Armchair Cinephile

event listing on right Top Ten season is always a good time to take note of those sneaky films that made it onto critics’ must-see lists without getting onto yours. In that spirit, I’ll include two titles I myself haven’t had a chance to view on this roundup of recent foreign/arthouse fare that deserved more exposure this year:

Lady Vengeance (Tartan): The conclusion to a thematic trilogy (that is, the films all revolve around revenge, but don’t share plot or characters) by South Korean sensation Chan-Wook Park, Lady Vengeance isn’t as jaw-dropping as Oldboy (that film packed some hard-to-trump imagery) but it does manage to dig into the icky moral muck around the desire to get back at those who have wronged you — a motivation most movies would happily exploit without investigation.

Brick (Universal): This teenage whodunit wowed the festival circuit, winning buzz for its neo-noir lingo and hard-boiled high-school attitude. A cast featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose growing indie cred belies his breakthrough gig on 3rd Rock from the Sun, didn’t hurt. After winning a slew of “best debut”-type accolades, writer/director Rian Johnson is reportedly planning a con-man flick with Rachel Weisz.

L’Enfant (Sony): Belgium’s Dardenne Brothers, revered by critics, made another quiet stunner in this tale of a street punk who sells his girlfriend’s baby on the black market. A slow-starting pace and highly unsympathetic protagonist make the movie a challenge, but viewers who stick with it may be shocked how much they care when, in the film’s second half, this amoral man has a reason to consider doing the right thing.

Time to Leave (Strand): European art cinema meets the made-for-TV weepie here, with arthouse vet François Ozon depicting the final weeks in the life of a terminally ill fashion photographer. As in L’Enfant, we’re looking at an inherently unlikable character who, under duress, makes some affectingly human choices. Ozon upends the approach of his earlier Under the Sand, generally refusing to hint at his character’s inner thoughts, which winds up being the right decision for this small but
moving story.

The Proposition (First Look): Nick Cave, never at a loss for extravagantly bloody psychodrama, penned this stark, Outback-set Western for director John Hillcoat. The songwriter’s thematic extremes (a lawman demands that an outlaw kill his older brother in exchange for his younger brother’s life) may be a hard sell on paper, but a cast anchored by Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone sells it with all the conviction of a Bad Seeds concert.

The Road to Guantanamo (Sony): Michael Winterbottom, the furiously prolific Brit behind 24 Hour Party People, mixes staged re-enactment with documentary footage to tell the true story of three British Muslims who for mysterious reasons wind up prisoners of the War on Terror. The movie made more news outside theaters (its actors were detained in a London airport, where one claims they were greeted with some of the same rights-abusing attitudes depicted in the film) than within them, but even Winterbottom’s least-successful work (9 Songs, I’m looking at you) is worth a cinephile’s interest.

An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount): True, it got no shortage of publicity. But I’m betting there are millions out there who couldn’t bring themselves to go out for a Friday-night lecture on the environment, but will be spellbound at home on the sofa. Al Gore’s well-honed message debunks bogus arguments, fills in gaps left by short-attention-span news reports, and provides real-world implications of climate change that may surprise even the already-converted. One of the most essential docs out there, and one I’d pay dearly to watch it in the same living room as George W. Bush.