6. GIMME GIMME OCTOPUS
The retro discovery of the year (hell, of the century!) is this DVD compilation-feature offering the short films from the late-1960s Japanese live-action kiddie show in which a red octopus and a giant pear (yes, a giant pear) engage in endless acts of larceny, assault and gluttony in a cardboard forest populated by cucumber monsters and a pink walrus-dinosaur. What can you say about children’s programming where characters run into a scene and start throwing rocks at each others’ heads, or dress up as military dictators and crucify those who disobey their authority? This is probably the most violent and bizarre production ever made for kids, and watching it is the equivalent of taking an endless acid trip without the chemical residue.
STATUS: Available on DVD from Shocking Videos.
7. NEW GUY
Film critic Bilge Ebiri proves his versatility as a filmmaker with this original, stylish comedy about a hapless man’s disastrous first day on the job at a very, very peculiar office. Mixing equal parts Jacques Tati, Alfred Hitchcock and Tex Avery, this is one of the most satisfying independently-produced comedies to come around in the longest time.
STATUS: Currently on the festival circuit, with a theatrical release planned for 2004.
8. THE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Another film critic-turned-filmmaker, Jeremiah Kipp, wrote and directed this troubling short drama about a boy’s attendance at a holiday gathering hosted by an overzealous minister and his melodramatic wife. For those expecting holiday films to be sweet and sunny, this was an unusual and memorable cinematic essay on moral insincerity held up against the notion of the season of good cheer.
STATUS: Currently on the festival circuit.
9. THE DEATH OF KLINGHOFFER
John Adams’ controversial opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship was brought to the screen in a brilliantly-conceived interpretation that artistically blended the seemingly incompatible protocols of cinema and opera into a unique and challenging experience. The film’s virulent anti-Israeli politics certainly killed its American theatrical hopes, but serious moviegoers with an open mind can appreciate this film’s willingness to tackle unpopular subject matter with a bold and audacious style.
STATUS: Limited festival and non-theatrical screenings during 2003, but no theatrical or DVD release announced yet.
10. AFTER AN AUTUMN DAY THAT FELT LIKE SUMMER
An uncommonly adult and uncomfortable dissection of human nature at its least attractive. Mark L. Feinsod’s excellent short drama nails a New York heel who uses the 9/11 tragedy to rail against the Bush Administration while behaving poorly in his professional and personal responsibilities. Rather harsh food for thought, with a beautifully enigmatic conclusion.
STATUS: Currently on the festival circuit.
Game Plan (Baltimore dynamo Jimmy Traynor’s entertaining blue collar riff on “Gaslight” details a mechanic’s attempts to destroy his wife’s sanity); The Underground Lifting Video (bodybuilder Paul DeSimone’s wonderfully deranged video diary of his training regimen, mixing absurdist humor with raw and frequently painful emotion); Under the Shipwrecked Moon (Antero Alli’s visually striking drama of memories, frayed relations and dreams gone awry); Burying the Past: Legacy of the Mountain Meadow Massacre (a harrowing documentary on the 1857 slaughter of a wagon train by Mormon settler and the continued refusal by the Mormon Church to acknowledge the crime); In the Mirror of Maya Deren (a joyful celebration of the life of the pioneering avant garde filmmaker); Try to Remember: The Fantasticks (Eli Kabillio’s winning documentary celebrating the extraordinary legacy of the long-running Off-Broadway musical); Missing Peace (a highly disturbing documentary on the kidnaping of Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt); Winner (a hilarious short about a contest winner who tries to spin her brief bout with fame into a PR extravaganza for her dubious art career); and 1932: Cicatriz de la Memoria (an excellent documentary on the disastrous 1932 peasant uprising in El Salvador and the brutal repression that followed).
Now get ready for The 10 Worst Unseen Films of 2003>>>