With the 11th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival just around the corner and buzz writers’ previews helping you decide which shows to catch, it’s worth a moment of pause to look back at highlights from previous festivals. Though these films won’t grace the Virginia Theatre’s giant screen, you might just find something to add to your list of future rentals.
In Eran Kolirin’s The Band’s Visit (2007), an Egyptian police orchestra becomes stranded in the wrong Israeli town on the way to a performance at an Arab cultural center. The cross-cultural barriers of race, religion, language and sex pile up to make for a slew of awkward moments that are often both hilarious and poignant.
The interlocking sections of Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) add up to an aesthetically bold biopic of Yukio Mishima, a Japanese writer plagued with the dual obsessions of honor and death. Eiko Ishioka’s production designs are breathtaking. Like this year’s The Fall, Mishima is a feast for the eyes.
In his late 20s, Ebert worked on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) alongside X-rated auteur Russ Meyer, “laughing maniacally from time to time” while writing this cult classic spoof of Valley of the Dolls (1967). “Whatever its faults or virtues,” Ebert wrote, “BVD is an original — a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations, dialogue, characters and success formulas.”
Love Slumdog Millionaire? Check out Millions (2004), another Danny Boyle film sure to give you the warm-and-fuzzies. A duffel bag of stolen British pounds literally falls out of the sky and lands on a boy’s cardboard playhouse. Unlike the greedy little turd in Blank Check (1995), this kid strives to help others with his fortune.
If you haven’t seen Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), an indie classic that launched the Blaxploitation movement, rent it now. Then after that, see Baadasssss! (2004), Mario Van Peebles’ take on the storied production of his father’s notorious masterpiece. The run-ins with creditors and police make it an intriguing historical account, which Van Peebles enhances with psychedelic editing.
Something odd is afoot in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Son (2002). Olivier, a Belgian carpenter, rejects a woman’s request to let a new boy become his apprentice. Yet he begins stalking them for reasons unexplained. The brothers’ subtle direction tells nothing and everything at the same time. “I grew during this film,” Ebert wrote. “It taught me things about the cinema I did not know.”
Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969) analyzes the social climate surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Robert Forster plays a TV cameraman who covers the government and the protesters’ mutual suspicion and violence toward each other. The deft mix of fiction and documentary footage establishes this as one of the great countercultural films of the late 1960s.
Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyènes (1992) is a surrealist fable on the dangers of commercialism. An embittered Senegalese villager turned billionaire-in-exile returns home to exact revenge on her former lover, the popular new mayor. Either the city can continue to decay or the villagers can murder him and receive unthinkable wealth. Morbid humor pervades this tale of human greed.
Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek star in Robert Altman’s Three Women (1977). A “wacked” but “harmless” woman with delusional tendencies moves in with her coworker. The latter finds the former’s naïve behavior a bit annoying, but in a bizarre mid-movie twist, the two switch personalities without explanation.
Winner of Best Documentary at Sundance 1999, American Movie introduces us to Mark Borchardt, a mulleted misfit from Wisconsin with aspirations of becoming a filmmaker. If only he could write good scripts and cast decent actors. Chris Smith directed and filmed this alternately tragic and hilarious story about a goofball stricken with the curse of the American Dream.
Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Maborosi (1995) follows in the Japanese minimalist tradition of Yasujiro Ozu, whose films focused on people’s ordinary interactions. In that vein, Kore-Eda avoids showing a young father’s train tracks suicide in favor of detailing his widow’s methods of coping with grief. He frames every shot beautifully, and the mournful soundtrack forces viewers to share the woman’s pain.