A week or so ago, whilst discussing possible candidates for a year-end, Cinematical-wide Ten Best Films list with a couple of the bloggers, I realised that, despite the absolute power I weild as editor, I'd have a tough time getting a few of my picks into the top ten, for the sheer fact that I was the only one on staff that had seen any of them. The only solution was to create a seperate list. What follows are seven films which, though they've made the festival rounds or have wrangled some kind of microdistribution, have yet to break through to the top level. In short, these are seven great films that I've seen, and that you probably haven't.
7. I Am a Sex Addict
In the latest in his ever-growing line of personal docu-narratives, San Francisco-based filmmaker Caveh Zahedi plays himself – the titular sex addict who comes to admit that his personal fantasy world, through which he justifies everything from sex with whores to the taking of hallucinogenic drugs at in appropriate times, has become his ultimate undoing. After taking us through twenty years of highly quixotic relationships (and that's sort of putting it mildly), at the end of the film, Caveh walks down the aisle with wife number three. How can a man whose entire life has thus far been defined by spectacular romantic failure suddenly about-face for a happily-ever-after? Not so fast: the film closes on what is probably real footage of the wedding, and after kissing the bride, Caveh walks past the camera with a familiar look of terror in his eyes.
6. Open House
AMPAS has lots of ridiculous rules, but they rarely pull a move as confounding as their decision earlier this year to deactivate a just-reinstated Oscar category for Musical Features – based, many thought, on the fact that the field of eligible nominees included about six tiny films and Team America: World Police. Dan Mirvish, creator of the Slamdance film festival, directed two of the eligible films shut out of consideration; one of them, Open House, is a sweet, Brechtian/DIY musical about love and real estate. Production values are low and, with the exception of Rent's Anthony Rapp, most members of its ensemble cast aren't exactly musical veterans. But the scenes that work are miraculously good; I'm especially fond of the story thread featuring James Duval and Kellie Martin, as a young couple who have built a complex sex game around the bizarre tradition of the Sunday Open House crawl.
5. Free Zone
Amos Gitai has learned a thing or two about selling difficult content: everything goes down easier when force-fed by a pretty face. The filmmaker employs the stunning Natalie Portman as an in to a loosely-drawn model of Israeli-Palestinean conflict – a move that worls a lot better than it has any right to, and largely because of Portman's apparent similarities to the character she plays. As a half-Israeli American woman trying to flee Jerusalem after a terrible break-up, Portman's character is a well-meaning but fatally naive girl who very accidentally forms a bridge between two women, one Israeli and one Palestinean, who are trying to settle a mundane business dispute. It's a nearly non-narrative meditation on identity, politics, and identity politics that uses beauty in manipulative but genius ways. Here's hoping its star has some pull in getting it seen Stateside.
Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson's first feature follows Christina, a young nursemaid who finds a briefcase in a trashcan and all-too-eagerly allows its contents to transform her life and world into a living video game of surveillance and subliminal seduction. The film is packed with warring ruminations on the roles cities play in the way we define class and industry, intimacy and isolation. What’s most remarkable is the fact that these Big Ideas are contained in what could only be called a Post-Playstation cinematic style. It triumphed at Tribeca last spring; I'm fairly baffled as to why it's not yet found distribution.
3. Kissing on the Mouth
Joe Swanberg's debut tells the story of four, early-twentysomething bundles of angst and passion and the car-crash ways in which they communicate with one another. There's a lot of strong stuff going on here, but I think what's most remarkable is the way that Kissing manages to be a kind of manifesto about explicit sex on screen, and yet at the same time, maintains a biting sense of humor about the actual sex and relationships that it depicts. A lot of this owes to Swanberg's masterful editing. The story here lies not in what is being said, but in what goes unsaid; it's not as much about the cuts as the cutaways.
2. Mutual Appreciation
Not much actually happens in Mutual Appreciation, Andrew Bujalski's festival-sweeping second film, but every moment feels charged with the idea that something huge is running its lines in the wings. It's a film about the ebbs and flows of conversation, the vague and intangible process of shaping what you want to say in words that another wants to hear. But even as his protagonists weave in and out of linguistic non-places, Bujalski's prickly black-and-white 16mm photography manages to nail them into the truth.
What kind of hedonism woud you get involved in if your life was suddenly stripped of its usual boundaries? If, after you'd gotten into any conceivable kind of trouble/pleasure that you could stir up out in the desert on your own, would you, as is the usual philosophical party line, really be able to delve inward and unlock the mysteries of your soul? Or would you get bored and drive into town for a steak dinner and maybe try to get laid? Trona, David Fenster's quietly gorgeous first feature, asks those questions, and a hell of a lot more. In telling the story of a frustrated businessman who abandons his life and wife to go chase some kind of truth in Americana, Fenster matches each moment of romantic indulgence with simple, matter of fact critique, eye-for-eye style. Trona not only has its cake and eats it too, but it does so on a tightrope whilst juggling chainsaws. Plus, it looks great.