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The Best Unbought, Unseen and Annoyingly Undistributed Films of 2004

by Weinberg, Childress, Souter, Snider & Whyte

You'll find one thing in common with every single "Top Ten of 2004" movie: you can see the darn things! Sure you might have to drive downtown and visit that "expensive arthouse theater" or dig through the search pages of Netflix to find 'em - but you can eventually get your eyeballs on every single one. Such is not necessarily the case for the following movies, which is a collection of unreleased, unbought and / or undistributed films that certainly deserve a little more attention. Hang out at enough film festivals and you'll be able to write this feature yourself!

Presented in alphabetical order are a collection of films we saw in 2004 that, as of this writing, do not have a distributor. Let's see if we can help change that...

Big City Dick: Richard Peterson's First Movie - "Scott Milan, Ken Harder and Todd Pottinger have done much more than craft a great little documentary about a great little man. They've given us a story that highlights the finest traits that humanity can possess: this is a movie about love, kindness, patience and pure hard-earned talent. After a visit with Richard Peterson, you'll be a little bit more decent to those "oddball freaks" who play music on the crowded city streets. And if one movie can make you just a little bit nicer to our society's fringe-dwellers, well then that's a movie that deserves high praise indeed. Plus it made me cry. And movies, like, never make me cry." - Scott Weinberg

Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story
- "It's a good thing that clever ideas and crisp comedic timing don't cost a lot of money, because a movie like Blackballed probably couldn't afford 'em. But director Brant Sersen snagged himself a collection of truly funny performers and wrote them some surprisingly amusing material. Clearly there was a whole lot of improvising going on (which results in some of the movie's best bits), but comedy material that comes off this 'effortless' is usually the result of sincerely hard work. Blackballed won the Audience Award at the 2004 SXSW Film Festival, which means a whole lot of hardcore movie fans saw something they really liked. For the price of one hour's catering on your average Hollywood comedy, Blackballed delivers probably three times the laughs." - Scott Weinberg

Buena Vida Delivery
- "This film depicts Argentina in its current impoverished state, one which some Westerners might not be aware of. The story centers on Hernan, a courier who lives alone in his family’s house. He meets a girl named Pato at a gas station. Looking for a room to rent, Pato ends up moving in with Hernan and the two begin a close friendship that eventually turns to love. The ever-charitable Hernan gets put to the test when Pato’s family—also on hard times thanks to the economy—moves into Hernan’s house for what they promise will be “a short while.” This wonderfully entertaining gem seems like perfect bait for a Hollywood re-make or outright thievery, but an American version would likely fail to put the characters’ plight into context. The economy has driven these people to desperate measures and they will suffer any humility just to have a roof over their heads. The movie strays from a conventional crowd-pleasing ending and settles for something more hopeful, ambiguous and real." - Collin Souter

Double Dare
- "If you don't know Jeannie Epper and Zoe Bell, Amanda Micheli's winning documentary about two generations of stuntwomen will make you want to give them a high-five and a hug. From Wonder Woman to Xena, we go behind-the-scenes for a front-row seat with the stuntladies themselves - as well as the personal anguish that comes with waiting for that next gig, particularly when age starts catching up... in a male-dominated profession. Double Dare is an exciting, funny and ultimately touching documentary that strips away the padding, gets us inside these women’s lives to the point where we want to be there to catch them when they fall." - Erik Childress

- "Expiration is quite possibly the best student film ever made since Andrei Tarkovsky's short rendition of "The Killers." Gavin Heffernan's night journey through Montreal was made through McGill University but, featuring a director inspired by classic cinema along with talented actors who knew what they were doing (rather than trying to break out with a teen film or a Tarantino ripoff), Heffernan and company strive and succeed with something more. There's a star-making performance by Janet Lane in here as well." - Jason Whyte

Graveyard Alive: A Zombie Nurse in Love
- "Graveyard Alive boasts a rather over-articulated and theatrical tone (not something chanced at accidentally, I'm sure) that gives the affair a "silent movie" feel. The dialogue, which comes in small doses, is overdubbed in a campy (but not overtly silly) style; the performers swagger their chins and cock their brows as if they've just fallen out of a William Castle movie. The flick's a silly and wholly enjoyable romp for movie buffs, one that steals inspiration from old-school horror turkeys and 70's-era soap opera fare alike; it's broad and clever and the humor is consistently on-key; there's a sweet little role-reversal of the normally-accepted subtext (in that the undead slutty girl can be the heroine while the demure dimbulb blondie can be the evil wench); and, most importantly (in my book, anyway) the flick represents a filmmaker who was raised on the finest Horror Cheese imaginable and has grown up to make some of her very own." - Scott Weinberg

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen - "Are you a bowler or would you just like a worthy feature to double-bill with Kingpin? Well, check out this commendably entertaining documentary about the world of professional bowlers. Taking a cue from films like Spellbound and Word Wars, filmmaker Christopher Browne follows a small group of contenders (including notorious bad boy Pete Weber) through a season of re-hyping the sport for television ratings. Great characters, big laughs and a helluva climax all combine to make this one of the most entertaining sports documentaries ever made. If spelling bees and scrabble competitions can grab your attention in this form, then why shouldn’t bowling?" - Erik Childress

Lightning Bug - "There aren't any big stars or exploding space stations in Lightning Bug; it's just a quiet little People Story, only not the force-fed, paint-by-numbers, insert-majestic-musical-score-here sort of pap that we're normally fed at the multiplexes. It's frequently funny and periodically horrifying; it's a little melancholy and consistently sincere. Combine that with a touching little tale of autobiographical nostalgia and top it off with a cast that's cast-iron across the board...that's a pretty impressive debut if you ask me." - Scott Weinberg

Mitchellville - "In only 80 minutes, director John D. Harkrider succeeds where filmmakers like David Lynch and Brian DePalma have only managed to frustrate. Using a dreamlike narrative to decipher the memories of a Wall Street executive, the relationship with his childhood sweetheart and a suicidal jazz musician, Mitchellville dips its feet in the water of several provocative subjects - from class structure and the way art forms define our collective history - to merge into a story that intrigues and ultimately moves us in a way we could never expect. This is a film which urges a second viewing to capture all of its secrets, if only someone would give people the chance to see it a first time." - Erik Childress

Purgatory House - "It's clear that director Cindy Baer and actor/writer Celeste Davis have a host of things to say about the plight of the modern teenager, and it shows a smart sense of instinct that the filmmakers opted to present such a potentially bleak tale with healthy doses of clever (and often arcane) humor. Baer and Davis met as part of the "Big Sisters" program, and their relationship went from that of mentor and friend to director and lead actor. At one point considered an "at-risk teen", Celeste Davis can now look up to see the film she wrote playing at this year's Woodstock Film Festival." - Scott Weinberg

Quiet As A Mouse - "Meet Mux: Freelance vigilante documentary filmmaker. Mux (Jan Henrick Stahlberg) speaks for all of us who cannot stand to see people littler, drive recklessly or vandalize. With camera in hand and his trusty partner, Gerd (Fritz Roth), by his side, Mux lurks in the corners waiting to bring to justice those who plague society with their unlawful behavior. Because of his everyman exterior, Mux sees what police cannot and, thus, get the job done for them with as little violence as possible. Rather than bring the wrongdoers to the authorities, Mux prefers to use humiliation tactics to get them to learn their lesson. Mux tries his best to rise above all of humanity without trying to learn what makes us tick. In the end, he’s only human, whether he likes it or not. Personally, though, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of his kind out there. This is a dark, hilarious movie about a guy we all want to cheer for while knowing he's on the verge of Falling Down." - Collin Souter

Shouf! Shouf! Habbibi! - "Maybe it’s because I had just sat through a few of the most depressing movies of the fest that this one just seemed like a breath of fresh air. A movie about a dysfunctional family of Moroccans living in Holland, Albert Ter Heerdt’s “Shouf!” comes onto the screen with an unexpected burst of energy. The movie follows Abdullah, the middle son of this family (he’s in his early twenties). He cannot decide if he wants move to Hollywood to get a job playing a terrorist in a movie about 9/11 or get a standard office job. The only thing he does know: He does not want to get involved in a bank robbery with his friends. Meanwhile, his sister has been involved in a relationship with a Dutch man, much to the dismay of her father. I laughed quite a bit at this movie, a lot more than I expected to. It has a familiar feel to it, almost too American, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the movie got picked up to play in the States and became a modest hit. " - Collin Souter

Straight Into Darkness - "Reminiscient of Keith Gordon's fantastic A Midnight Clear mixed with a healthy dose of Rod Serlingism, Straight Into Darkness is a dark and stark little tale. The wind-blasted Romanian locations offer an unsettling palette, the violence is extreme and unapologetically effective and, despite what was clearly a rather limited budget, the movie offers a memorably mesmerizing visual experience as well. Which just goes to show what you can accomplish when you have more passion and creativity than you do blank checks to throw around." - Scott Weinberg

Take My Eyes - "The genius of this film is so obvious it's a wonder more filmmakers don't try it: It's realistic, and thus more compelling, because we don't know how it's going to end. Real people often reconcile, and they often reconcile even when they shouldn't. People don't do that in Hollywood films dealing with this subject, because Hollywood films, for all their color, are still pretty black and white. Real life, you may have noticed, has a lot of gray areas. There's no melodrama anywhere in the film, only drama, with every single moment superbly acted and startlingly believable." - Eric Snider

The Talent Given Us - "In the spirit of films like About Schmidt and Pieces of April; voyages of reconciliation and bonding that are long overdue, The Talent Given Us is a wonderful example of why every road movie needn't be treated with a passing snicker. Shot in a documentary style, it follows the journey of the real-life Wagner family, who take an impromptu journey to Los Angeles to see the son they've been out of touch with...who also happens to be the director of this film. There's a spontaneity to their conversations that cements the sincerity and adds to the absurdity, particularly in the case of Ms. Emily Wagner, who is sexy, brilliantly funny and that good way. The Talent Given Us is rich and hysterical and it hits you in the gut with every passing mile." - Erik Childress

Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow - "A festival favorite and one of the Special Presentations, this marks the first in a planned trilogy by Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos that will span the 20th century and end in present day. This film follows forbidden lovers Eleni and Alexis as they flee their hometown and set up a new life for themselves. The events of WWI and II serve as the backdrop as this couple migrates from town to town hoping never to be found by Eleni’s father. An opportunity to serve in the military overseas puts their love to the test. Angelopoulos tells this story in single-take shots that move slowly through the scenery, but in a hypnotic, mesmerizing way. While creating some of the most beautiful images I’ve seen on screen in a long time, he does so while keeping us in suspense and moving us to tears. Unfortunately, with its bleak ending, it remains to be seen if this movie will work better once the trilogy has been completed. As it stands, it’s a beautiful piece about true love transcending poverty and despair, but I’m still curious where all of it is headed." - Collin Souter

Up For Grabs - "The best documentary I saw in 2004 wasn't about George W. Bush, McDonalds or rock bands in therapy. It was Michael Wranovic's Up For Grabs, a story about the fifteen minutes sought in a society obsessed with overriding profit margins. The fight over Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball in 2001 twists like the best detective mysteries and works as a self-serving satire of greed and celebrity in the U.S. It's easily one of the best documentaries I've ever seen." - Erik Childress

Needless to say, we here at eFilmCritic & Hollywood Bitchslap recommend each of these films quite highly...doubly so if you happen to work for a movie distribution outfit!

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originally posted: 01/14/05 08:53:23
last updated: 03/05/05 14:47:19
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