The second best treat that this Gypsy seeks when he comes back onto the grid is access to a library card and the chance to raid the DVD collection of the town library. Walking my fingers through the stacks, sometime I find something I missed when it was released –- movies that never rose high in public awareness. Yet they are gems.
Today I nominate a couple of movies for best obscure feel-good movies I’ve ever come across.
Secondhand Lion (released in ’03) is the story to two lovable eccentrics living in the middle of nowhere, played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall (who is on my short list of great actors of all time) play the uncles. A likable nephew (Haley Jo Osment, already a polished actor at the age of 13, might have stolen the show playing off lesser stars than Caine and Duval) is unloaded on them by his ditzy mother (Kyra Sedgwick, who did not have to tweak her character at all to transport it to the lead in the TV series, The Closer).
One of my bonus criteria for judging a movie is that it seems the actors are having fun making the movie. I think every lead in this movie went home at night snickering that some damn fools were giving them a paycheck for showing up on the set.
Mystery Alaska is my second nomination. Where was I in 1999 when this was released, and why wasn’t I notified? Mystery is an Alaskan town that has pond hockey and nothing else. The primary story is that a professional hockey team is scammed into coming to town to play against the locals. The plot trajectory arcs toward outcome of the game–that is our high-stakes investment in the plot. And this story line alone could carry the film. But there is also a pizza-oven full of everyday drama.
Here are three teasers, although they may appear to be spoilers.
“All I got is hockey and fornication, and when I don’t have hockey any more, I’ll be and old drunk like my father.”
“All we have in this town is dignity and illusion. I suggest we keep them.”
“I’m a premature ejaculator.”
Now, I ask you, set your mind to visualize the scene in which those lines would be uttered. I’d watch a movie that had no other redeeming feature than the run-up to those lines.
Don’t make a lot of trips to the refrigerator or you might miss when the “Skank, I’m pregnant” sign appears.
Russell Crowe has the biggest role in the movie, and I liked how far he stepped outside of his variegated career to lead this one. Burt Reynolds did the same as a supporting actor. They were carried on the shoulders of a half-dozen well-drawn and well-executed characters.
Mystery Alaska will deliver some spontaneous laughter, and if it doesn’t produce a tear or two, you aren’t half trying.
I realize two is a short list. My hope is the comments section will produce some recommendations for us all. The criterion is a movie so underappreciated many of us might never have heard of it. Although I chose two feel-good movies, other genres may be nominated.
***Here are early nominations from regulars on the bus***
Searching for Sugarman available on DVD late January. (Thanks to M. Kaplan)
The Black Book (aka Reign of Terror, a better title, imo): An historical film noir set during the French Revolution. 1949, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, plus Richard Basehart who’s a terrific Robespierre and a little-known actor named Arnold Moss as Fouche, along with stalwart Norman Lloyd. Great cinematography throughout. (Thanks to Thomas Burchfield)
Topkapi, a heist movie from the early 1900s, set in Turkey and adapted from Eric Ambler’s The Light of Day, Peter Ustinov heads the cast. (Thanks to Thomas Burchfield.)
Nobody’s Fool, a Richard Russo story, with Paul and Bruce and Melanie. (Thanks to Dave LaR.)