This story was originally published in December 2016. To see Ty’s picks for best movies of 2017, go here.
Last week in this space I wrote about my favorite movies of 2016 and, as usual, a lot of people piled onto the online comments section to agree and disagree and put forward their own picks. One reader went so far as to ask, hey, “how about a list of your top 10 ever that I should have seen but haven’t?”
This got me thinking. Many of us have family coming home and/or staying home and/or refusing to leave home for the next week or so. There may be times when everyone wants to watch something, no one wants to come in halfway on someone else’s favorite TV series, and the On Demand menu is a vast desert of direct-to-cable chum. There’s a need crying out here, not to mention my own desperate need to file one last column for the year. So thank you, briand7, and here are 10 movies that you probably haven’t seen and that you possibly may like.
General ground rules: These aren’t necessarily classics of world cinema — just movies I’ve personally enjoyed over the years and that I hope will provide some entertainment, dramatic tension, and/or food for discussion. No four-hour Romanian documentaries about animal husbandry.
I’ve noted the On Demand outposts where each film is available; a few require Amazon Prime membership. All can be found on DVD, perhaps at your local library.
As always, your recommendations are welcome. Oh, and happiest of holidays to you and yours, and best wishes for the new year. May we all learn to be kinder to each other in 2017.
“The Counterfeiters” (2007) A nerve-wracking true-life suspense drama about WWII concentration camp prisoners — etchers, forgers, career criminals — selected by the Nazis to counterfeit British pounds and bring England’s economy crashing down. Austrian character actor Karl Markovics gets a shot at leading man glory as an amoral survivor who finds the artist inside him waking, along with a pesky conscience. If you liked “The Lives of Others” (2006), you’ll like this. An Oscar winner for best foreign language film. (Amazon, iTunes, DVD)
“I Know Where I’m Going!” (1945) One for the headstrong women in your family — that’s all of them, I hope — and certainly a must for any “Outlander” fan. Wendy Hiller doesn’t travel through time here but her character, a young woman off to marry a rich man she doesn’t love, does pass into some kind of enchanted realm when she’s stranded on a Scottish island with a group of eccentric villagers and the dirt-poor local laird (Roger Livesey). Co-directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (“The Red Shoes”), it has some of the same whimsical DNA as “Local Hero” (1983) and other magical-surrealist comedy romances. (Amazon, DVD)
“It’s Always Fair Weather” (1955) So “La La Land” has you ga-ga for movie musicals and you’d like to watch one where the actors actually know how to sing and dance? (Sorry, Emma and Ryan.) This is the least known of the Gene Kelly MGM classics, and for a reason: It’s dark in a way that seemed off-putting in 1955 and seems cheerfully wised-up now. Kelly, Dan Dailey, and Michael Kidd play Army pals who get together 10 years later and discover they hate each other — for a while, anyway. All you have to know is that Kelly tap-dances on roller-skates, all three stars dance with garbage can lids on their feet, and a boxing gym full of pugs serenades long-limbed Cyd Charisse. (iTunes, DVD, and it’s on Turner Classics on Jan. 18 — introduced by “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle.)
“Locke” (2013) England’s Tom Hardy is an amazing actor and a big old ball of charisma, and he is literally the whole show here. His character — a tormented architect named Ivan Locke — spends the entire movie driving to London at night to visit the women who’s giving birth to his child while stalling an outraged wife, an angry son, and a skyscraper project on the verge of collapse. How Hardy and director Steven Knight keep us locked into one lonely man on a busy highway isn’t a mystery — it’s just very good filmmaking. (Amazon, iTunes, DVD)
“Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont” (2005) It’s that rarity, a movie about friendship, in this case between a neglected old lady (Joan Plowright) and the young writer down the street (Rupert Friend of “Homeland”). Based on a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one) and directed by Dan Ireland, it’s a droll little drama about human connection and a lovely thing on all levels. Those seeking more kink are directed to “Harold and Maude” (1971), and please don’t tell me you haven’t seen that one. (Amazon Prime, DVD)
“Short Term 12” (2013) Another movie I’ve recommended a lot, especially after Brie Larson hit it big last year in “Room.” One of the actress’s first starring roles, it casts her as the manager of a California halfway house for adolescents, and what sounds like “Dangerous Minds VII” is given vibrant authenticity by writer-director Destin Cretton’s own experiences in a similar facility. Look for future stars Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”), Stephanie Beatriz (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), and Keith Stanfield (“Atlanta”), and if you order up Cretton’s 2008 Sundance-winning short version by mistake — well, that’s pretty amazing, too. (Amazon, iTunes, DVD)
“Son of Rambow” (2007) No, it’s not a lost Sylvester Stallone vehicle. Yes, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, a lunatic little British coming-of-age comedy about a home-schooled naïf (Bill Milner) with a knack for moviemaking and the class bad boy (Will Poulter, astounding) who has the camera. Screen it with the kids and watch them get ideas. (Amazon Prime, iTunes, DVD)
“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” (2010) A comedy for the horror fans, but non-gorehounds can enjoy it, too. The conceit: What if the kill-crazy hillbillies in grindhouse classics like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” were actually misunderstood nice guys who just happened to be standing there when the teenagers tripped and fell into the wood-chipper. It eventually turns silly, but stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine keep it going longer than they have any right to. Suggested double bill choice: “Re-Animator” (1984). (Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, DVD)
“A Very Long Engagement” (2004) Everyone knows Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” (2001). No one remembers the movie he made next, a bent WWI epic that stars Audrey Tautou as a woman who just won’t believe her lover (Gaspard Ulliel) was killed on the battlefields of France and who embarks on a multi-year quest to find out what happened. The payoff is worth the two-hour-plus running time, and just when you least expect it Jodie Foster turns up speaking flawless French. (Amazon, iTunes, DVD)
“What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) Maybe you’ve seen this already, but maybe it’s been a few decades, and maybe it’s new to everyone else in your house. Peter Bogdanovich’s homage to classic screwball comedies pits nerd geologist Ryan O’Neal against hot force of nature Barbra Streisand, and the cast is stacked with brilliant supporting players. A perfectly insane movie, and worth watching alongside its inspiration, 1938’s “Bringing Up Baby.” (Amazon, iTunes, DVD)Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.