For every “Charlie’s Angels” or “Proof of Life” that clogs up the multiplexes, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of films that barely get seen. The luckiest of these films secure a bare handful of theatrical playdates for brief periods before disappearing from sight and memory. Then there are films which criss-cross the festival circuit, usually the second- or third-tier events, without ever getting a theatrical release. And lurking on the further edges of this netherworld are films which never get into cinema projectors but go straight to video, most usually in Internet-only sales and not in retail channels. ^ While other media outlets celebrate the obvious and the overplayed motion pictures of the past year, Film Threat would like to pay tribute to both the best and the worst films which never received a wide release in 2000 and which, as of this writing, remain fairly unknown to the majority of audiences. The top ten on this list are among the most intriguing, challenging and entertaining productions of the year and their inability to find wide release is among the major shames of the industry. The ten worst, however, are more than well-deserving of their obscurity and unsuspecting filmgoers should thank all known deities for being spared from wasting time and money on their ineptitudes. ^ Thus, let’s begin by turning up the spotlight on the Ten Best Unseen Films of 2000.
THE TEN BEST UNSEEN FILMS OF 2000 ^ 1. SRI ^ The year’s true masterpiece comes from Indonesia, of all places, with a devastating tale of a young wife who successfully negotiates with the Angel of Death to delay the departure of her dying elderly husband until she clears up the messy threads of his life. Director Marselli Sumarno brings uncommon serenity and subtlety to this quiet but boldly effective production, offering a highly memorable lesson in mortality and morality.
2. FREAKS, GLAM GODS, AND ROCK STARS ^ John T. Ryan’s riveting celebration of New York’s underground music scene is a diamond mine of eclectic melodies and eccentric personalities, ranging from model-turned-rocker Donovan Leitch going feral in concert to a hefty drag star named The “Lady” Bunny turning out ribald parodies of Gordon Lightfoot songs. An acoustically hypnotic triumph of sound and spirit.
3. THE TURKISH WIZARD OF OZ ^ The retro discovery of the year is this astonishing 1971 no-budget offering from Turkey, which happily shoves the classic L. Frank Baum tale into the meat grinder and comes up with the most surreal viewing experience this side of Buñuel. A big-breasted Dorothy, effeminate Scarecrow, ill-tempered Tin Woodsman, and a Cowardly Lion with a hairy groin run about in a park and encounter magical midgets, dancing cavemen, and a Wizard who looks like one of the ZZ Tops. A new cult classic.
4. GAVIN’S WAY ^ D.R. Farquharson wrote, directed and starred in this warm and cheery romantic comedy of three Boston Irish-American cousins and their shaky attempts at finding true love and self-respect. It comes as a welcome surprise to finally encounter a contemporary romantic comedy where the characters behave like mature and intelligent adults who face genuine and heartfelt scenarios. If any US indie feature film deserves a distributor, this is it.
5. BURIED COUNTRY ^ The astonishing story of how the emergence of country music singers from Australia’s oppressed Aborigines helped to bring long-overdue civil rights protection for the horrendously persecuted indigenous population in the land down under. An extraordinary documentary, rich with wonderful music previously unheard outside of the antipodean airwaves.
6. PEPPERMINT The Greek entry in the upcoming Academy Award competition for Best Foreign-Language Film is highly deserving of an Oscar nomination. A sweetly memorable drama focusing on the life of an intellectually delinquent boy and his rocky coming-of-age, this film has enough charm to fuel a dozen movies.
7. (tie) THE ART OF AMALIA & ALZIRA: A MATRIARCH TELLS HER STORY ^ Portuguese culture, which is rarely seen on-screen, was the subject of two of the year’s most engrossing documentaries: Bruno de Almeida’s “The Art of Amalia” paid loving tribute to the legendary fado singer Amalia Rodrigues with a wealth of rare archival footage and recordings, while Christian de Rezendes’ “Alzira: A Matriarch Tells Her Story” focused on the filmmaker’s delightful grandmother and her remarkable family history stretching across a four-continent, eight-decade odyssey.
8. X ^ The year’s best animated feature was this brilliantly chaotic Japanese sci-fi epic which found two armies of interstellar dragons taking on unlikely human characteristics for a rule-of-the-world smackdown in and above the streets of Tokyo. While the English-dubbed soundtrack occasionally seemed vague on several plot points, the slam-bang action and overtime-pumping fury in the film’s conception and animation more than compensated for any possible storyline confusion.
9. TRAGOS ^ Filmmaker Antero Alli created an intellectual adrenaline shot with this challenging tale of a fundamentalist prosecutor’s overzealous campaign to destroy an underground tech-obsessed cult. An audacious and chilling parable which questions misdirected over-reliance on gadgets and God, “Tragos” also enjoyed a remarkable musical score by the director’s reel/real life collaborator Sylvi Alli.
10. DIVINE CARCASSE ^ Belgian director Dominique Loreau traveled to Benin in West Africa to create this leisurely adventure on the life of a 1955 Peugot from its initial function as the luxury vehicle of a European aid worker through various incarnations, resulting in its unlikely final life as a religious fetish for a tribal village. A wonderful and utterly original film, offering a rare insight into contemporary African cultures.
Honorable Mentions: KAC PARA KAC (A RUN FOR MONEY), a Hitchcockian thriller from Turkey focusing on a man who discovers a briefcase stuffed with stolen money; ICE FROM THE SUN, a bold theological horror flick on the emergence of a third force who disrupts the balance between Heaven and Hell, G, an audacious short subject experiment in which a camera records its descent from an airplane to the ground thousands of feet below; TITUS ANDRONICUS, a modern dress, Rhode Island-based DV production of Shakespeare’s bloodiest drama; STRAWBERRY ESTATES, a creepy chiller where the investigation of paranormal activities in an abandoned asylum goes very wrong; and BARRY HARRIS: THE SPIRIT OF BEBOP, a gentle documentary on the jazz piano legend.
Get the complete story and read our companion piece, THE TEN WORST UNSEEN FILMS OF 2000.
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