of art. In this case, when hired, Altman decided to tackle the project with equal authenticity, building his own version of Sweet Haven on the Isle of Malta and making everyone act like human animation. Even today it’s ahead of its time.
// Notes from the Road
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