Ever make a reference to a movie and no one knows what you’re talking about? It happens to me a lot, partially because I have a weird memory for obscure quotes, but it’s also because I reference movies like these:
Living in Oblivion (1995)
Tom DiCillo’s comedy about independent filmmaking boasts a cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Dermot Mulroney, Catherine Keener, and Peter Dinklage. It premiered at Sundance and proceeded to make a measly $1.1 million at the box office. Despite that, it is a hilarious satire that everyone who likes insider movies should watch. Instead of portraying the glamorous world of studio films, it follows a production so low-budget that they can’t even afford fresh milk. Buscemi plays the would-be auteur who seems to have David Lynch tendencies, and his increasing stress and mania is just a treat to watch. The film also includes such magical elements as Dermot Mulroney in an eye patch and Peter Dinklage delivering an angry monologue about dwarves in movies. The fact that this movie hasn’t become a cult classic is mystifying to me.
Now, Maggie Greenwald’s Songcatcher is far from a blockbuster. It tells the story of a 19th century musicologist who ventures into the Appalachians to document folk songs. While the film has a number of problems – Janet McTeer doesn’t really work as a romantic lead, and a subplot about anti-lesbian hate crimes feels preachy and unnecessary – it’s an interesting exploration of the legacy of folk music and the culture of Appalachia. It also features a young, pre-fame Emmy Rossum, using the voice that would later sing Phantom of the Opera to perform an a cappella version of “Barbara Allen.” The real reason to see this film are the songs – it has a wonderful soundtrack of country singers performing old hill tunes. One of my favorite scenes includes Pat Carroll (aka Ursula from The Little Mermaid) performing “Single Girl.” This is a movie all about the origins of country music, so “I like everything but country” folk will probably not enjoy it, but I find its portrayal of music scholarship fascinating.
Nine Lives (2005)
This last film is one of my all-time favorites, so expect a longer post on it at some point. I don’t know how Rodrigo Garcia does it, but between Nine Lives and Mother and Child (2009) he has shown an uncanny ability to write from women’s perspectives. One of my favorite topics to study is female subjectivity, and Nine Lives is all about women and their stories. It is composed of nine stories, each about a different woman, and each shot in one ten-minute take. The stories are loosely connected, as supporting characters will sometimes show up in more than one story, but the connections are not the point. As one character says, “Each woman is a universe,” and the film is primarily interested in spending time in these worlds. Nine Lives also features an amazing cast, including the amazing and increasingly beautiful Robin Wright, Amanda Seyfried, Amy Brenneman, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning, and Holly Hunter. Each section treads different ground, and each woman’s story is utterly real. Despite its cast and pedigree, this movie only made $500,000 at the box office, and its lack of recognition is one of the many omissions that has made me dislike the awards season. I cannot say enough about Nine Lives. Each time I watch it, I discover something new, or I see a story in a new way. It is a film about subjectivity and experience, and each viewer’s experience of it is different.
Are there any films that were important in your life but obscure to others?